Category Archives: Japan

The Tokyo Files: Part 2 – Meiji Shrine

After wandering around Harajuku, I walked over to Meiji Shrine. Meiji Shrine is one of the most important shrines in Japan. It’s nestled in a very green park in the Harajuku neighbourhood, which I really enjoyed – a calming oasis in such a busy (but fantastically orderly) city.

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The torii were huge!

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So many sake barrels.

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I stumbled across a wedding! The bride was stunning.

 

The Tokyo files: Part one – Harajuku!

Harajuku and Sunday = a match made in heaven! Harajuku is the hub of youth fashion and culture in Tokyo – I’ve read that fashion designers like to head to Harajuku to find out what’s about to happenin fashion. On a Sunday it is especially awesome because it’s when young people turn up, dressed in various forms of cosplay (although less than in the past). When in Tokyo last weekend, I decided to spend Sunday morning exploring this area.

The main street is Takeshita Dori. This is where the centre of the action is.

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It really looks quite unassuming considering the influence this one street has!

022There were all these amazing little side streets that frequently led to nowhere.

023Somehow I find myself wanting all of these!

025I can see this being professional office attire in the next 3 years.

034Desu.

026  024  For some reason the Harajuku Daiso (100 yen shop) is especially famous. I couldn’t figure out why.

In the end, after swearing I would buy absolutely nothing at all when in Harajuku, I found myself with a new dress and new socks, which I don’t think is too bad. I really love Harajuku – it has an incredible atmosphere that I haven’t quite found anywhere else!

Expat 2.0 = USA

Well. Yesterday was one of the most important days of my life. More than ten months after filing, I had my US fiancee visa interview.

I had it at the US embassy in Tokyo. I have literally never been somewhere so secure in my life. I had to get permission from a friendly Japanese police officer to cross the road to get to the queue to be allowed to go through the first security check. They have it set up that the only way to get to the embassy is through this crossing. After going through initial security (like airport security, but wi a few added bonuses – they take your phone!) I walked over to the consular section, where I went through another metal detector and had my bags searched, before going through to the consular lounge.

There were a number of people waiting. I was given a number, and sat down to wait to be called. The room had multiple windows, like a bank. I was called up three times – the first to look at my enormous pile of documents, secondly to get fingerprinted, and finally for the interview itself. My nerves were thankfully calmed by a little boy who befriended me. This little 5 year old boy could seriously name every station in Tokyo, and was directing me everywhere I could possibly want to go (I explained to him that I had to go tony hotel in Ikebukuro, then over to Tokyo station to catch e shinkansen home. He gave ,e correct directions, including the lines to take etc). He also absolutely insisted that he had walked by my house in semi rural Kansai, and was quite the expert at a sport that was a combination of tennis and soccer. He also spent a good 10 minutes comparing the details of the sinking of the Titanic, Britannica and a couple of other ships. Kid was smart!

Eventually it was time for my interview. It was a fairly simple process. The officer was really friendly and put me at ease. At the end of the interview I was to,d I was approved, and to expect my visa in a week or so.

OHMYGOODNESSTHISISREALLYHAPPENING!

Everything’s coming up roses

Well. Yesterday my health check arrived in the mail. Last night I finished filling out my last form for a while. Next weekend I will fly to Tokyo for my visa interview the following Monday. I still have a whole lot of gathering of proof our relationship is legitimate to do, but that shouldn’t be difficult, considering we communicate daily.

I’m really excited, but really nervous. Not just about the interview, but about the move itself. The US has so many awesome things to offer, but there are still cultural differences I need to learn to understand, and the usual worries that come with a big change, especially career wise – my degree is in primary teaching and the elementary job market is tough to break into. It makes me incredibly nervous. I’m working toward my masters at the moment, and I honestly don’t want it all to be in vain. All I can realistically do though is push. We’re prepared to move states if that’s what it takes to find a job. If I’m allowed to test in (depending on state), I might look at adding middle school credentials, especially in math – in New Zealand primary school lasts longer than US elementary, so my students were technically middle school aged.

It’s also the usual nerves of trying to meet people, make friends and find my niche. I plan on volunteering though, which will hopefully help. Also driving – we called the DMV in Ohio and I’m allowed to drive on my international permit for a year, which is great but terrifying – I’ve driven on the right hand side a grand total of twice in my life – the first time my friend made me switch back with him because I was driving too slowly – the second time I chose to switch because there were, gasp, other cars on the road. Even though I’ll legally be allowed to drive, I’ll go for a few practice drives around the neighbourhood with Kyle before venturing out alone!

On the plus side, I get to go to Tokyo soon :). That’s really exciting!

The horrors: A mukade in my apartment.

The other night I was mucking around doing something incredibly important on my computer, when I heard a rustle coming from the plastic bag on the floor beside me. I glanced down, and was suddenly gripped with fear. All of the fear. Enough that I literally jumped on my couch. After two years and ten months, I finally encountered a mukade on the inside of my apartment. As luck might have it, it was the largest one I have ever seen.

Mukade, for the uninitiated, are the most evil bugs on the fact of the planet. They give horrible, poisionous bites. They are huge (like 10 cm long). The thing that makes them worse than any other bugs on the planet (and I hang out with Japanese Giant Hornets) is that they are agressive and don’t really seem to have any inhibitions whatsoever. I generally don’t kill bugs – actually quite like them; I happily shared my bathroom with a cute wee spider named Philip for a summer, but mukade are the one exception.

Mukadre

My neighbour found this one in his apartment. They’re taking over.

Anyway, back to the evil mukade. It realised I was after it. I found myself chasing it from afar, being petrified, as it ducked into random places in my living room. Eventually, I called my friend. She started giving me instructions as to how to catch it. I squealed. Suddenly that advice turned into, “I’ll be over in a minute”.

I kept eye on the mukade, until eventually it went and hid under my side-lying router. I siezed the opportunity to trap the beast under a stainless steel bowl. I sat for a few moments, holding my prisoner, until A. showed up. She was armed with her anti mukade kit – a clear, plastic box and a bottle of dish detergent.

We scooted the mukade off the tatami, and onto the wooden floor. The general ‘how to kill a mukade’ procedure around here is to trap them, and use oodles of dishwashing detergent to kill them. Basically, you line the perimeter of the container with detergent and swirl it around, coating the trapped mukade. Mukade are very difficult to kill, as they have a super tough exoskeleton, so the traditional squash method isn’t really very effective. In fact, rumour has it that if you squash a mukade, it releases pheremones so other mukade in the area can come and take revenge. I didn’t want to test this.

We kept squirting detergent around and it kept moving. We ended up using all of A.’s detergent (which I still haven’t paid her back for – whoops), and half of mine, until eventually we had a mukade sized swimming pool of the stuff. It took 30 long, painful minutes, but it eventually stopped squirming. Not wanting to risk it, I filled a plastic bag with detergent, and we grabbed kitchen tongs to pick it up with. We then carried it out to the dumpsters, and laid it to rest.

I will never feel safe in my apartment ever again.

Incidentally, I was going to add a link to a youtube video of one, but watching one move was just too traumatic.

And so we hike again.

Once a year, all of the Junior high schools in my city (and maybe Japan) go hiking. A lot of schools do one of the popular hikes in the area, but because we are located in the middle of nowhere we did our own hike, cleverly coinciding with picking up the few pieces of rubbish in the surrouding area. The school was divided into four groups. My school is the smallest of the 18-something Junior High Schools in the city, so my group had 5 students, one other teacher, myself and the principal.

Most of the hike was more of a walk up a mountain on paved roads. We reached the summit. The views were beautiful.

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Hiking!

My friends and I wanted to try another fairly local hike, so we chose one going over a mountain in Kobe. It was nice – not too steep, and just the right length (about 4 hours). Here’s a few pics 🙂

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Cheap Japanese Accomodation – The trusty internet cafe!

The other day I had some paperworky stuff to do, and my printer ran out of ink, so I headed to the trusty internet cafe (also known as a manga cafe). While I was there, I figured I’d grab a few photos, since internet cafes are pretty much the cheapest form of accommodation in Japan. They have been set up to cater for partying salarymen who miss the last train, or people who really, really need somewhere to crash in a pinch. Basically, you pay for your computer, which is in a little booth. You can choose between a mat booth, or a reclining chair booth.

It typically costs about 2000 yen a night ($20US or $25NZ ish). Most tend to have other facilities, such as shower rooms, drinks and food. Totally worth it for a quiet night sleep. There are lockers you can use for your valuables, if need be. I have found myself staying in internet cafes from time to time, and can attest that they are safe and comfortable. Occasionally they leave the lights on all night though, which makes it difficult to sleep.

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This is the booth I used, with the reclinng chair (obviously). The chair was super comfortable – it was hard to actually do my work. (Forgive my mess!)

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I grabbed a quick shot of an empty matt type booth. These are the ones I always choose to sleep in, and are comfortable. The only thing I would suggest is making sure you have something to use as a pillow.

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There are showers. They are cheap to use. Note as well the wals of manga. There are thusands and thousands to choose from, if the internet is not your thing…

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This one even had laundry facilities – I haven’t seen it in all of them. Food vending machines and free soft drinks are usually pretty standard.

 

A bug’s life

I saw these guys hanging from the bus stop the other day.

A Hiking we shall go

It’s Golden Week here in Japan. Basically, that means there are abunch of public holidays all around the same date, so pretty much everyone in Japan picks up and travels.

I am really trying to save money, so have avoided travelling out of town for this Golden Week, and have instead decided to expore a bunch of the hiking trails in my local area. Today we explored a trail behind Arima Onsen, a resort town near to where I live.

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Due to it being a resort town, and Golden Week, it was really crowded in Arima Onsen itself (well, its really crowded about 80% of the time). The trails, however, weren’t too bad. There were a few tour groups in super fancy hiking outfits, and the odd family, but everyone was really friendly.

We arrived at the station and headed toward the hike. Unfortunately my memory of how to get there served me slightly wrong, meaning we were lucky to see all sorts of non-touristy parts of Arima Onsen on the way. Unfortunately in this case, non-touristy means more streets of houses, car parks and backs of hotels, as opposed to wonderful, tucked away experiences and places off the beaten path.

Eventually, after following our instinct around the town, we finally found the entrance to the trail (and the road we should have gone down to get there) directly and easily. The trail started behind a shrine up a mountain. We got to the base of the mountain, and saw the steps up to the shrine. It didn’t look too bad.

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Where we thought the stairs ended. Sigh.

Except that, unfortunately, the landing where we thought the shrine was turned out to be wrong. Quite wrong. We were probably only about 1/3 of the way there.

So we trudged on up, feeling very, very sorry for ourselves. Thankfully the temple at the top, whilst small and understated, was really pretty and had a great view.

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The start of the official hiking trail.

We started along the trail, full of optimism. This soon dissipated. The trail was much harder than we anticipated – steep, with a lot of dirt and giant tree roots. After scrambling up it for about 15 minutes (which felt much, much longer), we eventually came to another trail. This was a much wider and smoother trail – the kind found more commonly in Japan.

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Celebrating the wide, easy trail 😀

We carried on for while, but decided not to go all the way to the top, because it was getting late in the day, and I’m not one for being stranded on Japanese mountainsides.Image

View from the (almost) top.

We turned around, and somehow merged with a group of engineering students from Osaka who spoke excellent English on the way down. We reached the bottom, left our new friends, and decided to actually go to the onsen, being that the entire town revolves around it (super logical, desu!)Image

These guys were waiting at the bottom. I’m rather fond.

We ended up having a very short bath in the onsen, as it was just too hot. We did enjoy the massage chairs afterward though. We went to the gold onsen. There are minerals in the water that turn the water a rusty golden colour. It’s so thick that the water is completely opaque.

We stumbled out of the onsen hungry and found ourselves in 7-11, where we bought amazing, soft, gooey chocolate-man buns.

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Ridiculously good. Seriously.

And then, it was time to head home. But thankfully it’s only the beginning of Golden Week – there are many more adventures to come 🙂