With Backpack

One World in One Lifetime

Camping, Rabbits, and Poison Gas

Posted by Heliocentrism on November 21, 2014

Saturday, July 19-21, 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 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.)

Tatara campsite
(多々羅キャンプ場)

How to get there:

  • Coordinates 34°15’28.2″N 133°03’08.5″E

Address:

愛媛県今治市上浦町井口7523

Ehime-ken, Imabari-shi, Kamiurachō Inokuchi, 7523

Phone:

  • Japanese only 0897-87-3855

Websites:

Cost:

  • ¥1,000 tent plus:
    • ¥300 per Adult
    • ¥150 per child
  • ¥6,000 for cabin (4-5 people)

Hours:

  • Check in 15:00
  • Check out 12:00

Notes:

  • Hot Shower – ¥200 for 5 minutes
  • Kitchen areas
  • You can rent BBQ equipment
  • There is a Circle K within a 3 minute walk of the campsite.
  • There areafewOnsens within walking distance, more within biking distance, and even more within the distance of a short drive.
    • The silver dome onsen (しまなみドーム/Shimanami dome) is a 10 minute walk from the campsite.
    • Bring your own towel, soap, shampoo, and conditioner or buy them at the onsen.
    • There is also a gym at this onsen.

Ohkunoshima
(大久野島)
(Usagi Jima)
(ウサギ島)

How to get there:

  • Coordinates 34° 18′ 31″ N132° 59′ 35″ E

Address:

Okunoshima Visitor Center
Okunoshima, Tadanoumi-cho, Takehara City,
Hiroshima 729-2311

Phone:

  • (0846) 26-0100 (English maybe)

Websites:

Cost:

  • Free
  • The Poison Gas has a ¥100 entry fee.
  • Ferry From Omishima (the island we camped on):
    • Adult round trip – ¥620
    • Kid round trip – ¥320

Hours:

  • The ferries to and from the island start around 7:00 and stop around 19:00.

Notes:

  • This island is part of Setonaikai National Park (瀬戸内海国立公園).
  • There is a hotel on the island.
  • There is also a campsite.
    • There is free assigned parking.
    • Check in 13:00 and check out 11:00
    • Cost: ¥1,030 per tent plus ¥410 per person. (You must bring your own tent.)
    • Showers cost ¥400. (I don’t know what kind of shower it is.)
    • There are vending machines on the island, but no stores. The hotel does have a restaurant though.

Map:


The Squares of Mark

The Fellowship of the Nerds

We were all packed and ready to go. I closed all the windows downstairs of our new apartment in Hiroshima prefecture and was about to turn off the computer. Mark asked me if he should bring the box of games. It’s a box containing games like Citadel and 7 Wonders among other nerdy delights.

“Of course,” I told Mark, “They will be expecting you too. In fact, they probably expect us to have a new game for us to play.” What kind of nerds would be if we showed up to a camping trip sans board games? “I do have a new game,” Mark said sheepishly, “I made it myself.” He started explaining his game. “I haven’t printed it out or laminating it,” he said, “Do we have time?”

I’m not going to say, “no” to a new game! So I gave Mark another hour to get his game made. I made myself a lemonade and watched China Uncensored and Crash Course while I waited. I had to turn up the volume to drown out Mark’s yelling at the laminator. (Yes, we own a laminator…)

“I place all my squares then I pick a swordsman, then I get a flag, then I choose a woodsman, then I get a star?”

Mark’s game turned out to be a bit complicated. We played one round in the basic non-capture the flag mode, but there were so many rules. Mark will work on his game some more, maybe even give the game an official name. We’ll try it out again on our next camping trip.

Tent or baggy sleeping bag?

Packing Light

Mark initiated this trip. He read an article about an island filled with feral rabbits. Since Mark likes petting and feeding animals, he had to see it. He planned the trip. …I mean he called up, Roland, a South African friend of ours and asked him to make reservations at a campsite. (Mark’s Japanese is not very good.)

Four of the other campers from our trip live on Kyushu. They woke up really early Saturday morning to catch a 4:00 am ferry from Beppu to Shikoku. Then they drove from the port to the campsite which took a few more hours. Mark and I had a 2.5 hour drive and we still managed to get there after they had set up their tents. They were waiting for us.

Four of them came in the South Africans’ k-car. So all of them had to pack very light; there isn’t much trunk space in most k-cars. Kane’s tent was very small and gave him just enough space for him to lay down. He plans to bike from Beppu to Kobe later on this year and this trip gave him an opportunity to test out his gear.

The view from a look-out near the campsite

We spent the rest of the day exploring the campsite. With this being a 3-day weekend and the area having lots of tourist attractions, the camp grounds was the most crowded I have ever seen a Japanese campsite. We walked around to see all the best spots that were taken by the time the Kyushuians got there. We still got a decent space, but people who showed up even later than we did had to set up their tents near the bathroom.

my meal: BLTs

A Meal From All

The South Africans and us used to cook our own meals then we would share the food potluck style. But this ended in lots of wasted food, double portions of meat, and mountains of dirty dishes, not to mention all the extra packing. So now when we go camping everyone gets assigned one meal.

I chose to make BLT for lunch since we would be gone for the day. I made the BLTs while everyone ate Freda’s “burritos sandwiches”. (In her determination to pack light, Freda forgot to bring the tortillas…) I put everyone’s BLT in zip-lock bags and handed them out before we leave that morning. We would find a nice place on the island infected with rabbits to have lunch.

the only a/c we’ll have all day

The boat ride was surprisingly cheap, for Japan. It only cost ¥310 per person one-way. We were so happy to find the seating area of the boat had air conditioning. I’m not sure what the people in their cars did. They stayed in their vehicles with the engines off and did not come up to the seated area. It must have been super hot.

Mark’s bag of bunny pellets made him quite popular.

Buy your own food

Mark read online that there would be rabbit food for sale on the island. There are boxes on the island for you to pay ¥100 and take a cup of rabbit pellets. Mark thought that the price was too expensive. So the day before we left Mark stopped by a pet store in our town and bought a 1kg bag of rabbit food for ¥300. (Even with everyone taking liberal amounts to feed the rabbits, the bag was still about 2/3rds full when we left.)

Once on the island we all took fists-full of pellets to lured rabbits out of hiding. In the area where more tourist were, the rabbits waited for us to walk over to them. In the area where less tourist were, the rabbits would hear us talking and come hopping out of the bushes like kids chasing the ice cream van.

Remember, eat the pellets not the hand.

They were just furry balls of cuteness and would eat right out of your hand. They did not, however, liked to be pet or picked up. If you held out a carrot for them to eat, one of them would eventually bite down on the carrot, snatch it out of your hand, and run off into the bush to not have to share the carrot with fellow bunnies.

For none carrot foods, they prefer to eat out the palm of a person’s hand. Any food dropped on the ground was no longer thought of as food. Sometimes we left food on the ground for a rabbit because we wanted to move on, only to have that rabbit disregard the food and hop along behind us in hopes of more pellets.

Who likes cahwots… Oh, who likes cahwots?

There are caretakers on the island who drive around and put on bowls of water for the rabbits. I don’t think they feed the rabbits though; they leave that to the tourists. There are plenty of tourists. Near the hotel where most of the tourist gathered around noon, I saw rabbits flat out refuse carrots and other treats, preferring to nap.

gas masks

How did you guys get here?

In 1929 the Secondary Tokyo Military Arsenal built a factory on Okunoshima to make poisonous gasses. There is a Poison Gas Museum on the island. The plaques on the walls say that the facilities were a secret. So much of a secret that most people, even in Japan, has no idea that Japan ever used poison gas on their enemies.

The museum states that little is known about how the gases were used in the war. They only know the effect the gasses had on the people hired to work in the factory. There were many type of poison gases made here and even though the workers used rubber uniforms to keep themselves safe, gas still linked through their suits. They had problems with their eyes and skin. Many got conjunctivitis, wet pleurisy, pneumonia, and bronchopneumonia.

masks

The museum was built by locals for, and in the memory of, the factory workers and other people harmed by the gas made on the island. It is also a reminder that “war is meaningless“. The government wanted to keep secret the fact that chemicals weapons were made and used by Japan, but the people of Hiroshima prefecture wanted everyone to know the truth so that they type of thing would never happen again.

As for the rabbits… Some think that they are the offspring of rabbits used to test the gas. Others think they were left on the island by visiting school kids. I could not find anything prove either theory. But, the whole thing was a big secret until 1984, so who knows? Personally, I think it is very unlikely that school kids would just leave a couple of bunnies here on the island.

the old poison gas factory

We  walked around the island feeding rabbits and looking at old relics of war. It was very hot and after a few hours in the sun walking became a chore. We timed our walk to end a few minutes before the next ferry came. We would head back to camp and go swimming.

The only thing these Doritos are good for

Catch a Fire

One the way back from rabbit island we stopped at a convenience store. We planned to swim and then head to an onsen before grilling tonight’s dinner, so I wanted some snacks. I found a pack of Doritos and just grabbed it. I forgot that Japan has no normally flavored Doritos. One should always inspect one’s potential Doritos, reading the label carefully and consult with a Japanese/English dictionary if needed. I picked up butter and soy sauce Doritos. It was awful.

When it was time to fire up the grill Mark noticed that there was no more fire starter left. I remembered reading somewhere that Doritos make good fire starters, so I handed Mark my degraded bag of chips. He said that it was better than nothing, but he would never actually buy Doritos to start fires in the future.

South African Cuisine

Boerewors

This was Roland’s meal. Freda prefaced the meal with a statement saying that the meat was not from South Africa, but from the Meat Guy, who is Australian. The Boerewors was labeled “untraditional”. She said that meant that the meat was thinner than usual. It didn’t matter to me; it was delicious!

The South Africans love to braa and Mark and I benefit from their braaing every time we camp with them. They bring a bag of South African species to cook their meats. They also marinate meats in South African sauces then grill them and serve them with potato salad. They know the way to my American heart; meat and potato salad!

packing up

The next morning the Kyushuians had to leave around 9:oo am so they could drive across Shikoku again and make it in time for their ferry. We promised that for the next camping trip Mark and I would drive down to where they are. They could just pick a spot and we would meet them there. We said our goodbyes and they were gone.

Kampsites and Kabins

On our way back we found a KOA campsite. It was closed, but it was definitely a KOA. It had Kabins and a lodge. It looked like it closed down within the past 6-12 months. I email KOA and asked about their Japanese campsite, but I was told that right now there are no KOAs in Japan.

That would have been nice…

All Pictures

Posted in Ehime 県, Hiroshima 県, Honshū, Japan, Shikoku, Takehara 市, Ōkunoshima, Ōmishima 町 | Tagged: , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Everything is Up Hill

Posted by Heliocentrism on November 14, 2014

Saturday, July 5, 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 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.)

Bihoku Hillside Park
(Government Operated Bihoku Kyuryu Park)
(国営備北丘陵公園)
(Kokueibihokukyūryōkōen)

How to get there:

  • Coordinates 34°50’23.6″N 132°59’48.5″E

Address:

  • Park:
    • 〒727-0021
      広島県庄原市三日市町4-10
  • Autocamping:
    • 〒727-0022
      広島県庄原市上原町1300番地

Phone:

  • Park: 0824-72-7000
  • Auto camping: 0824-72-8800

Websites:

Downloads:

Cost:

  • Bring ID to prove age
  • Children under 5 enter for free
  • Parking:
    • Scooters ¥100
    • Regular cars ¥310
    • Large cars ¥1,030
    • Free with Year Passport for scooters and regular cars.

  • They have bikes of various sizes, but the electric bikes only come in 26 inch.
  • You can bring your own bike instead of renting one of theirs, but you must keep to the bike path.

Hours:

  • Admission stops 1 hour before closing.
  • Closed on Mondays (If Monday is a holiday it will be open, but closed on Tuesday).
  • Closed Dec 31 – Jan 1

Notes:

  • I think this park takes up half the area of the city of Shobara.
  • There are many classes that kids can sign up for, from making soba noodles to pottery and woodworking.
    • The cost for classes range from ¥100~500.
  • There are many restaurants and cafes in the park, but you can also bring your own food. You can also bring your grill and have a BBQ in one of the BBQ areas.
  • There is a camping area for day camping and overnight camping.
    • You must make reservations to use the campsite area.
    • There is a coin operated shower.
    • They have a coin laundromat in the auto camping area.

Map:


A suspension bridge

Of Mice and Men

The plan for this weekend was to have a fantastic Fourth of July camping event with people we’ve never met before. We were going to set up our tent on a beach several towns over and enjoy our Americaness. We would met campers and outdoor people. It would have been great. But it rained.

Or at least everyone thought it would have. The rain started on Thursday and the weather forecast for the rest of the week was bleak. On Friday the sky threaten to rain, but it never did. Okay, there was a good solid half hour of light drizzle, but it was not the stuff to stop a BBQ.

The camping plans were cancelled, but Mark and I decided to do something anyway. We looked online for things to do in our new prefecture. Every site told us to go to Hiroshima city.

We’ve already been to Hiroshima city. But, as far as the internet was concerned, the attractions there outshine everything else in the prefecture. Then I found Tripadvisor.com. It recommended going to something called the “Government Operated Bihoku Kyuryu Park”. I looked for information about it online and only found where it was. There was no other information. So we hopped in the car, punched in the coordinates, and drove there.

The Garmin could not see the park. It would give us directions past the park, then tell us to turn around. To the Garmin, the park was just a roadless void and it didn’t know what to do. We stopped for directions at a 7/Eleven and a lady put us on the right path.

Then I saw a sign for the park. It called the park “Bihoku Hillside Park”. It was a far sexier name for a park than  “Government Operated Bihoku Kyuryu Park”! That would also explain why I could not find any information online.

Mark’s new one-walled home

Yen Yen Yen

After paying the many entrance fees we drove for a while before we got to Parking Lot 1, the only lot opened at the time. This was a huge park and we were hoping it would be worth every yen we paid.

We walked into the main area and were taken aback by the vastness of the park and the almost complete lack of people. Two things that Japan is not known for are big areas and low population density. We looked around for things to do. Everything cost money.

Salad sandwiches!

We brought our own lunch so there was at least one thing we could do for free. The park had many picnic areas. We found a nice gazebo up a small hill and next to a waterfall. It was private and quiet. I loved it.

Mark not looking where he is biking

My legs fell all floppy

After lunch we went back down to the main area. There were 4 options for transportation around the park. One could walk, take the “train”, rent a bike, or use the free Carry-All. Walking is for chumps and the “train” is for suckers. We rented some bikes.

Shortly after getting on the bikes we realized that everything in this park is uphill from bike rental. I peddled in third gear, then second gear, then first gear. Then I got off the bike and walked. I had to lean on the bike to stay upright.

No peddling! Yeah!

When we reached something of interest we would get off the bikes (or just put down the bikes). There was gardens, groves, obstacles courses, bug houses, lakes, rest houses, cafes, and many more things. Many of the stuff were for kids, but there were still lots of things for nature lovers.

Hillside Slide

July: The Month of Bugs

Returning the bikes was the fun part. Once we reached the end of the park, it was a quick downhill ride back to the bike course starting point. After we put the bikes back we found a calendar which had the events that can be experienced each month.

“OOoooo May has a beautiful tulip gardens!”

“Look at the sunflowers in August!”

“We can make mochi in January.”

“There’s a light show in December! We must come back!”

“What’s July’s speciality?”

A lady in uniform past by us and heard the question. “Mushi desu!” she said with a smile.

“Bugs!?”

The Carry-All

…and no, it did not rain at all on Saturday.

All Pictures

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

Moving To the Country

Posted by Heliocentrism on November 7, 2014

April 2014

Okayama Castle grounds

In early April this year, Mark’s company moved him from Okayama to Miyoshi. Okayama was a small city. There is nothing about Okayama that Mark and I will miss. We didn’t live here long enough to have any type of attachment to it.

It was a city and had all the things that most cities have. Those are the things that I will miss.

Our new town, Miyoshi is under all that fog

Miyoshi is a small town behind god’s back. There are few stores, only one hospital, and only two sushi restaurants. There is no Starbucks, but there is no traffic either.

I just need to dump this tissue…

Our recycling routine got a lot more complicated. In Okayama there were two bags, one for burnable things and one for non-burnable things. Here in Miyoshi there are 6 different recycling bags, plus strings for paper, and special drop off sites for things that cannot go into a bag. Then there is a horrible complicated schedule that involves knowing what number week of the month you are in.

Plastics and food trash are collected once and twice a week respectively. I pretty much have a handle on those. But our storage room is getting filled with cardboard boxes, paper, cans, glass and plastic bottles, and broken things because I keep forgetting to put things out on the 3rd Wednesday, 2nd Tuesday, or whatever. I’ve started taking the bottles to the grocery stores with the recycle bins rather than trying to remember when the collection days are.

Incense Ceremony

Miyoshi is still a nice little town, even if there isn’t much to do that’s not related to recycling.

Posted in Japan | Leave a Comment »

Okayama Castle

Posted by Heliocentrism on October 31, 2014

March 17, 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 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.)

Okayama Castle
(岡山城)
(Okayama-jō)

How to get there:

  • Coordinates 34° 39′ 54.65″ N, 133° 56′ 9.79″ E

Address:

2-chome Marunouchi, Okayama-shi, Okayama

Phone:

  • +81 86-225-2096

Websites:

Cost:

  • 300 yen

Hours:

  • 9:00 ~ 17:30
  • last entry is at 17:00
  • close Dec 29 – 31

Notes:

  • Parking is not free

Map:


Wanna go for a walk?

Let’s Walk

This started out as a walk near the river by our apartment. It was a very nice day and before we knew it we were downtown. Since we were in the area we went to the castle to see what there was to see.

Walking and looking fabulous

It’s a really nice park. The gardeners were getting the place ready for spring. In a few weeks the place would be decked out with flowers and other plant life. There were many spots to relax in the shade or sun. There was also a picnic area where people can eat their bentos.

Nice!

There were also many runners and joggers. There is a trail that goes around the castle grounds. So, if you want to exercise in this beauty, you don’t have to pay the entrance fee. There is also a bathroom along the running trail.

Complimentary music whenever this guy is practising his trombone

All Pictures

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

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.

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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 askwhatATMs 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 woman 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 woman 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…)

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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 askwhatATMs 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 events 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 asking 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 explained 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 »

 
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