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One World in One Lifetime

Naked Men

Posted by mracine on October 24, 2014

February 16, 2014 

All Pictures

Japan
(日本)
(Nippon)

How to get there:

You can enter Japan by plane or boat. Though, the number of boats going to Japan from other countries has gone down significantly.

Americans get 90-day visas to Japan at the port of entry. Check with your nearest Japanese embassy or consulate for visa information.

Phone:

Website:

Downloads:

Videos:

Books:

Notes:

  • Be careful what over the counter drugs you bring into Japan.  Actifed, Sudafed, Vicks inhalers, and Codeine are prohibited.
  • InternationalATMs are really hard to find; more so if you aren’t in a big city. Many places in Japan do not use credit cards. Take cash and call your bank to ask whatATMs or banks in Japan will work with your cash card.
    • ATMs have opening hours. Usually 9:00-18:00 (They have better work hours than most business men and women here.)
    • The Post Office bank seems to work with the most international cards.
  • You can get a Japan Railway, pass which saves you a lot of money on the trains, but you can only buy it before you get to Japan and you cannot be a resident of Japan. (I don’t have more information about it because I’ve only ever lived in Japan; I’ve never been a tourist here.)

Getty ImagesSaidaiji
(西大寺)
(Rhino Temple)

Naken Men’s Festival
(裸祭り)
(Hadaka Marsuri)

How to get there:

  • Coordinates

Address:

3-8-8 Saidaijinaka, Higashi-ku, Okayama, Okayama Prefecture 704-8116, Japan

Phone:

  • Kinryozan Saidaiji 086-942-2058

Websites:

Downloads:

Cost:

  • 500 yen

Hours:

  • 3rd Saturday in February
  • regular hours – 9:00 ~ 16:00

Video:

Notes:

  • This festival is held during the coldest month of the year.

Map:


A temple full of naked men

Written by Mark

“Not, again” I thought as my body was being crushed on a wooden beam. My arms were pinned down to my sides. I forgot to keep my arms up; a rookie mistake. The sweat streamed down my face from the heat of all the bodies. The crowd surged again and pushed me helplessly in one direction and then another. There were screams coming from all around and people accidentally touching parts of my body which made me more than a little bit uncomfortable. This was the Naked Men’s festival and I was in the middle of it.

I got up that day preparing for what was to come ahead. I put on my coat, gloves, and hat, kissed my wife goodbye, and left my apartment. I lived only two train stops from Sadaiji station, where the event took place. However, I took the train in the opposite direction towards Okayama Station. The Naked Man Festival was totally new to me. I needed help from a group of pros.

I arrived at Okayama station. I pulled out my cell phone and call my friend, Justin. He was crazy enough to do the festival with me. We met at the south side of the Station. This is where we would board a bus that would take us to Naked Men. We were early and the buses weren’t there yet. There were a few other foreigners there, but not much more than usual. We went to the McDonald’s trying to build up stores of fat on our bodies. We’d need them to keep warm later.

Anything to be on TV.

When we finished eating, we went back to where the buses would be. There were several empty buses waiting to be loaded. A few groups of foreigners were walking around. I assumed that they were waiting for the go ahead to get on the bus.

As I looked around, I noticed two groups of people filming some of the foreigners there. And of course, those foreigners were hamming it up for the camera. Typical… Justin jokingly said that we should try to be on camera too. I took the joke seriously and we made our way in front of one of the cameras. I really hammed it up, too

Getting ready for the cold

Finally, the person leading the foreigner’s bus called for us to get on. We all climbed aboard. A camera crew also joined us on the bus. Apparently, they were going to film the whole trip. Our group leader did this event several times before. He told us the rules and what we should watch for. “Keep your arms up while you’re in the crowd. If they go down, you won’t be able to brace yourself when you fall and it’ll be hard to put them back up. Be careful of the steps. They are made of stones and they’ll hurt if you fall on them. Stay away from the pillars, they don’t flex as much as your bones. Make way for any people in dark clothes. They are emergency personnel and they’ll be getting hurt people away from the crowd.”

We’ll need to remember what warmth feels like.

Then the leader of our group got to the heart of the matter. “We will be going for the shingi, a magical stick of incense that can be traded for lots of cash. This is what you want. There are also other sticks thrown but can’t be traded in for money. However, they are extremely good luck and you should go after those as well. If you get a stick, don’t let it go, hide it (who knows where?), and make your way out the temple area.”

While we weren’t organized enough as a group to work together, the general consensus was to help and protect each other. “Oh,” the leader added, “if you see a Japanese person with yakuza like tattoos with a stick, let them keep it.”

The bus took us from Okayama bus station to Sadaiji bus station. While it clearly states in the rules that you shouldn’t drink before participating in the festival, this didn’t deter most from drinking on the bus. I confess, I took a few sips from a bottle as well.

Drumming for nudity

It was dark outside when we arrived. We all got off the bus and followed the leader from the bus station to the temple. It was about one fifth of a mile away and people greeted and cheered us on the way to the tents.

If you participate you don’t really get to enjoy the other parts of the festival. There were people performing for crowds and lots of festival foods. There were things to do and see but we were just herded straight to our tent.

Do I look okay?

At our designated tent, we paid our entrance and clothing fees. The clothing consisted of tabbies so thin that socks would have been better and a fundoshi, just a long strip of cloth; that’s it. We went into the tent to change. The tent was large and people claimed their area to change. In the center of the tent was an old man and woman. These two volunteers were the skilled helpers that help you get dressed properly.

better than wearing pants!

I took off my coat, hat, gloves, sweater, shirt, undershirt, pants, underwear, socks, and shoes. I put them in a bag provided and made my way into the line to have my fundoshi put on. I guess I‘ve been to enough onsens to not feel awkward being nude around others. Then again there was an old lady in the tent with a smile on her face like it was her birthday or something.

The old lady instructed me to hold one end of the cloth while she started wrapping it around my body. At that time, the camera crew joined us in the tent. Onsens be damned! It was a hell of an awkward situation. I was getting interviewed being mostly naked while and old lady played grab ass.

With the fundoshi wrapped around my body, the old man helped secured it in place by giving me an atomic wedgie. We were told to use the colored electrical tape to secure our tabbies from falling off our feet. I wrapped them around my leg, then decided to decorate my arms and hands with red, white, and blue tape. Got to represent America!

Ready to begin

So there we stood in the freezing tent while we waited for our turn in the festival. We were cold, so cold. I decided I needed more food to eat. McD’s didn’t cut it. Especially after having a few drinks.

I grabbed some money and snuck out of the tent. There were specially roped off areas that people weren’t allowed to cross. It’s to keep onlookers and participants separated. I ignored the rules, jumped the rope, and queued behind the first food line. It was a little awkward being mostly nude while everyone else around was not. I grabbed some hot udon and chugged it down.

I made my way back to the tent. It was about time to line up. The leader had us in columns of four. I was in one of the middle columns in the middle of the pack. We put our arms over each other’s necks and started to shout “Get the shingi!” over and over again.

A pool in the middle of winter?

Our group followed other groups into the temple area. They had the temple set up so participants made several loops around the area. The first stop was the cleansing pool.

It was about three to four feet deep and filled with freezing water. The water didn’t have ice in it or anything like that, but I would like to point out that I was wearing a coat and several layers of clothes when it was warmer in the day. Without hesitation we headed into the water. Each step splashed cold drops of water onto everyone. It didn’t help that people inside our group were using their hands to splash each other while we walked through the water.

marching around the temple

By the time we got out, I was totally soaked. We marched up to the temple where the shingi would be thrown. We continued around the temple to the shrine. I suppose we were to say our prayers or something to that effect, but I’m not sure. We continued our way over a tiny bridge where the gathering people could see us.

We went to where we had entered, and to my horror, we were making another lap around the temple. Next stop, cleansing pool. Again, I got soaked. At the end of that loop, we did another lap. The nice thing about the third trip to the cleansing pool was that by then I was too numb to feel much of anything.

“Oh god I’m so cold. How many times do I have to watch them circle the bloody temple!?”

After the third lap, we were allowed to place ourselves where we thought the shingi would be thrown. I went up the stone steps and found a place on the platform. The area was well lit from above.

I could see the window where the sticks would be thrown. I couldn’t get too close though. There were about a few thousand people blocking my way. Other people got behind me and pushed me a little forward. Then more people got behind them and pushed them forward as well. I was still feeling cold but the bodies surrounding me at least blocked the wind.

This seems safe.

We stood there on the platform. People crowded together, tightly packed like a tin of sardines. My arms got sore from keeping them up. It was getting warmer from all the body heat. I was starting to get my body temperature up when a head popped out a window from above.

I was really excited. This is it. A Buddhist priest looked at the pile of people from level above. He ducked his head back in and reached for something. He threw it down on us and…. I was wet again. The priest continued to throw ladles full of cold water for a while and then left us to enjoy our moistness.

This is crazy.

I was standing there tired, wet, and ready for this to be over. Then it happened. The crowd moved a little to the right, then a little to the left. Then it moved some to the front and some to the back. There were pushing and shoving. I guess everyone was trying to get the best spots possible but this was dangerous. We were on a platform with steps at the edges. The crowd moved even farther right, maybe two or three feet. Then three feet to the left. The crowd pushed forward and then back. So far back I had to put my foot on the top step. This was getting insane.

Over and over again, they were pushing. Each time, some people got knocked off the platform and fell onto the steps. Usually only a few. The people on the steps pushed and held the people above them. Then, the first great fall happened. I was in the middle of it. The push forward was strong and the response was even greater. I felt and heard the people behind me not getting the footing they needed to keep from falling. First a few people fell. But as the bodies lay on the stone steps, people in front of them lost their footing too. Like dominoes, people started to fall.

Without the resistance from the fallen people, the crowd from the front pushed twice as hard. I tripped over legs. I would have smashed my head and broken my shins if it weren’t for the kind people who I landed on. I tried my best to get off these poor men as fast as I could, but I too had people on top of me.

Safety workers to the rescue

I got up and made a stupid decision. I chose to stay. I moved in closer to one of the pillars. You know, the pillars I was told to stay away from. For the most part, the pillar acted as brace and shield from the moving crowd. Every once in a while the crowd would push just right and pin me to the pillar. Between the press of bodies and an unmovable pillar, I couldn’t move. I couldn’t breathe. That proved to be very uncomfortable.

Catch it!

I again, tried to move closer to the window where the shingi would be thrown. Again the window had a priest throwing water. It came as a blessing now. Steam would rise as soon as it hit the throng of people swaying below. Two more times I fell onto the steps. Luck stayed with me because I was never on the bottom of the pile.

The time was getting near. There were more priest by the window. They were about to throw something other than water. The crowd cheered and yelled and jostled for position. There was a fever running through the people.

I looked up at the window ready for the sticks to be thrown. I was ready. This was it this time. I could see the sticks in the hands of the priests. I could see the smoke from the incense stick known as the shingi. I could hear many voices in the crowd screaming “Get the shingi!” I was screaming with them as well. Then… Then, darkness. The lights were cut off. The sticks were thrown and the crowd moved in many directions at once.

Who will get it?

To be honest, I have no idea where the sticks were thrown. I don’t know how one gets out of the mass of people with any of the sticks in his hands. I couldn’t see what was going on. I could hear and see people pushing, shoving, and grabbing. What I couldn’t see, were any of the sticks. However, I could smell the shingi. It was everywhere.

The crowd didn’t sway as before. People knew where the shingi was and move towards it. The people with the shingi couldn’t push their way out. Thousands of people stood gridlocked on the platform. Then, strangely the crowd moved to the right. I’m not sure what happened but somehow the sticks must have been passed around.

People were frantically sniffing the air. “Did the shingi go to the right? Or did it go to the left?” It’s hard to tell. It was like this for four or five minutes. Then the crowd started to slowly disperse.

Clean up time

I wasn’t sure when or how the sticks got out, but like everyone else, I supposed that it did. I left the steps and started walking back to the tents. I was tired and a little disappointed that I didn’t even get a chance to touch one of the sticks. As I was leaving I saw a group of people gathered. I went to investigate.

To my surprise, eight or more men were grabbing onto a stick. I jumped into the group. I stuck my hand in and touched their hands. I gripped tighter, trying to get a hold on this stick. One or two people were ripped away and I got a hold of the stick. Twisting and turning, I got a better hold. I was so close.

I pulled and yanked. There were still many people surrounding us but only four guys and me had our hands on the stick. I pulled and pulled and pulled. Until, damn it. It slipped from my fingers and I fell.

I got up. The group of people who were fighting for the stick suddenly stopped. They all started walking away from the area, empty-handed and in different directions. “What just happened?” I wondered making my own way back to the tents.

Later, I think I figured it out. The last four were a group working together. When I fell, one of them pocketed (where?) it and they all walked away.

The shrine

I got to the changing tent. Not one stick was gotten by anyone from our group. The group leader was bouncing around happy because he at least got to hold the shingi. He went around letting people smell his hand which reeked of incense.

I took off my muddy loin cloth and got dressed. I was thankful to be in warm clothes again. I went back to the shrine looking for my wife. Most of the crowd was gone by then. When I found her, I asked her what she thought of the event where I stood outside in the freezing night mostly naked and wet. She complained to me how cold she was watching. We got into our car and went home.

All Pictures

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

Mini Trips

Posted by Heliocentrism on October 17, 2014

November 3, 2013 – February 9, 2014 

All Pictures

Japan
(日本)
(Nippon)

How to get there:

You can enter Japan by plane or boat. Though, the number of boats going to Japan from other countries has gone down significantly.

Americans get 90-day visas to Japan at the port of entry. Check with your nearest Japanese embassy or consulate for visa information.

Phone:

Website:

Downloads:

Videos:

Books:

Notes:

  • Be careful what over the counter drugs you bring into Japan.  Actifed, Sudafed, Vicks inhalers, and Codeine are prohibited.
  • InternationalATMs are really hard to find; more so if you aren’t in a big city. Many places in Japan do not use credit cards. Take cash and call your bank to ask whatATMs or banks in Japan will work with your cash card.
    • ATMs have opening hours. Usually 9:00-18:00 (They have better work hours than most business men and women here.)
    • The Post Office bank seems to work with the most international cards.
  • You can get a Japan Railway, pass which saves you a lot of money on the trains, but you can only buy it before you get to Japan and you cannot be a resident of Japan. (I don’t have more information about it because I’ve only ever lived in Japan; I’ve never been a tourist here.)

Gigantor
(鉄人28号)
in (Wakamatsu Park)
(若松公園)

How to get there:

  • Coordinates 34°39’20.1″N 135°08’38.2″E

Address:

Wakamatsu Park
兵庫県神戸市長田区若松町6丁目3

6-3 Wakamatsucho, Nagata-ku, Kobe, Hyogo Prefecture 653-0038, Japan

Websites:

Cost:

The park itself is free. You might have to pay for parking. There is a mall nearby, but I’m not sure what the park situation is like there. Mark and I just parked on the side of the road and only stayed long enough to take a few photos.

Hours:

  • Always available.

Videos:

Notes:

  • He protects the city of Kobe. From what? I don’t know. Let’s say… cattle rustlers.
  • There is a mall nearby.

Z-Gandum
(Ζガンダム)
at (道の駅久米の)
(Michi no eki kume no sato)

How to get there:

  • Coordinates 35°03’21.6″N 133°55’22.1″E

Address:

久米の里>
563-1 Miyao
Tsuyama, Okayama 709-4613

Phone:

  • 0868-57-7234

Websites:

Cost:

  • Free
  • Free Parking

Hours:

  • Always available

Time Aqua Garden
(おまちアクアガーデン)

How to get there:

  • Coordinates 34°41’10.8″N 133°58’21.3″E

Address:

おまちアクアガーデン
岡山県岡山市中区雄町

Phone:

Websites:

Cost:

  • Free
  • Free Parking

Hours:

  • 9:00 ~ 18:00

Notes:

  • You can refill your water bottle here for free.
  • There is also an area for kids to play in the water along with a foot bathe.

Ontokuji
(恩徳寺)

How to get there:

  • Coordinates 34°39’54.8″N 133°57’44.1″E

Address:

613 Sawada Naka Ward, Okayama, 703-8234 Japan

Phone:

  • +81 86-272-4843

Website:

Cost:

  • free

Hours:

  • regular temple hours

Notes:

  • This is a small temple in a small neighborhood.

Map:


He thinks I want to hurt Kobe’s economy.

Take a Little Trip

This entry is about the little trips we took either on the way to running errands, or just a long walk around our neighborhood. None of them would make a good trip on their own, but they make nice added detours.

That’s my foot!

Robot a PSA: Don’t Date Robots

We were heading up north to get some stuff from the Costco in Kobe. We left home really early in the morning so we would not get stuck in traffic. The plan worked beautifully; there were very few cars on the road. But, we ended up in Kobe a good 45 minutes before Costco opened. Rather than sit in the Costco parking lot we checked the GPS to find interesting things nearby.

That’s how we found Gigantor. Since it was so early in the morning there were plenty of probably-illegal parking spots on the side of the road. I wedged the car between two illegally parked trucks and checked my watch. I figured if we stayed less than 15 minutes we’d be okay. No one bothered us about our parking.

Hello human!

The next detour we came across on a map of the area. There was a picture of a robot on a map. So, we went to see it. It was in fact a big robot. He seemed friendly and loved having his photo taken.

Other than the robot, which is at a rest stop, there was nothing else to do in the area. There were restaurants at the rest stop, but they were all overpriced and didn’t seem like anything special.

 

What time is it? 11:20.

Around the Neighborhood

The rest are things we happened upon while walking near our apartment. This first one was some sort of oasis. There is a water-clock, a fountain where people fill up their jugs of water, a foot bath, and a water playground for kids.

I think it is supposed to promote keeping the water clean and safe to drink. This part of town has a lot of factories, so I guess people need to be reminded that clean water is a gift that should not be taken for granted.

prayers

The next is one of the many temples on the hill near our home. There is nothing special about this particular temple. It’s just a nice place to walk to and around and a great place to take some photos.

More clean water!

All Pictures

Posted in Honshū, Hyōgo 県, Japan, Kobe 市, Okayama 県, Okayama 市 | Tagged: , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

2 Days Away from Our Prefecture

Posted by Heliocentrism on October 10, 2014

December 21-23, 2013

All Pictures

Japan
(日本)
(Nippon)

How to get there:

You can enter Japan by plane or boat. Though, the number of boats going to Japan from other countries has gone down significantly.

Americans get 90-day visas to Japan at the port of entry. Check with your nearest Japanese embassy or consulate for visa information.

Phone:

Website:

Downloads:

Videos:

Books:

Notes:

  • Be careful what over the counter drugs you bring into Japan.  Actifed, Sudafed, Vicks inhalers, and Codeine are prohibited.
  • InternationalATMs are really hard to find; more so if you aren’t in a big city. Many places in Japan do not use credit cards. Take cash and call your bank to ask whatATMs or banks in Japan will work with your cash card.
    • ATMs have opening hours. Usually 9:00-18:00 (They have better work hours than most business men and women here.)
    • The Post Office bank seems to work with the most international cards.
  • You can get a Japan Railway, pass which saves you a lot of money on the trains, but you can only buy it before you get to Japan and you cannot be a resident of Japan. (I don’t have more information about it because I’ve only ever lived in Japan; I’ve never been a tourist here.)

Expo Commemoration Park
(万博記念公園)
(Bampaku kinen kōen)

How to get there:

  • Coordinates 34°48’44.1″N 135°32’20.0″E

Address:

Senri-Banpaku-Koen, Suita-shi, Osaka

Phone:

  • 06-6877-7387

Websites:

Downloads:

Cost:

  • Adults – 250 yen
  • Kids-  70 yen
  • Under 7 – free
  • Parking –
    • 800 yen weekdays
    • 1,200 yen weekends

Hours:

  • Closed Wednesdays
  • 9:30 ~ 17:00 entry stops at 16:30

Notes:

  • Sometimes there are exhibits that cost extra to enter.

Tōdai-ji
(東大寺)
(Eastern Great Temple)

How to get there:

  • Coordinates 34° 41′ 21″ N, 135° 50′ 23″ E

Address:

1 Zōshi-chō, Nara, Nara Prefecture

Phone:

  • +81 742-22-5511

Websites:

Cost:

  • 500 yen (museum only)
  • 800 yen (museum and Temple)
  • Parking is free (I think…)

Hours:

  • 8:00 to 16:30 (November to February)
  • 8:00 to 17:00 (March)
  • 7:30 to 17:30 (April to September)
  • 7:30 to 17:00 (October)

Notes:

  • constructed in 752
  • There are many deer walking around the grounds you can feed.

Kinkaku-ji
(金閣寺)
(Temple of the Golden Pavilion)
(Rokuon-ji)
(鹿苑寺)
(Deer Garden Temple)

How to get there:

  • Coordinates 35° 2′ 22″ N, 135° 43′ 46″ E

Address:

1 Kinkakuji-cho, Kita-ku, Kyoto City

Phone:

  • 075-461-0013

Websites:

Cost:

  • 400 yen adults
  • 300 yen kids
  • There is no free parking. You can pay less and park further away, or pay more and park next to the temple’s entrance.

Hours:

  • 9:00 ~ 17:00

Notes:

  • This is one of the few places in Japan where you can get a fortune-tell paper in English.

Map:


 

We’re going to a Park!

A Vacation for Pennies (uhm… yen)

Mark planned this trip. We wanted to do something for winter break, but we did not want to spend a lot of money. In Okayama we live near some nice big cities in Japan. Many of them are less than a half day’s drive. So we took two days to see 3 cities each with a tourist attraction that was not too expensive.

This is where all the flowers would be, if there were any flowers.

The first stop was the Expo Commemoration Park in Osaka. If I lived in Osaka and had kids, I would get a year pass for this place. It’s a huge park filled with stuff for kids to do. In the spring there are lots of flowers to admire. In winter, not so much.

We walked around the park exploring each section. When it started to get dark, we headed for the main gate. But, first I needed to use the restroom. We took a detour to pass a certain set of bathrooms and in that process, we found a group of people playing loud music.

Mark swore he heard K-pop and we marched into the crowd to check it out. We stood in the middle of herds of people. Half of them were standing in line the other half were jostling for seating space under several tents. We looked around for a sign to explain what was going on.

Ramen Expo!!!

“Mark, Mark, it’s a ramen expo!!!!”

I’m not sure if I’ve mentioned it on this blog yet or not, but I LOVE ramen. I am also quite an artist when it comes to making ramen at home. Depending on the mood I’m in I might add extra things to my ramen to liven up the flavor like, cheese, kimchi, vinegar, hot peppers, crushed peanuts, sesame seeds, sake for rice, lime, I could go on.

The Ramen Brochure

The lines people were in, where for the many types of ramen for sale. Mark got a brochure and we looked through it. I’m sure the booklet explained the history, making, or ingredients of each of the ramen, but we could not tell. We had to make our decisions based on pictures and the little Japanese we could read. Luckily for me, most of my Japanese vocabulary is centered around food.

Yum!

I knew I wanted one with meat (にく), an egg (たまご), and some kimchi (キムチ). We searched through the booklet and found a vendor that sold kimchi ramen with beef or pork. Almost all the vendors gave you the option of adding an egg or two to your soup. We walked to the back of the crowd and bought tickets for ramen. Then we looked for our vendor.

Which one is the one in the little ramen book?

We stood in several lines, trying to find the vendor we had chosen from the brochure. Many of the vendors used kanji to write their names, and fancy kanji at that. Everytime we thought we found the correct line, it turned out to be the wrong one. We gave up on finding this particular vendor and just went to the one with the shortest line. When we reached the front of the line I saw a sign that advertised extras like kimchi and ramen eggs for 50 yen per serving. “That’s good enough!”

What Luck!

We took our food and headed to one of the tents. They were heated and were a lot warmer than the benched outside. Just as we entered the tent a large group of people got up and left the tent. I think they were from a school field trip or something. We sat at an empty table and ate our ramen. By the time we finished our table was full, so we didn’t stick around to chat. There were more people who needed seats.

Christmas lights of Osaka

Next we headed downtown to look at the Christmas lights. Well, they didn’t have so much of a Christmas theme as a Christmas feel. There were a couple of displays that were Christmasy, but most of them were just nice lights to enjoy near the end of December.

winter garden

Christmas in Japan is not like Christmas in the states. You order some chicken from KFC weeks in advance along with a cake from some bakery. Of course you can decorate your door with red and green kitsch. You might even buy an already decorated 5 inch Christmas tree to place in your apartment or shop window. But, no one celebrates Christmas day here, anymore than one would celebrate Groundhog’s day, assuming you don’t live in Punxsutawney, PA.

You could almost fit a double bed in here.

We spent the night in a tiny hotel room. The hotel was really not nice. We only put up with it because it cost 2,000 yen ($20) and it was only one night. I would have prefered staying at an internet cafe, but this was cheaper.

Hurry up and take your photo!

Because our hotel was so dreadful, we got up early and drove to Nara. Mark wanted to see this temple just to feed the deer. Mark loves feeding things. They sell deer food from wooden boxes placed around the temple grounds. It’s based on the honor system. You put 100 yen in the box and take out one bag of deer food.

“It’s too early to eat, human!”

Since we got there so early the deer didn’t seem fully awake yet. We went into the temple and looked around there, before going back outside to feed the deer.

He reminds me of Zoltar

We found this wooden statue in the temple near the main hall. It is a Pindola called Binzuru. If you touch a part of your body that is ailing and rub the corresponding part of the statue’s body, you will be healed. I’m not sure what to do if one has, say breast cancer…

Now, who’s the popular kid?

Once the deer were fully rested, they were more willing to chase Mark around as he bestowed deer pellets upon them. Mark spent more time with those deer than he did in the temple.

The nicest entrance ticket I’ve ever had.

Next we went to the Kinkaku Temple in Kyoto. I really was not expecting much from this temple. I’ve seen many temples before. This wasn’t even the first temple I had seen that day.

Wow!

But when I saw it. Wow, that was one hell of a temple. We could not go near it of course; we were only allowed to admire from afar.

Try your hand at some good luck?

There were many stone cups for you to try to toss coins into for good luck, wealth, or health. Look at all that disappointment.

Hooray for English!

There were machines that sold fortunes. Usually there is a paper and drawer system of buying oracles at temples. I have never been able to crack it. But that doesn’t matter anyway, I can’t read Japanese. So even if I did find my correct fortune, I can’t read it. But this temple not only gives their fortunes by way of a vending machine, there was one in English!

My 2013 Oracle

It’s in English, but I’m still not sure what it says…

I have no idea where this is. :(

After getting my oracle that told me to stay where I was, Mark and I left Kyoto and went home in Okayama. On the drive home we found this park, but I just can’t remember where this is. I wrote the name of the park down somewhere, but I can’t find that notebook. I only know that this park is in some town between Kyoto and Okayama.

…Maybe that was what the oracle was warning me about.

All Pictures

Posted in Honshū, Japan, Kyoto 市, Kyoto 府, Nara Prefecture 県, Nara 市, Osaka 市, Osaka 府 | Tagged: , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

November in Okayama

Posted by Heliocentrism on October 3, 2014

November 11 & 23-24, 2013

All Pictures

Japan
(日本)
(Nippon)

How to get there:

You can enter Japan by plane or boat. Though, the number of boats going to Japan from other countries has gone down significantly.

Americans get 90-day visas to Japan at the port of entry. Check with your nearest Japanese embassy or consulate for visa information.

Phone:

Website:

Downloads:

Videos:

Books:

Notes:

  • Be careful what over the counter drugs you bring into Japan.  Actifed, Sudafed, Vicks inhalers, and Codeine are prohibited.
  • InternationalATMs are really hard to find; more so if you aren’t in a big city. Many places in Japan do not use credit cards. Take cash and call your bank toaskwhatATMs or banks in Japan will work with your cash card.
    • ATMs have opening hours. Usually 9:00-18:00 (They have better work hours than most business men and women here.)
    • The Post Office bank seems to work with the most international cards.
  • You can get a Japan Railway, pass which saves you a lot of money on the trains, but you can only buy it before you get to Japan and you cannot be a resident of Japan. (I don’t have more information about it because I’ve only ever lived in Japan; I’ve never been a tourist here.)

Ki Castle
(Ki No Jo)
(鬼ノ城)
(Demon’s Castle)

How to get there:

  • Coordinates 34°43’34.8″N 133°45’47.0″E

Address:

〒719-1101 岡山県総社市奥坂1762

Phone:

  • 0866-92-8277

Websites:

Downloads:

Cost:

  • free

Hours:

  • Always available

Notes:

  • This is a Korean style castle.
  • It was made in the late 7th century by the Yamato Imperial court.
  • AlongwithOnino-sashiage-iwa there are many ruins near by.

Sunagawa Park
(砂川 キャンプ場)

How to get there:

  • Coordinates 34°42’11.1″N 133°45’22.7″E

Address:

〒719-1105
岡山県総社市黒尾792

Phone:

  • 0866-92-1118

Websites:

Cost:

  • 1,000 JPY per tent for night camping
  • 500 JPY per tent for day camping
  • Parking is free

Hours:

  • Open year round except for Dec. 29 – Jan. 3
  • Night camping 14:00 ~ 10:00
  • Day camping 10:00 ~ 17:00

Notes:

  • There is a persimmon grove where you can buy fruit in the fall.
  • Take your trash home with you.
  • You need to make reservations before hand.
  • There is a water slide that you and your kids can use in the summer.
  • There are showers, though I do not know how much they cost.

Map:


I could really go for a peach right now!

The Story of Momotaro

There once was an old childless couple. They really wanted to have children, but they had gotten old and so pretty much gave up on that dream.

One day while the old women was washing clothes in the river, she saw a giant peach floating by. This being Japan, fruit is expensive. A free giant peach is a big freaking deal! She grabbed the peach and pulled it out of the water.

The peach was so big, the women figured that she could take a bite out of it and her old far-sighted husband would not notice. So, she took a bite, then two. Then one more; why not? She magically transformed into her younger self.

When her husband came home he was shocked. Not only was his wife younger, but she didn’t even bother to finish doing the laundry. She explained to her husband how she found the peach and how it had made her younger.

I got 3 portions of magic peach.

The Husband was not buying this nonsense. He was a bit upset. He had no clean clothes to change into after a hard day’s work and it turns out his wife was gorging herself on free “magic” peach without him. But hey, there’s free peach! He took a bite.

I look years younger when you don’t focus the camera properly.

Magically the husband also turned into his younger self. Now that the couple were younger and had better vision, they could see how hot they had become. High on magic peach, they lustfully took their little two person party to the bedroom for the best sex they had had in years.

ummm…

Nine months later the old, now young couple had a baby boy. They named him Momotaro, peach boy. Hey, it’s better than naming him Viagra boy!

Momotaro grew up to be a strong magical boy who travelled the world, I mean Japan, doing good deeds. He would eventually befriend a dog, a monkey, and a bird. This really broke his mother’s heart because Momotaro would never “just find a nice girl to make grandbabies.”

Home of the Demon

One of the good deeds happened right here in Okayama prefecture. There was a prince who lived in a Korean-styled castle on top of a mountain. He was a terrible prince and did terrible prince things. Like… he umm, he wouldn’t… umm. He was just a bad guy. His name was Ura, a terrible name. Everyone called him a demon.

The demon is up there?

So the villagers asked Momotaro and his animal friends to fight the demon for them. And, Momotaro said, “Sure why not? It’s not like I have a girlfriend or anything. I’ll do it!” So he climbed up some stairs on a mountain and went into a cave that looked like a big vagina and beat up a demon prince.

Wait a minute!

The villagers were so happy they had a barbeque feast and they did not invite the demon. But, somehow he showed up anyway…

(This is more or less how the story goes…)

All Pictures

Posted in Honshū, Japan, Okayama 県, Sōja 市 | Tagged: , , | Leave a Comment »

Biking Around Tombs

Posted by Heliocentrism on September 26, 2014

November 16, 2013

All Pictures

Japan
(日本)
(Nippon)

How to get there:

You can enter Japan by plane or boat. Though, the number of boats going to Japan from other countries has gone down significantly.

Americans get 90-day visas to Japan at the port of entry. Check with your nearest Japanese embassy or consulate for visa information.

Phone:

Website:

Downloads:

Videos:

Books:

Notes:

  • Be careful what over the counter drugs you bring into Japan.  Actifed, Sudafed, Vicks inhalers, and Codeine are prohibited.
  • InternationalATMs are really hard to find; more so if you aren’t in a big city. Many places in Japan do not use credit cards. Take cash and call your bank to ask whatATMs or banks in Japan will work with your cash card.
    • ATMs have opening hours. Usually 9:00-18:00 (They have better work hours than most business men and women here.)
    • The Post Office bank seems to work with the most international cards.
  • You can get a Japan Railway, pass which saves you a lot of money on the trains, but you can only buy it before you get to Japan and you cannot be a resident of Japan. (I don’t have more information about it because I’ve only ever lived in Japan; I’ve never been a tourist here.)

Kibi Plain
(吉備郡)

How to get there:

  • Coordinates 34°40’22.1″N 133°44’18.0″E

Websites:

Cost:

  • There are two places to rent bikes. near Soja station or near Bizen-Ichinomiya station.
    • It’s 1,000 yen for one day, if you rent the bike from one place and return it to the other rental place.
    • 200 yen an hour with a minimum charge of 400 yen if you return the bike to the place where you got it.

Hours:

  • 9:00 ~ 18:00

Notes:

  • This is a self guided bike tour.
  • The rental place is called:
    • Uedo Rent-a-cycle (ウエドレンタサイクル) near Bizen-Ichinomiya station
    • Araki Rent-a-Cycle (荒木レンタサイクル) near Soja station
  • The bike route is about 17 kilometer long.
  • You’ll be given a free map when you rent the bike.

Map:


 

Let’s get some exercise! 

We live in Okayama, or at least we did at the time of this trip. The best things to do when you live in Okayama is to go to Kobe, Osaka, or fly to Korea. There is not that much to do in Okayama.

Okayama is where most of the non-descript factories of Japan are. There are about 8 factories right outside our apartment, but other than noise, I have no idea what they produce.

pyramids

We saw online that there was a bike trail we could take that was not too far from our town. Even though Mark hates exercise, we went and had fun. Well, fun is too strong a word. We… passed some time.

Let see a pagoda!

The bikes were a bit overpriced. They were old and not very well taken care of. There is nothing here that cannot be seen in other more exciting places in Japan. If you are nearby and have nothing better to do, this is great. I would not come all the way to Okayama to see this though.

All Pictures

Posted in Honshū, Japan, Kibi 郡, Okayama 県 | Tagged: , | Leave a Comment »

Rope Bridge

Posted by Heliocentrism on September 19, 2014

September 21-23, 2012

All Pictures

Japan
(日本)
(Nippon)

How to get there:

You can enter Japan by plane or boat. Though, the number of boats going to Japan from other countries has gone down significantly.   Americans get 90-day visas to Japan at the port of entry. Check with your nearest Japanese embassy or consulate for visa information.

Phone:

Website:

Downloads:

Videos:

Books:

Notes:

  • Be careful what over the counter drugs you bring into Japan.  Actifed, Sudafed, Vicks inhalers, and Codeine are prohibited.
  • InternationalATMs are really hard to find; more so if you aren’t in a big city. Many places in Japan do not use credit cards. Take cash and call your bank toaskwhatATMs or banks in Japan will work with your cash card.
    • ATMs have opening hours. Usually 9:00-18:00 (They have better work hours than most business men and women here.)
    • The Post Office bank seems to work with most cards.
  • You can get a Japan Railway, pass which saves you a lot of money on the trains, but you can only buy it before you get to Japan and you cannot be a resident of Japan. (I don’t have more information about it because I’ve only ever lived in Japan. I’ve never been a tourist.)

Kazurabashi Camp Village
(かずら橋キャンプ村)
(Kazurabashi kyampu-mura)

How to get there:

  • Coordinates 33°52’47.0″N 133°50’27.3″E

Address:

〒778-0102
徳島県三好市西祖谷山村閑定

Phone:

  • 090-1571-5258

Websites:

Cost:

  • bungalows – ¥5,200
  • Bring your own tent –  ¥1,000/ per tent
  • There is also a general park admission:
    • adult – ¥200
    • kids – ¥100

Hours:

  • The campsite is close in the winter.

Notes:

  • There is a coin shower, but I don’t remember how much it costs.
  • There is a scary rope bridge near by. It doesn’t seem like a big deal until you get on the bridge and feel how shaky it is.
    • Don’t wear shoes that slip off your feet easily.

Map:


Waiting for our turn to pose in front of the waterfall

Back in Japan with Friends

When I got back to Japan, Mark had a new job further up north. We were living on the island of Honshu on a region called Chugoku in a city called Okayama. We would stay there for 7 months and then move again. But, at the time of this trip we were far away from all our friends who live in Oita.

I don’t remember who picked this camping spot. Mark and I were excited for this trip to see our South African friends again. The trip itself was quiet and uneventful. This is the type of trip that makes life great, but blog posts boring. Since I know there are way more exciting post to come, as a person who is writing about these event that happen in the distant past, I don’t mind a few boring posts.

Don’t look down.

Hitchhiking in Japan

We did meet another camper. He was an English speaker from… oh lets say, England. He was hitchhiking across Japan. He traveled light. He had with him a few changes of clothes, a few meals, and some cash.

In the evening on our second day at the camp, the caretaker came to us and asked if another camper could camp near our site. We were a bit confused. No one ever makes that type of request. It would be like getting a knock on your hotel door and having the manager of the hotel ask if it was okay for him to rent out the room next to yours.

grilling up some fresh sand

We told him it was okay and waited to see what would happen next. A tent went up beside our tents and a few hours later a guy showed up. He was alone, not Japanese, and he seemed friendly.

His name was Jack or John or Chris. I don’t remember now. He was spending 3 months in Japan and hitchhiking through the country. “Hitchhiking!?” I asked him, “Aren’t you afraid you’ll be chopped up into tiny bits and end up in someone’s freezer?” “No,” he said, “that particular thought has never crossed my mind.”

“Do you stand on the side of the road with a sign saying, ‘Tokyo or Bust’?”

“Sometimes. But mostly I just go in a general direction, like north. Once in a while I have a specific destination, like coming here.” I don’t remember what it was in this area he came to see, but he only spent one night. He was gone the next day before most of us woke up.

making dinner

“How do you get people to stop for you?” This seemed like the biggest hurdle in Japan.  How does a non-Japanese hitchhiker, hitchhike?

“Well, I dress nicely. It’s easier when I’m clean-shaven. It helps that I speak enough Japanese to explain where I’m going, what I do for a living, and that I can keep a conversation going. Also, I heard somewhere that carrying a guitar helps, though I don’t have one. Women driving alone usually don’t stop to pick me up. It’s mostly groups of younger men like college students. Sometimes solo drivers who are going a very long distance will pick up a hitchhiker for company.”

He also explain that sometimes the ride would last an hour or two, sometimes a whole day. A few times he was invited to someone’s home for dinner, but mostly he asks to be dropped off in a town or a city where he can spend the night.

After he left, Freda and I commented about how nice he seemed. We hoped that his trip went well and that he stayed un-murdered.

All Pictures

Posted in Japan, Miyoshi 郡, Shikoku | Tagged: , , | Leave a Comment »

Accidental Trip to Hawaii

Posted by Heliocentrism on September 12, 2014

August 31 – September 2, 2013
(In crossing the International date line I lost a day.)

All Pictures

The United States of America

How to get there:

You can enter my country by land, air, or sea. But I think flight would be your transportation method of choice.

I have no clue how to get a visa to the US or who needs one. Just assume that you need one if you are not American or Canadian and check with your local US embassy.

Phone:

  • Use 911 for the police, fire department, or to get an ambulance
  • Use 411 for information (This might cost money.)

Website:

Downloads:

Videos:

Books: 

Notes:

  • It’s a big country. You’re going to need a car.

Waikīkī Beach

How to get there:

  • Coordinates 21°16’34.5″N 157°49’38.1″W

Address:

Waikīkī Beach
Honolulu, HI 96815
USA

Websites:

Cost:

  • The beach is free
  • There are several foot washing stations that are free to use.
  • The hotels on the beach are quite expensive.
  • Parking might not be free.

Hours:

  • always available

Videos:

Notes:

  • NTT DoCoMo users from Japan can use their phones in Hawaii.

Map:


My Mom having Fun on Stilts

First World Problems

I was sitting in the living room at my mom’s house. We were talking about how much she is enjoying her retirement. My mom worked as a comptroller for a non-profit organization. My mom speaks both English and Spanish fluently so throughout her life she has been asked to doing some translations.

My mom was born in Belize, an English-speaking country. (In fact, when my mom was born she was a British citizen.) But as a teenager, my mom joined the Adventist church and wanted to go to an Adventist college to study. The closest one to Belize was in Costa Rica. So at 18 my mother, who spoke no Spanish up to that point, moved to Costa Rica for school.

My mother told me that her first semester was tough, but she quickly picked up the new language. By the time she graduated, she spoke Spanish fairly well. Then she married a Panamanian and moved to Colón and eventually Panama City. After several years of living in Panama, her Spanish improved even more.

She moved to the U.S. Virgin Islands after living in Jamaica and Grand Cayman. She worked mostly in accounting and used her Spanish-speaking skills whenever needed. At first she just translated for visitors in church. Then she started to translate the sermons from Spanish into English while on the pulpit. Then she was asked to translate meetings at work at first from Spanish into English, then from English into Spanish.

By the time she moved to Miami, she was well-known for her translating skills. She can translate, rehearsed, as the person is a translating for is speaking. But as head comptroller she didn’t have time to do as much translating as she does now. These days she is retired and is the go-to Spanish-English/ English-Spanish translator. Every time I call her she is in the Bahamas, Cayman, Venezuela, Australia, or somewhere else translating meeting or seminars, either from a booth or on stage.

She was telling me all about the upcoming translating assignments she had for the next few months. For a retired person, my mom is quite busy. Then she said the most first-world-problems thing I have ever heard. “I travel a lot and I’ve accumulated all these frequent flyer miles. But, I never get to use them because every time I fly someone else pays for my flight!”

That sucks!

Being the dutiful daughter that I am, I offered to help. “You can use them on me, mom. I promise to not let anyone pay for my ticket.” …And then she said, “Okay.”

I went online to look for a flight back to Japan. I chose a flight and was ready to get the ticket. My mom came by and ask if she had enough miles to get me all the way to Japan. “Mom, you have more than enough miles. You could even send me first class if you wanted to.” …And then she said, “Okay.”

me – “Okay, what?”

mom – “Get a first class ticket. Why not, I’m never going to use the miles.”

So that’s what I did. I got first class tickets from Columbus, Ohio to Fukuoka, Japan. Since this ticket was bought with mileage points I could not get a direct flight. But I didn’t care. It was free and in first class.

I had to choose between a Columbus, LAX, Seattle, Fukuoka route or a Columbus, LAX, Honolulu, Fukuoka. I chose Honolulu. Even though I would not be leaving the airport, I thought that Honolulu just sounded like a better place to wait for a flight from.

That’s me; first class all the way!

Columbus to LAX

I left Ohio in the evening on Friday. I would spend the night in LA and fly to Hawaii early the next morning. My plan was to either sleep at the international terminal or find a cheap hotel. When I got to LAX I was very hungry. Online, the consensus was that the international terminal was a better place to eat, use the internet, and even to sleep, so I went there.

After eating way too much Chinese food, I found some wi-fi and started looking at hotel options. When evaluating the price of accommodations from an airport, one must factor in the cost of the taxi ride to and from the airport. Taxis charge extra when there is an airport involved and this can make the cost of one night’s stay much more expensive. In fact, it might even be cheaper to stay at an expensive hotel that offers a free airport shuttle than a cheap hotel where you have to pay for your own taxi.

There were many great hotels with free shuttles to choose from, but when I tried to make reservations online, I would get a message that the room I wanted was just taken. After an hour of this I looked at a clock. It was almost midnight and my flight was for 7:30 the next morning. I would have to be back at LAX by 5:30. I gave up on finding a hotel and went to nice waiting area, found a sofa, and fell asleep.

Goodbye

Flying first class was nice. The food was great, the extra space was great. It was nice being one of the first on the plane. But what I really liked about first class was the little things. The flight attendants learn your name and calls you by your name, or nickname if you prefer, for the whole flight. They also make small talk with you. They take the time to explain the menu, “The salmon come from Alaska and it is served in a white wine sauce…” Something like that. It was not like a servant\ boss relationship type of thing that I had imaged, but more like a friend who is having you over at his or her house.

I LOVED it. It didn’t make me feel rich; it make me feel like a person. It’s not like back in coach you’re treated like cattle. But there a huge difference between having someone say, “Here’s your coffee ma’am,” and, “Here’s your coffee, Josie. Have you been to Honolulu before? You mentioned earlier that you love goofy tourist sights; you should visit…”

The middle of the airport in Honolulu — Yup they put a garden in their airport, because… Hawaii!

Once in Honolulu

I landed in Honolulu and the first thing I did was to find the gate for my next flight. Once that was sorted out I headed to a restaurant to spend the rest of my US dollars and eat the last plate of buffalo wings I would have for a long time. I also bought an overpriced drink and give a heavy tip, — ’cause what am I going to do with a 20 dollar bill in Japan?

Just before it was time for my flight, I made my way to the gate and I heard my name being called. I got to the counter and the lady there asked me to see my ticket out of Japan. I didn’t have one. I explained to her that my husband works in Japan and once in the country I would apply for a dependent visa. She said that that might be okay for Japan, but for the airline, they cannot take me to Japan unless I have an outbound ticket.

She recommended buying a ticket and then cancelling it later. I thought that was a good idea. But I didn’t have time to buy the ticket and make the flight. “No worries,” she said, “tomorrow’s flight is practically empty. You can have the same seat on that flight. Just come back the same time tomorrow with the outbound ticket.”

Waiting for my hotel shuttle

The lady apologized over and over and explained that it was the airlines policy. She and her co-workers kept going on and on about how well I was taking not getting on the flight. I accepted her apology trying to not look so damn delighted that I was spending a day in Honolulu. I walked over the passenger pickup area and found an inexpensive hotel near the airport that also had a free shuttle.

I got to the hotel and asked about an atm. I needed cash. (Why did I give such a big tip!?) I could pay for hotel and even meals with my credit card, but if I wanted to explore I would need to take the bus and the bus takes only cash.

Kitty doesn’t care about gas prices.

I walked several blocks to a Safeway where I could buy some water and get cash back. It was an hour of walking there and another hour of walking back. That’s when I noticed that normal people in America do not walk anywhere. Walking is just for the crazies. Non-crazy people drive or take the bus or at the very least use a bicycle. After I got back from the store I vowed to never walk in America again.

at the beach!

The next day I got up early in the morning and caught the first bus to Waikiki Beach.  I walked along the beach and wading in the water. I could have visited Pearl Harbor if I planned everything right, but I decided not to take a chance. I relaxed at the beach a bit before going back to my hotel showering and making it in time for my flight to Japan.

The next flight was first class on Hawaiian Airlines to Fukuoka. It was another great flight. The only question is how am I ever going to fly coach again?

All Pictures

Posted in Hawaii, United States, The | Tagged: | Leave a Comment »

The Buckeye State

Posted by Heliocentrism on September 5, 2014

August 3, – September 1, 2013

All Pictures

The United States of America

How to get there:

You can enter my country by land, air, or sea. But I think flight would be your transportation method of choice.

I have no clue how to get a visa to the US or who needs one. Just assume that you need one if you are not American or Canadian and check with your local US embassy.

Phone:

  • Use 911 for the police, fire department, or to get an ambulance
  • Use 411 for information (This might cost money.)

Website:

Downloads:

Videos:

Books: 

Notes:

  • It’s a big country. You’re going to need a car.

Slate Run Living Historical Farm

How to get there:

  • Coordinates 39°44’57.4″N 82°49’51.4″W

Address:

1375 State Route 674 N.
Canal Winchester, OH 43110

Phone:

  • InfoLine 614.508.8000
  • +1 614-833-1880

Websites:

Cost:

  • Free
  • You can buy products made here like jams or heirloom seeds.

Hours:

  • April and May: Tue-Sat 9am-4pm, Sun 11am-4pm(Memorial Day, noon-6pm)
  • June to Aug: Tue-Thu 9am-4pm, Fri-Sat 9am-6pm, Sun 11am-6pm  (July 4, 9am-6pm)
  • Sept to Oct: Tue-Sat 9am-4pm, Sun 11am-4pm (Labor Day, noon-6pm)
  • Nov to March: Wed-Sat 9am-4pm, Sun 11am-4pm

 

  • The Farm is closed:
    • on Mondays
    • closed on Tuesdays from November to March
    • Thanksgiving Day,
    • Christmas Day
    • New Year’s Day

Map:


Love the legroom on JAL!

One way ticket back home

After finishing my 3 years of working at 2 high schools in Japan for the Jet Programme, the Japanese government bought me a flight back home. My mom moved from Miami to Columbus, so I headed to Ohio, the Buckeye state. (I’m not sure what a buckeye is. I think it’s a type of fruit that is poisonous to Wolverines…)

Malcolm and me

The first thing I noticed was how big everything was. The streets are wide even though there wasn’t much traffic. (My flight landed at 20:00 on a Saturday evening.) The median, well… there was a median! There are very few medians in Japan and when there is it’s either on a toll-pike or you get those dinky little poles that won’t give any protection from someone crossing over to the wrong side of the road.

My mom passed a bank on our way home. It had a huge lawn for no reason. It wasn’t a park. No one ever walks on the lawn or even by it. Someone just thought, “Hey, a lawn would be nice here,” and they put a lawn there. They have space like that. I wasn’t in Japan anymore.

Stilt walking

I didn’t travel much when I was in the US. I mostly spent time with my family and did lots of shopping. I dumped all the clothes I had for the past 3 years in Japan, and bought all new stuff, in my size! I bought sun block (it’s cheaper in the states), deodorant, my favorite lotions, medicine (there is not throat antiseptic spray or neosporin in Japan), and chocolate bars.

My nephew always finds a reason to take his shirt off.

We did take a trip to Kentucky to drop off an exchange student to college. She had been living with my family for the past year and got into an American college. This lend to an unexpected visit to the home of some friends of my sister-in-law. They asked if we wanted to ride on their ATVs for a bit. Well, why not!?

Later comers to dinner

My family ate dinner together while everyone talked about their day. I felt like I was in the Waltons. I made dinner for everyone one night. It was cold noodles with ginger and soy sauce for dipping. They seemed to like it. But, my brother liked it more after he microwaved his for a couple minutes. He likes his food hot and his drinks cold.

Saturday night jam session

My brother and his kids played music. I listen and wondered where all this talent came from. The last time I saw most of them they were snot-nose kids who asked a lot of questions and were also hurting themselves roughhousing. Now they were grown men who drove me around until I got a new American driver’s license. They took me shopping and waited patiently while I tried things on.

I remember arguing with these kids about bedtime. Every night’s argument ended with a, “Okay one more story, but then you have to go to bed.” Now even the youngest one, my niece was a person I could talk to about books and other interesting topics and not just about why she should finish her broccoli and brush her teeth.

My niece proving to her brothers that she is just as strong as strong as any of them.

Kids huh… One day they’re little brats, the next they are fine upstanding adults. Crazy!

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The ¥1,000 Burger

Posted by Heliocentrism on August 29, 2014

Saturday, July  20, 2013

All Pictures

Japan
(日本)
(Nippon)

How to get there:

You can enter Japan by plane or boat. Though, the number of boats going to Japan from other countries has gone down significantly.   Americans get 90-day visas to Japan at the port of entry. Check with your nearest Japanese embassy or consulate for visa information.

Phone:

Website:

Downloads:

Videos:

Books:

Notes:

  • Be careful what over the counter drugs you bring into Japan.  Actifed, Sudafed, Vicks inhalers, and Codeine are prohibited.
  • InternationalATMs are really hard to find; more so if you aren’t in a big city. Many places in Japan do not use credit cards. Take cash and call your bank toaskwhatATMs or banks in Japan will work with your cash card.
    • ATMs have opening hours. Usually 9:00-18:00 (They have better work hours than most business men and women here.)
    • The Post Office bank seems to work with most cards.
  • You can get a Japan Railway, pass which saves you a lot of money on the trains, but you can only buy it before you get to Japan and you cannot be a resident of Japan. (I don’t have more information about it because I’ve only ever lived in Japan. I’ve never been a tourist.)

McDonald’s
(マクドナルド)

How to get there:

Address:

Everywhere!

Websites:

Cost:

  • McDonald’s is a little more pricy in Japan, but so is everything else.

Hours:

  • Most are open 24/7.

Notes:

Map:


Clearly what would make the burger better is if it were more expensive!

Someone sent me a link to this ad online for the ¥1,000 Burgers at McDonald’s. (¥1,000 ≈ $10) I’m not a big McDonald’s fan. I love the milk shakes, apple pie, and the fries. But everything at McDonald’s tastes like it comes from McDonald’s. Someone could blindfold you. They could place in your mouth a new dish from McDonald’s you have never had before, lets say a McSpaghetti Burger. You would just have to take one bite before you could identify where the burger came from.

I occasionally eat McDonald’s, but it’s usually under protest or after defeat. “I wanted to go Sushi Meijin, but everyone else wanted to go to McDonald’s.” I think of McDonald’s a step above starving. It’s not because it’s fast food. I love Subway and Burger King. It’s really just the McDonaldsy taste everything on its menu has.

“Is this a good idea?”

But when I saw the ad for the more expensive one-time-only gourmet burgers, I had to have one. If only to say that I had one. I chose the Black Diamond. It had some fancy bun and was smothered in truffle sauce. Truffles at McDonald’s!? Now, that’s just redunk!

The Black Diamond came out on July 13. If you faithfully follow this blog, which I’m sure you do, you will notice that July 13 was the start of our Itchy Island camping trip. The plan was to drive down to Miyazaki and stop at a McDonald’s for lunch. We were all looking forward to our overpriced meal.

We stopped in some town in the sticks and found a McDonald’s. We walked in only to be greeted by every man, woman, and child who lived in that town. We were about to stand in the long line when Billy noticed a sign by the counter.

“Guys,” he said, “It says here that the burger is sold out.” It was not yet noon. Not only did they run out of the overpriced burger, they ran out of burgers in general. Only chicken sandwiches were available but it didn’t seem that they would last too long either. Did I mention that it was not yet noon? …at McDonald’s? Whatever the burger tasted like, it was a huge money-maker for McDonald’s!

But that wasn’t just this little dinky town’s McDonald’s. Billy asked someone at the counter if there was another McDonald’s nearby that would still have the burger. The lady at the counter told him that they are sold out there too. In fact last week, when they served the Gold Ring Burger, they sold out by 11:30 on average nationwide.

First in line!

10:00 Rush

This would not happen to us again. The only thing worse than a crappy overpriced burger is a crappy overpriced burger that I can’t have. We woke up early the next Saturday morning and went to the least frequented McDonald’s in town.

This place usually has like 2 or 3 cars parked in its lot. In fact it has so little traffic at any given time it shares its parking lot with the convenience store next door.

That day’s burger was the Ruby Spark. It wasn’t the burger I wanted, but it was our last chance for a ¥1,000 burger. It had Chorizo, Monterey jack cheese, and avocado “filling” all on special bun. There was no truffle sauce, but hey, real cheese!

We knew that the breakfast menu ended at 10:00 so we showed up around 9:45. At 9:55 they started to change the menu board and Mark walked over to the counter. Within a few minutes, before staff was ready to take the first non-breakfast order the line was out the door. By the time we started eating the line was wrapped around the McDonald’s.

How do I open this?

The burger, we only got one, came in a special box referred to by McDonald’s as a “Jewel Case”. The box, once you slid off its sleeve, had a top that came off presenting the burger on display in a gold ring. There was also a pamphlet telling you all about the burger and everything came in a bag with a gold ribbon on the handle. Obviously McDonald’s thought very highly of this burger. “You might want to tell your grandkids about this someday, so hold on to that pamphlet!”

well…

We tasted it.

The bun was nice. It wasn’t the usually sesame bun McDonald’s usually uses. This was really nice.

The cheese was fantastic.

The onions were nicely grilled.

The Chorizo was nice and spicy, yet not overpowering. Great!

The avocado sauce was creamy and delicious. You can really taste the expensive!

The burger… It was the same old burger used in all McDonald’s burgers. It tasted McDonaldsy and cheap. When the flavors of all the other fixing elevated you to the land of quality gourmet burgers, the taste of the beef patty pulled you right back down again onto your McDonald’s chair. They spent all this time and money into making a great burger, but they didn’t bother to get a better beef patty.

Boo McDonald’s! Boooooooo!

… I was really hoping I would have this reaction to the burger, but no.

All Pictures

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Itchy Island

Posted by Heliocentrism on August 22, 2014

July 13-15, 2013

All Pictures

Japan
(日本)
(Nippon)

How to get there:

You can enter Japan by plane or boat. Though, the number of boats going to Japan from other countries has gone down significantly.   Americans get 90-day visas to Japan at the port of entry. Check with your nearest Japanese embassy or consulate for visa information.

Phone:

Website:

Downloads:

Videos:

Books:

Notes:

  • Be careful what over the counter drugs you bring into Japan.  Actifed, Sudafed, Vicks inhalers, and Codeine are prohibited.
  • InternationalATMs are really hard to find; more so if you aren’t in a big city. Many places in Japan do not use credit cards. Take cash and call your bank toaskwhatATMs or banks in Japan will work with your cash card.
    • ATMs have opening hours. Usually 9:00-18:00 (They have better work hours than most business men and women here.)
    • The Post Office bank seems to work with most cards.
  • You can get a Japan Railway, pass which saves you a lot of money on the trains, but you can only buy it before you get to Japan and you cannot be a resident of Japan. (I don’t have more information about it because I’ve only ever lived in Japan. I’ve never been a tourist.)

Otojima Survival Island
(夢人島サバイバルアイランドキャンプ場
)

How to get there:

  • Coordinates 32°28’06.2″N 131°40’08.8″E

Address:

〒889-0611 宮崎県東臼杵郡門川町大字門川尾末字乙島9100
0982-63-1140

Phone:

  • 0982-63-1140

Websites:

Cost:

  • Bungalow – ¥3,500
  • Tent – ¥1,500
  • There are things for rent like blankets, dishes, and BBQ equipment
  • Round Trip Ferry Ride
    • ¥1,500 adults
    • ¥1,000 kids

Hours:

  • Check in – 15:00
  • Check out – 10:00

Notes:

  • You must have reservations ahead of time to stay here.
  • You also need reservations for the ferry to the island.
    • The ferry is run by an older couple and it runs only when needed.
    • You must tell them when to come back to pick you up.
    • You can park your car in the couple’s parking lot for free.
  • Pack light. You will have to carry all your stuff up to the cabins if you are not using your tent.
  • Bring lots of bug spray!

Map:


Roland’s post after this camping trip

Attacked!

We had lots of fun on this trip. We did have a close call when a tree fell on the path to the cabins we used often. Luckily no one was on the path at that particular moment. We were also constantly being attacked by every mosquito this side of the Mississippi. We were expecting the weekend to be quiet, but for the first 20 hours of the trip there was an army of jr. high kids running around and screaming at every bug and bat they saw.

The person hit the hardest by the bugs was Mark. His blood is delicious to them. On this trip he lived with a thick coating of bug spray on his skin and they still bit him. Even I got bit, and bugs hardly ever bother me.

But we did have fun!

All our stuff

Don’t bring too much stuff

We tried to bring everything we needed and packed light at the same time. The campsite was on an island and we had to haul all our stuff ourselves on our backs. We could not drive to the campsite, unload, and then park. But since it was on an island there was no going to a 7eleven to pick up an extra bottle of water or a toothbrush.

We decided to leave the tents at home and instead fill our backpack with food and supplies. We got one cabin for the 5 of us. There was not an extra inch of cabin space left when we were all lying down. It was a good thing there wasn’t a 6th person.

Up-the-Butt Chicken

Pinterest Meals

To keep the weight of our luggage down we assigned meals, instead of having a free-for-all cook out. Usually everyone would make a dish for every meal. But this usually caused overeating, lots of leftovers, and a lot of dishes. This time we planned ahead of time who would make which meal. There were 5 meals and 5 campers, so we each prepared one meal.

I picked drunk chicken, a recipe I found on Pinterest. This involves seasoning a chicken, placing a half empty can of beer inside the chicken, and putting it on a grill. This is what I wanted to make even though in my 4 years of living in Japan I had never seen a whole chicken for sale at the grocery store, ever.

5 little hens sitting nicely on the grill

I was talking to someone about how I wanted to make this meal for my camping trip, but alas I could not, when he or she mentioned seeing game hens at a store called A-Price. A-Price is a grocery store that caters more to restaurants than individuals, but regular non-restaurant owning people  shop there too. A-Price is also notorious for having a particular item in stock one week and not the next. So, I ran down there and bought up 5 little hens.

But wait… I have whole chickens, but they are too small for a beer can to be shoved inside. “You live in Japan,” Mark reminded me, “the land where someone always says, ‘This is too big. Can you make a smaller one?’ I’m sure you can find a small beer can to fit into your tiny chickens.

Mark selflessly volunteering to make my beer cans half empty

He was right. At the convenience store nearest to our apartment they sold tiny cans of Asahi beer. They looked like they were made for kids. I bought 5 of them. They weren’t that much cheaper than the regularly sized beer.

I was told that these were made for people to be able to drink and later drive home. Japan has a 0 alcohol level tolerance. If you drink even a little you cannot legally drink a car. But these were designed to be just enough beer for you to enjoy one and still have a 0 blood alcohol level in about 3 hours. (Maybe not 3 hours exactly, but some number of hours.) Take this information with a grain of salt. I don’t remember who told me this and I cannot find conformation of it online anywhere.

perfect!

It took several hours of grilling to completely cook the birds. There was a bunch of schoolkids standing by making their forgettable dinner. They watch intently as we seasoned the chicken, added spices to the beer, placed the beer in the bird, wrapped the birds in foil, and placed them on the grill. I didn’t have to worry that the chicken would burn without anyone noticing. Those kids were fixated on the meat. They kept commenting about how delicious it smelled. If anything started to burn they would notice.

Not only did the chicken smell good, they tasted great too. And the boys loved the seasoned beer. I took the beer can out of my chicken and did not touch it, but the guys poured their spicy beer over their chicken like is was gravy.

Playing nerd games

Our days were spent swimming but the evening were meant for board game. We played a few rounds of Citadels and Zombies!!! on this trip. I always come close to winning, but I have only won once. It was Zombies!!!. I was so tired I wanted my character to die and be out of the game, so I kept taking risks. Apparently that is a good strategy, because I won and ended the game sooner than usual.

Getting Billy drunk so he won’t win

Grill Master Billy

Billy can grill. When we go camping with Billy we always hand him the tongs and step back. But when Freda and I looked into his bag in hopes of figuring out what he would make for his meal, we had our doubts about his cooking abilities. Left alone in the cabin with Billy’s grocery bag we just could not help ourselves. We had to look in. We found a can of mangos, a knife, and a bottle of ketchup.

“What do you think he’ll make with that?” we asked each other. We didn’t want to say anything to hurt his feelings, but we didn’t think we would enjoy his meal. “I know he’s single and sometimes single guys will eat odd combinations of things.” We even started thinking about a back-up plan. “I still have vegetables left over from my meal. Do you still have eggs and bread? We could so something with that…”

umm, Billy…

When it was Billy’s turn to make dinner we were all scared, but we didn’t say anything. He started by grilling some bread. “Yup, he’s lost his mind!” we thought. Then he took the bread off and put on some hotdogs.

“Wait, you had hot dogs!?” we asked him. “Yes,” he said not noticing our anxiety.

“Were they in your backpack this whole time?” We thought about the hot dogs sitting in the hot cabin for two days. They can’t possibly be good to eat now.

“No, I kept them in my cooler.”

“You have a cooler!? We didn’t see it in the cabin.” I thought back to morning we first arrive. Mark and I had a cooler. The South Africans had a cooler and a Costco bag. Was that cooler actually Billy’s?

Not bad Billy

“I didn’t put it in the cabin. I didn’t want to carry up the hill. I kept it under the table in the kitchen area.”

We looked on and he continued to grill. When the hot dogs where done, we put them on the bread and smothered the whole thing with ketchup. Then Billy started grilling vegetables… then beef… then pork… then fish. For dessert he opened the can of mangos. It was a very good meal! We started to sing the praises of Grill Master Billy.

We told him about looking into his grocery bag and how we thought the meal would end up. “Oh, if I had know that’s what you guys expected I would have done something like grill the mangos put ketchup on them and see if you would eat it.”

our weekend island home

When it was time to leave we were packed and ready to go on time. We climbed aboard the boat. But instead of taking us back to the main island of Kyushu, the ferry couple took us around the island on a short tour.

Goodbye!

This might be our last camping trip together ever. Billy would be going back to New Zealand in a few weeks. Mark and I would be leaving Oita and heading to some other town in Japan. We didn’t know where we would be going at the time. Only the South Africans were staying where they were.

All Pictures

Posted in Japan, Kadogawa 町, Kyūshū, Miyazaki 県 | Tagged: , | Leave a Comment »

 
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