A Travellerspoint blog

January 2016

Yokohama

The beginning of the end for my time in Japan really started back at the beginning of 2014. Knowing it was my last year on the program I'd signed up to attend the leavers conference in Yokohama. An annual 2-day conference designed to help those finish with JET to decide what to next, an (although I didn't actually hold out much hope that it's help with such choices) it seemed like a good excuse to visit Yokohama.

Despite being a work trip on the surface Haru also came with me and we explored Yokohama by night after the conference finished. As Yokohama is full of impressive towering building that light up the night, that's not a bad thing. In particular the waterfront are makes for some really pleasant night-time strolls, where you can also see the 'Nippon Maru', a grand old ship build in 1930, moored there.

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Yokohama also boasts quite a large China town area complete with blinking neon adverts and hanging lanterns criss-crossing the streets. Another areas that actually benefits from night time exploration.

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There were a few places that we really wanted to see that would require more than a spare evening to really enjoy though, so we extended our stay in Yokohama for a couple of days after the conference as well. The first of these free days we spent at Yokohama Hakkeijima Sea Paradise.

Hakkejimi is an artificial island built just off the coast which is houses a entertainments complex including theme park rides, a mall and a large indoor and outdoor aquarium and sea life centre.

Like many things, it's only since I've been out of Japan that I've really begun to appreciate how amazing their aquariums are. There are so many of them that they kind of became 'normal' for me, but they really are impressive places. I saw whale sharks at 3 or 4 places in Japan and I doubt anywhere in the UK has one of these gentle giants.

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The dolphin show here was also very enjoyable and included not just the eponymous dolphins, but also sea-lions, two belugas and a walrus as well.

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Inside the collection ranged from the the smaller colourful tropical fish, through sharks and all manner of outlandish critters right back up to the massive walrus, which truly is a majestic beast.

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The languid beauty of the jellyfish is something that I always enjoy as well.

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Some of our favourite exhibits included the huge school of sardines in a special tank including strong currents to encourage natural schooling behaviour. Watching them separate, merge, turn and swarm together as one mass was quite hypnotic.

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The highlight of the day though was the in the Fureai Lagoon area, which is the hands on zone where you can get to meet some of the aquariums inhabitants. As well as the typical touch pool fare (with hermit crabs and star fish etc) there was an area where you could meet the dolphins and belugas - and, if the choose to swim near enough, you can stroke them as the pass by. That was a real treat.

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However, the highlight of our time in Yokohama was visiting Taya caves beneath Josenji temple. Located roughly half way between Yokohama and Kamarara, this temple is the dictionary definition of a hidden gem. Even Japanese people who I told about this place had never heard of it, Haru included, and yet it is one of the most impressive things I saw in all my time in Japan.

The temple itself is small and unassuming, and the entrance to the cave is little more than a low doorway leading into the rock face.

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Pay the modest entrance fee and you're given a small candle and a holder to illuminate your way around a subterranean marvel. Inside there is a series of passages carved by Shingon Buddhist monks training at the temple around 1200 to 1700. This in itself would be impressive enough, as just hewing the basic tunnels would have been hard enough.

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Yet it's the amazing carvings that the monk decorated the corridors and chambers with that really impress. There are domed meditation chambers, a natural spring adorned with a fresh water turtle and birds, whole epic tales retold in long carved sequences and massive monstrous figures. Truly an awe inspiring spite by any standard, and a place I'm genuinely glad to have visited. I really can't recommend this spot enough if you ever get the chance to visit.

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Never have I ever felt as close to fulfilling my old childhood dream of actually being Indiana Jones as I did walking around those ancient passageways guided only by the light of my spluttering candle, and coming face to face with these dreams and visions carved by long dead hands.

Posted by DKJM74 11:13 Archived in Japan Comments (0)

Hikone Hanami and Hiking Hieizan

I suspect the word 'last' is going to creep into these next few entries quite a bit, and it begins here with my last hanami (Spring cherry blossom viewing). Which I'll cover briefly as I have A LOT of catching up to do on this blog.

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Every year my favourite local spot was on the north tip of the lake, so that's where we started off this year as well. However, it was only a brief stop before we drove around the lake to Hikone on the far side. Hikone is famous for it's well preserved castle and gardens, and as I'd only been there once (just after arriving in Japan) and Haru had never been there it seemed like a perfect place for our final hanami.

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The castle and it's grounds are on a virtual island separated from the rest of the town by a wide moat overhung with blossom laden branches, and it was here that we headed directly. Starting off with a quick tour around the inside of the main keep which boasts some impressive woodwork, including some rare twisting support beams that have been used in their raw state rather than been trimmed down to a more regular shapes.

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The castle grounds also house a nice walled cherry orchard which was in full bloom, and several people had already settled down on the grass for picnics under the pink.

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As we continued around the grounds we ran we also ran into Hikonyan, the official cat-samurai hybrid mascot of Hikone. The character was created in 2007 to celebrate the 400th anniversary of the castle's founding. He's since proved to be one of the more popular mascots and has become quite well known. This Hikonyan show basically consisted of Hikonyan striking a series of cute poses for people to take photos of, not very thrilling but when you consider how many of those photos went on Facebook (or travel blogs) it is a master-stroke of cheap advertising.

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Eventually we made our way back across the moat and toward the formal gardens at the bottom of the hill. On the way down I was both surprised and delighted to see just how many wild turtles there were basking on the grassy bank of the moat or lazily paddling across the still water.

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The gardens below the castle are both elegant and a great example of a classic Japanese style layout. It was also one of the first places I visited upon arriving in Shiga Ken, as every year some local volunteers take new JETs on a guided tour around the caste and grounds. So it was nice to come here again for a second visit at the end of my time in Shiga Ken.

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Actually revisiting favourite old places was something I did quite a bit of in my last few months, and in May we set out to hike Mt. Hiezan and visit the garden museum at the top while it was still in full bloom. Although we could have cheated, and driven most of the way, we set out to walk the full distance which covers a mix of well paved areas and woodland footpath along the way - Oh, and a lot of steps!

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Near the top we took a short stop to take a look around Enrijaku-Ji, the famous temple that dominates the mountain ridge. Here we even found one or two late blooming cherry trees in full blossom.

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But our main goal though was the garden museum located right at the peak with it's colourful spring flowers, a recreation of Monet's water lily ponds and some spectacular views over the slopes all the way down to Lake Biwa and Otsu city spread along it's shore. So let's finish with that!

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Posted by DKJM74 11:13 Archived in Japan Comments (1)

Re-opened and (soon to be) Re-branded

A situational update

Well, it's been over a year and a half since I last posted on this blog, but I'm back now!

To briefly explain, I actually left Japan last July 2014 (not long after I put up the last post). My 5 years on the JET program had come to an end and it was time for myself and Haru to make some tough choices. In the end, having been out of the the UK for almost 2 decades, I felt I wanted to go back and see what it'd be like trying to make a go of it in England- so that's what we decided to do.

We flew to London late last July, and stayed in the UK together throughout August and September traveling and visiting my family. After that Haru had to return to Japan to finish up her work there, and to await the results of her visa application. Meanwhile, I stayed here in the UK trying to get decent job, and to get ready for Haru's arrival. It wasn't easy to say the least. At first all I could get was a warehouse job, which was far from ideal and really didn't pay too well. This also mean being stuck living with family in order to save as much as possible.

Separation from Haru, complications with the visa application and an unexpected death in the family all colluded to make this a trying time.

However, eventually we started the application process, Haru's visa was approved and she came to join me in the UK about 8 months ago. I also finally got a slightly better job. This means that we'll finally be able to start on whatever this next stage of our lives together is going to be, although we're still staying with my folks until Haru also gets a job.

I miss Japan terribly, and I've been loathed to post entries about the last few trips we made while living there there; as doing so seemed to have a kind of finality about it that I wasn't ready to face - in short I simply couldn't close the door on that part of my life yet. However, as I now finally see a crack of light through a new door opening ahead of me, maybe it is time to close the old door now.

So, what does all this mean for the blog?

Well, I'm finally going to post entries for those last few months in Japan, and originally I was then going to close the whole blog down too. However, I've had a change of heart about that. Since leaving Japan we've already had some great trips around the UK, including a London street art tour, some pony trekking in Wales and a steam punk festival in Lincoln. We also took a long weekend in Venice, and a weekend in Carcassonne to celebrate Haru finally getting her visa. I realize that, with Haru here, England can also be an adventure and there could still be a lot worth sharing here. I also realize that I simply like having this record of all our travels and adventures.

So, although my 'Japan with JET' blog has it's days numbered, once I've finished the Japan time-line I'll be re-branding and continuing under the new name ' Japan and Beyond with Damon and Haru'. The journey never truly ends, or as J R R Tolkien put it 'The road goes ever on'. I hope you'll join us for a while longer.

Lastly, as it seems odd to do whole blog entry without any nice pictures, here are some photos from an impromptu trip to the Fukui Ken coast line that Haru and I took way back at the in December 2013 (if I recall correctly). It's a quite stark, rocky piece of coastline and the pictures are quite dramatic and glowering. Enjoy, and here's to the next five years!

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Posted by DKJM74 08:42 Comments (2)

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