Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Sayonara Japan

Thanks very much for reading my blog! I've been home for about two weeks now, so this will be my last post. I'll leave you with three of my favorite pictures of Japanese English. The flying pan cover came from a big discount store near my house and the green content of crab head is from a sushi place in Kyoto. The menu notice about horidays was in a curry shop in Kurashiki.

I hope you enjoyed reading my blog, I really enjoyed writing it!

Friday, March 07, 2008


Onomichi is a little port town about an hour from Hiroshima. It's famous for having a very, very high concentration of temples, and there's a big loop walk that takes you to see most of them. Our guidebook warned that the temple walk takes most of a day and that you'll be sick of temples by the end, so we opted to walk to the beginning of the ropeway (seeing a few temples along the way) and take the little cable car to the top of the hill for a view of the sea. We saw plenty of temples on the way to the ropeway and it was nice to see the pretty, pink plum blossoms which are blooming at the moment. The views from the top of the hill (the third picture) were really spectacular and I've heard they're even more extraordinary when the cherry trees are blooming, but cherry blossom season hasn't started yet.

Thanks for reading! I'll write one more post about Japan and then I'll have to stop because I'm home in America now.

Wednesday, March 05, 2008


After Himeji we spent a night in Kobe, a city famous for its beef. We saw the beef advertised all over, with lots of pictures showing heavily marbled steaks, but we didn't try it, so I can't tell you if the freshest steaks of the best beef in the world are really worth the price (the lowest price we saw was about 50 dollars). Kobe doesn't have too many attractions, so I don't think it's too popular with tourists from outside Japan, but people who live in other Japanese cities like to visit for the shopping, sea views, and nightlife. Apparently a few foreign teachers who lived in the city where I lived visited Kobe and immediately applied for transfers to the Kobe branch of their school.

The first picture I posted shows Kobe's Harborland, which is a tiny amusement park. Next is the Kobe earthquake memorial, which I found very poignant. Instead of creating a memorial, the city preserved a small section of the harbor as it was just after the quake so you can see the devastation firsthand. It's an idea that I think they must have gotten from Hiroshima's famous (and also very poignant) A-Bomb Dome, which is the shell of a government building from very near the epicenter of the bomb, preserved just as it was. The third picture is a view of the Maritime Museum and some of the harbor from our hotel balcony.

Thanks for reading!

Himeji Castle and Kokoen Garden

These are a few shots of Himeji Castle and the garden next to it, Kokoen. We went on a rainy Tuesday morning and it only took us about two hours to tour the castle and the garden. Himeji Castle is the most famous castle in Japan because it's very well-preserved and very beautiful. Many of the famous castles you can visit in Japan are reconstructions, but Himeji is an actual feudal castle, so it was nice to see it and walk around inside. There are some interesting ghost stories associated with the castle and my favorite was about a servant girl named Kiku who was framed for stealing a dish after she foiled an assassination plot. The would-be assassin framed her and she was tortured to death and then thrown in a well, and apparently you could hear her crying from the well until she was honored as a goddess, which appeased her spirit. The first picture is a view of the city taken from the top of the castle, and the second picture is the castle taken from the grounds.

We also went to the lovely garden next to the castle. We probably wouldn't have bothered with it because it was such a rainy day but we bought the combined ticket for the castle and the garden (admission to the garden was only about a dollar when combined with castle admission) when we went in the castle, so we thought we might as well take a look and I'm glad we did. The garden was divided into small sections, unlike any of the others I've seen in Japan, but the sections were about the same with streams and ponds filled with koi, stone bridges, and trees. The third picture shows my favorite stone bridge and the biggest pond in the garden which was filled with huge koi.

Enjoy the pictures, I'll update soon with pictures of Kobe, where we stayed the night after seeing Himeji. I'm back home in America now, so I'll do two more posts to finish up my pictures and then finish the blog. Thanks for reading!

Monday, February 25, 2008

Hadaka Matsuri (Naked Man Festival)

The Hadaka Matsuri is a traditional Shinto (the native Japanese religion) festival in which almost-naked men fight for a magic stick, called a shingi. The man who touches the stick is guaranteed good luck for the entire year, so it's a pretty big deal. I think the date of the festival was originally determined by the lunar calendar, but now it's set as the third Saturday in February. The festival is celebrated at a few different temples in different parts of Japan, but one of the biggest celebrations is in the town of Saidaiji, just twenty minutes from where we live.

The main event doesn't take place until midnight, but in the afternoon and evening there are other activities, including an all-female taiko drumming group performance, fireworks, and a contest where little boys compete for rice cakes or treasure tubes. Unfortunately we missed all of that because most people were working in the daytime, so we got to Saidaiji around ten. The streets leading up to the temple are all lined with food vendors and they are absolutely jam-packed because it's a small town and ten or fifteen thousand people go to see the festival every year. Up until about ten thirty anyone is allowed to look at the temple but after that they make an announcement (in English and Japanese, lest there be any confusion) that only naked men are allowed in the temple. It's easy to get swept up in the excitement of the event, and all four of the men in our group ended up participating, even though only one of them had planned to partake!

Any man is allowed to participate, all you do is go to the changing tents and buy the requisite outfit: fundoshi, which is the loincloth that sumo wrestlers wear, and tabi socks, which are a bit like slipper socks, I guess. After changing you have to run through some sacred pools to purify yourself and stop to pray on your way to the temple. The temple gets more and more crowded and then finally at midnight they turn off the lights and a priest throws the shingi into the center of the crowd. After that it's all over in about five minutes. No one I know has ever even seen the shingi, much less touched it, and I think that's partly because some of the Japanese teams have 30 or 40 men working together and strategies to make sure they have a good chance.

I hope you enjoy the pictures, I didn't have much luck getting good shots because it was dark and crowded. The first shot is a food vendor on the road leading to the temple, then a shot of the temple around 11 when the naked men were starting to gather, and finally a fundoshi-clad man on the street after the festival.

I've only got one more week in Japan and then I'll be heading home, so I'll probably be doing one more post. Thanks for reading!


Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Ikura Caves

A few weekends ago I went with my friend, Jess, to see a cave in the tiny town of Ikura, about an hour and a half into the mountains from the town where I live. It was a cold and snowy day and the town was almost entirely deserted. The first picture shows the shops that line the path to the caves, but they were all closed and dark. When we asked the people at the ticket office if there were any restaurants close by they told us that everybody was on vacation and our best bet was to walk slowly back to the train station (Ikura only has one train per hour) and eat when we got home.

It cost us 1000 yen (about 10 dollars) to get into the cave, and they gave us a map (with English translations) that named the formations we would see and also informed us that the cave walk is about 1200 meters long. The entrance to the cave is at the bottom of a cliff, close to the Takahashi River (which formed the caves) so we pretty much just walked up and up once we got in. The walk was very nicely done with lights and a little bit of music and recorded explanations playing (which we, of course, couldn't understand). Some parts of the path were a bit narrow and there was water everywhere but we made it through with just a few bumps on our heads and wet shoes.

The last picture shows a formation that may have been called 'soldier's pavilion' but I can't remember for sure. My favorite formation name was 'appearance to wear clothes of water' or maybe 'waterfall in which it hears only of sound.'

Thanks for reading! Soon I'll post about the Naked Man Festival, which I went to last weekend!


Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Japanese Cemeteries

I got hopelessly lost on the way to Korakuen the other day and stumbled on this cemetery on a hill. There were paths up the hill all along the road so I took one and it led me up past lots of different graves and into a wooded area. The path was slushy so it was a bit dangerous going back down, but it was a nice walk on the way up.

I don't know much about Japanese graves, but according to wikipedia there's a space underneath the stone for the ashes of the deceased (nearly everyone here is cremated). I also read that sometimes when someone dies before his or her spouse the spouse's name is engraved on the stone as well but it's painted red and then the red ink is removed when the spouse dies. I've never seen that, though.

My apartment in Fukuyama, where I used to live, looked out over some temples and there was a graveyard right behind my apartment building. From my balcony I could see memorial services and people tending the graves. The whole place was very clean and new-looking, unlike the graveyard you can see in my pictures, but even in this old cemetery there was plenty of evidence that people had been there recently, like the fresh flowers you can see in the last picture.

Thanks for reading!

Korakuen in the Snow

We've had a bit of snow here lately so today I went to see Okayama's famous garden, Korakuen, which I'd heard is extra beautiful in the snow. Korakuen is considered one of the three most beautiful gardens in Japan and I've been there twice before: once in November, 2006, right after I arrived in Japan (I wrote a blog post then, too) and once last summer in the evening to see the garden lit up.

The snow was starting to melt by the time I arrived at the garden but there was still quite a lot. In the first picture you can see Okayama Castle, which makes a nice backdrop for the garden. Thanks for reading!


Thursday, January 17, 2008

Japanese Apartments

Happy New Year! Akemashite Omedetou Gozaimasu!

I wrote a little about my apartment when I first moved in, but I have a few pictures I took when I was moving out (when it was actually clean!) so I thought I'd post those now with a note about Japanese apartments. Apartments here are generally very, very small but mine, at least, was well-designed. When you walked in you would be in a hallway with the shower and toilet on your left and the washing machine, kitchen, and cupboard on your right. At the end of the hallway there was a door into the living/dining/bedroom. The closet in the main room was designed so that the clothes hang in the top half and the bottom half is where you're supposed to store your futon in the daytime. The room was probably about nine feet by eleven or twelve feet, so it was cozy but it heated up quickly in the winter and cooled quickly in the summer.

Bathrooms are designed so you can wash yourself before getting in the bath, which means that there's a drain in the floor and you can just soak the whole thing when it's time to clean it. The kitchen was just a sink, a burner, and a mini-fridge below the burner. I attached two pictures of the main room so you can get an idea of the size. These pictures were obviously taken when all of my stuff was already gone so they make it look more spacious than it actually was. One big advantage of Japanese apartments is that they always come with balconies because almost no one has a dryer so you need somewhere to hang your clothes.

I enjoyed living in my wee little apartment and it was a good experience to live like many young Japanese people (although it's very common for young people to continue living with their parents until they get married, and sometimes after they're married), but now I'm living in a house with an actual kitchen and a bit more room to spread out, which is a treat!

Thanks for reading,

Saturday, December 22, 2007

Universal Studios Japan

For Mark's birthday (Dec. 14th) I took him to Universal Studios Japan in Osaka. We went in October when it was decorated for Halloween, but now it's "Wonder Christmas" season, so it was nice to see the park again with its new decorations. I haven't been to Universal Studios in America but Mark has and he says the American version is much bigger (maybe it seemed bigger since he was 8 at the time?). We managed to do just about everything in the park in one day, including Waterworld, which is a stunt show with lots of splashing (the seats in the splash zone were mostly empty this time of year). One of my favorite parts is the rollercoaster where you can choose your own background music! You can choose from a Beatles song, two J-Pop choices, an Eminem song, and something else I can't remember.

The pictures are Mark with a snowman, a different snowman giving a high five to a little girl (he was part of Santa's Toy Party), and me with a takoyaki sculpture at the "Takoyaki Museum." Takoyaki is doughy balls with octopus bits, and when they say museum they actually mean four restaurants and a shop.

We're off to America tomorrow, Happy Holidays and Happy New Year!

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

England and Scotland 4: London and the Queen!

At the end of our trip we spent two days in London. Mark and I went on our own one day and the next day we drove in with Mark's parents (and here's something that surprised me about London: when you drive in you have to pay an 8 pound "congestion charge," but you don't pay at a toll, you can pay on the internet before or after your visit or they'll bill you! That's about 16 dollars, by the way.). The first day we went to The British Museum and the Tate Modern and the second day we saw the Queen in the morning and wandered around the rest of the day seeing some of the nice neighborhoods.

I loved the British Museum, which is huge but very well organized. The map of the museum even includes a list of highlights, so we made sure to see all of those even though we didn't have time to see absolutely everything. The Tate Modern was also very nice, though I can't say that I understand modern art very well, so some of the pieces didn't do much for me. It was a real mix of styles, from fairly representational to completely non-representational, so I'd say there was something for everyone. The first picture is Mark in the Tate Modern with his foot in a crack that extends the length of the bottom floor, starting from a tiny little crack on one side and getting deeper and bigger as it goes across.

The next picture is the Queen in her carriage! I have one picture that's a bit closer, but I like this one because it shows that this is a woman who truly travels in style! After that is me at King's Cross Station, pushing the trolley that's attached so it looks like it's halfway through the wall at platform nine and three quarters, and the last is a little barge on the Thames that I liked because it says, "I eat rubbish."

That's all for England and Scotland, thanks for reading!

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

England and Scotland 3: Scotland

On Halloween we left Mark's village for the 6 hour journey up to Scotland. We stayed in a hotel that was made to look like a castle (see the first picture on the left), which had been renovated to make self-catering apartments. We stayed right in the middle turret, which was cool.

The first day we visited a whiskey distillery and took a tour, and we also tried haggis, which is a meaty concoction traditionally made of the heart, liver, and lungs of a sheep and boiled in the sheep's stomach. It looked and tasted like very peppery ground beef, and it was served with neeps and tatties (mashed turnips and mashed potatoes). The next day Mark and I went to Edinburgh and took a bus tour of the city (the second picture is Edinburgh castle taken from the bus). We also visited a few pubs and a really nice art gallery. On that last day we took a bike ride around a loch, which was beautiful, but Mark's mom fell and needed stitches in her knee.

The last picture on the left is a bagpipe player who was playing for tips just outside the station. Thanks for reading! My next post will include London and the Queen!

England and Scotland 2: Cambridge

Our third day in England we went to Cambridge where Mark's uncle and his family live. Before meeting the family we had some time to explore, so we went punting down the river with a tour guide and then visited a nice art gallery. Cambridge was beautiful, and it was a really nice day, though very cold.

The first picture was taken while we were punting and it's a bridge that was supposedly modelled after the Bridge of Sighs in Venice, though I don't think they look alike at all. The next picture is the quad of one of the colleges where they filmed a scene from Chariots of Fire (people try to run all the way around the quad while the bell is striking twelve and make it back before the last note ends - 42 seconds, I think - it's only been done three times). The next picture is on the streets of Cambridge, and the last one is Mark's parents and our guide while we were punting.

Thanks for reading, next post: Scotland!

England and Scotland 1: Stonehenge

Hello! Mark and I just returned from two weeks in England and Scotland! We went sightseeing and met Mark's relatives, and it was a very busy two weeks so I'll post about it in a few installments.

Our very first day we went to Stonehenge, which was top on my list of things to see. There's a fence around it so you can't walk amongst the stones like you could years ago, but you can still get close enough, I think. It was very cold and cloudy when we were there, but that only added to the mysterious atmosphere. There was a free audio guide, so we learned a bit about the stones while we walked around. The most interesting thing I learned is that no one knows who actually put the stones up (all this time I thought it was the druids for some reason).

The first picture is the stones (I took a lot of shots, and this is the best one for showing the whole thing without too many tourists in the way) and the second is Mark and his dad (can you see how cold and windy it is?).

Thanks for reading, more soon!

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

The Sake Festival

Hi! Long time no see! Thanks for checking this, and I should be doing a few more updates soon because my time in Fukuyama is ending and soon I'll be moving to a town near here and then going to England for a two week vacation (!).

Anyway, last weekend we went to the annual Sake Matsuri (Festival) in Saijo, a small town near Hiroshima. Apparently the festival attracts 200,000 people every year, and it was pretty crowded. We arrived a little after 10 and spent the first part of the day wandering through cool old sake breweries and trying a lot of free samples. We had one of my friend's students as a guide, and he was really into sake, so that was a big help. We stayed about six hours just looking at sake breweries, trying food and sake (even sake ice cream!), and then sitting for a while to recover from the drinking and wandering.

The first picture is my boyfriend, Mark, our friend, Paul, and our guide for the day, Shintaro, with sake cups made from bamboo. The next shot is a display with flowers and sake bottles, and then some people testing the temperature of the sake they were about to serve. The last one is me and my co-worker, Chris, with a raccoon mascot.

Thanks for reading!

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Fukuoka and Kumamoto

Hi! Right now I'm just finishing a week of vacation for the Obon holidays. It's been nice having some time off and it gave us a chance to spend a long weekend in Fukuoka and visit a couple who used to live here but moved in April. We went to Fukuoka Sunday morning and spent the afternoon at Canal City, a big shopping center. We went to the ramen stadium there, which is a big, crowded area with many shops selling ramen. Fukuoka is famous for a special type of ramen called Tonkotsu where the soup is made from pork bones, I think, so it's white. The shopping center also had a "dessert museum" but it wasn't very impressive - just a few coffee shops with expensive cakes. That evening we traveled to Omuta where our friends live. The next day we went to a beach outside Fukuoka, which was a lot of fun, though I got a small sting on my foot from something in the water. Tuesday we went to Kumamoto to see the castle there. It's a really nice castle with lots of things to look at and English explanations of everything. We came back last night (Tuesday night) and I have one more day off before starting work again tomorrow.

The first picture is of the restaurant we ate at in the ramen stadium. We waited in line for maybe 20 or 30 minutes then bought tickets at a vending machine and then waited a bit more before being seated in the restaurant. Next is a picture of Kumamoto Castle from the outside and then an example of the English explanations they had (this is for the gun windows in the guard tower). The last picture is a view of Kumamoto and the guard tower from the top of the castle.

Thanks for reading!