Monday, January 26, 2009


The first thing I said to a staffer at Washigatake was "watashi wa goofy desu" or in English, "I am goofy," reference to snowboarding with my right leg forward... Normal people are left leg forward. A couple of friends and I took a day trip to Washigatake in the prefecture of Gifu, about two hours away from Nagoya. This mountain is not as large as Stevens pass or Blue Mountain but it is not far to get to and relativity affordable. It was also really cool to be back in the mountains and snowboarding in Japan.I was one of the only people above the age of 5 who was wearing a helmet. But it was warmer then most snow caps I think. I tried to explain to my friends that helmets were normal in the US but no one was buying it. They were just laughing how many stripes were on my head.Around 1:30, I was asked "what would you like to have for lunch?" Without thought, I replied "Mexican!" Unfortunately, this was not an option, I was asked again, but with the choices of ramen or curry and voted for ramen. Lunched turned out to be really good. Typically at hills in North America you find pizza or nachos heated by lamps for lunch. At this hill, they were preparing the noodles when you ordered, I ended up getting this spicy Thai dish. The person how made it warned me to be careful, the spice was really really hot. But it was not to bad.Through out the day it would snow then be clear then snow again.When the sky would clear, you would get a really nice view of the central Japanese Alps. I hope to make a few more trips this year and check out some of the other mountains in this area and other parts of Japan.


On my way back from Himeji I made a quick stop in Kobe to look around a little bit. Kobe is a port city, below is the Kobe Port Tower.I'm not sure whats going on up their, but it looked kind like a restaurant. I was really excited to visit this city, it has a real art feel to it. The downtown is also centralized, kind of like the loop in Chicago (Tokyo, Nagoya, Kyoto... are all kind of spread out with out a clearly defined central district). This is also kind of geographic, one side of downtown is the pacific ocean and the other side is pushed up against mountains. I did not make an effort to try the famous Kobe beef on this visit, I was kind of in a rush and wanted to save this dining option for sometime in the future. What I did find was a street fair, I noticed this party as I pulled into Kobe station on a JR train. This was fun, when you visit this kind of street fair in Ann Arbor or Fremont you get a good mix of people pushing art, food, music and games where you spin a wheel for a gold fish. In Kobe, 95% of the stands were serving food the the remaining 5% of the booths were being ignored or selling accessories for your cell phone and Wii. I'm not sure what it's called, but the guy below is making bread molded to look like a fish and filled with azuki (red bean). I had about 5 of these.The girl below is making a little bit of everything, all in one serving. By the time I found this booth, I was full with red bean.I was not sure why they were having this street festival, but after walking around a little bit I started to find shrines full of people behind the food stands and I think this had something to do with the new year. Below are people getting ready to enter the shrine.Inside, they had this really elaborate tea ceremony. They girl serving the tea to the family sitting in front of the stage first did a 5 minute dance while people around her were playing drums. It was not cheap to get a cup of tea.

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Tatami Room North

Check out this table.Its a Japanese style table called a kotatsu, typically in the winter you put the blanket between the frame and table top to help keep your legs / body warm when you are sitting there.This table also has a heater built in to really help keep you warm. Right now the table is too high, even for me, but I can removed those blocks at the bottom of the legs to lower the table a little bit... but, I need an allen wrench. With that heater, you can put most of your body under the table and take a nap too. These tables are popular in Japan because I think most houses are poorly insulated and lack a good heating system (... kind of like Seattle).

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Himaji Castle

I made my first trip of 2009 to Himeji Castle, one of the UNESCO world cultural heritage sites in Japan, and this place was amazing. I have a pamphlet from the tour today, so I will mix in some history with my own thoughts.

This was a day trip, Himeji is about a hour and a half shinkansen ride from Nagoya and passes through Kyoto, Osaka and Kobe on the way their. Here is the station sign a few seconds after I exited the train, I left Nagoya at 11:11am.
I did not really know this place existed, but yesterday a co-worker of mine was telling me he was going to visit his family in Himeji and told me about the castle and that it was really interesting. The forecast was for good weather, so I woke up today and went. Below is me in front of Himeji castle.Summary of the history and grammar from the pamphlet: In 1333 Akamatsu, the ruler of Harima District, built a fort, and in 1346 his son, Sadanori built premises, Later the Kotera and Kuroda clans ruled this area. (Later some scholars say the original castle was built in the middle of the 16th century when Kuroda and his son ruled the district, I think I agree with these scholars). Some more things happen, then the wonderful magnificent castle you enjoy today entirely finished in 1618. After the Honda family there were another lords and finally the Sakai came as the lord in 1749. His descendant met with the Meiji Restoration in 1868, when the Shogunite system disappeared.Their is a 600 yen ($6) cover to tour the castle. As you enter the main gate, you start walking up these stairs towards the main tower. The path is really cool, you keep ducking under floors and some of the stairs was carved into the mountain.When you enter the castle, the first thing you have to do is take off your shoes and put on slippers. Upon seeing this, "crap," quickly popped into my head because I was sure they would have nothing near my shoe size and I would have to walk around with my back of my foot falling off the rear of the slipper all day.But, nope, they had 'big size,' I was okay.This is inside the castle, each floor had a different function. I think this was floor one which was for food storage.One thing this castle is not is ADA accessible, between each floor are steep stair cases and not to deep planks. This actually was kind of funny, between every floor, everyone was losing their slippers as they would climb the stairs and have to stop and stop everyone behind them put their shoes back on. It was kind of a mess.This is the 5th floor, counting from the outside you see 5 floors but their is actually 6 floors. This is also explained in the pamphlet, translated into English as follows, word for word: From the outside this main tower appears to have five stories. Somehow there are six stories and one basement inside. The tower has two main pillars whose diameters are nearly one meter. The base of the east one was replaced with new stuff, and the west one was swapped with new one in the Showa Restoration (1956-1964).View from the 6th floor, the castle grounds.On the 6th floor their is a small shrine. Here you can see a girl praying with shoes in bag, she just finished putting some coins in that box and ringing the bell.View from the 6th floor, the castle grounds. It started to snow...Looking down on the courtyard from the 6th fl, this is just outside the castle.More people on the 6th floor.As you leave the castle, they remind you to put your shoes back on.
A mote at the base of the castle.Me again, standing in the main courtyard outside the castle.

Monday, January 5, 2009

Rice Cooker

This is my rice cooker....A friend passed this to me before she moved back to the US last month, but I have not used it yet. Today, I picked up some rice and after an hour or so figured out how this thing works. At first I keep warming up the water, then I set it to make rice tomorrow, then pushed something that lead to cooked rice. Even typing the words on the front of the rice cooker into my cell phone dictionary did not help. According to my cell phone, the three characters on the lower right of the display translate into: hot water used outside a bath tub. Tomorrows task is to figure out how to re-warm the left over rice from today.

Sunday, January 4, 2009

Funny Sign

This sign is near the Osu Kannon shrine.I thought it was kind of funny, because it is polite and I wonder what the alternative was.

Friday, January 2, 2009

Happy New Year!

Happy New Year everyone!

Turns out new years eve is kind of a quiet event in Japan, where clubs and bars in the states usually charge $60+ for the privileged of counting down their bars wher bars and clubs in Japan have no cover. In fact they have drink specials, and this makes sense because everyone is either at home watching television and eating rice cakes with their family or at a shrine getting ready to say a prayer or wish for a good year.

I ended up going to a shrine at Osu Kannon with a couple of friends and coworkers. Unfortunately, I don't have photos from midnight, but here is the shrine earlier in the day.Basically, we showed up here about 11:40pm and was about 1 hour from the alter. When midnight struck everyone clapped their hands but maintained their place in line. At this time, the shrine started to ring a large bell and chant (but not really chanting, it was over a PA system). Around 1:50am, I found myself in front of the shrine, threw some change in the collection box and made a quick wish, there were some police off to the side asking people not to take so long.After making the prayer, we hustled down the left side of the stair case and made our way to a tent where the shrine was serving food and sake.

January 1st is a very big day in Japan, everyone who was at home visits the main shrine in their city, and everyone who was at a shrine the night before gets up and goes again. In Nagoya, this shrine is called Atsuta, and is located about 8km from where I live. I was told about 1 million people go, so I biked down there to check it out and it turns out their was about a million people their.This is main entrance to the shrine and this is as far as I got. I had my bike with me, and it looked like you have to follow a fixed path around the shrine that would take hours. So, I decided to hop back on my bike and travel around Nagoya a little bit. Here are people waiting in line at a smaller shrine.Then near my apartment is a temple called Nittaiji. These photos were taken a few days ago during a run, I guess this temple is a preset from Thailand.Below is the front entrance.Not as crowded as Atsuta, but still really busy on new years day. For my new years day bike ride, I ended up lost and after riding towards Toyahashi found this sign back to Nagoya.When I saw this sign, I thought to myself, "wow, how close am I to the airport?" Because the airport is no where near where I live. I ended up turning left on 59 and in the end, my bike ride was about 30 miles but I found my way home.