Sunday, December 18, 2005

Kyoto (Dec 16-18)

As my last sight-seeing trip here in Japan, I went to the city of Kyoto. I had to force myself to go, despite the fact that I'm currently "travelled out" and am ready to go home and see family and friends again. But not going to Kyoto when coming to Japan, is like not going to Paris when you visit France. Kyoto is the city in Japan with the most famous temples and shrines. And a bunch of them are considered UNESCO World Heritage Sites.

So the day after I arrived in Tottori to drop off my luggage, I took a bus to Kyoto. It's only about 3 hours away and it only cost me about 3000 yen which is approximately $30 US one way. I stayed at the J-Hoppers Travellers Hostel next to the infamous Kytoto station. It only costs abou 2500 yen a night and the conditions were amazing. And most importantly the rooms were warm and comfortable. It was suprisingly clean and quiet. I defintely recommend this hostel to whomever goes to Kyoto in the future.

I was quite happy to go to Kyoto to get away from the Tottori snow storm for a few days. The weather in Kyoto was cold, but yet it was sunny so it was perfect. And some of the reminants of the fall colours were still present so it really emphasized the beauty of everything. And to top it off the day I left on the 18th it started to lightly snow. So to top off the gorgeous fall colours, the sprinkle of snow added a glow to the fantastic landscape. So heres where I went. I covered a lot of stuff that I wanted to see.

The interesting thing was during the night of the 17th, I bumped into a friend of mine from Tokyo, Chris, whom I went to the Hokusai art exibition with, and who I didnt get time to meet before I left. It was such a coincidence to get to see him. So we went to Toji temple together in the morning.

Dec 16th
- Arrived at Kyoto station
- Kyoto Imperial Palace (Kyoto was previously the capital city of Japan)
- Kyoto Lighting Festival in the Arayshiyama area

Dec 17th
- Ginkakuji temple
- Path of Philosophy
- Kiyomizu temple

- Giro area (the central area in Kyoto with all the ancient streets and famous for the geishas)
- Shijo area (the heart of the city with all the clubs, restaurants and shopping centres)

Dec 18th
- Toji temple

- Kinkakuji temple (the temple made of pure gold)

- Ryounji temple
- Nanzenji temple

Overall I thought Kyoto was an amazing city. For sight-seeing that is. The landcsape is super gorgeous and relaxing. So I would say its made more for the old folks. I dont think I would want to live there if I were to move to Japan. After living in Tokyo, nothing can compare. Sigh... I miss Tokyo sooo much. As they say in Japanese... natsukashii (good memories)!!!!

Sunday, December 11, 2005

Fuji Mountain

Today, the last Sunday I have in Tokyo, Teresa, Richard, Teresa's boyfriend Kenney, and I went to the Fuji Five Lakes area in the prefecture west of Tokyo. Our main motive was to go see Fuji mountain. I really wanted to hike up the mountain, but we were out of climbing season.

A view of Fuji mountain just outside Kawaguchiko station

It took more than 3 hours commuting each way (from Tokyo station to Kawaguchiko station) but it was worth it. We left Tokyo at around 7 am and arrived at Kawaguchiko station at 10 am. I got off the train and was blown away. We stayed around Kawaguchi lake (one of the "five lakes" next to the mountain). When we arrived we went up these liftcars that took us to the top of a hill to have a better look at Fuji mountain and took tons of pictures. Even though that was mostly what we did, it was totally worth it. Its like nothing I've ever seen before. This was the last place I wanted to see before leaving Tokyo. It was a good thing we went early because at around 2 pm the mountain disappears into the clouds.

But there wasn't much to do in the area other than enjoy the view of the mountain. Nearby there were tons of tiny museums and even a place dedicated to put on a show performed by actual monkies. We found a lot of stuff quite expensive for what it was worth so we didnt go in. So ended up going to a blueberry farm and we learned how to make blueberry jam. mmmmmmm peanut butter and jelly sandwiches.. i miss those.. hehehe

Us going up the lift-car
Yummy lunch: famous local food of the Fuji area called "Hotto"
Us making blueberry jam

Saturday, December 10, 2005

Last Weekend in Tokyo and Mixed Feelings

It's my last weekend here in Tokyo and my last two weeks in Japan. I've had so much fun here the time just flew by. I'm having mix feelings. Part of me really really wants to go home and see all my friends and family. But part me is going really miss Japan. It's been my home for the past 9 months. No matter how much I complain about the difference and the conservatism of the culture, I have seriously gotten used to it. I found out that I'm a person that likes "settling down", as in when I move somewhere I like staying there and adapting to the life instead moving around everywhere. I have definitely formed a bond with Japan.

I watched the movie "Lost in Translation" starring Bill Murray and Scarlett Johansson last night. It quite enjoyed it because I could relate to it very much. It's about the two characters arriving in Tokyo and getting somewhat frustrated at the culture but in the end didn't want to leave, but yet wanted to go home. There was much more to the story but I still could relate to it.

I'm also dreading packing. So much junk has built up the past four months here in Tokyo. And I hate throwing out stuff so moving back to Tottori is going to be an adventure.

Shinjuku, one of my favourite places in Tokyo to hang out. I will miss it

Sunday, December 04, 2005

Visiting the Host Parents in Ishikawa, Japan (Dec 1 - 4, 2005)

During the Japan Tent conference in early August, I promised one of the host families to visit them after I move to Tokyo. So I finally did it. They were the sweet old couple that lived in Noto city of Ishikawa prefecture: Sadatoshi and Teiko Gyoda. They're both in their mid-70's and are as active as ever. They're both very active senior citizens and are in great health.

It was kinda weird for me to go from such an urban and crowded environment like Tokyo to a REALLY rural area like Noto. I found out that I'm definitely a city boy and enjoy the city lights, noise and crowdedness.

So I took a plane from Tokyo Haneda airport to Noto. Seeing them again was very nice. They treated me like I was their own grandson. So when I arrived they told me that we were going on an onsen (hot spring). So I was like okay sure, thinking it was somewhere local.. that sounds good. They ended up driving over 2 hours from Noto down south past metropolitan Kanazawa (the capital city of Ishikawa prefecture)to some southern city. I was so amazed at my host mom for driving for so long without getting tired. And shes over 75 years old. She told me shes been driving since 1950 so it was no problem for her and that she enjoys driving. We arrived at a traditional Japanese style hotel. The hotel room was like my dorm room in Yokohama but of course much larger, with a living room, shower, the works. Then we headed to dinner at the hotel. It was this gigantic buffet with all-you-can-eat crabs. It was mucho yummy. And boy do they both LOOOOVE drinking. My host father had 3 glasses of beer and a half a bottle of Japanese liquor. My host mom drank orange juice because she drank too much the night before. hahahaha. Afterwards my host father and I went to the hot spring in the hotel and enjoyed the steaming hot pool of water. I was more careful this time to prevent myself from getting a big headache.

Me and my host grandparents at the hotel in Ishikawa prefectureYummay dinnerI'm getting fat from all the eating... I'll lose it once school starts again

Supposedly it snowed the night before but it seemed to have melted. The street snow/ice-melting sprinklers were on in the roads. The next day after breakfast, we headed to Kanazawa city and went to the Ishikawa Prefectural Museum of History. It was very interesting and thank goodness there were English audio guides available. I even got to dress up in ancient samurai armour. The both of them are very into art, culture and history so we ended up spending over 2 hours in the museum. By the time we left and headed back to their house in Noto it was already 7 pm. So we had dinner and chatted about our lives, Japanese politics and current events. Their house was freeezing cold. In Japan there's no such thing as central heating. And being out in the boonies, they needed to place portable heaters all ove the house. The last time I came here, it was the complete opposite: it was steaming hot. Why wont the Japanese get with the times and build their houses with central heat and air conditioning?! I couldnt take a shower that night because the house was too cold so my host mom recommended me to take one later.
Road snow/ice melting sprinklers

The next day we headed off to somewhere local. Well it ended up being over an hour away so I dont know how "local" it was. hahahaha. It was actually snowing an area on the way to where we were going. This is the very first time I've seen snow in Japan. It's nothign compared to the level of snow we get in Canada though. We ended up at the Ishikawa Nanao Art Museum. They had paintings and drawings from famous artists. The art was very gorgeous and it took me a while to fully appreciate it. My host parents absolutely loved it. We ended watching this hour long video about the paintings in the museum after we finished browsing. The drive home was nice because the snow was gone and there was a goregous rainbow in the sky. After returning to their house and had a gigantic dinner: Japanese hot-pot, my host father set up a hot bath. The water was scalding hot so I had to release some water and put more cold water in. My host father told me that in Japanese culture, what I should have done instead was, without releasing any water, let the water up to the tip of the tub when I get in some water spills out. This helps get rid of the grime of the previous person that took the bath. In Japan they use the same bath water for everybody, unlike western countries. So the next day after breakfast we headed off to the airport and said goodbye to them. Even though it wasnt the most exciting weekend, I had a great time with them. They are after all senior citizens so I can't expect too much out of them. And after all, the purpose of this trip was not to come sight seeing but to spend time with my host family. I will definitely keep in touch wih them through letters and phone calls after returning to Canada. They are absolutely an amazing couple. I consider them my Japanese grandparents.

Wednesday, November 30, 2005

End of the Year Office Party

So our ITS team at the office had a party to celebrate the end of the working year. And also to have a goodbye party for Matsuzaki. She's taking time off until next year. It was a great night getting to hang out with everybody. Once again, Ishikawa fell asleep and everybody, notably Hamanaka and Matsuzaki, starting playing pranks on him by drawing all over his face, like darkening his eyebrows with a permanent marker. It was quite humerous.

At one point they asked me how I communicate with my friends and family back home in Canada. So I told them I use a webcamera and a MSN messenger (the concept of chatting). This was a complete shock to them. It was like they heard about webcams and chatting for the very first time. The Japanese are not internet savvy at all. Their form of communication is all based on the mobile phone. All foreigners think that Japanese has all this amazing technology. There is a lot of neat technology, but the general Japanese public still falls behind in how to use the available technology. So overall I feel its just a partially false and over-exaggerated stereotype. Like how all foreigners think Canadians eat maple syrup all the time.

It was a great time. Free food, lots of alcohol and a chance to further bond with my co-workers.

The ITS team: (Left side of table, back to front): Me, Suzuki, Tsuji (used to be in the ITS), and Aoki. (Right side of table, back to front): Takaishi, Fujitaka, Kuroda, Ishikawa, and Matsuzaki

Hamanaka and Matsuzaki pulling a prank on Ishikawa