Sunday, December 27, 2009

Asuka Photos

These are the photos I took the night I went to the light up at Asuka in Nara.

Saturday, December 26, 2009

Takayama Photos

Photos from my trip to Takayama


A Selection of England and Paris photos.

England and Paris Photos

Here is an album of most of the photos I took in England and Paris.


So I’m hanging out in New Zealand now. It’s much warmer than where I live in Japan was when I left that’s for sure!!! Christmas and Boxing Day have been awesome and I am not less than a little sunburnt, oh well, we live and learn and wear sunscreen don't we?

But like I’ve said before I’ve got a thing or two to tidy up before I can describe my current travels.

A few weeks ago I went to Takayama with my wonderful Jamaican friend, Fay. Again, we went on yet another public holiday. We got up early in the morning for our 2 hour train journey there. Takayama sits just beyond Gifu’s border with Toyama on the Gifu side. It’s a very picturesque town famous for its beauty and its beef! I got me some amazing tasting beef and couldn’t be happier.

Takayama is a very traditional style town with rows of terraced houses come shops and the usual shrines and temples which is to be expected of any traditional Japanese town. As you can imagine I wasn’t only drawn there by the beef, though that was a huge part of it. I went there to engage in some temple-ing and some shrine-ing and some learning. I also went there by recommendation of my previously mentioned wonderful host family.

Takayama is an historical town on the Gifu side of the Gifu-Toyama border. It appears to have been one of the last bastions of the shogunate in the area at one stage and has some pretty awesome examples of traditional Japanese architecture, as well as being foreigner friendly. It was fantastic to be wandering around a town that had lots and lots of signs in English and where explanations in important places were written in both Japanese and English.

There is also, of course, the beef, oh the beef! It isn't as high quality as the wonderful and apparently extremely delicious Kobe beef but Hida beef is pretty darn good and I was quite willing to pay through the nose for it. The local rice balls on a stick coated in some sort of soy based sauce were also to die for. Food glorious food, that's all I am going to say just now.

I think the best way for me to describe Takayama is to put photos up. Coming soon once I work out how to do so from my Mac.

I am going to sign off there and go work out the photo situation.

I hope everyone had a wonderful Christmas and was neither lonely, nor cold, nor bored.

Happy Holidays!!!


Written 20 December 2009: Nara

I’m publishing this from NZ but am writing about my trip south from Toyama to Nara for part of what’s known in Japan as “silver week” a string of 2 or 3 public holidays in September that can become a decent long weekend if the weekend falls just before or during. As it happened this year Japan managed to get a 5 day weekend this year. I decided to use it to maximum effect and took a break to see my host family and decompress a bit.

I stayed at Grandma and Grandpa’s house again. A beautiful old style place in the Nara countryside, just gorgeous. I really love it there. It has a real “Japan” feel about it.

One of the holidays was Respect for the Aged Day, of course I knew that but didn’t really care. I think one should respect one’s elders at all times rather than needing a specific day to remember to do it. However, as per my usual manner on that day I got up and chatted to Grandma over breakfast while I waited for the others to arrive so that we could “respect the aged” by giving them their space. I hear that the simple act of me chatting with Ayako on Respect for the Aged Day made her day. My personal belief is that if you are staying with someone, using their toilet paper, you should at least talk to them!!! But she appreciated it, so all good. I also won by learning a small amount of Nara-ben (Nara dialect of Japanese) from Grandpa who seems to think I understand 100% of what he says. FYI I do not! But, I do my best, I guess from context and I pick out important key words. Generally I find that if I don’t at least try to figure out what they are saying I will never learn anything and I am all about learning from grandparents since I only had one and she only lasted 8 years of my life (God rest her soul).

That day was spent shopping. But the best part of my trip was on the first night of my 2 night stay. My host brother goes to high school in a really historic part of Nara and it happened to be having an illumination evening that night. The whole place was lit up with candles and lights. I got insight into ancient Japan!!! Heck I’m gonna go ahead and say it I went to ancient Japan. Asuka is the site of the former capital of ancient Japan. The oldest Japanese coin was found there. On the site of where the oldest coin was found they built a museum about the period which is immortalized (in a rather unreadable way) by the Manyo-shuu. The museum is largely devoted to the Manyo-shuu and the emperor has been there. I stood on the exact spot that he stood on and did what I always do, posed for a photo. I now have a record of me having stood where the emperor stood on the one night of the year that the Manyo Museum in Asuka is open to the public and free too. :D

We went to a famous temple or two along the way and visited the “Stone Stage”, actually a massive tomb, possibly for an ancient emperor.

I learned soooooo much about the history of Japan that night. No better way to learn about events and the importance of historical events than to go to the places where they actually happened. Just like there is no better way to learn a language than to immerse oneself in it and feel one’s way through.

I cannot stress enough how grateful I am to that family. They are always there for me. I know I can count on them if I ever need culture advice or just someone to keep me company in Osaka for the afternoon while I wait until an appropriate time to head off to the airport to catch a plane. Though, I do have to say that I have made the error of asking my host sister for advice on whether or not to buy an expensive item of clothing twice now, I really must learn that she will not stop me from buying it!

I do admit to being the proud owner of a Hello Kitty tartan scarf and a Hello Kitty hoodie. To quote the hoodie, “I love Hello Kitty and she loves me!”. There I said it, don’t dis me, Hello Kitty is the only name brand I can never resist. And that is a tangent for another day…

It’s Christmas in New Zealand for me. I hope everyone who reads this has an awesome Christmas wherever you happen to be.

Saturday, December 5, 2009

Of Museums and My Sister's Cooking

23 July 2009

The last full day of my first trip to London. I say that because I know I will be going back.

I spent the day with my sister's boyfriend doing what he and I seem to do best museums and historical stuff. Being a bit of a history buff, especially when it comes to science and knowledge acquisition (as in how the ideas that we now consider conventional came about), going to the 3 major London museums (there are A LOT of museums in London!) was a must do while I was there.

We went to the Natural History Museum, the Science Museum and the British Museum (BM).

When we arrived at the Natural History Museum it was erm, incredibly crowded because it was school holidays and where better to spend your time than looking at dinosaurs really?? So we proceeded down the road a bit to the Science Museum.

The Science Museum was a bit of a children's playground despite being really well laid out and what could be seen as quite complex ideas being well explained. My sister's boyfriend is a primary school teacher and he questioned how much kids get out of a place like that if parents or teachers don't take the time to teach kids about the stuff they're looking at or playing with. I think he might be right. There seemed to be two types of parents, the ones that just let their kids look at stuff and the ones that were constantly talking to their children explaining things as they went, much like Dad used to do with my sister and I.

There was lots to interest me in that museum. DNA, Microscopes, old MRI Machines, Aero stuff, medical stuff, everything! It was awesome! There was a medical museum on one of the top floors which was largely empty. It had some of Lister's stuff and Pasteur's stuff and I went a little nuts. There were all sorts of microbiological artifacts that caused me to go a little geeky. However, I stumbled into the gaenecological (sp?!) section and decided that perhaps my cue to be less interested was upon me, some of that stuff looked painful! I found myself feeling lucky that I didn't live my adult life in the early 20th century or before that, that's for sure. Anyway, I got a little disturbed and decided it was better to get out.

Next was the Natural History Museum where another discussion about my non-commital views on evolution almost broke out. It was really crowded and quite full in there so we decided to skip the dinosaurs. It had everything you'd expect, Geology, Astronomy etc etc etc Biology and being the 150th Anniversary of Darwin's Theory of Evolution there was the obligatory exhibit about him. Very interesting. I even found a sign that said 'we are evolving' on the screen covering the area where they were creating a new exhibit.

The final destination for the day was the British Museum. It is the oldest public museum in the world having been opened to the public in 1759. It houses the Rosetta Stone and many many other ancient artifacts from all over the world. There was sooo much in it that was so amazing. The Rosetta Stone was much smaller than I imagined it would be learning about ancient history as a kid. Cleopatra was tiny! There were bits and pieces from all over the ancient world as well as from all over modernity. There was even an exhibition on Japan which allowed me to impart some of my own knowledge on the superb tour guide that is my sister's boyfriend.

However, the highlight of the whole day was the artifacts found in the Roman rubbish dump found at the border between England and Scotland. My sister's boyfriend had told me how incredibly interesting the pieces of 'paper' they had found in it were and I have got to say that he was right. They were incredible. Just reading the translations of some of the things written was enough to give more of an insight into Roman life, how they actually lived, their culture. It was just amazing!

I came away from the British Museum knowing that I have to go back there one day and thinking that I couldn't have asked for a better final full day in London. At least that's what I thought until dinner time.

Gosh darn it if anyone in my family can cook it has got to be my sister. We came home to a spectacular dinner of Wild Alaskan Salmon and Roast Vegies. They were as usual amazing. I do not know where she learned to cook but she sure does have a feeling for what goes well together and how to make it taste good. I think it is partially due to her having discovered organic veges since her move back to the UK but I'm not sure that's entirely it. I dunno, I just feel like she is just such a better cook than me. I bake, she cooks. That seems to be how it works. I make (and eat) cookies and cakes, she creates amazing meals. I'm the one who will get type 2 diabetes, she's the one who runs half marathons and will still be able to manage her weight effectively for as long as she lives. And yet I still sit here munching on rice crackers flavoured with sugar and plum...

My sister and I talked for ages that night. My flight was in the afternoon the next day while she was at work so I would say goodbye to her in the morning not being entirely sure when I will see her again. Such is the way our relationship works. We haven't lived in the same house as each other for more than 3 months at a stretch since I was thirteen but that doesn't mean that there aren't times when I wish she wasn't on the opposite side of the world to her. Time zones are interesting things.

My trip to the UK was amazing. Returning to Japan in time for the anniversary of my move here was also amazing. The jetlag was not cool but that's life. I don't think that trip to is going to be something that I forget easily, especially not that last dinner. Gosh darn it, my sister's cooking is just too good. Best part of the whole trip: Spending time with my family (yes that does include the boyfriend of the sister!) and eating the food my sister cooked for sure!

UK trip series over and out! Photos coming soon.


Of fantastic catching up with UK friends.

22 July 2009

I caught up with 2 of my awesome friends. One of whom had come down from to London from Liverpool to see me. The other who took his lunch late to catch up with the both of us.

It was a fantastic day. We met for lunch in a really pretty park and had this great catch up. Sounds like my friend who lives and works in London is determined to see as much of Europe as he can while he's on the visa that he has for 2 years. It was really cool to catch up and see someone who left NZ just after I did and has seen so much more of the world than me in the same amount of time. Though, it is easier and cheaper to get places from London than it is from Toyama so I'm not entirely surprised that he can do as much traveling as he does.

My other friend that I caught up with is a medical student in Liverpool who was in my Human and Medical Genetics class at uni, not to mention a really good friend before that too. She cruised on down to London for a day and a night mostly because I was there I do believe. So after lunch she and I headed off to Covent Garden to buy a present for my sister. On the way to Covent Garden this 22 year old guy working for World Vision as his summer job managed to flirt us into sponsoring a child, actually just my friend. I used to volunteer for them doing his job so I wasn't about to buy into it, besides I don't live in England and have suspended my donations to World Vision Children in Crisis indefinitely while I am in Japan. I do have to admit though that remembering that makes me laugh soooo hard. I wonder how that's going actually. Finally, I got her to sponsor a child, even if it took an English dude who was being paid by WV to actually convince her. ;-)

So, in Covent Garden, we went to the NZ grocery store and got some potato chips and L&P. The chips were for later with my sister but the L&P was for the drinking there and then. It was heaven and yet incredibly strange. There we were in one of the places that is seen as "quintessential" London drinking something that is "so" New Zealand. Very odd. I've got the coolest photo of the pair of us with our cans of L&P . L&P seems to be one of the things that I really miss from home. That and decent coffee but that is a story for another day.

It was a really chilled out day, reminiscent of weekends at uni when we either had no study to do or were procrastinating our butts off.

My sister really liked her gifts too which made me really happy. That lot was not cheap!