A Travellerspoint blog

October 2011

A Very Kansai Summer (Fireworks, Cosplay and Bugs - Oh My!)

A Spectacular Summer Scrapbook

It's July, the end of my second year in Japan and the arrival of the new JET intake is fast approaching.

That means hot weather, long days and beautiful red streaked sunsets are all in season.

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I'm just about to start my third year on the JET program, I'm pretty well versed in the job and very comfortable in my role as an ALT now, so I've decided to step it up a notch and have volunteered to be the block leader for Takashima this year. Exactly what that means is quite flexible, but what I want to do is ensure that there are regular events that are open to everybody in the block (13 ALTs in all) and go beyond the boring 'Hey, let's go out drinking' type get togethers that have dominated the last two years (and are the main reason I never spend time with the other JETs - except my travel buddy Andrew).

So I'm trying out a proto-block trip this month before the newbies arrive by suggesting a day out hiking in Takashima. Actually we're heading back to the 8 waterfall hike near Gulliver's village that I walked with Leila almost 2 years ago. Four of us are going today, Haru, Andrew, Natalia and myself.

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Hopping across the fast flowing stream from rock to rock clinging onto a chain is grade 'A' fun in my book - though I'm not sure Natalia would agree after nearly loosing a shoe :-)

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Still we all made it to the top safe and sound with big grins all round.

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We headed back down the way we came up, but I've since learned that if you know the route you can actually continue along the mountain and come down further south near the next train station - I'll have to find that route and try it one day.

Of course summer is a good time for just generally getting out and exploring, so this wasn't the only hike I did. Here are a few highlights from another trek into the woods with Andrew. We were actually haikyo hunting (following up a very flimsy rumor of a lost village out here), and while that came to nothing we did at least see a huge handsome toad!

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Summer is also festival time in Japan and one intriguing event I've managed to miss the last two years is the Biwako Birdman Competition. On the surface it sounds very interesting - every year a large launch is built over the lake and teams compete in distance and time trial unpowered flight competitions. So lot's of wacky folks in winged costumes jumping off a high board, right?

Well, no! That's how it is in the UK at the Birdman competition, but it's a more somber affair here with more serious teams flying gliders.

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Even then, it could have been quite exciting watching the gliders pitch off the launch and either pull up and fly or plummet into the water - like this one.

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The big problem though was the huge gap between launches when the debris of the last glider was cleared away and and next one was set up, this could take 20 or 30 minutes - and if the next glider dropped like a stone that mean a few seconds of action before another long wait.

Still I've finally seen it with my own eyes and I know it's not worth repeating again next year.

One thing that has been a very positive influence on this summer though has been meeting Rika and Junpei, who work to promote Shiga as a tourist destination. As part of that work they arrange trips for local foreigners (all expenses paid) and take lots of pictures of you to use in promotional material and websites they run.

After getting hooked up with them via my friend James I found myself heading down the BSC Water Sports Centre to try my hand at windsurfing for the day! We spent a whole day there, chatting to some kids who were doing kayaking on the same day, having lunch and then windsurfing!

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As there is no firm evidence to the contrary I'm just going to say I was awesome and a complete natural at windsurfing who never fell off his board once - and anything anybody else says is a lie!

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Since then I've been on another trip organized by these lovely people and I'm now working to try and get a strong link between them and the Takashima JETs so we get first dibs on any other interesting things they have going on :-)

If you're interested you can find the o.Biwako main site here or their facebook page here.

As you can probably tell by now, my summer as pretty hectic and some tough choices had to be made. One of those was whether I was going to go to Nagoya for the world Cosplay Championships again, that would mean two days of costumed fantasies floating around but it would mean missing a potential weekend out with Haru. In the end we made a compromise by going to Osaka together for a smaller Cosplay event there, so here are some costume pictures taken around the Asian Trade Centre in Osaka at 'Cosjoy 2011'.

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I just love the way that girls in Cosplay costumes pretty much all seem to be ready and willing to pose in any way you tell them to. Try walking up to any other group of cute girls and asking them to kneel down and gaze up adoringly at you while you snap pictures. They would (rightly so) tell you exactly where to go, and what to do to yourself when you get there. Cosplay girls, however, usually say - 'Ok!'

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Another advantage of going to Osaka instead of Nagoya was that there was also a beetle exhibition on at the Trade Centre on the same day - so Cosplay and big bugs with my wife :-) I was a very happy man!

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So that's hiking, exploring, gliders, windsurfing, cosplay and bugs out of the way - phew! Just the fireworks left to go! August is firework season in Japan, with almost everywhere having a firework festival of some size. The biggest and best in Shiga is the Otsu firework show which takes place over the southern most part of the lake.

I caught the in my first year just after I arrived in Japan, but missed them last year for some reason. This year I was down on the lake shore in a prime spot as the sun began to set over the water.

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Once it was dark the sky exploded in a spectacular light show that no pictures can do justice to - it really is a great show.

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Unfortunately, Haru wasn't free to join me in Otsu, but we were determined to actually see some fireworks together this year. So a few days later we headed down to Uji to see the fireworks there. We arrived late and barely got outside the train station before the show started. I have to say, the Otsu show is far more impressive (and comfortable), but I was really happy to finally go to a firework festival with Haru - in a yukata (summer kimono)!

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I actually bought a second hand yukata just for the fireworks this year, complete with geta (traditional Japanese wooden sandals), Haru was in a nice blue yukata too. The last time she wore one it was a rental one and she got changed in the rental shop. This time though it was her own yukata, so finally I'd get a chance to find out the answer to one of Japan's greatest mysteries - what do Japanese women wear under their yukatas?

If you want to know take a peek below.

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Not very sexy is it - lol

Posted by DKJM74 00:17 Comments (0)

A Trip to Ishikawa Ken

I'm standing in a highway rest stop shop, and if there was any doubt left in my mind that I'm back in Japan... well, then this selection of delicious snacks soon erases that.

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Crunchy baby crab anyone?? Some how this feels like it belongs in a Monty Python chocolate selection, though Haru assures me it's actually very nice... I think I'll just take her word for it.

We're heading north, out of Shiga, through Fukui and into Ishikawa prefecture. This is our second twixt-birthdays-trip, Haru's birthday is July 16th and mine is August 2nd. Making her the older one (by two weeks), whether she likes it or not! Last year we decided to split the difference and take a trip around the end of July, and that's exactly what we're doing again this year again this year.

The main things were traveling to see are the gardens in the prefecture capital, Kanazawa, which are considered one of the top three gardens in Japan, and the nearby prefectural art museum.

We only have a loose plan for this trip, but this is one of the places we wanted to see.

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The gardens in Kanazawa, considered to be one of the most beautiful in Japan. Again seeing something so traditional and Japanese after being away for a few weeks was really refreshing. Our favourite part was a pond in the shadow of a small hill with a nice tea shop on it's banks.

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Our next stop was the near by prefectural art museum, where we spent the rest of the day.

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The complex is divided up into a mix of paid and public spaces, comprised of external features and rooms inside. Highlights included a disco room, painted with a 360 degree disco scene.

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(I tried to find a way to add this picture as a 360 panorama, but I failed - which is a shame because it looks great like that).

Also there was a large selection of amateur art which was really varied and interesting, here are a few close ups from some of those.

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That about wrapped up our day out in Kanawaza, so Haru drugged me and I blacked out until the next day... probably. At least that would explain why I have no recollection at all of where we stayed that evening, what it more likely means is that we stayed in a cheap but bland and ultimately forgettable business hotel somewhere near Kanazawa - I really don't remember. That's what happens when you get three months behind on your blog.

I know that we did a lot of driving the next day, Haru was letting me combine a general sightseeing drive with checking out some local haikyo spots from my haikyo guide book. There seemed to be a lot of spots in this area and checking a few out while we were in the vicinity seemed like a good idea (with a view to planning proper haikyo trips with Andrew later). In the end this chance to recon a few Ishikawa sites proved invaluable, as it looks like all the places we might have visited were already gone - which saved Andrew and I a long pointless drive all the way from Shiga.

One interesting thing we passed along the way was this chain of restaurants, which Haru pointed out to me.

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Might look innocent enough, but apparently they're all closed now following a food poisoning incident in this area recently. Several people actually died after eating bad meat, bought cheaply and served in these restaurants. Scary.

Our next stop as at this car museum, which we only stumbled across as it was near the location of one of the missing haikyo.

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Now, I can't drive and I don't know anything about cars, so don't expect any deep insights here, but I can tell you that there were blue ones, red ones and green ones :-)

If you're into cars then these pictures will probably mean a lot more to you that they do to me, and feel free to fill in some details in the comment box.

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One thing that did amuse me though was the toilets. The gents basically served as another exhibition - of urinals from around the world! Which I had to photograph as Haru was really curious after I told her about it.

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All day we've been slowly heading back south and homeward, and by the afternoon we reach the hotel Haru has booked for the second night. Which is much nicer and more memorable than wherever we stayed the first night.

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And there the story pretty much stops, we spent the rest of our visit just relaxing in and around the hotel - enjoying the food, the fireworks over the lake in the evening and just spending time together.

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This was a bit of 'us' time, so I'm drawing a discrete veil over the the last leg of the trip. Instead, I'll leave you with this nice collection of origami that we saw during a pit stop on the way back home the following day.

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Next time - a full summer spectacular with thrills, spills and full pyrotechnics!!

Posted by DKJM74 05:02 Comments (0)

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