Thursday, March 25

How time has flown...


I'm glad you found my little blog. :)

Since my last post, I've been back in Canada for a year and a half. While I was very happy to be back, I miss travelling very much! I plan to travel in the future, both short term and long term, and I will definitely blog when I do it! I'll post a link when I do start a new blog, so keep checking back!

In the meantime, feel free to browse old posts and photos! If you have any questions or are going to Japan and want to know more about somewhere I went or anything in general, please get in touch with me! I'd be happy to chat with you!

Until my next travelling adventure....

Tuesday, September 2

Kyoto with Jo-Anna

Edited - pictures added!! More posts to come soon...I promise. Darn school takes too much time.

In February, my good friend Jo-Anna booked a flight to come visit me. I was sort of disappointed, because she wasn't comin until August, and that didn't help my lonliness at the time. But time flew, and lo and behold, yesterday, she arrived.

Since I had to finish working, I gave her explicit and detailed directions with colors, maps, and pictures - and we met up at Tsuruhashi. I was super excited to see her and looking forward to spending the week together; she was super happy to be in Japan and see again too. We dropped off her stuff at the dorm, and went for supper to a little place by my house - Akoya. I haven't been yet, so it was to be an adventure. It turned out to be a great one! It's quite small; there was the chef and one patron. The patron spoke some English, and the four of us had the grandest time.

They thought we were pretty awesome (cuz we're foreigners) and kept saying how pretty and good looking we were...but not in a creepy way, more in an amazed way. We laughed and talked and ordered some food. I asked for their recommendation, which was fish and octopus. It came sashimi-style...I didn't realize Jo-Anna doesn't like sushi and has never tried sashimi. But she tried it (kudos for being brave) and liked it! We took some pictures, and then pulled out our money to pay. We misread the bill, and as we were pulling out more money, they both gave all the money back and said it was on the house. I tried to pay them and shove some money in their hands, but they wouldn't take it (bill amounted to just over $30). They just said to come back sometime soon, so we're going to stop by again this week. They also said they had noticed me before (I walk by twice a day).

Today, we visited Kyoto. We wandered a bit and bought some beautiful pottery from a nice couple - took some pictures with them and chatted for a few minutes.

The man who made our beautiful pottery

This week is the Gion festival, so stands are starting to appear in Kyoto - we spent quite a while looking at the infinite and intricite pottery. When we realized we couldn't look at pottery forever, we headed up to Kiyomizu Temple.

Just before going inside, we met Gaku. He is a computer programmer who has been working in Japan for 10 years. He asked if he could join us, which was fine with us. We went into the temple area and looked at all the buildings and the three story pagoda. We also got inside one of the buildings that is normally closed - it is open today for Sen Nichi day; if you make a wish on this day inside the temple, it is as if you came for sen (1000) days! Gaku also showed us the Kiyo Mizu of the temple (kiyo = pure, mizu = water) - which I hadn't known about!

The water was really good, especially since it was so warm out, and we were quite thirsty! Then we visited some of the smaller shrines...there was one shrine especially for love. It is said that if you successfully walk from one Love Rock to the other, with your eyes closed, you will find love soon. I had to try, and I made it! So I shall find love one day soon...

After we left Kiyomizudera, we were getting pretty tired and I was pretty hungry. We walked back down to Shijo Street, and searched for food.... which took a while to find. Jo-Anna was tired and her back was sore. I was hungry. Really hungry. We were at each other's throats a bit.... and we were both a bit annoyed by Gaku. He was really nice, but we wanted to talk to each other, and didn't want to be rude to him. So we had to try and include him, which was awkward sometimes...and he was a pretty clingy walker (you know those people...whenever you turn around they are right. there.). But we did finally find food, yummy food. We relaxed in the AC and ate, and felt much better and less grumpy after.

Finally - dinner! Jo-Anna & Gaku

We did a bit more shopping and exploring, then decided to head home. We were both a bit annoyed by Gaku, but felt bad because he was really nice, and really helpful. He was asking about our plans for the week, and I sort of vaguely told him, but as soon as I sensed he might ask to join in, I changed the subject. I figured that was nicer than having to tell him "No".... On the train ride, we sort of talked to each other a bit more and (unintentionally) ignored him a bit. But he seemed really happy to have met us and gave us his email address, and got promises that we would email (and we will).

On the way home, we stopped at the supermarket and picked up some snacks, and had a party and girl talk in my room. It's been great to catch up with Jo, and we've had lots of giggles and good talks already - and it's only Day 1 of the week!

Monday, September 1

Izu, Izu, Izu (Part III)

After I awoke from the dead, we tidied up and packed up to leave our adorable little Ryokan. Off in search of breakfast.... what did we find? MOS Burger! Mos Burger is sort of like a Japanese version of Burger King or Arby's or Wendy's - and the burgers have buns! Most 'hamburgers' in Japan come without buns. Don't ask me why. After a lovely chili chicken burger, salad, some fries, and an apple pie pocket (yes, I know - super healthy!), we jumped on the bus for Irozaki. Irozaki is a beautiful coastal area that is just barely touristy, but has some gorgeous scenery.

We took a half hour cruise along the coastline...the air was hot and sticky, so being out over the ocean felt nice (still hot and sticky, though). We passed by several rocks that were island-ed in the ocean, but with fishermen on them! Fully clothed, with gear. We figured that either they could walk out at low tide, or someone had dropped them off. But it was still funny to see them sitting on a rocky island with no means of getting off.

We passed by a larger rocky island that was inhabited by monkeys!! People who had bought monkey food before departing threw the snacks out to the monkeys, who scurried around to reach it. Most of the people throwing the snacks were terrible at it - ridiculously so. And not just the kids - several adults threw snacks into rock crevices or didn't even make it to the island (which was 10 feet away). But it was neat to see the monkeys.

When we got back from the cruise, we did a little perusing of the small shops. Most of the shops were inhabited by Obasans (older women) who were delighted to see us and thrilled when we came in to look around. One lady offered us some water; Irozaki water is supposed to be especially good. Given how hot it was, I thoroughly enjoyed it.

While waiting for our bus, we spent some time in one last sparse little shop. The Obasan was delightful! She was wandering around, talking at people out the window, giving directions and instructions to random people, and repeatedly making sure we knew where to go for the bus. She was very friendly and Rumi and I got a picture with her. After we bussed back to Shimoda, we jumped on another bus - this time for the aquarium. But not just any aquarium, no no, a floating one!

There was a small ice cream stand outside the aquarium, and (of course) we got some ice cream! Feeling adventurous, we tried some new flavors... Alex had something random (we don't know what it was) and I had Brown Algae. Surprisingly good, not sure how to describe the taste, though.

We watched the huge turtles in the pool outside before venturing in...we hit up the Sea Lion show right away, followed by the Dolphin performance. It was so much fun! We sat in the first row, and could see both the underwater portion and the above water portion very well. It was both cute and amazing! The Sea Lions did some fabulous tricks, including some kisses and waving, flips, spins, and dives. We also got a 'gun show'....he lifted his flippers and gave them a little kiss, just to how how proud he was of all his muscle and abilities... The dolphin show was equally amazing! I couln't get over how beautiful the dophins were. A couple times they slowly sailed across the glass right in front of us, and I couldn't tear my eyes away. More impressive (super high!) jumps and tricks later, they waved goodbye and the shows were done.

We explored the rest of the aquarium, saw some penguins and sea anemone and a GIANT crab; small sharks and more dolphins. Then we had lunch in the restaurant. Guess what we had? Seafood! I'm not sure if it was a strange or appropriate thing to eat in an aquarium, but it was delicious! Soo yummy.

When we got back to Shimoda, we did a little more shopping and then jumped on the train for was already almost 8 o'clock. Rumiko and I were planning on hitting up Moonlight Beach before we started our night adventure back home. We said goodbye the the guys, and decided to check the schedule.

Enter Ridiculous Adventure #2. Yes, there were two in one weekend. You wouldn't think a 2 day trip would have so many adventures and blog posts, would you? Neither did we.

Monday, August 25

Izu, Izu, Izu (Part II)

Having finally arrived at Atami, we briefly celebrated and snapped a photo or two. Then we ran like madwomen (again) down to Atami Sun Beach to meet Alex and Keith. The beach was pretty busy, but when we finally found them, we ran as fast as we could. I was waving my arms and yelling, and Rumiko was running and yelling, "Where, where, I don't see them!!".

Sometimes I wish I had someone snapping random photos of me...that would have been a good one. Rumiko and I running across the hot sand; bags bouncing on our backs, dresses fluttering and coming up to almost inappropriate heights, Rumi yelling, me violently pointing...

Once we got to them, we said the fastest hello ever, and ran straight into the water. The four of us hung out in the water for a while, swam, played with a beach ball, and got audio dame'd for retrieving the beach ball from the no-swimming area. (Story goes like this... Keith threw the ball to Rumi. Rumi missed (don't know if that was a lack of catch or throw). Nice girl gave the ball to Rumi. Rumi wasn't paying attention. Ball swims faster than Rumi. Alex rescues the ball, cutting his finger in the process. Audio dame. End of story.) Finally, stick thin and starving, we went for a late lunch. Some yummy seafood and the discovery of 'Wiener Coffee' (still aren't quite sure what it is) later, we jumped on the train for Shimoda.

The train ride was long, but we enjoyed each other's company and Rumi and I retold our adventures. When we got to Shimoda, we picked up some ice cream (yes, I know, we eat that a lot) and went to find our Ryokan (inn). It was an adorable little home-run inn. It had a natural-spring-fed onsen bathing room with taps and a bucket (hello, shower). There was a western-style toilet and a Japanese-style toilet, a common sink area, and our rooms. Our rooms were adorable! Mine & Rumiko's had a low table, a gorgeous mirror cabinet with small drawers, towels, ryokan yukatta, and a small TV for 100Yen / hour.

Once we got settled, we set out for (guess what?) food. There was surprisingly few places to be found, but we found an Izakaya-style restaurant. We had to wait a half an hour, but we used that to explore the little shops in the area and lining the street. Dinner was delicious, albeit a bit slow...we had sashimi and pizza and meat and vegetables of all kinds. It was late when we left, and since our Ryokan had an 11pm curfew, we stopped at the Family Mart for some snacks for later. When we got back, we hung out for a bit, then decided to try the natural onsen. Natural = Hot. We drained some of the water and added cold, but it was still scalding hot. I got my feet in. Alex got half of one leg in. Keith got some of his legs in. Rumi got in up to her waist (very slowly), but I don't know how she did it! I kept pouring cold water on and around her...hehe. We finally gave up on experiencing this particular onsen, but it was definitely interesting.

Natural fed onsen - HOT HOT HOT!!

We hung out for a while longer, eating our snacks and talking. However, having not slept the night before (at all), I was pretty exhausted. At first, I felt fine, but then I'm pretty sure I just fell over and looked like death until Rumi pulled me to bed. I slept like the dead. When I woke up in the morning, I felt incredibly strange. It was like I had been dead and just popped back into the world and was suddenly aware again. We were up just afer 8:30, and ready to head out by 9am, out into Day 2...

Izu, Izu, Izu (Part I)

Sorry - I posted this yesterday but forgot to change the date, so it went back into the archives....but here it is! Parts 2 and 3 to follow.... I'm also sorry it's jumping around a bit; this happened back on the weekend of August 1st - I'll get back to mine & Jo-Anna's adventures after the Izu adventures...

In the short seven months that I've been in Japan, I have had many adventures. All good, some slightly sketchy (Mt. Fuji . . . a little nerve wracking). But this weekend, I had one that can beat all previous adventues down with a stick...

Warning: It's a long one. A really long one.

Izu Peninsula is about 100km southwest of Tokyo. It's got beaches and onsens and coastlines and views of Mount Fuji... 'twas here that we planned to meet. Myself, Rumiko, Alex, and Keith planned one last hurrah (for me & Keith, anyways) - to Izu.

This time, intead of night-bussing it, Rumi & I decided it would be more efficient to use the Seishun 18 Kippu (Seasonal 18 Ticket). Never again. Never, ever again. Actually - the ticket was great; unlimited rides on JR trains for a few days for a reasonable price. Our problem was when we were travelling.... through the night. Most trains in Japan sleep from around 12:00 to 5:30am. We were fortunate to find a night route to get us to Izu. We planned to arrive at 3:35am and explore a bit, before the guys met us from Tokyo at a more reasonable morning hour. The plan was great, and timed to a tee, with no room for error. We figured that was alright.

I took the train from Osaka to Omihachiman, where Rumi joined me. We were excited and talkative and planning the weekend from the pages of information that Rumi had gathered. We chatted and giggled and tapped our toes, until as the doors swooshed shut on the train, Rumi said, "Is this Maibara?" Oh yes, we missed our stop. Not good. So we got off at Sakata (the next stop) and ran like madwomen (literally) to the other platform, hoping to catch the next train back to our 15 minutes. Normally, this would be fine. But in our case, it meant we would probably miss our next transfer, onto the last train of the evening. Not good - why? If this happened, we would be spending the night in a station. But, not to worry -

I've gotten a lot better at not worrying about things while I've been in Japan. So we decided that since there was really nothing we could do except catch the next train, we (briefly) explored the station we were at, and waited. It was in the middle of nowhere. Surrounded by fields. Fortunately, there were some statues willing to pose for pictures. We caught the next train, and transfered from Maibara.

We did indeed-ee miss our next transfer at Ogaki. So we (again) ran like madwomen to catch the last train to Nagoya. We figured we would get as far as we could. Which was Nagoya. When we arrived in Nagoya (at 12:30), we inconvenienced the ticket clerk to help us figure out the next possible trains, until we noticed that they were waiting for us to they could close the station. Close the station. So much for spending all night inside the station...we'll be spending all night outside the station.

Welcome to Nagoya. We left the station, and decided that what we really needed was nourishment and liquids. We were a bit in shock that we were actually stuck in Nagoya until early the next morning. We picked up some sandwiches and bottled tea, and planted ourselves on some bus stop chairs. We called Keith (who turned out to be the lifesaver of the weekend), who google'd and hyperdia'd us a plan for the morning. We would leave Nagoya at 5:30am, and hopefully get to Izu by 10:20am. Good plan.

Next plan. Sleep. It is important to note that we did not plan on staying in Nagoya, had no maps or information, and also that hotels, ryokans, inns, etc, have curfews and closing times, in Japan. So we really were going to be outside all night.

Now - before you worry, let me assure you that we were in a populated place, staying together, and staying on main roads. And I put on my mean face whenever we passed anyone the least bit suspicious. We interrogated a couple street punks, got an old lady's purse back, roughed up some mafia members, and had quite a reputation - so we were safe. Just kidding. But we were being safe.

In the spirit of safeness, we decided to try and sleep in a clean, lit, public place. Beside the bus stop was a hotel (closed) with a nice parkade area. It fit the bill, so we wandered inside the shallow entrance. We found a bench! A nice, cushioned bench! Rumiko exclaimed, "We're so lucky!", and I agreed, "I know!!" . . .

before we realized that two lucky people would not be stuck in a strange city sleeping outside all night. So we laughed at ourselves, and set up our lucky bench. I also found a smaller bench around the corner, so we made sort of an L shaped bed, against the wall, with our heads together. We wrapped the straps of our bags and purses around our arms, and laid down to try and catch a few Z's.

I have to admit - despite being in a fairly safe area, it was creepy. Once or twice I lifted my head to look around. Then Rumiko said, "Steph...". I lifted my head to see a Dirty and Wrinkled Old Man (DWOM) standing half behind a column, watching us. I promptly sat up, and gave him my most challenging glare. He looked again, and then wandered away. We were completely freaked out, and decided that this was not a good plan. We decided to relocate to the 24hour McD's across the street. When we got to the corner, the DWOM was there too, so we stayed there so he couldn't follow us. He went towards the McD's, so we went the other way - back towards the station.

At the station, there were quite a few people sprawled out on and around the entrance, sleeping. There was also lights and a station security guard. We decided to make the station entrance our alternately napping place for the night. There were also a couple guys a few meters down from us with BMX bikes. They had a little area set up with some snacks and sweaters lying around, and were BMX'ing and sitting around (henceforth called the Bike Boys).

We spent a couple hours talking, giggling, and telling stories about previous adventures, relationships, and experiences. We also tried to work up the courage to ask the cute Bike Boys if we could take a video of them, and then (it's all about starting with the baby step) if they would teach us some bike tricks. Two caucasian men walked by (45 ish), and said, "where ya going...?" before suggesting that we join them in their hotel room. Fortunately, they didn't stop walking while they talked, and I think the looks on our face of disgust and horror kept them from stopping. It was a strange moment, for me. And not pleasant.

We also encountered another Very Strange Man (VSM). The VSM was another little old guy, but dressed in a business suit. He was hanging around an area several meters in front of us. He alternately sat down, walked in circles, and yelled random things. Then he proceeded to pull out some paper towels and wipe his feet and then wander around with those, throwing them in the air. He was indeed very strange. Finally, despite the VSM and the hard pavement, Rumiko fell asleep. I rested and relaxed a bit, but didn't fall asleep - instead, I kept a watchful eye out for DWOM or any other potentially threatening beings. Oh, and I smile-flirted with the Bike Boys. They were showing off for us. It was funny.

When the station doors opened at 4:50, we relocated to another nearby wall for a few more minutes. When we sat down, Rumiko promptly fell back into a deep sleep. I was even more awake than before, so I watched the light grow and the (normal) people start arriving for the day. Presently, another caucasian man walked by. I am generally friendly to caucasian people in Japan, because I know how out of place I felt while I was here. Well, this guy was Russian. He didn't really speak English. But he said hello and kind of asked where I was from. Unfortunately, he was on Rumi's side and speaking to me. When she woke up to the conversation, he was kind of leaning over her towards me ... I think she had a momentary heart attack as she scrambled to sit up. He was nice, but a little strange....he kept saying, "You speak? You speak?" To which Rumiko replied, "Yes, I speak. See, I am speaking right now. I am always speaking." Then she said goodbye to him, but he didn't catch the hint. He mimiced a motorbike, told us where he was from (sort of) and that he didn't speak English (we noticed) and then finally caught the hint. We decided that we had had enough of Nagoya, and went inside the station.

Ready to hit up a new and fun day, we fixed our makeup in the bathroom and caught our train. The only sketchy part of our schedule was that we had two minutes to make one of our transfers. Turned out, it didn't matter.

Partway between Nagoya and Toyohashi, the train was delayed. We didn't quite understand the loudspeaker message, so we asked a couple sitting beside us. They told us that the train would go to Toyohashi, but then would turn around and head back to Nagoya. Why? Rain. "?????" We didn't quite understand how the rain was stopping the train, but figured there must be flooding ... it was raining pretty hard.

We discovered this when we got to Hammamatsu. Trains weren't moving, so we went exploring. We played in the rain for a second, but only a second - I couldn't believe how much it was raining!

We saw the famous Hammamatsu tower, and took a picture in the rain. We missed one train (didn't see it on the board on time), before finally catching another train. After a few more stops and a very quick four-minute-flat-exploration of Shizuoka station (on the way), we finally, finally made it to Atami! We were thrilled, to say the least.

We snapped some photos, jumped into our bathing suits, and took off for the beach to meet Alex and Keith...

Sunday, August 24

Home again!

I apologize for taking soo long to update my blog!

I made it home safely and have been running around like crazy for a week, now - errands, visits, people, stuff. I am moving back down to Vancouver next weekend to continue school...

It's good to be home, but a little strange. Things catch me off guard and surprise me; things that are different here from Japan. I started driving on the left side of the road (just for 100 m, I promise). I look for a tray to put my money in at stores, instead of handing it to the person. I am surprised when the cost of more because of taxes (yuck, taxes). I forget to tip (oops). I can understand all the conversation around me - almost to the point of annoyance (hehe). I miss Japan - a lot, actually. But I will live vicariously through Alex's Blog until May, when he comes back to Canada. But I do wish I was still there!

I have several blog posts written and promise I'll post them soon! I just have to add photos - I am having trouble with my laptop, but plan to buy a new one tomorrow (hopefully)!

I promise that tomorrow night I will start posting the Izu of the larger and more sketchy adventures I had in Japan. Look for it tomorrow... :)

Wednesday, August 13

Quick hello...

A quick hello from Mie prefecture! We've had a great (but busy) couple of days... lots of photos to upload and blogging to do - but it will have to wait! Right now we're hanging out in an internet cafe at Ugata station in Mie Prefecture. We've hit the beach, stayed at a beautiful Ryokan (Japanese Inn), biked quite a ways, saw a gorgeous shrine, and found an adorable little hotel to stay in.... tomorrow we're hoping for a cliffside cruise, Spanish-themed rollercoaster park, and another beach.

Time has flown since my friend got here, but we've done a lot. Tomorrow night we'll head home (to the dorm). Friday will be packing and tying up loose ends day, meet a few friends for one last lunch (tear!!). Then Saturday, it's onto the plane and back to Canada...