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Posts Tagged ‘nagoya’

Golden week was a really good opportunity to have a proper break, catch up on sleep and do a few fun things. Its a fantastic idea having a week of national holidays back to back, but unfortunately this means that everywhere you go, prices are doubled and everywhere is crowded. Interestingly, Japanese people love domestic tourism, so even at “touristy spots”, places of interest or natural beauty I often find myself the only white person there.I really would have liked to have gone to Okinawa or at least Kyuushuu, but it would have cost me so much more than I could have afforded so I stayed around Nagoya with a few day trips, and plenty of trips to onsen to relax!

Ise Jingu

Ise Shrine is where one of the main gods is supposedly enshrined, and it is also the setting for part of the Japan myth (a bit bonkers). It is a collection of lots of small shrines which you can wander freely around, and Ami, Yasu and I decided to go on a daytrip there as it is pretty famous. However, as one shrine looks much like another, we spent most of the time going around the surrounding “town”. All the buildings look old-fashioned, with the signs written in the pre-war style (kanji which are read from right to left instead of the now conventional left to right) and even modern banks and the post office are made to blend in!

It was absolutely fabulous to wander around and soak up the atmosphere. There are all kinds of shops selling souvenirs, toys, clothes, and amazing food. Essentially it was as all good days out should be – very chilled out and constructed around eating lots of local specialities and yummy food. We had the finest steak grilled on a stick, semi-frozen cucumbers on sticks, Ise style udon noodles (, freshly caught whelks, melty-cheese filled deep-fried giant crab stick things, plus, shaved ice covered in syrup of freshly pulped strawberries.

We also got to see live taiko drummers which were fantastic!

Ninja Town

I also went for a mini road trip with Yasu and went to Ninja-mura, to see an actual ninja house filled with trap-doors, revolving panels, hidden passages, hidden upper floors, hiding places and doors/windows with special locks that only those in the know can operate. After that we went to the most amazing playground which is called ninja town. Its built like a mini village and ninja training ground – I would have loved to gone as a kid but that didnt stop me trying out the assualt course as an adult!

They even had costumes for you to rent so you could look and feel the part! We went on the zip-wire, climbed over a roof, crossed a pond using ninja floats, and paid a visit to the ninja-star throwing gallery. Even though the stars weren’t particularly sharp I got the impression that even in a semi blunt condition they could still inflict a lot of damage!

Shiga

During that same road trip, we were already in Shiga, so I took the chance to go back to where it all started, the Wilsons house in Ono. Since it was almost exactly 4 years after I left, I wasn’t sure if I could find my way there, but as soon as we got to the local station I instantly remembered the way that I used to bike home everyday! Unfortunately they werent in, but I left a note and maybe I will get to see them another time. Still it was really fun going back to where I used to live. Not much has changed at all! Its still exactly as I remember it!

I also got to see the replica of the inside of Nobunaga’s castle (important Japanese historical figure) and went around the attached archealogical museum – since there was no English I really had no idea what I was looking at though!

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Just when I thought I had seen it all in Japan, I realised I have only been scraping the surface of bizarrity. (That isn’t a word but it sounds right somehow. My English ability has dropped to the level of a 6 year old.) I went for a mosey around the public library at Tsurumai Park the other day, and was more than a little surprised to see that there is a Sugakiya (ramen restaurant) inside. Not attached to the outside, but actually inside the library. I was thinking how amazing it would be if SOAS had something similar – during the exam period and 24hr opening a ramen restaurant in the library would be the perfect antidote to a hard nights revision!

But it gets even weirder than that. After a hunger fuelled stroll in search of a new and exciting restaurant, we found the perfect place that the producers of Hells Kitchen would probably commit acts of indecency in public places for Gordon Ramsey to sort out. A restaurant called “Mountain”, which specialises in interesting types of rice and spaghetti. Naturally, amongst the list of about 60 types of spaghetti (which actually turned out to be more like a noodle-pasta hybrid; best not to ask) you have standard sauces such as bolognese, carbonara and Japanese style flavours such as Mentaiko (spicy roe). What is surprising however, is seeing strawberry pasta make an appearance on the menu. Or kiwi pasta. Or banana pasta. There were a lot of very strange combinations – none of which sounded very appetising! I saw someone eating said strawberry pasta, and it seemed that it was the sauce and not the actually pasta which was strawberry flavoured. I must say it looked truly horrific. However the absolute worst item on the menu had to be the “Italian Tomato Parfait”. What part of  mixing ice cream and tomatoes seems like a good idea?! And what sort of person orders such a vomit inducing concoction?! Whats more, the portion sizes were bigger than American sizes, enough for 2 very hungry people or maybe even 3! After eating about a third I had to give it up to Michael who has the appetite of an mammoth. I would love to see Gordons reaction to the menu and restaurant…

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Sorry for such a long absence!

The last month and a bit has been very busy with a fantastic 10 day visit from my parents, never ending mountains of work, and a trip up to Niigata for a weekend of snowboarding!

Seeing my parents was a really nice break and we managed to cram a lot of travel into a short period of time, visiting places like Tokyo, Kyoto, Kobe and Nara, as well as Nagoya! Its interesting to see Japan through their eyes since it was their first visit. Some of the things I take for granted here or have become used to are actually really strange when you think about it – like the lack of fresh vegetables in my diet, vending machines which serve anything from a meal to beer to hot drinks in cans and cold tea in bottles, crows which are the size of a semi-detached in Harlow, and how can I forget the crunchy bean bag “rice pillows”!

I think my favourite place we went to was Kobe due to its small size and the friendliness of everybody I spoke to.

Throughout the trip we stayed in a mix of normal western hotels and Japanese style ryokan with tatami mat floors and futon. We visited a whole variety of places from the ancient mossy zen temples of 8th century Japan in Kyoto and Nara to the more modern style of Kobe and a glimpse at sprawling and gittering futuristic-tecnology-centric Tokyo (Shibuya, Akihabara, Ginza etc).

Other stuff:

Snowboarding was absolutely fantastic! I loved every minute of it. I had never done it before, but I guess all that practise at surfing on the tube back home helped because I got pretty good pretty quickly. Rumi taught us the basics and before lunchtime we were hitting up the Intermediate level slopes! Its just as well I’m fearless when it comes to stuff like that because it meant that hurtling down the slopes at what feels like 1000 mph without having fully grasped the concept of braking or mastering basic steering was a lot more fun! The snow was abundant and beautiful, and such good quality. Luckily the 9 hour bus journey was worth it – going an extra couple hours north of the highly popular Nagano resort meant that the slopes were virtually deserted and the snow hadn’t become compacted into ice. I lost my phone the first morning and I thought that it was buh-bye (either destroyed by water damage from melting snow, or buried under fresh snow that fell later that day, or stolen) but this is Japan. I found it the next day – someone had handed it in! What a miracle. All in all it was an amazing weekend. I didn’t break anything, although the proceeding few days had me in a world of pain, the likes of which I haven’t experienced for a very long time!

The workload this term is much more than I anticipated, with business Japanese taking up a lot of my time (learning how to use honorifics in the workplace is essentially learning a whole new set of verbs for all the basic actions and their respective conjugated forms… fun.) On the flip side we went to the Asahi Newspaper office in Nagoya to see “a real Japanese work place in action” and although I only got the bare minimum of what the tour guide was saying it was an interesting experience, plus  we got a bunch of cool freebies.

Taking my first ever foreign policy class this term has also been a challenge – it is absolutely fascinating and the teacher makes it interesting, but its pretty hardcore for a newbie like myself having to start from scratch! The learning curve is steep but I prefer it that way. I’m finding out all sorts of things about Japan and its politics that I should probably have known before; for example, Japan is still technically at war with Russia having never signed the peace treaty at the end of WW2! (Its all to do with the fact that the land border of the northern territories is still disputed.

Ikebana and Sumie (black ink painting) are still my”escape classes” and I love having them as a creative outlet. Last Friday in sumie we were practising all the different types of brush-stokes we have learnt so far and the main task was to create out own new brushstroke. As he was walking around and checking our work he saw the one I had designed and said that he had never seen one like it before – that it was highly original and should be called “Shepheard Stroke”! He then proceeded to show the rest of the class and use it as an example of what you can do with different types of pressure and water/ink balance. So I felt really chuffed about that!

I’m doing English Conversation with a few pupils on the side to earn a little bit of extra money which is working really well for me. The exchange rate is so bad right now that earning yen is far more lucrative than it used to be, and so a fairly standard fee of 3000 yen suddenly has  increased in value from about £15 to a mighty £25! Even though its only occasional, its actually quite fun and once you have the materials its really easy.

A final thought; My theory of Umbrella Karma. Sometimes you lose your umbrella or it gets borrowed/stolen. Other times you may have to “borrow” from other people. Its a never ending cycle trying to stay in balance. There is also a black hole where all the lost umbrellas go – umbrellas left in shops, bars clubs. It is also an indisputable fact that umbrellas are able to grow legs and walk. Possibly towards said black hole.

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This week is a very welcome week off whilst the University entrance exams are undertaken by scores of terrified looking High School students from all over Nagoya. I was unfortunate enough to be walking the wrong way back to the dormitory on Monday afternoon just after 5pm faced with a stream of about 500 students, some talking and laughing, others looking petrified from fear. Unlike the UK, you take an entrance exam directly with the university; it is said to be the most stressful part of Japanese childrens lives. After you get into your chosen university the work is relatively easy, you have free time, you can wear what you want, you can dye your hair etc and jobs are won on the university you go/went to rather than your degree, so getting into the right place is pretty much the most important thing. To pass these exams, kids got to after-school “cram-schools” from the end of school till 9-10pm most evenings during the week!

Anyway, we get the week off which is fantastic as I have time to recover from all that party planning! Luckily everything went perfectly the other night; people liked our goody bags (5000 yen vouchers redeemable at a local hairdressers, free food/drinks vouchers, chocolates, hair wax, shampoo etc) the red carpet, the prizes – concert tickets, hair straighteners, clothes etc – and everyone said how professional it was. Judging from everybody’s photos on Facebook, it looks like everybody had a good time! People are already asking when the next one is… Between George and I we know most of Nagoya so we are thinking of making it bigger – maybe 300 people!

We even made enough profit to pay for a thankyou slap-up meal at Outback Steakhouse for our closest friends who helped with the party preparations – currently still full of delicious ribs!! That place is a saving grace – although I still can’t believe that the finest fillet steak comes chopped up in little chunks just because Japanese people can’t use knives and forks! And whilst fish/eggs/horse meat/everything comes raw in Japan, steak comes medium rare even if you ask for it to be still moo-ing. Still I’m not going to complain, as where else can I get such decadent Gaijin Fodder?

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Amongst all the flower arranging (Ikebana), Japanese Foreign Policy studying, Business Japanese skills developing, Sumie (chinese Black ink) painting, Japanese Language learning and extra-curricular-socialising, I am currently occupying my time organising the party to end all parties!

Over the last 2 months my best friend George and I have gathered 7 different sponsors (two hair salons, a restaurant, a magazine, a concert venue, , organised the music, made tickets, negotiated the socks off the owner of the venue to get a really good deal, bought the champagne, and run around inviting all our friends to come to what should be an absolute spectacular! Its going to be for about 100 of our friends, lots of yummy food, all you can drink, fabulous music, amazing prizes (like a meal for two at a rather classy restaurant, hair straighteners, concert tickets etc etc) for the best dressed girl/guy, best hairdo and best dancer, and we even got a Japanese drag queen to come and make an appearance! We also managed to get ¥5000 haircut vouchers for everyone who comes, plus, a really well known magazine for our prefecture called SpyGirl is going to come and take photographs of the event and feature us on a whole page in glorious technicolour! So I am very very excited!

This is the first time that I have ever organised such a big event, and I’m definitely learning a lot… Its even more exciting doing it in a foreign country – something I never imagined I would be able to achieve! Hopefully it’ll be alright on the night…! One week left to go and so much to organise!

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The last couple of weeks has been a mixed bag of emotions. I’ve had some real highs  – like seeing my Cousin Hazel in Kyoto with Toddles in tow; great fun now he is running around everywhere! And he has grown SO big since I saw him last! – but its brought about a lot of low points too. Saying good bye to a lot of people on my course I’ve made friends with over the last few months was sad enough, but a couple of my really good friends were leaving too which is a bit of a blow. Luckily we are living in the age of Skype! The other thing was that this year was my first ever Christmas away from home and while I was expecting it to be hard, it was even harder than I imagined. I kept myself as busy as possible to keep my mind off the fact that I wasn’t with family, firstly on Christmas eve by going to one of my good Japanese friends’ house.

Since I live in halls, I really appreciate getting this kind of home-stay experience! After paying respects to the family shrine we entered Haruna’s grandparents house – enormous and incredibly Japanese in every single way with tatami flooring, sliding doors, with an outer corridor surrounding the inner rooms. We had a real feast for lunch and although I though I had tried almost everything before they still found things to surprise me! Remarkably, they have a small amount of land and grow all their own rice, vegetables and fruit, as well as making their own plum-wine liqueur, pickles and other things! Naturally it was all delicious – there’s nothing like home cooked food!! I enjoyed talking to them – even if they spoke with a really thick dialect accent that made it hard to understand! Her grandma is an inspiration – at 70 she still does Japanese archery and competes at a national level – I saw the trophies! They were so kind and very generously gave me a whole bag of goodies to take home with me – home grown clementines, pickles, sweet potatoes and dried persimmons.

Afterwards we went on to her family home and I got to meet her mum and dad. We made nabe which is kind of like clear soup with meat and vegetables or whatever you have lying around – for that very reason its becoming a favourite of mine! I got to try out her koto which I suppose is a cross between a guitar and a piano – very strange – and heard all about her dad entering the famously hardcore Iron Man competition for a second time!

We then had drinks at My Bar and after a long long walk from Sakae all the way to Don Quixote in Kanayama/Nagoya Eki decided to crash out at a Manga Cafe till the first train home. Christmas day itself was also very very different to what I’m used to; replace the roast with raw octopus, soy beans and radish salad, the wine with beer, and instead of carols at church think of carols at karaoke and you’ve got a pretty good approximation! I actually had a pretty fun day in the end but I’m really glad its over now so I can enjoy the rest of my holiday.

Here are some pics…

I’m going off to Tokyo for New Years Eve and to see a bit more what I missed last time, like Akihabara, a bit more Harajuku and maybe we will try and catch a glimpse of the first sunrise of the new year from the vantage point of the Roppongi Hills Hotel…

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Nagoya Pride

After eating far too much kaitenzushi for lunch (sushi on a conveyor belt like Yo! Sushi but at a fraction of the price – 100 yen a plate!) I sat down in the community room of the dorm to relax for a bit. However, my attention was quickly drawn to a particular YouTube video by some of the boys. This video  is a song about the “future capital of Japan, Nagoya” and highlights all the great things which Nagoya is famous for. The bits I can understand are very funny, but the rest of it is a bit hard to understand since it is in Nagoyan dialect; the translation into standard Japanese can be found on-line!

So in a fit of pride for Nagoya I thought I’d post it. Even if you can’t understand Japanese, have a look because it is inimitably Japanese and as silly as you might expect.

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