Monday, June 30

Rainy Beach Day

Saturday morning I met Keith and Alex at Osaka Station; Matt joined us a few minutes later. While at DisneySea last weekend, a random decision was made (within a matter of moments) to visit the beach this weekend. So we did.

I was hoping we could visit Suma - a famous beach near Kobe, in Hyogo prefecture. I looked it up online, and discovered that it 'opens' on July 1st. In Canada, beaches don't really close (do they? I've never encountered a 'closed beach'); so I was a little confused. I asked a few questions of my coworkers, and came to the conclusion that 'closed' probably just meant that the food stands and shops in the area weren't open. But, unwilling to take the chance and not get to swim, we opted to visit Wakayama - the beach I went to previously. The train ride was quite long, but the four of us passed the time quickly with deep discussions about war, world affairs, and current issues. (No, I'm not kidding. We actually did.)

When we finally got to the beach (after I missed the stop and we had to go back one), I again felt so far from the city (probably because we were) and free of all troubles. Or at least most of them. It was overcast and rainy, and a bit chilly - but that certainly didn't stop us from swimming and hanging out in the water for quite a while. We were the only people in the water without surf boards and wetsuits. Needless to say, we got a few strange looks and the occasional side glance. We took a break for a beer and chatted to a woman for a while. She wanted to know where we were from, etc. She suggested a place to get food and seemed to want to take us there, but we were heading back into the water. In the water, Alex formed a brief friendship with a surfer 'dude'... he was watching us and creeping closer to our group. Alex waved, and the guy threw up a 'hang ten'. He was older than most of the surfers and had long hair and a long thin moustache. We laughed about it, then continued our conversation - with the occasional awkward laugh when he seemed to move closer.

After our second swim, we stopped for a snack before jumping on the train back to Osaka. Getting off in Namba, we met up with Rumiko - a new coop student from UVic. I was excited to meet her - although I enjoy all of my friends and spending time with them, the majority of them are male ... I definitely wouldn't trade any of my guy friends, but it's always nice to have another girl to hang out with!

We wandered around Namba for a bit in the light rain, and had some dinner - Okonomiyaki of course, for the benefit of the new coops. Then we spent the night out - Club Pure style. Two words to describe the night: fun & ridiculous. Next post!

Thursday, June 26

Footwear Status: Critical

I've written before about how Japanese shoes don't fit me. Extra large is a centimeter too small for my feet. I'm generalizing a little bit, because I did buy a pair of running shoes when I got here, and they fit me well. But in most shoes - to wear on a daily basis, or high heels, Japanese shoes don't fit me. And my feet aren't that big, by North American standards. I'm a women's 8.5. Not small, but not way large, either.

Why am I talking about shoes again? With 51 days left in Japan, I am in the initial stages of a footwear crisis . I (generally wear my black and pink skate shoes. They still function relatively fine - if the ground is dry. However, due to the four large holes in the bottom, if the ground is at all wet, my shoes become foot soak tubs. It's like walking with my feet submerged in small swimming pools. For business occasions, I generally wear my low black heels or my black flats. The faithful heels are completely decimated. All that remains of the end of the heel is the inner metal post. Not all that stable, and definitely not good for the floor I'm walking on. No problem - just wear the black flats, right? Unfortunately, my favorite black flats have been reduced to sewage. Well, not really. But they got wet (due to rain) and didn't dry properly (my fault - I put them in my shoe locker when I should have left them out in the open). So now they smell like rotting pond scum.

Fortunately, I do still have some low sandal heels (not really business appropriate, but would work in a pinch), a pair of sandals, a pair of flipflops, and hiking shoes. I don't think the situation will reach the crisis stage in the 51 days, but it is most certainly in the commencement stages.


Edit: Just to clarify - this isn't a drinking game. I rarely (if ever) play drinking games. I presented it as a game because it seems to me that there are rules that everyone unknowingly follows. In reality, the way people act comes out of respect for each other and is in keeping with the social atmosphere. Eating and drinking is a huge part of the social culture in Japan; there are always people who take things too far, but in general, the drinking is just a social activity, and kept to a reasonable limit. It's not used as an excuse to drink excessively or act inappropriately. Please read with this in mind. :)

It's like a contest. Or a game - with elements of quickdraw and musical chairs.

The Rules...
Round 1 - If a beer glass should be emptied - even ever so slightly - a player must immediately reach for the closest beer bottle to refill it. Once a hand has picked up a beer bottle, the remainder of the players ought to quickly grab for one - as there are not quite enough to go around.

Round 2 - Upon filling the glasses of everyone around them to the brim, players may set down their beer bottle, and - accompanied by 'Sumasen', 'Arigato', and bowing - may lift and tilt their own glass to be filled.

Round 3 - Short break. Conversation continues.

Round 4 - Someone takes a sip. Repeat from Round 1.

Ending the game - The Game can only be ended when the collective group leaves the establishment. At no time during or after dinner, while seated in the restaurant, should players cease to participate.

You think I'm exaggerating. But I'm not. Last night was a goodbye party for our team manager, who received a promotion and will be working out of a different office. I spent the first few minutes of dinner just watching the Game. It made me laugh. Often, when the glass was still full to a centimeter (a centimeter!) from the top, someone would pour to refill it. Then the person who's cup was filled quickly picked up the beer bottle to return the favor. And then everyone else jumped in - rushing to make sure everyone's glass was full to the brim. It was quite amusing to watch, and difficult to describe so as to give you a sense of the urgency with which it was carried out.

After dinner, 7 of us continued the party at a karaoke bar the next station over. We sang, drank, and laughed our way to 12:30. At 12:30, we finally wrapped it up to head home. Having missed the last trains, we taxied home - I shared a cab with Takemori-San and Matsushita-San. I can't even imagine how much the evening must have cost. Dinner was high-class, and everyone (17 people) had at least 3 drinks plus infinite amounts of beer. I'm sure you could fill a bathtub with the empty beer bottles. The karoake bar included several more drinks and snacks, for 7 people. Our taxi meter was at $55 when they dropped me off - with two more people to drop off. A second taxi took home the rest of the group. Eating and drinking with coworkers is a huge part of culture in Japan - but I'm still amazed at how much they so often invest in it.

So - I had a great night, lots of fun, 5 1/2 hours of sleep...hehe. But it was fun to hang out with my coworkers outside of the office.

Tuesday, June 24

The Magic of Disney

A friend of mine from my 2nd year of university is also working in Japan - and he's started a blog! Check it out, and maybe leave some encouragement for him to keep it up. Life is busy and sometimes it's hard to blog, but I think (at least for me), that a blog will be a good keeper of memories from all the adventures!


On Friday night, I climbed aboard the night bus for another adventure in Tokyo - but this time, a magic one - a trip to the wonderful world of Disney Sea!

The park opened at 9am, and you can probably guess that I was planning on being in line before 9. I met up with Matt and we took the Disney train to meet Alex and Robert just outside the gate; we got our tickets, and stood in line waiting. Matt is a coop student who has been working in Kyoto for 9 or 10 months. Alex and Robert just got to Japan a couple weeks ago - Alex was in my second year class. We hung out and chatted about Japan while we waited - and I made a plan, so we would be ready to take DisneySea by storm. There were few opinions as to what to do first, but Alex suggested we head to Mystery Island - so I picked our route.

When they finally opened the gates, we shuffled our way with the crowd into the big open courtyard. At the center of the courtyard was a huge spinning globe, surrounded by statues of Disney characters. I was so excited, even just in the courtyard! (I'm sure you were, too, after the sneak peak at the courtyard in the last post!) The street and the buildings already gave the day a magical feel. The sky was threatening to rain, but it was still quite warm out. There were lots of people, but it wasn't overly crowded.

Me, excited to be there?! Naw...

As I tend to do when excited, I was off and running - map in hand, chattering non-stop. I dragged the guys to a ride, which we discovered was closed. Matt had mentioned he might want some breakfast, so I verbally bounced back and forth between rides and food possibilities - all the while speed walking around. If you know me at all, you can probably picture it ... me, in my super excited state, dragging my guy friends back and forth and around in circles. But, I was having tons of fun already, and they didn't seem too tortured by my insanity.

The first magical experience of the day was meeting the characters of Pinocchio! Jimmny Cricket and Geppetto were, of course very popular. So I went for a picture with the Cat. Which turned out to be a good choice! He was a very gentlemanly cat; took my arm in his, and posed for a picture before kissing my hand and giving me a little bow. I like the Cat.

The first ride we did was 20,000 Leagues Under The Sea. Then we visited the Port of Discovery to get a FastPass for the Storm ride. We stopped by the Mermaid Lagoon and visited King Triton's Palace for some lunch. Lunch was very successful. My Sea-themed sandwich was soo delicious! And - I got a birthday present! Hehe...well, sort of. Alex's lunch came with a bright yellow soft Disney lunchbag - which he gave to me! (Again - if you know me, you'll know how thrilled I was about this.) While we waited for Keith, I led the guys into line. They were mostly talking and just following me... I'm not sure how excited they were when they saw we were in line for the Blowfish Balloon Race! But I was. :) Actually, the ride was surprisingly fun.

We also went to a short production by Ariel and her friends. It was very well done! Ariel floated up out of an old treasure chest on the sea, and swam around the auditorium, singing. She was attached at the waist by cables, but they were attached in such a way that she could spin and dip and dive and do circles as she 'swam'. All kinds and sorts of other sea creatures came to dance with her - starfish, jellyfish...all people in beautiful costumes, dancing in the air and around the stage. After some joyful singing, Ariel had an encounter with Ursula - also incredibly displayed! A huge mask of Ursula's face appeared in the air, and the auditorium was surrounded by long waving tentacles. It's impossible to describe! I tried to take pictures...but I got the 'X'.* At first I thought it was because my flash was on...but, alas, I just wasn't supposed to take pictures. So I got the X a second time.

*When Japanese people don't want you to do something, or are cancelling something, or deleting something, saying no, or...anything negative - they'll put their arms up in front of them in a big X. I got the 'X' several times throughout the day, for taking pictures when I wasn't supposed to. At least 6 times. Oops. :)

We wandered around the park, and did several rides including: StormRider, Raging Spirits, Tower of Terror, Sinbad's Adventure, Caravan Carousel.

After Sinbad's Adventure, we also saw some Aladdin characters! The monkey, Aladdin, and Jasmine were surrounded by people, but Jafar had a bit lesser a crowd, so me and Keith attempted a picture with him. Well, I have to say - Jafar moved way up on my list of favorite Disney characters. Not only did he kiss my hand as well, with a little bow, but - he did it again for a picture, and he actually gently pushed Keith to the side and stood in front of him to get a picture with just me! Hehe. He was quite charming (although he was rude to Keith). But charming to me!

We also got to meet Indiana Jones. I love the Indiana Jones movies. I love Harrison Ford as Indiana Jones in the Indiana Jones movies. I did not love the Indiana Jones character. I'll admit I stopped dead in my tracks when I saw him - good looking? That's the understatement of the year. So I was excited to get a picture with him. He was running around the bridge, posing with children and shouting in a big, deep, fake voice, "HI! I'M INDIANA JONES!" When I finally got to him for a picture, I said, "Hi, Indiana Jones!" And he said, "HI! I'M INDIANA JONES!". So I said, "Do you speak Japanese, Indy?" ( should really speak Japanese. We are in Japan.) He replied, "WELL, YES, ACTUALLY, I SPEAK 25 LANGUAGES!" Me - "Well could I get a picture with your multilingual self?" Between yelling that he was "INDIANA JONES!", the fact that he was too self absorbed to actually notice me, and the super dark fake-looking tan... his 'kekko ii' (hot) status was quickly crushed by other factors. Disappointing, to say the least. Especially since he was so darn good looking!

We got a FastPass for Indiana Jones, but it wasn't valid until later in the evening. So we spent a while waiting in line for other big rides... we waited for just over an hour and a half for the Tower of Terror. Time passed quickly, though. With 6 people, conversation was constant. Alex updated me as to the status of our classmates, and we reminisced about Mech2 and I got some useful info about my third year. We talked about profs, elective courses, and speculated how many people in our class would be married by the end of our degree.

(As a side note, I cannot believe how many people I know are getting married and having babies! Apparently I've hit that magic age where everyone starts getting married. If life had gone as it was planned (planned at the time, that is), I would be engaged now, and probably married within a year and a half. As it stands...I'm perfectly happy (well, most of the time at least) living the single life, and right now have no desire to be in a serious relationship, let alone getting married and having kids! Wow - how times, thoughts, and desires change. Hehe - I'm a 21 year old single woman living and working halfway across the world, learning, growing, meeting new people, and having tons of adventures! Love it.)

The Tower of Terror was fun - I love the adrenaline and the way my stomach crunches up when we dropped from the top of the tower. I love heights for those reasons - the adrenaline and the twisting stomach. Awesome feeling. We stopped for periodic snacks - I had some yummy Sea Salt ice cream, and a greasy, oily chicken leg. Mmm but it was so good! I dripped grease on my shirt which will probably never come out, but it was so worth it.


We also had to wait in line for the Journey To The Center of the was near the end of the day, and we were all getting tired, I think. I was. I was still super excited to be in DisneySea, but my feet were telling me that they had had enough walking for a while. We were probably in line for an hour and a half, but it seemed longer. Although - the second half flew by once the conversation picked up. Come to think of it, my energy did too. I'm always amazed at how a good conversation makes the time fly by. The Journey To the Center of the Earth was a fun ride - very well done, but too short as always.

As the day wrapped up, we went to the BraviSEAmo show.It was lightly raining, we picked up some Strawberry Popcorn (yum), and watched the show. Aside from Mickey coming out with Japanese excitement and greetings at the beginning, there were no words; it was just set to music. It was mesmerizing and I found myself completely absorbed by the lights and the sparking water. The show was a depiction of the love story between the "Spirit of Water" and the "Spirit of Fire". The fireworks after the show were cancelled due to the wind, which was disappointing...but I was still too enthralled with BraviSEAmo to mind too much. After hitting up the Indiana Jones ride (which fortunately was much better than it's character), we headed out of the park.

We sat for a bit in the big entrance courtyard while Matt got his stuff from a locker...I didn't want to leave. The air was filled with magic as only Disney air could be...the night was cool and fresh, and as the lit-up globe spun in front of me, I enjoyed the peaceful and magical moment - noting to myself that I was in Japan. Which still amazes me, sometimes.

We took the 45 minute train ride back to Tokyo, and went to Izikaya for some long-awaited dinner and drinks. It was the perfect ending to the day! I may have been a little bit grumpy by that point (okay, I was grumpy), but once we got some food and some kiwi sours, I was good to go! Alex and I led the drinking train, quickly leaving everyone else behind. The food was good, the drinks were good. It was good.

The next morning, we did a little bit of shopping around Shibuya. We had some lunch at an Italian place, and then some delicious gelato! Individual gelatos were ridiculously expensive, so 4 or 5 of us bought a half a liter of it. The packed it all up for us, sealed, dry ice, and all. We promptly walked to the table, undid it all, and ate it. I caught them watching us a bit - I'm sure we provided a source of amusement or at least --. It wasn't really a Japanese thing to do. The Japanese would never A) open a half a liter of gelato in the shop, B) sit down and finish off a whole half a liter in one sitting, from the container, with spoons. But, we're not Japanese. And it was sooo delicious. Due to the downpour of rain, we called it a day after lunch, and went our seperate ways home.

I couldn't have asked for a better weekend... good conversation and friends, delicious food and yummy treats, fast falls and quick drops, and a little bit of Magic.

More Pictures...

Friday, June 20

Beach Baby

Sidenote: It's hot. It's raining outside. But it's hot and sticky. Humid. How humid? This morning, when I left my dorm room and stepped into the hall from my lightly AC'd room - my glasses fogged up. I couldn't see. No, I'm not exaggerating. Imagine stepping out of your bedroom to go to the bathroom and having your glasses fog up. Insanity.

I've learned that I am a beach and water type of girl. I need it. I crave it. Especially here - the beaches are so beautiful and the ocean so tempting that when I see it from the train, I am pretty sure I might die of city suffocation if I don't get on a beach reasonably soon. The other day, I went to the beach.

I have a new friend in Osaka - James. I met James on a train, on the way home from work. He's teaching English in Japan and has been here for a year and nine months or so - living in several places in Japan. He's 6'3" and from the Texas ghetto. So we got to talking, and had a beer. And he introduced me to this incredible deep fried cheese things . . . which I am currently craving. Anyways, James and I went to the beach. (Sidenote: He surfs, and promised that he would teach me how! How awesome is that?! I've always wanted to try surfing.) I was so excited to be at the beach...when we climbed up the stairs from the parking lot and could see the beach, I couldn't help it - I took off running, right into the water. It was incredible.

The beach was wide and long, backed by a concrete and rock wall, with mountains behind it and to the side. The sand was clean and light, warm on my feet, but not too hot. There was nothing obstructing the ocean view. The water just swept back and forth up the beach, then travelled straight into the horizon, forever - neverending. (Just like Saskatchewan). The water was super salty (as oceans often are) and warm. Once we went swimming, I just floated...I spread my arms and legs like a starfish, and floated. The sun was hot on my face, I could taste salt on my lips, and I felt as light as a feather. It was heaven in the water.

We had a lot of fun at the beach - built a sandcastle, met a guy 45 year old guy named Danno (turns out that he lives close to me and goes to my gym), and got a little bit sunburnt.

Later in the afternoon, after some sand art, James went and hid in the shade, and I went back swimming and floating. The thought of leaving the beautiful beach, the warm water, the hot sun, and the soft sand to return to the crowded, noisy, polluted city almost made me want to just start swimming out into the neverending waves. But instead, I enjoyed the moment and floated... just floated.

It was a marvellous trip to the beach, and I plan on going again soon - and learning how to surf!


However, pre-2nd-beach-trip, I am going to Tokyo Disney Sea! I leave today after work, take the 10 hour night bus ride (It's a good thing I love bus trips), and will be spending the weekend in Tokyo! Besides being a beach girl, I am a rollercoaster-and-scary-ride-girl; through and through. I'm ridiculously excited. Here's a peek... I'll let you know how it went on Monday! :)

PS - Thanks to Suzanne for the 'Beach Baby' title! :)

Thursday, June 19

People Power

I went to the bank yesterday. I started walking toward the unattended counter, and was intercepted by Welcome Man. He fetched me a lady to help me, and while I was waiting for her to get information, I observed:

Someone walks into the bank to an "Irrasshaimase!" from Security Man and Welcome Man. They use the ATM. They walk back to the sliding glass door to leave, to the tune of a loud "Arigato Gozaimashita!" ("Thank you very much!") - from both the Security Man and Welcome Man. Rinse, Lather, Repeat. Congratulations. You've met some of the Useless People in Japan (okay, Security Man may be a neccessity).

Don't get me wrong - I have nothing against these people themselves... but the amount of Useless People in Japan is incredible! And no, it's not just me who thinks so. I suppose they're getting their exercise, at least - because with every interaction they have and then some, they bow. Some examples...

Welcome Man
To welcome you and make sure you don't trip on the way to the counter.
Lobby Ladies / Elevator Girls
To push the button to call the elevator for you, just in case your finger is too tired. (They bow an average of 2500 times / day.)
Crossing Guards
To whistle at the truck to stop as it comes out of the industrial driveway; just in case it was thinking of running you over at 0.01 MPH - and then to wave you across the crosswalk, just in case you were scared of the truck. Also to whistle at you and hold out their baton to stop you, just in case you were thinking of walking into the truck that they will then wave onto the road.
Traffic Light Crossing Guards
The same thing as above. Except with a working traffic light above their head.
(More at Quirky Japan.)

Most people who are not living in Japan assume that everyone in Japan works extremely hard, and that Japan is extremely productive. Armed with observations, conversations, and some hard facts, I digress. (Check out this article and especially this article.) However, I used to think so too. The few Japanese students I knew spent incredible amounts of time and effort studying. Some of the world's newest and most advanced technology comes from Japan. Must be a hard-working and productive country, right? It has it's hardworking and productive people and industries, of course. But culturally (in general), it's not so much the effort as the appearance that matters.

Work - Few people in my office leave when the workday ends at 5:40. Most of them stay until at least 7, some until 9 or 10. Every night. Why? Because no one wants to be the first to leave. When leaving the office for the day, a polite employee says, "Shitsurei Shimasu" to their coworkers, who respond with "Otsukare sama desu". Roughly meaning, "I am sorry to leave before you." and "It's okay - you did your job well." Appearance-wise, more time = more work done. Not always true...(one word: napping).

School - Highschool students who want to get into college / university do work very hard; the entrance exams are difficult. But once you get into a 'good' college? You're home free. Get a degree of some kind, with some (almost any) grades, and you'll have no problem finding a good job with a good company. (I could hardly believe it when Satomi explained this to me.)

None of this is to say that Japan doesn't have hard working and intelligent people. It does, and I work with some incredibly smart and hard working people who accomplish a lot. It's just interesting to notice the Useless People (who you would not find in nearly equal numbers in North America), and the cultural expectations and opinions when it comes to work.

Sunday, June 15

Serenity & Sanctuary

Today could not have been improved upon in any way. It was a perfect day of solitude in a place of serenity and sanctuary. I realize that sometimes I blog a little wordy/dramatically, but it really was.

I decided to do some exploring on my own, instead of spending the day at home in my dorm room. I read about a walking trail from Ikoma Station to Ishikiri Station. I took a train to Ikoma station, and started on my way. Unfortunately, I wasn't able to find any maps or specific directions online, so I decided to wing it. Which turned out to be...pretty...wingy. I had no idea where I was going. But with the help (again) of some very nice people, lots of pointing and incomprehensible Japanese, I managed to find my way to the walking trail. I'm not sure I went the right way, because it turned out to be more of a hike....with my pretty new shirt, purse, and sandals, I wasn't dressed for hiking. But the trail was nice and it was so beautiful, I went anyways.

On the (fun) cable car on the way up the mountain...turns out there's also a kids amusement park at the top!
This is my fancy new 'Japanese Shirt' that I spoke of...

I met a few people on the trail, but not many. We exchanged nods and 'Konnichi-wa's, and occasionally I asked to make sure I was still heading towards Ishikiri. They all thought it was just delightful that I was walking by myself, in my sandals. One guy asked if I was alone, another woman wasn't sure I should continue in my sandals. Everyone was very friendly, albeit giggling and smiling a lot when they saw me, and watching me until I was out of sight.

The trail was in large part big stone steps and staircases, interluded by rocky paths and dirt trail. There was a light and cool breeze, and overhead the path was shaded by brush and trees of all kinds. The birds chirped and sang, and from time to time I could hear water in the distance. It was so beautiful and serene; I sat, from time to time, just to take it all in and imprint it in my memory. I walked slowly, partially due to my footwear (or lack thereof), but mostly because I wished I could walk forever. About halfway through, I came to a shrine - perfectly situated in the trees. Made of stone and faded wood, it didn't look at all out of place. I washed my hands in the fountain and stepped inside to look around. There were several statues and buildings, but most of the buildings were closed. One was open - so I stepped up to the door and peeked around the corner. It was beautifully decorated, and there was a lady sitting inside at a desk. I quickly stepped away from the door and back down the steps, but then decided to go inside and look around. I always find myself hesitant to enter such a holy and revered place - lest I do something to embarass myself or offend other visitors. But everyone is very forgiving and friendly, and I knew I would regret it if I didn't go inside.

As I expected, she just smiled at me as I looked around . . . I never tire of the ornate gold carvings and beautiful flowing paintings. Just before I reached the door to leave, the woman offered me some tea. I accepted and she laid out a cushion, then poured me some tea and ran into the back - coming back with a packaged cookie. The gesture was so kindhearted and genuine, it made me feel as welcome as if I was an honored guest and friend. We chatted a bit - with some difficulty as my Japanese is somewhat lacking - about where I was from, what I was doing in Japan, and her trip to Canada some years ago. As I had finished my tea and we had finished talking, I heard several people coming and decided to leave so they could pray and worship. I thanked her from the bottom of my heart, conveying my gratitude as best I could - because it really did mean a lot to me that she had taken the time to talk to me and give me tea and a cookie.

The rest of the trail was downhill - every couple hundred feet were statues, often with incense or flowers or candles in front of them. I found a waterfall to the side of the path and sat for a few minutes - all I could hear were the birds and the water; all I could see was greens and natural browns, and the wet rock wall.

The trail turned into a paved road, with neat little houses on both sides. As I was walking, I heard a clackety-clack noise, and saw a big water wheel to my right. Set up under a covered area was a smaller water wheel with big wooden hammers that made the noise I had heard. Beside it was the larger water wheel - still functioning, but looking as though it had seen generations come and go more than once or twice. There was a little information board with old pieces of similar equipment, and pictures and captions (none of which I could read).

There was a map of the area, once the road got closer to town. I almost headed to the train station, but I noticed pictures for another temple off to the side. Of course - I had to go see it. I wasn't disappointed - again, it was beautiful and as tranquil as any place I've been. There were some more small ones that I visited as well - one had over 700 small statues in glass cases. Every temple and shrine was neat and well cared for, with small offerings and prayer requests on and around it.

When I was satisfied that I hadn't missed anything, I continued into town, and explored a short shopping street. I had a delicious (and well-deserved) lunch before I headed back to the train station.

I spend a lot of my time alone - but the solitude of being in the green forest, just with the birds, the running water, and the timeworn was different. A sanctuary of solitude that released all but peace and joy from my heart and soul.

More Pictures...

Saturday, June 14

Fancy Dinner & Successful (albeit hilarious) Shopping

Have I mentioned I love eating out for work, here?

Yesterday I went to Kyoto Industrial University with Takemori-San to take a look at a potential project for Osaka Gas. The professor and his sidekick students have been developing the projection of images onto mist...which is relevant to Osaka Gas because, well, they developed, produce, and sell the mist sauna. So we went to have a look.

Considering the fact that I caught and understood about 1% of the conversation, I don't really know - but it seemed a little underdeveloped to me. The image was projected onto the far wall of the mist sauna - and you could see bits of it in the mist. I was sort of expecting something like they have on Bones - the 3D reconstruction system.

I decided yesterday that I didn't care if I was a giant, I was going to wear my high heels, darn it!! So I did. And yes, I am already 5'8", and yes, that put me up to almost 6'. And yes, I was rather tall. It just so happened - too - that there was an unusually short woman on the train beside me. Her forehead was at my bellybutton. I'm not exaggerating. However - I discovered that after not wearing heels for 5 months, wearing them for a 14 hour day is a bad plan. Suffice to say my feet were very angry with me by the end of the day.

After seeing the demonstration of the mist pictures, we went out to dinner - as we usually do when there are meetings in the afternoon. We went Italian.

Oh my goodness. First of all - this place was fancy, which was kinda fun. Second of all, everyone (being the professor, another Osaka Gas guy, and Takemori-San) decided to order the 'course' of course I did, too. The course consisted of an appetizer, a pasta or risotto, a main dish, and a drink. The dishes all had fancy names with Italian bits, and all sounded divine. I chose seasonal vegetables for my appetizer, a Porcini mushroom sauce pasta dish, roasted lamb, and tea. I was right - it was divine. It came out in little bits on large white plates, and both looked and tasted incredible. Since I didn't understand most of the conversation anyways, I focussed on my food, and I savored every - little - bit. Heavenly.

And of course, because we're in Japan, we had alcoholic beverages. I generally have beer...well, everyone generally starts with beer...but I decided to have a Shirley Temple instead. As far as Japanese drinking customs go (as my Mother can attest), once your glass is almost empty, you get another one. We all moved onto our second drinks, and I ordered a Screwdriver. Mostly because I know what it is, and I didn't know what a lot of the other ones were. Well - apparently, this was hilarious. They alll 'eugghh??!?!'d and started laughing and chattering in Japanese. Of course, I have no idea why this is funny. A couple minutes later, it came up again, with another round of laughing. I don't like to be laughed at. Usually. And to be honest, it was bugging me. So I asked - "Why is it so funny that I ordered a screwdriver?" Takemori-San said, "It is famous to be a strong drink." Uh...okay. I told them I was an Engineer and Engineers could handle their beer and liquor. I also told them that some people thought women couldn't drink - but I think they are wrong. When I got the drink, they all watched out of the corners of their eyes - I suppose to see if I was going to spit out this very strong drink or make a face when I realized just how strong it was. I didn't. It was good. My third drink was a Red Eye. I asked for a recommendation, and no one knew what any of the drinks were, but the Professor was having a Red Eye - tomato juice and beer. My first instincts were a) eww and b) what a waste of beer! But I had to try it. It was surprisingly good.

Wow, that turned into a long paragraph. Anyways. Guess how much the meal cost? I'm going to guess $244 (4 x $40 course, 3 drink x 4 people x $7). Note that nobody blinked and the other Osaka Gas guy grabbed the cheque. Have I mentioned I love attending work-related dinners?

Today - I tried really really hard to be Japanese. I decided that I was going to buy a Japanese shirt. One very popular style of shirt is adorable on the Japanese women, but I can't picture it on me. Well, I can, but it makes me giggle. But I decided that I was going to get one. So I went to the mall.

First I had to find a shirt that I could stomach the thought of wearing more than once. Secondly, I decided that if I was going to do this, it wasn't going to be white, it had to be patterned or colored. Because the patterns look like something from several decades ago in Canada. But they're very popular here. So I tried on several shirts from several stores. But each time I got into the changeroom and put it on, straightened up and looked in the mirror, a strange thing happened. I laughed. I laughed so hard that I had to cover my mouth so they wouldn't wonder what was wrong with me - and at the end of the shopping trip, my abs hurt. Don't get me wrong - the style looks adorable and great on the Japanese women. But it just doesn't suit me, and seeing it on me.... was a little hilarious. But - I was successful! I found a shirt that fit my criteria that actually looked decent on me, and I would be willing to wear. I'll post a picture when I get one.

And that was yesterday and today. The End.

Thursday, June 12

Evil Monkeys & Utter Darkness (Miyajima Part III)

Although the hottest part of the day had passed, it was still sunny and warm. Warm enough for sweat to collect on my face and my body; the hair that had slipped out of my ponytail clung to the back of my neck. But we started walking. It was 2.5 kilometers to the top; 500m up from sea level, and we expected a view of the world. As we started walking and my legs started complaining, I thought, "I had better be able to see the whole darn world!"

I'm not sure when we started talking, but it was pretty soon. Hot, sweaty, and exhausted, what came out of our mouths in conversation soon turned into a nonesensical fantasy world. We discussed the possibilities of the monkeys giving us high-fives at the top, and cheering us on for the last little bit. Alternately, we desperately hoped they would not be waiting to throw rocks at us and steal my hat. However - should they decide to be violent and angry, perhaps Mr. Determind (one of the Daisho-in Temple's gods is said to be fiercely determind to destroy evil) would rescue us. But we realized he would most likely only be encouraging as opposed to physically helping. Cannibal monkeys, huge owls, an encouraging Mr. Determind, friendly deer and angry deer, and a rhodeo with the deer and the monkeys. Exhaustion and heat will do strange things to a conversation.

We passed a few people in small groups coming down off the mountain, but we were pretty sure that we were the only ones on the trail going up. Somewhere around 1.2km in, we met the evil monkeys! (I'm serious.) They were so adorable! They had no tails, but some had red faces, and there were several baby monkeys! We stopped hiking and crouched and crept to get the best pictures we could. I got to within a couple feet of one. However, keeping in mind their potential evil intentions, and the fact that they had their children with them, we didn't want to get too close. The intelligence in this caution was confirmed when Keith stepped towards one and it screamed, stood up on it's two legs, and lifted a (small) tree branch into the air. We quickly moved on.

Between the fantasy world and complaining about everything we could think of, we were almost at the top. The trail was a conglomerate of rocky path, and stone and wooden steps of varying heights. When we finally reached the top, all I wanted was water. At the top are the Priests residence and some more small shrines - and refreshments. Unfortunately, it was all closed for the day. Desperately wanting water, I saw a small cooler....and - yes! Water! It wasn't locked, there was just a small box to put your money in, and some coins left in case you needed change. I love Japan.

We did indeed have a beautiful view, but discovered we weren't quite at the top. In fear of not being able to move if we sat down for more than 2 minutes, we took a short break and kept climbing. Up and around a rocky trail, in and around some very large rocks. The view was amazing, and we stopped for some pictures.

Me as Mr. Determind. Me as Me.

But nothing on the way up compared to the view from the very top. There was a slight warm breeze, and it was completely silent. There was a snack and refreshment building (closed), but we climbed onto the roof (via the stairs to the roof) and took a look around. From the topmost point on the island, we could see the ocean for miles, dotted with small islands, and big cutouts where the mainland was. It was like looking at an endless hazy grey blue puzzle, with spotted pieces and the occasional oddly shaped dark piece fading into the horizon. After the roof, we climbed up onto a large rock and just sat.

Looking N, S, W, E (cw from top left)

You know how people often say 'Find a happy place' or 'Go to your happy place'? I think a happy place should be silent, freeing, beautiful, and refreshing. This was it. The breeze blew away my exhaustion, my stress, my moodiness, my homesickness, and my lonliness. And I just sat, in the fading sunshine, feeling the breeze, and looking at the ocean, as far as I could see. There's no possible way to do justice to how I felt with words, but the closest I can come is to explain it as utter peace and contentment; a whole 'nother world - free of all the trivial disappointments, negative emotions, and daily worries that generally occupy our minds.


When it started to get chilly, we realized that we should start climbing down before it got dark. I don't think the trail was meant to be climbed at night, because it wasn't lit up at all. Well, it got dark quicker than we thought it would. Between the sleeping sun, the smoggy sky, and the tree and bush cover over most of the trail...we did the last kilometer in complete darkness. When I say complete darkness, I mean that we couldn't see 2 feet in front of us, and when we did make out the shapes of kilometer marking signs, we had to get 10 cm away to read it.

Now normally, walking in the dark doesn't bother me. This trail, though, presented several new factors: evil monkeys, rhodeo deer. The very real and frightening possibility of a pair (or several) of eyes peering at us through the bush. The uneven steps and stairs, rocks, sticks, trees... put it all together and what have you got? A very dangerous and somewhat frightening kilometer. We kept seeing things move and were waiting to step on a monkey or something - conversation may have turned to interesting possible ways of not making it down. And how we would survive the night if we didn't. I laughed almost the whole way down, mostly at how ridiculous we were to have climbed up and then waited so long to come down. Secondly at how often we kept tripping and falling, despite the fact that we actually could have injured ourselves pretty good. Thirdly, at how much farther we had to go and how much my legs were quaking and quivering in exhaustion and pain. In retrospect (hindsight's 20/20 and all that), we should have left to go down sooner.

But we made it. This presented us with another problem. Dinner. It was only 8:30pm. We discovered that small tourist islands generally shut down - completely - after most of the tourists go home. Not good for us. We walked around the dormant shopping street - shuttered up and lights all off. The food was gone...all gone. We finally managed to find a restaurant that was open (and quite busy) and had some supper. Food is soo good when you're starving and exhausted.

All in all, it was a grand adventure. A little scary, a little fun, and with a beautiful view. What more could an adventure ask for?

Wednesday, June 11

Statues, Spoons, and Low Tide (Miyajima Part III)

The mandala had me mesmerized for quite a while, as did the many gorgeous statues and decorations.

1000 Fudo Images - The Immovable King

I could have wandered the temple area forever...the detail on the statues, the innumerable prayer requests hanging beside the idols. The different temple buildings are spotless and neat, and have a peaceful and quiet air about them.

One of my favorite places in the Daisho-in Temple was the 500 Rakan Statues. The statues are of Shaka Nyorai's disciples and all have unique facial expressions. I could have looked at them forever. Some seemed so happy - full of joy and bursting at the seams to tell the world their secrets. Others seemed as though they just sat quiet, content in contemplation - enjoying a simple existence. Still others looked frustrated - as though they couldn't understand the world's need to cling to such futile things.

We finally left the temple - I admit that I didn't want to go, but we moved onto slightly (but only slightly) more modern things, such as...

rice serving
(5 meters long)

By time we finished marvelling at the serving spoon big enough to be Gulliver's soup spoon, the tide was out and we could walk right out and up to the Otorii! It was beautiful from the shore, in high tide - but in low tide, it was just HUGE! Again, I caught myself wondering how they built it, and pondering the reverence with which it was treated. Today it is more of a tourist attraction, but for some it still holds religious significance and value.

Note - Blogger won't let me upload these photos for some reason...but I'll keep trying!

After visiting the gate, we talked ourselves into doing The Hike. We were both exhausted - both from an overnight bus ride and a day of walking. It was hot out. We didn't want to do the hike. But we knew that if we didn't, we would regret it the next day.

The Hike is 2.5 kilometers to the highest point on the island. You can take a ropeway either up or down (or both). We planned to hike one way and ropeway the other... Unfortunately, by time we made our way there, the ropeway was closed for the evening. We decided that we still should do it. And that's when the real adventures began... but you'll have to wait until tomorrow to hear about it! :)

Other Miyajima Posts...
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