A Travellerspoint blog

December 2009

From November To December

TECHNICAL NOTE: Several photos got deleted from my 'Monkey Mountain Madness' entry by accident - I've only just noticed and restored the missing pictures; so if there were gaps when you looked at that entry it's all present and correct now.

So - it's December 28th now. I've just got back from a great trip to Hiroshima and Miyajima Island (took about 300 pictures - so that'll be a big blog update when I get to it!!) and I'm off to Nagoya tomorrow - so I've got a lot of blogging to do if I want to keep on top of it all :-)

This is another scrapbook entry really - bits and pieces from the end of November and the beginning of December.

I'll begin with November 28th (exactly a month ago!) which began with another invitation to go to another mountain with another museum on top of it; however this mountain was on the other side of the lake and the museum was the Miho museum.

The Miho museum is a private museum built by an fantastically rich couple who have some connection to a Japanese/American 'cult' of some kind. I really don't know the details, but I was hoping that the museum would be a flimsy cover for a huge cult brainwashing facility. In reality it's a pretty standard historical collection housed in a very impressive building right at the top of the mountain in a national park.

Photography is prohibited in the collection - though I couldn't resist taking a photo of 'Vessel in the shape of a cock' - because purile humour never goes out of fashion :-)

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I did get a few shots of the building though - it is very nicely worked into the landscape (I think a lot of agreements had it be signed and conditions met to be allowed to build in this location)

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Looking out from the museum across the valley you can also see the bell tower of the 'Spiritual retreat' that belongs to the same people - so that's probably where all the cult brainwashing happens!!!

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By far the coolest thing about the whole complex though is the massive enterance tunnel - carved through the peak of the mountain to allow access to the site; there is something so space age about it. Maybe it's the way it's metallic surface shines in gold and silver hues, or maybe it's the small electric shuttle cars that run up and down it - but the whole thing just looks like a set from an early James Bond film.

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The return journey took us back through Kyoto again, which as ever presented a few nice random photo opportunities.

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The next day I'd been invited by my landlady to attend her cram school's Christmas party where the kids would be singing, acting and playing games. It sounded fun so I agreed to go.

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This short 'westen' play was probably my favorite part. When the Sheriff brutally shot the bank robber than said 'I only shot him in the leg!' and the whole cast turning to the audience and blurting out 'Crime doesn't pay!!' at the end - classic!

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We even got a, very abridged, version of 'A merchant of Venice'.

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What I didn't know when I agreed to go was that I wasn't just a guest; I had to judge the singing and acting, and then award medals to the best students (The western play obviously).

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After the kids party was over I was also invited to the after-party which was a meal and karaoke session in the cafe opposite my flat - oh, the high life :-) Still I got to see one of my 2nd year students sing and dance!

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Sorry, no pictures or videos of my electric performance - you'll just have to trust me when I say I do a pretty impressive version of 'Welcome to the jungle' now!

December started off pretty slowly, I had to attend a two day 'Mid-year JET seminar' in Otsu. That basically means all the JET participants from all of Shiga were collected together for lectures and group workshops, not really being a fan of mass meetings like this I still think that most of it was a big waste of time - but I have to admit I did get one or two good ideas from it.

However, at Gavin's request for more food pictures on the blog, I did at least snap my lunch and some photos of the food hall below Kyoto station where they lots of sweets, cakes and snacks; more food pictures will be added in future (Remember if there is anything in particular you are interested in or want to see let me know, I'll try and add it to the blog! Use the comments box).

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The next weekend I was doing more local community work for the kiddies :-) This time I'd been asked to help out reading English stories at the local library. My friend, Asami, works at the library so I was happy to agree.

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I asked Connie to join me as well and she agreed, so between us we read three short stories so a small group of kids.

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After the stories, Asami also got the kids to make origami Christmas stockings.

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Haru also came to offer moral support, or maybe just to eat the cookies I'd bought for the finale of the story 'Who stole the cookies?' Either way it was nice to have her there, and while she was in Imazu we went for a ride to the North end of the lake and took a few really nice pictures on the beach there.

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Despite being quite cold that was a really nice afternoon.

Well, there is still one more thing to add to this looooong entry that will bring things nicely upto around the Christmas period. So, on December 13th, Lelia and I went to Kyoto to check out the city zoo and the modern art gallery.

I think normally a trip like that would make for a whole blog entry on it's own, but the gallery prohibits photography and the zoo really wasn't very nice; it's very old fashioned with small, cages or enclosures still being used for several bigger animals. So, I wasn't really inspired to take that many pictures there; just a handful of things that caught my eye in and around the zoo - like this turtle basking with all it's legs hanging down from a little stump in the water :-)

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This is the happiest I've ever seen Leila look!

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And a few interesting photos to close with :-)

The Tori (gate) by the Museum of Modern Art.
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A traditional theatre in Kyoto.
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Some fake Maiko, there were too happy to have their picture taken to be real, so I guess these are just some ladies who paid to dress like Maiko.
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I don't know who she is, but a stack of professional photographers were taking shots of her so I took a couple of sneaky ones too - maybe famous, may be a model, who knows?? She's cute!
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And we'll close with a beautiful Imazu sunset :-)

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Posted by DKJM74 03:06 Comments (0)

Mt. Hiei Adventure

Momiji hunting in Shiga

Now it was quite late into November and the leaves on the trees were changing colour, so it was a good time to go looking or Momiji (Momiji is the Japanese word for red autumn leaves, in particular Maple leaves). My friends Connie and Bonnie also had the same idea, and invited me to join them on a trip to Mt. Hiei the following weekend to go Momiji hunting.

Things looked very promising, around the bottom of the mountain. There were some very nice red leaves on the trees, and even some wild monkeys!! After visiting the monkey park in Kyoto because I hadn’t seen any monkeys just by chance anywhere, at MT. Hiei I saw a whole family of monkeys walking on the overhead cables like little furry tightrope artists.

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From the bottom of the mountain we took a cable car and a rope way to the top of the mountain. The weather was quite cloudy and a bit rainy, but the views were still really beautiful.

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At the top of the mountain is the Garden Museum which I visited in August. We didn’t go into the Museum, but we stopped at the viewing platform outside. It looked totally different today with the low clouds and sunbeams breaking through; very pretty.

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Having been carried to the top we decided to at least walk a bit of the way back down. We set off planning to walk the rope way section of the mountain and catch the cable car the rest of the way. As nobody else was hiking down at all it seemed and soon we were alone; except for a rather handsome stag watching us from the trees.

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Because it’s so high the mountain side is dotted with radio antenna on the higher parts, but lower down there are just footpaths and not much else.

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Obviously not many people come down this way, which would explain why this small ski lodge had long since been shut up and left to fall apart. This is a small but classic example of Japanese haikyo; despite the exterior falling apart and clearly not having been used for a long time, inside pretty much everything had just been left in place. Racks of skis and a huge pile of ski boots, kerosene heaters complete with oversized kettles, all still there and untouched.

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This was all great fun of course, until we began to realise that the path we were on wasn’t going to take us to the cable car station and it was rapidly getting darker and darker; which made for some nice photography, but also made us quite nervous.

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After that last photo was taken it was too dark to be worth taking any more photos and was still had no idea how much further we had to go. However, we didn’t have much choice but to carry on going slowly and carefully downward using our mobile phones as torches. In the end it was probably about another 90 mins or 2 hours before we finally reached the bottom again having hiked a whole mountain in the dark.

Afterwards we all agree that although it was a bit scary at times (each of us twisted or strained something along the way!), it was an experience that had a good side too. In fact Bonnie later said it was the one of the most exciting thing she had done in Japan; so no regrets though I don’t think any of us would want to do it again anytime soon. I think we were all glad to be on the train home at the time though.

Luckily, for our aching bones it was another long weekend, so even with this unexpected night hike on the Saturday we still had two days to recover before work. Sunday has totally disappeared from my memory, but probably involved a lot of sleeping, lazing around and soaking in hot water.

On the Monday, Haru came to visit and I was another pretty lazy day, except for a nice walk by the lake side; we took a stroll along the beach down to Café Lac for hot drinks and cake.

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The ladies who run the café also give you stale bread to feed the seagulls if you want, which is a nice way to spend a lazy afternoon.

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Posted by DKJM74 17:11 Comments (0)

Monkey Mountain Magic

Arashiyama, Kyoto

When I first arrived in Shiga and was being driven to my flat in Imazu for the first time I saw something. I saw something that surprised and delighted me - it was a road sign, a warning sign, with a big picture of a cartoon monkey on it. The conversation went something like this -

Me - Monkeys! You have monkeys here??
Driver - Yes, in the woods and mountains there are monkeys.
Me - You actually see monkeys here??
Driver - Where I live you quite often see them on the road....

I don't really remember the rest of the conversation because after that I was away in a fantasy about monkeys driving cars, but....

The point is I've been looking out for monkeys ever since I arrived, with no luck. So I decided it was time to stack the deck in my favour and visit Arashiyama (on the fringes of Kyoto) and go to the monkey park. The idea of the monkey park is very simple, instead of putting the monkeys in cages they built the reserve where a big group on monkeys was already living. So the monkeys are all 'free range' but enjoy the food provided by the staff and visitors so are happy to stay around.

After sorting out the train from centeral Kyoto to Arashiyama the first thing was to find the park - I had a map. but it wasn't very clear - if only there was some small sign of where the monkeys might be. Oh - hold on a huge monkey with a hat and a spy glass, that might be it :-)

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As it turned out, Arashiyama itself was a popular tourist spot, because it's such a naturally beautiful place. So Leila and I just wandered around a bit at first taking it in.

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Once we crossed the river we soon found the Monkey Park itself. The viewing area, and most of the monkeys, are at the top of the hill. So first you have to climb up, and just to get you in the right mood there are plenty of warning signs about monkey viewing protocol.

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Then there it was - my first Japanese monkey!

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Some parents were unwisely trying to get their kids to stand as close to it as possible for a photo which seemed to freak the monkey out a bit. However instead of going into a limb rending frenzy it just slunk off into the bushes. But still - my first MONKEY! Maybe I wouldn't have been quite so impressed if I'd known that just a couple of minutes up the hill it was monkey maddness -

Monkeys on the ground
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Monkeys in the trees
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Old monkeys
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Young monkeys
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Monkeys playing
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Monkeys chilling out
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Monkeys grooming
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And Monkeys....

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Yes, well, maybe the less said about that the better....

At the top of the hill there is an observation point with nice views over the town below and a feeding station.

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The feeding satation is a small building that people go inside to feed the monkeys, who are outside, through the bars; it's quite a nice reversal of the usual zoo dynamic.

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Then, having seen more monkeys than you could shake a banana at, it was time to say goodbye to the monkeys - and for the monkeys to say goodbye to us.

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After a nice lunch we decided to take a walk in the bamboo groves. Again, this is somewhere I`d really like to come back to, it was quite overcast when we visted but I can really imagine how it would look with shafts of light cutting down between the bamboo stems.

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By now it was beginning to get dark and it was time to head back in Kyoto, land of the eternal Kimono. No matter when you visit you`ll alway see somebody in a Kimono!!

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Back at Kyoto central station the Christmas tree was now fully illuminated and shining down from on high, quite nicely reflected in the plate glass windows of the building.

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The illuminations were lit outside the station too, people were scurrying everywhere, and for the first time it kind of sank in that it was almost christmas.

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Heck they even had 5 or 6 year old kids playing christmas songs on electronic organs under the tree - how much more festive can you get??

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Well actually, you can get more festive, and crazy! All you have to do is stand in a freezing river, half naked, singing!

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Don`t ask - I have no idea! And just when you think nothing else in Japan can surprise you - you find a really classy business like this -

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(Though in fact a totally innocent cafe I think!)

And on that note, Good night, God bless and a Merry Christmas one and all!!

Posted by DKJM74 16:00 Comments (1)

Kaiyukan Trip

Osaka’s Oceanic Aquarium

So, let's start off with a little perspective on this one - today is December 23rd and the trip I'm writing about happened on November 14th; I always seem to be about a month behind on this blog :-) Still I am going to try hard to catch up over this holiday ... though I won't actually be at home much!

So even though I won't be reporting Christmas things until late January in all probability - I'll wish you all a Happy CHristmads now :-)

Anyway, what I want to write about today is another trip to Osaka, and one that doesn't involve Goth clubs!! After my last visit to Osaka, I really felt I didn’t get the best out of my visit to the Sky Building.

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It was a really nice place to visit, but walking around and seeing the cosy observation seats designed for two, the nice little café there and the ‘lovers’ seat that lights up when a couple sit on it … I couldn’t help but think it was really more of a date spot. (Actually Japan seems very ‘lovers’ friendly, many places seem to have been designed with romantic couples in mind – which is great).

I was already thinking about another trip to Osaka to see the Kaiyukan (The huge aquarium built near the docks). So after the having had a couple of really nice days out with Harumi I decided to ask if she’d be interested in joining me and seeing the Kaiyukan and the Sky Building by night. She really liked the idea and we decided to make a weekend of it. Luckily, after we’d agreed that, Haru told one of her friends who managed to arrange a free hotel room for us in Osaka in a really quite posh hotel! So that was absolutely wonderful.

Haru actually lives quite close to Osaka so we met at the main station in Osaka, and then she knew exactly where to go which was refreshing after all my usual fumbling around with maps. So we made it to the Kaiyukan in good time, which was good because it’s a big place with an impressive collection and you need a lot of time to look around everything.

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As well as the typical aquarium tanks it also had large displays with other water animals like otters (including some wonderful sea otters), penguins in a special low temperature display and a fantastic collection of jellyfish. Well, here’s a good selection of what you can see there.

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The star attraction without a doubt though has to be the pair of Whale Sharks they have in the huge central tank. At about 13m long these are the biggest fish in the ocean, anything bigger isn’t a fish! Though it did make me slightly bitter to think that I missed seeing one of these in Egypt while Scuba diving; one day we split into two groups for the dive, one group had a rare up close experience with Whale Shark, one group didn’t …. Guess which group I was in! Still I finally got to see them, even if it was in an aquarium!

You can see the full Kaiyukan collection of photos here -

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By the time we left Kaiyukan it was already late afternoon, so we had to decide if we were going to rush to the Sky Building for the sunset view or go later for the night view … so after a nice nap in the hotel we slowly made our way to the Sky Building :-)

Though, actually, we made good time thanks to the free taxi provided by the hotel, who also provided free entry tickets for the Sky Building as well (I’m not sure they knew we weren’t paying for the room!)

Well I was right – the Sky Building is a good date spot :-) We went up to the outside observation platform first and took in the wonderful views of night-time cityscape and we also found out that the ‘lovers’ seat is more cunning than we originally thought; sitting on it is not enough to trigger the light display around you, you also have to hold hands and touch special contact point on the seat with your free hand (so I guess you’re making a human electrical circuit that lights the lights up)! Perfect way of getting over the physical contact barrier with your boyfriend/girlfriend if you’re shy :-) I’m not that shy, but it was really sweet anyway.

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Then we came inside and had hot drinks and cake in the café, and then took one of the big comfy double seats next to the huge windows (again carefully designed to be big enough for two but only just) and we sat and chatted until we decided to leave.

The next morning we took it easy, I snapped a few pictures of us in the room and of the view out of the window.

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As you can see, the sky building was visible from our hotel

Then we just floated around Osaka, looking in shops and stopping for drinks and snacks quite often. Which did result in me making an impulse buy of a new winter coat I saw, only to realise the next day (when I converted the price from Yen to Pounds) just quite how expensive it was; don’t ask!! The other highlight of the day was going into a big electronic entertainments centre with Haru and having a go at ‘Jungle Shooter’ game and realising I now have a girlfriend who can handle a machine gun better than I can!! (Which made me like her just a little bit more). She’s also pretty good at hitting things with a hammer (even if she does cheat and use her other hand as well). Still I learnt that day I’d better not piss her off.

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And that was it – another very nice weekend drew to a close, time for a long train ride home again … but I know what you’re all thinking! You’re thinking, ‘But Damon, you said in your Halloween report that Osaka is a kind of Crazy City and that you see something really random and weird every time you go there – so, what about this time where are the happy policemen, or street wrestlers this time?? You lied to us, didn’t you’!

Well, I’m glad you are thinking that – and I didn’t lie! I just saved the weird till last – check out these guys who obviously have too much time and loose change to spare and used it to get really good at playing the dance game ‘DANCE, DANCE, REVOLUTION!!’ Have fun.

And Merry Christmas!

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Posted by DKJM74 01:53 Comments (1)

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