An even more magical time of year

As promised I have returned with part two of things about trees in Japan, aka the Sakura season.

Today I visited the rather lovely, if not also very rural Kawazu ‘the land of sakura!’. The advertising is actually ‘it’s always beautiful’ but I think mine is better and since it’s not always beautiful (because after the blossom is gone you just have a load of naked trees and sad tourists) if you are going to tell a lie you might as well make it sound a little exciting.

That said, it really was beautiful today with most of the trees in full bloom and there is a recommended trail that starts at the sea and runs for about four kilometers alongside a river which is full of lovely lovely trees.

This is the beach. No there are no trees here, they are behind me. Sneaky trees.

This is the trail, in case you hadn’t guessed. But now the beach is behind me. Sneaky beach.
In addition to all this lovely nature you can also buy a range of sakura themed novelty items and foods. You can also buy a tree if you want to take one home with you to save on traveling next time, but to be honest I’d recommend just traveling as you would need to buy a lot of trees to really compete with Kawazu and your neighbours probably won’t be too pleased when your forest of cherry trees starts growing through their house.

There are of course other things to do and see too, as Kawazu is also home to one of the rare hot natural springs of Japan, and provides water for many onsen (public bath) and foot spas around the area. You can also find some interesting character statues along the way, including these two whom I have named Crazy Eyed Steve and Simon respectively. 

If you do want to follow in the trail that I blazed behind thousands of other people each year, then you can get to Kawazu by train from Atami. Be careful though as there are two types of train and the fancy looking one is nearly twice the price (although also a fair bit faster). The standard train takes a little over an hour, but you get a nice costal view as you go. Also if you don’t want to spend too much on food, as the stalls can be a little pricy, then there is a Family Mart near the beach and a 7/11 by the station.
So even though it’s a little bit out of the way and for me costs about the same as a trip to Tokyo, I really would recommended it if you get the chance and have the time, it’s a very nice way to spend a day.

This has been a review about trees and things from Japan.

Things that I have been doing, and the longest title for a blog post that may or may not also be about Japan (it totally is)

Hello once again you strange, wonderful and perhaps terrifying people. I trust that you are all well and enjoying the current disaster that is the state of our world. (except Japan which I love like a tiny animated ball of fluff that’s always smiling and telling excellent jokes and can do no wrong).

As this is kind of a Japan / travel blog I’ll talk a little about some travel and Japan things too. So Shizuoka, or Silent Hill if you go by the kanji, is the prefecture I currently call home. While I have explored to a reasonable extent all the cities within this prefecture there is one thing about Japan which makes it rather hard to grow tired of, and that is that they seem to hide everything up in the sky. Well, obviously not the literal sky but in tall buildings that in the UK would be nothing more than office blocks. This means that for a dirty immigrant like me (correction, expat) it’s very easy to forget to look up and find these hidden gems. I should add here that this goes double for big cities like Tokyo and it wasn’t until my recent return that I realized just how many shops I had missed when I first arrived. And it’s not just shops, but bars and restaurants lurk in nearly every possible space within these cities. You can even find super rare places to eat where you can dine with a native Japanese family, as long as you don’t mind them shouting at you in Japanese while you eat and generally having to help yourself to food. Two thumbs up though, would recommend.

Recently, tucked away in a reasonably public corner of Shizuoka city (okay so in this case I just walked past it a few times and didn’t really pay any attention to what it was) we discovered a honest real ale bar. Even better, it’s only 1200 yen for a pint which is like £8.50… Yea, maybe don’t convert the prices. Compared to regular beer at 800 yen a pint, the extra 400 is completely worth it because the beer is great and they have ten on tap, including an 8% one called Jubilation. It’s also the first place I’ve found cider in Japan, again good cider, which also makes me very happy. If you happen to be in the area you can find more about them here

In addition to all this beer drinking we had a day jaunt back to Tokyo, this time to enjoy the trains. Not in a strange nerd kind of way though (because we all know that having unusual hobbies makes you strange and an easy target for people to gauge their visualized self worth, but I digress) but because there is a yearly event called Tokyo Metro Mysteries . As the name kind of suggests you get to solve mysteries around the different train stations and nearby areas in Tokyo. The puzzles are fun, and solvable for both Japanese and English speakers and require a nice range of puzzle solving skills and processes. You also get to see some interesting places in Tokyo that you might not have gone to on a normal tour of the city, which is a nice plus.

That’s all from me this time, hopefully see you all again soon assuming a certain orange racist hasn’t blown up the world by then.

Another year passes 

Today marks the last day of my working year, and for most people in Japan the national new year holidays start today too. While Christmas is not really celebrated here, new year is a very important holiday for many. It is a time when people go to the temples to pray for a good new year and watch the first sunrise with their families. It’s also very traditional to clean your home before the end of the year, to start clean and fresh in the next. This makes me glad that my home is not so big here and thus much easier to clean.

Personally this has been one of the most interesting and exciting years of my life, as it’s the first time I have lived in another country (unless you count moving from England to Wales, which I really don’t). The food here is good, the places are interesting and the language is crazy. I’m also still really enjoying my job, and the people I work with are great. It helps that they like to go on little adventures, which leads me to my next point… 

Adventures in Kyoto – a day trip.

As mentioned in my last post, I recently visited Kyoto for the day with the other teachers. 

This day mostly consisted of walking from temple to temple, eating some amazing food, seeing more temples and then going for a rather delightful boat ride before we got to view the city at night.

Kyoto is a city of historical sites, as the former capital of Japan there are a lot of buildings that stand as testament to that fact 

I have never seen so much red in one place before today (it’s a lucky colour here) and as it’s winter even the leaves on the floor are matching the rest of the city in colour. It’s just kind of a shame they were not so attached to the trees.

On the plus side it did give our boat guide the opportunity to ask us to imagine what all the trees will look like in about 4 months, which I promise was much funnier at the time. Mostly because he started by telling us how amazing it is (I’m guessing from a prepared script) before looking at the bare trees and then switched to ‘imagine’.
We also got to see some interesting rocks with names based on the vague shapes they resembled (other than rock shape, although I for one would like to see more rocks named rock rock). Some were more believable than others. Snoopy rock was actually pretty clear while Monkey Jamp, yes Jamp, was more than a little perplexing if only because I have no idea what Jamp looks like.

The city at night is of course also a beautiful thing to behold, made more so by the illuminated bamboo forests

While I was sad to have to go in the end, it’s always nice to know that it’s reasonably easy and not so expensive to visit places like this in my spare time. In the UK while I would go places occasionally, I’ve never traveled as much as I have here. Every month I’m visiting a new city but it doesn’t feel like such an effort. 

Next time I’m visiting Osaka, and then next year I’m going to try for a little further away and visit Hiroshima which will likely be my first time on a bullet train too. 

So until then, have a great new year and I’ll see you all in the future!

An overdue update

Hello once again from the glorious land of Japan. A land that has seemingly allowed me to live in it without asking any important questions like ‘why not Canada, everyone seems to love Canada’ or ‘why can’t he wiggle his ears.’ 

That being said, here I am and I’ve been fully taking advantage if the situation by visiting lots of nice places. On my recent adventures I visited Hammamatsu and Mishima (the later of which I am convinced is a place from the final fantasy universe). Should you find yourself in the area, I can heartily recommend the castle at Hammamatsu. With the beautiful park surrounding it, you can enjoy some very peaceful walks around the area, including some wonderful waterfalls.

And of course you can explore the castle, which was once home to Japanese nobility. 

Mishima was a little less impressive as a place to visit, but it did have one very cool thing going for it which is the sky bridge. 400m long and 500m off the ground at the highest point it has some quite impressive views. You can also look straight down through the grating if you have a head for heights.

Autumn (or Fall as everyone keeps calling it like they are American or something) is certainly a beautiful time in this part of Japan, making me once again very happy to have randomly ended up in this slightly more rural prefecture.

I’m heading to Kyoto next week so brace yourselves for even more awesome and also more blog.

The Good and the Bad

Today has proven to be something of a mixed bag in terms of productivity and reward. After my phone broke last week and my internet connection started to prove more than a little temperamental (It’s currently free so I can’t really complain about that) I decided I would finally ‘splash out’ and gt a pocket WiFi. Things were going rather well, I had bought a friend who spoke enough Japanese to get though the transaction and had enough documentation with me to start the contact. Unfortunately it turns out that the bank had decided to use a different spelling for my middle name on my bank card compared to my health insurance card. This being Japan meant that rather than looking at the more official ID, or even calling the bank to check that I am who I am, one little character difference stopped the whole process and now I have to go to the bank tomorrow to change it.

On the plus side after watching some friends fail to win an ice cream at a horrendously rigged claw machine I decided to try my luck on a different machine and won some anime statue thing on my first try. I don’t quite understand what this anime is all about. My best guess from what I have seen is that there are battleships, but these ships are also girls who fight other battleships, who are of course also girls. See why I’m confused yet?

Other than this slight name problem, everything else is still going pretty well. We are now on the third summer of the year as every time it gets a little bit colder two days later it shoots right back up. I’m starting to think that winter may actually never happen here and the land of the rising and permanent sun might be a better name for this place.

Why did Kirk jump off a mountain?

Thanks to the very nice people I work with and the many new friends I have made here in Japan, it is starting to become a country where I do all the things I normally wouldn’t get round to on my day off. It’s a lot of fun to wonder just where the hell will I find myself a few weeks from here because (within the boundaries of physics and finances) anything is possible.

This week we decided to go paragliding, because why not? After climbing a mountain last week and being forced to merely walk down after, it seemed quite fitting that this time I would get to run off the edge instead. As I had never done this before it was of course a tandem flight, which made it a lot more relaxing as I only had to worry about gravity and its desire to bring objects with mass back down towards the core of the planet. Stupid gravity.

Of course before I could jump off a mountain we had to get to the top, which turned out to be an equally exciting / enjoyable / terrifying experience (depending on which of us you asked). Upon a monorail a traction engine slowly pulled the ten of us, plus equipment, up the side of the mountain which at points felt close to being an almost vertical climb. Personally I thought it was a great time, but perhaps not for everyone as there are no belts to strap you in or anything either side of you for the ascent. Perfectly safe though, honest!

Now this is normally where I would describe the joys of slowly falling through the sky with another man strapped to your back speaking to you in broken English / Japanese. Fortunately though as part of the experience I have a video of the whole thing which is in fact online and can be found here

To summarize though, it was surprisingly relaxing and a hell of a lot of fun. If you get the chance I would strongly recommend giving it a go as even if you are scared of heights the decent is very controlled. In many ways it’s like being in a lift with no floor and you can fly really close to the side of a mountain. Just like a lift, right?

In other news typhoon season is well under way, with all of the worlds water falling from the skies in Japan, which makes for an interesting swim to and from work. Otherwise life is good and Japanese living is proving to be very enjoyable. I also started taking Japanese lessons, which proved to be an interesting experience being on the other side of the table but recognizing the teaching format. Again though, very good stuff and most helpful. Especially considering outside of the class most people here seem to only speak Japanese. Weird that.

 

Under the Sea

This week has been a good one for new things.

This is the first time I have been to a beach in Japan, the first time I have swam in the sea in Japan. This is the first time I have been snorkeling in Japan and the first time I have ever sung karaoke. (Because how could I not when in Japan.

So to bring some context into this whole situation; as Thursday was a national holiday here most of the people from my school decided it would be nice to spend the day at the beach. As a person who enjoys having fun I thought it would be good to go to, so I did. While the beach itself was more like fine shale than sand, the sea was beautiful and not too crowded with people.

An area was actually sectioned off for people to go swimming in, keeping us safe and away from boats and jet skis. While from the shore it didn’t actually look all that big a space, once we were in there and snorkeling it was clear that it was ample. I didn’t really know what to expect from the snorkeling, as we were so close to the shore I didn’t really expect fish to be all that interested in coming that close to land, let alone the many people splashing around. Fortunately I was delightfully wrong with my assumptions and managed to encounter small schools of fish at one point, as well as a few loners probably off to see what the humans were doing.

Actually as a slightly random aside I do wonder if fish ever see people in the water and think ‘oh dear, they’ve fallen in again. Best try and get them out.’ And this is why when people film nature documentaries fish will swim up to them.

Anyway, back on track…

There were neons, and zebra-fish, possibly even puffer fish and a whole bunch that I didn’t know the names of but were very colourful, including  a couple that were easily over a foot long. It was a very enjoyable experience and I managed not to accidentally drown when swallowing half the sea at one point. All in all, a good time.

Karaoke is a very different experience here from anything I have ever seen in the UK. For one you have a room for just you and your friends. There is also no song book, just a computer tablet that you can search for different songs and artists. The range of songs is probably what impressed and amused me the most though. From your karaoke classics and modern pop to some pretty obscure 80’s tracks and Norwegian death metal. Yea that’s right, there were tracks from Emperor and Dimmu Borgir on this thing, along with SOAD and Turisas. Naturally this meant that our playlist swung dramatically in direction nearly every other song. The consumption of large quantities of alcohol is also very traditional (I was told) and may have encouraged some of the more extreme song choices at points.

So I have to say, although it can be a little expensive if you buy a lot of drinks from the place itself it was certainly an excellent way to finish a very fun day. Considering karaoke is a very typical way for people to hang out after work I would recommend trying it as soon as possible, especially if you are a bit shy about this sort of thing, as it will help you realize no one cares how bad you are (if you are bad) and it’s a lot more about no one really giving a crap and having fun.