Friday, November 26, 2010

Show Me Japan Vol.1 Issue 2

Welcome to the second issue of Show Me Japan – a photo meme where we aim to showcase as many Japan related images from as many bloggers as possible.
第二回Show Me Japanへようこそ!この企画は、出来るだけ沢山のブロガーを募り、出来るだけ沢山の日本に関連する写真を、より多くの人に紹介する事を目指した写真ミームです。
You don't have to be in Japan to participate, you don't have to even blog in English. As long as you have a Japan related post with a Japan related photo on your blog during this weekend, you’re invited to play with us.
参加するからといって別に日本に居る必要もありませんし、ブログを英語で書く必要もありません。(ご自身に著作権のある)日本に関連する写真を掲載したエントリーをブログ上で週末にアップロードしているそこのあなた、我々はあなたのような方がエントリーされる事を願っているのです。

To read the complete FAQ (available in English and Japanese), please click here.
英語と日本語のFAQはここにありますので、参加にあたり一度目を通して頂ければ幸いです。

Twenty two (excluding myself and Dr Trouble) bloggers joined us for last week’s edition, and this week we hope for an equally great turnout.
嬉しい事に、22名もの方々が先週末行われた映えある第一回目に参加してくれました(主催者二名を除く)。第二回目の今回も、前回と同等の参加者が集まってくれれば良いのですが…。期待が膨らみます。

And as long week, all your entries will be retwitted and stumbled as well.
参加者全員のエントリーはツイッターとStumble Uponにて再投稿される予定です。

Below are randomly selected photos from five randomly selected bloggers who participated last week. How random was the selection? Is asking an innocent bystander for a number between 1 and 22 random enough for you? Yeah, that’s the idea.
前回の参加者の中からランダムに選ばれた5名の方がエントリーに使われた写真を以下に掲載します。どうやって無作為に選抜したか?それはですね、見知らぬ通りすがりの5人を捕まえて、1から22の番号の中から好きな番号を選んでもらい、その返答番号に相当する参加者のエントリー中の写真を採用させて貰いました。とても公平でフェアで民主的だと思いませんか?

You can click on the photos to be taken to their respective blogs.
選ばれた写真をクリックしてその写真が使われたブログを覗いてみてはどうですか?

Enjoy!
Click on the photo to visit Bad Communication




Click on the image to visit Bartman



Click on the image to visit Yuri's blog



Click on the photo to visit Mike in Okinawa



Click on the photo to be taken to Yosuke's blog


And now, please enter your own post in the widget below and show us Japan!
さあ、日本に関連するエントリーURLを下のウィジェットにリンクして、 あなたが見た日本を世界中の皆に紹介しちゃいましょう!

Have a great weekend! それでは良い週末を!

PS. And a very special "thank you!" to Japan Talk Podcast for mentioning our meme!





Sorry, this week's Show Me Japan has just finished. Please join us again next week. And in the meantime, please visit the participants below.





Show Me Japan Participants
1. Yoshi, Japan
2. Anzu, Japan
3. Hawaiibadboy
4. David LaSpina / JapanDave
5. LifeyouTV
6. DekoBoko
7. goodandbadjapan
8. Vincent
9. YOUSUKE
10. David
11. Jay Dee in Japan
12. Tochigi Daily Photo
13. bartman
14. Mullenkedheim
15. Yuri
16. kirsten
17. Loco
18. Andrew Marston
19. Floating Camera
20. sixmats
21. Exotic Japan
22. kirsten
23. Surviving in Japan
24. Oko
25. kyushudan
26. Laura (tokyololas)
27. ジェイソン (Jason)
28. Haikugirl
29. Fernando Ramos
30. Hiro

Powered by... Mister Linky's Magical Widgets.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Tochigi Hot Air Balloon International Championship 2010

I had been wanting to go there for ages. But as it always happens with the best laid plans, stuff just kept coming up. So when we finally piled ourselves in the car last Sunday, I was grumpy, hungry, cold and had to pee. And was nursing a vicious cold. And the weather was not so great either.



The 2010 Tochigi Hot Air Balloon International Championship and the 2010 Hot Air Balloon HONDA Grand Prix (because that's the official name of this event) was held this year from November 18 to 23 in (where else?) Tochigi.



The balloon people (no clue what you call them) were staying at the Twin Ring hotel in Motegi (at the Honda Formula 1 circuit), and the actual balloon flights (no clue what you call them) took place in the nearby town of Haga.

Actually, there were three designated starting points, two in Haga and one in Utsunomiya. On Sunday, the afternoon session was setting off (flying away?) from Haga.



Of course, Dr Trouble did not listen to me when I told him to drive to Haga, and he went to the other designated place on the banks of the Kinu river in Utsunomiya. When he finally realized the balloons were starting in Haga, we jumped in the car once again (and I still had to pee like crazy) and got stuck in a massive traffic jam, because everyone else was heading to Haga as well. Then we got lost. But anyway...



We made it to the field in Haga just in time. I did film the start, but the clip is not processed yet, maybe this weekend. Sorry!

Then it was again in the car and a mad chase after the balloons followed. We drove towards the town of Takanezawa, where huge marks in the fields were set up. That was the designated landing place. And because everyone else was following the balloons as well, those tiny countryside roads cutting through dried rice fields were clogged with traffic. It was like a mad dash to Fukudaya in Interpark (a shopping complex on the outskirts of Utsunomiya) when there's a major sale going on.



Dr Trouble finally decided to abandon me and the car and ran after the balloons on foot. And I was left navigating through piles of haphazardly abandoned parked cars on roads as wide as a typical bike path. It was fun.
On Dr Trouble's blog there's a photo of a balloon crew looking with horror as another balloon is about to land on top of them.




After all the balloons landed, we wanted to return to the banks of the Kinu river where a night time balloon light up was going to take place. But of course, we got lost again. And it was only then, when we finally stopped at a convenience store so the husband could ask for directions (amazing, I know!) I got to use a restroom.

And this is what was going on at night.



All in all, it was a fun day. Night. Whatever. We'll do it again next year.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Thank you to all who participated

When I woke up early on Thursday last week, this half-baked idea of starting a Japan photo meme came to my mind. See? This is what happens if you're not a morning person and are forced to get up ridiculously early. You think stuff up, because you don't want to face the reality of being awake before 6AM.

Anyway, the Show Me Japan meme went live this past weekend. And damn, 22 people came and participated. 22, because I am not counting myself and my husband. He'll do whatever I tell him, because that's what husbands are for, right?

And this post is just to say "thank you!" to everyone who entered their link. You guys (or "you guyzes" as one of my students is fond of saying) rock.


And you know what? We'll do it again this coming weekend. Yep, Show Me Japan is now officially a weekly meme.

So invite your friends, stick some photos on your blogs and let's have fun.

It doesn't matter whether your blog is in English, Japanese, Swahili or Polish (speaking of, Edyta, somebody suggested that you move your blog to something more user friendly, like Blogger, for example. One of the participants sent me an email asking "how the f**k do I leave a comment on that Polish chick's blog?). As long as you post a Japan related photo during the weekend, you're invited.

Because that's all that's needed - just a photo. If you're too lazy to write an actual blog post, that's OK. I feel your pain - I'm the laziest person I know. So, just a photo is fine - that's what my husband did. Another lazy beast, he is...

And besides, I don't want to compete with the Japan Blog Matsuri - that's where your carefully thought out and diligently proofread posts full of insightful information should go every month.

Show Me Japan is all about images, so even the most English-deficient wannabe otaku from Upper Elbonia can click, look and enjoy.

Yeah, that about covers it. Show Me Japan Issue 2 will be open for posting on Friday, November 26 at 1AM.

See you there!


PS. And of course I stumble and retweet your entries :)

Friday, November 19, 2010

Show Me Japan Vol.1 Issue 1

Welcome to the first edition of our Show Me Japan experiment where our aim is to show Japan to as many people as possible.



And yes, I am nervous. I have no clue if anyone is going to participate. And I have no idea how it's going to go. But for now, let's roll with the punches.

So why don't I start and show you a photo from Konpira shrine on the island of Shikoku, OK?
Here we go:


It's a lovely place consisting mostly of steps.

There are 1 368 steps altogether. After climbing half way up, I was sick of them.


I was so tired of steps I didn't want to look at them anymore.



So instead, I looked at other things.


People compare that place to Nikko, but seriously, whoever said that has never been to Nikko. It's a lovely place, but trust me, Nikko it ain't. Most definitely.




OK, your turn!

Do you have a Japan related photo on your blog this weekend? Please share your link using the widget below! Be sure to link to an individual post on your blog, and not just to your blog's main page.

Show Me Japan FAQ in English and 日本語 can be found here.
Here we go!

And of course, please visit the links below for more Show Me Japan goodness, leave a comment (or two), make a new friend (or two).

Wishing everyone a wonderful weekend!



Show Me Japan Participants

1. Yoshi, Japan
2. YOUSUKE
3. Goodandbadjapan
4. Anzu, Japan
5. James Kemlo
6. Tanya Watanabe
7. Avery Morrow
8. Yuri
9. AdventureRob
10. Masafumi Matsumoto
11. David
12. Tochigi Daily Photo
13. Bad Communication
14. RyukyuMike
15. David LaSpina / JapanDave
16. Edyta
17. sixmats
18. Mullenkedheim
19. Nobu
20. bartman
21. Loco
22. Haikugirl
23. DekoBoko
24. Laura (tokyololas)

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Introducing Japan-themed photo challenge

There are photo memes for every conceivable subject out there, from dried flowers to used facial tissues, so I thought "hey, why don't I jump on the bandwagon, too?"

And after a lot of thinking (if about 10 seconds could be considered a lot, and trust me, for many people it is), I decided to host my own photo challenge, with Mr Linky, a pretty badge (which I still need to design) and all that.

And the topic?


"Show Me Japan!"

The rules are simple:
1. You have a Japan related photo.
2. You post it on your blog between Friday 1AM and Sunday 11PM Japan time.
3. You stick the link to that post in the fancy Mr Linky widget which I will add to this blog.
4. You visit other links for more Japan-related photo goodness.
5. Hopefully, you will see some new things, learn new stuff and make new friends.
6. That's all.

Here's a FAQ page in both English and 日本語.

So yes, I'll give it a try and see how it develops.

We will open for entries on Friday at 11PM Japan time and let it run all weekend. Get your cameras ready!


And just a random photo from Kanuma, because having a blog post without a photo is like... having a blog post without a photo.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Autumn festival in Tochigi city

We love festivals. That much should be obvious by now to anyone who is not a first-time visitor to our blog. And even if you are a brand new reader (in that case - "Hello, nice to have you here! Make yourself at home!") or got here thanks to a poorly worded google search, it's going to become very apparent to you in... oh, right about now, that for us, matsuri (Japanese festivals) are a serious matter. A VERY serious matter.

So when a festival that is held only once every two years rolls around, you can bet your kifuda (木札) that we are going to be there.



And that's why last Saturday we took the Tobu line to Tochigi City to attend the famed Aki Matsuri there.

The Autumn Festival had looked so lovely on a computer screen. Huge, lavishly decorated floats (dashi - 山車), blue sky, hordes of tekomai decked out in their finest festive attire, shaking their staffs and chanting during buttsuke, and massive crowds of people. It was going to be nothing short of awesome. That should have been a no-brainer, right?

Well, it didn't quite turned out that way.

I'm not sure, maybe it's me, but while I didn't exactly hate the festival, I wasn't exactly impressed either. It was... hmmm... how to put it nicely... Boring.

 Float detail

Yes, the floats were magnificent, and the nighttime parade sufficiently impressive. But with its carefully orchestrated photo ops and participants that looked like they were being subjected to cruel and unusual punishment, the whole festival took on a very bleh aura.

 More float detail

The float teams looked bored to tears or downright unhappy. Their energy level and enthusiasm peaked at about minus five (on a scale from zero to... well... zero) and looking at their sour faces was not particularly joy inspiring.

 Only the mask is smiling

And don't even get me started on the vicious and nasty attendees, many of whom would have no quips at all about stabbing you to death with their monopod to get a better viewing place.

Maybe I'm too provincial for such a huge event with so many people. But Miya Matsuri is also a huge event. And the attendees are also nasty and vicious. But at least they apologize before stabbing you to death. And Miya's participants look like (or at the very least - pretend like) they're having fun.

Yes, Tochigi's floats were awesome, but so were the yatai in Moka and Kanuma. (They call them dashi in Tochigi City, but yatai in Moka and Kanuma).



Yes, the buttsuke in Tochigi was impressive, but the over zealous security people did their best to treat you like an unruly five year old child. Move back, stay behind the white line, do not cross. In Moka and Kanuma nobody shoos you away from the action. Quite the opposite in fact, you are invited by the handlers to get closer and get crazy with the rest of them.



Still, I understand, different places do things in different ways. That much could be expected. 

So what is the number one difference between a good festival and a mediocre one? In addition to friendliness, smiley faces, positive energy and helpful men with orange glow sticks?

The hair. And that's a fact.


More photos from Tochigi city - here and here. And even here.

Friday, November 12, 2010

Autumn in Chuzenji

Let's face it, I am obsessed with Chuzenji. And that's a fact.

If I were independently rich, I'd move there in a heartbeat. And I'm eternally jealous of those lucky souls who actually get to live there. Bastards don't even know how special they are.

Sadly, I am not rich. And even sadder - neither is my husband. So much for my living in Chuzenji dream.
So since moving there is not an option, I have to be happy with visiting every now and then.

What's Chuzenji? Think Lake Tahoe and you'll pretty much get the idea. Except Chuzenji is better - it's still within Nikko city limits. How awesome is that?

Here are some autumn shots from my most favorite spot in Japan (if not the whole world).


 Yes, that's Mount Nantai back there, the very same one we climbed last July. At night, no less! I mean, if you're going to climb a mountain, you might as well go all out, right? So why not set out at midnight and get to the top by sunrise?



It still looks lovely now, but it gets brutally cold in winter.


At Futaara shrine up on Chuzenji. Yes, it's a branch of the same Futaara you can visit in the Shrines and Temples complex in Nikko.

 Because it's so pretty up there, the place tends to be overrun by tourists for most of the year.



At that's the Chuzenji temple.

Most of the leaves are already gone, but this tree is still hanging on.


Here is an HDR treatment of another lake Chuzenji photo on Dr T's photoblog. Yeah, between both of us, we are up to four blogs now. Do we need to get a life? Most definitely! :)


This is a Skywatch Friday entry. And Thursday challenge for fun and learning - theme "Autumn".

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Utsunomiya Gyoza Matsuri - when a dumpling has its own festival

This is my entry for the November edition of the Japan Blog Matsuri, which this month is hosted by the one and only Ashley of Surviving in Japan (without much Japanese). And this month's theme? Yep, you guessed correctly. Food! Or rather - "Fall is the season for eating."


And frankly, when you say "Utsunomiya", there's only one kind of eating that comes to mind. No question about it.


As soon as you mention "Utsunomiya" to pretty much any random Japanese person, his or her immediate reaction is "gyoza... hmmm... yummy... I'm hungry...".

Yes, Utsunomiya, thanks to a persistent country-wide (or at least Kanto-wide) advertising campaign, is now considered the Japanese capital of gyoza. A self-proclaimed capital, that's for sure, but eventually, the reputation has managed to catch up with the lofty title, and now the gyoza here is actually pretty good.



And I, for one, am not complaining. It could have been much, much worse.
Just imagine the possible alternatives: Utsunomiya - the capital of shimotsukare - a local wholly native Tochigi delicacy a.k.a. barf on a plate, or Utsunomiya - the capital of monjayaki a.k.a. barf on a hotplate?
Nah, I'm perfectly happy with gyoza.

What's gyoza? A dumpling by any other name. Chinese pierogis, if you will.
Yep, gyoza is not even a Japanese invention. As many other things in this country, it came here from China. Though give it a couple of decades and I'm sure that most Japanese will be convinced gyoza originated in Utsunomiya. Gotta love the power of advertising...



So you have a city that claims to be the Japanese capital of fried dumplings, and what does this city do? Every November it throws a gigantic gyoza party known as the Utsunomiya Gyoza Matsuri. And this year it took place on November 6th and 7th, in other words - this weekend.

Gyoza Matsuri sign right in front of Futaara shrine, 13 gyoza stands were located there.

What happens during Gyoza Matsuri?

All the gyoza shops crawl out of their usual holes in the wall and take to the streets. And sell, sell, sell gyoza, gyoza and more gyoza. And since 4 pieces of gyoza cost only 100 yen, as you can imagine, they sell quite a lot. And the lines are long. Very long.

 Here the sign says that the wait is about 80 minutes. Wait 80 minutes to buy dumplings? I'd die of starvation before I get to the counter!


So yes, people wait, people buy, people eat. And eat. And then eat some more. This is exactly what I did this weekend. Except I looked for lines that were 30 minutes max. What can I say, patience was never one of my virtues.

And between all that waiting in line and eating, Dr Trouble and I also managed to meet up with a fellow Tochigi blogger who came down to Utsunomiya to join in the dumpling fun - Edward of Japundit and Japan Talk Podcast.
Good times all around! We ate, we chatted and vowed to do it again sometime soon.

Sadly, due to financial constraints (this blog isn't called "Budget Trouble" for nothing, you know) I won't be able to travel to Kobe for the Japan content creators meetup in December. But if you're going there, you get to meet Edward and many other Japan-based bloggebrities. Please say "hi!" to them from me!

 As you can imagine, an event like a gyoza festival produces huge amounts of garbage. And as you probably know, trashcans in public places are hard to find in Japan. By the way, yesterday inside the JR Station in Utsunomiya all trashcans were actually taped shut and signs "please take your trash with you" were posted. Needless to say I wasn't too happy about it.

Fortunately downtown, where the gyoza fest was taking place, cardboard trash boxes were provided, and as every year, Ichijyo Junior High School students were on garbage duty. Boys and girls were prowling the streets with huge plastic garbage bags making sure that no container was overflowing or nothing was discarded on the ground.

The kids were super pleasant, helpful and mostly English speaking. And not shy about showing off their foreign language skills.


In addition to gyoza there were also other attractions. You see, Utsunomiya fancies itself to be a city of jazz, too. And true to the official city image, the streets were jazzy. Very jazzy indeed.

Every square in the city center was turned into a music stage and free jazz concerts (under the banner of Miya Jazz Inn) were going on non-stop as part of the festivities.



One band that we particularly enjoyed was All Around Orchestra (sorry, their website is in Japanese only). They may not have been the best musicians, or had the cutest band members, but what they did have was great energy and personality. You could tell they had fun playing and entertaining the audience. What a refreshing change from the standard stiff, serious, and self-possessed Japanese stage presence!

And this is the summary of the weekend in video form. Gyoza provided by the numerous street stands. Jazz provided by All Around Orchestra.



And that concludes our report from Utsunomiya Gyoza Matsuri 2010. It was yummy. Let's do it again next year!

See you there!





More photos of the event can be found on Tochigi Daily Photo.

Friday, November 5, 2010

Kikusui festival did happen this year

Typhoon or not, last Sunday the Kikusui festival continued as scheduled. Though the weather was cloudy and mostly wet, the priests of Futaarayama shrine, shrine girls, mikoshi carriers, yabusame archers, horse handlers and everybody else who happened to be around braved the elements and did what they were supposed to do.

Who's riding in the car? One of the priests, two little girls who play a major part in the ceremonies, and an old lady, presumably the girls' handler.

These are my Kikusui reflections:
1. Why a red Nissan convertible? With Yokohama tags, no less? Are the priests at the shrine having a massive midlife crisis?

2. "One has to wonder how bowler hats became part of the traditional garb. They look like they all graduated from butler school." That comment was posted by one of my blogger friends - Oakland Daily Photo, and honestly, I could not agree more.

At around 2:35 one of the girls loses her slipper, but bravely continues the performance. 
3. Mikoshi on wheels? That's cheating! But then again, I suppose that shinto priests have no rhythm, not to mention muscle, and would make lousy mikoshi carriers.

4. Horse smell makes me sneeze. Sneezing makes for a very shaky camera work.

5. I cannot imagine yabusame happening on the streets of an American town. It would be any lawyer's wet dream. And frankly, I can't blame them. Getting trampled by a horse at a public event in order to get a multi-million dollar settlement is a fundamental American right.



More photos from the festival are here and here and here on our photoblog - Tochigi Daily Photo.