August 13, 2015

Fukugawa Hachiman Festival

Since it's the time of year for this festival, I thought now would be a good time to share photos.

The festival is usually held around the 15th of August at Tomioka Hachimangu shrine, which is near Monzai-Nakacho station on the Tozai line. Every 3 years they hold a bigger version of the event, with over 120 large and small portable shrines, and over 50 giant palanquins. It's huge, crowded, and a lot of fun.

Another name for the Fukugawa Hachiman Festival is 水掛け祭り (water throwing festival), and the best part of the festival is that you can get soaked! When it's in the high 30s to low 40s with 80% humidity, a cold shower of water feels great!

A priest from the shrine blesses water, which is then sprayed over the teams carrying the massive portable shrines through the streets. Anyone watching from the sidelines tends to get soaked along with shrines.

August 4, 2015

Last Trip to Kyoto - Part 2

Once I'd arrived in Kyoto, I had to find my way to the local train lines in the station. Up until now I had never used the regular lines in Kyoto. I only used the shinkansen and buses to get around, or I went on foot. I knew where the goddess was (a.k.a Starbucks), so I grabbed my usual summer drink of iced caramel macchiato, and headed off to find my train platform.

For those of you who are planning a trip to Kyoto, my advice is to plan out all routes and make note of train lines, bus numbers, etc. If I had done my last trip in a 'fly by the seat of my pants' fashion, I would have gotten lost. I'd also have wasted an enormous amount of time. If you know what temples or other sites you want to visit, look them up on Google. A lot of them have English sites now with "access" maps that show you what train lines and stations you need to go to.

It turned out that the line I had to take (Nara line) wasn't even in the same station as the shinkansen line. I had to go outside the station and walk for a few minutes. Luckily I'd researched that ahead of time. It was really close and not hard to find once I got the right exit from the station. Kyoto has a lot of signs up to direct you to trains and subways, so it's not a big problem. Here's a map to my first stop:

As you can see, it wasn't that long of a ride, and it only cost me 140 yen.

Once I got off at the station, I had to walk a fair distance. At first I got a little lost, because the station is a small one inside a town. I got turned around several times trying to get out of the town and onto the path that leads you to the temples. Thank goodness for GPS!

The rest of this post is very picture intensive, so I've added a break. Click on to continue.

July 31, 2015

Last Trip to Kyoto - Part 1

My last trip to Kyoto was planned for July 13-14th, 2013. I originally planned to take the shinkansen down to Kyoto, but my old coworker J (also a Canadian) was driving down as far as Kobe with his friend and offered me a lift. I gladly accepted, since this would save me at least 5,000 yen. Thus began a real adventure!

All of us were working Saturday, so we met up just after 7:30 pm at the train station and took off for the Kansai area! ...or so we thought. Turns out J's GPS had us going north instead of south, and we had to turn around and drive back through most of Tokyo. I can't remember what time it was when we finally left Tokyo, but I do remember us going through Kikugawa-shi in the dark. That's a city in Shizuoka.

I'd been super jazzed about this road trip, and had prepared a bunch of travel tunes organized by decade. J and I used to sing old songs and watch video clips at work all the time. A lot of my best memories of him involve singing along to something. In the car we had the 80s tunes blasting, and J belted out his special rendition of A-ha's Take on Me. Nobody can hit the high note like he can! We also gossiped like old ladies about work. No one understands the plight of an English teacher quite like another one!

The rest is after the break.

July 29, 2015

Two years later...

So I haven't blogged in a long time, you may have noticed. I left Japan in 2013 and moved home to Canada. It was rather sudden, but I don't regret it.

I'm now finishing a degree to become a law clerk, and I'll be starting at an immigration law firm at the end of August. Lots going on, but I haven't forgotten my time in Japan.

I've decided to overhaul the blog and change it into a 'memories of Japan' blog. I still have hundreds of photos and stories to tell about my time overseas. It felt like a waste just leaving the blog as is.

I'll also share more about how I studied Japanese, and also about playing the shamisen. I got asked a lot of questions about both, and I never posted my photos and experiences from my shamisen concerts. I have kimono pics and everything to put up.

I'm also going to start a blog for my Korean studies. I'll document my attempts to learn the language, and some thoughts on Korean culture. It kills me that I didn't get interested in Korea until AFTER I moved home to Canada. What an opportunity I wasted while living in the country next door!

Long post just to say thank you for checking my blog. Thank you for continuing to read it even after I disappeared. Please look forward to more posts in the future.

Next post: My last trip to Kyoto: Tofukuji, Fushimi Inari, and Shimokamo Jinja.

May 10, 2013

Visit to a Host Club #2

Yes, it was my second foray into the glittering, mirrored world of host clubs.

Several months ago I read an article in some financial magazine (maybe Forbes?) in which Reiji, the "king of hosts" gave an exclusive interview after opening his club (Player's Club Dios) in Roppongi. The club sounded pretty good, so GEG and I went there to check things out.

This club is by far the cheapest one I've seen (for first timers). If you mention you saw the home page, you get two hours for only 3000 yen. (Update: It now seems to be 2000 yen) Quite a steal considering this includes a huge bottle of shochu or brandy and a parade of hosts. Most other host clubs cost a basic 5000 yen. The inside was MUCH higher class than Acqua, with lovely seating, tasteful decorations, very high tech video screens, and a disco ball that comes down from the ceiling! Even the "man menu" was much more exciting. They were all portable touch TV screens with internet access. Acqua only has beat up paper menus.

The place where Dios met its downfall was the hosts we were given. I am sure they have many wonderful hosts, but we didn't spend most of our night with them. The guys who came to our table for the majority of our time there didn't seem to know how to talk. There was no scintillating conversation. No sex talk. No compliments. What there was a lot of was awkward pauses, blank stares, and slack jaws. This was not due to the language barrier, as almost all conversation was done in Japanese.

More after the break...

May 7, 2013

Ashikaga Flower Park

On Sunday I finally made it out to 足利フラワーパーク(Ashikaga Flower Park) out in Tochigi Prefecture. The reason I say finally, is that I've been planning to go there for over 4 years now. Every year in May I say I'm going to go, and every year I wait too long and miss the window. The window being; the wisteria.

If you want to visit the flower park, but are worried about missing out on the wisteria, don't. A few of the purple ones are still in full bloom, the double flowering version is at its peak now, and the yellow variation of wisteria will continue blooming until the end of this month. Also, the park has a lot of other flowers like roses, irises, exotic waterlilies, etc.

Getting to the park from Tokyo turned out to be somewhat of an ordeal, so I hope you can benefit from my hard-earned experience. First of all, prepare to get up early. I left my house at 7 a.m. and didn't get to the park until 10:45. I got to Kita-Senju station around 7:50 and planned on taking the next train, only to discover I had just missed one. The next train wasn't until 8:49. When I finally got out to Ashikaga-shi around 10 a.m., I found out the shuttle bus wasn't a quick 5 or 10 minute run like I thought. It was 45 minutes.

I planned to be the early bird and get amazing photos by being first in the park. Instead, by the time I got there, about 8 huge bus loads of people had already arrived. Basically, my only thoughts at that point were, "Bugger. Why did I come here again?"

Is it worth it after all that bother? Let me show you a few photos and you can decide for yourself. I would go again in a heartbeat. The smell alone was worth it.

March 4, 2013

Quick Random Photo Post

Since we're right between the end of one fiscal year and the beginning of the next, tax season, end of school, etc. I've been rather busy. I haven't had much of a chance to go anywhere or do anything. I'm hoping to head out to Kyoto at the beginning of April to see the Miyako Odori, and I'll be sure to post it if I do, but other than that I have nothing going on.

So, rather than just leave this blog with no updates, I thought I'd do a quick photo dump of things I've seen or like recently.

#1 Starbucks during Cherry Blossom season

I am crazy about the Sakura Chiffon Cake that Starbucks puts out every year around this time. It's delicious! They used to marble the cake, and have white and pink marbled chiffon with salted cherry paste blossoms, but this year it's a uniform pink. The taste is still the same. It's got a cherry flavor and on top you get a salted cherry blossom. 

This is the cake from last year...and my pj pants. lol