Tuesday, November 28, 2006

The Tao of Koyou...

In Japan, koyou, or autumn colours viewing, is a huge thing. Millions of people take time to visit temples, shrines, parks and other places where trees are to behold the beauty of nature. The most famous and beloved leaves are the momoji, maple leaves. They are also my favourite. Fall is quite spectacular in Japan and it makes me a little sad to think that this will be my last one here. But then again, with winter being right around the corner, those feelings are normally short-lived.

On Saturday, Dave and I drove to the nearby town of Tanigumi and walked around in a beautiful temple complex, probably one of my favourites in Japan. Naturally, there were tons of people around, but I still managed to get some good shots with my new and fab camera, the Canon IXY 800IS. It's the newer model of the camera I wanted to buy (as mentioned in my previous post), but it's a beaut. I've been taking pictures like a fiend and I'm loving my new best friend. But I digress.

Before heading to Tanigumi, we stopped at a tree that looked like it was on fire. It was that red. It's the last tree in this series, and it's also the one I'm posing under by myself. I've been wanting to shoot it for a while and I was lucky enough that I got some pics before all the trees got naked for the winter.

We've been really lucky this autumn. The temperatures have been mild save for the last week or so, but the sights have been spectacular. I recommend that anyone come to Japan between October and November. This will definitely be a season that I won't forget anytime soon.

This is my village.

Friday, November 24, 2006

Deer and the City...

Dave and I escaped to Nara this past weekend and it was a blast. We frolicked with the deer that roam free in this old capital city, did the whole place on foot and found a beautiful restaurant and enjoyed a traditional Japanese meal. Since we decided on this trip a while ago, there was a smidge of anticipation in the air as this wasn't a run of the mill getaway. And luckily, everything worked out even though we were in the car together for a total of eight hours (round trip). All I can say is that I'm a really lucky woman and have so much to be thankful for...I can tell you without doubt that my handsome Scotsman deserves a lot of the credit...

And that's all I'm going to say about that.

Anyway, as I mentioned, Dave and I went to Nara by car. It was our first time driving to a prefecture some distance away, and while it's entirely do-able, it's retardedly expensive to use the expressways here. I've been on toll roads in the States, but driving, like everything in Japan, is tough on the pocket books. One way to Nara from Gifu cost about 4500 yen, about $45, and while this isn't a lot of money, especially divided by two, it's the principle of the thing. It's our car, with our gas (well, this time both were Dave's), and we're using them to travel to another prefecture to spend money on a hotels food and souvenirs, and we gotta pay to use the roads to get there??? But there is an expression that I bust out a lot here in Japan and it's "shougenai", it cannot be helped. It's not such a bitter pill to swallow, just a bit confusing and irritating at most. It's especially annoying when you get on an expressway by mistake, but you live and learn. Moving on...While Dave was the driver, I was given no choice but to be the navigator. Now, navigating and the like is not my strong suit (I get confused in malls), but we made it to Nara (driving through Gifu, Aichi, Shiga and Kyoto) with few screw ups. As my partner in crime said, my navigational skills were adequate (hell, I'll take that as a compliment).

Driving during this time of year is breathtaking. Actually, doing anything that makes use of your eyes is beautiful right now. The trees and hills are pretty much on fire and I've been dying because I'm without a workable camera right now (all this will change soon), but I just step back, behold the sights and just say wow...

After checking into our ryokan (a traditional Japanese inn), we explored the sights, which sadly I do not have any pictures of. Dave was the cameraman and I haven't yet had the chance to steal all the pics from him. While I've been to Nara before (4 years ago on my first trip to Japan with the beautiful and talented Cheryl - whu whu!!), the city is still impressive to me. There was a beautiful pond near our hotel and the nearby 5 story pagoda was reflected in the water. We explored a bit of the Todai-ji complex and the Ni-gatsu shrine that was absolutely beautiful. It was overlooking the whole city which was gently being blanketed by soft drops of rain. Old school, unadulterated romance. We met some deer and to the delight of my traveling companion, he fed them senbai crackers and they couldn't get enough. He was headbutted, chomped on and surrounded but was beside himself with delight. Since I had been swarmed last time, I kept out of the fracas and got some good pics of him. There were temples and shrines galore, but since we had arrived a bit late, we decided to save the realy touristy stuff until the next day. Instead, we walked to the downtown area and Naramachi and just took it all in. We found a kickass souvenir shop and I was so good. Just bought the minimum of crap, including something for my surrogate mom. Pat on the back for me. We walked up and down streets with our huge golf umbrella shielding us and stumbled across the perfect Japanese restaurant. It looked good from the outside and the inside did not disappoint. There was a beautiful garden enclosed in the restaurant and we couldn't get over the atmosphere. The food was really good too - all tempura, unagi (eel), sashimi, rice, soup, pickled veggies and chawan mushi (this eggy-meaty concoction). I had warm sake and basked in the glow.

The next day, we went back to Todai-ji and I was again amazed by the autumn foliage. Reds, oranges, greens...Fall is absolutely my most favourite season and this year's Fall seems even better than last year. Everyone who owned a camera was out there taking pics of the trees making nearly impossible to get a pic without people. But we got lucky.

We went to the Daibutsu(Buddha)-den and stood in the shadow of Buddha. It's a large one and there is a pole with a hole in it that is said to be the same size as one of this Buddha's nostrils. Apparently, those who are able to make there way through the aperture is promised enlightment. Now, 4 years ago, I stood by and watched scores of schoolchildren wiggle their way through thinking "I could do that! I could fit!" But as a shy foreigner, I couldn't bear to imagine getting stuck and having the fire department called to extricate me. Well, that was then, this is now:

Due to the fact Dave couldn't get any good shots of me, I opted to be enlightened twice (one for me, one for him) and went through the hole again. The shot of me emerging is a tad blurry, but watchagonnado? As I pulled my thank-god-it-fits-frame out, the numerous Japanese folks who were milling around burst into applause. I was so embarrassed but I was thrilled that I faced my fear and came out a winner. My heart was beating like a drum and I loved it.

All and all it was a fantastic trip and encourage anyone living or visiting here to take some time out and explore Nara.

Due to my much bitched about camera woes, I'm biting the bullet, dropping some yen and getting myself a new camera this weekend. I was so angry over the fact that my 16 month old camera stopped focusing that I sent an email, a nasty one, to the now defunct camera, Konica Minolta. I got the standard "we can't give a crap even if we tried really, really hard" email, so I'll use this forum to eloquently make my point: FUCK YOU, KONICA MINOLTA!

This is what I hope to own in a couple of days:

You can read the reviews here: http://reviews.cnet.com/Canon_PowerShot_SD700_IS/4505-6501_7-31740585.html I've read the professional reviews (www.dprevew.com had an excellent summary - it pretty made up my mind) and talked to owners and buyers of this sexy little number, and I'm so hot for it, I'm about to explode. Ooooooooh, yeah.

Hmmm, what else is new...I went to a Thanksgiving Party last night thrown by the fabulous Chisako-san, the doll class teacher. About 30 folks came bearing food (my contribution was banana bread) and I ate till I wanted to sleep. No pics, but good memories.

I'm addicted to this blog: http://www.glamour.com/sexmen/blogs/alyssa/ The writer is a chick who has put all of her dating life out there and she gets props for having some king kong balls. I had only one class today and spent HOURS reading all of the archival postings. She's on my favourites list. It's not something I would do, well, without a proper pseudonym and some liquid courage, but she gets respect.

Someone who most definitely doesn't get respect is Kanye West and Michael "Kramer" Richards. Kanye was recently quoted as referring to women of mixed race as "mutts" and "Kramer" went on a racist tirade during a comedy act. WTF, bitches, seriously, WTF??? Kanye rubs me the wrong way a lot because his ego has gotten bigger than his brain and now it's all about the bling and flossin'. Kanye, you get the nuts. And "Kramer", tsk, tsk, "Kramer". How the mighty have fallen...it makes you wonder what's really going on inside someone's head. At first, I was pissed. Seriously, he was saying some shit about Black people getting lynched and that if wasn't for White people, we'd be this and that, and his repeated use of the N-word. Was he on crack??? Oooh, I'm starting to burn again. Relax, relate, release...But yeah, "Kramer" gets bummed without Vaseline.

Anyway, it's the weekend and I'm out like bell bottoms in a few...I'm going to try to post on a weekly basis (minimum) from now on. Life in Japan is rolling by and I want to document as much as a can. Stay classy, people.

Sunday, November 12, 2006

Ahh, that's the spot...

I spent this week alone for the most part because I just needed to time to get my shit together. I had too many contradictory thoughts vying for my attention. I was confused and suffocating. So I decided to call a time out. I organized myself, read like mad, decided on a couple of action plans at school and in life and tried to still myself. I went grocery shopping and took my time through the aisles. I watched some Lost episodes and got caught deeper into the web on intrigue. I baked chocolate muffins for the first time and cooked some new recipes. I thoroughly cleaned my apartment and addressed the mildew problem in my shower. I realized (yet again) that I was hemorrhaging money and put pen to paper and created a budget for myself. I'm still going to have fun during my remaining months here but that will mean I'll have to make some hard decisions. I called home. I spoke to some good friends. I wished my godson a happy first birthday. I went out and tried a new restaurant with my sweetie and we lucked out. Mouth-watering Thai was the comfort food I had been craving.
I went to the doll class and created something beautiful yet again. All mundane tasks, no? For me, they were sanity savers.

**These pics are of my previous doll, the Okinawan. I will post pics of my latest doll, the Geisha, soon.

Thursday, November 09, 2006


When I first came to Japan, I was completely enamoured by the beautiful sights, the warm nature of its inhabitants and the general mystique of the Far East. As I made my way through each day, I encountered novel experiences and everything was an adventure (and sometimes a drama!). But it was good and it was honest because it was new. Now, 15 months later, everything is routine. I know, for the most part, how to communicate well and make myself understood. I’ve made peace with not speaking perfect Japanese and feel comfortable throwing out some nouns, a subject and object here and there, and always, always, ending with a verb. And while others I know seem to have it all, in terms of accessibility to others and the city, and a general joie-de-vivre, I feel that I’m spinning my wheels, particularly at work, and oh, work it has become. Life is really, really good at the elementary school. That’s where I get my joy during my “professional” hours. I love my junior high school students as well, but the vibe there is…stifling and stressful. My JTE stresses me the fuck out. That fact, coupled with a few other personal issues got me pretty down.

So I decided to step back and take time to heal by myself, for myself. Though I am an extrovert, sometimes being with others saps my strength and prevents me from concentrating on me. Now, curiously enough since I leave in relative solitude, I need to be alone. So this week, I’ve done Kaki-centred activities and thinking and I’m working on living my previously-adopted, oft-discarded, but newly-adopted again mantra “one day at a time”. So far, so good. I’m taking a time-out to do some figurative and literal spring (or is it fall?) cleaning and get rid of some clutter. I’ll also have a doll class this Sunday, which I’m really looking forward to. I’ll post some pics of my second doll soon, then a few of my next one.

Anyway, the title of this post is ‘Remembrance’ because I recently remembered what I love about Japan. See, Dave and I went to Kobe and Himeji in Hyogo Prefecture, which were absolutely beautiful, and is where I think the turnaround began. We had a holiday last Friday and Dave and I set out to Himeji first where we encountered possibly the most famous castle (and one of the few that survived through wars) in Japan, Himeji-jo. The throes of Fall had not yet fully descended on this place, but some leaves had turned and burned brightly against the rest of the green landscape. With about 6 floors and tons of sightseers, it took about 2 hours to visit the castle and its grounds.

After we left the castle, we took our time walking through covered shopping arcades (these hideous “pleasure towns” can be found in every Japanese city) and headed back to the station to continue our journey to Kobe.

Upon arrival, we went to our hostel, a really sweet and comfortable place that had the appeal of someone’s home. It only had 5 rooms, 2 with 4 bunk beds, a double room and a triple. There was also an open kitchen with all the amenities, a TV, DVD player and DVDs, a computer with free internet, and guidebooks and novels. I was instantly enamoured. After cleaning ourselves up, we headed to town and Kobe is definitely a place that should be visited. I hope to go there again before I leave. The shopping, the sights, THE FOOD…excuse me while I wipe my drool.

Kobe is quite small and can be done in about a day, or spread out to two if you want to savour it a bit more. We had to get our bearings on the first night, so we walked and walked, looking for an Indian restaurant to satiate our hunger. I turned into a right demon, a very hungry demon, and right before my head was going to spin around on my neck, we found a very lovely Indian place. We took in the bright lights of the city (so beautiful, how I miss them) and headed back to our hostel.

The next day, we started out relatively early and returned to downtown where we found a very charming place that served sandwiches and cakes. I’m not totally in love with sandwiches, but they are, in my opinion, a luxury in Japan. I had a BLT, with real bacon, not ham, and Dave had a sliced chicken sandwich with spicy mayo. Happiness in our mouths. We made our way Nankinmachi (Chinatown) where we took in the smells and hustle and bustle and vowed to eat there later that night.

In 1995, Kobe was the site of a devastating earthquake that killed more than 6000 people and leveled the city. We went to the place where the devastation has been preserved, the Port of Kobe Earthquake Memorial Park. I can’t really describe it, but I felt the power. It was astounding.

We left the park and headed to the Shin-Kobe cable car to ascend to a mountain ridge to behold the city. We walked around Nunobiki Habu-Koen, which is a herb garden.

After doing the majority of the city on foot, we decided to have a Chinese feast. We gorged on Peking Duck (the real deal!!!), sweet and sour pork, fried rice and spring rolls. The price wasn’t as exorbitant as I was led to believe and it was more than worth it. My salivatory (is that a word??) glands have been activated at the sheer thought.

Though we spent just over 24 hours in Kobe, it was enough to help me recover what I had feared to be lost. Unfortunately, not everyday can be a vacation, and as my better half reminded me, this is going to last forever. But once in a while, it is necessary to be remember the beauty of what once was…