The next adventures

Shortly P and I will head off on our next adventures. But this time we are heading off separately. I have a school field trip which is compulsory, and so P is planning with some of our friends to head off on a ski trip.

I am bummed that I will not be able join the skiing trip, but I am sure there will be another opportunity before the winter is over in Japan.

I am headed to Kagoshima area which is the southern most point on Kyushu island. Tripping with 21 other students and 3 of the school faculty is not my idea of a good trip, but we will see some interesting things at least. The itinerary includes a peace museum at the location that many of the WWII kamikaze pilots were trained, an active volcano, hot sand baths, Edo period houses, nuclear and geothermal power plants as well as some Japanese gardens. The guy who designed the itinerary is mad keen on hot springs, and this area is a hot spring mecca in Japan – but he says that there is too many students in our class for him to take us to the nice small hot springs. So sand baths instead. It’s a part of Japan we would not have headed to ourselves so I suppose that is a benefit. But the drawback is that I am sure we will need to write a report about the trip – not so good.

The plan for P is to head to Niigata, which is one of the closest skiing areas to Tokyo. It will be a boys weekend, with 4 continents represented – Aust, Europe, Sth America and the Middle East. They haven’t finalised how they will get there as yet, but I am sure they’ll have a weekend of fun!

Our next together plan is to get ourselves to Hokkaido, where the winter is deep and snowy. We keep hearing that the snow in Hokkaido is amazing – so once we survive the next adventures (and get over this week of final exams and assignments), that is likely to be the next joint adventure.

Advertisements

Another beanie on the loose

I finished another crafty project over the new year break. But things have been so busy at school that I had not seen its recipient until yesterday.

But finally I succeeded in finding Tomomi, my Japanese friend, and was able to hand over the goods. She was very pleased – as this photo shows.

Penguin pose in beanie

Penguin pose in beanie

You might be wondering about the strange look on Tomomi’s face and the stance … Well, when Tomomi put the beanie our Korean lecturers said she looked like a cartoon penguin (Pororo) which is really famous on Korea.

What do you think? I am not so sure I see the similarity.

But I might have to make a yellow beanie with ear flaps for my Korean lecturer (as a payback for her comment).

Pororo - the little penguin

Pororo – the little penguin

I am really keen to watch a Pororo cartoon now.

Thanks for the sweets Okinawa

The Japanese have a tradition called Omiyage. This is when returning from holidays they purchase packages of local food products as gifts for family and colleagues. I can’t describe for you just how massive this is. The entire airport (even the small provincial airports) are filled to the brim with boxes of beautifully packed goodies.

In Okinawa, the big focus for omiyage is either beni imo – a locally grown and nationally famous purple sweet potato -, the tropical fruit grown in the tropical climate of the islands, or the black/brown sugar grown and processed on the islands.

Fruit pretty self-evident. But to elaborate, there a packaged boxes of pineapples, bananas, mangoes, passionfruit, and citrus. There is also an array of dried fruit, fruit flavoured biscuits, and candy.

As for beni imo – there is an eye popping array of sweets. Beni imo is cooked into almost every type of sweet I could imgine – biscuits, pies, cakes, jam, drinks, brownies, crisps, candy and even as ice cream!

The black/brown sugar is just unrefined processed sugar. All the molasses is retained in the final sugar, giving it the dark colour and a deep caramel flavour.

Well, we could not overlook this tradition and we wanted to bring back a thankyou gift for the couple who were looking after our houseplants, so we too joined the throng. We returned to Tokyo with the following goodies: Shikuwawa citrus jam, beni imo crisps, a bag a black sugar and some fresh island passionfruits.

Our favoured way to indulge in beni imo was however, as ice cream. As we could not transport the beni imo ice cream back to Tokyo, we made do by consuming large amounts of it while in Okinawa.

Beni imo ice cream

Beni imo ice cream

This post today was inspired by an Okinawan afternoon tea – ummm passionfruit.

Thanks Okinawa

Thanks Okinawa

Crunch time

Just thought I would let you know it is not all sushi and kimono spotting for me over here…

Tomorrow, I have 11 hours of classes and an exam. Anyone want to swap? Wish me luck.

[but there is good news, friends from Oz are in Tokyo this week, so there is a plan to catch up with them after my horrible Friday!]

Fuji-san and Kimono glory

I caught my first glimpse of Fuji-san yesterday. It was a clear winter morning, and the sun was shining in Tokyo. I was on the train headed to uni for an exam (on a public holiday no less!). And there just over the bay from home was the snow capped peak which is immortalised in the Japanese psyche and so much Japanese of their culture and pop icons. Here is the photo I captured – you’ll need to look closely at the horizon to see the icon.

Fuji-san - there in the distance between the buildings

Fuji-san – there in the distance between the buildings and above the cranes

It was a great start to the day. I bashed out a quick email to P, suggesting that we meet after the exam and head to one of the many observation decks in Tokyo to take advantage of the clear day. Not having wi-fi, I saved the email for sending once I arrived at school and was reconnected to the interweb world [it might be hard for some of you to believe, but I think I am even less technologically equipt in Tokyo than I was at home – I don’t even have a cell phone here!].

Exam survived, I agreed to meet P at the Tokyo World Trade Centre to head to the 40th floor observation deck. I’ll skip over the details, but lets just say that arranging to meet someone at a location which neither of you have ever visited, when you are both approaching from different train lines and will get off at different stations, is made much more challenging in the old-fashioned world without mobile phones! Regardless of the challenges, and near misses, we found each other.

Unfortunately, the skies had fogged over somewhat compared to the clear morning and Fuji was back in hiding. Despite this we enjoyed the view over Tokyo city, and some of its landmarks.

Tokyo tower - a major Tokyo landmark

Tokyo tower – a major Tokyo landmark

Then as a final hurrah to end a wonderous afternoon of Tokyo viewing, as we headed to the train station for home, I saw two young ladies all glammed up in the most beautiful Kimonos – it was Coming of Age day when all the young people turning 20 get glammed up and visit the Shrine to be welcomed into adulthood. I nudged P to get a photo for me, and he went one better. He asked the girls if it was okay to take their picture. They were more than happy and said I should stand with them, and then they handed over their phones to get a picture of us too. [I felt very under dressed for such glamorous Kimonos!]

Coming of age day glam!

Coming of age day glam!

Another moment of amazement in Japan.

A strange sea creature

In the bright sunshine of a clear winter’s day, they stopped and stared out at the azure sea.

The sun was glorious

The sun was glorious

Beyond the soft white sand, but inside the fringing coral; there was something bobbing in the water. It was moving, intermittently quickly and then slowly. Flipping from front to back, and changing direction.

What could it be, they asked each other?

Out there. What is it?

Out there. What is it?

They continued their walk to the water’s edge, their interest peaked by the creature. Once at the shore, they could see flashes of blue spread out under a floating web of netting …. Then it broke the surface and stopped, glistening in the bright winter’s sun.

Like the dark haired man already standing at the water’s edge, they brought out their cameras to capture the strange winter scene – there was a girl in the water, swimming!

Just me :)

Just me 🙂

This folks is the story of my swim in the East China Sea. A warm, and wind free day on the island of Taketomi in Okinawa province, I was the strange sight that had Japanese perplexed that day. The water was beautiful, clear and warm. But clearly I was a strange sight for the locals and other Japanese tourists who were enjoying a warm new year’s break. I was the only one in the water, despite some small children paddling and playing at the water’s edge. I had heard that the Japanese tend to follow the calendar as a guide to their activities, and this day was evidence.

I had the entire sea to myself. There was me, and just salty sea water as far as I could see. It was heaven. I swam a few laps, dabbled with some backstroke, dived under to refresh my skin and face … and felt wonderful. I thought to myself, why could school not be in Okinawa rather than chilly Tokyo? Paul stood guard on shore and took photos, along with the Japanese, until my activities led a Japanese family to strike up a conversation with him. I was an anomaly in them in the Japanese winter it seems.

I know that you have been sweltering in Oz but this was just a joyous brief break for P & I from chilly Tokyo.

A day out on Ishigaki-jima’s roads

We picked up a little hire car today – a cute little Japanese box car (there are plenty of these on the roads – we think to make the most use of the wheel base with usable car loading space).

The little box car

The little box car

While it was about 18 degrees, there was a lot of cloud cover and a strong wind as we set out, so I hopefully (but perhaps unrealistically) packed our swimming gear and we headed out to tour the Ishigaki roads – all that there were anyway.

I was able to bare these pasty white legs! and did get my feet wet

I was able to bare these pasty white legs! and did get my feet wet

The sun came out for short stints

The sun came out for short stints

Who could that be?

Who could that be?

cloudy but beautiful
cloudy but beautiful

Hibiscus did not appear to feel the chilly breeze

Hibiscus did not appear to feel the chilly breeze

Very happy fat Ishigaki cows

Very happy fat Ishigaki cows

 

Nago Pinapuru paku

English translation: Nago pineapple park

We joined a tour around Okinawa island which took us to the northern end of the island. On the tour we visited a scenic coastline viewing point, a major ocean park and aquarium, castle from the 1400s, and then the pineapple park.

Pineapple man

Pineapple man

As Okinawa enjoys a subtropical climate, it grows a number of the tropical fruits that we love to enjoy in summer. But the breaking news is…

Australia does not have a monopoly on BIG things.  The Nago Pineapple Park – which as you might expect from the name is pineapple farm and tourist attraction. Outside the park is a BIG pineapple – sorry Sunshine coast you have some competition!

Us with the BIG pineapple - Australia does not have a monopoly on big things.

Us with the BIG pineapple – Australia does not have a monopoly on big things.

We wandered through the production processing area, where there was several windows into the factory floor – but unfortunately for us there was little activity in the factory on that day. The Park also has a pineapple train, which takes people around the farm to show off the various stages of growth of the pineapples. Of course P, being (almost) from a pineapple growing area, knew how the growing process worked and was able to explain it to some of our fellow tourists even though we did not get to take a trip on the pineapple train.

Then came the Japanese tradition of ….. This is where they purchase local food products to take home to family and friends as gifts. This appears to be a booming industry for the pineapple park! Let me give you an overview of the offerings:
Pineapple wine, passionfruit wine, pineapple juice, shikawasha juice (a local citrus fruit which tastes like a cross between lemon and lime), pineapple cake of about 5 kinds, pineapple chocolates, dried tropical fruit, pineapple biscuits, sweet potato pie, pineapple pie, pineapple beauty products, who-cho, sake, the local fire water …. and last but not least tinned pineapple.

There was also ice cream flavoured with some of the tropical fruit grown on the island – mango, pineapple, passionfruit, shikawasha etc.

It was a major spending spree for many of the Japanese on the tour but as we have minimal luggage with us, we refrained from participating – other than the pineapple and mango ice cream!

It was a great end to the tour of the northern part of the island. Well  worth a visit in the warmer months of the growing season.

P with friends and pineapple ice cream

P with friends and pineapple ice cream