21 August 2007

Nikko in a Nutshell

Tina, Lauren, Steve and I all went on a special trip to Nikko. It is a really famous sight-seeing place in Japan because it has beautiful temples and shrines dating back to the samurai days which look pretty amazing and they are also world heritage listed which makes them even more special.

When we first arrived at the hotel in Nikko, we were impressed with the beautiful surroundings as we saw the Daiya River passing through the dense trees on either side.

We went down to have a look and noticed straight away the difference in temperature. It was so much cooler by the river and when we dipped our feet in, we realised why! The water was icy cold – probably as cold as it would be in Antarctica (well maybe not that cold, but it was still pretty cold!). We could only dip our feet in for about ten seconds at a time because it was so cold – even on a hot, summer’s day! The water comes all the way from the top of the mountain where it would be pretty cold which is why, understandably, it is so cold!

This is the Daiya River and you can see how beautiful it is with all the pretty flowers growing beside it.

We went for a walk down the street and noticed many dragonflies happily fluttering around the area.

There were so many of them and they would often stop and rest on someone’s shoulder before taking off again. Lauren and I saw one that was eating a fly. Check out this awesome photo! It was so cool and interesting to watch it eating another insect. I wouldn't choose to eat a fly, but this little dragonfly was having a feast!

The Shinkyo Sacred Bridge is another famous attraction in Nikko. It looks so cool with the strong current of the river flowing below it. We took many cool photos of this bridge.

We then went for a walk around the temples and shrines. The first temple we went to looked so impressive because of all the detail and care that went into the architecture of the building. This is the first temple we visited.

This is the ceiling of the temple as we walked through the gate. Every ceiling we saw contained elaborate detail and colour. This was one of many.

This was the sacred fence that surrounded the temple. Take note of the detail in the construction.

At every temple, there was a little rock turtle sitting on a cement block. I took a photo of one because it looked so cute!

There was also a five-story pagoda in the National Park. I love five-story pagodas as there are very few in Japan, so they are considered very special.

One of the major attractions in Nikko are the monkeys: Hear no evil, speak no evil, see no evil. Here, you can see a picture of the shrine that contained the three monkeys.

Tina, Lauren and I wanted to be like the monkeys too, so we joined in on the act!

At the Toshyogu Temple, I took a photo of the walls encompassing the temple which contained peacocks on the outer edges. This is a close-up picture of the artwork.

This is the Toshyogu Temple gate.

After visiting the temples, we made our way by bus up a windy mountain to the famous Kegon Falls. It was beautiful. We got to go in an elevator 100metres below the ground to see the fierce waterfall meeting the pool below. It was spectacular!

Not far from the waterfall, was a beautiful lake called the Chuzenji Lake. It was so nice to get a good look-out of the lake and the mountains. I really want to come back to Nikko in Winter because everything is covered in snow and it looks really pretty.

While we were looking for something to eat, we spotted a sign that contained a really good message on it. It was called “The Four Way Test”. I think it is very wise and can help you make good decisions in your life, which is why I decided to take a photo of it. So if you have to make an important decision, read this sign and you will be able to make the right one!!!

For dinner, Lauren, Tina and I decided to eat at a small Korean-style restaurant. It was delicious and the service was great! I ate yaki tori (chicken skewers) and they tasted delicious!

I would definitely come back to visit Nikko again. There are apparently really nice hiking trails on the mountain surrounding the town which I would love to do. It is such a beautiful spot containing so much natural beauty. I really enjoyed my time in Nikko!

17 August 2007

Satani Sensei and family

One of my favourite teachers from Nada Junior High School invited me to go on a tour of Kakogawa and Takasago. He picked me up and showed me how to get to my new school, Hanada Junior High School. Then we went out for lunch to eat Izushi Soba. Izushi soba is a popular dish amongst Japanese people to eat in the summer time because the noodles are cold and it tastes refreshing. I had some with eel in it and it was delicious! After lunch, he took me with his children to see some historical sites in Kakogawa. I saw the oldest building in the Hyogo Prefecture!

This is a photo of me with his children at the historical site in Kakogawa.

This is one of the old buildings in Kakogawa - a three-story pegoda.

We went into a museum and saw some ancient Japanese artefacts. It was very interesting.

We then moved on to Takasago city where we saw this amazing looking rock which was about as big as your lounge room and it looked like it was floating in the air! It was really cool. Then we climbed up this mountain and got a beautiful lookout of Kobe, Kakogawa and the ocean. It was amazing!

This is a photo of me with Satani Sensei and his children at the beautiful lookout of Kakogawa and Takasago city.

During our sight-seeing expedition, we spotted a huge Japanese fly which Satani Sensei's daughter caught and held up for me to take a photo of it. It is pretty amazing how big they actually are and they make so much noise!

Satani Sensei then took me to his house where I met his wife. She was really friendly. His daughter and son taught me how to do syoji (Japanese calligraphy) and I was pretty bad at it, but it was fun. Then Satani Sensei taught me how to do it because he is really good at it and he was showing me how to do the brush strokes. It was heaps of fun!

His son drew a funny picture of a one-eyed monster and his daughter was practising her syoji summer holiday homework. This is his daughter's shuji work which is pretty good for a sixth grade student!

This is Satani Sensei's son's picture of the one-eyed monster!

We then ate tea which consisted of sashimi, rice, tempura and okonomiyaki. It was all delicious!

After tea, his son sang me a Japanese song on his guitar. He was such a good singer and I was so impressed with his singing ability. I wanted him to sing another song for me, but he was too embarrassed! I enjoyed his singing very much!

It was really cool to be able to spend the day with one of my favourite teachers from Nada Junior High School. He is really friendly and his whole family are really nice and welcoming.

My Biggest Accomplishment in Japan: Climbing Mt Fuji

Climbing to the very top of Mount Fuji was one of the things that I have always wanted to do ever since I came to Japan and guess what? I DID IT!!!! Cool, huh?

Tina and I got our Japanese friends to help us book the tour and we went with forty other Japanese people to climb this massive mountain.

We left at 7:30pm on Friday night from Himeji and went to Mt Fuji by bus. It took the entire night to get there and we arrived at Mt Fuji at around 5am the next morning. It was so uncomfortable sleeping on the bus overnight, so we didn’t really get much sleep, but I was so excited about being able to climb the mountain, that I didn’t care about my lack of sleep!

Anyway, we went to this beautiful shrine amongst a forest just before we climbed the mountain to pray for our safety. Then we headed up the mountain at around 11:30am.

It was really, REALLY hot from the fifth station and we were sweating like anything. The view was amazing though because there were not many clouds that day and we got a clear view of the city below us. This is Tina and I looking all keen and energised before our big hike up the mountain.

We met a nice couple who we befriended on the bus before the climb and they became our helpers any time we needed to understand what was going on. The man's name was Atsushi and the lady's name was Mako. They were really friendly and helpful to us the entire time.

This is what Mount Fuji looks like from the fifth station. Pretty amazing, huh?

This is the beautiful view from the seventh station.

We climbed all day until around 5pm when we reached the eighth station. It was such a steep climb in some parts. This is a good photo to show you how steep it actually was.

At the eighth station, we stayed in this small hut where we all slept lined up in sleeping bags – men and women all in together! It was so bizarre and surreal, but a great experience all the same. This is what all the rows of sleeping bags looked like in our little hut.

We had a nice filling tea consisting of rice, meatballs, fish, curry and something sweet. Most of the people at our table couldn’t eat their meals, so they gave their food to us so we could polish it off for them!

We slept until around 10pm and then we had to get up and start hiking again so that we could reach the top of the mountain by sunrise.

All through the night, we hiked up the mountain. By this stage, it was getting really cold and Tina and I felt like our hands were about to drop off because they were so cold! Our tour guide told Tina and I to cuddle each other, so we were hugging each other and climbing the mountain the entire time! We had a bit of a giggle because Tina’s hands were freezing so we climbed the mountain with her hand in my pocket throughout the entire night! If she was a guy, we probably would have looked like a couple!hehe

Anyway, as we were about 100 metres from the top, we could see the sun starting to edge through the clouds and push its way above the mountain. We were getting anxious and worried that we might miss the sunrise, so our tour guide started speeding up the process.

It was a bit hard though, because there were literally thousands upon thousands of people all climbing this mountain at the same time. I couldn’t believe how many people there were. It was like the entire population of Japan woke up and decided to climb Mt Fuji on the same night!

So we weaved through all these people and finally reached the top of the mountain at around 4:30am. The sun still hadn’t risen by this stage, so we were safe! There were so many people at the top of the mountain eagerly anticipating the sunrise with their cameras ready to go.

When the sun came up, they raised the Japanese flag and sang this beautiful song. It was magic! Tina and I went crazy taking thousands of photos of the beautiful sunrise.

It was positively the BEST view I have ever seen in my whole entire life! I felt so privileged to be able to see it with my own eyes! No words can describe the beauty of it. It was just heavenly. If I could imagine what heaven would look like, it would be what I saw that morning on the top of Mt Fuji!

After admiring the sunrise and taking numerous photos of it to try and capture its beauty, Tina and I got a bit carried away and lost the rest of the group. I was stressing because I was worried that they would leave without us so I was frantically rushing around trying to spot someone who looked familiar. In the meantime, Tina was casually walking around behind me, not really caring what was going on!

Eventually, we found the group and started making our way back down the mountain. It was really tricky because it was so steep and there were many loose rocks that made it really easy to slip and fall. There was also so much dust that made it really difficult to breath in fresh air and it all stuck to my face and made me look black!

We finally made it down and I felt really proud that I had achieved the difficult task of climbing Mt Fuji. It was liberating!

We felt so dirty and disgusting and the next step of the way was to clean and scrub our bodies thoroughly in the onsen (hot springs or public bath). Tina was so embarrassed because she didn't want all the women on the tour to see her naked, but I didn’t care! I was just glad that I could feel clean once again!

So that was that! A great challenge, a great achievement, a great memory! やった!!!

14 August 2007

My favourite place in Japan – Mitaki-ji

I know I have said many places have been my favourite, but Mitaki-ji is so beautiful and green and lush. It is about a thirty minute bus ride away from the city centre of Hiroshima up in the hills. There is so much greenery as the forest is quite dense and it is even more beautiful to see the waterfall cascading down the mountain amongst the density of the forest.

There are also many statues of Gods and small shrines hidden in the mountain. We really enjoyed climbing the mountain and taking so many nice photos of the area.

The scariest part was when I was walking up some stairs, and I got to a dead end. I was about to turn around and go back the way I had come, when I saw this snake all coiled up with its head up staring at me. I froze dead on the spot because I was so frightened. I knew I had to get away, but my legs wouldn’t move. I eventually forced myself to walk past the snake and thankfully, it didn’t try to strike me.

As Mum and I were heading back to find the others, we were walking back down the stairs and I saw another snake slither in front of me and go into the bushes on the side of the track. This was really scary and by this stage, I had had enough and I wanted to get out!

There were so many scary insects, bugs, snakes and spiders around that area. This is a really good photo of the spider’s web. There were so many of these, so you really had to look where you were going!

Aside from the scary wildlife, Mitaki-ji is amazing and definitely worth a look. I would like to go back there again someday…

Hiroshima Peace Ceremony

On August 6th at exactly 8:15am, the Hiroshima Peace Ceremony began with a ding of the peace bell and a minute of silence to think about the people who died from the a-bomb that was dropped on Hiroshima 62 years ago. It was a very emotional ceremony, but great to experience. I feel privileged that I got to see such a special ceremony take place in Hiroshima. Just before the ceremony, we got to make paper cranes to donate as a symbol of peace. We had no idea how to make them, even with the step-by-step instructions because paper cranes are so complicated to make. We asked a Japanese man in front of us if he could help us make it and he was so patient with us and showed us each step so that we could get it right. I love the mentality of the Japanese people. Anytime they can help you, they will.

This is the finished product of the paper crane that I made.

During the ceremony, they had many special people come up and make speeches. The one I was most impressed with was when two sixth grade students came up on stage in front of thousands of people and talked about how the a-bomb tragedy has affected the nation, and how they have risen above it and have become stronger as a result. It made me cry.

It was good to see the Secretary General of the United Nations get up and make a speech about peace, too.

After the ceremony, many people lined in front of the dome to say their silent prayers of peace. I love this photo I took of the school boys all lined up paying their respects with one of the boys going ahead to place a flower beside the dome.

There were also an array of daisies displayed around the dome which looked really nice. I took a close-up shot of this because I really liked the look of them.

At night time, we came back to the Peace Park by the river and watched thousands of people put lanterns in the river.

As dawn turned to dusk, you could see the candles inside the lanterns light up and it looked so peaceful and calming watching thousands of lanterns float down the river.

It was unlike anything I have ever seen before and I loved seeing this unique ritual with my own eyes. We took sooo many photos of these lanterns that it was really hard for me to decide which ones I was going to put on my blog!