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.
No? Want another hint?
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.
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..
... 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...
...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.
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.
There was also a nice chance for a bit more trick photography -
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...
... and we were off, though even the streets leading up to that park are pretty interesting as well it turns out.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 :-)
Next - the sun setting over the construction site of the new Osaka train station building.
Haru's mini birthday cake (this wasn't all she got OK)!
The moon about to get swollowed by swarming darkness (or a tree if you prefer).
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.
Muro Sensei tries to keep cool during boat club practice (The short rainy season is over and it's HOT!)
Muro again; keeping a watchful eye on the students,
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....
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).
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.
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!
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.
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.
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).
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!