Saturday, September 20, 2008

Extended Hiatus

With just under 900 posts this blog will be going into extended hibernation. After keeping it up to date for three years I need a break from the format. I am still around on Facebook daily if anyone needs to contact me.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

First Stony Plain Images

So I returned to Canada with two guests from my old days in Koriyama. Kumama, my host mother, and her niece, Yumiko. I might of missed mentioning that in the swirling business of past months. We will be touring around Alberta this week before they return to Japan and I return to a some what normal life here. It is nice to return home with some Japanese friends to lessen the culture shock.

Monday, September 15, 2008


I have previously scheduled this blog to upload about the time my plane takes off from Tokyo. This will be the last time I am in Japan for a long time.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Last terrestrial post

It might not have been evident from the last couple of posts that I have arrived safely in Koriyama and have been preparing for my departure with Kumama and her niece for Canada. That is the case. I haven't taken many pictures here because life seems so normal, but tomorrow I will try to snap a few. My last meal in Japan was Sukiyaki, a stew of sorts, quite rare in Hokkaido but possessing the deep complex flavor I was seeking. It was a special treat because we sprung for the good Japanese meat which I always find so tender.

Saturday, September 13, 2008


Ueno is several things; here I will discuss Ueno Park, where several of Japan's best cultural assets are located, including the national museum. I really think the Tokyo National Museum is a world class museum. Encompassing several buildings, its collection is extensive, with many notable pieces. I especially liked the modern styled and darkly lit Gallery of Horyuji Treasures. I've been to that temple before outside Nara. It's the oldest standing wooden structure in the world. In reality, after visiting, it's not very impressive except for the "No Smoking" signs absolutely everywhere. But the treasure became property of the Royal household decades ago and is now displayed beautiful in its own building. A notable excpetion about that time period (c. 800AD) was that Japan and Buddhism were still very poor at that time, thus that pieces are not very big. But somehow I liked the quality and intimacy of the smaller works over the following period. Just lots and lots to see at this huge museum and in the park on a busy afternoon.

3 pictures that deserve an explanation

So I'm trying something a bit different. Instead of putting up some nice aesthetically pleasing pictures I thought I would post some images that need a bit of explaining to make clear. I regret not having more time to put into the details at this point. One may have heard, Japan is going through a national leadership race at the moment and one of the candidates made a stop at Shibuya's scramble as I was arriving. The picture can't capture the number of people stretching to see and hear the speech. With so many windows there any many good vantage points. It was an odd feeling having so many thousands focus their attention on one point.

Early this morning I made a pilgrimage to Tsukiji Fish Market for some world class sushi, stopping, for a moment, to watch the tuna auction. There are actually two auctions going on at once, and they can be identified as the little heads above the crowds.

Here I was obviously talking about something deep. Feeling poor and drained from travelling across a great swath of Japan. My friend Miki introduced me to the izakaya/yakitori ya san where her parents 40 years had previously gone one dates. For a place to survived in the heart of Shibuya amongst the thousands of constantly changing restaurants and massive construction projects most have taken equal parts luck and determination. The placed was packed with salary men looking for cheap, but excellent, food. The wings were amazing. I don't think I'll ever have bar wings again.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Kumamoto Castle

I passed Mount Fuji on the Shinkansen going north today which means I must be in Tokyo! Not much time to post but here are some pics from Sept 8th and my trip to Kumamoto Castle. Amazing castle, definitely worth a trip, but I didn't enter the main keep because it's a 1960s reconstruction and after seeing the crown jewel of Himeji-jo in that respect, the tourist clogged main keep of Kumamoto didn't offer a big draw.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008


I'm in Kyoto and have been for two nights now. Please expect a deluge of pictures in the next couple of posts as I can't stand the thought of typing out a long post in an expensive internet cafe using a Japanese keyboard with its infinitesimally small spacebar.

Sunday, September 07, 2008

Kamamoto to Kyoto

Soon I'll be off to Kyoto. I'll be covering a huge span of Japan in a short time today by Shinkansen. I'm exicted. But first I have time to visit Kumamoto Castle. I'm not exactly sure of my internet connectivity in Kyoto but I will try to keep my readers updated.


Early yesterday I took the ferry over to the volcanic island of Sakurajima and from there rented a bike to tour a national park formed after an eruption nearly 100 years ago. Beautiful unbelievable alien scenery. Not too much time today to describe my journey in detail but please enjoy the pictures!

Saturday, September 06, 2008

Kagoshima is Cooler Than Me

With it being so hot this far south, iced coffee is something that takes the edge off the heat. Iced coffee in a can is controversial with drinkers but with so many coffee shops in Kagoshima, such sacrifices need not be made. I think I've found the top coffee shop in Kagoshima, whose location is as difficult to describe as its ambiance. Down a street onto a narrower street, finding the store's 5m wide facade took luck. Carefully cut stone frames etched glass. The inside is not what I'd call inviting - cozy, atmospheric, moody maybe - but not welcoming. Inside reminded me immediately of a Victorian science lab as envisioned by an Japanese anime director. Fine carvings; dark woods; smokey; glassware placed on every ledge. Jazz playing so softly it lets the tinkling of glass hang over it. The lighting set so low most of it comes from the sun streaming through the front. Inside everyone but me is wearing glasses. Nobody seems to talk unnecessarily. The three servers are wearing short white coats and black bow ties. They use very formal Japanese spoken quietly. I watched one of them hand sort a bowl of coffee beans and then sell it for 30 dollars. Mass produced ice cubes are shunned in favored of hand cut pieces from blocks of ice. Sure the iced coffee took 10 minutes to come and cost nearly 7 dollars but I have to admit I was impressed: it kept the strong deep flavor coffee needs without excessive sourness or bitterness. Taking a picture would cause such a commotion as to shatter the tranquility of the interior.

Friday, September 05, 2008

News From Kagoshima

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I'm behind in posting the number of pictures I'd wanted for Kagoshima but I hope to make for this deficit by writing about this fine city. Arriving yesterday, the train tracks followed the bay as we headed toward the station, offering a great view of Kagoshima's famous active volcano, Sakurajima, all the way to the staion. [Pictured above] Everyone I've talked to loves their volcano and some of the stories they share are amazing. An orange haze over the night sky. Waking up to ash on the ground in the morning ever-so-often. They say it anchors their view. Grounding it. I've only been lucky enough to see contant steam rising from the cone, comfirming that it is, indeed, a completely 100% active volcano. History - as everywhere in Japan really - plays a strong roll here. They are crazy about the Meiji Restoration here, lending Kagoshima its own archtiectural style; a sort of cross between bad dated French Rococco made in the 80s and Japanese. Being this far south, Kagoshima was an early center for astronomy in Japan. Astrology symbols have been cleverly worked into everything, from place names to business cards. This morning I walked up Shiroyama, both for the view of the city below and volcano across the bay but also because the area, now a park, was where some of the earliest astronomy observatories were built in Japan. I also found an onsen at the top of the mountain that overlooked the city and volcano. It was a bit pricy (but very luxerious inside) and gave me a great view of the volcano - relaxing too - all to myself, without the crowds of noisy tourists. Well worth every yen. The water was natually a product of the valcano across the bay and is known for the high amount of naturally occuring ions in the water. The thing to eat in Kagoshima is a type of pork, called black pork or kuro buta, so that is pretty much what I eat everyday. Pork on rice. Fried pork. Pork Soup. It's all very good especially considering I don't mind spending the energy seeking out where the locals eat. The local alcohol is Shocho, a type of potato spirit. Kagashima was located far from historical Kyoto and Edo and thus was considered a poot back water. The scarce rice that was grown was sent to Edo, leaving the population the lowly potato. I personally find the stuff a bit dangerous as it goes down so smoothly one doesn't really know how much they've consumed. Still, I will have to get over my fear and try some. But where!?!?! This city has more tiny bars than I could of ever imagine! I had read about it beforehand but wow! And I say this with full wieght of my knowledge of Japanese cities and bars. There are thousands of bars, each maybe sitting 8 or 12, some are duds, others are uber-cool. But how can one ever find the one they want? It's nearly impossible. Whole windowless warehouse size buildings filled with new bars to discover. I'll try to get a picture to illustrate my point. Tomorrow I'm off to Sakurajimi itself to hopefully walk on the lava fields. New land right below one's feet.

Wednesday, September 03, 2008

Two things I learned about Miyazaki

Yes yes; now I'm In Kagoshima, but this is about Miyazaki; The weather yesterday evening was wonderful. A balmy 27C with a slight breeze. I tried to find a patio to sit on but patio-culture seems non-existant here in Kyushu. I guess for most of the year an air-conditioned escape is preferable to the humidity. But the Miyazaki beef was excellent! Interestingly, my food costs have been less then expected. Everyone I've asked has told me that cheap food is tastes best. Miyazaki feels like a mix of Sapporo and Singapore: It's very green, though not quite up to Singapore's exulted status, but feels like a smaller city, so one doesn't feel so lost. Some how Miyazaki is knowable. Kagoshima on the other hand puts many a Tokyo neighborhood to shame in the coolness of its bars and restaurants.

The only thing I did today

The only thing worth mentioning today: I headed off early to the Miyazaki Prefectural Museum of Art. Again, my early riser status paying off; given me practially the whole musuem to myself. I say "practically" because - given the Japanese preference for over-staffing - the musuem was well staffed for me. At least considering everywhere I went I was watched carefully for a possible question. The Fine Arts museum is placed in the Culture park along with the history musuem, concert hall, prefectural libray and municipal temple. The park itself was mosly pavement which seemed a bit un-inviting, let alone un inhabitable, in the Miyazaki heat. The Fine Arts museum is made of white marble with stark modern lines. Some of the stones were very big. The museum had some big name pieces I wanted to see; Picasso, Miro, some minor works of Van Gogh. The pieces were brought to Japan in the mid-80s when Japan had a bubble economy and lots of cash to spread around the world. As things cooled off, big works made their way to museums. The museum had more surrealist works than I normally like. I'm just never impressed by that style. One interesting piece seen below was puzzling; a wall of glow-in-the-dark material - posted for your enjoyment:

Tomorrow on to Kagoshima!

Tuesday, September 02, 2008

Is Anyone Following This?

I have this reoccurring thought while I'm in here; I can't believe I'm in Kyushu and not Hokkaido. This picture is the best I could - to date - to capture that idea. The lantern, I'm still in Japan; The palms, I'm definately not in Hokkaido anymore.

I always considered Hokkaido a kind of the backwater of Japan, but now traveling in some of the more remote regions of Miyazaki-ken, I'm surprised how forgotten some parts seem, such as in the local train system, seemingly lost in the 1950s.

In the morning I hit Obi Castle. For once my early-raiser persona paid off; giving me free rein of the whole castle. I only consider this a minor castle after seeing the crown jewel of Japan: Himeji Castle.

In the afternoon I went to the famous Nichinan Coast and saw the temple on Aoshima. It's a small island first established as scared in the 9th centery AD. Amazingly dense brush mixed with the ocean breeze and rare geological forms to banish the humid heat of the day.

Monday, September 01, 2008

Miyazaki Day 1

Not too much to report except that I've made it to Miyazaki-ken in southern Japan. It's much less humid that I assumed it was going to be due to a slight constant breeze off the ocean. The locals still claim it's because it's fall, but I assure my Canadian readers all one will need here is shorts and a t-shirt.