Monday, October 20, 2008


So I guess a few interesting things have happened since I last wrote here.
My school had their annual school festival, and I decided to not bring my camera this year, figuring it would be similar to last year where I took tons of photos. There was a lot of the same, but I did sadly miss shots of one of the students dressing up as the popular young (African-American, or according to my students, 100% Japanese) enka singer, Jero, including doing blackface. There was also a pretty terrible student rock band named "Silly God Disco Stardust", and a funny moment when all the 3rd grade homeroom teachers got up to sing the Ponyo song (possibly awarded most annoying song ever, after listening to the school orchestra practicing it daily for weeks) accompanied by the school band.

It was a fun day, this time around I specifically asked for a job to do, as all the teachers and students had one, and I was given the job of yelling "Irrashiamase!" and "Arigato gozaimashita!" at the door to the "flea market" classrooms. I know now a little more about what it would be like to work at a Lawson's convenience store, although I kept my voice deep and did not let it get several octaves higher as the female conbini employees often do. The theme to the festival this year was "Join us!", a little brainwashy-sounding but certainly better than last year's non-sensical "Shining true flowers". At lunch I went outside as it was a nice day but was immediately struck by the scary entering-the-school-cafeteria-alone feeling, worriedly contemplating where and with whom to sit, but thankfully I was saved by a gaggle of third-grade girls from my elementary school, who dragged me over to their picnic area and offered me cookies and invited me to go to the haunted house with them. I love my elementary schoolers who just treat me like another 8-year old, and are so willing to be incredibly patient with my Japanese, explaining what they are trying to say to me 15 different ways until I get it.

Honjo also just hosted, fairly inexplicably, the World Championships for Women's Roller Hockey. I only got to see the last day of the competition, but it was so much fun! Not only to see a diverse group of gaijin, but the game itself was very exciting to watch! Spain won 1st, with I think Portugal 2nd and Argentina 3rd. The US, France, Germany, South Africa, England, Macau, Chile, and a few other countries sent teams and the night after the finals we ran into some of the American team and Chilean coaches out on the town, which was fun! I feel sorry for them - trying to find a place in Honjo to celebrate was difficult!

The next week was another sports competition, cricket! Phil had organized an Akita team and invited Sendai's team down for a tournament. I watched about 5 hours of it as I was catering as a fundraiser for Room to Read and must say, you know, it's not really an interesting sport to watch. But making hamburger patties kept me busy and the Sendai team was fun to meet.

And this past weekend I did a lot of koyo, viewing of the changing leaves. I love how Japan makes the changing of the seasons into important events. Jez, Matthew and I headed up north to Appi, the big ski resort, where I talked with some pension owners about a possible future group trip there (also a fundraiser for Room to Read). The leaves were I think in their peak time in the area, stunning. We then went down to the Yuzawa area. After hanging out with a local JET for his birthday party, we went to a udon factory, which was less interesting than it sounds, had a picnic with our Japanese class, and then to a canyon with natural sulfur springs steaming out of the rock face. I wanted to jump in but I guess that might have been frowned upon.

This was taken from a weird parking lot on the side of a narrow mountain road near Lake Tazawa. After we had pulled in and started taking pictures, a cop car pulled in behind us. The cop got out of his car and started walking towards us and began to pull something out of his pants pocket. We were very afraid and started back towards our car, looking to make a get away. But what did he pull out? His keitai - he wanted to take pictures of the pretty leaves too.

This was at a michi-no eki on the mountain road where they were having an all-out autumn festival including pounding rice into mochi. In the video you can see where some of the glutenous stuff flew out onto my camera lens! Yum.

In Appi pension village, possibly one of my favorite places in the world

At Appi ranch...this is what I think heaven looks like.

At the ranch they were having pig races

They also had a goat kid and cow for petting

These was taken from a bridge described as the best koyo spot in Iwate-ken Matthew, me and Jez The next day at a picnic with our Japanese class fellow folk - since we were further south the leaves were just starting to change

And last but not least, I'm almost out of space on this blog, so I'm thinking of either moving this over to wordpress or creating a new blogger one ie. sophie in akita 2. I've looked a little at wordpress but am not too crazy about it, but it might just be because I'm so used to blogger now. But that 3 G of space is incredibly tempting! I'll let you know what I decide.

Thursday, October 9, 2008

autumn trip

So, I've seen golden temples in Kyoto, been stared down by monkeys in Arashiyama, bitten by deer in Nara, went down a funnel-shaped waterslide in a indoor waterpark, walked through the floating shrine of Miyajima, and was spoiled by getting to spend hour after hour with my best friends, and I think it's time you all heard about it.

Gina, Margaret and Noura came from NYC for an extended visit to Japan, and we had a really amazing time together, in Akita as well as exploring some of the rest of the country. First up was Akita, and I really enjoyed showing them around my favorite places and having them get to know my friends here.

Margaret in the balloon pit at Round 1, one of the first and probably my favorite pic of the trip

Cathy and Gina bonding at the izakaya

Phil, Jez, Margaret and Noura

Margaret and I at Castaway's - had to properly introduce them to Honjo by way of our favorite karaoke bar!

at Akata-no daiboutsu with Jesse

Gina at Akata-no taki

From the top of 1000 statues up the hillside

We went on a mini (one night) zen meditation retreat at the zen-do I visited with my parents, run by the Sato's. I really liked the meditation although it was hard on my joints and difficult with a runny nose! The next day we had breakfast with Sato-san the monk (or as he refered to himself, probably more correctly, the abbot) and tea with him and his wife at their temple.
The view of Chokai from the zen-do, a little rainy and misty but still beautiful

Of course we had to visit I think my favorite place in Akita, Lake Tazawa

And of course, we had to go on the swan boats

at the torii on the lake, no relation to Spelling

This was near the honey-ice cream place near the lake. Yum!

Matthew and Gina

And then it was off to Kyoto! I beg to differ with the people who described it to me as "like a small village", this was more of the sprawling metropolis variety. Our first stop was a flea market at a shrine in northwestern Kyoto. I bought two beautiful old silk obis there for 400 yen!

The Kitano Tenmangu shrine

An entrance to a lovely looking home in northwestern Kyoto

The famous Kinkaku-ji. Beautiful, and still easy to appreciate despite the crowds

Surely this would be the nicest place to live in Japan?

School groups abounded

The pond in front of the temple

We got kind of lost around the Daitoku-ji, but this little street was as nice as the Washington Mews. And we found a delicious French cafe nearby.

An enclosed bamboo forest..we couldn't find a way in :(

A typical scene at our home away home the Sparkling Dolphins Inn. Margaret is drinking umeshu from a tupperware container, which I found endlessly amusing for no good reason


Walking up to the Kiyomizu-dera. Noura confused its name with House of 1000 Corpses

Some interesting graffiti

We caught this geisha photo shoot going on on a back road

These hanging decorations were all over Kyoto. They're made to look like little acrobatic men.

The entrance to Kiyomizu-dera with plenty of school groups

A pagoda hiding in the woods

Another one of my favorite pictures from the trip.

The temple had great views over Kyoto

Drinking the water from this "waterfall" was supposed to be a cure-all, I think

Some autumnal red spider lilies

We did a lot of shopping on the small streets around Kiyomizu, including at an awesome metalworking collective, but this store won for best storefront with random tiny ceramics and a fishbowl on the street below the display window

Our next stop was Arashiyama, where I had heard there were, and was slightly worried about, monkeys.

The riverside area was quite nice.

We entered a monkey park, where we had a short hike up a hill, through wild monkeys, to a small building on the top with lovely views of the city and hungry monkeys swarming around it. Thankfully it was fenced-in.

The monkey keeper bribed the monkey in front to pose with us with some apple slices. I am holding on to Gina for dear life.

Back to the monkey-free area.

The next day was NARA! Needless to say, I was ridiculously excited for the deer.

This was the first one we saw!

I think this fashionable little boy got knocked over and chased by the deer a few times but that did not seem to deter him.

Margaret gets attacked with the deer sembei

...and so did I
When I had the sembei, one deer kept biting my hipbone, another headbutting me in my butt, and so eventually I just had to throw the sembei away from me for fear for my life. Who knew deer could be so vicious!

After the sembei were gone, though, everything became a little more docile

Noura coaxing a baby deer out of a gaijin trap (ditch)

Their ears were so soft! Some of them let me gently hold on to their ears for a long time. Reminded me of my favorite dog, a friend's dog named Gramps. He lets me hold onto his tiny paws for as long as I like. I really need a pet.

A deer following Gina, Noura, Margaret towrds the gate to Todai-ji

Todai-ji temple, the largest wooden structure in the world!

The word on the street was that if you could pass through the hole in this wooden beam, you could attain paradise. There were a lot of moms pushing and pulling their babies through. One lanky Italian guy tried and failed.

The bumblejack!

We headed out for a night on the town via our favorite mode of transportation, the bus, to Gion and the potoncho area by the canal

We found a nice restaurant by the canal that was Cook your own, but over actual burning logs that they brought to your table. We cooked a delicious mackerel, amongst other things

Cool sake decanter

We went out to a tiny tiny bar in the same neighborhood afterward called "Soul Bag", and then hung out by the canal for a while.

I really wanted to see a couple more things in Kyoto before we headed off to Osaka so I woke up early the next morning and headed to the "Philosopher's Path" in northeastern Kyoto

The small canalside path was lovely and perfectly empty

There were also many cute coffee shops along the way, like this Coffee Maple.

I arrived at the Ginkaku-ji (Silver Temple) to find it had been burned and was under scaffolding. Thankfully the gardens were actually worth seeing on their own.

A strange silver sand cone in the middle of the sand garden

Engrish shows up in the strangest of places!

Here you can see the scaffolded temple

The leaves were just starting to change in the garden

In Osaka we went to the ridiculously awesome Spa World, which is a giant half-waterpark/half -themed onsen. We happened to be there on a discount day, so it was quite crowded, but the waterslides certainly kept Margaret and I entertained. One was funnel shaped - we only saw from the top that there was a worker inside the funnel whose job it was to make sure no one gets caught up in there "Augustus Gloop-style". We thought he must be the only person in the world to take a waterslide to and from work. Another one shot you down a long drop and then up a 70 degree wall, which you would fall back down after that terrifying weightless period. It was really fun, to say the least. Then we went to the onsen portion, which was really quite the crash course in onsening - a huge complex of many many themed baths, mostly on European countries. "Spain" was outside with an overhead waterfall, and "Norway" had a log cabin sauna and freezing cold pool. There was also a cavelike "Blue Lagoon" bath and a restaurant where you could sit and have a beer with your friends, nude, while your feet dangled in a special foot bath. It was quite an experience. Afterwards we met up with my friend Ryo who lives in the city and went to an izakaya in the Dotomburi neighborhood. Then it was on to Hiroshima!

From our hotel we walked toward the Peace Park on a T-shaped bridge I didn't realize was basically the center of the atomic bomb dropping called the Aioi bridge. As we were looking at the "A-bomb dome" a building which survived the bomb skeletally, kept as is as a reminder, a high school group approached and had their pciture taken in front of it.

Noura and Margaret looking at paper cranes at the Children's monument.

The actual museum of the atomic bombing was intensely interesting, it took us a few hours to get through it as it seemed every exhibit had long passages worth reading. Especially tear-jerking were exhibits of children's belongings, like a burned tricyle a little boy had been riding, which his father had buried him with in their backyard, before donating it to the museum.

The view from our hotel balcony, which included Hiroshima castle

The next day we visited Miyajima, an island near Hiroshima.

The famous "floating" torii and Itsukushima-jinja shrine

Yay! More semi-tame deer!

The mandatory group photo in front of the torii, too bad it started raining!

For a price, this man would make his deer pose with you and take your picture by the torii

We were glad to get in under the roofs of the shrine and out of the rain. At this point it was high tide, said to be the best time to see the shrine. But as we walked through the water quickly drained back to low tide, leaving less-pretty mud.

We were surprised by a wedding party in the shrine

The happy couple

The incense ash was fun to touch

A machine making momiji manju, the special treat of the island

Goodbye Miyajima!

From Hiroshima I said goodbye to head back to school for a few days, and then met back up with them again in Tokyo. There we had a tried but failed attempt at going to H&M in Omotesando, which hadn't opened yet, as well as a failed attempt at going to a love hotel in Shibuya- we were rejected from all of the (few) ones with vacancies because of our foreigness and shared gender! Too bad, because a few of them looked really fun decorated. We also headed to the more feminine-minded version of Akihabara, Otome road in Ikebukuro. We found the manga we were looking for, but not a (male) maid cafe in sight, as we had hoped.

We had a nice dinner at the lovely and delicious but possibly too gaijin-friendly Gonpachi Sushi, and then headed to a nearby club I had gone to with Edel and Cathy last year (remember the ridiculous hairdos given to us by the free in-club salon?). It was a rainy Monday night, so basically empty but the DJ was fun, and as if she knew we were coming played Mariah, TLC, and Mya, so of course we had to dance.

The next day we went to Studio Ghibli museum in Mitaka. It was wonderous, even for me, someone not interested in animation, so I can only imagine how fun it was for children or Ghibli fans. The architecture of the museum was really cool, very fantastical and all wood and glass.

Our last stop before saying goodbye was karaoke and bithday cake loaf of bread! near our hotel in Ikebukuro.

Bye guys! Thanks for visiting, I had the best time and hope you did too!