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So now I’m in Chiba until I return to America on the 9th, staying with the host family that I stayed with almost 10 (jeez, what a long time) years ago.  It’s a bit nostalgic.  We went to Chikura over the weekend and Kamogawa Sea World.

The beach was about 3 hours away from their house, so we drove down on Sunday and spent the first day at the beach before going back to the pension for dinner.  The next day we went to Kamogawa Sea World.

This sea turtle looks a bit small in this picture, but he was about the size of a car tire.

Beluga, dolphin and orca show, required viewing at these types of theme parks.  There was a seal show as well as aquarium set ups with all types of fish, otters and penguins.  There was an arctic themed area and a tropical themed area.  Although now I can’t look at sting rays without thinking, “whores…”.  Thank you this post by Amy O’Dell.

This is not a kids meal.  Repeat, not a kids meal and yes, that rice is shaped like a shark.

The beach up around Kamogawa Sea World was even more blue than in Chikura.  Gorgeous.

What, did you think I wouldn’t buy anything?  Shark magnet.  Discovery’s Shark Week starts on July 31st, but I’m going to miss it because I’ll still be here.  Sadness.  Teeth by Lady Gaga is being used in the promos…Andy Samberg is hosting too… ;_;  Shut up, you know you all watch it too.

I’m a bit of a Kansai fail.  I had never been to Fushimi Inari.  So I resolved to go there (and a host of other places that I really should have gone to before).  It was very cool; but the day I went it was unbearably hot.  Still, I managed to do the entire trail and then treated myself to some goods.

Right about now, I should be in transit to the hostel in Chengdu.  When I got into the JET Program, my two big travel goals were China and Korea.  Korea I was able to hit very early on (see these old post on LJ), but China took some time.  I had really wanted to go to HK, Shanghai or Beijing; but the girl I’m traveling with has already been there, so we compromised and will be going to Chengdu and Chongqing in the Sichuan area.  Spicy food and pandas…that’s all I need.  Also, we have a 6hr layover in HK, so I’ll get a small HK bonus.  Back on May 7!

Sunday was supposed to be a quick downtown errand-then get apartment things done type of day.  The agenda: get nails done, hit giant bookstore, sell old books, get mother birthday present; return home, do laundry and clean apartment.  It did not turn out that way.  Of course, nails were done.

My nailist was a super cute girl who was obsessed with Gossip Girl, so she was really excited when I said I was from NYC and wanted to know if it was really like the show.  I liked that we had a seemingly normal salon-style conversation, and not the usual bs I get asked when people discover that I am a foreigner.  I wish you could request nailists!

Neo-Mart is on the way to the giant bookstore between Gion-Shijo and Sanjo.  This store kinda sells everything and I’ve classified it the same way I do Loft: an オシャレ (oshare: trendy) lifestyle store.  None of what they have is essential and it’s mildly overpriced (though still affordable), but it’s trendy.  Some of it (like that lamp) is just weird.  What do you think the penguin thing is?  Turns out it’s a set of pots and pans that happen to form a penguin when you stack them.  These are the weird design quirks I’ll miss when I leave Japan.  NYC definitely has its share of design, but nobody out-weirds Japan.

All the way back in October, I stumbled upon a random flea market with Alyssa where I picked up a business card for a handmade jewelry store called ro-ji.  At the time, I had tentatively bookmarked a pair of earrings in my head for my mom’s birthday.  However, her birthday is April 8th and I was afraid if I bought them early that I’d lose/break/otherwise maim them.  Shocked I actually held onto the business card.  The business card had a map on it, but the store is hard to find.  Head down Ni-jo towards Higashiyama.  On your left you’ll see an AEON supermarket.  At the next small street, take a left and ro-ji is on your right.  There was a small sign on the street in front of the store and it is VERY small (think shed-sized).  If you hit the school, you’ve gone too far.  Also good to know is that the store is only open F, S, Su and M.  This was not stated on the business card, so it was lucky for me that I went on a weekend.  I coudn’t open this to take a pic since I asked her to wrap it, but these are the earrings I got, in gold.

Anyway, post jewelry store I was supposed to go sell the books when I realized…I had left the books at home.  Oops.  Now showcasing my absolute lack of knowledge of Kyoto, I decided to walk from Ni-jo to Demachiyanagi, where there was a good falafel place.  It was way past lunchtime and I figured since the sakura were blooming and the weather was nice that I could take it to go and eat by the river.  I had already walked from Gion-Shijo to Ni-jo, mind you.  Figuring that I must be up by the used bookstore (also a gross underestimate) I started walking north…..and kept walking….and kept walking….and finally hit the used bookstore much later.  At which point I realized that, no, this was not as close as originally thought.  And then thought, well, now Demachiyanagi must be kinda close (again, wrong).  About a half hour after this original ordeal began, finally I did arrive at Demachiyanagi station and got my glorious falafel (Falafel Garden Kyoto).  So basically I walked a little under 2 miles in total….but at least the scenery wasn’t bad.

There’s a little area up by Imadegawa St. where the river splits and there’s this peninsula/island thing that you can access via one of the bridges.  Being a gorgeous day, there were a ton of people hanami-ing and just generally hanging out.  While I was eating they were dj-ing untz untz music.  By the time I had finished eating, this band had taken the stage (can you call it that?).  They were cool, but a little new age-y for my taste.  I preferred the previous untz.

All in all, the day did not go as planned, but was very pleasant nonetheless, and made me think how different/enjoyable this year would have been had I lived in the city.  To be clear, I have not been completely miserable, nor do I regret coming here.  I accepted the big gamble that is the JET Program, knowing that I’d have zero control.  Kyo-town does have its finer points, but it’s this spontaneity and sense of randomness that I love about city life.

I finally committed to taking the JLPT; although whether I should take N2 or N3 is still up in the air.  N2 is definitely a challenge, but it’s the only level that employers really care about, so I bought the N2 books.  Hoping that by declaring this publicly it’ll motivate me so I don’t look like a chump when the results come out, haha.  I got all four books: reading comprehension, kanji, grammar and vocabulary.  I also have a drill book that I bought and forgot about awhile ago.  My biggest problem with the JLPT is definitely going to be kanji; my speaking level is so much higher than my reading level…and thank god there’s no writing, because with all my computer/cell phone use, it’s all gone.  Oh well, 頑張りましょうね!

The first time I came to Japan was in 2002 (with an excellent program called AFS) and, while it sounds cliche to say, it changed my life; so much so that I minored in Japanese in college and am here again to work almost 10 years later.  I may be leaving at the end of the this summer, but this is by no means the last time I will be here.  National AJET, an independent association that cooperates with the JET Program, created a facebook event called “Man (万) Up for Japan” which I thought was a good idea.  Man is 10,000 in Japanese, so the idea was that you would donate 10,000yen to Japan aid.  So I did in the form of the following charity items.  I had these sent to my house in America, so I don’t have any of my own pics.  I don’t claim to own these.  Donations can be made to the Red Cross here, or text REDCROSS to 90999 to give $10.

Ralph Lauren Japan Hope Polo, 100% of the proceeds go to the Central Community Chest of Japan, a part of the United Way worldwide network.

Kate Spade Japan Relief Tote, 100% of the proceeds go to the Japanese Red Cross.

The last time I went to Kyushu, I was in northern Kyushu: Oita, Beppu, Kitakyushu area; very rural.  Fukuoka is a city I’ve wanted to go to for awhile, so when Alyssa said she wanted to go I jumped on.  Fukuoka is also the home of my favorite type of ramen: tonkotsu ramen and the hometown of Ippudo, one of my favorite restaurants in NYC.

Fukuoka weekend trip in pictures…stuff I bought to come later:

Dazaifu is a little ways outside of Fukuoka proper, and I think this is part of the reason it reminds me so much of Kamakura (which is a little ways outside of Tokyo).  Also the main square around the station and the shopping arcade leading up to the shrine are similar-looking.

Dazaifu Tenman-gu Shrine.  Also, I don’t know why, but when I went back and looked at my pictures, I had a bunch of these stone lions…

 

From the rock garden at Kōmyōzen, a zen temple.  It looked like an event was going on, but the attendant at the front said it was ok to enter…then as we were leaving, he told us there was an event, and it was a funeral.  Thanks, attendant guy.

 

Kyushu National Museum.  Not allowed to take pictures inside.  Very well done, I’d recommend it if you’re here.  We did not see the special exhibit, just the main one.  I liked how the focus was not solely on Japan, but on the development of Japan relative to the rest of Asian history.

 

Ippudo!!  Also exciting was the fact that there was no wait!  The usual wait time at the NYC location can exceed an hour…an hour…for RAMEN.  Ramen which costs $13 to the Japan location’s $9.  But it is delicious; tonkotsu is my favorite type of ramen.  Differences between Japan and NYC (other than prices and wait time): toppings and side dishes at the table; the ability to order extra noodles if you run out while you still have broth (which I shamelessly ordered); ability to specify noodle texture to your server; atmosphere at this location (3 in Fukuoka) was decidedly casual to NYC’s upscale look.

 

Ohori Park.  Gorgeous, I wish there was a place like this in Kyoto.  There’s a running/biking/walking path around the lake and these small islands and bridge that run through the middle.  Also went to the Fukuoka Art Museum which was located around the perimeter.  Decent museum, but I wouldn’t call it spectacular.

 

Yatai are small food stalls that appear when it gets dark on the streets in Fukuoka.  We found this one in front of Daimaru and later found out it was our hostel’s recommended yatai.  Generally they serve standard Japanese bar food, but one of the popular items at this one was tacos.  They’re Japan-ified, but delicious nonetheless.  If you don’t like Tabasco though I wouldn’t recommend them.  We also got yakisoba.  It would have been easy to sit here for hours ordering food and drinking, but Alyssa had a budget and I had a night bus back to Kansai to catch.

Kitano Tenman-gu shrine is known for its plum blossoms, which bloom around February.  To enter the actual plum blossom viewing area, there is a fee, but there are plum blossoms all over the grounds; unless you’re particularly into flower viewing, you don’t necessarily need to enter the area.  We didn’t.

Kitanotenman-gu shrine (北野天満宮), take city bus 50 or 101 from JR Kyoto station.

February 3rd was the Setsubun Lantern Festival in Nara.  This was actually my first time to Nara, so I was pretty excited to go.  All the lanterns are lit with candles and this is the only time they are lit.  There are no street lights on the path leading up to the shrine; and add to that the fact that deer roam freely in Nara and it’s kinda spooky, but very cool.

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January 16th was the 大的大会 (Oh-mato taikai; lit. Festival of the Great Target) at Sanjūsangen-dō temple in Kyoto.  Oh-mato taikai is a contest based on a much older archery contest called 通し矢 (Toshiya; lit. passing arrow) that was held for 255 years before being ending in 1861 (Source: Wikipedia).  Approximately 2,000 men and women come to participate.  It starts early (9am) and despite getting there before 9am, there was already a line to get into the temple.  It was extremely crowded, but I managed to squeeze myself into a good spot that was lined up with the archers.  They got two arrows to shoot with.

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Ashley

Grew up in philly, used to live in nyc, spent a year in japan. I like shopping. Gotta figure out what to do with this blog now...

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