A Travellerspoint blog

Toji Market and Momiji in Kyoto

O.K. So November! Markets and momiji. Haru's mother wanted to meet me again (to make sure that I don't want to marry Haru just to sell her into slavery, I think) so we arranged for the three of us to meet and visit the Toji Temple market.

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This huge street market is held on the 21st of every month, and when (as in November) the 21st falls on a weekend, it is packed with bargain hunters.

I wasn't looking for anything in particular and this is the kind of market where many people only go to browse. There are many retro, second hand and antique stalls (among the food, cheap clothes and household goods stalls) with a wide range of things from the cheap and tacky to the rare and expensive.

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What really stuck me as I looked around was how many of the things on sale (sometimes for a lot of money) were basically the same as stuff I'd seen left behind in old houses on my haikyo trips. Now I see another reason why good haikyo locations can become guarded secrets - they're treasure troves full of sellable stuff. For example, these are all things from the last haikyo I visited (today).

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I was good and left all the antiques and retro toys where I found them.

Anyway, all this haikyo talk was a good point of connection with Haru's mother, she got quite interested as I kept pointing things out telling her about similar things I'd found and photographed. In the end I only bought one thing though, a complete set of 'Namennayo - cat collection' trading cards - featuring pictures of kittens dressed as Ninjas! Haru said she used to buy them when she was a school girl.

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I couldn't resist buying them, but now I don't want to ruin the complete collection and I can't bring myself to open the envelopes and look at the cards... oh well.

After we'd done with the market Haru's mother wanted to go to Kiyomizu Diera to see the autumn leaves; it looked spectacular too, the colours seem much richer this year than last.

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This was the first time I'd been here with Haru since April and the cherry blossom season, when I proposed to her; it was very cute to see her go all girly and show her mother 'That's where he asked me'! (and I have to admit it's a good place to have those kind of memories associated with). Soon the sun was going down, so we headed off down the small winding back streets of Kyoto.

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One of the things I love about Japan is how it can throw random things at you at anytime, even in places you've been many times before - like Kyoto.

Two things that evening.

First, in the middle of the city, a wild pig ran across the street right in front of me and into some bushes. It was only small and at first I thought I'd mis-seen, but a group of guys behind me all started talking about 'inoshishi', which means wild pig in Japanese so I checked with them and they confirmed it. Maybe this is the Japanese equivalent of urban foxes?

Second, we saw two girls performing a very intricate traditional dance, for no apparent reason, in the grounds of one of the temples.

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I actually think they were in training, as after the dance they seemed to be getting feedback from their 'teachers'.

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Overall, I think the day went very well and Haru's mother seemed much happier about the prospect of her only girl child being stolen away by a foreign devil - and you might think I'm joking, but seriously Japanese people are generally very friendly... but cross-cultural marriages still cause a lot of raised eyebrows and worries. Check out the trailer for this recent Japanese movie 'My darling is a forieigner'

That's all for today - and don't forget to leave a short message, let me know you're out there!

Posted by DKJM74 04:51 Comments (3)

Hike and Haikyo in November

November has been a month hike and haikyo (abandoned places) for me.

Ever since hiking over Hieizan to Kyoto with James we've talked about doing another hike, we finally managed to arrange something on November 3rd (which was a mid week public holiday). So we headed down to Takarazuka to do a walk that follows the route of an old scenic train line, including six unlit tunnels and a wrought iron bridge.

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The river valley running along side the track is very nice, but it was certainly the remnants of the railway that made this really interesting.

The walk only took about 2 hours and was easy going (though you need to have some lights for the tunnels), so after that we went into Takarazuka and visited the Osamu Tezuka manga museum. Osamu Tezuka was the creator of many anime and manga characters, the most famous of which is probably Astro Boy.

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For me, not really knowing much about his work and not understanding the information boards, the most interesting thing was the wonderful Jinglish on some of the books covers on display.

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Poor Mr.Homo.

The following weekend I found myself taking a long train ride out past Osaka to go and meet a German blogger who writes articles about abandoned buildings on his site. His name is Florian and we'd been writing for a few weeks and had finally found a good time to meet up for a spot of UrbEx (Urban Exploration). Florian had a place in mind so we set off to find the remains of an old spa hotel.

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Contacting Florian, and setting up this meeting, was a conscious choice on my part to become more active with UrbEx as a hobby.

Over the past month or so I have visited a lot of haikyo; in addition to the train line and the spa hotel, I've seen a fish farm, an electronics factory, two houses (one of which I have to go back to as it was incredible - but I didn't have my camera when I found it!), an industrial site and paid a return visit to the remains of what was Biwako Tower theme park.

I also decided that here isn't the place to write up all these ruins; I want to keep this page as a more general travel diary and avoid it getting too specialised - so I've opened another blog to write articles about stuff that interests me. There will be full write ups of all my haikyo trips added there (including links to full photo galleries) as and when I get time.

The spa hotel has alread been written up here.

Here's a sneak preview of that, and other places I'll be adding soon -

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So if you like abandoned places, UrbEx or fancy reading about the quirky Japanese things that don't make it into this blog - then please check out my new page; Total-Japandemonium.

See you there, or back here, soon!

Posted by DKJM74 01:35 Comments (0)

Gin-Kaku Ji - The Silver Pavilion

Many people have heard of Kin-Kaku Ji, Kyoto's famous Golden Pavilion, but not so many people know about Gin-Kaku Ji, the Silver Pavilion.

I knew about it, but wasn't really sure where it was exactly and hadn't got around to finding out yet. However, recently Andrew and I found ourselves in Kyoto 'without agenda' just wandering along the riverside.

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Although that was pleasent enough we decided we should really try to aim for somewhere. As luck would have it, it turned out that we'd unintentionally wandered quite close to Gin-Kaku Ji and so we headed there.

Maybe the biggest fact to point out about Gin-Kaku Ji is that, unlike the Golden Pavilion which is actually coated in gold, this pavilion isn't really silver. The original plan had been to cover it in silver leaf, but it never happened. So what you have in reality is a rather modest looking wooden building set in a nice Japanese garden by a pond.

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One interesting feature though is the zen garden; a garden of sand and small stones raked into simple forms to encourage meditation and contemplation is a common fature at Buddist temples. This was one on the nicest examples I've seen of these gardens.

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After leaving the temple I realized that we were actually at the beginning of the Tetsugaku no michi (The Philosopher's walk), named after a Professor of Philiosophy who used to walk this route everyday, so we decided to head back that way. It's a nice foot path running along a small water channel lined with both cherry and maple trees, meaning it looks beautiful in both spring and autumn - though we managed to arrive a couple of weeks before the leaves all turn red.

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All along the way there are paths leading off to various small shrines far too numerous to check out, though the one we did stop at turned out to be quite unusual; all Shinto shrines have different animals 'guarding' them, common ones included foxes, lions, tigers and even wild pigs - but I'd never seen mice before!

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Of course they might simply have been hiding from all the stray cats along the main path.

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Once we reached the end of the path, we once again found ourselves lacking purpose - so we began to follow a group of Japanese people who seemed to be walking with great purpose. We had no idea where they were leading us, and for a moment it looked like we were just going to end up in a hotel with them (which would be awkward), but suddenly they went off up a small flight of stairs and led us to another temple - which one I have no idea, but it was pretty big and had a large cemetery attatched. Score one point for following random people!

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So in the end we saw Gin-Kaku Ji, Tetsugaku no michi and another big temple. Considering the directionless manner in which we started our day I think it ended up begin a triumph of random exploration over logical organisation, and I got to check another famous site of my 'must see' list - result!

Posted by DKJM74 00:27 Comments (0)

Omi-Hachiman revisted

After going to the in lantern festival in Hachiman (and discovering the bicentennial project to open up old buildings as art installation spaces) I was eager to go back and check out more of the exhibitions around the town.

So I asked Haru and her mother to join me for a second visit. At first I had some trouble trying to explain exactly why I'd asked them to come and what it was I wanted to show them, so we started off this visit by riding the cable car to the overlook point behind the historical town centre and browsing shops instead.

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Around lunch time I guided them to one of the buildings I'd visited last time, which also serves as a cafe. There I managed to introduce them to the art work exhibits and have lunch at the same time.

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Finally they understood what I was trying to show them and having aroused their curiosity they wanted to see more, so I took them to my favourite of the three places I'd visited last time; which looked totally different during the day.

I quickly realised that even with this second visit, having spent so long explaining the purpose of the visit and revisiting two previously seen locations, we weren't going to see everything and that we'd have to make some choices about what we wanted to see.

In the end we managed to find six more places following the route along the canal.

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Eventually though we had to be selective and only actually went inside three of those.

The first was a small old house with wooden floors over dirt, all dimly lit and dotted with suspended glass sculptures. What it really called to mind was the ocean depths and the small bioluminescent creatures that flit about in the darkness, wire frame pieces that resembled jellyfish or coral added to this feeling.

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Coils of incense had also been carefully placed to curl smoke up into the thin shafts of light slicing down from between the boards over the windows; creating, from the right angle, a swirling shifting veil that hung in the air.

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The next stop looked very interesting a large metal warehouse type structure that could potentially hold a really big exhibit or sculpture. Which is why it was quite disappointing to find that all the artist had installed was a mirror ball in the shape of a mouses head and a projector playing abstract sounds and images onto the floor and walls. The overall effect felt like a bad attempt to turn a garage into a nightclub.

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Luckily that last place we saw more than made up for that. Another canal side metallic storage space, but much bigger and more maze like this time, that was showcasing a wide range of pieces. The space had been put to much better use, and a very enthusiastic guide decided to join us and talk us around the whole site.

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I was happy that this was the last place we had time to visit, it was certainly the best we saw and it was a high note to go out on. To finish off the full tour would take a third visit which I don't think is going to happen, two was enough.

To finish off here's a few fun things we passed on the way back home; I like the house that looks like a Jack-O-Lantern.

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Posted by DKJM74 18:46 Comments (0)

Amanohashidate; North Kyoto

Our 1 year anniversary

So we were in Kyoto and although it was a couple of days early we decided to have an anniversary meal to celebrate in advance of our planned weekend away. We wanted something elegant, romantic and intimate, where we could share some tender moments together, so there was only really one place to go... THE UNDERGROUND NINJA LAYBRINTH RESTURANT!!

You know you're in for a good time when you get lead to your table down a long winding corridor by a running ninja who teaches you a secret knock to open the hidden entrance to the restaurant :-)

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Edible shuriken, ninja magic at your table and desserts in the shape of frogs - what more could you want? Actually although it might sound like I'm being sarcastic it was really good fun and an inspired choice by Haru to go there and it got the anniversary celebrations off to a good start.

However, the big plan for the weekend was a trip up to the North of Kyoto Fu (as the prefecture as a whole is known). It's easy to forget that there's more to Kyoto Fu than just Kyoto city, and in the north of the prefecture there's some pretty spectacular coastal views to be seen.

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This panorama was taken at view point on the Tango Peninsula, the northern most point of the prefecture.

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Not only is it really beautiful there, but it also overlooks a JDF (Japanese Defence Force) naval base making it a good spying spot as well.

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From there we worked our way back south and west along the coast checking out several other nice views along the way.

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The main goal of the trip was to go and see Amanohashidate (which loosely translates as 'Heaven's Bridge'), a site considered to be one of the three essential views of Japan (another of which I'd previously unwittingly seen when I went to Mijajima Island, as I later found out that the gate in the water there is also one of the three).

The reason for its fame is this incredible long natural sandbar dotted with trees that stretches almost all the way across the bay.

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The best way to see it is to take the chair lift up to the imaginatively named 'View world' where tradition has it that you should stand with your back to the bay then bend over and look at the view between your legs - any sane reason for this has been lost in the sands of time, but it's still a popular thing to do; and when in Japan...

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Of course just looking at it isn't much fun so we headed back down and rented bikes to cross Heaven's Bridge.

To get there you have to first go down by the big temple next to the bridge (that spans the short gap between the end of the sandbar and the shore), so we checked that out as well.

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I'm not quite sure what was written on these prayer boards but they seemed to send Haru through a range of emotions.

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After that we got out bikes and were ready to head off... but the bridge wasn't ready. Interestingly, despite looking old, this bridge is actually a modern hydraulic bridge that can pivot on its central support to let boats pass; like this -

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Then we were off.

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That was fun even if I nearly killed a couple of people taking pictures and cycling at the same time, I like the effect of the blurred background and Haru being in focus. When we got to the other side we had lunch in a cafe that seemed to be going for an American diner feel with masses of old metal Cola signs and the like - and, rather oddly, some Slovak beer mats?? Which I photographed for my friends back in Slovakia :-)

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After that it was about time to head back we still had to return the bikes and drive back to Shiga, but we'd had a good weekend and it was a nice way to celebrate our anniversary. I just hope that next year we are still as close and happy as this -

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Though I suspect that after another year in each other’s company we'll be more like this -

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Only time will tell.

Posted by DKJM74 08:00 Comments (3)

Nara City, Nara

Ancient capital of Japan

Nara falls into the same catagory as Kobe; nearby big towns that for some reason I hadn't got around to visiting yet. It's been on the list of places to go for sometime now, but it just hadn't happened.

Nara is best known for being an historical centre with some of Japan's oldest temples and, while it's quite common knowledge that Kyoto used to be the capital of Japan, it's less well known that before that so was Nara 710 to 784; a time known as the Nara period.

The motivation to finally go there came when I saw that there was going to be a moon viewing festival held there on the day of the full moon. The plan was to go down in the evening watch the festival, stay over night and spend the next day exploring the town.

Despite arriving a little later than expected we thought we'd still have time to catch the highlight of the festival; a dragon headed boat circles around a large pond carrying several figures in traditional costumes and a large offering that is thrown from the boat onto the reflection of the moon on the waters surface - I'm sure it would have looked spectaclular... but the weather wasn't playing fair and heavy clouds had been gathering all day so that by evening there was no sign of the full moon to be seen anywhere and the offering was thrown into the blank black depths instead. Still the lanterns and the boat were quite pretty (Yes, feel the disappointment).

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The next day the weather was still sulky, cold and showery (not enough to scare you off, but enough to make you keep one eye on the sky most of the time). Haru really wanted to take a bus out of the town to see the site where they are currently reconstructing the old imperial palace and grounds. This is a huge project which won't be finished for several years and is mostly green fields now though one big building is already finished; and has been built using the same historical techniques used to create the original building.

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After another cold shower and a second bus ride back to town we headed out to see the famous temples and to meet God's messangers.

That's the other thing Nara is really famous for - 'God's messengers', which the status given to the local deer population. As such they are considered holy animals and are allowed to range freely through the town; though they restrict themselves pretty much to the main tourist routes where vendors sell wafers to feed them.

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This all leads to some pretty interesting results, not only do you see deer resting under trees in open parks but you also see them grazing by the roadside or in one extreme case actually on the narrow centeral reservation.

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This poses obvious road safety hazards though the deer seem to have learnt some basic concept of road crossing protocol. The few I saw crossing the road always seemed to do so near an actual crossing (probably having seen that's where all the people do it) but without waiting for the lights - just going when they thought it was safe.

Another interesting bit of learned behaviour from the deer is bowing for food. If you buy the wafers to feed them, then hold it out, but raised high, most of them will bob their head in a mock bow or even do a little knee bending curtsy. This all sounds very cute and Japanese people have a tendency to like nature in an abstract, cute, Bambified way. So it was fun to see several Japanese girls buying wafers to feed the cute animals then almost running away when the smelly furry beasts mobbed them at the first hint of food.

Despite the warning signs...

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...I guess people forget that they are still essentially wild animals even if they have learned to coexist with us, and I have to admit these deer aren't shy and will give you a quick head butt if they think you aren't giving them enough attention - and when you're surrounded by ten of them there are always a couple who think they're not getting enough attention.

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Once you get past the gauntlet of God's messengers you hit the main temple, Toudai-ji. This place holds two world records.

One, it's the largest wooden building in the world,

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and two, it houses the largest bronze statue of the Buddha Vairocana.

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The temple gives the following dimensions for the statue:

Height: 14.98 m (49.1 ft)
Face: 5.33 m (17.5 ft)
Eyes: 1.02 m (3.3 ft)
Nose: 0.5 m (1.6 ft)
Ears: 2.54 m (8.3 ft)

The statue weighs 500 tonnes (550 short tons).

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Behind the statue there's also a famous wooded pillar through which a small hole was carved long ago. If you can pass your whole body through this gap you will be blessed with good luck - well, here's me getting lucky!

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Despite the historical magnificence of the ancient capital, the weather and a general feeling of saminess when compared to several other places meant that this trip to Nara fell into the 'Meh, that was alright I suppose' catagory. (I even liked the deer in Miyajima more). However we I did get to see one totally new thing for me on the way back to the hotel - Mochi making in action.

Mochi is a Japanese sweet made by basically pounding sweet rice into a thick dough like paste. It's often served in small balls stuffed with a filling and coated in some kind of powed (like flour or sugar) to keep it from being too sticky. It's much nicer than that probably sounds, but I've never seen the pounding process until now, and man these guys were fast. Working in pairs with hands or huge mallets, it's incredible that this didn't result in any broken fingers; just look at that intense concentration.

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One last related point, it has to be said that of all the Japanese mascots I've seen (and there are many) Nara's is the worst.

Meet Sento-Kun, a small buddist boy with deer antlers.

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Creepy and disturbing, and it's not just me that thinks so - he seems far from popular and has even caused protest from some buddists who find the charater offensive. I don't really find him offensive I just get a strong urge to punch him in the face every time I see him.

In case you're curious my favorite Japanese mascot is Ken-ketsu. The Japanese Red Cross' personification of the kindness of giving blood - it's a testament to how cute this character is that it's my favorite despite being so terrified of injections and needles that I'd never give blood... yet I'm almost tempted, see how sad he looks at the bottom when his droplet-ear blood reserves get too low and how happy he is when they are big and full...

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Posted by DKJM74 03:41 Comments (0)

Omi-Hachiman Lantern Festival and Kobe

Day tripping in Kansai

A new JET work year of course means new JETs arriving as well. While I maintain only essential connections with the JET community these changes don't touch me much, but I was quite pleased that this year we got a new arrival who was older than me (previously I was the oldest; at about 10 years older than most of the JETs here).

Andrew has taken over from Bonnie up in the hills of Kutsuki, and we've done a couple of trips together recently.

Omi-Hachiman (an old merchant canal town on the other side of the lake; where the fire festival was held) was having a lantern festival as part of its bicentennial celebrations so we decided to go and check it out.

True to its name the old town was festooned with lanterns in the trees and all along the canal sides providing a nice soft light.

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Many of the towns public buildings (such as the local museum, town hall and and temple) were also open late into the evening and free to enter.

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More interestingly though, several old merchant houses and industrial buildings that aren't usually open to the public had been opened up as installations sites for local artists. In total 15 buildings had been opened like this, and the art work within was highly eclectic. I particularly liked the works that were created with the building or space in mind, and used the space as part of the work - not only was the contrast of the old buildings and the modern art interesting, but also the sense that they were unique installations that couldn't be transferred to another place because they were built into the space.

Maybe the best example of this is these bamboo spheres woven into the attic space of one building. The artist told us that the bamboo was cut on the local hills and shaped while green and then dried in place so their size and balance was specific to that room and they'd have to be broken apart to be removed. Seeing them there really made you reconsider you sense space and how you move through it. (Yes, I was an art student for two years)!

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Here are some more examples of other works from different artists in the same building.

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Unfortunately, as we hadn't known about this before we arrived, we didn't have much time to look around these buildings and only made it into 3 of them, but I was impressed with what we saw.

The second day trip was a bit further afield (out of Shiga, but not too far) to the coastal town of Kobe. The only real reason for this trip was that it was one of the few bigger local towns that I hadn't visited yet. The centre of Kobe is built around the harbour from where you can see the fun fair, Kobe tower and the interesting design work of the maritime museum (top left).

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Other interesting sites included a replica of the ship that Columbus sailed in (I was shocked how small it was) and a highly over sized figure of '鉄人' - 'Iron man'... but not the Marvel comics one, Japan's own version from a 1950s manga. Awesome! Though quite a way from the harbour (as we realised after a long walk).

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The funniest thing about it though was that Andrew thought we were using perspective to make a 'head crushing' shot when we took this picture - I'm sure you'll agree though this in infinitely more juvenile and amusing.

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Having gone to Kobe without much of a plan and having been banned from going to the scenic lookout point by Haru (on the grounds that it was too romantic to go there without her), we ended up just walking through typical residential and semi industrial urban streets for a while as we headed back to the coast. Though this did throw up an interesting collection of abandoned bicycles along the way (well interesting if you like that kind of thing, which I do)!

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Finally we ended up at Kobe's aquarium and sealife centre; having such an expanse of coast Japan is full of these places as you can tell from the fact that I've already visited similar places in Osaka, Nagoya and Wakayama. Still they're always interesting and each one seems to throw up something new, but I limited my photography to the more unique or surprising creatures - in this case some very cute sea horses and sea dragons as well as an impressive mantis shrimp (top right).

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Overall Kobe seemed nice, but a little generic. It's a place that probably deserves a second, better planned, visit and I will certainly be returning to the area as there's an derelict hotel nearby that's regarded (in urban exploration circles) as a must visit site and I'll be doing a trip there soon I hope. However that was it for my first trip to Kobe, by the time we left the aquarium it was getting dusky and all that was left to do was take a nice walk along the beach back to the train station and to go home again.

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Posted by DKJM74 06:46 Comments (0)

River Noodles in a Kayak Sandwich

It'll all make sense soon.

This is where the sense of the circle being completed (or at least the first loop of the spiral) really kicks in.

I've just finished my first year of life in Japan and an beginning my second year's contract - part of me is worried that Travellerspoint is going to come knocking on my door soon saying 'Hey, this isn't travel anymore it's turning into your life - you're engaged now and it looks like you're going to be here a long time', and it'd be a fair point.

Anyway, back to going full circle :-) My first day of work in Japan was Kayaking across Lake Biwa with the second year students, which I've just done for the second time.

As before we actually did the trip twice, the first time with a smaller group made up of members of the schools boat club to prepare for the main trip, and then again in a couple of weeks with all the second year students. The weather was wonderful again and skipping over the water, sometimes in one of he support boats and sometimes paddling my kayak, was another reminder of why I love living by the lake so much.

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For me one of the most memorable images from these trips is the birds skimming across the lake; the cormorants that live around the lake shore or on the islands flocking just above the surface.

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Having done this trip before and knowing I'd be doing it again very soon I limited the number of photos I took this time and just enjoyed the journey. So the practice run passed smoothly and pleasently.

However before the main trip there was also a chance for something new. I wanted to do some hiking and Haru suggested going to a nice place in the Kyoto prefecture (which is actually huge) but out of the city. At first it seemed like fairly typical Japanese scenery, with long winding forest trails leading to a shrine at the top of the hill.

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However this shrine is well known for its 'power point' (No not a PC slide show presentation, but an energy convergence spot). There was quite a line to stand in the circle and pray on that spot (including us of course - I quite like praying here as it involves a lot of capping and ringing bells... christianity needs more clapping and bells).

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On the way down the other side of the hill there were some wonderfully twisted trees that looked like left over props from a Tim Burton movie.

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Then there was another shrine, this time dedicated to couples - which Haru really wanted to pray at :-) You can also get your fortune at many temples and shrines in Japan, though each has a different gimmick for how you get it. Here you bought a blank piece of paper, which when floated on the shrine's pool reveals you fortune - magic ink! To be honest I can't recall if mine was good or bad - but I've neither had a terrible accident nor won the lottery since!

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The highlight of this area though was the many restaurants on the river, and I don't mean 'on' as a way of saying 'next to', I mean ON the river. There is a pretty stream cascading down the hill side and all along it there are platforms built over the water for diners to sit on and enjoy the waterfall views whilst eating. Most of these places are very expensive and serve very traditional Japanese food that I'm not very keen on, but we found one very reasonable place that did nice simple noodle dishes so we had dinner on the river.

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I really enjoyed this quite unique dining experience, and it certainly made a good date spot and nicely ended a good day out too.

Summer has been horribly hot this year, worse than last, one of the hottest locals tell me - so all these watery trips are great for keeping cool - which is lucky as it was already time for the main Kayak trip with all the second years.

What distinguishes this from the other trip is that it's a much bigger affair, with more kayaks, support boats and even one of the lake ferries helping shuttle kids, teachers and parents around.

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Again it was another fun two days where I spent a lot of time grinning and thinking 'I'm being paid to do this!'.

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Aaahh - I love my job sometimes :-)

I have a good idea of what's coming next now, I can look back at last year and have an idea of how a year spent working in a Japanese school unfolds. There will be the same key notes (culture festival, speech contest and ski trip all coming soon) but there's still a lot of new and exciting things to do, and I'm sure there are still plenty of surprises in store too!

Older, but not any wiser - here's to year two!!

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Posted by DKJM74 03:17 Comments (0)

World Cosplay Summit 2010, Nagoya

Costumes.... COSTUMES... COSTUMES!!!

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I must be wicked, I certainly don't get much rest.

After leaving Bali we flew back to the Kansai airport (where I got to feel very smug slipping past the huge queue of non-Japanese passport holders thanks to my re-entry visa), then I said goodbye to Haru and jumped straight on a train for Nagoya.

For a few years now Nagoya has hosted the annual World Cosplay Summit, making is a Mecca for costumed cuteness every August (and if there's one thing I can't resist it's costumed cuteness).

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... (for example).

The event is spread over two days and culminates with a big stage show featuring cosplay teams from around the world (15 international teams this year).

The first day in mostly focused around the Osu Kannon temple with food stalls, a music stage and a parade happening there. Basically though it's just about wandering around and taking LOTS of pictures. Athough it was concentrated into a fairly small area I was amazed to see so many cosplayers in one place. Everybody was really friendly and, as everybody was there to show off their costumes, they were more than happy to pose almost any way you asked them to. If I'm honest I only recognised a handful of the characters as I'm not that much of a Manga/Anime fanboy. I did recognise Cloud and Yuna from Final Fantasy, Gundam, and Porco Rosso at least. The only problem was that there were so many people in great costumes that I can't possibly put all the pictures I took here - so here's some samples and a link to the full first day's gallery (well worth checking out).

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Click here to see the full gallery for day 1

I stayed over night in what has become my regular Nagoya Ryokan only to discover that there was a small street festival happening in the covered market next door that evening. So, I hit the streets again to check out what was going on, and to be honest I'm still not quite sure. Still whatever it was it was quite fun, there were the typical food and games stalls, some very impressive decorations (big handmade models of popular characters hanging above the entire length of the market) and a weird collection of street entertainments; including a game for kids where they had to catch live eels by hand, various local dance troops and a performing monkey show. This all made an unexpected and welcome addition to the trip.

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Next morning, as the second part of the Cosplay Summit wasn't happening until later, I decided to visit the Nagoya science musum.

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There was something very familiar about the museum - it felt the same as the natural history museum in London; for example. That same feeling of a place past it's prime, lots of hands on stuff for the kids - but much of it slightly tatty and worn from years of use. Some things simply didn't work at all anymore. The information (as far as I could understand, as it was all in Japanese) was the same basic factoids you'd get anywhere.... this might sound very negative, but I actually quite liked it. While I wasn't blown away by anything really, the familiarity of the environment was quite comforting and homely.

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Plus, there was an insects exhibit that was interesting for me.

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There was also a planetarium, which I enjoyed not having been in one for years. Though I'd question the wisdom of giving the job of narrating what we were seeing to such a soft spoken man - his voice was way too relaxing and I could hear people all around the room snoring very soon. Actually if you look at the picture of the museum above you'll see there are two domes on the right, the smaller one is the current planetarium and the bigger one is the new planetarium which will open next year - and bloody impressive it looks too. Might have to go again then.

After a spot of lunch I made my way to the venue for the Cosplay finals. Again, there was an overwhelming amount of people in great outfits, so here another selection from the day and a link to a full gallery.

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Click here to see the full gallery for day 2

In the evening though it was time for the main event, which kicked off with Cosplay Karaoke. Contestents singing theme songs from anime shows in character. Bizzare and oddly fun, in particular when one singer lost his 'bald' wig mid song! This girl, whose picture I took on the first day, won a prize for her singing; a Wii karaoke set.

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The highlight of the day though was the international competition.

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Each country's team had to present a short skit in character and was judged on their costumes, skit content and performance - the winner would be crowned world cosplay champions. The rules stated that the characters must be from Japanese source material (manga, anime or game). After a few skits there were breaks where Japanese celebrities performed - I have no idea who these people where but there was a white girl singing in Japanese, a massive all girl group (SKE48 I think - a younger version of AKB48 who I saw in exactly the same place by chance about a year ago!) and some older Japanese rocker dude. Maybe you'll recognise them!

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Some highlights from the team skits included the French team doing a magical (almost circus like) fairy routine, the Italians doing a funny Zelda skit and the Korean's pulling off back flips and kung-fu moves in full glowing mech suits during their fight routine (the crowd went wild for that), but in the end though it was the Italian team who won... something :-)

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Then it was all over, the crowd slowly dispersed and there was time for one last round of pictures, including a few nice ones from the roof Nagoya's night time skyline, and then time to say goodbye and head for the train station.

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Despite the rush I had to make to get there after Bali I'm glad I made the effort as it was great fun and really unlike any other event I've been to... and damn it costumes are sexy! Yes, the costumes, not the girls wearing them... I realised that they often aren't so pretty, but the costumes still really attract. Of course, if you can get that great combination of a nice girl IN a sexy costume then... hmmm... Excuse me, I have to go and talk to Haru about something....

See, y'all next time :-)

Posted by DKJM74 23:25 Comments (0)

Bali Part 2

Surfing, sightseeing and spas

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See how happy Haru looks – that’s because we finally had some time just to relax on the beach!

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Well, kind of anyway. Today we’re surfing – which I tried, and really enjoyed, in Wales last year; though I think I did worse this year than last year. Haru picked it up quite quickly, as I guessed she would. She’s good at snowboarding and has good balance, while I still spent most of the time with my head underwater – yay!

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This was supposed to be the first of two half day lessons – but we decided after the first we’d had enough and really needed to relax a bit more the next day. So we cancelled the second lesson (which ended up being an epic adventure in itself… but no time to tell that now, but for a while Haru thought I’d been kidnapped!) and we booked a driver to run us around the island sightseeing instead.

I’ve never done that before, but I have to say it’s very convenient in a place like Bali with almost no public transport. We just told him what we wanted to see and he took us, though the driver also suggested places (mostly craft workshops, like this place where they hand dye cloth).

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It was quite interesting, but it was obvious that he was suggesting these places to bring in customers for them, maybe even getting a commission. So after a second stop at a silver workshop (which was much more SHOP than WORK) we declined further suggestions and stuck to our plan.

I really wanted to see how real people live in Bali – so the driver took us to a typical village house and said that it was ok to look around, but we should give a small offering (a couple of dollars) to the family.

The layout was really interesting as rather than having a house the family has a small compound with several small buildings. One is used for cooking, one or two are living/sleeping rooms and there is a large shrine for the family to remember their ancestors.

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There is even a large bed in a central area for laying out corpses when someone dies so that friends and family can come and pay their respects.

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The family’s crops (in this case coconuts) and animals (hens, fighting cocks and a pair of porcupines – which apparently are just pets) are also scattered between the buildings.

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After this detour we made our way to Ubud, a small town in central Bali with a reputation for it's artisans. We stopped here for lunch and to check out a couple of the local temples. The most striking, and typical, feature of Balinese temple architecture is the ornate, triangular, gateways.

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In general this same architecture is repeated again and again, but the details vary significantly and the temples ae full of wonderful statues and carvings - as well as natural features and ceremonial decorations.

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We had enough time for a short walk around the town (and check out the local kites - I bought one on the last day).

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Then we met the driver again to head off to our next destination. We backtracked a little, heading south-west from Ubud to check out Goa Gajah ('The Elephant Cave'). This famous site is named after central figure in the rock carving surrounding the entrance to the cave.

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This might seem mis-leading as it doesn't look much like an elephant now - but it's believed to be suffering from 'Sphinx's syndrom' (eg. It's nose dropped off). The cave itself is small, dim and unremarkable - housing a few small niches with Hindu and Buddist icons.

More impressive is the deep sunk holy springs and baths next to the cave.

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Despite having been around since the 11th century the site was 'rediscovered' in the 1920's and the baths weren't excavaed until the 1950's which is remarkable.

Behind the baths a stepped path drops down into the forest and a stream bed full of huge rocks; many of which are the visibly carved remains of earlier structures. It actually felt kind of unreal, I've seen things like that before - in movies and theme parks - and understanding that these weren't some cheap mock ups, but real ancient ruins was kind of difficult.

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The only problem with Goa Gajah was that it was nicer than we expected and we stayed longer than planned which meant we had to rush to our last point of call - a small coastal temple which is supposed to look magnificent against the setting sun... if we could get there in time!

Unfortnately we didn't make good time, getting caught up in traffic and funeral processions (which I snapped out of the moving car).

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The sun was already soaking the sky red as we drew close, but by the time we made it to the beach there was no more than a hint of pink left. Still Pura Tanah Lot looks great even against a regular early evening sky.

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As it got darker waves, clouds and rocky coast all combined to make quite a moody atmosphere. So we stayed to watch the passing of the light.

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Then it was time to head back from another busy, but really enjoyable day. I really wish we'd had longer for sightseeing, as flicking through the guide book there are some really wonderful places to see in Bali. If I do go again, I'd like to avoid the tourism of Kuta and stay somewhere in the quiter, more natural, north western part of the island; most of which is one huge national park - oh, well maybe next time!

This holiday was about finished though, we had to check out early the next day, but our flight wasn't until midnight. So Haru had the bright idea of booking into a spa resort for the day. We took a few shots of the hotel room (the second one actually - I complained about the first one as it's location meant it got no light and felt damp, so we got moved to a much nicer and bigger room), and we had a last walk around the local streets.

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Which meant I finally got a photo of the wonderful 'petrol stations' I'd been amazed by since we arrived - all over the island, to feed all the scooters, are petrol stands like this one, using any old bottles full of 'premium fuel'.

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Then around mid day we transfered from the hotel to the spa where we had our own mini villa with a private pool.

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Here we enjoyed / endured four hours of spa treatment. Massage, facial, reflexology the works.

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Haru loved it, I found most of it painful but it was a good experience and I loved having the villa to ourselves after the spa treatment was over to just unwind and relax until it was time to head to the airport.

So - conclusions? Well, Bali is interesting and has some beautiful places. The people really understand how much they depend on the tourist money, so generally they really try their best to be friendly and helpful - we got ripped off twice (once in a taxi and once in a resturant) but generally everything was fine. I feel it'd be a really interesting place to explore if you could get out of the tourist centres and find the less developed areas - as I said if ever go back it'll hit the north west for sure.

Next time - No time to even unpack: I touch down in Osaka and hop on a train for Nagoya, so I don't miss the world Cos-play Summit!!

Posted by DKJM74 02:03 Comments (0)

Bali Part 1

Rafting, Elephant Riding and Scuba Diving

Ah! Meta-travel, after a year in Japan the time has come to take a holiday (and finally make use of the re-entry visa I got in the first month).

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Bali isn't a place I've ever thought about going, but Haru wanted to go and I'm pretty happy going anywhere. Plus I was interested in seeing an asian country that wasn't Japan (which is a bit like the UK is to Europe; part of but somehow outside).

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So on the 25th of July we flew from Osaka to Ngurah Rai International Airport, by the time we arrived it was already getting dark so the first day consisted of travel, checking into the hotel and a short walk on the beach.

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We were staying in the tourist centre of Kuta, which is packed with hotels along the beach front and masses of visitors (mainly Australian and Japanese). Most people come here for the surfing, and the whole area is peppered with familiar brand names like McDonald's, the Hard Rock Cafe or Starbucks.

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Though I was surprised to see a whole shop devoted to Emily the Strange!

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Kuta is located on the neck of a peninsula jutting out south from the main body of the island, and once you leave this area the whole landscape changes as well. With long roads winding through hills, fields and thick forests - though everywhere is crammed with people on scooters. It's a kind of organised chaos, and a community that clearly depends on the tourist industry to survive (everybody speaks at least English and Japanese it seems). Even the rural areas are full of craft workshops producing the goods for sale in the tourist areas.

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These were some of my first impressions riding in the back of our pick up car the next morning. We were on our way to the white water rafting launch point on the river Ayung.

The river Ayung isn't too wild, with grade 2 and 3 rapids, but it is very scenic with long stretches through rocky valleys banked with lush trees. This means that the ride is fun without ever feeling really risky or too demanding. The sides of the valley have all been etched with wonderful carvings, which although quite modern are still very impressive and must have taken considerable work considering the location.

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Most of two hour run downstream we were paddling and navigating the river, but we did get to stop a couple of times and snap some pictures.

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At the landing site, we got changed, ate and waited for the transfer to the second part of the days trip; the Elephant Safari park in Taro, which is home to the world's largest herd of rescued Sumatran Elephants (rescued from other parts of Indonesia where their habitat is threatened).

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This is also a breeding colony with elephants of all ages most of which you can get quite close to and interact with - I even got to help out with the elephant show (holding up numbers for the elephant's maths problems).

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The admission price also includes a 45min elephant ride through Taro forest, which was a first for both of us.

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This pretty much set the pattern for most of the holiday, each day we'd get picked up and dropped off at the hotel by the tour operator of whatever activity we were doing that day. The next day was a longer trip to the north east of the island for scuba diving, we were heading to Tulamben for 3 dives on the wreck of the USS Liberty.

(Here you can see Kuta near the Airport on the bottom left and Tulamben the topmost place marked on the right).
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The drivers were good and willing to stop anywhere along the way for photo ops. Which included a surprise encounter with Balinese monkeys, some spectacular terraced rice fields and a (still active) volcano; Mount Agung.

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I was a little nervous as I hadn't dived since I was in Egypt 6 years ago, but I was pleased to find it all came back really easily. The actual dives were beach entry dives, so we just geared up and got straight in.

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The first dive was a refresher dive just to check we were still fine with everything, with the second and third dives being on the wreck itself. While there wasn't as much to see as on Egypt's coral reefs, there were still some impressive sights and the wreck has become like an artificial reef attracting a lot of new life.

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The actual wreck is found around 10 meters deep, near the rudder, and goes as deep as 30m by the time you reach the prow.

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Here's a brief history of the ship from Wikipedia -

At the time of the United States' entry into World War II in December 1941, USAT Liberty was in the Pacific. In January 1942, she was en route from Australia to the Philippines with a cargo of railway parts and rubber. On 11 January, Liberty was torpedoed by Japanese submarine I-166 about 10 nautical miles (19 km) southwest of the Lombok Strait. U.S. destroyer Paul Jones and Dutch destroyer Van Ghent took the damaged ship in tow attempting to reach Singaraja, the Dutch port and administrative centre for the Lesser Sunda Islands, on the north coast of Bali. However she was taking too much water and so was beached on the eastern shore of Bali at Tulamben so that the cargo and fittings could be salvaged.

In 1963 the tremors associated with the eruption of Mount Agung caused the vessel to slip off the beach, and she now lies on a sand slope in 30 to 100 feet (9.1 to 30 m) of water, providing one of the most popular dives off Bali.

This was only my second time wreck diving, and was very exciting.

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We even encountered a rather large Barracuda inside the hull.

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After such a long break from diving, three dives was pretty exhausting but it was well worth it. We resurfaced again feeling tired, but happy.

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So, that was the first two full days of the holiday - we hit the ground running, that's for sure. Next day was surfing in Kuta and, after that, time for a bit more relaxed sightseeing - I'll write about that next time!

Posted by DKJM74 01:04 Comments (0)

The Universe (and Other Things)

USJ, more satoyama and a few extra nice photos

This could be a long blog today - well, the universe (and other things) is a big topic :-)

Plus I want to get all up to date before I leave for Bali tomorrow so I can get straight into blogging that when I get back - so, if you're sitting comfortably then we'll begin!

Eagle eyed viewers may be able to spot a clue in this picture as to where we went for our next trip.

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No? Want another hint?

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Bingo! Yes, USJ isn't too shy about self promotion.

Although USJ is only in Osaka, making it pretty close, I've been putting off going until the time was right; and now just before the summer holidays, and with exams keeping the kids busy, I took a week day off work to go hoping it'd be a bit emptier (and less queues).

Worked like a charm - we got on the big 'Hollywood dream' roller coaster after just 5 mins, result.

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This isn't really a big ride park though, rather it's packed with movie icons of various kinds. There are of course attractions, but most are 3D rides of various kinds though there is a lot of variety in how the techniques are used; Back to the Future is a typical moving car in front of 3D screen thing (feels a bit old school), Jaws is a boat ride with animatronic scares and a hysterical real live boat captain trying to shoot the shark and protect you (cheesy fun), Backdraft is a pyrotechnics show about how fire scenes in movies are made (hot and a bit scary), The Amazing Spiderman..

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... is a 3D ride, using a moving car on a track an some amazing effects to make you feel like you really are hurtling through the roof tops of the city being atacked by super villains (pretty spctacular I have to say), whilst The Terminator...

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...combines live actors with footage of the actors from the second movie and huge 3D screens to bend your sense of what is real and what is on the screen (again pretty impressive).

There's a lot of fun to be had just wandering around though checking out the various shows, buildings and themed areas.

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Yes, Haru is more frightened of Big Bird than she is of dinosaurs - seriously!

The nicest area, with some great design, attention to detail and atmosphere, was the old Chicago area.

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There was also a nice chance for a bit more trick photography -

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No, a girl really is kissing me, that's not the trick! But, from the bridge upwards that's all a matt painting in the foreground, set in place to mesh with the real buildings in the background to give an impressive skyline. Pretty neat.

That was taken just before closing time when it really was getting empty, one last picture from a friendly passer by...

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... and we were off, though even the streets leading up to that park are pretty interesting as well it turns out.

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So that was the Universe(al) and now the other things :-)

After the high-tech antics of USJ it was time to re-connect with the simpler things, so the following weekend I joined the Satoyama no kai group again for a bit of nature appreciation and exploration.

We started off in Yasu again for some planning and a spot of fishy 'happagami' (like origami, but with leaves instead of paper). Then we moved to Ritto for a short hill hike

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Finally, at the suggestion of one of the group, we went to Fudou-ji; a nice shrine hidden away down a long narrow valley with no proper road access, just a bumpy stone path followed by a winding woodland walk.

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This was the most interesting part of the day, and being so secluded it's a place I'd probably never have seen otherwise. The complex is strung out along path rising to the peak of the hill through some woodland with a few wonderful grand old trees.

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The main shrine is a little higher up and reached by stone steps that pass by one or two rock carvings that somehow really don't seem Japanese and feel very old. There are obviously not many visitors here, and the shrine seems semi abandoned; with torn paper lanterns and all the wooden shutters closed when we came in. However, it is clean and obviously cared for. It's built into the hillside on wooden supports in a way similar to Kiyomizu Diera in Kyoto, and I couldn't help but think that if this shrine was also in Kyoto it'd be flooded with visitors.

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There are no large icons or figures here to pray to, which at first begs the question why this shrine was built in such an out of the way place - but, here's a clue.

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The shrine is built so that the building almost merges with the rock behind it, and it is that rock that is the holy object here. Why? Well I presume it's because of this clearly vaginal passage through the centre of the rock and the rich, spiritual, rebirth symbolism that passing through that would hold; and that comes from what my Japanese friends told me not just my twisted imagination.

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It's a quite typical in Shinto to respect and even venerate inamimate objects, so this would make sense and would also somewhat explain the earlier rock carvings.

Just beyond that rock is the peak of the hill, which is 600m up according to a small sign hanging on a tree there.

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From there we retraced our steps back down to the bottom of the hill and headed home. The group dropped me off at the train station and we parted ways. There was some discussion during the day though about future meetings, and most interestingly a couple of other members also seem interested in haikyou exploration - so that might be on the cards (fingers crossed).

Well - I'd like to finish off today with an extended photo gallery of odds and ends from the last couple of weeks - mostly just snapshot taken to try out the new camera (Really not happy with it and want to buy a new new camera already).

First - a Japanese oddity; Haru is modelling Japanese women's driving gloves! Very popular as women really don't like getting tanned or burned here - but still pretty amusing for me :-)

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Next - the sun setting over the construction site of the new Osaka train station building.

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Haru's mini birthday cake (this wasn't all she got OK)!

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The moon about to get swollowed by swarming darkness (or a tree if you prefer).

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A couple of moths getting in the mood; I was staring at them, half way up a tree, thinking 'That's a really wierd symetrical leaf.' for several seconds beforeI realised what I was looking at.

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Muro Sensei tries to keep cool during boat club practice (The short rainy season is over and it's HOT!)

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Muro again; keeping a watchful eye on the students,

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The fish I caught earlier this week out on the lake with Kurumi Sensei; I also made a video of me gutting it as I'd never done that before and I thought I had to. It's only right that I should at least use the fish now that I've caught it (too hypocritical to be squeamish about preparing it to eat if you are going to catch and YOU wan to eat it, so I figured I had to do it myself).

Well, long story short, the process was bloody and disgusting and though I did it, I don't think I'll be uploading the video anytime soon....

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What can happen if you wear shorts and sandals and not enough sunblock (this is actually redder and more painful that the photo looks - my right foot was even a bit swollen after this and I've still got the stripes).

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And, getting bang up to date, here's a few shots I took yesterday.

I often see these huge abandoned looking greenhouses from the train, but yesterday I was cycling that way to see my school's volleyball team play a match so I took a bit of a detour and went to check them out. As it turns out they aren't as abandoned as they seem and the driveway leading to them is lined with dog kennels and about half way down about 10 dogs on chains all came out barking at me, if I hadn't been so surprised I would have taken a picture of them :-)

Anyway, I rethought my approach and managed to sneak around the back and take a couple of shots anyway even though I never got inside.

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Birds following a harvester looking for a free lunch, I remember seeing this sight shortly after I arrived in Imazu; it really makes me realize I really have been here for a year already!

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Coming back through Shinasahi I found an area where you can really see how the locals use the natural water running through the town, this is basically the same cannalisation used to flood the rice fields. Some houses back directly onto the waterways and have open porches for washing things and getting water.

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While some have stone basins fed by the water, huge Koi carp swim up and down the stream serving several houses by eating scraps put out in these basins.

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Lastly, on a different note, proof that the Japanese have perfected the art of cloning people (or at least that Damon is mastering the art of panorama photography).

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And that's a wrap! Tomorrow, I'll pack and slowly make my way over to Haru's place and then early Sunday morning we leave for Bali. A week of adventure sports on an island paradise, plus a stop over in Nagoya on the way back to see the World Cosplay Championships - so lots of exciting stuff to come. Stay tuned!

Posted by DKJM74 01:15 Comments (0)

Wakayama

Energy Land and Adventure World

This is another trip I'd never have made if it hadn't been for Haru. First, it was her idea (and her treat), second, she drove, and third, I had no idea where Wakayama was before going :-)

Well - now you can see for yourself on this map.

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The blue area North-east of Osaka is lake Biwa (I live on the west coast of the lake). So we drove down through Osaka and onto the South coast for this trip; quite a long way to go for just a weekend, but I love these road trips and enjoy being in the car together; so the time passes easily zipping down the highway.

It took the best part of half a day to get there with a few roadside rest stops on the way. One in particular I liked for it's animal friendly approach to all the swallows building nests there; rather than evict them for being dirty they've built little poop catching ledges under all the nests so man and bird can live in harmony - how sweet!

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Once we got to Wakayama (under a glowering rain threatening sky) we spent the afternoon at 'Energy Land' an odd park with a collection of disconnected attractions; though many rely on optical illusions of various kinds.

There's a few rooms built on a slope, but arranged to look straight - the result being that you are pitched at an angle to everything else around you.

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There's also a house of trick art with rooms which, if photographed from the right angle, give nice visual effects; blurring the boundry between 2 and 3D, playing with scale or light effects.

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We also watched a really cute short 3D movie about a robot farmer (big eco message, but well done). It was really good, but the 3D effects were a bit old school and after it finished I felt like I'd been punched in the left eye where it'd been straining to cope (no such trouble watching Toy Story 3D last weekend - very good movie BTW)!

After 'Energy Land' we found our hotel and crashed out. We had a great sea view, but the sky was still grey and ominous - still I got to play with the panorama setting on my new camera (still not sure about it, seems lower quality than my old one despite being a better model)!

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Next day we were off to another grandly named park; Adventure World!

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'Feel nature... for your emotion!' - another great Jinglish slogan :-)

This place is basically a mix of a traditioanal zoo, a safari park and an oceanarium all in one place.

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Before I came to Japan I'd never seen a dolphin show, but here I soon found myself watching my third one this year. Unfortunately, the Killer Whale that used to be part of the show had passed away a few months prior, so I still haven't seen one, but it was a nice show regardless - they had a nice trick with one keeper riding around standing on the dolphins noses.

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After that we took our time checking out the various areas including aviaries, cold house and safari area.

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Being me this of course meant feeding, touching and picking up anything that would let me... yes, I'm talking about the animals... what did you think? I'm engaged now - sheesh!

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We actually went around the safari area twice; once on the free land train and then again in a rented safari buggy. Which means I got to drive as you don't need a licence for a buggy - yeah!

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It also meant that we could take our time and stop off at the enclosures and get hands on with the bigger animals too - yay!

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The best moment had to be Haru's first encounter with feeding a giraffe -

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I think that her thought process went something like this -

1) OK this doesn't seem too bad
2) Oh My God!
3) Eerrghhh!
4) Actually that was quite nice! :-)

Perhaps the most famous animals in their collection though are their Pandas. They've had great succes with their breeding program and several Pandas from China have come here to to get in the family way. Last time I saw a Panda was three years ago in Tokyo and that was a non-moving sleeping Panda butt only, this time they were certainly more photogenic

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- even if this one was trying to hide.

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And that was that except for a commemorative mauling from a panda to remember the day by and a slap up meal at Mos Burger (The Japanese answer to McDonalds)!

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It was time for a long (but scenic) ride home after another fun trip - which (as I said at the top) was all Haru's idea and treat :-) Thanks Haru, love you!

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Next: This trip we did a LAND and a WORLD - next time it's the UNIVERSE!!!

Posted by DKJM74 05:38 Comments (2)

Backyard Safari

Life in the rice paddies

You may have noticed that I often take photos of the rice fields; well this rice field is one of the main reasons why.

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I pass this field every day on my way to work and even after almost a year of living here I find it incredibly beautiful with its backdrop Japanese houses and mountains. It changes with the seasons and the weather and always presents a new aspect that makes me smile as it comes into view.

I often pause on the way home and look at the fields and recently they’ve been full of life; I actually paused to try out my new camera by taking a photo of this (not so full of life) moth.

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But under the surface there were so many things living there like these tadpoles and dragon fly lava.

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I decided that one day I’d head out to a more secluded rice fields and see just how much life there is in the paddies. The perfect chance came up a couple of weeks ago when Haru was going away for a weekend spa trip with a friend and I free to do my own thing; so I kitted up and went hunting.

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I chose a pair of fields fed with water from the hills via a big sluice gate. One side had been left to dry and was pitted with animal tracks, whilst the other side was still water logged and had a tree shaded stream running along its edge.

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The drier side proved to be a hotbed of froglets still sporting stubs of tadpole tails; these will soon be the little frogs with sucker toes that climb the walls of my apartment building.

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On the other side there were masses of larva for… well to be honest I’m not sure exactly, but I’m pretty sure these guys will turn into something that flies.

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These on the other hand are destined to become crested newts I think.
(Edit: I've since been told that these are baby fire bellied newts NOT crested newts!)

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There were also a quite a few fire bellied newts hiding in the stream.

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First I returned everything to where I’d caught it.

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Then I cycled off to check out a pond, which I’d spotted before but not investigated.

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Once there I was greeted by a gaggle of mixed geese, ducks and other birds who obviously ‘owned’ the pond.

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Moving past them I began to explore the reed chocked head of the pond which turned out to be full of crawfish basking in the shallows, which with a bit of difficulty I managed to net.

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Despite looking quite delicious I let them go again and headed back to the rice fields for the best creature of the day – this little critter.

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Which might not look like much with the camera flash illuminating it – but it’s quite impressive when it’s allowed to glow for itself.

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Yes, it’s firefly season and these are the first fireflies I’ve ever seen. The fields where I started my safari are full of them twinkling in the dark, hovering over the stream and blinking their lights on the bushes and trees.

Unfortunately it’s almost impossible to get a good natural picture of them as the camera just doesn’t pick up their tiny lights. However, with about twenty of them in my bug box, a bit bit of patience, a mini tripod and a long exposure I managed to get these pictures.

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That was a great way to end my backyard safari and I headed home happily, but there is a kind of footnote to this entry as I’ve been ‘bugging’ the science teacher in my school to do a bug hunt with me and the kids for some time now – and we finally got that arranged as well.

So, with the help of Kurumi Sensei and a friend of his who is an insect expert, we did set up a light trap after school one evening to see what we could catch. The results weren't as spectacular as as I had hoped, but it was an interesting experience and I had fun.

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So, I'll leave you with some portraits the one bug I thought was so cool I took home and kept for a few days (but which has since been returned to the wild) - he is such an amazing blue and those antenna are just... WOW!

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Next time: Optical illusions and some bigger, furrier beasts as we go to Wakayama for a weekend trip!

Posted by DKJM74 07:50 Comments (0)

May Days

A Japanese Wedding and the School Sports Day

A brief update today to share a some pictures from the second half of May, local stuff this time rather than big travels but some nice things I hadn't seen before.

On May 29th I was invited to attend a friend's wedding ceremony. Naomi used to work at the library in Imazu, but was recently moved to a different library so I haven't seen her for some time. It was nice of her to invite me as I know she only did so as I was curious about seeing a traditional Japanese wedding ceremony. Normally only family are invited to the ceremony, with friends and colleagues joining the reception party later (which I didn't join).

I hadn't met her husband before (seems like a nice guy though), but as he is a Shinto Priest this was a full traditional Japanese wedding.

Naomi looked great in her full white kimono and tsunokakushi (the white hat; which, according to one Japanese culture book I have, is to 'hide the horns of jealousy' ???).

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I like the center picture in that collage, as that was the point when Naomi spotted me (not hard as I was the only white person there!) and she really smiled and gave me a little wave despite the 'serious' atmosphere of the ceremony :-)

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The ceremony took place in a shrine in Takashima, with traditional music played inside the shrine while the priest intoned the official marriage rites to the kneeling couple. When the vows had been taken, and the guests inside the shrine served with tea, the couple came out to meet the well wishers.

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This was the last very official part fhe ceremony, and I was invited to join the group wedding photos as well (though I didn't get a copy of them).

After that it was more relaxed and people could chat more, so I gave my personal congratulations to Naomi.

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I still got one last piece of personal treatment as next there was a lunch served, and (as I wasn't a member of either family) I was invited to eat with the bride and groom (and a close friend of the groom's who was also there) in a nice small back room overlooking the rice fields behind the shrine. Overall it was a really interesting event, so thanks again to Naomi for the invite!

After that I was in a great mood, so I got changed and went out exploring and got a few more nice photos of the local landscape; including a nice natural bamboo grove. and a giant plastic swordfish.

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A few days later it was time for another event; the school sports day.

I used to hate sports (day) as a student and I'm still not crazy about organised sports now (I didn't even know the world cup was happening until a couple of days into it when one of the Japanese teachers asked me if I'd seen Japan's match!), so I had a distinct lack of enthusiasm about this event - still I didn't have to run... or not much... I had to do a short three legged race with another teacher... and we won that, so result! Anyway, I've decided that sports day is much more fun when you don't have to do the sports, but rather just shout at other people doing them and take a few photos.

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It's actually a great chance to interact with the students outside the classroom, though the first years are cerainly the most fun; as they're stilll young enough to want to impress you with their silly antics (and to be impressed by your silly antics).

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There were a few interesting events though, like the hundred leg race; like the three-legged race, but with three classes tied together.

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and whole classes jumping rope together!

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Both of these events, you may notice, place emphasis on group achievement - and this whole event was much more about working together than individual victory - as shown in this all school.... dance routine. (Man, I really hated to call this a dance, it's more what happens when your coreographer is your PE teacher trying to think of stuff for you to do with a Michael Jackson song in the background!)

Well that's enough sports, I'm feeling quite exhausted :-)
So, we'll close with some nice tranquil sunset shots.

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Now that's more like it!

Posted by DKJM74 04:18 Comments (0)

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