26 February 2007

Monday 26th February 2007

Well unfortunately, I don’t have very good news to report today. There have been a few mishaps in the last week or so. Firstly, the other day at school, I was taking pictures of the kids playing their sports after school. I went to the boys’ volleyball team and took photos of them. Then out of nowhere, my camera dropped into the dirt and went face first in the ground. Well those photos were the last photos that were ever going to be taken from my really cool camera. I was so disappointed and upset. So at the moment, I have no cool photos to show you of anything because I don’t have a camera anymore. My next mission is to go and buy another one.

Now my second sad story is that I have been very sick over the past few days. I missed out on some really cool stuff that I was looking forward to doing in Japan this weekend because I couldn’t even get out of bed. I have been sick with the flu for five days now and I am only just starting to recover now. Hence me updating my blog as I have ample time to do this from being sick for so long. The truth is, I have only just started being more mobile today. I can’t wait for this silly bug to go away so that I can have more cool stories to report to you on my blog.

So hopefully in the next couple of days, I will have fully recovered from this awful flu and I will be back to my usual happy, weird and excitable self, but for now, its flu-ridden Marie signing out.

Monday 19th February 2007

Last weekend was fantastic! Tina, Lauren, Karen and I went to Kobe for a girls weekend away. We left on Friday night and got back on Sunday, but we managed to fit in lots in between.

By the time we got to Kobe on the train, put our bags in the hotel and checked in, it was 8:00pm, so we were STARVING!!! We needed food…fast, so we went out down the street looking for a nice restaurant. All we could find were these crummy, dirty looking restaurants that we didn’t really want to risk going into. We walked around for a little while longer and we came to this gorgeous looking building. It wouldn’t have been more than one or two years old at the most. It looked like a little building that we should have found in the middle of France somewhere. It was so quaint and cute! So we went in and hoped for the best.

We found this awesome Italian restaurant. Tina and I have huge appetites so we ordered the set menu which included anti-pasto (which was delicious), salad (which I downed in about thirty seconds!) and a main (which was the nicest, yummiest oven grilled pizza with Bolognese topping I have ever tasted!). I could have eaten two of them! Then we had dessert, and I ordered a really nice cheesecake and a hot chocolate to go along with it. Well by that stage, I was feeling pretty comfortably full! It was a great start to a great weekend.

On Saturday, we met up with Yuko who is the daughter of a lady who teaches with me at one of the Elementary Schools I teach at. Her name is Mayumi. So Yuko took us to Mayumi’s apartment and we all went out together. Yuko and Mayumi became our tour guides for the day. We went to an architectural museum which was very interesting to see all the tools they used to use to make the amazing buildings that are still standing today that were build thousands of years ago. They explained the methods they used to put the wood together as they didn’t use nails. They used clever joins to keep the wood clamped together.

While Lauren, Yuko, Mayumi and I were looking at the tools and reading up on the information about Japanese architecture, Tina and Karen were more interested in the puzzles that were sitting on the table that were probably meant to entertain people’s kids when they come in! It was so funny. Tina was sitting there for about forty minutes trying to figure out how two pieces of wood fit together. They were really hard to put together and I had about two tries and gave up. Tina kept persisting and she managed to put them all together. That was her moment of glory! She felt really clever after that!

We then took a walk through the beautiful Shukkeien Gardens. We were the only people in the gardens so I felt really special! It was raining a little, but it looked beautiful to see the raindrops fall into the pond and make ripples in the water. I tried to take some nice photos of the raindrops in the water, but they didn’t really turn out the way I would have liked. It was fun walking through the garden. Apparently it is much more beautiful in the Spring time when all the flowers are in full bloom. I will definitely have to come back then and see it for myself.

After the garden, we were starting to get hungry, so we had lunch at the best restaurant. It was in the Diamaru Department Store which is the best department store in the Hyogo Prefecture. It is pretty beautiful. It looks even fancier than David Jones! I love all the shop assistance uniforms. They have the cutest uniforms. They have nice skirts, with matching jackets and matching hats and their shirts are made from the best material. They look so smart and sophisticated. I would love to wear a uniform like that everyday. I could fool everyone with how I looked!!!

So we ate at this nice restauruant in the Diamaru Department Store. It was an all-you-can-eat Japanese restaurant, but you only had ninety minutes to fit everything in. Well we didn’t waste any time, as soon as we found our table, we got a plate and started making a dent in that food! Everything I ate tasted delicious. I don’t know what half the food I ate actually was, but it was all superb. I loved how the plates they supplied were large so you could fit lots on them and it didn’t really look like that much because the plate was so big. I wasn’t that keen on the desserts, but Yuko and Mayumi loved them! They went back for some more!

After lunch, we could barely move! We had to though, so it was back on the road! We went to this glass shop which was similar to the glass factory, but it had more selection and the prices were much more reasonable, but still pretty expensive. I bought a beautiful pendant and a few photo holders. I wanted to buy everything in the shop. Everything was hand-made so each item was original.

Mayumi could see how impressed we were with this shop, so she took us to the glass museum. In this museum, we were able to make our own glass jewellery. So we chose a colour and some beads that we liked and we melted the glass over a Bunsen burner and shaped it into a little glass ball. They all looked beautiful. I love my pendant.

We got a tour of the glass museum and it was so interesting. I saw pieces of jewellery made of glass that was created in 5000BC!! It was positively phenomenal! The glass ornaments had the most intricate detail printed into them and they were so delicate and beautiful. I wanted to take everything! Unfortunately, I didn’t quite have enough money to buy everything that was in the museum! haha

It was getting late, and Mayumi recommended that we go and see this jazz club called Sone. It is the most famous jazz club in Kobe. It cost 900 yen ($9) to get in, but it was worth every cent. I loved the band. At first, it was just the musicians playing – a pianist, a drummer and a cello player. They were so clever the way they could all keep in time and sound good and never clash, whilst improvising the entire time. I guess that’s what jazz is all about! Then about fifteen minutes later, this beautiful jazz singer came up on stage and started to sing English songs. She had the most amazing voice. It was deep and strong and really pleasant and soothing to listen to.

Mayumi requested a song and she sang it for her. So Tina and I decided to request a Natalie Cole song. We requested two and hoped that she would sing one of them for us. The two songs we requested were Love and Unforgettable. Well she ended up singing one of them. She sang Love. Tina and I were so excited that she knew the song we requested and that she actually sang it that we stood up and gave her a standing ovation at the end of the song! She looked our way and smiled at us!

My mission was clear after that…I had to make friends with her! When her set was up, I quickly climbed over all the bodies that were in my way and I excitedly walked towards her. I said to her in Japanese, “you are a good singer.” She said thank you and asked which country I was from. I told her and then she started speaking to me in English, thank God! She could speak English really well. She lived in America for two years and she said she tried to sing at a jazz bar in America once and she got discouraged from the crowd and she never sang in America again. That was so upsetting to hear because she had such a beautiful voice and it was a shame that she got disheartened from just one rude crowd that she sung to. I was just grateful that I got to hear her sing.

I told her to come to our table so I could take a photo of her. She was glad to and she talked with us for about fifteen minutes. We took some photos of her and then she left. She told me to come back to the jazz club anytime! I asked her if she would be my friend and she said yes! I completed my mission! I made friends with the nice jazz singer! YAY!!!

So everything was really peachy. It was getting late, and Mayumi and Yuko were getting tired so we left the jazz club. Mayumi showed us how to get to this Irish pub that we got recommended to go to and then her and Yuko left to go home. When we got there, it was really dead and the band had just finished. It was a little disappointing because we were so hyped up from the jazz club. Then we got approached by this stupid American man who was in our faces and saying annoying things to us. Tina saved us when she came back from the bar and we didn’t have to talk to him anymore! We left the Irish pub soon after and went home, but got lost on the way. We had to ask about seven different Japanese people how to get back to the hotel we were staying at as we had lost all our bearings! Well I don’t even have bearings to lose, so I was no help. Well I worked out the next day that I could have been more helpful than I was because I actually had a map in my bag, but I kept that a secret and told noone. I guess it’s all out in the open now!

On Sunday, we woke up and met up with Yuko in the lobby of the hotel. We went back to the museum to make our glass pendents look prettier so we could wear them on a chain. That took a while and then it was time to meet Mariko and her husband in China Town for the Chinese New Year Festival. Yuko and Mayumi took us there and they went home. We met up with Mariko and her husband and they took us to where all the performances were held. It was really difficult to see because everyone’s boofheads were in the way! Tina and I pushed our way to the front because we didn’t want to miss out on all the action. There was this little kid thinking he was a Wayne Carey or something because he kept on trying to do speckies up my back to see what was going on. It was driving me insane, but I put up with it just to see all the cool stuff that was going on. It got better when he managed to find his way to the front. I was relieved!

We saw the dancing dragons. They were amazing. There are two men operating one dragon – one man is the head and the other man is the body and bum. They were so fit and strong with the things they could do. They were like acrobats in a circus. It was awesome. I got their performance on video.

When it all ended, Mariko and her husband took us to a Chinese restaurant. It was a little dirty and dingy, but the food was good. Just before I got my meal, I was busting to go to the toilet. I realised that there was only one toilet for the entire restaurant so it was a unisex toilet. Anyway, I got in no worries and I was about to do my business as I had just figured out how to squat over this tiny hole (because the Japanese toilets are like holes in the ground) when a man came barging into the cubicle! I couldn’t believe it. This man just saw me in the mooning position and copped a full view of my bare white bum! I turned around and gasped and he just apologised in Japanese and shut the door in a flash. Well silly me had forgotten to lock the door, so I was totally caught with my pants down! How embarrassing. Trust something like that to happen to me! Only me! So please, let this be a lesson to everyone, always check and double check and triple check that you have locked the door – you don’t know who is going to catch you with your pants down!

So I went back to the table and told everyone my story and we were all in hysterics for about half an hour afterwards! At least I have a good story to tell!

When we finished our meals, we all went to pay, but Mariko and her husband had beaten us to it. They paid for all our meals! Apparently in Japan, if you are invited out for dinner or lunch, the people who invite you are expected to pay for the meal. So Mariko felt like it was her duty to pay. We felt bad still, so we offered to pay for her to eat dessert afterwards, which she agreed to.

She took us to the BEST coffee and cake café ever. Kobe is famous for its cakes. I had the yummiest cake in the world and I think everyone else thought the same!

By that stage, it was time to end the weekend and make a mile. We thanked Mariko and her husband for spending the day with us and then we trekked on back to Himeji. That was yet another extremely enjoyable weekend filled with lots of fun and adventure!

Monday 12th February 2007

On the weekend, all the Aussie teachers went to Hiroshima. It was the most amazing experience ever! I loved every second of Hiroshima. It was a very clean town, with lots of trees and plants and flowers and parks. It was also a very sad, solemn town and when we went to the Peace Park, it was extremely, eerily and unusually quiet. As soon as we stepped foot into that park, the mood was totally changed and everyone who was in the park at the time was quiet and had their heads down the whole time.

There is a monument in the park which displays the exact spot where the atomic bomb was dropped in Hiroshima at 8:15am on 6th August 1945. It was also amazing to see the beautiful paper crane display in glass cases which were designed by thousands of schools all throughout the world. Their artwork gets displayed in the Hiroshima Peace Park in memory of all the people who died from radiation poisoning from the blast. Then in the middle of all the artwork, lies a tall monument with a girl standing at the very top with her arms outstretched above her head, and she is holding a crane. It is a symbol of peace and hope that one day there will be a more peaceful future for the world.

It is all inspired from Sadako. Many people would have read the book Sadako and the Thousand Paper Cranes. Sadako was dying of radiation poisoning as she developed leukaemia and she thought that if she could fold one thousand paper cranes, that she would be granted one wish. Her wish was to live. She never made it to one thousand, so she died at the age of twelve. It was a very sad story. I bought the book from the Peace Museum, so I will show people when I get back if they haven’t read the story.

The Peace Museum was amazing. It was so sad to hear all the individual stories about how people coped with the blast and what happened to some of the people. There were pictures of what Hiroshima was like before the blast and what it was like afterwards, and it just looked like it was totally ripped to shreds. There was nothing left of the city after the bomb. Now the city has recovered from the blast and the only building left standing is the A-bomb Dome. The building was used for many different cultural activities and it used to be very busy and in demand. Now all that is left is a ruin – a reminder of something Hiroshima used to have before the blast. It is a beautiful building. They have kept it looking exactly like it did after the blast. It was interesting to look around the building and read all the plaques about what the building was used for and how it is now Heritage listed.

After having been to the museum and the Peace Park, we decided to go to Miyajima. This is an island that takes about thirty minutes to get there by ferry. It is a beautiful island that has lots of deers and monkeys. The deers got a bit annoying after a while because they love eating paper and I was standing on the footpath looking at my map trying to figure out where I was and this deer came up to me and bit a hole out of my map! Then it kept coming back for more! They are not afraid of humans, that’s for sure!

We saw the Tori Gate. It was the most beautiful construction I have ever seen. It is situated in the water, close to the shore and I took so many nice photos of it. I got very snappy happy on this trip! We also went up this mountain in a cable car and saw some monkeys and deers. The monkeys and deers were friends and the monkeys would sit down next to the deers and pick the fleas out of the deers’ coats! It was so funny to watch! Then Tina and I hiked up this mountain called Mt Missen. We had to hurry because everyone wanted to get back to the Tori Gate before sunset and take some nice photos. So we sprinted up this mountain, took a couple of photos when we reached the top, then we sprinted back down the mountain. It was a rushed trip, but it was worth it. We were absolutely stuffed by the end of it though!

Thankfully, we made it back in time to see the Tori Gate at sunset. We got some great photos of it, so everyone was happy.

Miyajima is famous for its oysters. They are very fresh and cooked well. So for lunch, we ate some nice barbequed oysters. They were the BEST oysters I have EVER tasted in my life. They were so fresh – like they had just come out of the sea five minutes before I ate them! I was so glad I got to try them!

So our weekend in Hiroshima was one to remember forever. I will definitely have to go back there – especially to Miyajima because I want to see the beautiful mountains again. There are many hikes that you can go on and I would love to spend a day or two hiking around the island. Hiroshima is a must see in Japan. It will take your breath away – just as it did mine!

Monday 29th January 2007

On the weekend, I went sight-seeing at Sosha Mountain. This mountain is a very famous mountain in Himeji and it became the major location for the filming of the movie The Last Samuri with Tom Cruise. It was so beautiful and the forest was dense with many bamboo trees and native plants. We got a fantastic view of Himeji from the top of the mountain. We went in the cable car to the top, but apparently you can climb to the top by foot and it takes one hour. I would love to do that. I will have to make time to climb the mountain at some stage this year. If anyone wants to come and do it with me, all you have to do is buy a plane ticket to Japan and we can go together!

We saw a wire fence with paper tied to it. This is usually used for the New Year. On New Years Day, families get together and buy fortune messages for each other. It is similar to a fortune cookie message, but you don’t get a fortune cookie with it. If the message is positive, it is kept. If the message is negative, it is tied to the wire fence and is burned on a special day. I love taking photos of this fence.

We only got half way around the mountain and then we had to turn back because we ran out of time. Unfortunately, we didn’t get to the section where The Last Samuri was filmed, so we will have to make a trip back there some other time and see the other half of the mountain. It is so big that it can take hours to see everything.

There are so many things to see and do in Japan. I am trying to get around to do it all. Every weekend is busy – jam-packed with activities, sight-seeing and shopping. I can definitely say that I am making the most of my time here so far!