Tuesday, January 15, 2013

January Three Day Weekend (Nagano-Monkey Onsen)

I just came back from winter vacation but there was a three day weekend the second week of January (Coming of Age Day). Took advantage of this break to go somewhere, and PG (one of my friends) wanted to go somewhere special for her birthday, so we went to Nagano. 

Nagano is famous for hosting the Winter Olympics in 1998, but there is also an area that is famous for onsens (especially one where monkey’s enter). PG found a great ryokan (Japanese style inn), great price and location. The area we were in was called Shibu-Onsen. There are 9 different onsens that we could enter (we paid a fee with our ryokan to get a key to go to all of the onsens). Each is supposed to have different minerals and able to heal different sicknesses. Also each had a stamp. So I also collected the stamps too.

Each onsen had information posted and it said that the water temperatures ranged from 50-70.2 degrees Celsius (a normal bath water temperature in Japan is about 42-44 degrees). So we got dressed up in yukata (Japanese cotton summer kimono, but often worn when going to onsen and after baths) and set out to the different onsens. Keep in mind that the temperature outside is about 2-4degrees (in the 30s) and colder at night. So the first onsen was extremely hard to enter. I had a hard time sticking even one foot in. But eventually we got into the first onsen. Another lady came into the one we were in and said the other ones were hotter….(but I swear that first ones we entered were the hottest, probably because we weren’t used to it). But pretty much we were wennies at first complaining about the temperature.

The next day it was much easier to enter the onsens.  I could enter all of them easily. Our ryokan also had an indoor and outdoor onsen as well. I really liked the outdoor one because it had three separate pools with different temperatures.

We also hiked up to the area that monkeys enter an onesen. They have a special park where you can see this (humans don’t enter with them). The monkeys are very used to humans and just kind of sit there and do their own thing while visitors are taking tons of pictures. There was snow on the ground and it was a little slick. The last day we were there it snowed so we went to see the monkeys again.
It snowed all day, and our bus back to Nagoya was cancelled. We ended up taking the train (had to pay extra, and I need to get a bus refund later too). Later I ended up getting the wrong change back at a convenience store leaving me with pretty much no money….But overall, the trip was very relaxing. I enjoyed the onsens a lot. 

Lately whenever people see me they are a little confused. Some can tell that I’m a foreigner but are confused as to why I can speak Japanese, which leads to them asking if I’m half-Japanese; and some just plain out assume I’m Japanese. I’ve been told that I’m starting to pick up a lot of Japanese mannerisms. Anyway, I guess that’s a good (or maybe bad) thing. Feels like I’m turning Japanese (I can even enter the same boiling hot onsens that they can). I have a lot planned for the next coming months (I’m going to be poor) so I’m excited!!!

Take a look the photos from this trip. I just uploaded the photos in bulk (I didn’t edit or go through them).

Monday, January 7, 2013

Five months of Entries

Okay, so I’m going to make this as painless as possible because there is just way too much to write and yeah So, I’ll just point out the main points of what I wanted to write about originally. I think the cause of me falling behind and behind on entries was that I wanted to put very detailed update with lots of pictures which was very time consuming. So, I uploaded just large batches of photos. Take a look through them. My entries here will mostly written content with some photos. I’ll have links to photo batches correlating to the content.

From recent to not so recent:

New Years (2013)
I am the year of the Dragon (Born in 1988). So in Japan the new “Chinese” zodiac starts on January 1st. So in Japan, my year is over. But I’m going to pretend, (well it still actually is my year), that it’s still my year. 

I ended up coming back to Matsusaka a day later had to rush to clean and get laundry done. Then on the eve, I went to Ise Shrine. It was cold, but I think I’m getting used to it. It was also pretty crowded, but I personally think that it was more crowded during the day of the 1st. They had bon fire set up around the shrine grounds so it was pretty toasty in those areas. I also stood in lines to get free mocha and sake (the girl was a little stingy with me and didn’t give me that much sake compared to my other friends). Oh yeah, so I went my friends VG ad VO to the shrine. They had extra trains running so there wasn’t a problem getting home. We got into the fast line that went to the side to pray instead of praying directly in front (seems just as good to me). Anyway, this year that was much faster. Last year we stood in line for two hours to pray directly in front, which then when I threw my coin in, bounced back at me (that was tramatizing).

We went back to my place and ended up drinking till the sun rose. We walked a little bit from my place to see the sun better. Maybe I’ll watch the sun from someplace cool next year. But overall, it was a good New Years. I had a good time.

Castle and Cycling Trip
9 Castles/180km~/9 nights (originally planned 8 nights)/4 different hostels/Seishun18 tickets
Okay, so I again went castle hunting. This time I brought my bike along and thought I’d cycle across the Shimanami Kaido to get to Shikoku. (Two of my favorite things; castles and cycling) I had a good time, but it was a bit stressful carrying my bicycle around. I had to pick hostel that were closer to stations and would let me take my bike. Oh, yeah, btw, so I had to put my bike in bag (take the wheels apart) to bring it on the train. So taking it apart and putting it back together took time. But, in Matsuyama, it was very convenient. It was useful to have to my bicycle around so I could go places easily without depending on trams and stuff. But this was also the first time I rode a long distance with a backpack (actually these were my longest rides ever! 80km and 105km). I’d prefer not to ride again with a backpack. So this is making me rethink cycle touring.

Anyway, I saw some pretty lame castles, but also some pretty cool ones. Same goes for hostels. The first hostel I stayed at on this trip was pretty crappy. But my favorite on this trip and maybe one of my favorite hostels out of all the hostels that I’ve stayed at (15~totally maybe), was the last place I stayed at in Onomichi.

Okay, so I’d better tell you a little about the Shimanami Kaido. It’s a road (for cars and bicycles) that connects Honshu (the main island) and Shikoku through six islands. One of the bridges is the world’s longest suspension bridges. The bicycle path is about 70~km. It has become more and more popular. Some areas are very touristy. You can rent cycles for the day and drop them off at certain cycling terminals. You literally can’t get lost. I suck a lot at reading maps and get lost all the time, but I made it. To cross the bridges (6 bridges) you have to pay a toll ranging from 50-200yen depending on the length of the bridge (you can also buy this ticket book so you don’t have to dig for change). But people of all ages and sorts of bicycles make the trek. It wasn’t as hard as I thought it would be, but I’m in shape and cycle all the time. From Onomichi to Imabari, the 1st day, I took the regular course (roughly 70km, but my cycling computer added 80km from start to finish that day), the 2nd day from Imabari back to Onomichi I rode some of the intermediate course. I got a punk/flat tire and took me longer than I had wanted to to fix it. I had to ride rushing back for 2 hours in the dark. But I had a really good time. On one of the islands, I visited a shrine and got this special/popular omamori for my helmet. I’ll definitely be coming back again and during different seasons.

Oh and for this trip, I packed extra light, even lighter than the other trip I made during the summer. Well that was summer and this is winter so I had to pack different things, but it was pretty light.

Castles and Cycling Trip Photos

Under armor, Deuter cycling pack, Nikon COOLPIX P310 reviews
In a later entry. Detailed review of cool things.

Matsusaka One Day Fun Day English
Well I don’t have any photos from this, but at the end of the program I played my violin. Check out the video. Jounetsu Tairiku by Taro Hakase (this is a very famous song in Japan that aired on NHK a few years ago)

JLPT (Japanese Language Proficiency Test) December 2012
This is my third time taking the test and the first time that I didn’t have to run to the test center. I was always late the other times. I took N2 again, hopefully I passed…..but I might not have. I miss calculated the time, actually having more time than I thought, but I rushed through the last readings. Since the last test I took three practice tests and passed all of them, so hopefully it went alright. If not, the next time for sure! I can tell that my Japanese is getting better and better.

Yurusai Bike Ride
I went on a bike ride with some people in Matsusaka. The bike shop that I go to organizes a few rides (more casual and also big cycling events). There is a woman that organizes rides specifically for women, but there aren’t many women that ride so sometimes the rides are mixed gendered. Anyway, rode with them, it was fun. Look forward to riding with them again and making more cycling friends here.

Kyoto in Autumn
Aunty Ana visited again and I went to see her. We travelled around Kyoto a little, but it was soooo crowded. The first day we went to the East side, Nanzenji, and somewhere else too…..and we had tempura for lunch. The next day we went to the west side to Arashiyama and Tenryuji. It was sooo packed there though.


iPhone 5
Okay, so I caved….I used to be very anti-Apple products…
What sparked my jump to a smart phone was that my neighbor’s wifi stopped working for like two weeks leaving me without any sort of internet for that time. The new iPhone just happened to come out at the time and sparked my interest even more. It’s very useful thought. The apps are very cool, maps and gps is very useful. I use it like a PDA. I’m glued to it.

Bunkasai (Culture Festival)
Each of my schools puts on a bunkasai. The JHS B.S. tends to be a song contest and the 3rd graders put on some dance or skit or something. At the ES they tend to sing a few songs and also display work they’ve done. I’ve uploaded videos, so take a look.

Yabusame (Archery on Horseback)
I went to a shrine in Kyoto (I can’t remember the name). Kyudo (Japanese Archery), it’s pretty hard enough, I tried it in Hakodate. Add a horse and it sounds even more impossible. If your soul is pure then the arrow should reach it’s way to the target. From what I heard, it’s harder for women because something with the stature and the way you have to keep your arm straight when you pull the bow, yeah, it’s harder for women, and traditionally women didn’t participate in yabusame? Maybe. But at this event they had a few female riders. That day there were some importation international people so the whole event was also translated in English. I can’t really remember much though. Check out the video and pictures.

Yabusame Photos

Matsusaka Stamp Walk
So there is a stamp walk in Matsusaka of famous places. The castle, the place to get Matsusaka momen (cotton), Old merchant house, etc…. Check the photos.

Matsusaka Stamp Walk Photos 

Sorry I’m starting to write less and less because I can’t really remember much anymore.

Okayama Three Day Weekend Trip
Pi and I went to Okayama area to castle hunt on one of the three day weekends. We literally got on the train and book the same day’s hostel while we were on the train. Sort of spontaneous. I decided a few days before. She planned the castles and such and we booked the hotel as we were on the road. But since it was a three day weekend lots of places were already full, so one of the nights we ended up staying at a internet café. That was my first time. I prefer capsule hostels now that I’ve tried both.
Hikone (Taki CC Day Bus Trip)
We were also supposed to go on boat ride in Lake Biwa, but the weather was bad (a typhoon was coming). We ended up only driving (riding a bus) to see the castle and eat lunch. Hikone-jo is one of four national treasure castles, so I had high expectations for this castle. But I felt sort of disappointed. Maybe because it was raining and I couldn’t really get good photos. I’ll go back another day probably, maybe when I cycle around Biwa-ko

Hikone Photos 

Undokai (Sports Festival)
Each school also does a sports festival. The JHS in Matsusaka do their sports festival in July before summer vacation, and the ES do it in September right after summer vacation, like a month after. But this is from one of my ES. They do all sorts of relays and such. At this undokai, the 5th and 6th graders also did kumitaiso (group exercise; there really isn’t a good translation that I can think of). They sort of did choreographed aerobics and pyramids. It was pretty cool. Check that video out (3 parts). I was impressed that kids can do that kinds of stuff.

Undokai Photos 

Two Week Castle Trip
So I basically visited all sorts of castles for two weeks. I travelled all the way up to Hokkaido, by train. One backpack. When I planned it, I bought the train time schedule book and just straight out read the train times. Depending on the castle and how long you spend at one area, it is possible to do three castles in one day, but two is more reasonable. I always arrived at the first castle at 9am when they open (meaning I get up early, usually spend the night before in that area so I can get an early start the next day) and then another castle in the afternoon. The trip got cut one day short and two castles less because I came back a day late from the Philippines.

Two Week Castle Trip

Biwa Area Castles 

Matsumae-jo, Goryokaku
Hrosaki-jo, Kubota-jo
Yamagata-jo, Shibata-jo
Matsushiro-jo, Kasugayama-jo
Komoro-jo, Minowa-jo
Ueda-jo, Matsumoto-jo
Biwa Area Castles
Odani-jo, Kannonji-jo, Azuchi-jo

Philippines Trip
I wrote it prior so it is detailed.

A day or so before leaving for the trip, I was planning to go to the Matsusaka-shrine to pray for safe travels. In Japan people do that sort of thing for the weather, travel, exams, etc….. I do it sometimes when I go for bike rides too, I’ll stop at the shrine first and pray for a save journey. That being said, in the mist of packing, it somehow slipped my mind and I forgot to go. 

We planned this trip a little late, so we went in a round-about way of getting to the Philippines. First we went from Osaka to Hong Kong using a cheap Japanese airlines. Then we used another cheap airlines to get from Hong Kong to Clark (2hrs from Manila), then another cheap airline to get to Kalibo (Boracay is about a 2 hour drive from that airport).

Our flight from Clark to Kalibo was canceled. Strange thing, it seems we were the only ones who didn’t know. That airport isn’t very big, so they won’t let you check in early to wait by the gate. We almost thought we missed the flight, but it was canceled. In other words we were stranded at that airport. After a bit of complaining they hooked us up and got us to a van to take us to Manila to get on another flight. (2hour drive)

Once we got to Boracay, it was rainy for the first few days. The first day we got massages and walked around. We found a family tour company-like group that set us up with activities. The next day we went “island hopping” and jet skied. During the boat ride (island hopping) it was raining and the water was choppy at first. We were going to go on a small boat, but we joined up with other groups to go on a large boat instead. We got to snorkel a little and we had lunch on an island. This was where I ate the best French fries ever. I love French fries, and this, WAS THE BEST FRIES I HAVE EVER EATEN!  Then we went jet skiing. It was fun, but I thought it was kind of scary at the same time. It was my first time jet skiing.

The next day, the weather was crappy again, so we didn’t really do anything. We also moved hostel/hotel/apartment, whatever you want to call it. We just sort of relaxed that day. The following day, we went on an ATV ride to Puka Beach and swam for a little bit. Then we did “fly fishing”. Fly fishing, is sort of like Banana boats, except this is a big floaty thing pulled by a boat that gets major air. Now that I think back on it, it is actually pretty dangerous. But it was fun and scary again at the same time. We liked Puka beach so much, we went back to swim more and see the sunset.
The next day me and S did parasailing in the morning. We came back to the hotel, grabbed some food to take and we went to have a picnic at Puka Beach again. One of the members from the family tour group met us at Puka Beach and we went on a boat ride on White Beach to see the sun set. I also got another massage that night. I can’t remember anymore, but the massage was pretty cheap. We got another massage the next morning too (our last day). After the morning massage we went back to Kalibo to catch our flight back to Clark then to Hong Kong then back to KIX.

But…..along the way…..back at Clark, again our flight was cancelled, again without us knowing, and we were rescheduled on another flight. They probably just combined a few flights into a later flight. Anyway….that flight was 5 hours later which would force us to miss our next flight from Hong Kong back to Japan. We were trying to call Peach Airlines, but for some reason we couldn’t get in touch with Peach to change our flight, forcing us to buy a brand new ticket from HK to KIX. At the time we were all pretty pissed off, calling all sorts of customer services through skype and what not. My iPod Touch did come in handy thought. The ipod had better connection to the wifi than S’s iPhone and we used skype to call G’s bf back in the states to call some other stuff as well. Overall, the ipod saved us. Cheap airlines in the end will make you spend more money because they cancel their flights. But me and G decided to take the later flight back to KIX and we got to spend a day in Hong Kong.
We went out to see the Victorian Peak, and while we were riding the bus up the mountain, we ran into my high school math teacher “Mr. Chan”. Super random! Of the 8 million people in Hong Kong, I run into him on the one day I’m there. What are the chances of that. He was tutoring some kid that lives there and later we had dim sum.

It was a good trip. I like the Philippines a lot, well the area I was in. It still is very poor and the standard of living is low, but the beaches were so beautiful! Even more so than in Hawaii. I liked China a lot too, but I felt more depressed/bad for them. In the Philippines, I didn’t feel that way so much. It felt very odd to me that everyone could tell that I have some percentage Filipino heritage. Back in Hawaii, usually people can tell that I’m of Chinese heritage, but not the other half. I’d go back to the Philippines again someday. Maybe to Palawan, which I hear has even more beautiful beaches.

And that was a painfully long entry. Amazing if you read all of that in one go. Hopefully this won't happen again. This year I'm going to try to be better at updating entries promptly.

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Someday I'll post

Hmmm....I'm sorry folks. I haven't gotten around to posting all the old posts that I've been wanting to post. I promise I'll get them up someday. It's already the end of November and things are going to be busier than ever. I'm taking the JLPT next weekend too so I'm trying to study during every spare moment. But hopefully I'll catch up on 5 months of posts during winter vacation.
Sorry folks ;P

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Blog 40 – Upcoming Entries

Blog 40 – Upcoming Entries

I am getting worse and worse at updating. But I do want to write proper entries so you all will just have to wait patiently for my entries to slowly come out. Here are the titles of the entries that are to come out.

41. Philippines Trip
I went to the Philippines for one week in August.
Puka Beach (Boracay, Philippines)

42. Two Week castle Trip
Directly after the Philippines trip I travelled over Northern Japan for two weeks.
Matsumoto Castle (Nagano Prefecture)

43. Cycle Training  and New Gear (Camera and Cycling stuff)
After coming back from my trips, I wanted to shop more. I bought a new camera and some cycling stuff.
Nikon Coolpix P310

44. Sports Festival
In September my elementary schools had their sports festivals. I’ll post some videos of their group exercise and some of the different races and games.
45. Taki International Day Trip (Hikone)
This year’s day trip was to Hikone. We were also supposed to go on a boat ride on Lake Biwa, but there was a typhoon coming so the boat ride got cancelled and we just had lunch and visited the castle.
Hikone Castle (Shiga Prefecture)

46. Okayama three day weekend castle trip
This year we got rooked a holiday because it fell on a weekend. Last year we had way more three day weekends. But I travelled with my buddy Pi for three days and we visited four castles.
At Kino Castle Remains (Okayama Prefecture)

Saturday, August 11, 2012

Blog 38-Kuwana Ishidori Matsuri

Blog 38 – Kuwana Ishidori Matsuri

I went to another festival in Kuwana (a city in between Matsusaka and Nagoya). Just wanted to post some photos of the food stalls and stuff. I’m not quite sure what kind of festival this was, but they had this float thing with lanterns and a drum on it so they just banged away at the drums and these gongs too. It was interesting and much more enjoyable to not be seen by my students all the time.

put your own syrup shave ice

Friday, August 3, 2012

Blog 37 – Osaka and July

Blog 37 – Osaka and July

July has gone by very quickly. The last day of classes was on July 20th and there will be a six week break. I still go to the BOE though, but I don’t really do much. July is also busy for JETs. The JETs who are finishing their contracts (from 1-5yrs) will be packing up their apartments, having farewell parties and heading back to their countries. But this also means that new JETs will be coming soon to replace them. Bittersweet. I have two friends who I got close to recently that are going back to the states.

Anyway, one weekend I went to Osaka to meet up with my buddy J from high school. It was nice to see her, but she was on a family trip with them. She was the only one that can sort of speak Japanese, so she was guiding everyone around. I met up with them and we went shopping and walked around in Osaka. I was just thinking that the Japan that I see is very different from the Japan that other people see on vacation and whatnot. Same goes with a homestay too. When you travel you go to all of these famous places, big cities, etc. But I’m actually living here, not just on vacation, and meeting people, doing different things. Something like that.

I had planned to see my friend Rana’s band play at this venue in Osaka. I booked a capsule hostel to stay the night and I went there first to drop off my backpack. I didn’t look up the venue prior so I had to use the computer there to find the place. Rana was saying it was in some very non-descript place that I was very hard to find, but by dumb luck, really….it was just around the corner from my hostel. Really dumb luck. Very very convenient. That was my first live event. The next day I still felt like I couldn’t hear out of my right ear, but now it’s okay. It was interesting, not really my thing, but I’m really glad I got to see Rana play at least once.

 I talked about playing on the back of a truck in May, well here is some photos of the truck. Didn't get any photos of us playing, but this is what it looked like.

and pictures from my phone are screwed up so i can't rotate this properly.

Blog 36-Matsusaka Gion Matsuri and Miyagawa Fireworks (松阪祇園祭りと宮川花火)

Blog 36-Matsusaka Gion Matsuri and Miyagawa Fireworks (松阪祇園祭りと宮川花火)

Matsusaka Gion Matsuri (松阪祇園祭り) This is one of the biggest and only summer festivals in Matsusaka. There is a Gion Festival in Kyoto, so I think that is the biggest Gion Festival. It was two days, Saturday and Sunday July 14th and 15th. On both days they had food stalls set up and later some entertainment (one of my ES did a taiko performance, I missed it because it rained for like 20mins and I got soaked so I went back home to chance my clothes) and the Omikoshi (portable shrines). They were pretty cool. A mikoshi weights a couple tons so it’s very heavy. People carry it together and chant up and down the streets. It was pretty hot both days. So I ate a lot of random festival food (turkey leg, fried chicken, takoyaki potato swirl, kakigori-shaved ice, castela, etc….) and my stomach definitely hurt that night. 

note: i was wearing a jimbei, then it rained and  went home to change my clothes.

A bunch of us also went out to Miyagawa (in Ise) to see fireworks. There were lots of people dressed up in yukata (summer cotton kimono) and jimbei (sort of casual clothing that looks like a yukata sort of; usually only men wear this but lately they have women jimbei too). I brought my yukata with me, but I bought a jimbei and wore that instead. It’s very comfortable and a lot cooler than a yukata.
But I was a bit surprised because it seems that young people are changing the yukata fashion a little and wearing it a little more loosely and freely. For girls, you used to have to keep your breast area very tightly covered, but I saw some girls wearing yukata that was completely opposite and showing lots of body.

this is the most youth i've seen not in a big city
this is shocking to me, but just like girls in the US, they want to show skin here too.

At each festival they always pass out uchiwa (Japanese fan, not sensu folding fan, but the flat type) for free, so I’ve been gathering lots of free uchiwa lately and have been using them. July and August is the matsuri (festival) and hanabi (fireworks) season in Japan. Last summer when I arrived I had missed this Gion Matsuri, but I did go down to Kumano (the most southern area of Mie) and saw their firework festival (one of the best fireworks in Mie and in this area, it’s very famous). But festival food is very expensive and seems harsh on my stomach when I eat random stuff. I may just go to a few more this summer.

day 2 of the matsusaka gion matsuri
playing this scoop game. with characters instead of fish. this was just as hard as the ones with the fish. but i won a prize anyway, a coin pouch that i can hang around my neck. i wouldn't wear it in the US but here i can.

some of my students. i saw tons of my students.

the guys in blue push the other guys so they don't bump into people and drop it

they had some bon danceing going