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Archive for the ‘Japan’ Category

Travel Tips for Japan

Posted by Heliocentrism on October 10, 2017

2017

You have to bring:

  • Prescription medication.
  • Deodorant/ Antiperspirant
    • You can find it in the store sometimes.

Just about everything else can be bought in Japan.

Things you can buy here or bring with you:

  1. Luggage:
    • Don’t take big luggage on the train.
      • One suitcase or one carry-on only.
      • Backpacks are okay if you put it on your lap or on the rack above the seats.
    • Mail your bigger bags from the airport (in Japan) to your hotel.
  2. Clothes:
    • Uniqlo is the best choice for affordable clothes that can fit larger sizes.
      • Go one size up. If you are a medium back home, in Japan you are a large. Large –> X-Large.
    • They have stores like the Gap here, but it’s more expensive than back home.
  3. Towel:
    • Bring your towel if you are staying at a hostel.
    • You will need your towel at most onsens (hot springs).
  4. Shampoo, conditioner, and body wash:
    • You will need these at hostels and at some onsens.
      • You can buy shampoo, conditioner, and body wash at any convenience store or at grocery stores.
      • You can find many popular brands like Dove, Pantene, Finesse, and Lux.
  5. Deodorant/ Antiperspirant:
    • You can find it, if you look hard enough.
    • The bigger the city you’re in, the easier it will be to find.
    • Just to be safe, bring extra from home.
  6. Sunscreen:
    • Japan loves sunscreen!
    • You will find lots of brands.
      • They have gels, lotions, sprays, sprits, and the other day I saw one advertised as being extra milky…
  7. Over the counter medicine:
    • There are lots of pharmacies where you can buy pain killers like aspirin.
    • It’s best if you know the generic or chemical name of the drugs you need.
      • Instead of asking for Bufferine, ask for ibuprofen.
    • I would still bring some medications for basic illnesses like diarrhea, fever, and constipation.
      • Don’t run out of these.
      • It’s always tough to look for medication when you’re already sick.
      • It’s easy to find what you want if you have a label of the drug you are looking for.
    • Do not bring Actifed, Sudafed, Vicks inhalers, or Codeine into Japan.
  8. Other things you should bring
    • Hat
    • Sunglasses
    • Flip-flips
    • Smartphone

Try Calpis!

General Tips:

Transportation:

  • 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.
  • It takes a few days to get a hang of the Tokyo subway system, a few weeks to understand the buses, and about a year to master both of them at the same time.
    • Public transportation is a lot easier in the other Japanese cities.
  • Generally, there is no free parking in Japan.
    • Sometimes shops will have free parking for customers, but only for customers. So, technically, that’s complimentary not free.

Food:

  • You can save money on food by buying bento boxes at convenience or grocery stores.
    • You will be given chop sticks.
    • Some grocery stores will have microwaves to heat up your food and even chairs and tables where you can eat.
    • All convenience stores will heat up the bento you buy if you ask.
  • Some kaiten Sushi restaurants are very affordable. Like:

Shopping:

Money:

  • It has gotten a lot easier to get money from a non-Japanese bank in Japan.
  • Use the Japanese Post or the 7-Eleven ATM.
  • Before you leave for Japan, call up your bank and ask if your bank card will work in ATMs in Japan and if so, which ones.
  • Credit cards mostly do not work here.
    • Sometimes they do, so try it if you really need it.
    • I saw a Discover card logo listed as a paying option at a pharmacy once…

Scams:

  • The are really no scams being run on tourists in Japan.

Tattoos:

  • You will be asked, at most onsens, to cover up any tattoos you might have.
    • I think you can just put a bandage over it.

Visa:

  • To enter Japan, you will need to have a ticket leaving Japan, unless you have a visa already or an ARC.

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.
  • International ATMs 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 what ATMs 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.
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Posted in Japan | Tagged: | Leave a Comment »

Robots & Drink Baths

Posted by Heliocentrism on October 5, 2017

Saturday, July 8th and Tuesday, July 11th, 2017

People have this idea that Japan is a quirky place where strange things happen all the time. This notion pops up mostly on meme posting sites, but sometimes you can see it on the news as a “crazy thing they’re doing in Japan now”. Case in point, the Bagel Head trend. It was called a fad that was sweeping Japan. It was not, but since everyone is conditioned to believe that the Japanese love odd trends and most readers/ viewers had never been to Japan, this falsehood was easily taken up and retold.

Bageling one’s head was no more a trend in Japan than it was in New York or London.

That said, you can find crazy stuff in Japan. But, it’s mostly kept in and around Tokyo where tourists can find it. The thought is, “If this is what tourists expect and are willing to pay for, we’ll do it!” I introduce to you the Robot Cafe:

It’s a shame what happened to Daft Punk.

It is advertised as a robot burlesque show. It has a lot of stuff. There are many things going on during the performance, however at no point did I see any actual robots or burlesque. There is a scantily clad baddie who dies in an absurdly sexy position, but there is no dancing involved. When there is dancing, it’s more peppy than sexy, so not burlesque.

a non-robot performing a non-dance

So, what is the show about?

I saw it. I definitely did. But… I’m still not sure what happened.

This is how I imagine the board meeting to decid what the show would be about went…

Boss: “Okay, we going to do this thing. Any ideas on what it should be about? Remember, no idea is a bad idea!”

Person 1: “I watched Fern Gully last night, why don’t we just plagiarize that?”

Boss: “Yea, that sounds nice.”

Person 2: “Why don’t we have a 50’s Americana style dance off with cheerleaders… like half-way through the show?”

Boss: “Good, good. Keep it coming!”

Person 3: “I like parades. Why don’t we have a parade? … with really unnecessarily loud music to kick things off?”

Boss: “Genius!”

Person 1: “Since you liked my Fern Gully idea, why not have some teen… I mean post pubescent genetically altered martial art amphibians?

Person 2: “Oh, and let’s rip off Tron while we’re at it!?”

Person 4: “I like fire breathing mechanical chickens!”

Person 2: “Maybe we should call it a phoenix?

Person 4: “No, it should be a chicken.”

Looking for the plot of the show as a robot dies in the background.

Boss: “I’ll do all of that! Unfortunately the mechanical chicken will cost so much that we will not have money left in the budget to get any robots. But I think the people will enjoy the chicken much more.”

Mark enjoyed the show. I was just confused. There were zero robots. I think there was one guy in a robot costume, but he was on stage for less than 5 minutes.

At Hakone Kowakien Yunessun you can soak in hot water and enjoy a beautiful view of the nearby mountains. But, this is not why most people go. They go to get coffee poured on their heads, to sit in wine, sake, coffee, green tea, and whatever the special liquid of the day is. This is the kind of kitch I like.

This one doesn’t have as many international tourists. It’s a bit hard to get to and the information online is mostly in Japanese. It can also be a bit expensive at 4,000 yen when most osens cost 500 yen. But, with a little persistence we found an online coupon that got us in for 3,000 yen with a complimentary lunch set. (It’s still expensive, but whatchya gonna do?)

I enjoyed it! My swim suit smelled like wine for weeks afterwards, but it was worth it.


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.
  • International ATMs 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 what ATMs 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.)

Robot Restaurant

How to get there:

  • Coordinates 35.694312, 139.702865

Address:

  • 〒160-0021 Tokyo, 新宿区Kabukicho, 1−7−1 新宿ロボットビル

Phone:

  • +81 3-3200-5500

Websites:

Cost:

Hours:

  • 15:00 – 23:00
  • 1 hour show
  • Show up at least 30 minute before the show.
  • There are 4 shows a day.

Videos:

Notes:

  • I didn’t really like it, but many people did.
    • The area where we sat was too cramped.
    • The show made very little sense.
    • Honestly, I thought the tickets were overpriced even with the online discount.
    • Had it been a $20 show, it would have been worth it.
  • The food is not that great.
    • Mark and I didn’t order the food. In fact, only one group of people did.
    • It looked like the bento you get from 7/11, which would be fine if it didn’t cost $10.
  • Bring ear plugs.
    • The music is quite loud.
    • Kids are given ear protection, like those worn by people who work on the tarmac at airports. Adults are given nothing.
  • Not too far from the Godzilla head.

Hakone Kowakien Yunessun
(箱根小涌園ユネッサン)

How to get there:

  • Coordinates 35.239393, 139.045280

Address:

  • 1297 Ninotaira Hakone-machi, Ashigarashimo-gun, Kanagawa

Phone:

  • 0460-82-4126

Websites:

Cost:

  •  YUNESSUN 2,900 JYP
  • MORI NO YU 1,900 JYP
  • YUNESSUN & MORI NO YU Combo  4,100 JYP
  • Addition costs:
    • Towel Rental:
      • Bath towel 100 yen,
      • Face towel 50 yen
    • Swimsuit rental: Men’s 650 yen, Women’s 1080 yen, Children’s 650 yen
      • Sizes range from men: M~6L
      • Women S~4L
      • Children 70cm~160cm
    • Lunch:
      • Inside the Yunessun area (Fontana): ~600+JYN – 900JYN
      • There are more restaurants outside the Yunessun area, but still in the building: Prices are higher than Fontana

Hours:

  • YUNESSUN: (Swim suit sections)
    • 09:00-19:00(March-October)
    • 09:00-18:00 (November-February )
  • MORI NO YU: (Naked Section)
    • 09:00-21:00

Notes:

  • Shampoo and Conditioner are complimentary and placed in the showers.
  • You should bring your towel or rent one there.

Map:

Posted in Hakone 町, Japan, Kanagawa 県, Tokyo 都 | Tagged: , | Leave a Comment »

The Final Backpack

Posted by Heliocentrism on September 30, 2017

Tuesday, July 4th – 12th, 2017

When I was in Malaysia I bought a smaller backpack to force myself to drastically pare down my clothes and travel items. It did the trick and really helped me to decided what I really needed and what I should dump or mail back to my mom’s house. Because of if I learned to live with less and I felt lighter. But, for me to go to Iceland I would need a bag that could hold more. It didn’t need to be as big as the pack I started out with, but something between the first bag and the smaller one.

It took Mark a mere 5 minutes to pack away all his stuff in preparation for a change in hotel or a flight. I, on the other hand, took about 20 minutes. Everything in my pack had to be folded just so and packed in a certain order. Sometimes, when the zipper would not close all the way it meant that an item had been placed in up-side-down or backwards.

We were getting closer to the time when we would be in Iceland. At which point, I would have to buy a pair of jeans, a fleece jacket, and a long sleeve shirt or two. None of these new clothes would fit in this small bag. I had to get a bigger one.

I had never really gone backpack shopping with any criteria in mind. My first bag, I chose “something red”. The second one I got because it was “not red”. The third one, the one that turned out to be a bad choice, was selected because it was “small”. This time I knew what I wanted.

Must-have 1: Back Vent

I needed a back vent. Bag #2 had one. I didn’t even notice how useful it was until Mark told me that he wanted a pack with a back vent like mine. “Why does that even matter?” I asked him. He gave me his pack to carry for a while. It was a hot day and it didn’t take long to see why my bag was better.

Without the back vent, it gets really hot carrying a pack, even when it’s almost empty. The back vent keeps your back well ventilated and the sweat on your back can easily dry and keep you cool as you carry your haul.

This pack is both front and top loading

Must-have 2: Front Loading Option

I need a pack that is front loading. Bag #1 was front loading. It makes looking for things so much easier. To find stuff in a top loading backpack, one must first unpack. Completely unpacking might not be necessary; the item might be found before then.

If a pack is front loading, all you have to do to see your stuff is to unzip it. Then you can pick what you want and leave the rest in the bag.

Must-have 3: Small Size

It has to be small. I need it to function as my day pack as well as my backpack. I would put my stuff in a locker at a hostel or in a drawer at my hotel. Then I want to be able to carry around my pack as a light and small day pack.

I also have a fear of being robbed while traveling by bus. When you get on a bus, you have to place any big items you have under the bus. This is where suitcases and backpacks go. Although it has never happened to me, anyone I know, or anyone I’ve heard about my fear is this:

I place my backpack under the bus and take my seat. I’ve got a ticket to the city of Five-Hours-From-Here. The bus is so comfortable that I fall asleep. The bus stops to let off the people going to Two-Hours-From-Here. One of these passengers sees my bag and takes it.

The reason for the theft doesn’t matter. Maybe my bag is mistaken for hers. Maybe it was not stolen at all, but my bag falls out as this passenger gets her own bag. The end result is the same, my bag is no longer on the bus and I don’t notice until I get to my stop.

This can easily be prevented if my bag is small enough for me not to have to put my bag below. If it is small, I can keep it on my lap, by my feet, or above on a luggage rack. This would make me feel much safer.

Must-have 4: But, not too small

It needs to be big enough to carry all my stuff. This time, I would not rely on my memory or a label to determine if the new pack were the right size. I would bring the small bag with me to compare the two. This time there would be no mistakes.

This is just some random area of Tokyo.

Mark and I went to the Kanda district in Tokyo where many of the outdoor sporting goods stores are. We looked through 8 or 9 stores hunting for the right bag. I was worried that I would not find anything that would work for me.

Luckily, I found two packs and had a hard time choosing between the two. In the end I picked an Osprey Sirrus that had everything I wanted in a very nice color. It was a medium sized bag that can be compressed to a small size when being used as a day pack. It was not the great financial deal like Mark’s $12-pack, but I did managed to get it duty free by showing my passport. That took a good $10 off the cost of this bag. And so far, I’m very happy with it.

The smaller backpack and I did have some good times together.

The next thing I had to deal with was the fact that I had 2 backpacks. Being in Japan, one cannot simply throw it out. The small pack had to be disposed of properly.  Mark wanted to take it to a recycle shop. I thought that was a very good idea so I searched the internet for recycle shops near our hotel. We walked to several, but none of them bought backpacks.

On one of our days out and about downtown Tokyo, I thought I would try once more. I found a place near Ueno Park called Mode Off. We handed over the small pack and gave them 30 minutes to appraise it. When we returned they gave us 1,500JPY (a little less than 15USD) for it. “Not bad for a pack I paid about 30USD for,” I thought. I was expecting about 500yen.


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.
  • International ATMs 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 what ATMs 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.)

Photo from: cometojapankuru.blogspot.jp

Backpack Shopping in Tokyo

How to get there:

Websites:

Cost:

  • It’s Tokyo and designer brands…
    • That said, things do go on sale and there are some generic brands. You just have to look a bit harder.
  • Backpack – 6,500JYN (Generic on sale) to 45,000JYN (Name brand, huge, not on sale)

Notes:

  • There are more shops in the area, but I found everything I needed (and some stuff I didn’t need, but wanted) right on this street.
  • There are a lot more outdoor goods shops in this street between the Victoria and the  ムラサキスポーツ, but they do not show up on google maps.
    • Like the really nice North Face shop in a 5 story building where most floors have 2 specialty brand stores.
  • Bring your passport to get duty free.
    • You will not have to pay the 8% tax.
    • Don’t forget to ask about a duty free option if the clerk forgets to ask you.

Tokyo Imperial Palace
(皇居)
(Kōkyo)

&

The Imperial Palace East Gardens
(皇居東御苑)
(Kōkyo Higashi Gyoen)

How to get there:

  • Coordinates 35°41’06.6″N 139°45’10.0″E (Tokyo Imperial Palace)
  • Coordinates 35°41’10.5″N 139°45’33.8″E (The Imperial Palace East Gardens)

Address:

1-1 ChiyodaChiyoda, Tokyo Prefecture 100-0001Japan

Phone:

  • +81 3-3213-1111

Websites:

Cost:

  • free

Hours:

The Imperial Palace East Gardens:

  • 9:00 – 16:00
  • Cosed Every Monday and Friday

Image result for mode off ueno

Photo from: secondhand-clothing-tokyo.blogspot.jp

Mode Off Ueno

How to get there:

  • Coordinates 35.708114, 139.773905

Address:

  • Japan, 〒110-0005 Tōkyō-to, Taitō-ku, 台東区Ueno, 4 Chome−4−2−3

Phone:

  • +81 3-5807-7330

Websites:

Hours:

  • 11:00 – 21:00

Notes:

  • This store and others like it are part of the Hard Off Group, which sells (and buys) used goods.
    • Hard Off – Electronics, Music, Instruments, Software…
    • Mode Off – Clothes, Bags, Purses…
    • Off House – Home appliances, Furniture, Clothes…
    • Garage Off – Big Electronics/ Appliances, Stuff you would put in a garage…
    • Book Off – Books, Music, Software…
    • Hobby Off – Toys, collections, Cards…
    • Liquor Off – Pre-owned but un-used booze…

Sogenji Temple
(Kappa-dera temple)

How to get there:

  • Coordinates 35.715157, 139.786291

Address:

  • Japan, 〒111-0036 Tōkyō-to, Taitō-ku, Matsugaya, 3 Chome−7 松が谷3-7-2

Phone:

  • +81 3-3841-2035

Websites:

Cost:

  • free

Hours:

  • 9am – 5pm

Notes:

  • The shrine is very small.
  • If you encounter a kappa, don’t panic.
    • Bow to the kappa.
    • The dim-witted kappa will bow to you in return.
    • This will cause the bowl on the kappa’s head to spill it’s water.
    • If the kappa’s head bowl is void of water for too long, the kappa will die.
    • This will make the kappa run to the nearest body of water, leaving you alone and unharmed.
    • Never follow the kappa to the water!

Kaneiji
(Science Bug Temple)

How to get there:

  • Coordinates 35.721179, 139.774144

Address:

  • Japan, 〒110-0002 Tōkyō-to, Taitō-ku, Uenosakuragi, 1 Chome−14−11

Phone:

  • +81 3-3821-4440

Websites:

Notes:

  • There is a tomb for bugs who have died in the name of science.

Map:

Posted in Japan, Tokyo 都 | Tagged: , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment »

Job 6: Interac

Posted by Heliocentrism on June 5, 2017

March 2015 – March 2017 

This is the continuation of the entries I did on the overseas jobs I’ve had. Previously I wrote about my time at GEOS, English Channel, SMOE, BFITS, and my time in the JET Programme.

Leaving for Interac’s Orientation

A Different Company

Before I even signed up with Interac, I knew this company was different from all the other companies I had worked for so far. First off, they do not pay for your flight to or from Japan. They give you nothing to cover moving expenses; not one red yen.

Let’s see, GEOS gave a contract ending bonus which paid for your flight home, assuming you completed the full year with GEOS. English Channel paid for your flight to South Korea up to $700 and there was a contract ending bonus. You got the $700 after working for English Channel for 6 months and the other bonus, you got after completing the contract. SMOE paid for your flight to Korea and back, up front. Plus, there was a yearly pay increase. BFITS did not pay for any travel expenses, but for every year you re-signed you got a raise. The JET Programme, like SMOE paid for your flight to Japan up front and your flight back. They also showed you how you could trade in your plane ticket for cash, if you wanted cash instead. With JET there was a raise for every year you re-signed too.

With Interac, you get nothing other than your paycheck. There are no travel expanses paid, no contract completion bonus, nothing. This would not be so bad, if Interac didn’t pay so little compare to all the other companies I worked for. But since I lived in Miyoshi, and Interac is the only game in town, my choice was Interac or nothing.

not bad

I was surprised when Interac put everyone up in a fancy hotel for orientation. I was half expecting to foot the bill for the accommodations, but no, Interac paid for it.

Orientation lasted a little less than a week. We started at 9:00 usually, and ended at 17:00. Then there were “optional” meetings we had to attend until about 22:00. This was to avoid having to pay us over time. If these extra meetings were officially mandatory, they would have to pay us. Making them “optional” made it legal for them not to pay us for it.

Honestly, I didn’t mind the extra meeting scam so much. They were, after all, paying for us to stay in a really nice hotel and everyone got their own room. I would much rather not get the extra pay than have to stay in a roach motel with a room mate.

One of my many schools

We were drilled in the arts of ESL lesson planning. It was quite boring for me because I have been doing this for years. But there were many new teachers to the game who just didn’t get it.

Interac made it as simple as they could. They showed us exactly what they wanted. For example, they would show us a game that we could play with our students to drill some new vocabulary like… days of the week. Then we were put into groups to demonstrate what we would do to drill some other new vocabulary, say… months of the year.

I would sit in my group as my team members would rack their brains to come up with some new and innovative game. Then I would say, “Why don’t we just do what they did, just swap out ‘days of the week’ for ‘months of the year'”. Since my suggestion would come when there were only a few seconds left, everyone would reluctantly agree.

All the other groups with their fancy ideas and convoluted instructions would get chastised. Their instructions would be too complicated. The activities required too much pretending for equipment and props that were not there. Then my group would come in and repeat exactly what the trainers had done, but with the new vocabulary. And the praises would pour in.

They kept telling us that no one was expected to reinvent the wheel, but a few people just didn’t get it.

Sports day

The job itself was easy. My coworkers were nice people and I got along with everyone. There were some schools that I liked more than others, but no school was so terrible that I would contemplate quitting.

They did pay for my train ride back to Miyoshi from training.

Tips for working at Interac:

  1. Always get it in writing. Follow up any phone call or conversation with an e-mail. That way you will have proof of what was agreed on.
  2. Don’t buy a bunch of stuff for your classes. Instead of laminating a bunch of flash cards for every lesson, get the plastic covers from Daiso. You can put stick-on magnets on the back and switch out the paper inside for each lesson. Also, every school has a stationary room where you can use markers, magnets, post-it notes. Just use what you need and don’t be wasteful.
  3. If you want credit for your good work, brag about it to the higher-ups at Interac. Send them an e-mail talking about what a great job you did helping out with your school’s speech contest. If you have a great lesson, post that thing online where your supervisor will see it!
  4. Don’t burn yourself out trying to be spectacular. The credit you do get when you do a great job is a flimsy certificate and a standing ovation. There is no monetary reward and there is little room for promotion.
  5. Don’t be afraid of being unoriginal. If another ALT tells you that she has a great lesson, ask her if you can straight up steal it and use it in your class. (I get all my fun lessons from Mark. Then I take full credit for it at my schools. The students and teachers think I am a Powerpoint Presentation game god!)
  6. Don’t forget you will get reduced pay for the months of April, May, September, and January. (You are actually only working about 10 months of the year at Interac.)
  7. Be careful when telling anyone at Interac your personal information. At meetings throughout the year the supervisors tell anecdotes and cautionary tales of ALTs. They try to keep the people in these stories anonymous, but many times they fail at this. There was one story about an ALT that got kanchoed so often by students that the ALT had to visit the doctor many times. While the ALT’s name was kept private, the ALT’s gender, nationality, prefecture, and last year of work with Interac were freely given. Then there was a time when one of the supervisors forgot which group of ALT’s had shown up for the meeting and proceeded to tell everyone about a silly ALT who had gotten in trouble with the BOE. The story stopped when some shocked people from the “silly ALT’s” town told the speaker that the “silly ALT” was sitting in the front row. “Oh,” the speaker said, “I thought that happened to someone working in another part of Japan.” If you get sick, Interac will happily share all the details they know about your illness with your schools, unless you specifically tell them not to. There is no expectation of privacy here. So, if you don’t want everyone in town and their moms to know you personal stuff, don’t tell Interac.

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Let’s Go Around the World, But First…

Posted by Heliocentrism on April 1, 2017

March 23rd – 30th, 2017

Mark and I were very busy during our final week in Japan. My last day of work was on Thursday the 23rd of March. The next day we went to the hospital to get some vaccinations. That took half a day. The shots themselves, four of them, took a few seconds to be administered with 4 hours of paperwork and preamble.

First we had to fill out some questionnaires that were completely in Japanese, but we were given a translator with an electronic dictionary in hand and another helper with a never-ending portfolio of forms to fill out. In situations like this you always hope that your answer is the sort with no follow-up questions.

“Have you ever had a heart attack?” the lady translated.

“No,” Mark and I said.

“No,” usually had no addition accompanying questions.

Then they asked, “Have you ever gotten sick after getting a vaccination?”

“No,” Mark replied. “Yes,” I answered. Mark looked at me with a “Now you’ve done it” stare. “Well, I have!” I told him.

When I was 16, I was enrolled in a Florida state high school. My mother had lost my immunization card, so we had no proof that I was vaccinated. Before I could attend classes, I had to get all my shots again. It took a few days as I got shot after shot after shot. It caused me to run a high fever. The doctor at the clinic said it was nothing to worry about; it happens sometimes. I was told to rest, which I did and after a few days I was fine.

“What shot was it?” the lady asked.

“I don’t remember. There were many. You know, the usual… for an American?”

Follow up questions came pouring in. “What year?” “How old were you?” “What it a combo shot?”

Mark looked at the paper. “Can she change it to, ‘no’ for that one and we just move on?” But the two hospital employees were deep into discussing what other questions I needed to be asked. They stopped some nurses who made the mistake of walking by at that very moment and dragged a few more questions for me out of them.

“Sorry,” I said to Mark. He just rubbed his eyes. “Just try to say, ‘no’ from now on. That’s the best answer.”

This is not actually City Hall; it’s the winery. I just assumed that you won’t care either way.

In the afternoon we stopped by City Hall. One cannot just pack up and leave Japan. First, one’s weight in paperwork must be filled out. We asked for the forms needed to leave Japan.

“When are you coming back?” the nice lady smiled and asked in Japanese.

“No.” My Japanese is not so good.

“No?” She was astonished. “You live in Japan now?”

“Yes.”

“At which schools do you work?”

I listed my schools and Mark’s one school.

“And, you’re not coming back to work?”

“No.”

She seemed to not be very satisfied with my answer. I turned to Mark and whispered, “They can’t refuse to let us leave, can they?”

The lady was carrying on a conversation with herself which I could not fully understand. She was definitely listing things. I got the dreaded feeling we would be there all afternoon. Another lady came by and led us to a cubical around the corner.

She asked us the same questions. “So, let me get this straight. You two, the both of you, are leaving Japan for good?”

“Yes.”

“And you’re not coming back?”

“Yes.” Sometimes, you have to answer “yes” in Japanese when you would answer “no” in English.

“Never?”

“Yes.”

“Never, ever?”

“Yes.”

“For realses?”

“Yes. For realses.”

She asked us a couple more times. I think that she was not sure we understood Japanese too well. She might have just been checking so that the city hall workers weren’t starting our “leaving Japan” paperwork, only to find out what we really wanted were directions to the bathroom.

The weekend we packed and repacked our backpacks making them lighter with each re-pack.

We also started throwing away all of our possessions no one wanted to buy or take. This was a lot harder than you would think. Most of the difficulty had nothing to do with any emotional connections we felt towards our stuff. In Japan you can’t just throw something away.

There are color-coded bags that need to be used. Everything goes into some bag. You have to put everything in the right bag or the garbage man won’t take it… We actually had a Homer Simpson-like stand-off with the garbage men once, where they just refused to take our trash. Unlike Homer, it was not because of our stubbornness. We just had no idea what we were doing wrong.

Me: “Did they take the bag of glass bottles this time?”

Mark: “No. And, I don’t know why.”

Me: “Did you use a blue #4 bag?”

Mark: “Yes!”

Me: “Is there only glass in that bag? No plastic bottles posing as glass.”

Mark: “No. Those pesky plastic bottle didn’t get passed me this time.”

Me: “Did you wash all the glass bottles and remove all the labels?”

Mark: “We have the cleanest trash in this whole neighborhood!”

Me: “Did you put it out on the correct day?”

Mark: “Yes. The 3rd Wednesday of the month.”

Me: “And, you took the caps off and put them in either a blue and yellow #6 bag for soft plastic, a red #3 bag for hard plastic, or a different red #3 bag for metal?”

Mark: “Yes.”

Me: “I’m out of ideas…”

The problem was that Mark had the audacity to put clear glass bottles in the same blue #4 bag as green and brown glass bottles. If you ever hear of a Japanese person lighting his own house on fire, it might not be for insurance fraud purposes. He might just have gotten tired of sorting through the maze that is the recycling/ trash process in Japan.

Who will take our dead computers off our hands?

Adding to our stress was that on Sunday I came down with a really bad cold, then Mark caught it. We would get up, take some Day-quil. Pack. Nap. Take ibuprofen for our fevers. Throw away stuff. Nap. Take NyQuil. Throw more stuff away. Then fall asleep once the NyQuil kicked in.

On Monday we had to drive all the way down to Hiroshima City. My US driver’s license expires in April and I’m not too confident that I can get it renewed in the mail. I did all the paperwork and stuff, but I feel like something will go wrong. So I renewed my Japanese driver’s license, which expires in May, just in case. Mark and I also got international driver’s licenses for the trip.

By Wednesday evening we had a completely empty apartment. The gas man came over, gave us our last gas bill, and turned the gas off. The water man came by and did the same. The electric man also came by, collected the last payment, and told me to turn off the switch the next day before we left.

With no heaters in the apartment it was very cold. Mark and I walked to the nearest mall, which is also a community center, to waste some time and drink coffee. I felt ill at ease.

“I’m a bit nervous, but I don’t know why,” I told Mark. “I thought you would love not working for a year,” he teased. “Well, yes,” I said. “That’s the part I’m most looking forward to.”

I sighed, “Maybe it’s knowing that I will no longer have health insurance.”

“We HAVE health insurance; the travel insurance,” Mark corrected me.

“Then I don’t know what’s wrong. It’s not like I’ve never done something kind of like this before.”

Mark leaned in and asked, “Do you think something bad will happen?”

“I’m sure something bad will happen. Something bad always happens. But I think it will be more entertainingly bad that will make my blog more interesting and not some like, ‘And they were never heard from again Dot Dot Dot.’”

A little apprehensive.

“Well then just relax,” Mark said. “You’re on vacation.”

I tried. But, my stomach hurt.

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10 Things I Will Miss About Japan

Posted by Heliocentrism on March 30, 2017

  1. Conveyor Belt Sushi

They come in both the expensive and inexpensive varieties. Mark and I mainly stick to the more economical kaiten sushi places like, Hamazushi, Sushi Meijin, or Sushi Ro. They charge 100 yen (1USD) for a plate of sushi with 2 pieces of regular (or one sumptuous) cuts of sushi or rolls. I usually eat about 4 to 5 plates with a side or dessert. The cheaper restaurants also have special days for discounts. Hamazushi’s sushi plates costs 10 yen less on weekdays. Sushi Meijin gave women 10% off on Tuesdays. Although sushi is the main attraction, they also serve fries, ice cream, cakes, soups, salads, and other dishes.

  1. The Kei Car

It’s like driving half a car. They are not as fast, big, or powerful as regular cars, but they’re also not as expensive. Kei cars burn less gas. It costs less to drive a Kei car on a toll road. Both insurance and taxes for Kei cars are about half that of regular full-sized cars. There are also more parking spots around town for these smaller vehicles.

My first Kei car cost about $1,500. That price included all the taxes and both mandatory and optional insurance for a year. It didn’t have much power though. I would have to turn off the air conditioner when going uphill with more than two people in the car.

My second Kei was newer, cost about $2,500, and had a turbo something. (I don’t know that much about cars.) It had more power than my first Kei car, but it was still not as fast as other regular cars on the toll roads where you can drive faster than 80 kph. But in Japan, there are very few roads where you can drive that fast. The speed limit in and around town is about 50 to 60 kph, so it doesn’t matter that some cars can go 180 kph and mine can’t.

The only real reason to get a regular car over a Kei car, is if you have to drive around with several passengers. Kei cars can fit 2 adults comfortably, 3 adults less comfortably, and 4 adults uncomfortably. Four is the max capacity for most Kei cars. There is one make of Kei with 2 extra jump seats in the hatch-back trunk area. In general, no one ever wants to sit in a jump seat.

This happens so infrequently, we had to take a photo.

  1. Not pumping my own gas in the winter or summer

Self-service gas stations in Japan are not that common. When you find one, they seem a bit gimmicky, like a self-check-out aisle in the supermarket. Some people think that the self-service stations are cheaper, but I think it varies. The full-service place where I get my gas now, is on par with the self-service place I used when I lived in Okayama (and it comes with free stuff when you buy a pre-paid gas card).

In the winter I stay in my heated car as the gas attendant stands out in the cold pumping my gas. While he’s doing that, his co-worker cleans my windshield and mirrors. When I pay, they ask me for any trash I might have in my car that they could dump for me. This is the closest thing to a cleaning my car ever gets.

  1. Apples

Apples in Japan are just more delicious and apple-like. They only have Fuji apples, though.

  1. Calpis

It’s the drink with the funny name that also tastes kind of funny, but in a good way. If you’ve never had Calpis, let me explain the flavor this way:

Imagine you live in a little town or village somewhere. Your community doesn’t have a lot of things that most places in the world have, like pizza, the internet, newspapers, or milk. One day your neighbor, who spent a few weeks out in the world several years ago, sits by the big tree to regale the village with tales of the Outside. Everyone likes his stories so they sit at his feet to hear about ink pens, fax machines, and disco music. But, the most popular yarns are about milk.

“Tell us again about milk!” The townsfolk beg, almost whispering the word “milk” to show reverence. Everyone is fascinated about this white juice that doesn’t come from a fruit. “It feels like drinking something smooth and soft,” your neighbor tells everyone. “I would say it’s creamy, but I come from this milk-deprived village and know nothing about cream or creamy things. So I would say it’s not uncreamy because I know more about things that aren’t creamy.”

You go home and retell your neighbor’s stories to your mother who has never heard the tales before. She works in a lab and she is very curious about this “milk-juice”. She asks you to repeat everything you remember hearing about milk. She asks you, because she refuses to talk directly to the neighbor. She was engaged to him once and he stood her up on the wedding day. He ran off and went to the Outside and she has never spoken to him since.

After retelling your second-hand tales several times, your mom runs to her basement laboratory vowing that she will make this milk herself. After an hour she comes back with white-enough liquid that she added some ice cubes to. You taste it. It’s slightly too sweet, but it tastes like milk to you. You’ve never had milk, but you think this must be it.

That is what Calpis tastes like. It’s wonderful!

Salt, Denim, Sweet Potato, Gold Flakes

  1. Souvenir Ice Cream

I don’t see this as much I would like, but I’ve seen it enough times to look out for it. If you go to a town that is famous for strawberries, you will see someone selling strawberry ice cream. Of course that could just be a coincidence. But Mark and I have been to towns famous for figs and found fig ice cream. We went to an island that harvested salt, and the gift shop sold salt flavored ice cream. It was terrible!

I’ve had denim ice cream, in a denim manufacturing town, sake ice cream near a sake brewery, and asparagus ice cream near a farming village. The denim ice cream was actually ramune flavored but it had denim-blue food coloring and was sold next to The Gap.

Miyoshi is famous for its wine.

  1. Omiyage

In the states when your co-workers or friends go on vacation they will usually bring back souvenirs. They give out t-shirts, key chains, or post cards. When you get one you think, “Great, another refrigerator magnet…” In Japan the souvenirs are little cakes, cookies, or chocolates. They are either molded in the shape of some tourist attraction or have a picture of some attraction on it. Sometimes the omiyage tastes good, sometimes it tastes bad. Either way, it’s gone after two bites. You eat it and thank the person who gave it to you. And for that person, buying the omiyage was very easy. They sell boxes of the stuff at every souvenir shop and all rest stops on the toll roads. One box has anywhere from 10 to 50 little treats, so you don’t have to spend half your vacation wondering, “What should I get Kim from accounting?”

Cola & Soda KitKats

  1. Flavored KitKats

These are great. Even when they are awful, they are great. The best flavor I’ve had was sugar cookie. It had to be baked. The worst one was sweet bean cake flavored. I never found the illusive wasabi flavored ones.

His job is to protect Kobe.

  1. Everyone is so professional

At some point in time, you’ve probably needed someone somewhere to help only to find that they don’t want to. It has nothing to do with you personally. They just don’t care that much about their job and helping you is part of that job they care so little about.

This rarely happens in Japan. So many people in Japan take pride in their job no matter what that job is, whether they hate their job or not. Clerks at 7-Eleven are always well groomed and courteous. Bank tellers are happy to help you understand the Japanese on an ATM. Even full-service gas station attendants, after pumping your gas and cleaning your windows will put their lives on the line to stand out in traffic to stop cars so you can get back on the road.

No matter what question, problem, or complaint I have ever had, and no matter where I go for help, I have always been treated like my needs are very important. The people helping me have always been polite and friendly. This really helps when living in a country where I don’t speak or read the language very well.

  1. Daiso

This is the best dollar store in the world! (Though, it’s not quite a dollar store.) Most things at Daiso cost 100 yen which is roughly 1USD. This is the first place to go if you need kitchen supplies, stationary, and even electronic accessories. You need a cute box, preferably one with a cat’s face? Go to Daiso. Do you want an HDMI cable? Go to Daiso. A bicycle bell? Daiso! The only thing I would not recommend getting from Daiso is food, but only because the unit price makes the food from Daiso more expensive than the same thing at a grocery store. They sell, for example a one serving package of spaghetti at Daiso for 100 yen. At the local grocer’s, spaghetti is sold in 4 serving packs for 200 yen. If you just want to buy a small amount of something like, let’s say, umeboshi to try it. Then go to Daiso. If you like it, buy a bigger package of the stuff from the grocery store.

Posted in Japan | 1 Comment »

Time to Leave Japan

Posted by Heliocentrism on March 22, 2017

Mark at the airport last December

If you asked Mark or me last month what our plans for the next year were, we wouldn’t have been able to tell you. We wanted to leave Japan and travel the world, but we had been offered positions with the Yokohama branch of our company. Yokohama seemed like a fine city. It’s an hour train ride from Tokyo. This would have been a great place for us to live and explore the top half of Japan.

We waited for months for our new contracts and information about where exactly in Yokohama we would be placed. We wondered if we would teach elementary school, junior high, or high school. Would we be at one school, two schools, …thirty? Would we take the train to work or could we walk? Our future was very uncertain.

Our current contract was coming to an end and we needed to make a decision. Our choice was an “Around the World Trip” for a year or to work another year teaching at Japanese public schools. We put up dream destinations and exotic adventures as reasons to go then tried to counter argue for staying with the implied assumptions and maybes of the new Yokohama jobs.

With three weeks left in our current contracts, we made a firm decision to leave Japan. The unknown of the positions in Yokohama were no match for a year-long vacation. We emailed the branch in Yokohama and told them that we had changed our minds. Two days later, the contracts came in the mail. We did not look at them.

So with less than three weeks left in our contracts, we had to prepare to leave Japan, for good. We had to schedule the cancellation of our internet and utilities. Change addresses on credit cards and at banks. And, we almost drowned in massive amounts of paper work.

The hardest part, though, is getting rid of our stuff. I’m writing this on my second to last day of work. We leave Japan in a little over a week. And, even though Mark and I put nine 30-liter bags of clothing in the bin before heading off to work this very morning, there is still way too much stuff in our apartment.

We have already given away or sold some of our things. The bigger items, like our fridge and washing machine we still use, but we have buyers waiting in the wings. They will be taken away right before we leave. I don’t care about most of our things; they are just things. I’m taking my best coffee tumbler, throwing away the rest, and I don’t even care.

But some items we own, I have grown attached to, like our camping gear. We gave them to a friend of ours and his family. I know it sounds silly, but giving our camping stuff to a friend who we know will enjoy camping with them felt a lot better than selling them to some stranger or abandoning them at a dump site.

Last weekend Mark and I did a mock-packing. That’s where we pack our bags with what we think we need, then carry our backpacks around for 10 minutes or so to see how heavy they are. I had to pack and repack several times to lighten the load. I still need to get rid of more stuff.

At the start of the mock-packing, Mark was sure he didn’t “have that many clothes.” But after putting all the clothes in a “to pack” pile, “to mail” pile, or a “to dump” pile it was plain to see that this was not true. It was also very disconcerting for us to realize how many “favorite shirts” we have.

It’s a little harder for us than for most travelers. Usually people leave for trips with the intent of returning home. There is no need, no matter how much a traveler would want to, to take everything. But for us, what we don’t take, other than a few things we will mail home, we have to throw away.

Some of these things were hard to come by. I love Arm & Hammer toothpaste, which is not sold here in Japan. I order them online from Amazon and pay the extra shipping. I have 2 extra tubes of the stuff, which doesn’t seem like much. But my pack is too heavy and I need to take only the essentials. Toothpaste, which can be bought anywhere (as long as you care little for the brand), is not essential.

In December, Mark and I went back home to visit family. I did pack light, but still, I didn’t wear half the clothes I brought. That was not so bad for that trip. We drove in cars the whole time. Our flight cost the same whether we took 2 check-in suitcases each or 1 combined. (We actually took one suit case combined and 1 carry-on each.)

This time, taking thing A means leaving behind thing B. It would break my heart to take a shirt I never wear after throwing away a tube of my beloved toothpaste. (Yes, I love Arm & Hammer toothpaste that much!)

And it’s not just me. This is hitting Mark hard too. He’s the king of “favorite shirts” and “favorite shorts”. I asked him the past weekend how many shirts and shorts he packed. “I have 6 shorts and 12 shirts,” Mark told me.

“Are you planning on not doing laundry for a whole year?” I asked with as much snark as I could put in my voice.

“That’s not too much. I have plenty of space in my pack.”

“Do you have a towel?” I challenged him.

“No.”

“Do you have shoes?”

“Those will be on my feet,” he answered confidently.

“What about your sleeping mat, your toiletries, your computer, camera, charger, smartphone,” I went on listing things I knew we had to take.

Mark looked at his pack. He had most of the things from the list, but they were sitting next to his pack, not in it. The pack was almost full and would not hold everything. “So, you’re saying I should start over with less clothes?”

I looked at my own backpack. It looked like it had just finished its Thanksgiving dinner and it was still missing many of the things I listed for Mark. “Yes. And, I think I do too.”

“How many shorts do you have?” he asked me.

“Four, but I think I’m going to get rid of one pair to make space for an extra tube of toothpaste…”

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Travel List Thursday: Oita Prefecture

Posted by Heliocentrism on December 1, 2016

Download PDF Version

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

Proving Ground

Posted by Heliocentrism on November 13, 2016

Sunday. October 23, 2016

All Pictures

One day Mark and I were lazing around the house watching old videos of Community Channel on Youtube (because someone hadn’t uploaded any new videos in weeks), when we saw a Facebook post of a friend in town. “Enjoying all this festival food at Miyoshi Park,” said the caption under a photo of our friend biting into some meat on a stick.

“There’s a festival in town? Why didn’t anyone tell us about it?”

In about 10 minutes we were showered and dressed and heading out the door. From our apartment it’s a 15-minute drive to Miyoshi Park. At the park entrance there was a long line of cars waiting to be ushered into a parking space.

We parked our car and headed to the community center in the middle of Miyoshi Park. We hadn’t even stepped out of the crosswalk linking the parking lot and the walkway to the main building when we were approached by someone with brochures.

 

Mark managed to sneak away from the solicitation leaving me on my own to turn down whatever was being offered. I put up my hands and started waving them to say, “No, thanks.” Then another lady spoke up.

Words in Japanese Mazda test track and back to Japanese again.”

Surprised, I asked in Japanese, “Right now?”

“Schedule,” the lady told me, pointing to a list of times. Speaking in Japanese, she said, “The bus leaves from here.”

How much?” In Japanese I usually use one or two-word sentences.

It’s free,” she replied with a smile. Then she pointed to the path to the community center and said something. But I couldn’t understand anything more than “Go over there…”

I smiled and thanked the lady for the information. Then I ran to catch up with Mark.

“What do you think this festival is all about?” Mark asked me. Nearing the community center, I could see many flags. There was some sort of caricature of a sea captain on them, which is odd because Miyoshi is a land-locked town. There was some Hiragana writing which said “Miyoshi,” the name of our town, some Katakana which said, “Festival,” and some Kanji which probably explained the purpose of the festival. But my ability to read Kanji is very limited.

Behind the community center was an unpaved lot. There were many emergency workers in the center of the lot. There was a tent of soldiers showing off their Hummers and rescue equipment. There was a tent filled with smoke demonstrating how hard it is to see in a house that is on fire. firefighters were standing at the entrance of the tent beckoning to passersby to go through. This was clearly some sort of safety festival… perhaps.

There was a truck with a room set up inside it. The room had only 3 walls, so that festival goers could witness the spectacle. One family was asked to go in and sit around the table to a pretend dinner. As they talked and pretended to eat, someone flipped a switch to start the simulated earthquake. The family had to show what they would do in an earthquake.

Nearby there was a crane manned by the coast guard attached to a stretcher. The crane lifted the stretcher off the ground simulating a helicopter rescue. There was a little boy strapped into the stretcher with a big grin on his face. He was having the time of his life. There was a long line of other little boys and girls waiting for their turn to be “rescued”.

There were cops barefooted and walking on a tarp laid out on the ground. There were several lines of kids. The police officers where showing them how to get away from someone holding on to them.

Then, seemingly out of place, were a bunch of Mazdas. Most of the police cars, Hummers, and firetrucks had kids climbing in them and their parents taking photos. “Can we get into a Mazda?” we jokingly wondered.

A man walked towards us and asked us something in Japanese. All I could understand was, “What time?” “Testing track?” I asked the man.

“Hai. So desu.”

“14:00,” I told him.

He handed both Mark and me tickets that said 14:00 on them. Then he said some other stuff, but all I understood was, “Go over there.” But, this time I knew exactly what he meant. We would “go over there” near where we parked by 14:00.

There were people selling homemade crafts on the parameter of the unpaved lot. We walked over to them looking at stuff no one wanted to buy. It was hard to pay any attention to the craft tents because opposite them, in the middle of the lot were the rescue workers. Alarms were going off, kids were laughing, and demonstrations were given. The crafts tents just could not compete with all that. They should have asked to be placed next to a room of old ladies knitting.

We ran into my Japanese teacher. It’s been sometime since I took lessons, but we still hangout every once in a while. She greeted me very cheerfully. She was with a group of friends and couldn’t talk long. She pushed a pair of tickets in my hand.

“What’s this?”

“Tea ceremony tickets. It’s held inside the main building on the second floor.”

“Thanks.”

“Enjoy,” she said as she and her friends headed to the Hummers.

Mark took the tickets and inspected them. They cost about 350 Yen each. “She just gives you tickets?” he asked.

“She’s always giving me stuff. It’s like I have 100 birthdays.”

We looked at the time. It was 13:30. “The tea ceremony booth closes at 16:00. We better do this before we do the Mazda thing,” Mark said. Half an hour seemed like a good amount of time to do an informal tea ceremony at a festival and make it to the bus in time for 14:00.

We walked to the main building by way of passing the food stalls on the side of the building. We were not hungry; we were just looking. Then from out of one of the stalls popped a man who grabbed Mark by the arm.

“Hello my friend!”

Mark was caught off guard. People in Japan don’t just walk up to Mark and start speaking in English, so I figured that the man knew Mark. But, Mark seemed to be side stepping any formal introductions.

“He doesn’t remember who this man is,” I thought. “How is camping?” the man asked Mark. “Oh yes. Camping is fun,” Mark replied.

“This is yakisoba. You try.”

Mark felt bad enough about not remembering who the man was or where they met that he bought the yakisoba. Mark sat down at a bench ready to dive into his food. “He must be a teacher at one of my schools from last year or the year before that. But, if he’s a teacher, why is he peddling yakisoba?”

“Less talking and more eating,” I demanded. I wanted to get to the tea ceremony before we left.

A few minutes later we made it to the main building. There was more festival going on in there. Though, the theme inside was not safety like it was outside. The theme inside was commerce.

“Well, now I have no idea what this festival is about,” I said as I scratched my head. There were many booths set up in a grid inside the auditorium. On the parameter, people sold baked goods and treats. All of the interior booths had someone showing off some products for sale. It felt like walking into 1,000 infomercials.

We walked past a man hawking ShamWows and turned at a booth selling green smoothies that looked like swamp water. We walked by two competing cell phone companies that were trying to attract new customers by giving out those awful hard candies that only old people like.

I guess if you made the mistake of trying a sample of swamp water smoothies you would gladly take the offer of free candy. After clearly showing your lack of good judgement, you would be preyed upon by the cell phone people and end up going home with a phone plan you didn’t need or want.

We ran up the stairs and looked at the time. It was 13:45. Mark whispered to me, “You think they could do a 10 minute quick ceremony for us?” “No,” I looked at Mark appalled. “Tea ceremony is about the exact opposite of that. Everything is done slowly.”

We thought back to the last tea ceremony we did. A bunch of ALTs from Miyoshi were invited to a lovely house to be served tea by a tea ceremony tea master. It took at least an hour.

“Well,” Mark reasoned, “This is a festival. This can’t be meant to last for hours. We’ll stay for as long as we can.” Then he whispered, “We’ll stay for 8 minutes then slip out like we would from church.”

I handed our tickets to a lady in a fancy kimono. She bowed and showed us to a padded bench. I was grateful to not have to sit on my heels, a position I can only hold for a few seconds.

We were given beautiful sweets that, as usual, tasted too sweet. Then we were served thick green tea from tea cups that looked like small bowls. As we drank we watched a man teach his student how to serve tea. She was practicing opening the lid of the tea container over and over again.

I sipped my tea and watched the lesson. I leaned over to Mark, “She’ll never get around to making tea at this rate.” “Less talking, more drinking,” Mark responded. I looked at Mark’s bowl. It was empty.

“Did you drink all of this in one gulp?”

“I don’t mess around!”

I sipped at my tea as fast as I could. It was still very hot. Mark looked at the time and fidgeted impatiently. Another kimonoed lady came by with a tray to take our cups. I quickly finished my drink and placed my cup on the tray next to Mark’s.

Then we sat there awkwardly wanting to go, but not sure how to do that without being completely rude. After a few minutes a family was ushered to the bench next to ours. As the ladies fussed over them getting them sweets and tea, there was a perfect moment when both the student and the teacher were looking down and the two ladies had their backs to us. We seized the moment and quietly slipped away like ghosts.

We ran down the path to the bus. We were the last people to get on, but we were in time. The bus sat there for about 5 minutes before firing up the engine and setting off for the Mazda Proving Grounds.

Shortly after moving to Miyoshi we found out that there was a test track in town where Mazda puts their cars through their paces. Whenever I drive past the Mazda gate, I try to peek in. There are guards at all the gates with very high walls and it’s fenced all around. Until this day, I was not entirely sure how big the Mazda Proving Ground was.

At the front of the bus a lady in a suit gave the passengers information about the testing facilities. It was all in Japanese, so I couldn’t understand most of it. Then a man sitting in the row in front of mine turned around and asked in English if I understood what she said. “She said she can’t paint a picture… I think,” I answered the man. That didn’t really make any sense to me.

He smiled and corrected me. “She said you can’t take photos during the tour. But, when they stop the bus you can take photos if you like.”

“Oh.”

“If you want, I can translate for you when you don’t know what she says.”

“Yes, please,” I told him. Then throughout the tour he would turn around and whisper the important and interesting facts the lady told everyone.

We drove over many of the test tracks. There were roads that simulated various real world driving conditions. There were roads with potholes, roads with bumps, roads made of dirt. They had roads made with cement and ones made with tar.

We made a turn and everyone wooed and awed. “The bus driver doesn’t turn here. This is an American turn. The road tilts so the bus driver can go straight. The road turns the bus,” Our new friend told us. I learned quickly that Japanese roads lacked this feature. Exiting from a Japanese freeway requires sudden deceleration to avoid everything in the car pitching to one side. The road does not bank enough to give a driver time to slow down without sickening amounts of inertia. It’s a rather disturbing experience for the uninitiated.

We drove on several types of American-styled paved roads. When the bus drove over the segmented cement road, everyone laughed at the clicking clacking sound the bus made. Then we tried a French road along with a German one.

Then we drove on a Belgian road. The guide said that unlike the American, French, and German roads that were made here in Japan using the same methods as in those countries, the Belgian roads were made in Belgium. In fact there were actually Belgian roads that honest-to-god Belgians drove on. Mazda ripped it up piece by piece, numbering each section as they went. Then shipped it to Japan and reassembled it at the testing facility. It was very expensive.

The Belgians roads were not smooth at all. Honestly, I could feel no discernible difference between the German, French, and American black top roads. (The America cement road clearly caused the clicking-clacking sound.) The Belgium road felt like a bad massage. It was a terrible road.

We drove passed a track with a very steep bank. A car would have to go very fast on a turn to stay on that track. Then the lady announced that the bus driver wanted to try it out… with this bus. I was wary.

I didn’t know this bus driver. I didn’t know how skilled of a driver he was. I buckled my seat belt and hoped he knew what he was doing. The driver accelerated the bus in the furthest left lane. It was a big bus filled with lots of people so it took some time to build up speed. This did not instill my confidence in the plan.

Eventually we got up to a speed fast enough that the driver could switch to a middle lane and then the most right lane with the almost vertical bank. We were flying around the corner. It was disconcerting looking out the windows and seeing sky on one side and black top on the other, all while still being in a big ungainly bus that would normally never go over 80 kph.

I did want to try out this test track and this steep bank in particular. I just wanted to do it in a sports car, something small or sleek. A cool muscle car maybe? Not a bus.

The bus stopped at another curve. We were all let out to inspect the steep bank ourselves. Many people tried to cross the road. Once you passed the second lane, the crossing became exponentially difficult. Once on the other side, people had to hold onto the guard rails to stay up there.

Everyone took as many photos as they could before getting back on the bus. We were then taken to more tracks that simulated various driving conditions. We drove past the crash testing area and a parking lot for new cars waiting to be tested. There were either no prototype cars for us to see or they were kept in doors in the aerodynamics lab building.

The proving ground was a lot bigger than I thought it was. The whole tour took roughly two hours from pick up to drop off. There were more roads, lots, lakes, and buildings than I thought were behind any of those gates.

5,000 Candles in the Wind

I still have no idea what the overall theme of the festival was, but I enjoyed it.

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.
  • International ATMs 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 what ATMs 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.)

Miyoshi Mazda Proving Ground
(マツダ三次試験場)
(Matsuda Miyoshi Shikenjō)

How to get there:

  • Coordinates 34°47’49.4″N 132°51’56.0″E

Address:

  • 551 Higashisakeyamachi, Miyoshi, Hiroshima Prefecture 728-0023

Phone:

Websites:

 

Notes:

  • Unless you get a job here or you’re on a tour, there is no entering the facilities.

Map:

 

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

Looking for Mt. Ozuchi

Posted by Heliocentrism on November 6, 2016

Saturday, October 8th, 10th, and 22nd, 2016

All Pictures

Having so much fun “hiking” up Mt. Sanbe and Mt. Misen, I decided to try some real hiking. I would go up the little mountain that the Koriyama Castle Ruins sits on and the baby mountain that is Mt. Ozuchi. Mark was out of town so this would also be a solo hiking trip. While doing research on the trails and just hiking in general, I found out that hiking rule number one is NEVER HIKE ALONE.

But… These weren’t big hikes. I would totally stick to the trail. And I would bring my cell phone with me (a thing I am famous for not doing). Plus I would let someone know where I was going, when I was going to be there, and when I got back. Okay, I forgot to do that last thing. No one knew what I was doing , when I was doing it, or that I got back okay.

I’ll just pick up an English guide. No English guide? Well, I’ll just look at the pictures.

I got to the parking lot of the Koriyama Castle Ruins. I found a post with some guide books inside. I picked up several booklets looking for one in English. Finding none I put all the booklets back and walked to the entrance.

What are you trying to say?

At the entrance to the trail I found a “Do Not” sign under the torii. I can’t read Kanji and I had no idea what the sign said. I stood in front of the torii thinking about what the sign was trying to tell me.

I could tell, from the last line, that the sign was put here by the city of Akitakata. One of the Kanji in the second line could also be found on stop-signs. But that kanji could also mean, “don’t” or “stand”. So the sign could mean, “Don’t Enter”, “Don’t Litter”, “Don’t Leave the Trail”, or “Don’t Enter without Standing and Admiring this Awesome Torri first”.

I figured that if they didn’t want me to enter, they would have put a chain gate across the path. They would have also not had free hiking guides. If the sign was about littering, there would have been a picture of a silhouetted person next to a train can. So, maybe it said something about not leaving the trail.

I looked around for other hikers to see if the sign turned any of them away. My car was the only one in the parking lot. There were only 6 or so parking spaces. I was all alone. I turned back to get a guide booklet. Even though I couldn’t read it, the guide had lots of photos of things to see along the trail. That would at least help me know where I was.

It is kind of spooky being the only person on a hiking trail. I knew I was hiking alone, as in I brought no one with me, but I didn’t think that I would be alone on the trail, just me and the bears. I passed a cemetery which only added to the creepiness.

This must be were all the forest folk hang out.

Twenty minutes into the hike and I found some moss-covered ruins. This moss gave the area a carpeted look. It was so beautiful. I walked around taking photos without having to wait for other hikers to move out of my shot. I took this as a sign of more picturesque things to come.

Suddenly hiking alone didn’t seem like such a potentially bad idea.

I continued along the trail to head up the mountain and bumped into these two signs. I’m not sure what the second one is all about. “Snakes in this forest love teddy bears. Wild boars love ladybugs. Monkeys have clean faces. And, deer love green tea.” That sign made no sense to me on any level.

The first sign, however, was very clear. “Watch out for pit vipers.” I have been bitten by a pit viper once already. It was not in anyway fun. It was very painful and I lost my vision. For about two months I could not read or ride in a car without wanting to throw up.

I started to wonder what I would do if I got bitten by another mamushi, the type of pit viper from the sign. I’ve had several people tell me that one cannot survive a second pit viper bite. I don’t know how true that is. But then I saw this…

Another pretty thing in the forest, pushed thoughts of snake bites aside. I would just watch my steps, keeping an eye out for snakes and other wild life. I headed up the trail hoping for more great photos.

I should have just stopped near the mamushi sign. There was nothing of interest further on the trail. I spent 30 minutes climbing up to the top. The ruins of the castle on the peak were a rock here and a rock there. Plus there was no summit view. There was no clearing at the top to look out from.

I’m sure this is important somehow.

I did manage to find 2 snakes. One was very tiny. I thought it was a worm at first. It was kind of cute. The next one, I found when I was about to go off the trail to see if I could get a view of the city. I was about to step over a pile of leaves when something moved from under those leaves. Out popped a full-grown mamushi.

“Nope, nope. Nope, nope, nope!”

I headed back down the mountain watching every step with heighten vigilance. I was the only person on this mountain. There was no relying on kind hikers to find me or by snake bitten body.

This seems simple enough

Next I drove to the base of Ozuchiyama. I parked my car at, what I think is, an abandoned campsite and followed the trail. The hike to the top of Mt. Kori and back took about an hour total; it was around 11:00 in the morning when I started this new hike.

Something about this trail made me think that not too many people hike up this mountain. But as long as there was a clear  trail I would climb over fallen trees and keep going further. After 30 minutes of hiking I got to the first reference point, the Takamagahara shrine.

As I came out of the forest, to start my climb to the yellow torii on the hill, I found a startle buck. I looked at him and he looked at me. I thought, “One of us should be running away from the other. I hope it’s not up to me; I’m tired.” After a few seconds of this stare down, I pulled out my camera. The deer was a little camera-shy and ran away before I could take his photo.

Many times on a hiking trail, I would come across hikers with bells tied to their bags. I found these people to be very annoying. The bells can be heard even when the hikers are far away. When hiking with a person like this 15 minutes away it can disrupt a quiet peaceful hike for hours.

But at this moment, I understood what the bells are for and I wish I had one. If I were hiking with someone I would be talking with that person. Our voices would alert us to nearby wild life who would keep away. But, hiking alone, I was too quiet.

I tried to make noise. I started talking to myself, but that felt too weird. Without thinking about it, I went from shouting to whispering within a few sentences. I started to clap. I would clap every now and then on the trail for the rest of the day.

After the shrine I followed the sign back to the trail of Mt. Ozuchi. The trail was literally a long mound of dirt that had trail markers and pink ribbons to show the way. I walked for about 20 minutes on the mound trail when I found the next reference point, the turn near a water shed.

You can’t really see what type of water shed it is. There is just a sign for the trail pointing left, a bend in the mound of dirt I was following, and a tiny sign on the ground with the Kanji for water on it.

I kept on keeping on. This time, I had to walk next to the mound instead of on it. There were trees growing on the mound, but there was a somewhat clear path next to it.

Well, there was, until there wasn’t.

There was no easily seen trail anymore. I only knew I was still on the path when I found markers, like the one in the photo above or a tree with a pink ribbon around it. When I had gone about 5 minutes without seeing a marker I looked around for one. I felt like I was just walking aimlessly in the woods. It was too easy for me to leave the trail  and not realize it at this point. I headed back to my car. I would come back when I found a better trail to the top of this mountain.

That night I found a new trail. There was a blogging hiker who made a drawing of the trail. From the drawing I learned that not only was there another way up the mountain, but I could drive to the hill-top shrine. It was a 3-day weekend, so I spent Sunday resting up and tried the hike again on Monday.

That Monday, I parked my car near where the smaller car on the drawing is placed and tried once again to get to the summit.

The trail was fine for walking. Most of it was black top that had been reclaimed by the forest. Everything was going well until I came to a fork in the road. “Which way should I go?” The drawn map didn’t mention anything about trail options. It looked like there was only one path to the top.

I picked the way that looked less jungly. I happily walked up the mountain contented that I had made the right decision. Then it happened again; another fork. I chose one at random then made an arrow in the ground with my foot to mark where I had come from. I continued my hike until the trail just ended into untamed forest.

I turned around and walked back looking for the dirt arrow on the ground. Then I went on the other path. It too didn’t go anywhere. I found my arrow again and went back down to the first fork then up the other path.

This time the way looked promising. The trail even opened up a bit like it was expecting lots of hikers to come this way. It zigged and zagged like one would expect a mountain trail to. I  looked at my watch; I had been hiking for about 2 hours and at least one hour on this specific trail. Surely, I was near the top.

I came to another disheartening fork. I had to choose which way to go. I looked at both my options. Then I saw something familiar. “Damn it! Is that my dirt arrow?”

@&$#!!!

I was defeated for the day. I did not want to keep going in circles. I would try again, but I would take Mark with me. That way, if I died lost in the forest, I wouldn’t die alone.

So that the day wouldn’t be a total loss, I when back to the Takamagahara shrine and ate my lunch. As I sat there eating what was supposed to be my celebratory apple, I noticed that I could see the tower at the top of the mountain I could not find.

Twelve days later on a foggy Saturday Mark and I set out for the summit of this stupid frustrating mountain. We drove to the bottom of the hill the shrine sits on and climb to the top. It was a 5 minute hike and at the top, Mark took out his apple and was about to bite into it.

“Stop! What are you doing?”

“I’m eating my celebratory apple.”

“But you haven’t done anything.”

“We’re here, right?”

I turn around and pointed to the tower on the top of Mt. Ozuchi. “That’s where we’re going.”

Mark was not happy.

I took Mark to where I had lost the trail the first time. I also brought with me a picture by picture view of the trail posted online by some Japanese blogging hikers.

With two people looking out for trail markers we easily stayed on the trail. The pictures help a great deal because there are times when the trail doesn’t look like a trail at all.

There is a section where the trail is right next to a fence giving hikers very little space to move. I would have thought that I lost the trail, but according to the Japanese hiking bloggers that’s the way to go.

There were a couple times when the thought of turning around danced in my head. But that started about 1.5 hours into the hike. I also knew that there was another way to get from the summit back to our car. So, overall, pressing forward was the better alternative to turning back.

We kept on the path looking out for a faded sign pointing the way to Buddha rock, a monolith in the forest erected for some reason. When we found the sign it ambiguously pointed to a clearing off the trail. The sign looked like it had been there for a long time. Who knows if it was even still pointing to its intended direction? But we knew we were on the right trail and that the path to Buddha Rock was somewhere to the left.

We went left and couldn’t find a thing. There was no path. Mark thought he saw a monolith and ran down to check it out, but it was just some other huge rock.

I walked around until I found a tree with a pink ribbon. “Hey Mark, I found something!” The pink ribbon led to another pink ribbon and another that led to a rope. I held on to the rope and climbed down the step path.

From Buddha Rock it looks like you are in the middle of thick forest. There is no evidence of any hiking trails or civilization near by. If you stand still and are absolutely quiet, you can hear nothing but the faint forest noises. It’s very creepy.

“Do you think there are any Totoros around, Mark?”

“No. I think they only live in forests in Miyazaki Prefecture.”

It’s that fog that turns people inside-out

Once back on the trail, the tower was only 10 minutes away. We found it and walked past it. The trail picks up on the other side of the tower. We started to walk along the black top road near the tower, when I noticed the bloggers in the photos were not on a paved road. We went back to the tower and walked along its fence to get back on the trail.

We found Kuguriiwa, Passable Stones. Supposedly, even though the gap is very tiny, a full-grown human should be able to fit in the passage. My 5’9″ frame could not. But, the hiking bloggers could.

Then Mark tried his hand at Nariiwa, Sounding Stone. Nariiwa is the stone caught in a gap. It is said that if you can move it and get the stone to make a noise in so doing, you will have happiness. Mark tried with no luck. But, Mark seemed pretty happy just trying.

The top of Kuguriiwa was the highest point on our hike, so we sat down and ate our celebratory apples. Then is started to rain, so we got down and looked for the other trail down the mountain.

This is where it would have helped if I could read Japanese. There is a written explanation on how to find the other trail down Mt. Ozuchi given by the hiking bloggers, but no pictures. There was a sign, but we could not find that particular sign.

Mark was so convinced that the black top road we almost took earlier was the way down, I just followed him. I didn’t think it was right, but he was so sure, I second guessed myself. Besides, walking on black top is so much easier than walking on the obstacle filled path.  That’s when we found the Bear.

On our walk down the mountain we spotted a blue truck. Then we found a man working in a machine moving giant mounds of dirt around. We were going to just walk pass him with a simple, “Kanichiwa!” But, he seemed so surprised to see us.

He stopped us and asked us where we had come from. “Ozuchiyama,” I told him. He still acted like we had just materialized right before his eyes. I pointed down the road we were on and asked, “Takamagahara?” I wanted to know for sure if this road would take us to the shrine near where we parked our car.

He had never heard of it. I showed him my map and then the pictures of the blogging hikers. He kept shaking his head. “Oh well,” I thought. I told Mark that we should just keep heading down the mountain and hope for the best. Surely, this road would lead to our car eventually.

The man would not let us go though. He got out of his dirt-mover and started his blue truck. He called for us to join him inside. We didn’t want to bother him or waste his time. A part of us wanted to tell him, “It’s okay. We’ll figure it out.” But, it was cold and rainy and we were very tired from all that hiking.

He drove us down the mountain partway. Then we stopped and changed vehicles. We drove the rest of the way in a black kei-car. The drive down the mountain was long and arduous. I don’t think Mark and I would have made it off the mountain by nightfall if we had kept walking.

The road dumped us out at some random place in town that I did not recognize. We hit a main road that looked sort of familiar. Then we passed a turn that I thought was the way we took to drive to the shrine, but I was not sure.

The man took us to a lady’s house. She had an i-Pad and looked up this shrine we told the man about. She had never heard of it either. Sure enough, there was a shrine called Takamagahara up in the mountain. “Well, I’ll be!” the man said in Japanese. He spent another 10 minutes looking for a road to get us to our car.

“He is a kind man,” the lady told me. “He is,” I agreed. “Do you know his name?” She asked me.

“No. I don’t know.”

She told me his name and she added “Kumoyama”. She switched to English. “Nickname… Mountain Bear.” She smiled and put her hands up curling her fingers imitating a bear. She laughed, “Nice Bear.”

After driving around some more, we came to a place I recognized. I gave the Mountain Bear directions and he took us to our car. Mark and I were very lucky to find this Bear on the mountain.

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.
  • International ATMs 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 what ATMs 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.)

Koriyama Castle Ruins
(吉田郡山城跡)
(Yoshida Kōriyama Jōato)

How to get there:

  • Coordinates 34°40’24.9″N 132°42’34.3″E

Address:

  • 〒731-0501 広島県安芸高田市吉田町吉田郡山

Phone:

  • 0826-42-0070

Websites:

Cost:

  • Free

Hours:

  • 9:00 – 17:00
  • Closed Monday

Notes:

  • There are free guide maps available in the little hut. (Picture to the right.) The information is all in Japanese, but it comes with pictures of stuff to look out for.

Takamagahara
(高天原)

How to get there:

  • Coordinates 34°38’31.6″N 132°46’07.2″E

Address:

  • 〒739-1102, Kodacho Kamiobara, Akitakata, Hiroshima Prefecture 739-1102

Websites:

Cost:

  • Free

Hours:

  • 24hours

Notes:

  • Gods are said to descend from heaven to this place.

Ozuchiyama
(大土山)

How to get there:

  • Coordinates:
    • Campsite parking 34°38’31.9″N 132°45’41.0″E
    • Parking near the Shrine 34°38’31.6″N 132°46’07.2″E

Websites:

Cost:

  • Free

Hours:

  • 24 Hours
  • Can, but shouldn’t hiking here at night.

Notes:

  • I rate this hiking 3 out of 10. I don’t recommend this hiking.

Map:

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

 
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