A Travellerspoint blog

July 2010

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)

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