Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Same food, different taste

I've been indulging in junk food lately and that's when it hit me to write about how food tastes different here. In Japan, there are Oreo cookies, but they're not as sweet as the American version. There are Ritz crackers, but they do not have as much crystalized salt on them. There are Pringles, but there is not as much seasoning on them...your fingers don't get sticky with flavouring when you're done. You're probably thinking...so food is less flavourful? It's actually quite the opposite. I think in Japan, they have just the right amount of flavouring and when you're done, you feel just right...rather than craving more junk food. When I come home, I think I'm going to die from sensory overkill!

Now onto fruits and vegetables. The stawberries are much smaller, the bananas decent sized, the cucumbers are really cute and petit, but apples are pretty big...but I think they're natural? Anyways, small or big, they're all packed with sensational flavour. In Canada, I didn't really like strawberries because even if they are sweet, the don't have much of a strawberry taste. I can't wait to test out the other fruit! I'm not sure which ones are imported though but I'm sure only the best stuff will get imported anyways. Japan is all about freshness and good taste....except for "nato"...which is a bean in this sticky paste and to me, tastes horrible but people here love it.

Friday, January 26, 2007

The thing about Tokyo...

You'd think that mankind would stop sprawling when we run out of land but apparently, we can make our own land! I knew that the new Hong Kong airport is built on man-made land but I found out on my last trip to Tokyo a couple of days ago that even Tokyo has a new area developping from man-made land as well. I guess you can build upwards only so much but this adding a new plot of land seems unnatural. Calgary is is concerned with it's own urban sprawl...but how does it compare to this I ask?

Anyways, I made a few new discoveries on my trip to Tokyo. Instead of using the metro, I used the train that is above ground called the JR line. There are lots of other train lines available too but I can only learn so much in a day! It's neat, like combination of the C-train and Vancouver's Sky train. Oh, but in the new land, there is a line that is exactly like the Sky-train...no conductor. You get a nice view of everything if you sit at the front so it was really nice!

I didn't do a lot in Tokyo this time. I was mostly there for a Photonics Exhibition but I got one day all to myself in which I spent shopping. I've been trying to stay away from that but I ended up spending a lot of money. Oh well, you only live once.

I took the overnight bus home and this time, I tried my best to stay up to look at the views. It was really cool. In Tokyo, they build highways on top of roads and other overpasses. So looking out the window, I was faced with the 5th story of apartment and business buildings. It felt very futuristic. And then I fell asleep and woke up to find myself home again.

Monday, January 22, 2007

Strike! ... eh well not for me ...

On Saturday, I had a really busy day. First, I went to an AIESEC Preperation event for the 2 new SNs. It was intersting what was being introduced. One SN was preparing to go to Poland on an internship that is to promote Peace awareness in high school students. The other SN is going to the Philipinnes to work for an NGO which has something to do with providing support to Philipinno women who come to Japan to work in the adult entertainment industry. Aside from presentations, we also played games that challenged our knowldge about the two countries where these two SN were going. At the end, there was a lesson on shuji which is traditional Japanese writing but I had to leave early and missed that.

I went to a place called "My English Room" where the other intern, George, works. I wanted to talk to a guy there who does a lot of hiking in Japan since I was interested in doing some hikes myself. We established that now is too cold for hiking and that I have to wait until spring. So I've got to find something else to do until then!

After that, I met up with some AIESECers and we had dinner at this place where they have a set menu which includes unlimited parfaits. I had three parfaits but the guys had 5 or 6 each. Mmmm, I can't wait to do that again! We then went bowling but we had to wait for a couple of lanes. There were plenty of games to keep us busy until we could bowl. We took some sticker pictures in a picture booth, played some video games and we also played the games where you have to try to pick up a prize. I got a keychain out of that which was exciting. Then we got to bowling and I actually hate bowling but despite that I had a lot of fun. Why do I hate bowling? I just don't like the thought of putting my fingers into a really heavy ball that I have to roll across a greasy lane just to knock down some pins...but things can change. I might leave Japan loving the game!

Oh and I met the new intern Aaron from the States. He's the one on the top left corner.

Sunday, January 21, 2007

Hiroshima and Miyajima

Last week-end I took a little trip down to Hiroshima because my boss said I had a couple days off work and George, the other intern, was already planning to go. So on Saturday, I got on the overnight bus to Hiroshima...alone because I had bought the wrong bus ticket and was going a day earlier than George. I spent Sunday doing a bit of shopping, walking around town and going to a contemporary art museum. That evening, I met some interesting people at the youth hostel who told me about their travels. One of the guys is a location manager for movies which was really cool. We searched him up on IMDB and he's got some really well known movies on his profile like Titanic, Man on Fire, Zorro, etc.

When George came, we did a lot of sight-seeing. We saw a lot of memorials for the atomic bombing of the city and we also the Peace Memorial Museum. That place is jam packed with information and I wish we had more time so that we could look at things more thoroughly, but Hiroshima has a lot to offer. We went to two other art museums, a really famous garden, the Hiroshima Castle and of course, we tried the okonomiyaki. At night we couldn't do a lot of sight-seeing since a lot of places closed by 5pm so we went to a pub to hang out or we went shopping.

For half a day, we went to Miyajima to see the Great Torii of Itsukushima Shrine. I didn't realize that this gate, which I've seen in pictures before, was in Miyajima but when I realized how close it was to where we were, I convinced George that we should go see it. Again I wish we had more time so that we could do a hike up the mountain but it got dark really fast. What surprised me were the deer roaming freely around. They would even come up to you and let you pet them. I had one try to get at my bag filled with pastries. It was really weird seeing them everywhere and interacting with people. In Canada, that is a big no no.

I had never thought of going to Hiroshima before but I'm glad that I decided to tag along with George. I learned that fewer people were going to Hiroshima to learn about the tragedies that had happened there and I thought that it was too bad since this place has a lot of important history associated with it and it really tries to promote peace around the world. When I first saw the a-dome, I thought it looked like a movie set. After going through the Peace Memorial Museum, I realized the significance of it more and I was glad that the building was made into a World Heritage Site instead of being torn down.



Thursday, January 18, 2007

My Two Months

I just realized that today, I have officially been in Japan for 2 months. Time is flying by and I'm definately making the most of it. I will try to update about my trip to Hiroshima soon. Yup, another trip that kind of happened out of the blue! But here's a toast to my monthiversary.

Tuesday, January 09, 2007

Adoptive Family Number 3

Just before my winter vacation was over, I stayed with another AIESEC member, Azusa, and her family. Her house was cool, it's split into two, kind of like a duplex, and before her grandparents passed away, they lived in the other half of the place. That's kind of nice for her parents when they were starting out, have nice home cooked meals and still have their own space.

Anyways, that night her brother showed us pictures of his trip to Okinawa. I hope I can go there someday. It's beachy. However, their famous food is a bitter vegetable and every meal that he had had some of it in it. Gross. But, they also have dragon fruit which sounds yummy.

After dinner, he played the mandarin for us. It was nice, he played some songs that I recognised and I think it was the first time that I've heard the mandarin. At least being played live! I really appreciate live performances now...after being invited to so many jazz concerts, thank you Henry for the introduction!

I really enjoy the japanese home experience but I do appreciate also living on my own and forcing myself to cook. Also, my schedule is so sporatic, I would drive my family insane. In Canada, I have always been independant and my parents never worried too much about me. However, it is true that a japanese home is a unique experience to be had.

The interesting thing about staying with these AIESECers families is that they are always surprised to find out that I am asian, Chinese to be exact, and also that I can use chopsticks very well. I think they were expecting someone completely different but their interest in my background and in Canada is genuine and I appreciate all that.

Saturday, January 06, 2007

Snowboarding In Nagano Prefecture

After not being able to sleep on the overnight bus, we got to Togari Ski Resort Village, picked up our snowboard rentals from our hostel (White Village) and then hit the slopes right away. I was kind of surprised, especially since I was still half asleep and no one had told me anything about what was going on. Despite that, I picked up my feet and followed everyone else.

I wasn't the only beginner so we started out at the bottom of a hill, with the ones who knew how to snowboard showing us how to put on our boards, how to walk around with one foot attached and how to stand up. The gliding down the hill part we kind of had to figure out by feel and on my part, there was a lot of falling.

Then it was time to get on that ski lift and go to the top...and to painfully make our way down. I fell alot but by my second or third run, I made it to the bottom falling only 2 or 3 times. That doesn't include the top of the hill where the snow was melting and the mud was showing, the bend was very sharp and my turning isn't that good yet. I think that day, I only made 5 runs because my arms were getting too weak for me to lift myself up after everytime I fell. I thought I could rest and hit the slopes the next day...but that's a different story.

We had lunch at the ski slope, but for dinner we were fed at the hostel. That was nice. There was also a hot spring at the hostel...and yup, another public bath! I got shafted and got only cold water at my shower so I got clean as fast as I could and got out. We finished the night by a drinking party and games. We played Uno, some Japanese game called nuki, and a silent game. I think we ended the night pretty early, 10 or 11, but we were all pretty pooped out.

My sleep was horrible. I tried to roll over on my futon and discovered that I was too stiff to move an inch. Not only that, my throat was hurting more and more. By the time I woke up, I was a mess. I had no voice and I had trouble moving. I couldn't even lift my arms up above my head. So, instead of having another go at it on the slopes, I spent the day reading and taking a walk around town. We had breakfast at the hostel...maybe it was a bed and breakfast...and then lunch at the slopes again. There was snow coming down in clumps so although it was good for snowboarding, it was not so good for seeing where you were going.

We left in the afternoon and got back to Nagoya by night. Since we got back earlier than expected, we all went for some ramen. That was a good thing because I don't think I would have had the energy left to cook!

I absolutely love snowboarding. Thank goodness I am much better at it than skiing. If you've ever been skiing with me, you'd understand. Until next time...


New Years Celebration

To celebrate the new year, some AIESECers got together for lunch and then we went to a shrine or temple. George and I have been trying to figure out the difference between the two but in the end, I think the two terms are still ambiguous. Temples are associated with Buddism and Shrines with Sintoism but in Japan, the two have kind of merged throughout history. So, I am sorry if I get my temples and shrines mixed up.

(The Interns)

In the evening, our LC got together with the other 2 LCs in Nagoya and we had a drinking party. For less than $30, you get lots of food and unlimited drinks for 90 minutes. Not bad. It was fun but I lost my voice to the sake and because of that, I now have a nasty cold.

Right after the party, I got on a bus with 12 other AIESEC members and we headed off for our snowboarding trip!


Wednesday, January 03, 2007

Girls in Kimonos

Today my roommate, Satoko, and I got dressed up in kimonos and hit the streets. First, we got dressed at her sister's house since neither of knew how to tie the belt. Then I was told to stand with my toes pointed in instead of out. It was a conscious effort I tell you! Another effort is walking. You can only take small steps when wearing a kimono. I actually laughed out loud when I realized how slow my roommate and I were walking through the subway station. At one point, I lifted my dress a little to try to run and my Satoko was shaking her hand at me saying "no no". I had to wear normal shoes since the Japanese shoes that my roommate had were too small for me. That was okay since it was the kimono that counted. Sitting was not very comfortable. It was tight around the body and I had to be careful not to crush my beautiful bow so I had to sit up in a moving car. Good ab workout though.

When we were ready, we drove to the subway and took the subway to Osu Kannon temple where we prayed and bought some food from the food stalls. Then we walked through the streets where all the shops were and spent a few hours browsing around. We then took the subway back to the car and went to a park on a hill to see the city. There were people flying kites which was pretty neat. After taking more pictures, we went for kaiten sushi where the dishes were only 105 yen each (or $1). Still tastier than what we can get in Canada.

Asking around, I found out that most girls don't have kimonos. I borrowed mine from Satoko's older sister. I guess they are expensive, quite a bit more than a grad dress but still, I thought it was one of those things that Japanese girls should have. Also, on the coming of age day, the annual celebration of people who have turned 20 during the last year, all the girls are dressed in kimono but like a wedding dress, they can be rented instead of bought. Oh well, I don't have a grad dress so who am I to say anything?

My roommate said that the last time that she wore a kimono was when she was 12 so it was an exciting day for both of us. It was a day well spent!

Pictures: http://www.imagestation.com/album/pictures.html?id=2097181488

Takayama and Fukugawa

January 1, 2007:

Adatchan and I met up at Nagoya station to depart for Takayama but we missed our bus by a minute so we had to take the train instead. The express was booked out so we had to switch trains twice and after almost 4 hours, we made it Takayama. Shinpei met up with us and together we walked around the city. It's a small city but such a beautiful and quiet place. The air was crisp with coldness and there was snow on the ground. I hate the cold in Nagoya but in this place, even though it's even colder, I find it very inviting. Maybe it's the fresh mountain air, or maybe it just felt like home. This feeling is hard to discribe, the houses are traditional style and this place is a major destination for tourists, but I felt very comfortable walking around, like I belonged there and not just another tourist.

Anyways, after walking through the Old Private Houses where there are shops that sell Japanese snacks and souvenirs, we tried to go to the Goverment House but it was closed. We then went to city hall and got there just as it was closing but we were allowed to walk around inside still. I discovered, and with a little bit of explaining from the boys, that most tourist attractions in Japan have ink stamps for tourists to use for memorabilia. That, I think is really cool.

Takayama is in the Hida region of Gifu Prefecture and Hida is famous for it's sarubobo dolls. The first time I saw one, I thought the doll was strange. It has no face. But after going to Takayama and seeing stores full of them in lots of different sizes and colors, I started to get really fond of them. Each color represents something, like Love, Health, Study, etc. And sometimes you see characters like Hello Kitty dressed up like one. Very cute.

I also fell in love with a kind of sweet from Takayama. I don't know how to discribe it and I have absolutely no idea what it is. Probably lots of sugar and gluten. I like the one covered in wheat powder and the green one with red bean paste in the middle. Can you tell that Takayama is becoming my favorite place yet?

After freezing our little toes off, the three of us got picked up by Shinpei's dad and we got a ride back to Shinpei's house. For dinner we grilled the beef that Takayama is known for and had a whole table full of food. We also had sake, beer, and some plum wine for me. I do have to say though, Shinpei picked a bottle of sake that was dryer than the dessert but he enjoyed it so kudos to him. It's a good thing his parents had sake that was more appetizing for my tastes.

After dinner, we went to a hot spring, another thing that is popular in Takayama. Shinpei's mom showed me the in and outs of the public bath and contrary to my initial fears of walking around butt naked, it was pretty natural. You first rinse off your cleaning station, then rinse yourself off. Then get into the hot bath. We also went outside to soak in the natural hot spring which smelled like rotten eggs so you know it's got to be mineral water. Then, you go back to your station and wash up with soap, rinse, then get back into the bath to soak. I think you can also wash up at the very beginning too, that was what I had always thought. There was also a sauna but I felt just right so I skipped out on that. What a perfect way to end the day.

January 2, 2007:

Shinpei's mom took the three of us out to Fukugawa. This city is much smaller than Takayama but it has really great scenery. Fukugawa is knows for it's carpentry, sake, and I think the carp that swim through the canals of the city in the spring and summer. There were less people walking around so it was nice and peaceful. With the nice old style houses and mountains in the background, Takayama and Fukugawa make the Hida region my favorite so far in Japan. I also had my first rice balls on a stick here.

Finished with the sightseeing, we went back to Takayama to see the festival floats in the museum. I thought this place was really cool. There were big drums that you can bang on, some miniture sized floats and Japanese-laquered folding screens to see, and also the real floats which had marionettes that came alive at certain times. Each float took turns and there were also life sized marionettes. My favorite were the ones that played the big drums. I had always wanted to see a show with the big drums and who knew my first show would be performed by life sized dolls?

For lunch we went for kaiten sushi which was super yummy. You don't know sushi until you try it in Japan. The variety of fish is overwhelming and it's so much tastier. Maybe because the fish is fresher. However, I did learn that the price of tuna is rising because tuna is become scarce and there are protection laws on them. Good thing there are many substitutes! For desert, we went to a place near Takayama station. I think Shinpei's mom knows the way to my heart...my sweet tooth. Also, she treated all of us as if we were all her children but of course, she only had embarassing stories of Shinpei to tell.

After buying some souvenirs, Adatchan and I had to board the bus back to Nagoya. This was a great trip and I was disappointed to have to leave. I can't wait to go back in the spring though! I'd go back more often if I could but I guess I have to give other places in Japan a fair chance too.

Pictures: http://www.imagestation.com/album/pictures.html?id=2097183378

Tuesday, January 02, 2007

Akemashita Omedetou Gozaimasu

So it turns out that I didn't have to spend new years alone after all. Hiroko came over and she cooked me a yummy dinner and we watched "About a Boy" and some Japanese new years concert. Then we sat around talking until past midnight. We were watching the clock but we somehow missed the countdown and we forgot to open the beer. It was a simple celebration and it was perfect. I wouldn't have wished for anything different. I hope everyone got to enjoy their new years and I wish happiness and good fortune for everyone!

Thank you Adatchan for teaching me the new years phrase in Japanese...I will have to write about Takayama later...