Wednesday, 26 November 2008

Girls Gone Hiraizumi

Last week I developed a tic in my right eye. I blamed it on a friend who works in the department at school, but the likely culprit was stress and lack of sleep. I was told to try a new product - a single use self-heating eye mask. I was a little doubtful at first but... WOW! It was awesome! A few nights of good sleep with the wonder eye masks and I was feeling somewhat better, but what I really needed was a little bit of R&R. Luckily for me, Monday was a holiday and some friends and I had planned a long-weekend getaway.

The gang: an American grad student doing her PhD thesis research in Tokyo, my sempai (student senior to me) from school, a friend through Girl Scouts

The location: Hiraizumi in northern Japan.

The purpose: to see the famous temples


a bad fortune tied to a tree branch for good luck

the stream used in the Heian period for poetry/drinking parties


and Takoku no Iwaya

What we REALLY did: EAT, eat, eat, and then eat some more! When Japanese people travel within their own country they have a fascination with food, local dishes and special products. This means Genghis Khan (grilled lamb) and potatoes in Hokkaido, apples in Aomori, a special beef dish in Sendai, okonomiyaki and takoyaki in Kansai... The list is endless. Guide books and travel magazines are full of glossy photographs of these local specialities and include lists of restaurants. These specialites then find their way into the omiyage, the souvenier gifts brought home by the traveller for family, friends, and co-workers. My Japanese friends were shocked to discover that travel to a Westerner does not automatically imply discovering local delicacies to quite the same extent. I'm quite happy that this trip we most definitely travelled Japanese style and stuffed ourselves silly with the local specialities.


9 different types of mochi (rice cake)

wanko soba - 24 single bite sized bowls of noodles to be eaten with a thin soup and a variety of fixings

dinner at the hot springs hotel

Moffle - mochi waffle

(Yes, I know I am becoming Japanese with my fascination for taking photographs of meals I am about to eat. I just hope I don't go over the edge and start taking photos of airplane food!)

When we booked the trip, we had been warned that the season for fall colours would be over. I'd disagree, however!

I think the photos express it better than I ever could in words...

Tuesday, 18 November 2008

Random Tuesday - Pushing My Buttons

Some of the elevators at my university have a neat feature I haven't seen elsewhere. If you hit the button for a wrong floor by accident then you can hit the button once or twice more again. The button will no longer be lit up and the elevator will no longer stop at that floor. Since I've never seen it before it amuses me to no end... (yes, I have been told I have the maturity of a 5 year-old!)

Saturday, 15 November 2008


Today I got an email from the Japanese Government (me and every other student on a government scholarship). In addition to suggesting I "take time out of my busy schedule" to get out and meet Japanese people in the community where I live, the email also talked about "the beautiful seasons of Japan."

The autumn foliage turns whole mountains a beautiful crimson against the clear blue of the autumn sky, or reflects astonishing reds, brilliant yellows and bright oranges on still, mirror-like lakes. As autumn deepens with each passing day, the sun's rays are becoming softer and news of the arrival of the autumn colors is starting to be heard from various parts of Japan.

And I was reminded that I was going to rant about the lack of central heating and how my apartment is freezing cold despite the fact that it is still ten degrees above zero outside. I was going to end my rant with an eloquent and witty look at the Japanese fascination with the concept of Japan's unique blessing of four distinct seasons and the glorious display that is Japan in the autumn. But I've been beaten to it. Auberginefleur has collected all the links and Blue Lotus has said it better than I could. (and now I'm feeling the need to come up with a colour/flower combination nickname for myself...)

So instead I'm going to rant about what kept me awake for half the night last night - the whine of a mosquito in my ear. I'm serious. A mosquito. In November. I've had to pull out my little space heater and most (but not all) of my winter blankets. But I was kept awake because a mosquito was whining in my ear. He was waiting for me when I came home this evening too, and enjoyed flying around my head while I checked my email. He dive bombed me one too many times, however, and will not be bothering me tonight!

Wednesday, 12 November 2008

Wordless Wednesday - Signs of Amusement

A few photos from my cell phone:

Concerned about crime levels among foreigners, this shopping mall tourist info office decided to do their part to increase violent crime...

What teenager hasn't said to their parents, "but, like, EVERYBODY is gonna be there! Why can't I go tooo?!" This time it really is true!

Thursday, 6 November 2008

Walking to Northern Museums

I would say I set off bright and early on Saturday morning, but the sun was nowhere near rising when I set off, so it was instead dark and early when I left home on Saturday morning. My local train wouldn't be running for at least another hour, so instead I had to walk to the larger station a little further away. By 6am I was attempting to go back to sleep, but on a shinkansen train instead of my futon at home. At just after 9 am I changed trains at Hachinohe, the northern end of the Tohoku Shinkansen line, and met my professor. We boarded an express train and then a taxi and, arrived at the doors of museum number one for the weekend shortly after it opened. We spent the morning looking around the museum - with me taking plenty of photographs of the exhibits and panels (much to the amusement and confusion of the other visitors). After lunch I had the opportunity to speak with one of the museum's managers about their English language services (the musem is located right next to an American base).

After the interview my professor and I set off. Despite being warned the distance was too long, and despite the fact that we were carrying our bags for the weekend, the beautiful weather beckoned and we set off on foot. The short stroll turned out to be further than we thought - and after an hour and a half of walking along the shoulder of a highway, we finally arrived at museum numbers two and three - with about 45 mintues before closing! We dashed around the two small museums and chatted with staff before the director of one of the museums offered to drive us back into town to our hotel so we didn't have to call a taxi. Dinner at a sushi restaurant and a couple of drinks at an empty Irish pub and we were back at the hotel and I was asleep before 9pm!

The next morning we caught a train again, although not quite so early. After having lugged our bags around all day the previous day I suggested we head first to the hotel so that we could drop of our bags. By 10:30 we were on a bus to an outlying major archeological site with an impressive visitor's centre and a small museum with information in 6 languages! As we were looking around a reconstructed prehistoric pit-dwelling, however, the skies opened up and thunder rumbled. I was worried about getting my camera wet but my professor was petrified of getting hit by lightening and went scrambling back in the dwelling every time he heard a rumble. We decided to give up and have lunch, and were rewarded by sun, blue skies, and the occasional shower in the afternoon. After heading back to town by bus we hit two more museums - one on forests and the other on wooden fishing boats. Both were a ways away from the station and each other - more walking! I was quite happy to have enough time to soak my feet before we headed out for dinner, at a funky Japanese bar decorated with movie posters from the 50s.

Day three dawned a little later - we had only to walk 20 minutes to museum #7 for the weekend. From there we dropped our bags at the station and headed to the prefectural museum for a whirlwind visit. We had just enough time to pick up the obligatory gifts and a late boxed lunch before jumping back on an express train and then transferring to the shinkansen bound for Tokyo. We were both so exhausted that we slept most of the way back, but it was an awesome weekend. Good fun, and also rather productive as I'm planning to use at least two of the museums we visited as case studies for my thesis. I also enjoyed getting to know my professor better (not my advisor, but the other prof in museum studies at my university). But I was very glad to get home on Monday night and collapse into my own futon, and even happier to be able to spend all day Tuesday at home, venturing no further than the grocery store!

Wednesday, 5 November 2008

November Manners

As you may have guessed from last month's post, I'm getting bored by the Metro's monthly manners posters. They no longer seem fresh, amusuing, or cute. November's poster is about drunken rowdiness.

Although I'd agree with Greeneyed Geisha and Chris at Hitotoki that the problem isn't people partying on the train, but those taking the train home AFTER having partied!

I now use the Tobu line on a regular basis and am amused by their manners poster series. They are currently on the third in a fairy tale series. August was Snow White and the Seven Dwarves, advocating for not taking up more space than necessary on the seat so that as many people as possible can sit.

September was Cinderella and a plea to stop running for trains about to close their doors.

And October was Little Red Riding Hood and a request to turn down your music and not annoy other passengers.

All of this creative attention being focused on manners? Only in Japan...

Tuesday, 4 November 2008

Welcome Tadanobu

Of my year in India one of the best things was the people I met. This included Indian people in the local community, the visitors from around the world who attended the events we ran at Sangam, and, especially, my coworkers. Working with an international team has its challenges - differing work styles and language barriers can cause stress, which is compounded when you also live together and probably spend most of your free time together too! But it can also be incredibly rewarding. We may have different backgrounds and different futures, but for a short period of time we lived and worked together and because of that we share something very special. That is why I was upset not to be able to be there when two of my coworkers each got married this summer. I am, however, really looking forward to going to western Japan sometime soon to meet the newest member of the Sangam family!

Meet Tadanobu.

He was rather late, but he and his mom are both doing well.

He's adorable... I'm smitten!

When I was a baby I was given a pink baby blanket by the friend of my grandmother. It has gotten rather ratty, and been patched a few times, but I still have my baby blanket. The woman who gave it to me became immortalized as "the Blanket Lady." I've now become a blanket lady myself, but this time around I wanted to do more than just buy a soft blue blanket - I wanted to give little Tadanobu a flavour of India, and I wanted to knit it myself.

So I looked through hundreds of patterns, and finally settled on two - for elephant dishcloths!

Multiple that by sixteen, add a frilly border, and voila! A baby blanket!

But I'm kinda partial to this picture... (I sent little Tadanobu some Raffi for him to enjoy when he gets a bit bigger)