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Posts Tagged ‘travel’

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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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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