Tuesday, July 31, 2007


So today is my first experience in a hostel. I have never seen such a low bunk bed in my life. I'm on the bottom bunk, which is literally 3 cm from the floor. There is a middle bunk for luggage, and a third bunk above it. There is barely enough room to crawl around on the bunk to put sheets on the futon. I made my bed, and met up with two girls from Amsterdam, and we went to explore the city. We are located near Gion, so it is a mixture of very traditional historic streets that are narrow and lined with small shops and restaurants, and big city buildings with lots of neon signs. There is a river near by, and we crossed bridges many times on our walk. Finally we found a good place to eat, and I ordered using my Japanese. The other two do not know a single word, so I seem to be an expert-good practice for me. The two (dirty) old men in the booth next to ours ordered beer for us (the other two, not me), and they tried drunkenly to speak English with us. It was an ok situation until he started patting my arm and saying how strong I was. Then we ignored him and he stopped bothering us.

We continued to walk after dinner and we found the river again. Many young people were gathered by the shore, and we weren't sure why. I asked some people and they said that they were just waiting. I don't know what they were waiting for, but they were waiting and meeting each other and talking. It also seemed to be a place where the youth would go and sit together in groups or as couples. Some other people were fishing by the light of the full moon. I don't know if there were many fish in the river or not, but it looked like a peaceful way to spend the evening. As we walked I think I saw two geisha entertaining two men on one of the high patios, they were sitting at a low table and pouring tea. Gion is the area famous for geisha.

So then my friends bought some refreshments and we're going to hang out on the patio on the 5th floor of the hostel. There are people from all over the world here, already I've met 2 from France, 1 from the Czech republic and 1 from England. I think it's going to be a fun few days here.

About the typhoon...supposedly it will arrive in Kyoto on Thursday and maybe it will last until Friday or Saturday, so I don't really know how bad it will be, Kyoto is not on the coast, so it will be a big storm, but not a huge disaster. I'm not planning on travelling when the typhoon is here, I'll stay put and read Harry Potter or something.

Off I go to the balcony now.

Asakusa adventure

Yesterday I went to Asakusa and to Tokyo to see the imperial palace grounds. It was raining really hard all morning so we decided to eat first at Tokyo station and then go to see the palace grounds when the skies cleared. I carted my borrowed umbrella all day and luckily did not have to use it. We walked around the outside of the palace, and took pictures but were not able to cross the moat because it was Monday and most places are closed then. The outer park/garden was beautifully manicured-grass and pine trees cut like large bonsai trees. We were going to meet my friend's friend and go together to Asakusa to look at the temple there and shop for some souvenirs and postcards. It is an interesting place, a large covered shopping arcade with many stores selling identical hello kitty charms and postcards and sandals and chopsticks and holders and anything you could think of. I got some postcards to mail home, and decided I didn't need any hello kitty stuff. We got our fortune at the temple. You pay 100 yen and shake a box, and one long rod will come out of a small hole in the box. The number on the box corresponds to a number on a drawer which contains a fortune. ours were all good, so hopefully all will continue to go well. more later.

Sunday, July 29, 2007

Shinjuku Joso and Tsukuba

After the wedding ceremony I met another friend who took me to Shinjuku in Tokyo. I didn't have confidence navigating a single station let alone the Tokyo train system, so I was very glad of his help. We went to Shinjuku to meet maybe 12 people and we had Vietnamese food together for dinner. It was fun to see so many people together that I hadn't seen in a long time. It was also one of their birthdays so it became a real celebration with cake and candles and some of her friends brought her presents. I had to leave a little earlier than some others because I was going with another friend to stay at her house in another prefecture. I am now in Ibaraki, 25 minutes from Moriya station in a city called Joso city. My friend lives amid rice fields and vegetable gardens. There are so many windows in her house I can see so much green. Her family has been so kind, and her mother has prepared very delicious food. Each meal seems to be a feast! Her father speaks English well, and her mother and I can say some words to each other.

Yesterday I went to Tsukuba, the science capital of Japan. I met some friends that I haven't seen since 1999. It was fun to be there as tourists together. They live around Tsukuba but didn't spend so much time exploring the science center there. We went to eat okonomiyaki together and then went to the science center. We got lost a few times on the way there, but luckily there was a big rocket in front of the building, so we could find our way.

Inside the center I talked to some of the people who were answering kids science questions and demonstrating some different concepts. I am always looking for new teaching ideas and demos, and I think I found some that I will have to try. I was able to communicate using physics equations and pictures and the names of scientitst who discovered different principles. The demonstrator man was having fun trying to explain to me, and my friends had never really thought about what he was saying so they were really surprised that I knew about that, and could understand how the demonstrations worked even without any Japanese language comprehension. Science might be a universal language. There were many games and activities to try, much like the Toronto science center. There was also a planetarium that we went to. It was the first time I have seen something like that. The screen was a big dome, and the seats reclined so we could see the "sky". It was probably more stars than most people can see in Japan. I've been lucky to see stars from Algoquin Park and other places where it is really really dark. Anyway, they explained about some constellations and showed pictures which helped me understand. Also they explained the history of the telescope and how different telescopes work, and how light travels so fast, and how we measure in light years, and how big the universe is-all the grade 9 science stuff. My friend's didn't know that kind of vocabulary in English, so they had a hard time translating. I think though that there were about 3 minutes where I could understand exactly what was being said. The rest of it I understood maybe 50%.

Last night we watched the election results on TV. I don't know much about Japanese politics but my friend's dad said that one political party has been in power for the last 60 years, since the second world war. I think that changed last night. He was talking about a political revolution.

Today we will go to Asakusa in Tokyo, and maybe also to see the Imperial Palace gardens. It is "chilly" here today and windy too-it is probably 25C. I'm quite comfortable finally. I think it cooled down after the huge thunderstorm we had last night.

so far I am doing very well. I have not experienced jet-lag at all. Yesterday I had a sore throat that evolved to a runny nose and some sneezing, but it is changing quickly and I'm drinking lots of water/orange juice and sleeping at 10:00 at night, so I think it's not going to slow me down. I probably caught this cold from all of the recycled air on the plane.

I went to a wedding in a fake church

My friend's husband's brother got married on Saturday and his mother asked if I would join them to see the ceremony. It was not a traditional shinto ceremony, and it was not a Christian ceremony but a garden party style wedding. They first introduced all the family to each other. That is the job of the father of the bride and groom to make the introductions. I was part of that group because I was tagging along with my friend. She told me just to smile, and I didn't have to understand what they were saying. The bride and groom were there together, and then we all had to sign that we were witnesses to the wedding. Then we all went into the fake church-it had all the symbols of a real church except the cross or Jesus. The bride's family was on one side, groom's on the other, and then the groom bowed and walked down the aisle. Each person on the aisle handed him a white rose. At the front of the church the groom now had a bouquet. Then the bride bowed and walked down the aisle with her father. At the front the father and husband bowed and then the father sat down and the bride and groom were together at the front. The groom passed the bouquet to the bride and said something like "let's get married" (maybe a loose translation). The bride then took one rose and pinned it on his jacket and said "I agree". Then they read the vows together in unison, and then the rings were passed down the outside aisles along a long ribbon to the front where the fathers attached the rings to the ring pillow and the fathers presented that to the couple. After the exchange of rings, and the kiss, they signed a document, and the fathers signed, and then it was shown that we had also signed, and then the wedding part was done. We then went outside the fake church which had fake church steps and a fake steeple and everything, and then did a flower shower (we threw rose petals on them as they came down the stairs). The bride did the bouquet toss, and then everyone was lined up to be in a picture. The event took maybe an hour in total, and was quite interesting. Different from anything I had ever seen. There would be a party to follow, but I had to continue my journey.

Thursday, July 26, 2007

Solo journey

This is what I did yesterday (Thursday)I was not able to post from the computer I was using.

I had a fun time navigating the trains and bus with my minimal language comprehension. Lucky for me there are many friendly and helpful Japanese people who enjoy to practice their English. I explored Narita temple for the morning and then went to Bosonomura for the afternoon. It is like upper canada village but for samurai times, pretty cool actually. Again, it will be cooler with photos which will come soon.

Tomorrow I will explore Sawara. It is so hot and humid that you actually start to drip. It is foggy because of the humidity, but it isnt something that will clear with a thunder storm or anything. there is no rain predicted actually. I will be looking forward to the cold on top of Mt. Fuji

Hello from Narita

I am now writing from an internet station in the Narita Tourist information center. I have had some trouble posting from another computer, so hopefully this one will be ok. Today I went to Sawara. It is a little town 30 minutes from Narita Station by train. I knew enough this time to get SAWARA written in Kanji (chinese characters) before I set out on the adventure, but that still didn`t help when I was faced with an immense and very colourful station map. I was also told (luckily) that it would be 480 yen, so with a little matching, and help from a kind stranger i could find which train I was looking for. I didn`t know how trustworthy this stranger was as he didn`t speak any English, and I didn`t understand the Japanese he was muttering to himself, and he kept repeating another station name, not the one that I was looking for...so I started asking other younger people at the station. Generally all the high school students understand a little English even though they probably can`t speak much. I was mid conversation (handwaving and pointing etc) when another guy approached me. He spoke perfect English, actually he was a Mexican guy (disguized with a Japanese punk hairstyle). He was also going to Sawara, so I followed him. It turned out that he had lost his passport yesterday, and he was retracing his steps. He seemed quite concerned, and although his Japanese was pretty good, I thought that if I had lost my passport I wouldn`t mind having someone that I could talk to with me. So I stayed with him-I lucked out on more of a tour than I thought!

We started out at the information center near the station checking the lost and found-no passport. They phoned two other information offices, one at a shrine he visited, and still no passport. The very helpful staff called the free english tourguide service for me (even without my asking) and suddenly I was talking to Yuki who would be my guide-or our guide. One of the men at the information center generously offered to drive my mexican companion to the police station and to the shrine to look for the passport. Unfortunately the driver didn`t speak any English, but he wanted to help. Since I had the English guide waiting for me, he drove Antonio and me to meet the guide (Yuki). The 4 of us (complete strangers) went to the police station and he filed a report for his missing passport, then we went to the shrine to have a look around. We traced the 3km route that Antonio took on his bike, scanning the sides of the road for his passport. At the shrine we looked around (I took some pictures which I will add when I can). The driver gave us each 10 yen to put in the money box at the shrine where we were instructed on how to pray for the passport to be found quickly, after bowing and clapping and him muttering something about passports we continued to explore the grounds of the shrine. There was an incredibly large tree (1000 years old) and also a pond with many fish, almost too big to be cute. No passport.

We stopped on the way back to ask a store owner at a LIQUOR STORE (really a general store like in Lyndhurst or Inverary--same musty smell and everything), and the man had not seen the passport. Antonio decided to call his embassy to report that it was missing, so back at the information center Yuki helped him find the number through some airline connection she had. It turns out that the passport was found at Narita station, and was being held at the police station. He smiled a real smile for the first time since I met him. He headed back to the train (the man from the information center drove him to the station) and I continued my walking tour by the river with Yuki.

I saw many old buildings, including the house of the man that made the first map of Japan. There were lots of bridges, and small willow trees, but apart from that there was nothing much of interest, and it was hot, so she walked me to the station (where Antonio was still waiting) and we rode back to Narita. Long day!

I`m now on my way to Narita san temple and park again (I was there yesterday morning) there are some nice trees to sit under. It`s about 35 degrees and I`d guess 80 or 90 percent humidity because I can see the humidity. Air conditioning is nice, and I stop in some stores to look around and cool down-thank goodness the trains are all cool.

My time is running out on this computer, so I will post this, and write more later.

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

I arrived safely

The day started early in Kingston at the airport at 7:30. I got to Toronto on time around 10 or so, and then after I arrived at the departure area that my flight to Tokyo was delayed by almost 3 hours. Luckily I met a nice Japanese couple, and an interesting traveller from Latin America, so the time passed pretty quickly. The flight to Tokyo was long but comfortable. The plane was probably about half full. The seats were grouped by 3s (9 across the plane), and the plane was really really long. I was lucky enough to get a row to myself in the middle section, so I could actually stretch out and sleep on the seats (3 pillows and 3 blankets too--such luxury!) Planes have changed since I last flew to Japan. There are little TVs on the back of the seats and you can choose what movies/tv you want to watch, and pause it when you want to sleep. It's pretty cool. We made up some time on the trip over here, and the lines were short for customs and immigration. The customs officer was most concerned about why I was wearing a jacket and a sweater. I told him that Canada is cold, and he thought that was a good enough answer I guess. I took the shuttle to Terminal 2, and met Tomomi. She's going to take me home with her now.
The adventure begins!

Monday, July 23, 2007

Leaving tomorrow

I think I'm all ready to go. All I need for the next month is squished into 2 bags. Hopefully they can both be carry-on bags, I don't want to start my trip with lost luggage.

I'm not sure I'm quite ready for how hot and humid it could be--it's lovely and cool here now 18 C, but in Japan it is--oh no! I just checked the weather report, and it calls for hot weather and thunderstorms every day in Tokyo!

However, I'm not going to Tokyo right away, so I checked this site for Narita and it had some pretty good advice for me It does not predict much measurable precipitation so I might be able to do all the outdoor touristy stuff I had planned on. I'm hoping that I'll be able to have some days with this weather suggestion.
I bought sun glasses today, hopefully I'll get the chance to use them!

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Do you know Gyongju?

I had never heard of it before, but I'm excited to experience this city to learn about Korea's past. I'm even more excited that I'll have a Korean friend as a "tourguide" for the visit.

I recall the last time I was in Japan in a museum the English explanation was "Made of Wood", and the Japanese explanation was several paragraphs long. Definitely something must be lost in the translation! I'll be very glad of tourguides whenever I can find them.

I found a cute web tour of Kyongju.

This time next week I'll be in the air!

Monday, July 16, 2007

I leave in a week

The countdown is on. One week to go, and it seems like Japan is in the news these days. First there was Typhoon Man Yi that passed over most of the area that I'm going to visit. Then there were 2 earthquakes today. That's 3 big natural disaster type events in the last 3 days....I hope that everything settles down for the next month. I'm not going to Niigata on my trip, so I won't be seeing this kind of disaster.
Here's where the typhoon went, and a picture of the wind. I don't want that to happen when I'm there!

Thursday, July 5, 2007

Maps and Outline of my trip

So, my journey will start in Kingston, and I'll fly to Toronto, and then catch a plane to fly directly to Narita Japan. I'll be met at the airport by a friend that works there, and then I'll stay with her for the beginning of my trip. I'll visit around Tokyo and meet friends from that area.

I will make my way next to the Mt. Fuji area. I'm not sure I'll be able to see such a lovely mountain as this! If it is a nice day I want to try to climb up to the top to see the sun rise. I will need to find a good place to stay because I'll be exhausted after that!

After the Fuji area I'll go to Nagoya to see the sights and meet some wonderful friends. This picture is of Nagoya Castle.
After Nagoya I'll meet more friends in Osaka. Last time I was in Osaka we ate okonomiyaki (they claim it is like a pancake or a pizza, but really it isn't! It's good though)

After Osaka I'll take the train to Hakata (Fukuouka) a fairly long way, and then I'll take the Beetle (a hydrofoil ferry) to Busan South Korea. This boat takes only 3 hours to cross, where the other ferries take 14-15 hours to make the same journey.
Next I'll take a train to Seoul to meet more of my friends.
Just to give you some idea of how big and complicated the city of Seoul is, here's the subway map (luckily it is in English!)
I'll stay in Korea a few days, and then head back to Japan the same way that I came. I'm going to stay in Hiroshima that night at a hostel pretty near the Peace Park and atomic bomb dome.Next I will head to Kyoto to see the sights of OBON (the festival where dead ancestors return). Fires are lit on the mountains to guide the ancestors. Lanterns are also floated along the river. I plan to be there that night to see this happening.
After Kyoto I will spend time in Okayama with more friends hopefully many of them will have returned home for obon. After Okayama I'll travel back to Narita and then fly home and sleep for a week!
I'm going to use a rail pass for 3 weeks (that covers most of my long distance travels) Here is a map of where the shinkansen (bullet train) goes.

Wednesday, July 4, 2007

Trip Plans

Today is the day that I will purchase my tickets for my summer's adventure.
I will spend a month (July 24-Aug 23) travelling Japan and Korea, meeting up with friends and students, and having adventures along the way. Rather than emailing everyone I know, I'll post about my travels here. I'm sure I'll be able to find the internet somewhere along the way.