Archive for ‘sightseeing’

May 22, 2013

Lake Towada and Akita Adventure

A few weeks ago I received an message from Kimberly. She told me that one of the teachers at her school had invited her and a few ALT friends out to Lake Towada for some sightseeing.

Of course I said yes to that! I’d never really been to Lake Towada (only driven by it) and had always wanted to go. I don’t have a car here, so I am always relying on the kindness of people with cars who go places. Plus, who would turn down an opportunity to be chauffeured around by a Japanese person in Japan?

On Saturday, April 27th, Kimberly and I walked from our houses to her school, where her teacher was waiting for us. She had also invited our friend Evan, a fellow car-less ALT, and he was waiting for us there also.

We got on the road a little after 9am. Kimberly’s co-worker/teacher didn’t speak much English, but he tried very hard. Most times he would speak in Japanese and I would understand him, but other times not at all. That’s the way it goes! He even wrote down vocabulary words on a piece of paper. It was so cute. His name was F-sensei.

F-sensei explained that he likes to do this with ALTs once or twice a year for cultural exchange. He worries that ALTs just stay in Hirosaki (or their respective towns) and never see the sights of Aomori before returning to their home countries. This made sense, because Kimberly’s predecessor had never, according to Tori, done any sightseeing. They just stayed in Hirosaki every weekend and went to their church here. It’s a shame, really, because there are a lot of things to go and see elsewhere in Aomori.

The weather that day was pretty crappy, not going to lie. The rain had stopped for a bit in the morning, but there was no sun in sight. Clouds, clouds, clouds. As we drove up to the mountain, we were actually in a cloud. We walked across a large bridge overlooking a valley below.

We drove along the now-melted snow corridor on Mt. Hakkoda. Some of the walls were half the size they had been when I did the walk and onsen excursion. And yet, still impressive. It was a shame we could not see anything because of the clouds. I didn’t feel like taking too many pictures.

After passing through Mt. Hakkoda, we went down the switchback roads to Towada. We saw some old copper mines along the way. F-sensei told us that lots and lots of miners used to live in those parts. Now, most of the people are gone. But who knew there were so many copper deposits in northern Japan?

The drive through Hachimantai park along the Oirase stream was beautiful and featured many waterfalls. It reminded me so much of the drive along the Columbia River in Oregon.

When we got to Lake Towada, F-sensei asked us if we wanted to go to the other side by car or boat. By boat it would take an hour, by car 15 minutes. Even was really keen on the boat idea, so F-sensei just got out, ran over to the boat crew, and came back. He handed us all tickets for the ferry and told us to hurry since it was leaving soon. We rushed onto the boat and then realized that F-sensei would not be joining us. He would be staying with his car and driving.

We were all kind of amazed that he would pay for all of our tickets and then wait 45 minutes for us to arrive while we had the ferry experience. We felt kind of guilty. Going on the ferry was really fun despite the weather. It was cold and the visibility was terrible, but we were still able to enjoy the cruise very much.

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~My ticket~

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May 17, 2013

Tokyo April 2014 Part 2

And here is the second installment of my spring vacation in Tokyo!

Wednesday, April 10

No run this morning for me, as I was already pretty tired from yesterday’s travels. But I was looking forward to meeting Kanako for breakfast!

I left the house early so I would have time to walk to Omotesando from Harajuku. It’s not far at all and the streets were relatively quiet/empty because none of the shops were open that early. It’s quite different in Japan because most businesses don’t open until 9am or 10am. I waited in front of an Omotesando station exit for a while. Kanako was running a little late and I was still pretty early.

When she arrived, we went to the vegan café which was just around the corner: PURE Café. It all made sense when I saw that it was adjacent to an AVEDA beauty salon. A vegan/natural foods café would be perfect next to a salon.

The meal was one of the best I’d ever had in Tokyo. The atmosphere was awesome as well. There wasn’t any Japanese written on the walls or the huge menu board above the cash register counter. Everything was written in English. I sort of forgot that I was in Japan. It was a strange feeling indeed.

The food:

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Yes, I ordered 2 desserts because they were small and I couldn’t decide between the two. I loved the carrot cake (best I’d had in a very long time) and the chickpea Mont Blanc parfait was interesting. Don’t think I will be ordering it again, but I enjoyed it.

Truth to be told, I wanted to live in that café and eat there for every meal of every day. And spend some serious time in the salon next door, of course. However, my employer and my wallet would not have liked that very much.

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May 1, 2013

Tokyo April 2014 Part 1

My spring vacation! Last year I went to Kyoto with Aunt Jan and this year I decided to take a long, 8-day holiday in Tokyo! Needless to say, I had one of the best weeks ever. I’m going to divide the trip into two parts, but these posts will still be pretty long. :)

Friday, April 5th

I was leaving that very day and I hadn’t really packed yet. I had only set a few things aside and had dragged out my carryon-size suitcase from the closet, but that was it.

So… As you can imagine, I was pretty busy after work. I went to the gym, ate dinner, packed, and still had about 45-60 minutes to kill before it was time to head to the bus stop. Even with luggage, it takes me less than 10 minutes to walk to the Willer Express bus stop in front of the Hirosaki Best Western Hotel.

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I was not looking forward to the bus ride down to Tokyo, but it was the cheapest method of transportation. Round trip cost me around 10,000 yen (a little over $100). Compare that to a round trip shinkansen bullet train fare of about $330 or more. Can’t beat the price of the bus, really. And saving money on transportation meant that I could spend more on shopping in Tokyo (for my frugal conscience’s sake).

The more I thought about it, the more I was looking forward to getting a break from Aomori and seeing my Japanese host family and friends. And of course, warmer weather.

The bus ride was… Well… I’d rather not talk about it. I guess I‘ll call it a necessary evil. I bought a neck pillow, ear plugs, and an eye mask for the journey, but it didn’t seem to help much. I tried. I’m just not good with buses.

Saturday, April 6th

We arrived at least 30 minutes ahead of schedule at Shinjuku station. The weather was a little poor and spitting rain a bit. I had my trusty travel hoodie, so it was okay.

I took the Seibu-Shinjuku line from Shinjuku to Nogata, the closest station to my host family’s house. Koenji Station is also close, but Nogata is closer by about 5 minutes. Walking with my luggage, I got too hot along the way and had to peel off my layers. Two sweaters worth! Whew!

My host mom welcomed me with open arms and let me rest for a while. It was so nice to finally see her again after having been away for so long!

We (host mom, brother Shouta, and I) left by car to go to the Setagaya area of Tokyo, where they would be participating in an Awa-Odori event.

Awa-Odori is a traditional dance from Tokushima Prefecture on the island of Shikoku. My friend Zandra actually lives there now. In the neighborhood of Koenji, Awa-odori dance was started in 1956 by migrants from Tokushima prefecture. My host family has been in this “ren” (dance group) for years and years, even when my host mom was a child. She didn’t dance, but played an instrument.

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It says “Awa-Odori” on the lanterns.

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April 15, 2013

Disney Sea with Maiko

A long time ago, in a land far away from Japan, two roommates traveled by plane from Oregon to California. It was my first year of college and my roommate Maiko’s study abroad year at Lewis & Clark.

Together we went to visit my aunt and grandmother in Los Angeles and San Diego! It was April 2006, Spring Break. Needless to say, we had a blast! We went to Universal Studios, San Diego Wild Animal Park, and Disney Land. An amazingly fun weekend with family and theme parks!

Looking at these pictures makes me feel all nostalgic! We were 18 and 19 years old back then!

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So in continuation of these adventures…

When I went to Tokyo last week, Maiko offered to take the day off of work on Thursday (4/11/2013) so we could go to…

 

Tokyo Disney Sea!

 

It turned out that she had to be in a meeting that morning, but was able to take the afternoon off! I was so excited to be going to a theme park with her again! Plus, she had two free tickets that she had won at a raffle at a wedding. We were set!

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April 1, 2013

The Snow Corridor: Round 2

After last year’s awesome adventure to the snow corridor, I was really excited to go again this year. This year, the snow walls reached 8.1 meters high!

I remembered that before the road officially opens to road traffic on April 1st, they hold an annual Hakkoda Snow Corridor Walk & Onsen event. On March 30 and 31st, the road opened only to pedestrians for an 8km (5 mi) walk. You book a course from your city that costs 3,900 yen, which covers the coach bus fare (round-trip), the walk entry fee, and hot springs entry fee. This year would be the 23rd annual walk!

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And I did it!

I got up early on Sunday morning and was on the bus by 8am. We bussed up to the mountain and waited for all the other buses to arrive. I asked a couple girls to take my picture against the massive wall of snow. Yeah, it was huge.

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At 9:50am they held the “opening ceremony” where a person on the loudspeaker led everyone in stretches. They all shouted while counting the stretches: “One…Two…Three…Four…Five…Six…Seven…Eight…Hakkoda!” Group stretches/exercises are totally an Asian thing.

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September 28, 2012

Mutsu Fun in the Sun

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Tori texted me back in July about going to Mutsu with some of her Japanese friends and Kimberly on the weekend of August 17th. They had already gone once, but that was when I was in Texas and couldn’t go. I had never been to that part of the prefecture and wanted to see what it was all about, so I said yes!

When Friday, August 17th came around, both Tori and Kimberly were sick! I wondered if we were going to call off the trip, but we did not. It was still on!

I rushed home after work and threw my stuff in a bag, grabbed my futon pad and pillow, and went down to Tori’s car. We needed to get food before the long drive, so we went to Cocoichiban-ya for some Japanese curry. There we met Mari and Ryota, who were our travel companions (but in a separate car). I had met Mari at a function before, but I hadn’t met her boyfriend Ryota. They are such a fun couple!

After our early dinner, we got on the road. We stopped at Namioka’s Apple Hill rest/shopping area along the way to get some souvenirs and ice cream. It was dark by the time we drove through Aomori City.

We drove like the wind and encountered a snag when the town we were driving through had some roads blocked for a summer evening festival. That was a bit of a hassle, but we eventually got around it.

I can’t recall what time we got in to the little town of Kawauchi, but it was pretty late. Maybe around 10pm. Tori’s friend Kyle (not her husband Kyle, another Kyle who is also awesome) lives there and we stayed at his little cedar house by the beach. Literally, by the beach. It was about a 1-minute walk to the beach from his front door.

Since Tori was sick, Kyle had made some food-for-the-soul miso soup. I also partook of this soup and it was excellent! I love miso soup. I was about ready to go to bed when they roused me from my position curled up on the floor of Kyle’s room. What for? To see the glowing sparkly phosphorescent plankton.

Turns out that when you go in the water at night, even just your feet, and move your feet or hands around, these little dots will start to glow. Kyle explained that they were plankton and the glow is some sort of defense mechanism. It was like seeing little fireflies in the water.

After that, we went back to the house and I unfolded my futon pad to go to sleep in the living room. I was out like a light in no time at all. I didn’t even hear everyone else playing XBox Kinect games right next to me. They played these games well into the night… I am such a good sleeper.

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August 20, 2012

Sendai, The City of Trees

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On my way home from the States, I had planned to stop over in Sendai for a couple days to see my friend Ayumi and break up my trip a little bit. I was really looking forward to seeing a new city!

So this was the plan: I would leave Austin on Thursday the 26th, arrive in Tokyo on Thursday, take a bus from Tokyo to Sendai (about 5.5 hours), and arrive at 10pm on Thursday night. I would spend Friday and Saturday in Sendai before bussing back to Hirosaki on Sunday morning. Before I left for Texas on July 11th, I bought both bus tickets and squared everything away. I was ready.

Anyone catch the huge glaring mistake in my plan?

Yeah, it was a pretty stupid one. I should have known better.

When you travel from Japan to the U.S., you are essentially “going back in time”. You arrive on the same day that you leave because the U.S. is behind Japan in time zones.

But when you go to Japan from the U.S., you lose a day traveling and arrive on the next day. So if I left Austin on Thursday, I would arrive on Friday in Japan.

I was still in Austin when the bus for Sendai left without me.

This meant that I was without a ride to Sendai on Friday night and that I had lost one of my days in Sendai. I was already  pretty stressed out at that point, so I kind of just threw my hands up in the air and decided to take the bullet train. Expensive, but it was the fastest way there. (And I don’t like buses anyways.)

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May 26, 2012

Kyoto Spring 2012: Day 5, Uzuki Cooking Class

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

The Last Day.

When we woke up, it was raining. It rained and rained. I thought to myself, “Well, at least the weather held out while we got our most important sightseeing done.” And actually, it was a perfect day for rain. Any other day would have been disastrous, but it was actually okay on this day. It was our “do anything we didn’t get to do, etcetera” and Uzuki Cooking Class day.

So we lazed about our room at the guesthouse for a while (omg I watched the new Batman Rises trailer on my iPhone) and organized our things that morning.  It would save us time packing later.

Aunt Jan wrote her last few postcards and then we were ready to go. We asked where the nearest deposit box was and found one at the nearest Lawson. It was kind of funny because even the mail carrier did not know if he was supposed to pick up international mail from that location. He had to call someone and make sure it was okay.

From there we were off to the bank. We stopped at the huge Mitsubishi-UFJ on the corner of Karasuma and Shijo. The experience was painless! They didn’t even make us fill out where she was staying in Japan, phone numbers, etc, etc. She just showed her passport, filled out how much she wanted, and that was it.

I wanted to stop by Takashimaya since we were in the area and I love Takashimaya (also reminds me of my Singapore days). On the way to Takashimaya, Aunt Jan noticed a counter that was selling tickets and stuff. I read that they were selling theatre tickets, bus tickets, sports game tickets… and bus passes. We were planning to buy the 500 yen one-day unlimited bus pass anyway, so this was quite fortuitous. Good eye! And the passes even ended up being 490 yen each. Yay, 10 yen discount. ^^;;

We didn’t spend too long in Takashimaya, but decided to have a quick lunch in the downstairs deli area. It was, of course, absolutely delicious. Aunt Jan said that it was one of her favorite meals in Kyoto!

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May 25, 2012

Kyoto Spring 2012: Day 4, Kyomizu, Kinkaku, Bicycles

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Tuesday, May 2, 2012

Aunt Jan and I left the guesthouse around 9:30am via… bicycle. Despite the fact that she had not ridden a bicycle with any regularity for 10 years (am I remembering that right?), I wanted to try it. I had always wanted to bicycle in Kyoto! I have my bike here in Hirosaki and even though it is a simple 1-speed bike, I feel free whenever I ride it. I was convinced that it would be faster to get places if we rented bikes, so Aunt Jan relented.

We started off slow and made our way to Kyomizu-dera (清水寺, Kyomizu Temple). We mistakenly walked our bikes all the way up the hill and then asked where the bicycle parking was once we got to the top. It turned out that there was no designated bicycle parking near the temple complex, but the guard told me where to stash our bikes (off to the side near some public bathrooms in the shade).

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As we were walking up to the temple, we noticed a procession of workers and monks carrying a huge THING wrapped in white sheet-like cloth. TV cameras, crew, reporters, the whole nine yards. Apparently it was a new buddha statue that was being installed in one of the halls. It was a bit of a mess, so it was probably a good thing that we did not enter at that time.

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Instead… I suggested we go down the road a bit and look at shops. I was actually feeling a little hungry from our bike ride and was craving some mochi samples. If you ever want to sample some famous Kyoto Yatsuhashi, Kyomizu Temple is the place to go. There is this one particular shop not far down from the temple that will give you a cup of tea and beckon you inside to try every single thing they sell. And I did. Multiple times. Ahem.

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May 19, 2012

Kyoto Spring 2012, Day 3, Fushimi-inari, Uji

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Monday, April 30, 2012

For this trip, both my aunt and I prepared for cooler weather because we had assumed that it would be spring. Well, it was spring in Aomori but definitely more like summer in Kyoto for those first couple days. It was a bit cooler on Day 3 in Kyoto, so I was able to wear one of the long-sleeve shirts I had brought.

We were both sore and tired from the first two days of walking all over tarnation, so we got to a later start in the morning. We walked from Yahata to Kyoto station and found the right train to go to Fushimi-inari Shrine.

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The first time I went to the Fushimi-inari Shrine, it was snowing. The white was a stark contrast against the thousands of red torii gates. It was a sight that just about took my breath away. I went again that summer and it was blazing hot. After walking around a while, my friend and I had taken solace inside a inari-zushi restaurant for inari-zushi and noodles.

This time, in spring, the temperature was nice. It was a little overcast, but that was a good thing since we were walking around. I even had to roll up my sleeves after climbing a bit. The shrine is at the base of a little mountain covered with torii gates, one after another.

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