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Archive for the ‘Okayama 県’ Category

Lambada Every Other Song

Posted by Heliocentrism on September 25, 2016

Wednesday August 31, 2016

All Pictures

It’s a long way down.

Wednesday, August 31st, 2016 (The very last day of summer vacation)

As a kid, the last day of summer vacation was the most boring day of the year. Sometimes my family would take a trip for the summer months and I would be excited to get back to school and tell my friends all about my adventures and hear about theirs.

If my family did not take a summer trip, it would mean that I did nothing all summer. I hung out with my neighborhood friends, biking around, and getting myself into childhood mischief. Every day we would watch a movie at one friend’s house, play video games at another’s, and maybe play board games at some other friend’s house. Some days we would pretend to be cool and try to do tricks on our bikes and skateboards. I usually ended up with scrapes, bruises, and torn clothes if I was lucky and a broken bike if I was not.

By the last day of summer, I would have exhausted everything of entertainment value I or my neighborhood friends could come up with and therefore I would stay at home. I would drag myself from room to room complaining about how bored I was to any parent who would listen.

By the last day of summer, my parents would have bought me all my new back-to-school supplies I needed or wanted. I would have notebooks with matching textbook covers, scented erasers, markers of every color, pencils, pens, rulers, and a compass I would never use. Most of which would be lost within the first month of school.

So happy to go back to school.

My new uniforms would be crisply pressed and hanging orderly in my closet. My brand new school bag would be packed and everything was ready for the first day back to school. Even though I would have never ever admitted it when I was a kid, on the last day of summer, I was dying to go back to school.

Not thinking about going back to work

As an adult, a teacher no less, not so much. I could take two summers. Maybe it’s because as a teacher, I spend very little of my day talking with my friends at work. Maybe it’s the lack of back to school shopping. I don’t buy fancy notebooks or back-to-school clothes anymore. (I still have scented erasers though.)

Mark and I woke up early on the very last day of our summer vacation. We weren’t going to sit around the house being bored. We were going to a Brazilian themed amusement park.

If you close one eye and squint the other, it almost looks like Disneyland.

Parking at Brazilian Wushuzan Highland was free. I thought that was very unusual for a theme park. It’s also very unusual for Japan. In this country, there is very little free parking.

We parked the car and walked to the ticket counter. There was a line of 3 people and there were 2 people selling tickets. “Are we early?” I looked at the opening hours. The place opened at 9:00. It was now 10:00.

This one is definitely closed today.

Mark and I had coupons which made our tickets a little over $20 each. The lady at the counter pulled out a map and a black marker. She said, “Today. Closed.” Then she proceeded to cross out all the roller coasters but the Turbo Drop. “What’s left?” I asked. She smiled and pointed to the Ferris wheel, the tea-cup ride, the pool, and a few other rides. “One o’clock bingo,” she said handing us a couple of bingo cards. “Enjoy!” she said as she waved goodbye.

We’ve been climbing these stairs for 2 hours now!

As soon as we got inside the park Mark headed to the Turbo Drop. “They might close it too, if I wait too long!” We climbed a set of stairs with no visible end in sight. We got to what we thought would have been the top only to find another set of stairs, and then another.

Mark is the only guy on the ride.

Mark rode on the Turbo Drop a few times. There was no line for any ride, so people could just go on a ride again and again and again. We did a few smaller rides and then we got on the Farris wheel.

The guy did warn us that it would be very windy at the top of the wheel. But we got on anyway so we could see the whole park. Once at the top we started to feel frighten. It was very windy. But, although everything in the park looked rusty and old, the Farris wheel held up.

That’s basically it.

From the wheel we could see the whole park. It was not very big and there weren’t many people walking around. There were about 5 people in the pool. Then we saw that the Sky Bike ride had just opened. That’s where we went next.

Mark and his new Brazilian BFF.

Throughout the park “Brazilian” music played on loud speakers. Every other song was the Lambada, or a Lambada remake. Also on rotation were, “The Macarena”, a generic carnival song, Simon & Garfunkel’s “El Condor Pasa”, and a random Shakira song. I think there were about 9 different songs, 3 of which were versions of “The Lambada”.

Mark’s all buckled in.

There was no line so, we just walked up the Sky Bike and got on. We fastened our flimsy seatbelts and peddled our way through the ride. We stopped several times to take photos. Marked posed for me this way and that way.

“Mark!” I yelled, “Your seatbelt is unbuckled.”

“Oh, how did that happen? It just came undone. I didn’t even notice.”

“It’s a good thing I saw that.” I said. Then I looked at the belt. Did it really matter if it was buckled or not? The belt was not tight around Mark’s or my waists. If one of us fell, we would probably fall through the belts. With this new insight, the very tame Sky Bike felt like a scary potential death trap.

This won’t be a huge let down.

After the Sky Bike we headed for the Cavern Quest. We passed the Turbo Drop again on our way down. There was one solitary tourist on the ride. Mark wanted to join, but the ride had already started up.

Cavern Quest is not part of the Brazilian Wushuzan Highland theme park. We had to get our hands stamped and leave the park. We walked to the Cavern Quest and paid 400 yen to enter.

Oh No!!

Cavern Quest is a maze. You walk through it looking for hidden doors and passage ways. You are supposed to get your ticket stamped at 3 check points in the maze, but the stamp machines did not work.

Mark and I found 2 of our check points. Then we found a hidden passage and came to a room with 3 men. They were standing around touching the walls. They were stuck and couldn’t figure out how to get to the next room.

What if I just yank on this?

There was a door that opened just a little bit. I could peek into the next room, but that was all. The men could not figure out how to open the door the rest of the way, so they turned back. Mark tried pulling on things like some strings that were hanging from the ceiling. All that did was cause a window to fall out.

“How do we know if we’re not understanding the puzzle, or if the puzzle is just broken?” he asked.

“This dump? The puzzle is probably broken.” I huffed.

I took another try at the door. I assumed that this was the door we needed to use. I pulled it open as far as it would go. Then I pulled harder. It moved a little more. I wedged myself in the door and pushed with all my strength. It opened all the way.

Once in the room, the door started to slowly close behind me. “Mark, quickly!” Mark ran in and the door shut behind him. “Those guys turned back too soon!” We found our last non-working stamp machine and shortly after that, the last door.

We left the Cavern Quest. “If it cost any more than 400 yen, it would have been a total rip-off!” I said. “That’s true for this whole thing,” Mark replied. “It only cost about $20. That’s about the right price for me to enjoy this broken park.”

Disappointment on a plate

We headed back into the park for lunch. The posters advertised Brazilian food, but on the menu there were items like, “American Dog”, “French Fries”, “Chicken Nanban”, and other Japanese festival foods. There were somethings that looked like fat empanadas. We bought some of those.

They were not empanadas. The dough was all wrong and there was broccoli inside. I’ve never been to Brazil so I can’t say for certain, but I don’t think broccoli is very Brazilian. The food was not good. It was greasy and cold like it had been made somewhere else, then brought here and reheated an hour before we bought our food.

As we ate there were some Brazilians dancing on a stage as entertainment. They danced like they were being forced to and most people ignored them. They danced to the same 8 songs that played over and over again throughout the park.

They dropped the “O” for savings.

After lunch it was time for bingo. The Brazilians stopped dancing and called out numbers in Japanese. As soon as someone called, “Bingo” they were ushered to the stage to get a little trinket prize. There weren’t very many people playing bingo, so they kept calling numbers until everyone had won.

After bingo, Mark and I went to the pool. Oh, yes! This Brazilian theme park is part water park. We swam for a few hours and went down the various water slides a couple hundred times. When we were completely exhausted we rinsed off and headed home.

Tea Cups are not my friends.

Overall the park was “not bad”. With the coupon the tickets were 2,300 yen. The pool was great. The rest of the park was okay. The food was horrible. (If I were to do it again, I would probably eat at one of the overpriced restaurants right outside the park.) I wouldn’t recommend going to Okayama just for this park, but if you’re not too far away… why not?

It was a great last day of summer.

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.)

Brazilian Park Washuzan Highland
(ブラジリアンパーク 鷲羽山ハイランド)
(Burajirianpāku Washūzan hailando)

How to get there:

  • Coordinates 34°26’46.2″N 133°47’52.5″E

Address:

  • 〒711-0926 Okayama Prefecture, Kurashiki, Shimotsuifukiage, 303−1
  • 岡山県倉敷市下津井吹上303-1

Phone:

  • 086-473-5111

Websites:

Cost:

Hours:

  • 9:00 – 19:00

Notes:

  • This theme park is very old and run down. With a coupon, it costs a little over $20 to get in. Don’t expect too much.
  • The best part is, by far, the pool area.

Map:

 

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

Back in Okayama

Posted by Heliocentrism on June 5, 2015

Thursday, April 30, 2015

All Pictures

“If we were to have showers, this is where we would have put one of them.”

We have them, we just don’t like unlocking them

When Mark and I stayed at this campsite the year before, we saw that there were showers. We did not use them since they were all locked. It was mid-fall at the time, and we thought that that was the reason the showers were locked. (This sort of thing happens in Japan; the campsite is available year round, but some facilities like the showers are only unlocked from May to September.) So when our friend picked this campsite we gave no objections.

Bathing option number 2…

Roland stopped one of the campsite caretakers to ask what time the showers would be unlocked. He gave us a look that showed his disdain for uppity city-folk, then gave us directions for some sketchy onsen over yonder. I know I was in Japan, but at that moment I felt like I was in the American deep south. Then the caretaker walked away mumbling to himself and chewing on a straw of hay. (Okay, there was no hay…)

We couldn’t find the onsen the strange caretaker told us about, but we managed to find a nice inexpensive one not too far from where we were. We got in and showered, even taking some time to soak for a few brief minutes before going to meet the South African friends of our South African friends.

My delicate little flower… Mark.

Mark and I had already seen everything that Okayama had to offer. We lived there for a whole 7 months. So, we really didn’t care what we saw that day. We were just happy to hang out with our old nerdy friends. I don’t know if this is their, or our, or both couple’s last year here in Japan. During the whole trip there was an ominous feeling of an end of an era.

We’ll always have Okayama.

We all made hypothetical plans to meet up in some country or another to do one more camping trip, but who knows if that will actually happen. This is how life is for a wandering ex-pat. You make great friends, but everyone knows that one day you or they or both will move away, and you might see them rarely, if ever.

Roland never stopped taking photos.

We walked through the gardens and passed the castle. We never went into the castle itself, choosing instead to take photos of it from the garden. The best part of most Japanese castles are the photos of it from the outside.

Guess where I got most of the great photos of this trip.

With nothing left to do in Okayama city, we headed to Kurashiki’s historic area. We walked along the canal. Our friends caught up with their friends and the six of us, 3 couples, moved through this romantic area.

“Is this organic denim soft serve?”

This town makes denim. Apparently, it is famous for it. There are many denim shops in the history area and one of them sells everything denim; from jeans and hats, to burgers and ice cream. Yup, ice cream!

You can clearly see in the photo above a cone of denim ice cream, a denim burger, denim Chinese dumplings, and denim meat buns, which are all sold out. Mark and I could not pass up a chance to try denim soft serve ice cream. The denim burger, we could pass on; quite easily.

Tastes like the Gap…

The ice cream was actually flavored with the taste of the plain marble sodas that are common here in Japan. It was okay.

That evening all 6 of us when back to the campsite for a grilled dinner. Only 4 of us spent the night at the camp grounds. The other two would join us at the next campsite. They had not done much camping before and this was their first camping trip in Japan. We would show them the rope.

classic ring toss

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.)

 


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 (if you’re super skinny) and your kids can use in the summer.
  • There are showers, but they seem to never be unlocked.
  • The toilets and non-flush and, depending where your camping spot it, a long walk from your tent.

Zō no Yu Onsen
(蔵のゆ)
(Hot water of Kura)

How to get there:

  • Coordinates 34°36’36.4″N 133°46’44.2″E

Address:

121-1 Ojima Kurashiki, Okayama Prefecture 710-0047

Phone:

  • 086-435-9722

Websites:

Cost:

  • 410 yen – onsen 
  • 750 yen – onsen and sauna

Hours:

  • 10:00 – 0:00

Notes:

  • There is a ramen shop in the lobby area.
  • Bring a towel.
  • Shampoo and body wash are provided.

Okayama Castle
(岡山城)
(Okayama-jō)

&

Korakuen Garden
(後楽園)
(Kōraku-en)

How to get there:

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

Address:

2-chome Marunouchi, Okayama-shi, Okayama

Phone:

  • Castle: +81 86-225-2096
  • Garden: +81 86-272-1148

Websites:

Cost:

  • Castle – 300 yen
  • Garden – 400 yen
  • Castle & Garden – 560
  • Prices vary when there are special exhibits.
  • Parking is near the Garden. It costs 100 Yen/ hour.

Hours:

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

Downloads:

Notes:

  • Parking is near the Garden. It costs 100 Yen/ hour. (This is amazingly cheap for city parking!)

Kurashiki
(倉敷市)
(Kurashiki-shi)

How to get there:

  • Coordinates 34°35’45.7″N 133°46’16.8″E

Address:

1 Chuo, Kurashiki City, Okayama

Phone:

  • 086-426-3411 (Sightseeing Department)

Websites:

Notes:

  • This town makes a lot of denim.
  • Kurashiki has a preserved Edo Period (1603-1867) canal area.
  • There lots of shops in the historical district.
  • There is also a pricey hotel in the Ivy Square area.

Map:

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

Camping Extravaganza

Posted by Heliocentrism on May 29, 2015

Wednesday, April 29, 2015

All Pictures

Not only do I enjoy not planning trips, but I also enjoy not helping to put up the tents.

Roland did ALL the planning.

I love traveling and therefore I like planning trips. But guess what I love even more than planning trips… Not planning trips.

It’s tedious work that requires several hours of research just to set one day’s itinerary. It’s even worse here in Japan, were many tourist spots have no or very little information online. Many websites are just a picture of the attraction and a phone number to call for information. (Don’t even get me started on finding information in English!)

I can communicate somewhat with my limited Japanese, a dictionary, and a quick game of charades. But, that only works in person. On the phone, things don’t usually work out for me. I avoid calling non-English speakers at all costs.

He planned the whole trip and cleaned and gutted this fish too!

So when our friends from South Africa invited us to their Golden Week Camping Extravaganza that Roland planned, we happily joined. Roland planned the trip, made all the reservations, found the locations to all the spots and the best ways to get there. If he and his wife ever do an around-the-world-tour and they invited us, we would be fools not to go!

Pineapple and Ham kebabs

Potluck… or rather Grill Luck

Normally, when we camp with the South Africans, we organize our meals. This cuts down on wasted food, wasted time, trash, and dirty dishes. But, since Freda and Roland were driving all the way up from Kyushu, we weren’t sure if they would get there in time for the first dinner.

Mark and I stopped at a grocery store near the campsite and picked up whatever caught our eye. Among the vast array of items we got were a pineapple, shrimp, a fish, and a lime. The South Africans seemed to have done likewise. They brought a ham, a medley of vegetables, and some sweet potatoes.

Delicious camp grilling on smoky grills

Everything just seemed to oddly go well together. I took it as a good omen for things to come. The next day we would meet some other campers and the 6 of us would have a great time camping, traveling, and playing nerd games together.

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.)

 


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 (if you’re super skinny) and your kids can use in the summer.
  • There are showers, but they seem to never be unlocked.
  • The toilets and non-flush and, depending where your camping spot it, a long walk from your tent.

Map:

 

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

Okayama Castle

Posted by Heliocentrism on October 31, 2014

March 17, 2014

All Pictures

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


 

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)

&

Korakuen Garden
(後楽園)
(Kōraku-en)

How to get there:

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

Address:

2-chome Marunouchi, Okayama-shi, Okayama

Phone:

  • Castle: +81 86-225-2096
  • Garden: +81 86-272-1148

Websites:

Cost:

  • Castle – 300 yen
  • Garden – 400 yen
  • Castle & Garden 560
  • Prices vary when there are special exhibits.

Hours:

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

Downloads:

Notes:

  • Parking is near the Garden. It costs 100 Yen/ hour

Map:

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

 

A temple full of naked men

Written by Mark

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

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

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

Anything to be on TV.

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

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

Getting ready for the cold

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

We’ll need to remember what warmth feels like.

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

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

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

Drumming for nudity

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

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

Do I look okay?

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

better than wearing pants!

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

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

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

Ready to begin

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

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

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

A pool in the middle of winter?

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

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

marching around the temple

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

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

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

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

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

This seems safe.

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

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

This is crazy.

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

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

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

Safety workers to the rescue

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

Catch it!

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

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

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

Who will get it?

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

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

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

Clean up time

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

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

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

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

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

The shrine

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

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

All Pictures


 

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:

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

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


 

 

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:

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

November in Okayama

Posted by Heliocentrism on October 3, 2014

November 11 & 23-24, 2013

All Pictures

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…)

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:

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

 

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


 

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:

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

 
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