31 May 2007

Hanshin Tigers GO, GO, GO!!!

I went to see a baseball match between the Hanshin Tigers and the Buffalos on the weekend. It was AWESOME! In the Hyogo Prefecture, the most popular baseball team is the Hanshin Tigers. They are liked by pretty much everyone in the entire prefecture, despite the fact that they haven’t won a premiership in years! The fans are very loyal to their tigers and they will barrack for them to the bitter end!

There were so many people at the game and the entire stadium was full. There was a great atmosphere as people would sing the Hanshin Tigers victory song and bang their plastic baseball bats together, chanting and clapping in time.

Tina and I bought Hanshin Tigers baseball bats so that we could get in the spirit of the game. We had lots of fun pretending we knew the song and clapping in time to the music!

At one stage, everyone bought these big, long balloons of various colours and at the signal, they let them all go and it looked amazing to see them all fly off into the sky. It was a fantastic sight.

During the game, we went and got some food. We ate hotdogs - American-style and they tasted sooo good! I put lots of mustard, onion and tomato sauce on mine and it was absolutely delicious!

Unfortunately, the Hanshin Tigers lost. The score was seven runs to zero, so they pretty much got flogged! It was great to watch them, anyway. My next location to see the Hanshin Tigers will be at Koshien which is their home grounds because apparently the Hanshin Tigers fans go crazy with excitement! I can’t wait to go to my next Hanshin Tigers baseball match!

There is a funny story to be told about the Hanshin Tigers as they are said to have been cursed by Colonel Sanders, the founder of Kentucky Fried Chicken. Apparently, when the Hanshin Tigers won the Japan Series for the first time in 1985, they were so excited that they had a big gathering at Nanpa Bashi over the Dotonbori River. As people would call out the names of their favourite players, one of the fans would jump into the river. However, when an American player, Randy Bass, was called out, there was no foreigner to represent him, so instead of a person jumping into the river, they got a statue of Colonel Sanders from a nearby KFC shop and threw it into the river. Then, in 1992, they were so close to winning the series again, but unfortunately lost the critical games leading up to it. As a result, they blamed the Colonel of KFC for their near-win in 1992. So from that day on, the Hanshin Tigers are said to be cursed! Maybe this year they will have better luck! Here’s hoping – keep your fingers crossed!

24 May 2007

Aerobics is back!

I was so disappointed when I first came to Japan when I realised that I couldn’t take any more aerobics classes like I used to in Peterborough. Well that has all changed now! Tina and I have managed to speak to the ladies who are in charge of the local community centre in Shinzaike and they have agreed to let us teach aerobics classes to the people in the local community once a week. So every Tuesday, Tina and I teach aerobics classes to a mixture of Japanese people, Americans and Australians. They range in age from twenty-two to over eighty years old! I am so glad that we have the opportunity to keep Aussie aerobics alive in Japan!

Mount Takamikura

I had the BEST day today! Tina, Lauren and I woke up extra early (on a Sunday, mind you) to catch the 9:00am train to get to Kakogawa Station. From Kakogawa Station, a friend of ours, Paul picked us up and took us to the most beautiful mountain to go hiking in the morning. Paul is Australian, but he came to Japan quite a few years ago and married a Japanese lady. He speaks Japanese fluently, so I am so jealous. Paul likes hiking and boxing and doing lots of active stuff, so he promised us that he would take us hiking one day. Well today was the day!

Mount Takamikura was tranquil and picturesque.

There were many green trees and plants and lots of flowers in bloom as it is the season of Spring. It was so pretty just walking along, appreciating the scenery. The first part of the hike was really steep and tiring, but after about twenty minutes of hardcore climbing, it was a pretty flat terrain, so it was smooth sailing from then on. When we reached the top of the mountain, we got an amazing view of Kakogawa.

It was so beautiful. We also saw a really cool shrine right at the peak of the mountain. It was amazing to see that such a detailed-looking shrine could be so perfectly erected on such a tall mountain. It would have taken them a long time to erect. It was beautiful all the same.

I also saw a small stone shrine that had two fox statues guarding it.

The foxes are the protectors of the shrine. In between the foxes, was a small fruitbox that someone had left behind. Well, that was what I thought. I was about to move it so that I could take a picture of the shrine, when Lauren explained to me that people often leave their food and drink behind as an offering. So this fruitbox was part of the tradition. Lucky I didn’t move it!

As we were climbing back down the mountain, we spotted some Yamabushi (mountain priests).

They were taking part in a special ceremony on this day that only takes place once every fifty years. How lucky we were to be able to witness such a rare event! There were about ten to twelve yamabushi standing half-way up this mountain, amongst all the dense vegetation, participating in a traditional ceremony. It was completely surreal!

During the ceremony, they were blowing a conch, using a bow and arrow and aiming it towards the air, burning some green leaves and chanting. It was such an amazing sight and I am so glad that I got to see it. We were later told that the purpose of the ceremony was to wash and cleanse one’s sins away. I was so impressed and intrigued by the entire ceremony and I watched with astonishment as the mountain priests chanted and prayed.

When we got to the bottom of the mountain, we met up with Paul’s wife and Noriko and her family who are also some Japanese friends of ours.

We had a barbeque with them and I can tell you now, it was so different to the barbeques we are used to in Australia! They had all sorts of vegetables to put on the barbeque including eggplant, onion, pumpkin and corn, as well as yaki onigiri (rice balls), squid, Aussie beef and chicken. It was absolutely DELICIOUS!!!

After eating non-stop for what seemed like two hours, we went for a drive to a shrine nearby.

It was a beautiful shrine and Tina, Lauren and I took many photos. We also saw the largest Tori gate in the Hyogo Prefecture (and perhaps the largest in the whole of Japan). It was HUGE and it was made of titanium. I was pretty impressed!

We left later in the afternoon and when I got home, I was absolutely exhausted! It was such a long, tiring day, but very enjoyable all the same. I can’t wait until my next hike and Japanese-style barbeque!

Himeji Matsuri

On the weekend, Lauren, Tina, Jono, Jodi, Bill and I decided to go to the Himeji Matsuri. Matsuri in English means festival. The Himeji Matsuri was all about the harvest. Shrines would be carried all the way down the main street and into the castle and the people would pray for a good harvest.

Many young men would carry these heavy shrines that weighed about one tonne and they would lift them in the air, throw them and then catch them again. It was amazing to watch. There were fifty men all carrying this one shrine and they had the most amazing strength and stamina.

They carried it for about two to three hundred metres down the main street and through the castle gates. Inside the shrines, there were young boys playing the drums. They kept the beat going so that the men carrying the shrines would know when to lift the shrine in the air and when to bring it back down.

They all wore traditional costumes that looked a lot like the costumes that the sumo wrestlers wore.

It was hard to get used to the fact that there were all these men walking around with no pants on without a care in the world! I found it hard to know where to look at times!

We ate lots of food at the festival including toffee coated strawberries, fried chicken, takoyaki (octopus balls) and barbequed oysters.

All the food was absolutely delicious! After satisfying our stomachs, Tina and I decided to have a go at playing the taiko (drums). It looks so much easier than it actually is. This Japanese man was teaching us how to play, but I just couldn’t quite get the hang of it. It was so funny though, because while Tina and I were practising, there was a huge crowd around us watching and listening to how bad we were! It was like we were celebrities, but we were really noone! It was good fun to have a go, though.

Once our drum session was over, we went to the top of this building and got an awesome birds-eye view of the Himeji Castle and the section where all the food tents were. It looked amazing.

It turned out to be a great day. We got to experience a taste of the Himeji culture seeing traditional costumes, tasting delicious traditional Japanese foods and playing traditional Japanese instruments. Where else would you get to do any of this? Sometimes I look back on all of my photos and then and think to myself, “how lucky am I to get to experience something so unique and interesting that I would otherwise, never get to see in my life had I not taken up the opportunity to come to Japan.” Right now, I am having the time of my life!

First Grade Teacher’s Party

I was invited to go to a party with all the first grade teachers the other weekend. Our first party was at this cool Japanese restaurant and we ate a massive meal consisting of various traditional Japanese foods. The food tasted delicious! It just kept on coming out – plates and plates of food would come out and be put right in front of me! I was loving it! My favourite was the lime chuhai. This is a special Japanese alcoholic drink that tasted sooo good! It was a little bit sweet, but not too sweet so it went down quite nicely!

After our first party, we went to our second party. Apparently this is a common occurrence with Japanese parties. They have two or three parties throughout the night. Well our second party was straight to the karaoke bar! I was so amazed by how good all of the teacher’s voices were. They all sounded amazing with perfect pitch and perfect timing. Then I came on and I don't think they ever wanted to hear me sing again! I sang “Love Shack” and they were all laughing and clapping. Then I sang a second song coz I was getting in the mood and pretty much straight after my song, they all wanted to go! Well I didn’t take it personally because I thought I sounded…well…pretty bad actually, but I had fun, anyway! My second song was “It’s My Life” by Bon Jovi which is one of my favourites because it reminds me of when I was acting crazy and having the time of my life on the contiki tour in New Zealand! I got the air guitar out and cranked it up during my song! I think they thought I was crazy. Well, they weren’t far off the mark!

Dumb bike story continued…

After taking my bike in to get fixed the first time, it still wasn’t right, so I decided to take it back in for the second time to see if they could fix the problem. Anyway, I walked my bike in the shop and this time, I didn’t even try to speak in Japanese because I was too scared I would say something like, “my plane is broken!” so I thought it was safe just to say, “look here, mate. My bike is still broken and I need you to fix it.” Well he seemed to understand that one! He said that it was going to take a week to get fixed and it was going to cost about fifty bucks. So I agreed to it and was thinking it was going to be a bit hard to get back home without a bike. Anyway, he must have read my mind because the next thing I knew, he was talking about something in Japanese that I didn’t understand and so he got another bike and took me outside to show me. It was a rental bike! How funny! I have heard of rental cars, but I have never heard of rental bikes before!

So I thanked the man (who thought I was an idiot) and went on my merry little way with my rental bike! Then I was thinking to myself, “what happens if I crash this bike? Would I have to go back in and ask him to fix the rental bike and see if he would give me another rental bike?” These sorts of issues are usually not a problem for most people, but for me, it is a very likely situation!

Anyway, I was riding to school the other day, and I did crash that rental bike! I fell flat on my side and got this MASSIVE bruise on the top of my leg. It is enormous! The kind of bruise to be proud of! Luckily, I didn’t do any damage to the rental bike, so I was pretty safe. I ended up getting my bike back and that was the end of that! PHEW!!! If I had to have it for any longer than a week, I can guarantee that there would have been a disaster!

9 May 2007

Another dumb story to add to the list!

You would not believe what I did today! I did so many dumb things! I will start from the beginning:

I usually carry my lunch in a separate bag from my backpack in the morning so that it doesn’t get squashed. Then when I got to school, I used the same bag that had my lunch in it to carry around from lesson to lesson, so I took out all the other things like my purse and my ipod that usually stay in there.

Anyway, it was the end of the day and I decided to leave that bag at school because I didn't really need it to go home with. Then, when I got to the bike park to get my bike, I was looking for my bike key when I realised that I had left it at school. Attached to that bike key was my house key, so I was locked out of my house and I had to leave my bike at the station!

So I walked all the way home, feeling annoyed at my stupidity and absent-mindedness – I should be used to this by now! I got to my apartment building and asked the custodian if he had another key, and thankfully, he did! I was safe – I didn't have to sleep in the gutter! YES!!

Anyway, prior to this day, I did another stupid thing. I actually have two bikes. The one I have been riding has been my old one because I was riding my new bike home one day and crashed into this cement pole that I just didn't happen to see! Since then, my new bike kept on making funny noises and I had been meaning to get it fixed.

Well, desperate times called for desperate measures, so I got my new bike that was broken and rode it to the bike shop to see if they could fix it. Well I was trying to speak in Japanese, but to no avail! I said to the man: “watashi no densha wa broken” (It means my bike is broken, but I didn't know how to say “broken” in Japanese). Then the man and his mate next to him kept on sniggering to each other while he was fixing my bike. I didn’t understand why. Then I finally realised, “densha” in English means train, not bike! So I told him that my train was broken! Haha What an idiot!

So if you ever feel stupid or dumb for something you have done, just think of my dumb stories and it will make you feel better. There is always someone worse off than you that can make you feel better about things. That's what I am here for!

My Disgusting dinner…continued!

I was so curious to find out exactly what that disgusting dinner that I had in Nagasaki was that night that I showed the teachers at school the picture I had taken of it. They called it kikorage which is Japanese for seaweed. That is some weird-looking seaweed, don’t you think? I asked the teachers if they liked it, and they all said they LOVED it! I couldn’t believe it! People actually think it tastes good! They said it is really delicious. The funniest part about me asking them was that they all did the same flapping arms motion that the man did at the restaurant when he was trying to explain it! It was hilarious. I had to show about seven teachers the dish and they were all trying to explain to me what it actually was! So, it wasn’t a sea urchin after all, but I finally found out what my mysterious disgusting dinner was that night! Now I never have to think about it again – thank goodness!!!

7 May 2007

Ohori Park and the Japanese Gardens

Ohori Park is the largest and most beautiful park in Fukuoka. It has a humungous lake in the middle of it and a running/walking/riding track surrounding the entire lake.

There were so many people going for their daily jogs along the lake. I think every town and city should have something like that to promote exercise. Tina, Lauren and I took a stroll around the park on the walking track. It was really relaxing and peaceful.

We also went for a walk around the Japanese Gardens.

They were beautiful and it was just the right time of year to go and see them because everything was green.

The photos that we took of the gardens were even better than the photos that were in the brochure! (Although something crazy in blue seems to be wrecking that photo above!) The Japanese Gardens was probably the highlight of our sight-seeing in Fukuoka.

Sam and Dave’s

Our next stop after Nagasaki was Fukuoka. Apparently, Fukuoka is supposed to have a lively nightlife as there are many pubs and clubs. We found out that this nightclub called Sam and Dave’s was the biggest and most famous nightclub in Fukuoka, so we decided to take a look.

It took us about one hour of walking in circles to find the club and the only reason we found it was because this lady showed us how to get there! We finally arrived and it was dead! We were so disappointed. We decided to have one drink there and go home. During the process of having a drink, another hundred or so people walked through the door! It started getting really busy and by the end of the night, you couldn’t even move in the club! It was great!

There were so many good dancers in the club that I just HAD to get up and dance! I had a ball in there dancing the night away! The music was R&B which attracted many African-Americans. They looked so cool – like they had just come out of an American movie. It was great just watching them dance because they had so much rhythm. I would go all the way back to Fukuoka just to go to that nightclub again coz it was so good! If you ever end up in Fukuoka and you enjoy having a bit of a boogie from time to time, I would definitely recommend that you go to Sam and Dave’s.

Lunch, shrines and temples

We spent ages looking for somewhere to eat for lunch as there were more long lines of people waiting to get a table.

We finally stumbled across this tiny little Italian restaurant down a little side street. I had the most delicious pasta meal there. I liked the restaurant so much, that I took a photo of the outside of the restaurant and thought it deserved a mention in my blog!

After lunch, we decided to explore the old shrines and temples in Nagasaki. One of the highlights was seeing the Spectacles Bridge.

This was a really cool-looking bridge. When you take a photo of it on a fine day when the river is still, the bridge looks like a pair of spectacles. It was a really old bridge, built in the 1600’s and is still erected to this day.

The shrines and temples were great to see.

They were all beautiful and amazing to look at and explore. One of my favourite places to see was this ancient cemetery which contained many old, moss-covered grave stones that had so much character and authenticity about them.

It was so peaceful walking around, looking at all the grave yards. Some of them looked kinda scary, but they were all very interesting.

One of the shrines had a massive couldron which was used to feed porriage to 5000 people after the bomb had exploded on Nagasaki because there were so many people dying of starvation and thirst.

Nagasaki Peace Museum and Peace Park

This day was jam-packed with action. We managed to fit so much in on this day! We went outside to find that it was pouring down with rain. Our mission was to find the Nagasaki Peace Museum. We were walking down this street which had a sign pointing to where the Peace Museum was, so we followed the sign. We then realised that we had been walking for half an hour in the pouring rain, in the wrong direction! We were getting cranky and very frustrated at this point. We asked about ten people how to get to this museum and they had all pointed us in the wrong direction. I think a lot of what we were saying was getting lost in translation!

Anyway, we finally found this Peace Museum and it was really fascinating. It was similar to the Hiroshima Peace Museum as we learnt about how the second atomic bomb was dropped on Nagasaki on 9th August 1945 at 11:02am. It was interesting to walk around and read all the information about what happened to the people and the town.

One thing I learnt that I found to be the most interesting was that there were so many Korean people who had died from the atomic bomb. The Korean people were forced to live and work in Japan by the Japanese people under poor working conditions and were treated really badly. The saddest part was that they died from the atomic bomb explosion in a country where they didn’t even want to be.

The most interesting part about this was that in the peace park, there was a special monument dedicated to the Korean people who had died from the atomic bomb explosion. The sign next to the monument was written as an apology to the Korean people for what they made them go through during those times in the war.

After the peace museum, we walked through the Nagasaki Peace Park. This park had many different monuments symbolising different aspects of freedom and peace and the new generation. My favourite monument was the water fountain which was one of the main attractions in the peace park.

The ‘Fountain of Peace’ was placed in the park because after the atomic bomb exploded, many civilians died from thirst and starvation. The ‘Fountain of Peace’ was created as an offering of water to the victims who had died from thirst after the atomic bomb was dropped on Nagasaki.

The Hypercentre was also another attraction in Nagasaki which was the exact spot that the atomic bomb was dropped. There was a beautiful garden surrounding the hypercentre and the remnants of the catholic church was also placed in this section.

Disgusting dinner in Nagasaki

Our dinner in Nagasaki this night was probably the most memorable dinner I will ever have in Japan – and not in a good way! We again, were struggling to find a place to eat because everything was so busy and we kept on being turned away from all these restaurants. We eventually got so frustrated that we walked into this restaurant that had only a Japanese menu with no English translations. We had no idea what we were ordering.

I ordered this meal that I thought was green beans and beef, but when they served it to me, it was this disgusting looking meal that looked like boiled cabbage mixed with tomatoes. When I tried it, it was cold – like it had just come out of the fridge, and it definitely was NOT cabbage! It took me ages to chew it and swallow it and I still had no idea what I was eating. I asked this man sitting near us and he said it was a sea creature – I think it was a sea urchin! It was so disgusting that I couldn’t eat any of it! I couldn’t even stand having the plate near me coz it looked so rank! The man was just laughing at my face as I screwed it up every time I looked at that plate! It was funny, but not at the same time, because I was still hungry and angry that I had ordered something that tasted and looked so bad! Tina and Lauren were kind enough to give me some of their food because they felt sorry for me that I had ordered something that looked like a dog’s breakfast!

Glover Gardens

Glover Gardens was really, REALLY hard to find! We eventually got sick of losing where we were on the map, that we went into this little shop in the middle of nowhere and asked this little old Japanese lady where the gardens were. She went inside her shop, got her little basket with her purse and ushered us to follow her down the road. She lead us directly to the gardens down all the little side-streets. She was so nice and so cute! She would have only been about five feet tall! I just wanted to give her a big hug after she took us to the gardens! I held back on that one though, coz I didn't want her thinking I was a freak!

The Glover Gardens was also another section of Nagasaki allocated to the Western influence and there were many Western style houses built in this area. It was really cool to walk around and look at all the large houses in the garden.

It was such a nice view from the top of the gardens overlooking the hills and residential area of the city. It was also such a nice day that day so it was really pleasant just walking around and enjoying the scenery.

Chinatown Lunchtime

We started getting hungry, so we took a walk down Chinatown to find something to eat. It was crazy with the amount of people that filled the street. Also, because it was lunchtime, everyone was hanging around the restaurants in Chinatown waiting to eat. People were lining up outside the restaurants to get a table. We were so hungry and tired and hot that all we wanted to do was eat rather than having to wait for hours to get a meal. We went to one of the stalls along Chinatown and ate some Chinese takeaway. It was so good and just what we needed!

My funny photo moment

There were all these cool statues of Chinese emperors standing in different poses and doing different things outside the Chinese museum. I got so excited about it, that I had a brainwave to take funny photos with all these statues. So here are a few of the funny ones I took of me with the statues!

Catch ya later, buddy!

So you think you're tough, do ya, PUNK?

So can I eat the whole thing?

That's a choice script, cobba! I really like what you've done here!

Did you hear that lion ROAR???

Ready or not, here I come...pick a boo!

Look, mate! What the hell is THAT?

Please let me take this picture - I'll put you on my blog if you let me!