Monday, October 31, 2005

Halloween - a lot tamer this year round

Although I had told myself last year that I would definately be doing the Osaka Halloween Loopline Party again, this year I didn't get round to it.

Party pooper. Boo. I know...I know and I shake my head as I type this. As much as I wanted to go, get dressed up, see all the other outfits and weirdos out there and join in the madness and mayhem that the event is, I just wasn't fully up to it. I haven't done and all-nighter for ages and right now being so busy, I don't think my body could cope with one.

But on Saturday night I did go out and had a really good night.

Andy, Sachi and their baby girl Sasha were visiting from Nara so we all met up for dinner. We went to "Tooth Tooth - the dining garden," a very nice restaurant at the top of the Kobe International Building. It has cosy tables inside and outside tables in an open air garden on the roof. Dinner and dessert were delicious - definately going back there again.

They had to leave after dinner for the long drive back so with the night still young, Hana, Leigh and myself headed to Chey's for drinks and then went on a nice stroll around the Kitano area in search of the Hello Kitty Love Hotel. Alas, we didn't find it but with great company it was an amusing and educational walk nonetheless.

All the best for your operation Leigh! All for the love of soccer. After you recover, we'll take you out to find some lovely hostesses (not the "Go-sen" ones from China) to accompany you to buy danishes, pastries and late night desserts.

On Monday (Halloween) night I knocked on my neighbours' doors and gave their little boys lollybags. One of the boys was sleeping so his mother carried him to the door to say 'Thank you' and the other, quickely put on a pumpkin suit from Universal Studios Japan. They even gave me a lollybag - it was so cute.

Mister Pumpkin

The lollybag I got!

Friday, October 28, 2005

That time of semester again

Exam time also means "Bakamono-kai" time.

We went to this really good izakaya in Sanners and ate and drank so much. We just kept on ordering more and more food. The glasses just kept on coming. A teacher was wanting me to try all these new dishes. We were trying to out eat each other. There was even a brief wasabi Russian roulette drinking game. I guess the stress of exam time hit everyone really hard this round and we were all out for a night of letting loose and relaxing.

Monday, October 24, 2005

What's in a name?

My kids are having exams now.

No classes for me. Yay. Usually this means plenty of time to catch up on reading, study Japanese, surf the Internet, reply emails and update my blog. However this time I've found myself extremely busy (how did this happen?) and even get through one day without logging on.

I've been busy preparing my lessons, doing up worksheets, helping some 3rd year students prepare for their university entrance English exams and interviews, making tests and marking them.

Anyways, for my 1st year classes I've been doing a telephone lesson. English-sensei and I teach the kids useful telephone conversation expressions, how to take messages and ask for and give their telephone numbers. For one exercise we pre-recorded ourselves as if I was leaving a message on English-sensei's answering machine. The students had to listen and take a message.

When marking their worksheets, these are the various ways they spelt my name;
(My students address me as "Chris")
~ Kurisu
~ Kris
~ Kliss
~ Cris
~ Clice
~ Kuris
~ Curis

Sunday, October 23, 2005

Miyajima (Itsuku-shima)

Here's a tip for all you travellers in Japan: carry enough money with you EVERYWHERE! It is impossible to draw out money from other banks machines if you're from another prefecture and are with a local bank.

My impromptu shopping spree the day before left me with very little cash on hand. After checking out of the Aster I had literally only the coins in my coin purse (~$15) to last me the day. *What was I thinking?!* After desperately walking around the city and trying EVERY bank ATM that was open on a Sunday (even Resona which worked for me in Saitama), I decided to try the Popular convenience store ATM. This was a frantic last attempt as most convenience store ATMs don't accept my bank card, even in Kansai. But miraculously the little hatch opened and there was my money!

I took a train to the port (hint: take the express, the local took foreeeeeeever!) and hopped on a ferry over to Miyajima. The weather had cleared up and it was just beautiful. The wind was cool as we glided over the sparkling water to a lush green island of mountains. Miyajima is one of Japan's 3 most beautiful spots. You might be familiar with it from photos or postcards of a red and green O-torii Shinto Shrine Gate standing in the water. In reality, if you don't get there when the tide is high enough, your photo will be of the famous 'floating' torii gate standing in mud. It's meant to be one of the most photographed tourist attractions in Japan and believe me, I took plenty!

After taking photos of unsuspecting tourists and Japanese visitors under attack from the local deer (just like Nara), I headed straight to Itsukushima Shrine. This is where the O-torii Gate is. I was lucky that the tide was just right and it really was a beautiful sight. I was also lucky enough to be there when a traditional wedding was taking place. All us tourists gathered around to take photos of the ceremony, the drinking of sake from shallow bowls served by the priests(?) and the family photo in front of the shrine. There was also another couple in traditional Japanese wedding kimono taking photos there too.

I walked around trying to cover as much as I could. I went to the Kiyomori Shrine, Daiganji Temple, Treasure Hall and Daishoin Temple. When I was up some mountains taking photos of some statues, suddenly the calm silence was broken by the thundering sound of drums that rang throughout the island. They kept on going, faster and louder. What the hell was going on?

Then I realised I was on that island for Mortal Kombat where the Outworld would battle it out to the death, for the Realm of Earth. It was just like in the movie. Exactly. With thoughts of seeing Rayden (ohh Christopher Lambert), Liu Kang, Scorpion (I always used him) and Shang Tsung (played by the brilliant "if-you-ever-need-a-bad-ass-evil-asian-dude" Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa), I stopped what I was doing and immediately followed the alluring drumming like a rodent (a tunnel rat to be exact) following the delightful piper's tune.

I was lead to Senjokaku (main hall of the Hokoku Shrine) and the five-storied pagoda. Alas I wasn't able to get Johnny Cage's signature but I was able to watch an amazing taiko drum performance. I love taiko drums. The deep sounds, hypnotic beat and the power and muscle that goes into playing it. It was so cool.

By then I was starving and lined up for Miyajima's famous oysters. Freshly shucked and cooked on a barbeque, with a squeeze of lemon - it was the most delicious thing ever. Ever. Definately worth the long wait for them. I also tried deep fried momiji manju on a stick, mayple leaf shaped cake with sweet filling inside, usually red bean paste. Miyajima is famous for the O-torii Gate, momiji (mayple trees), oysters and special wooden rice scoops made from Miyajima wood.

Next I took the Ropeway to the top of Mt. Misen, the highest moutain on Miyajima. The view from there was stunning. Not to mention the monkeys!! Yep, that's right. Red faced-butted monkeys. Heaps of them, just monkeying around.
There were so many other temples I didn't get to see but hopefully I'll visit again. I ferried back to the mainland, trained it back to Hiroshima, then shinkansened it back to Kobe. A really amazing weekend. I definately recommend Miyajima to be on your itinerary in Japan. It's perfect for a relaxing day trip.

Saturday, October 22, 2005

make LOVE, not war

I can't believe I've been here for one year already and I haven't been to Hiroshima yet.

Well, this weekend was time to make amends. Plus this year holds more significance marking 60 years after the first nuclear bomb was dropped.

After school on Friday I raced home to finish packing and set out for Hiroshima. From Himeji, it was about a 2 hour shinkansen ride. That night I stayed at the World Friendship Centre (found in the Lonely Planet and recommended by Cheryl) which is a non-profit, anti-nuclear organisation. Basically it's like a cosy bed and breakfast run by some Japanese staff and full time volunteer residents from the US. They were a lovely, older couple who decided to come to Japan for adventure on the 2 year contract. They really look after you, are very accommodating and the homecooked breakfast included was delicious. It really was a 'home away from home'.

Hiroshima is a beautiful and interesting city, and easy to get around. They have trains, buses and a tram system (reminded me of Melbourne) which are all pretty tourist friendly. Getting the tram 2 day pass was really handy as it gave me unlimited tram rides, the ferry ride to Miyajima Island and a ride on the Miyajima Ropeway.

On Saturday I headed out to the Peace Memorial Park (Heiwa-koen) and saw the Cenotaph, containing the names of all the known victums of the bomb, the Flame of Peace (which continues to burn and will only be extinguished once the last nuclear weapon on earth has been destroyed), the Children's Peace Memorial (inspired by leukaemia victim Sadako and her 1000 paper cranes - there were heaps of them all sent in from around Japan and around the world), Korean A-bomb Memorial, Monument of Prayer, A-bomb Memorial Mound (where the ashes of the victims are buried), Fountain of Prayer and ofcourse, the A-bomb Dome (speechless).

The Peace Memorial Museum is definately a must. It took me a while to get through everything because there was just so much to take in. I could hardly believe the photographs taken of the city after the bomb was dropped was the very same city I was in that day. It was utterly destroyed and literally death and hell on earth. Only the skeleton of the A-bomb Dome was visible among the rubble and it's amazing to see Hiroshima what it is today. Amazing.

Seeing actual items from 60 years ago; the charred lunch box, the burnt rags left of a school uniform, melted glass bottles fused together, black rain on a white wall, stopped watches, human shadows set into stone - was really moving. I already knew this would be a very educational and emotional trip and you can't help but feel so sad and numb from what you see. Back then, many junior high school boys and girls were sent out to help clear away rubble and demolish buildings to make way for firelanes. It was many of those junior high school boys and girls that never came home. In an instant they were turned to ash.

It was the survivors' stories that really got to me. Parents losing children, children losing parents, desperate searches for surviving family members, not finding them in time and the regret of knowing that person died alone, desperate pleas for their mothers from young children, desperate pleas for water from burn victims...the list and suffering goes on. The National Peace Memorial Hall is also a must. It has a database library of the victims that you can a search on and also video interviews with survivors and their stories, all in different languages too.

I don't know what to say except that you just have to experience it for yourself. Even in the visitors book when I filled in the date, my name and nationality, when it came to Comments, I couldn't think of anything to write. I was just speechless and numb. Nothing could sum up how I felt. Yes, I was moved. Yes, it was very educational. Yes, I would definately go back again. Yes, I agree war has no winners and something like this should never ever happen again. Yes, it moved me. Yes, I believe in and hope for world peace.

But my page remained blank.

Everyone who I spoke to said it's best to do something fun and light after visiting the Peace Park and Museum because what you experience there is quite heavy. Also since it was starting to drizzle, I headed into the city for some retail therapy and to look around. I also went to Okonomi-mura to try the city's famous hiroshima-yaki (Hiroshima's version of okonomiyaki - it has noodles in it). I had the 'deluxe' and was very full. dee~licious!

I also stumbled across a display of paper cranes. Apparently the Children's Memorial receives so many paper cranes that they have to store them away until they can be used to hang up around the memorial statues and around the park. Also, after they are used they are recycled and made into notebooks sold to raise money for children's charities.

That night I stayed at the Aster Plaza International Youth House (also found in the Lonely Planet and recommend by Cheryl). This place was very nice! I reckon like a typical Japanese 'business hotel' (exactly like the one in Nagoya we stayed in for the World Expo) or 3-star hotel. Very swish and affordable too. A bit of luxury and a proper comfy bed was just what I needed. The restaurant was good too. But the place had a midnight curfew as it mainly caters for students and conferences, although I was in bed way before then because I was so tired from all the walking I had done.

Tuesday, October 18, 2005

Pleasant Phonecalls

Phonecall 1
Late one evening, my phone rings.
I don't usually get calls to my home phone unless it's my parents, Brendon or the frequent wrong number. I pick up and it's Weng Ho! What the? Surprise.

Wengers is a mate of mine from uni. He moved back to Malaysia after graduating and is working in his family's business. He was in Japan on business, Tokyo to be exact, which unfortunately meant we couldn't meet up. I haven't seen him in ages and it was really good to catch up on the phone and laugh about all the weird and wonderful things Japan has to offer ie. Akihabara's glorious electronics, super high-tech toilet seats, intelligent automatic sensor vacuum cleaners, porn available for PSP, Japanese food, Japanese business etiquette and the variety of snack foods.

Thanks for the call matey - it was really good to hear from you and hope we get to catch up again but next time in person.

Phonecall 2
Another night I get a call from Sue Yen.

It's all been confirmed and she's coming over to Japan Yay! She'll be working about an hours train ride (I think) from Kobe City. Double Yay! She's coming over with a private English company on a 1 year contract. I'm already planning all the cafes, bars and restaurants we have to try out, thinking about all the shopping adventures in store and relishing the thought of having someone from home to share all these crazy, new experiences with.

I'm very lucky and thankful for all of my new mates I've made over here in Japan, but there's nothing like having a close friend from home, who you've known since high school, to be able to share things with and look out for each other.

I was ever so grateful for Rui being in Japan (although Saitama) during my first year here and it really made a difference to how I adjusted to my new environment. We were able to support each other because we were going through the same things.

Which leads to...

Phonecall 3
Just stepped out of the shower and I get a call from Rui.

It was really good to hear from her and how she was adjusting back to life, post-Japan. Culture shock, the end of the LDR, family, career - everything. It's only a matter of time till it's my turn. Things have changed, people have changed, places have changed...we have changed.

What is it like to wake up in a real, proper bed? What is it like to just jump into your car and drive to get somewhere? Without worrying if your ipod is charged up because you have a car stereo? What is it like to not have to translate things into English then Japanese or vice versa in your head before speaking? What is it like to be able to see your family again? What is it like to be able to wear heels again without worrying about all the walking up hills?

It's one thing to leave home, but it's a totally different thing to return, pick up where you left from and continue.

Sunday, October 16, 2005

Naked Butt Festival it's actually known as the Fighting Festival (Nada no Kenka Matsuri) but believe me, it was just all about butts. Big butts, small butts, dimply butts, hairy butts, tight butts, not-so-tight butts... they were just everywhere!

The festival is said to date back to the Edo Period where men in loin cloths carry huge, heavy mikoshi (portable shrines) from their neighbourhoods to Matsubara Shrine. They then proceed to this dirt pit (sports ground) where they battle it the death! It was just like Gladiator. Not really, they just kind of battle it out, ramming into each other trying to tip the other shrine over but belive me, it's pretty damn scary when you're actually caught up in the squash and crush of sweaty, naked butt men. Every year people do get injured and sometimes even worse. Include thousands of spectators and the hypnotic drum beat of the drummers sitting inside the mikoshi, this truly was a crazy, unbelievable sight.

I tooks heaps of photos in Matsubara Shrine and decided to go for the green team. The place was packed as! After taking enough photos, I was about to head home because it was just too hot and crowded but I decided to follow the teams through the neighbourhood roads of Himeji to find out where they went afterwards. After a bit of a trek, I arrived at the sports grounds and was in awe as I entered the arena with thousands of people watching all around. Apparently I hadn't seen any Fighting Festival action yet..this was it. Just as I thought I had better get up to where all the spectators were and get out of the way, it strangely grew quiet. As I turned around I saw another team's mikoshi charging into the arena and the crowd went off and roared!

It was futile. The people around me started scampering to safetly and I was just pushed along. A few of us near the edge jumped into this ditch thing beforehand and then as the mikoshi and naked butt men charged by, onlookers were pushed into any space or crevice available to make room for the mikoshi, thus a sea of people had no where else to go but on top of us in the ditch! Luckily 3 Japanese guys kind of shielded me, probably after seeing the look of fear on my face, and I survived. After I said "Thank you" in a very emphasized foreign accent, they were surprised and then laughed "Watch out! Be careful!" haha

Some people were not so lucky. Many of them had their feet stepped on, hats knocked off, hair in disarray and we were just a tangle of people, like those monkeys in a barrel. I managed to score a great view from above and took heaps more photos. It was just insane.

After taking enough photos (again) and standing around in the heat for too long, I decided to head home after I bought some yakitori and icecream from the rows of stalls selling festival food; yakisoba, takoyaki, karaarge chicken, frankfurts, potato fries, baby custard (sponge cake balls).

Come and get it! ~ Hot & Tasty

(and that's just the guy serving it! haha)

"Go the GREEN!"

Entering the arena - Team Red