With Backpack

One World in One Lifetime


Posted by Heliocentrism on February 1, 2014

Before December 23, 2012 

South Korea

How to get there:

  • You can enter by plane, boat, for train, though entry by train is rare if not damn impossible or most non-presidents of North or South Korea.
  • Most citizens from many countries do not need to get a visa before going to South Korea.
  • People of most nationalities will get a 90-day visa at the airport or ferry port.
  • To be completely sure, check with the Korean embassy in you country.






Korea is a generally safe country. You don’t really have to watch out for pick-pockets, muggers, or scam artists. Use common sense and you will be okay. Things are generally inexpensive, but there are many wonderful things to buy.

You should watch out when crossing the street, beware of scooters on the sidewalk, and little old ladies will push you to get that last seat on the bus or subway.

Enjoy Korea! I lived there for 2 year and had a fantastic time.



The kids meeting their new mother, grandmother, and grandfather


We spent Christmas of 2012 in South Korea. We were visiting Mark’s cousins who, just a few years before, he didn’t know he had. He met them, along with his biological father, at a reunion in the states earlier in the year. But, let’s start at the beginning of Mark’s childhood. I will try to tell his story. What I know I’ve pieced together from what the Korean government has told Mark and things his new cousins have said.

little Mark

Mark was born on a southern island in Korea. He was given the name Choi, JaeMin. He, his sister and brother lived with their parents in a poor village. Also living in this village was Mark’s uncle on his father’s side and the uncle’s family. The uncle had two daughters who were quite fond of Mark and his siblings.

Mark’s father earned money collecting sea weed, but his income was small. The father also had a tendency to get drunk. This made Mark’s mother very unhappy. One day the mother could not take it anymore. She left without any word of where she was going.

Without a mother to look after them, Mark and his siblings were often left unattended. Mark’s Uncle also didn’t have much money.  There was a time when Mark, his sibling, and cousins were taken to church to be fed and get clothes even though they were not Christians.

The family eventually moved to a Korea’s second largest city, Busan, in an attempt to improve their standard of living.  However, the move did not help.  Finding work and making enough to take care of three small children prove to be very difficult for Mark’s father.  The excessive drinking continued. How greatly this effected his children’s welfare is uncertain. What we do know is that he was neglecting them. Someone reported small naked and dirty children running around unattended and the government stepped in.

Mark and his siblings were taken to several different orphanages.  According to his cousins, one day their father took them to Mark’s father’s house. They asked him where his kids were. He just said, “They’re gone.” It took years before the cousins found out that the kids were put up for adoption and living in America somewhere.

The kids were put in a Korean orphanage. Mark remembers nothing of this. His earliest memory is of being in a house with pet rabbits in Tennessee. He and his siblings ended up in the US foster care system. A couple had adopted them from Korea, brought them to the states, then got a divorce putting the kids back up for adoption. They would be placed with one more family before finding their final home.

Michelle and a friend waiting for the kids


Michelle is a women with a big heart. She had opened her home to help some Vietnamese teenagers in the past, but by 1988 they were all grown up. She thought about adopting some kids of her own. There was an adoption agency helping her to bring over a pair of sisters from Korea.

However, this adoption fell through.  It turned out that the mother who put her kids into the orphanage was visiting them every weekend.  The man she married didn’t want the children from her previous marriage around.  Unsure if the kids were truly being given up, the agency decided that they couldn’t proceed with the adoption.

Then one day the agency called Michelle to tell her about some kids that were already in the states. They needed a home right away. They agency wanted to know if she would be willing to take them. She wanted two girls, but would she take two boys and a girl?

On April 12, 1988 Michelle and her family went to the airport to pick the kids up. Mark says he didn’t really understand what was happening that day. He thought they were just going to another home to live for a short time. Michelle said that the kids kept asking questions like, “How long will we stay?” And, when they did something bad, they thought they would be sent away.

Mark’s sister, was upset when they were officially adopted. She thought that if her name changed her father would never find them. She thought her dad was still looking for them, but her memories of her father and Korea were fading. Eventually, she would hardly remember anything about Korea.


After college Mark decided to spend some time traveling before entering the work force. Since he was born in Korea, the easiest country for him to get a visa for was Korea. So that’s where he went. He found a nice school to work for and signed a one year contract.

Once in Korea he started the processes to get an Alien Registration Card with his F4 visa. This is a type of visa given only to foreign nationals who were born in Korea or children of Korean parents. During this process Mark was asked if he wanted help with finding his birth parents.

Although he set out to live in the country of his birth, it never occurred to him to look for his biological parents. He turned down this offer of help. He spent two years living in Korea and never gave another thought to finding his Korean family.


Mark eventually moved to Japan. He entered Japan on a tourist visa and then found a job there. To change from a tourist visa to a work visa he had to leave the country. Since it was just a boat ride away, Mark headed for Korea.

Mark was not sure how long he would live in Japan. Since he was in Korea anyway he decided to renew his F4 visa. As with most things, it’s easier to renew a valid visa than to apply for a new one. If for any reason he decided to go back to Korea, having an F4 visa already would make it easier for Mark to find a job. He went down to the government office to renew his visa and get a new Alien Registration Card.

This time he did ask for help finding his parents. He wasn’t sure they could be found. He was always told that someone had drop him and his siblings off at an orphanage.  The three of them had pieces of paper with their names and birthdays pinned to their shirts. He was told that no one knew where they came from. Mark didn’t even know what town in Korea he was from. He had always guessed Busan, but he didn’t know for sure.

They gave him the name and address of his last orphanage. It was in Seoul. The next day he went there and walked up to the front desk. The clerk told him that he would only given his biological parents’ information if the parents were also looking for him.

Mark thought that he had found a dead-end. Obviously, no one would be looking for him because as far as Mark knew he and his siblings were abandoned. The clerk looked through some files. He was just about to send Mark away when something caught the clerk’s eye.

People were looking for him. “Who?” Mark thought. A few years ago a cousin came to the orphanage. She had been looking for the kids for years. She traced them from the orphanage in Busan to other orphanages throughout the country and then to the one in Seoul. But, there wasn’t much she could do other than put in a request to find the kids and hope that one day they would look for her too.

But there was more… The father had also been looking for the kids. He too had put in a request. He went to Seoul years after his kids had left Korea. He was told that they were living in America. The kids were about 8 to 12-years-old and he was not allowed to contact them. He would have to wait until they started to look for him.

In December 2010 Mark started to look for his Korean family before going back to Japan. Things started rolling. The cousins were contacted and given the phone number to Mark’s sister in the states. The two Korean sisters talked to one of their long-lost cousins for the first time in years. Neither spoke the other’s language and relied on translators.


A reunion was planned for the following year. It would take place in July 2012 in the states at Michelle’s home in Michigan. The cousins, their kids, and Mark’s dad would all go to America to see the adopted kids. They would meet Michelle, Mark, Mark’s brother and sister, and Mark’s sister’s kids. They would also meet Michelle’s brothers and their families.

Still, none of the Koreans spoke English and none of the Americans spoke Korean. A friend from Michelle’s church helped with the translating some of the time. They had to use Google.Translate the rest of the time.

They stay up late almost every night trying to make up for all the time apart. The cousins tried to tell the kids what they could remember of their pasts. They even brought photos of the time when everyone lived on the island, but nothing looked familiar to the adopted kids. They were all so young back then.


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Camping in Nagasaki

Posted by Heliocentrism on January 20, 2014

October 6-8, 2012

All Pictures

Osaki Nature Park Campgrounds
(大崎自然公園内 キャンプ場)
(Ōsaki shizenkōen-nai kyampuba)
(Ōmurawankenritsu Park)

How to get there:

From Nagasaki Station


〒859-3601 長崎県東彼杵郡川棚町‎

Coordinates: +33° 3′ 0.79″, +129° 49′ 58.75″


  • 0956-83-3210
  • 0956-82-2661



  • 500 JYN per adult per night
  • 1,000 JYN for grill rental


  • Check in 13:00
  • Check out
    • 18:00 day campers
    • 11:00 the next day for overnighters


  •  There are lots of stray cats. It seems that this is a popular place for people who no longer want to be cat owners to abandon their cats.

Shiosainoyu Onsen

How to get there:

From the campsite


237 Ogushigo
Kawatana, Higashisonogi District,
Nagasaki Prefecture 859-3618

Coordinates: +33° 3′ 20.87″, +129° 49′ 26.00″

Phone: 0956-82-6868


Cost: 500 JNY per adult

Hours: 9:30 – 22:00


  • Many campsites with nearby onsens will give you a one time discount to use at the onsen. Usually the discount is 100 yen per person. You should get the coupon when you pay for your stay at the campsite.
  • There is a restaurant in this onsen and outlets to charge phones.

Sumie Family Vacation Village

How to get there:

From Oita Station



69-1 Sumiemachi Nobeoka,
Miyazaki Prefecture 889-0321 Japan‎

Coordinates: +32° 39′ 41.94″, +131° 46′ 5.03″


  • Management office 0982-43-0201



  • CABIN – 5 persons per cabin                                                             ¥8400/cabin = ¥1680/person

-full kitchen (rice cooker, refrigerator, sink, dishes, utensils)

  • PERMANENT TENT – 5 people   per tent                                  ¥1360/tent = ¥272/person
  • AUTO-CAMPING – bring your own tent                                     ¥3150/car = depends/person

-coin operated shower near tents
-rent bedding for 200 yen each or bring your own


  • Available year round
  • Check in  16:00 to 17:00
  • Check out 13:00


  • BBQ Pits available to rent for ¥500
  • Nearby Aquarium Hours 9:00 – 17:00 M-F
  • There are 2 beaches within walking distance. The nicer beach is further away.


AJET Camping Trip

The South Africans

This camping trip was planned and arranged by Freda and Roland, fellow nerdy campers. Both Frida and I were ALTs in the JET Programme and they lived about an hour’s drive from us. But we never actually met them until the latter part of our second year in Japan. I knew of them; we had several mutual friends, but we always seemed to just miss meeting each other.

The AJET leader in our area planned an awesome camping trip for JETs in Oita Prefecture. Well, camping not so much. Most of the “campers” were in cabins; cabins with a/c, kitchens, rice cookers… For some JETs, the ones living closer to cities, the cabins were nicer than their apartments.

There were a small few in tents. That’s where we met the South Africans. We were the only one who brought our own grill. We were the only ones who brought first aid kits. We were the only ones who brought enough food for the whole trip and had coolers. Then I found out that they were a bit nerdy. Mark and I fell in love! Camping soul-mates at last…

We wanted to go camping with our new friends many times over summer. But this year, 2012, had a typhoon or storm just about every weekend. We would make plans only to cancelled because of the weather. Then in July I was in the hospital. October was the first time we were able to go on a trip together and we brought some other campers too.

Everyone’s doing dishes but me.

Art and Nature

The main reason they pick this particular campsite was because it is near Huis Ten Bosch, which is like a cross between Holland and Disney World. At the time of this trip it also had some Dutch art on display for an extra fee. Freda, Roland, and the other were really keen to see the art.

But, Mark and I are not really interested in art. Although the Huis Ten Bosch itself seemed quite fun, the entrance fee was a bit high. Since I still could not walk or stand for too long without getting very tired we didn’t think we would get our money’s worth. Mark and I choose to stay at the campsite and relax while everyone else went to the park.

The Life!

The campsite itself was really nice. There weren’t too many other campers and the few that were there kept to themselves. I might have mentioned before how Japanese campers like to set up their tents right next to ours even when there are hundreds of empty sites to choose from. When we are part of a group, that does happen.

Let me poke it. No boys, don’t poke it!

There is a beach right next to camp, but this is not a beach for swimming. It was very cold, but besides that, there isn’t any sand; just rocks. But still, the boys managed to find some fauna to play with by way of the solider crabs scurrying around.

Many families came by to day-camp and fish off the pier. And this seems to be the spot where many pet owners dump their unwanted cats. There were several strays ready to steal from our grill so we had to have someone on guard during all meals.

Freda and Roland brought a nerd trivia game. We played after dinner by moon light while listening to the waves. We had enough people to make 3 teams. Mark and I were on one of the teams. We played 2 rounds and Mark and I crushed everyone both times. And when I say crushed, I mean won by one point.

This was the first of many camping trip together and many Nerd Night battles. Freda and Roland introduced us to the worlds of QI, rooibos tea, and South African braai and showed us how to embrace the nerds within us. We introduced them to John Green, American over indulgence, and regaled them with stories about our Eagle summoning ceremonies.

All Pictures

Posted in Japan, Kawatana 町, Kyūshū, Miyazaki 県, Nagasaki 県, Nobeoka 市 | Tagged: , , , | Leave a Comment »

Oh, Oita!

Posted by Heliocentrism on January 7, 2014

September 17, 2012

All Pictures

(Oita City)

How to get there:

You can fly in.

  • From Oita Airport take the airport shuttle to Oita city. It’s a 1.5 hour ride.
  • Most of the flights are domestic, but there are a few flight to Seoul.

You can also take a train or bus to Oita.


International Affairs Office Cultural &
International Affairs Division Oita City
2-31 Niage Machi Oita City,
870-8504 Japan

Coordinates: +33° 13′ 58.02″, +131° 36′ 21.50″

Phone: +81-97-537-5719



e-mail: kokusai@city.oita.oita.jp


  • Buses stop running around 23:00 on regular days and 21:00 on holidays and Sundays.
  • Trains stop running around 22:00.
  • schedules of individual buses and trains vary.


Oita is the capital city of Oita prefecture. It has the most shopping malls, but the best touristy stuff is in Beppu, the next city over.



Kamezuka Kufun Park
(Kamedzuka kofun kōen Ama kofun shiryōkan)

How to get there:

From Oita Station

Coordinates: +33° 14′ 5.58″, +131° 44′ 22.30″


Cost: Free


  • 9:00 – 17:00
  • Admission until 16:30

Notes: Free Parking!


Tunnel Tombs of Takio

How to get there:

From Oita Station

Address: This is in the baseball field in a jr. high school.

Takio Jr. High School
349 Hada
Oita, Oita Prefecture 870-0942

Coordinates: +33° 12′ 58.91″, +131° 37′ 59.73″


Cost: Free


  • Whenever the jr. high is open for school or club activities… I guess.


I’m not sure where you can park. Mark and I parked in the parking lot of the school and stayed for about 10 minutes.



When was the last time we went somewhere?

Since the Golden Week trip, Mark and I didn’t really leave Oita. We might have gone camping in Beppu, but that doesn’t count since the Beppu campsite is a 30 minute drive from our house.

I had major surgery in July and wasn’t allow to return to work until late August. I thought that I would use my “resting” time to go on trips, but I really did need to actually rest. I could not stand for too long at a time. I was not in any pain, I just got tired very easily.

We’ve been standing like this for years and we’re not tired!

By September I was not 100% back to normal, but I really needed to get out. So I went on the internet to see if there was anything near us to see. I went to Google maps (classic mode) and clicked on “photos”. There were 2 photos that looked interesting. And so a trip was born!

I prefer Almond Joy…

Mounds Everywhere!

Japan is crazy about mounds. Wait…

Japan was crazy about mounds. Most of them are centuries old. Some millennia old; key-hole shaped, with giant rocks, lots of pottery. This was all the rage way, way, way back when. The mound in the picture above is from the 5th century. Think about that. This thing is a little younger than Jesus! (Okay, about 500 years younger than Jesus, but compared to my age they’re practically twins.)

In the 5th century Attila the Hun was bothering the RomansChichen Itza was being built. Supposedly King Arthur was fighting the Saxons. And this thing was made.

It’s at a school!?

Yup. It’s at a school. You see the photo above? Mark is standing on the baseball field of a junior high school. And those holes? Tombs… tombs from the 6th century. They’re empty now. I have no idea what happened to the people who were inside. But now, there is garbage in some of them.

This was a great close-to-home trip that allowed me to get out, but get too tired. Who knew that this kind of thing was right in little no-wheres-ville Oita?

All Pictures

Posted in Japan, Kyūshū, Oita 県, Oita 市 | Tagged: , , , | Leave a Comment »


Posted by Heliocentrism on January 2, 2014

April 28 – 30, 2012

All Pictures


How to get there:

You can get in by plane, train, and bus.

The nearest airport is and hour away from the city of Nagasaki.


Nagasaki-shi government office 〒 850-8685 2-22, Sakuramachi, Nagasaki-shi, Nagasaki


City Hall: 095-822-8888

Emergency Phone Numbers in Japan:

  • Police 110
  • Ambulance/ Fire 119



e-mail: info@at-nagasaki.jp


Hostels are a cheaper alternative to hotel accommodations while in Japan. But, if you have a car, this might not be true. You’ll save money on a bed only to spend it on parking. Many hostels do not have free parking.

If you have a car while visiting Nagasaki, consider staying at an internet cafe. Internet cafe, called media cafes or netto cafes (ネットカフェ) in Japan are equipped for overnight stays. They are usually near train stations or in strip malls. Many come with showers, clean towels, and toiletries for free. All offer free drinks (coffee, tea, soda) for the duration of your stay. Most, though not all, have free parking.

On this trip Mark and I stayed at Planet-Cafe. We had to pay a one time 300 Yen fee for membership then, I think, 2,300 Yen each for a single cubical. The price for 2 singles and 1 double was about the same, so we got separate compartments. We parked in the paid parking lot of a nearby mall and had our ticket validated by the cafe; parking for us was free.

Battleship Island

How to get there:

  • You will need to be part of a tour.
  • The ferry leaves from the  Nagasaki Port Ferry Terminal (near the Ohato tram stop).
  • The boat ride takes about 50 minutes each way.
  • There are 2 ferries a day.


株式会社ユニバーサルワーカーズ 軍艦島コンシェルジュ

Universal Workers – The Gunkanjima Concierge Company
Tokiwa town 1-60 Tokiwa terminal building 102 Nagasaki

Phone: +81-95-895-9300





  • Adult 3,600~3,900 Yen (Prices are more expensive on weekends and holidays.)
  • There is a 300~400 Yen discount per person if you reserve groups of 15 or more people.
  • For 4~500,00 Yen you can also charter a boat and go by yourself (with the tour company) or with just friends.


  • meet at 10:10 for the 10:40~13:00 tour
  • meet at 13:30 for the 14:00~16:20 tour



Nagasaki Tall Ships Festival

How to get there:

  • Got to the Nagasaki Port (Nagasaki Seaside Park, Dejima Wharf) near the Ohato tram stop.
  • Or by JR Train
    Disembark at the Power Dejima stop, then take the electric tram from the Nagasaki stop on Nagasaki JR.


Nagasaki Port (Nagasaki Seaside Park, Dejima Wharf)


  • 095-829-1314
  • +81-95-823-3631 (English Only)

e-mail: info@at-nagasaki.jp



  • There is no charge to look at the ships.
  • It costs about 1,000 Yen to take a ride on the Kanko Maru Tall Ship. You must get your ticket before the day of the ride. There is a limited number of tickets. Call for more information.


  • Late April



  • This event goes on for several days.
  • At night there is a light show.

Old Nagasaki Prison
(旧長崎刑務所 )

How to get there:

Near Hon-Isahaya Station (本諫早駅)

Co-ordinates: (+32° 50′ 13.03″, +130° 3′ 21.44).


co-ordinates: (+32° 50′ 13.03″, +130° 3′ 21.44)



  • Other than the main gate, there is nothing left of the old prison.

Obama Mudslide Village

  • Disaster Memorial Hall (雲仙岳災害記念館)
  • Buried Village ( Mizunashi Honjin Fukae Michi no Eki roadside park)
  • Former Onokoba Elementary School

How to get there:

  • The Mount Unzen Disaster Museum and Buried Houses by bus from central Shimabara City

Take a bus bound for Katsusa (加津佐) and get off at the Arena Iriguchi bus stop. Then walk  5-10 minutes to the disaster museum or the Michi no Eki Fukae bus stop next to the buried houses. The bus ride takes around 30 minutes and costs about 400 yen. There are 1-2 buses per hour. (There is also a free shuttle between these two sights, but it does not come by too often.)


  • Disaster Memorial Hall: +32° 44′ 37.01″, +130° 22′ 33.47″
  • Buried Village: +32° 44′ 22.66″, +130° 22′ 2.68″
  • Former Onokoba Elementary School: +32° 44′ 43.80″, +130° 20′ 26.49″


Disaster Memorial Hall

1-1 Heisei-machi Shimabara-city Nagasaki 855-0879

Phone: Disaster Memorial Hall


e-mail: Disaster Memorial Hall





  • Disaster Memorial Hall: 1,000 Yen
  • Buried Village: Free
  • Former Onokoba Elementary School: Free


  • Disaster Memorial Hall: 9:00 to 18:00 (admission until 17:00)
  • Buried Village: 8:30 to 17:00
  • Former Onokoba Elementary School: 9:00 to 16:30


All these sights have free parking

Fukuoka Anti-Zombie Tower

How to get there:

Coordinates: 33°35′26″N130°29′09″E

There is plenty of free parking at the adjacent ball park.

Not too far from the Fukuoka airport. (Directions from the airport)


Google map generated address:

Fukuoka-ken, Kasuya-gun, Shime-machi, Shime, 495−3 旧志免鉱業所竪坑櫓



It’s free to look at. You CANNOT go into or unto the tower, unless of course, you are being chased by a zombie horde.


Always available


Teaser Alert! … 

Once again I apologize for not posting. I have been on a few truly unforgettable trips that I must write about. But, I feel the need to go in chronological order. So, first I will write about the smaller trip. I will try to have a new every week.


After years of getting very lost, ending up on narrow windy back roads of Japan near heart-stopping cliffs Mark and I finally purchased a Garmin. So I no longer know the directions to any of the place we visit; I only know the coordinates. I will  leave the directions up to Google Maps. You can put the coordinates into your GPS device or print out a map.

Isn’t the world going to end this year?

I think this trip started because of a Cracked article. I love Cracked. At the time of this trip I was a high school English teacher in Japan and didn’t do much at work because… (I could go into the many failures the public school system has of teaching English but I won’t. So let’s just say…) my classes get cancelled a lot. Out of boredom, I read a lot at work; books, newspapers (online), Japanese lessons, and when I really just want to have fun, Cracked.

There are several articles like, Abandoned Places that will Blow Your Mind, Mind Blowing Forgotten Towns, or Creepiest spots on Earth… that will Blow Your Mind. I love these sort of articles! After reading all of them, I noticed that many of these articles include at least one place in Japan. According to Cracked, Japan is a weird place… that will blow your mind.

Creepy Japanese Places according to Cracked:

So Japan is creepy. Why fight it? That’s why for Golden Week 2012, the year the Mayan Calender ended and hence the world, we decided to see all the creepiness our Japanese islands, Kyushu, had to offer.

You can’t legally do much on Battleship Island

Battleship Island

It was a mini city that centered around coal mining from 1887 to 1974. Everyone who lived on this island was part of the booming coal mining industry. At its peak, 83,500 people per km2  were packed onto this tiny island. The high walls that protected the people and buildings from tsunamis is what give the place that “battleship” look.

But alas, with coal being so dirty, when new forms of energy came along, like petroleum, the coal industry died. And, so did this little mining island. Everyone left and this became one of the creepiest places in Japan. The only people who go to Hashima now are tourists, movie crews, and pop stars making music videos.

Here’s the fabulous pool!

The tour was a bit disappointing. There is a clear barred off path that you must follow. You are also not allow to stray too far from your tour group even when you stay on the path. The tour was in Japanese, and not very interesting so wandering off would have been the thing to do, except that there is no where to wander!

We have parties every night once those naive tourists go home.

You can, illegally, pay a fisherman to take you to the island after all the tours are done and explore the island on your own. It is dangerous; abandon islands tend to be huge death traps. Having a nice job, a husband I don’t want to see hurt, and not wanting to end up in a Japanese prison myself made me not adventurous enough to try this method. The group tour was good enough for me.

Tall Ships!

Russia: Land of Ships

After the tour we went to the Nagasaki Tall Ship Festival. We walked along the dock looking at ships from various countries, mostly Russia.

“Oh look this ship is from Vladivostok!”

“So is this one.”

“… and this one.”

“…and the one next to it.”

We had tickets for something to do at the festival, but we didn’t know what it was. All I knew was that I had paid for some activity that had something to do with a ship. I had to get the ticket a couple weeks before the festival and it involved me using the Japanese return postage post card for the first time ever.

The tickets were not expensive, but the process was very complicated. I figured it must be something really special. It was for a ride on a ship which sailed around Nagasaki harbor.

Is that rain!?

The special part was that this is was a sail boat, powered by sails. But it was raining and the sail were never taken out. Everyone sat below deck trying to stay dry and not throw-up. This might have still been a treat for Mark and me had we not just spent that same morning boating up and down this whole harbor going to and from Battleship island. (At least for that boat ride it was not raining and we had a great view of the harbor.)

Eventually, after I got nauseous, we did go above deck in the cold rain to see the harbor from the sail boat that was not sailing.

The Old Nagasaki Prison


Also on the list is disappointments was the Old Nagasaki Prison. Apparently 2012 was it’s apocalypse. When we got there only the main gate was still standing… and it was cleaned up! A few month earlier the town decided to tear down the old prison because people kept breaking in to the old building to take photos.

What kind of freaks would do that!?

They left the main gate, de-rusted and with a new coat of paint, because the prison is the town’s only tourist attraction.  It still brings people in too. Though probably not for much longer once word gets out…

Next we went to Obama!

So there’s an area in Nagasaki called Obama. This would be a huge deal if Obama wasn’t such a common geographical name. There are tons of places in Japan called Obama. Just throw a rock…

But this Obama had a village that was wiped out by a mudslide in 1990 that was started by a volcano. One small part of the village was left as it was after the disaster as a memorial. We walked around the houses taking pictures.

We didn’t visit the museum or the school because we were running out of time. We needed to drive to Fukuoka and set up our tent before the sun set.

The Zombies are coming!

They’re coming!

Because we were running a little behind schedule, we took the much faster toll express way to Fukuoka rather than the cheaper and slower highway. The toll road has the added benefit of having more signs giving directions, signs that are written clearly and in Romaji, two lanes most of the time, and people who drive like they want to get their money’s worth from a toll road. On toll roads you are less likely to get lost and that alone is worth something when time is not in abundance.

What road are we on?

I gather that signs are very expensive here in Japan, since one can drive for miles without see one. Some stop signs as well as most speed limit signs are actually painted on the road. When using a paper map you first need to figure out where you are. Back in the states you can see signs along the road that tell you what road you are on. In Japan this is considered a waste of sign making material. You will only see signs for what road you can get to, and sometime even then it’s anyone’s guess. Many times to figure out what road I am on, I will turn off onto another road, make a u-turn, and read the sign at the intersection.

I think the main reason why tolls are so expensive here is the cost of making all the extra signs.

We did manage to get to Fukuoka early enough in the afternoon that we visited the anti-zombie tower before heading to the campsite. It was very nice for a tower-that-you-can’t-go-near-because-it-not-actually-a-tourist-attraction.

This is actually a photo of my car getting an oil change, but it looked quite similar.

No! Green is Bad.

This is the really apocalyptic part of the trip. After this neither Mark nor I were in any mood to continue so we went home. It started after leaving the anti-zombie tower… I don’t know why I have no photos of the trip from this point on. I did take pictures, but they are all gone… so are Mark’s photos. …odd.

 We didn’t have good directions to the campsite. But, we did get to the general area. We stopped at a convenience store and asked, “Camping wa doko desu ka?” It was a badly composed sentence asking basically, “Where is camping?” It was good enough to get my inquiry across. The campsite didn’t really have a name other than east side of the Fukuoka mountain campsite, or something like that; not something that people who have not camped there would know. We were within a couple miles of the campsite, at the base of the east side of the mountain, but still no one knew where is was.

The sun had retreated for the day and it was too late to put up a tent. Defeated, we headed to downtown Fukuoka and got another internet cafe for the night. We were able to look up the campsite online and find exact GPS coordinates as well as other things to see that would fit into our end of the world themed holiday.

The next day, early in the morning, we drove to the campsite and put up the tent. It was a free camping! The day was a bit windy, but we were up a mountain. The sun was out; it was a nice laundry-doing day.

We were running low on clean clothes. The plan was to go back down the mountain, find a laundromat  to do some washing, fill the car with gas, get some supplies, then chill at the campsite for the rest of the day, or two, or three. We had plenty of days left on our Golden Week holiday.

Not too far from the mountain there was a laundromat across the street from a gas station. Perfect! We pulled into the gas station and next to a gas pump. Normally a gas station attendant would come by and ask what type of gas I wanted and how much money I wanted to spend. But that didn’t happen here. It was a self service gas station. *GASP*

I never put the most expensive type of gas in my car. When I filled up this time I selected the cheapest option and filled the tank.

When I was done I felt really proud of myself. Pumping my own gas is something I’ve always had trouble with in Japan. It’s a complicated task mainly because the pump asks you so many questions, all in Japanese, before you can get the gas out of the machine. Once the screen at the pump turned into a slot machine and before I knew it I was gambling!

Once I used a pump with an option for English. Many of the questions have to do with method of payment, whether or not a discount/ club card will be used. Is an oil change needed? Does the car need to be washed or wax? Are you free this weekend? What’s your blood type?How do you get your hair so shiny?

Mark and I got back into the car. We were about to cross the street and park at the laundromat when my car shuttered and died. I tried restarting the car. Nothing. Not even a cough. It was dead.

“What color pump did you use?” Marks asks.

J: “The cheapest one; green I think… Is that bad?”

M: “Green is bad. In the states…”

J: “No! In the states green is always diesel! Is it diesel here too?”

M: “Well, the car IS dead…”

J: “Damn it, diesel.”

Luckily, but not luckily enough to have not put diesel in a gas car, the car stopped right at the gas station. The attendants hosted the car, drained out the diesel, cleaned the tank, and filled it with gas all while we did our laundry across the street. I think the whole thing cost us about 85USD, not including the tank of diesel that we never used.

Our budget

At this point we were still within our holiday budget. The cost of taking the diesel out was not too pricey. We could still continue. We headed back up the mountain to our campsite after getting stuff for lunch and dinner. We would make the best of it.

This should have been a sign.

It’s been years since I had regular access to a dryer and every time I used one it’s like I don’t know what can go in there and what cannot. I usually end up shrinking half my clothes. So, now I just stay away.

Mark did put in one load of jeans, socks, and underwear. The rest we took back to the campsite to hang up. It was quite a windy day, so I didn’t think it would take long for our clothes to dry.

When I went to hang out our laundry I realized that I had forgotten to bring clothes pins. I had to hang up the clothes by stringing the line through the t-shirts and other items. It’s a good thing the socks were already dry! We sat in a little cement shelter and ate lunch as we watched our clothes blow madly in the wind.

The rest of the day was spent looking down on Fukuoka from our mountain top campsite. The trees were really bending. Around dinner time our clothes were dry, but it was dinner time. We were going to eat then take the clothes in, but even hours after eating we still had not taken anything in.

 When it started drizzling we put everything that wasn’t in our tent in the car except for the clothes. There was no point since they would have to be hung out again later. When it started to rain harder we went inside our tent. We watched a movie on my android then fell asleep.

I woke up in the middle of the night when something hit me in the head. It wasn’t a hard hit. I thought that maybe Mark was moving around in his sleep and had knocked my head, but he was not near enough to me to do that. Then I though I had just dreamed it. I turned over and went back to bed.

Then it happened again. This time twice in a row so I knew what had hit me. The wind was so strong that it was making our tent lie down. I was being hit in the head by the top of our tent. I looked around our tent; I mean really looked around this time. Everything was wet. Our tent was a pool.

I woke Mark up and we went outside for a look at the campsite. I saw our clothes still on the line. It’s a good thing I forgot those clothes pins. That would not have been secure enough to keep those clothes from being blown off the mountain!

Me – This is what happens when you don’t watch TV. You don’t find out about the hurricane that is heading to your campsite.

Mark – Should take down the tent and drive into town.

Me – How safe to you think the roads down the mountain would be?

Mark – You mean because there are no lights, it’s a windy road with falling rocks on one side and cliff drops on the other, and everyone speeds?

Me – Let’s just stay here.

So Mark and I got our towels, dried our tent out the best we could, and went back to sleep. Except we didn’t actually fall asleep. I keep waking up when the top of our tent hit me in the head. I worried that something, like our car, would be blown on top of our tent.

The wind sounded like it wanted to do some damage. I just imaged a family of campers finding our bodies the next day. “Well, at least they had sense enough not to use clothes pins and kept their laundry from blowing away. Too bad they didn’t use an anchor to keep their k-car secured to the ground.”

I slept 5 minutes out of every hour, but at least I was not cold; just stared.

I must say something about our camping equipment. The next day I looked at our tent and all the poles were just fine. We do not have a very expensive tent. It’s just an Ozark Trail 4-person tent my mom just randomly bought us, when she couldn’t find the tent we left at her house. But that little tent took a beating and survived!

There was a lot of water in the tent, but the tent itself was not leaking. We sprayed the tent with Nikwax just before we set out for this trip. Water got in when the wind blew up the fly and when the wind blew the tent flat on the ground.

Our sleeping bags by Suisse Sport kept us nice and warm and mostly dry. They are reversible, meaning that it doesn’t matter which is the inside and which is the outside. But if you sleep with the blue side out, it will keep you dry if your tent leaks.  Sometimes the zippers are hard to use in the dark, but other than that I have no complaints.

By morning we had had it with Fukuoka and this trip. We packed up the car with our wet tent and wet clothes and went home. It took 2 days to dry everything out.

But I still love camping.

All Pictures

Posted in Japan, Nagasaki 県, Nagasaki 市 | Tagged: , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

It’s Back!!

Posted by Heliocentrism on August 5, 2013

I took down my blog while I was in North Korea and never got around to putting it back up. Soon I will have blog entries for the past year that I’ve been too busy to post.

Posted in North Korea | Leave a Comment »

I’m Back!!! or This is Why I haven’t Posted in so Long

Posted by Heliocentrism on September 8, 2012

September 9, 2012

I’ve been sick. Actually, it started last year around spring. My doctor found something.  He wanted to operate. It wasn’t life threatening so I choose not to do anything about it other than to get check-ups and wait and see. I didn’t want to have an operation. Honestly, I was scared. So if I didn’t have to have an operation, I wouldn’t.

But then in the spring of this year, it started to bother me. I was in a lot of pain. It’s funny how pain just drove away any fears of an operation. I read many books about my illness and was well aware of the pros and cons and worst case scenarios. Without pain, I was ok with not having an operations, but with pain, I felt that an operation was my best choice.

I was very lucky. In April, when I decided to have surgery, my doctor looked through his schedule. It was full all the way up to December. My heart sank thinking about being in pain for many more months. But then my doctor saw a patient scheduled for a July operation, who had actually cancelled. The appointment was just never erased. He made a quick a phone call and I got that appointment.

July was a great time for me, work-wise. Summer vacation for high school starts in late July and ends in late August so this meant that I would not miss too many days of teaching. Even with several weeks of convalescing at home, I think  I only missed about one week’s worth of class time.

In May, I started to take medication as preparation for surgery. This was the most expensive drug I had ever been on. Even with Japanese Nation Health Insurance paying 70% of the cost, the treatment still cost me 15,000YEN (almost 200USD) a month for three months.

But then one of my neighbors told me that as an employee of the JET Programme, I was covered under additional health insurance. She showed where to go online for the information. I printed out the forms I needed and asked my supervisor at work for help. We poured over those forms and she made numerous phone calls to make sure that everything would be done right and I would get my money.

In the mean time my medical bills kept adding up. I had an MRI, blood tests, x-rays, and many doctor visits. They actually made me check into the hospital about 5 days before my surgery to do some more tests and monitoring.

There are some differences between staying in a hospital in Japan and staying in a hospital in the US. The obvious one has to do with health insurance. Every working person in Japan has good health insurance, so you stay in the hospital until you no longer need to stay in the hospital. In the states, you stay in hospital until your insurance is not longer willing to pay for your hospital stay. My stay in the hospital was 15 days, though it felt like longer.

I was given a list of things to bring. It included, soap, shampoo, conditioner, towel, hand towel, tooth-brush, tooth paste, knife, spoon, fork or chopsticks, a cup, pen, slippers, and anything else I needed to keep me comfortable and entertained. I was given the option of wearing my own clothes or wearing the hospital’s clothes. I chose to wear my own clothes, though I woke up from surgery in a hospital yukata.

The day of my surgery I was very nervous. I was not afraid of dying, though I knew that dying is a possibly with any surgery. But death was not a issue with my illness. If I never had surgery, I would still live. I would just be in a lot of pain. No, I was not afraid of death; I was afraid of the pain.

I hoped that I would get lots of drugs; just tons of drugs. I did. But when I walked into the operation theater, (Yes, I said walked in.) I was scared and I would have thrown up on the floor had I not been purged. (Don’t ask.)

I hopped up on the operation table and a team of doctors and nurse scurried to hook me up to machines. I had a needle put into my spine and another into my right hand. I knew that I had met most of the people in the room a few days before, but now they were all wearing masks and caps and could only be distinguished as, “blue people” or “pink people”.

I was told when I was to be put under. I knew that I should have a nice relaxing thought in my head at that time. I pictured Mark and me watching the sunset on a junk in Ha Long Bay, Vietnam. Then everything went fuzzy.

 When I woke up, the first thing I saw was a clock. The time was 2:00pm. My surgery was scheduled to end at 10:00am. My first thought was that something went wrong, but I was too drugged to really be worried. A doctor was trying to talk to me, but I couldn’t really focus. He might have been telling me that the operation was successful and everything was fine. But I don’t remember.

I woke up in another room. Mark was there and he told me that the operation took twice as long as they thought it would have, but everything worked out perfectly. Doctors and nurses came in and out of the room and I vaguely noticed them. They would ask if I needed pain medication and Mark would tell them, “yes”.

I was given shots for my pain. I could not drink or eat anything until I passed gas. I tried to talk, but found that I could not. My throat felt raw. I begged for water, but I could not have any. The nurse did compromise a little. I was allowed to hold a piece of ice in my mouth for 3 seconds, but I could not suck on it.

The rest of my time in the hospital was spent “learning” to walk, reaching various goals, and getting rewards. My goals and rewards were things like, if I could eat 30% of my food I could have my IV taken out. If I would could pass gas, I could get the needle in my spine removed.

I had tubes in me that I was unaware of until they were taken out. “Wait, I had something going into my back!?”

The last Monday in the hospital I thought I would be able to leave. I was walking by myself, eating at least 40% of my food, and feeling great. But I was told that I could not leave until the following Friday. I was heart-broken, but at least I could look forward to Mark visiting me. He came by everyday.

When I left the hospital I was told to not do anything. I was to rest. The problem was that I felt great. When you’re sick and feel sick, staying in bed and taking things easy is no problem. But when you’ re sick, but don’t feel sick, you get cabin fever. I would take a walk to the corner store because I was feeling fine, then spend the next day curled in a ball of pain, because I was not actually fine.

Eventually the doctor gave he permission for me to go back to work. My supervisor helped me to send my paperwork to the JET insurance company. A week afterwards, I got my refund. The whole thing, treatments, drugs, 15-day hospital stay, and surgery ended up costing me about 100USD. Plus, my supervisor got me to take hospital leave, instead of sick days, or vacations days. So I got my full paycheck for the month I was out sick without it all coming out of my vacation days. So now, I still have vacations days to roll over to my new contract year.

Now, I’m still not 100% back to my old self, but I’m feeling great and pain-free and very much glad that all of this didn’t leave me flat broke!

Posted in Japan | Tagged: | 1 Comment »

Mark’s Batsu Game

Posted by Heliocentrism on April 7, 2012

Updates, Apologies, and Excuses 

I will start with the Update. Mark hosted a Batsu game last week. A Batsu game, or punishment game as it is also know, is fun, funny, scary, and gross all at the same time.

For this game, Mark made all the challenges. We were all at his and luck’s mercy. Mark would show us a folded paper that gave us a vague clue as to what the punishment would be. Then he would put down one playing card, faced down for each person playing. We would then pick the playing card we wanted. The poor saps who picked up the jokers had to do the punishment.  The paper would be opened and then… I’ll let the video show you the rest.

Fun right!?


I will apologize because there was a fire festival this week that we went to. But, I will not talk about it right now. I will later, but not now.

I’m busy, feverishly fixing all my photos. I normally use Facebook to store all my photos and then link them to this site. But, I’ve noticed that many of my photos on Facebook have been disappearing and then reappearing weeks later. This would be alright, I guess, as long as they come back, but when they do come back they have different url addresses.

What this means, is that the links to photos I have, no longer link to anything. You can see it for yourself if you look though this blog, since it has happen through the whole blog. So I have found a new place to store my photos from where they can be linked, google+.

So now I’m in the processes of changing everything and when I’m done I will write about the fire festival.  …and by the way, that was my excuse for not updating my blog in such a long time. Well, that and the fact that Mark and I haven’t done much.


This is a travel a blog. I do encourage people to email me, or leave comments. I like when people ask me questions about traveling, ask for my opinion or advice, or tell me that they enjoy my blog.

But, every now and then, I get emails or comment from people who don’t quite understand what this blog is all about. About a year ago, I was getting about an email a day from a guy asking me what he should do on his trip to Taipei. I have never been to Taipei, but I sent him some links that I would look at if I were planning a trip to Taipei.

He kept emailing me, asking for prices of hotels, car rentals, flights, and what  exactly he should do everyday he was in Taipei. I emailed him and told him that I was just a blogger doing this on my free time and that he need to call a travel agent. He still emailed me a couple more times after that, but I just ignored him.

I also get people who seem to be confused about what this site is. One guy thought this site was somehow connected to the Manila airport and asked about a wallet he lost there. Unfortunately, I couldn’t help him.

But, most of the time, I get messages and emails from people telling my that they enjoy the blog. I like getting questions about travel logistics, like one person who asked about buses to and around Jindo or the guy who asked about the very old train in Thailand.

I might not have all the answers, but I will try to answer as best as I can. Just don’t expect me to plan your holiday for you. (Though that might be fun to do as a job…)

Hope to fix the photo in the next few weeks. See you then!

Posted in Beppu 市, Japan, Kyūshū, Oita 県 | Tagged: | 2 Comments »

The Christmas Visitor

Posted by Heliocentrism on January 19, 2012

December 22, 2011 – January 2, 2012

All Pictures 1, All Pictures 2

Beppu Hell Onsen
(Beppu Jigoku)

How to get there:

From Oita City -

  • Head north on route 10.
  • Turn left on route 500. (The turn is just before the Las Vagas pachinko parlor.)
  • Keep on 500,
  • then turn right at the light after the intersection with route 218. You should see lot of steam rising from the ground.
  • Park anywhere that’s reasonable.
  • Six of the Hell osens are within walking distance of each other.
  • There are two others that are about a 5 minute drive from the directions given above.

By Bus -

  • Take bus #2, #5, #9, #41, or #43 from JR Beppu Station to the Umijigoku-mae stop


There are 8 Hell Onsens. Seven of which, are within a walking distance from each other. The other two are a bus or car ride away. Please ask at the ticket counter for bus information.

1. Umi Jigoku 

〒874-0000 大分県別府市大字鉄輪559−1

2. Oniishibozu Jigoku

3. Yama Jigoku

4. Kamado Jigoku (Cooking Pot Hell)

〒874-0045 大分県別府市御幸5

5. Oniyama Jigoku 

6. Shiraike Jigoku 

7. Chinoike Jigoku (Blood Onsen) 

別府 血の池地獄
野田778 Beppu, Oita Prefecture 874-0016, Japan

8. Tatsumaki Jigoku 


  • 0977-66-1577

Website (Blood Onsen)



  • 400YEN each or
  • 2,000YEN for all 8


  • 8:00 – 17:00
  • Go to Tatsumaki-Jigoku (the onsen with the geyser last if you’re running out of time because this one stays open later so that visitor can see the geyser blow at the end of the day.)


  • It might not be worth a trip all the way to Beppu just to see this. But if you are in Oita prefecture, why not?
  • You cannot get into any of the hell onsen. There are a couple that you can put your feet into, but no full body soaking.

 Mount Aso

(阿蘇山) &
Komezuka (米塚)

How to get there:

From Oita City by car -

  • Take route 10 south. Follow 10 to Inukai.
  • Then get on Route 57 (Inukai-Chitose).
  • There are 2 Route 57′s. If you get on the wrong one it doesn’t matter. They both basically* go the same place. One is just more windy than the other.
  • *Route 57 (Inukai-Chitose) will end somewhere in Onomachi Tanaka. When this happens just head north on route 26 to route 57 (Higo Highway).
  • Once you’ve left Oita Prefecture and you’ve passed the windy mountain area look out for route 111. Take a left onto route 111.
  • For Aso Mountain take route 111 all the way to the toll road, where 111 ends. You can then take the cable car up for 1,000YEN round trip/ person or drive up the toll road for 560YEN/ car.
  • For Komezuka turn right onto route 298. You should see Komezuka in 1 kilometer.



  • Cable Car Ride – 600Yen one way, 1,000Yen round trip
  • To drive up to the top – 560YEN per car


  • The toll road and cable car to Mount Aso are open 9:30 to 16:30 when the weather permits.
about volcanoes:


  • Don’t go in the winter to avoid the chances of you going all the way out there only to find that it’s closed due to snow.
  • It is recommended that people with asthma, bronchitis, or heart disease should not go to the top of Mount Aso.

by bus

How to get there:

The bus stop for this bus is across the street from the Tokiwa near Oita Station, in front of the Forus.



  • Oita to Hiroshima – 5,700YEN or
  • 4,750YEN with a group discount


  • Bus leaves Oita at 10:09 and gets to Hiroshima at 16:12


  • There is a bathroom on the bus.
  • The ticket for this bus ride includes a boat ride from Kyushu to Honshu. But you can buy tickets for the boat alone.

K’s House

How to get there:

The nearest Station is Hiroshima Station.


1-8-9, Matoba-cho,
Minami-ku, Hiroshima city,
Japan 732-0824


  • +(81)-82-568-7244


e-mail: hiroshima@kshouse.jp


  • Depends on the room, but Dorm rooms are 2,500YEN/ night.


  • the doors are lock after a certain hour. I don’t remember what time.


  • Bring you own towel.
  • No free parking, but there is paid parking nearby.
  • The cheapest weekend night parking is the small lot very close to the hostel at 300YEN per weekend night. And the lot a few blocks way for all non-weekend parking for a flat rate of 1500YEN per 24hrs. But parking there on the weekend, day or night, is a lot more expensive.

Hiroshima Peace Park

How to get there:

  • Take the tram #2, 3, 6 or 7 to Atomic Bomb Dome (Genbaku Dome-Mae)
  • This will put you right in front of the dome.
  • From there you can cross the bridge and head south to see the park, the museums, and other monuments.


  • Memorial Hall

1-6 Nakajima-cho,
Naka-ku, Hiroshima City
(in the Peace Memorial Park)


  • Peace Museum

Peace Memorial Museum
1-2 Nakajimama-cho,
Naka-ku, Hiroshima City
730-0811, Japan

Peace Memorial Museum
広島平和記念資料館 啓発担当



  • Most are free.
  • The Peace Museum cost 50Yen to enter.


  • The park is always open.
  • The museum and hall’s times are 8:30 – 17:00.

Itsukushima Shrine

How to get there:

There are 2 main non-driving methods to get to the shrine.

1. Take the train to Miyajimaguchi Station then hop on a 10 minute ferry to  Miyajima (170Yen). You can just walk to the shrine from there.

  • This is the cheapest option, but not the quickest.
  • For crowed days, like New Year’s day, this is not a very good option. The crowd is huge and everyone is pushing their way on to the boat.
2. Take the boat from Peace Park. It costs 1,900Yen on way. But, don’t toss your ticket when you get to the island. When you show your old ticket you will get a discount for your return trip (1,500Yen).
  • Link for Schedule
  • The more expensive option, but it’s really easy.
  • No crowd. The boat can only fit a few people.
  • But, because the boat is small, tickets do get sold out.



  • 350Yen to enter the temple


  • It’s a temple, so I don’t think there is an official closing time, but monks do need to sleep…



  • There are tons of temples on the island. Most of them up hills. Some up the mountain. There is even one, Sankido, that warships ogres.
  • You can take a cable car to the top of the mountain for some great views (1,800Yen round trip).
  • There are lots of deer just freely roaming the island. There are signs that say that they love to eat souvenirs and passports. That’s sounds implausible, but you never know.


Our agenda for today: 1. Go to an ATM, 2. Get a Burger, 3. Take a shower.

Tom made plans to come to Japan for Festivus/ Christmas since February 2011. Last year, Mark stayed at Tom’s place a couple of times, while getting his visa for Japan at the Japanese embassy in Seoul. They also spent last Christmas together because Mark was having some huge visa issues. I think they even had a huge Festivus party where Mark aired all his grievances against the Japanese immigration policies.

We met Tom a few years ago when we lived in Seoul and did some traveling and free biking with him. Tom still lives in Seoul, but I don’t know if he still uses the free bikes in Seoul.

So Mark and I, who are on a tight budget have been saving our pennies,.. one yen coins, for the occasion. But, when we asked Tom what sites he wanted to see while in Japan, he said he just wanted to chill out and hang with us.

We said, “Really, there’s nothing at all you want to see?”

Tom – “Well, Ok, just Hiroshima and something in your town.”

So Mark and I thought that since Tom just wanted to hang out, what we would do is to take Tom all the restaurants in town Mark and I always wanted to go, but didn’t because we are saving money. I had about four restaurants in mind, plus some we had already been to.

For the “something in our town” we took him to see Mount Aso. There is really nothing to see in Oita except for Park Place, the biggest mall this side of Kyushu. And yes, we did take him to see Park Place.  There we ran into some of my students. I introduced them as, “my husband and a friend from Korea.” My student looked quite confused.

Students – Pointing to Tom “husband” pointing to Mark “韓国人”

Me – “No.” Pointing to Mark “husband” pointing to Tom “friend from Korea”.

They gave me funny looks, but smiled and walked away after the standard “nice-to-meet-chu’s.”

So rather than writing more about places I’ve already been to and blogged about before, some more than once, I will just write about the two unique events from this vacation.

Event #1: Tom Plays Pachinko.

Tom wanted to celebrate finally having money in Japan. Before he left Korea, Mark and I told him that getting non-Japanese bank cards and credit cards to work in Japan is very hard. But, he was running late when going to the airport in Korea and thought that he would just get some money at an ATM at Fukuoka airport.

That did not work. He called his card company and they tried to help him, but the ATM he needed was not at the airport. He didn’t have any yen and could not even pay for a subway ride to the train station. He was stuck at the airport.

Frustrated, he called me to tell me that he would just take another flight back to Seoul. That was when some lady, who overheard him talking to his card company earlier, handed him a 10,000 yen note (equivalent to a hundred dollars). When Tom asked the lady for her address so that he could repay her later, she told him to, “just go to Oita, and later, do something nice for someone else.”

For he next few days Tom had been calling his card company trying to figure this whole thing out. In the mean while, Mark and I paid for all his stuff. We weren’t sure if Tom would ever get any money in Japan. But, we didn’t care if he did. Tom had been so hospitable to Mark when they were in Korea earlier in the year.

Then one day someone from the card company asked if Tom had tried the 7-11 ATM. We went out to try it, and it worked. Well, first Tom tried it and it didn’t work. Then he called the card company again and they thought about it and figured that Tom might have asked for more cash than the daily limit. After that it work.

The moral of this story is, if you go to Japan call your bank and ask what ATM’s you can use, then bring a bunch of cash.

So, the day that Tom finally had his own cash, he wanted to go to a pachinko parlor. So we went.

Everyone put 1,000 yen (~10 bucks) into their machine. Once it spat out a bunch of shiny ball into our baskets we started to play. Mark was the first one to lose all his money balls. He was out within 10 minutes of playing. I hovered the drain for about 30 minutes, then I was out.

Then I looked at Tom. He had 2 basket filled with shiny gold balls.

Me – “Oh my god Tom, are you winning?”

Tom – “I guess.”

Me – “How are you doing this?”

Tom – “I don’t know. That lady told me to hold this nob like so and tap this button like this. Balls just keep fallin’ out.”

Me – “Wow. I lost all my ball.”

Tom – “Feel free to play with my balls. They’re very shiny!”

Mark and I continues to play, grabbing hand-fulls of Tom balls. We tried to copy what Tom was doing, but it didn’t work for us.

When Tom finally got tired of playing, or actually, when Tom started to lose, we stopped. We looked around for someone to help us turn in the ball. An employee ran over to us and poured his balls into a machine. It printed out a receipt.

The lady pointed to another woman behind a counter. He gave the receipt to her. She handed Tom a red bean cake and a small case with some weird coins. Tom was delighted with his prizes. We were happy for him.

We headed towards to exit with thoughts of dinner. Our friend just won some strange coins from a pachinko parlor. Who would believe that?

Then a guy in uniform ran after us. We turned to look at him, wonder what was going on. I mentioned wanting to us the bathroom as we were walking out and thought that he was showing us where the facilities were.

He took us through the casino and out a different door. There was no bathroom out that door, but he pointed to a little window. It looked like a teller’s window for a very shy clerk.

All you could see was a pair of women’s hands. The uniform guy gestures for Tom to put his coin case through the window. The coins were taken and cold hard cash replaced it. Tom got 3,000 yen. He won actual money!

We all agreed that money was better than strange coins.

Event #2: Itsukushima Shrine – OMG are we in a line?

We went to the Itsukushima Shrine on New Year’s day. The shrine is on an island called Miyajima near the city of Hiroshima. It has an iconic gate where tourist gather to take photos. It is also a place where many religious Japanese go on New Year’s day to pray and ask god, or whoever for favors.

It was beautiful and crowded; so very crowded. We were just walking along one of the street as the crowd of people gradually got thicker. We stood there for about 15 minutes slowly making our way forward when we realized that we were in a line for something. We had no idea what it was, but if this many people wanted to see it, it must be good.

It ended up being the Itsukushima shrine itself. After this Mark and I and Tom split up. Tom wanted to take photos of things and Mark and I wanted to get some omiyage, or souvenirs, for our co-workers.

It was nice, but because of the crowd we felt a bit intimidated. The Japanese are generally known for their politeness, but crowds are always the exception. We spend a lot of time hiding out in a nice, but highly overpriced well heated coffee shop. It was nice, almost empty, but the prices were steep.

I recommend going on a non-religious holiday.

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Posted in Aso 市, Beppu 市, Hiroshima 県, Hiroshima 市, Honshū, Japan, Kumamoto 県, Kyūshū, Miyajima 町, Oita 県, Oita 市 | Tagged: , , , | Leave a Comment »


Posted by Heliocentrism on December 11, 2011


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December 10, 2011 Lunar Eclipse from Japan

How to get there:

We went to the cemetery near our apartment. It’s about a 20 minute walk, up hill all the way, from Minami-Oita train station.


Cost: Free to just walk around.

Hours: The cemetery is always open and many people walk there for exercise.




Did we miss it?

I knew there was going to be a total lunar eclipse. I read somewhere, Friday morning, that it would take place on Saturday morning. Mark and I planned to wake up early on Saturday to go out and see the eclipse. But we completely forgot about it and slept in.

Then as I we were having lunch on Saturday, we remembered. I felt so disappointed. I began to wonder when the eclipse had taken place. I went back to the article I had read earlier. It just said that it would take place on Saturday morning, but the article did not say where or give an exact time.

Mark and I searched the internet. It was very frustrating because no one seems to have a time and a place. One article would say evening another, early morning. One even went so far as to tell us the time in UT, but even after looking up “UT” on Wikipedia, I still had no idea what that meant for us living in Japan.

Mark finally found an amateur astronomy website from Australia where everything was written clearly. We didn’t even have to do the time conversions or any thing. It even told us when the moon would be fully eclipsed, when the “un-eclipsing” would start, and how long the whole thing would last. And it turned out, as you can guess, we hadn’t missed a thing.

The Moon

I was a little kid the first time I saw a lunar eclipse. I was jumping all over the place with excitement, not so much for the moon’s impending trick, but because I could stay up passed 9:00pm. We had a huge patio in front our house and we all sat there with pillows looking up at the nights’ sky.

I was amazed when the earth’s shadow started to move across the moon like my mom said it would. I never thought that something a big as the earth could have a shadow. I wanted to watch every second of the eclipse, but my amazing was not enough to counter balance the fact that I was a little kid and it was way past 9:00pm.

I fell asleep. I woke up the next day feeling like I had miss most of the show.

This Time It Will Be Better

This lunar eclipse I wanted see and take pictures of the eclipse and 3 key stages. First Mark and I walked around our neighborhood to find the ideal spot. We picked a cemetery atop a hill nearby for its complete lack of lighting. Around 9:15pm we brewed several mugs of coffee, got a flash light, blankets, and pillows then headed to the grave yard. (Well, there are no graves in Japan, …shrine yard?)

We played around with the camera, taking long exposure pictures of ourselves as the moon disappeared. Well, turned darker then red. Even though I was suffering from a really bad cold, I had enough padding, hot coffee, and blankets that I felt quite warm.

We were content to stay there the whole night, but it started to rain. We had to pack up and get indoors. I didn’t want to take the chance of getting sicker.

Every half hour or so, we looked out the window to see if the moon had come out. Around 11:00pm we just went out anyway. The full eclipse was supposed to be half way through around 11:30pm and I didn’t want to miss it. We went back to the cemetery, but this time we took the car and one of our neighbors but forgot the coffee.

The sky was very cloudy but we held to the hope of just a small break in the clouds big enough to snap a few pictures. We remembered where the moon was from last time and were checking around that area. Mark even joked about how funny it would be if the moon were behind us and cloud free the whole time. We all span around to look, just in case, but there was no moon. “How silly of Mark to say such a thing.”

We waited and wait… and got tired. So we laid down, and looked straight up into the sky and right into the face of a blood red, unimpeded moon. “How long has the clouds over our heads been gone?”

We watched the sky until we saw earth’s shadow slowing start to creep away. Without hot coffee, we began to get cold and sleepy. The rain started again, so we went home. Mark and I stayed up a little long after that to run out our front door, check on the moon, and take more photos. We fell asleep after the moon was back to shining at its maximum.

All Pictures

Posted in Japan, Kyūshū, Oita 県, Oita 市 | Tagged: | Leave a Comment »


Posted by Heliocentrism on November 21, 2011

October 1-2, 2011

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1st Annual All-Kyushu Mixed
Ultimate Beach Tournament

(Ichi Kyu Bee)
(第一回全九州ビーチ アルテメツト大会)




  • 1500YEN
    • Price includes 2 days of games,
    • field rental,
    • insurance,
    • and a FREE T-shirt


  • 2 full days of exhausting fun


If you plan to do this next year you will need:

  • to be in good shape
  • thick socks
  • a hat
  • sunscreen
  • lots of water

Otachimisaki Park

How to get there:


御立岬公園 Otachimisaki Park, Ashikita

Japan, 〒869-5305 熊本県葦北郡芦北町大字田浦町145


  • 0966-87-2390 for a Cabin




  • There are many things to do in this park, like go-cart driving, golf, fishing, …
  • There are restaurants open during the summer, but not other seasons.
    • Bring your own food and water if you do this next year (if it is at this park).


Frisbee at the beach sounds like fun.

First, let me tell you how I got into this mess, because at the start of this particular weekend, I felt tricked. I got an invitation of Facebook. I didn’t read all the details, but what I got from it were the words “beach”, “frisbee”, and “barbecue”. That sounded like fun! The actual event was months away and the exact details hadn’t been completely worked out, but I RSVPed “attenting” anyway. Then I didn’t give it a second thought.

About a month before the event I got an email from someone asking my shirt size, date of birth, and other questions that may or not have included how heart-attack prone I was at the moment. I didn’t think much about it. I don’t even think I responded. Someone actually called me to ask those questions a few times before I got around to responding.

It sounds like you think it’s a real sport

Then I got an invite to practice frisbee one weekend. I didn’t have time, but I though it was cute that people would get together to practice throwing around a frisbee, like it was a real sport… They had 3 or 4 practices, but I was always too busy to go.

Then the weekend of the frisbee thing, Mark told be that we would be leaving at 4:30am.

Me – “What!? 4:30 in the morning!? …on a Saturday?! Why?”

Mark – “Well the tournament is at a beach in Komamoto Prefecture.”

Me – “Wait, what!? Tournament? I thought we were just going to toss around a frisbee on a beach and then have a barbecue.”

Mark – “Yea. That ‘tossing around a frisbee’ is called Ultimate Frisbee”

Me – “It sounds like you think it’s a real sport.”

Mark – “It is a real sport. It’s Ultimate Frisbee.”

Me – “???”

I learned quickly that ultimate is a real sport. Oh my god, the horrible things they made me do! … like running, jumping, catching, and throwing. …for 2 days! I was exhausted by the end of the first day. One girl on my team disappeared after lunch refusing to play any more.

The first day it was just the amateurs. They split up all the teams and put everyone on new teams with people we had never meet before. By coincidence I was on a team with a JET I met the week before in Amakusa. We managed to win one game and I score one point. Both happened after the girl left us one player short. I didn’t hate her for leaving, but I did wish I had the chance to disappear first.

The barbecue that night was amazing and we earned it! We stayed in a cabin by the beach. Many JET’s stayed up to talk with other JET’s from around Kyushu, but those of us from Oita city went to bed early. I for one, was tired. We had just the right amount of people. Our cabin could not hold one more person. All our floor space was taken.

Even with our cabin filled to capacity, we did not finish grilling all the meat we were given. We actually opened another pack of meat and ate that for breakfast. (And, because Mark and I brought a colder filled with ice bags, we took home the last 2 packs of meat and one of vegetables. Someone else took home the other extra pack of vegetables. They gave us a whole lot of food!)

The Disco-saurus Wrex

The next day we played with the teams we came with. These teams were a lot bigger, but now we would play with college teams. We expected to be slaughtered, so we put on crazy costumes and tried to have fun. But we had no strategy. We didn’t think we needed it; we never thought we would win any games.

Our reward is to play more games?

But we did. We, unfortunately, won all our morning games. I say unfortunately, because by winning all our first games, we placed into the highest bracket for the afternoon games. We were up against the young, talented, college aged, ultimate scholarship-receiving teams.

This is where our winning streak ended. But it was not at all shameful. When we lost, we lost by one or two points. Below is a video of one of those points.

In the end, I had tons of fun. I would do it again next year.

No, I really would.

All Pictures

Posted in Ashikita 町, Japan, Kumamoto 県, Kyūshū | Tagged: , , , | Leave a Comment »


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