Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Dreaming of Antigua part 2

Yeah, welcome to St. John's...

St johns sign x500

It's a perfectly agreeable small capital city with all the usual amenities:
Rastapasta x500

And all the usual tourist attractions:
Museum x500
there's a museum...

and a cathedral (quite nice actually):


There are statues of the national hero:
Statue x500
framed by cute little pineapples.

There's yummy local food:
Food x500
The food was yummy, that's for sure. But the lady at Fabian's decided to try to calculate our bill incorrectly, in her favor of course. Unfortunately, she didn't count on my penchant for math and numbers.

I liked St. John's. I really did.
Sleeping dog x500

It reminded me of Mindelo, and as everybody who knows me knows, I love Mindelo. In a very serious way. And frankly, I wouldn't mind moving to St. John's (or Mindelo, I'm not that picky) permanently.

Spray paint x500

Even the Antiguan-and-barbudian flag is pretty:
Church and flag x500

It's a difficult choice trying to decide which flag I'd prefer as my own (hypothetically, of course): Antiguan or Cape Verdean...

to be continued... (maybe)

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Dreaming of Antigua part 1

My totally harmless post about rice polishing machines in Japan has proved to be the most popular post on this blog. Ever. In two days it brought over 10 000 visitors and counting.

That post also seemed to anger many readers. Out of that 10 000 people, about 0.5% (and that's quite a lot, trust me!) felt strong enough about it to send me emails. Angry emails. Reading them, you'd think that I was single-handedly responsible for every case of beri-beri in the world. Some emails pitied me. Apparently my love of white rice and refined flour will be my undoing and I will die a painful death suffering from colon cancer, along with pretty much every other disease known to mankind.

Some emails, instead of my penchant for white rice, attacked my "all-knowing" attitude. But of course I am all-knowing, otherwise you wouldn't be reading this blog!

But seriously, I should maybe avoid such controversial topics in the future. I shudder at the thought just what kind of response a post about industrial train platform cleaning machines (if I would ever feel inclined to write one) might bring.

So, in the name of keeping the peace, and because I am cold and the weather is sucky right now, let's travel back in time today. Don't worry, not very far back in time, only to January 2009. And because no proper time travel would be complete without some spacial displacement, let's displace ourselves to Antigua. As in "Antigua and Barbuda", not "Antigua, Guatemala."

Ready? OK, here we go.

Beach x500

I've been having a major attack of "let's go somewhere warm" lately and every day it's more and more difficult for me to resist it. And Antigua is just a perfect "somewhere warm" place.

Kayak x500
Now, I despise water sports. In fact, I despise water in general (yes, even taking a shower every morning is a major accomplishment for me), but right now I'd gladly sell my mother in law for a chance to sit on a beach, or ride in a kayak.

Boats x500

Yet even with all my hatred of water, I still managed to somehow obtain a sail-boat license way back when. And lately I've been telling my saintly husband that we should just sell everything (including mother in law, but excluding the cats), buy a boat and get moving.

Water sports x500

Unfortunately, even with selling MIL, this would be the only "boat" we could afford to buy.

Palm trees x500
So for now, all I can do is dream about being magically transported somewhere tropical.

Half moon x500

And even though normally I'm not a fan of Half Moon Bay, even this place looks mighty fine to me at this moment.

to be continued...

Monday, December 28, 2009

How Long Until We All Fly Naked?

Yeah, one of the people I follow on twitter (go ahead, follow him, and he's totally adorable, too) said, “As for new flight security rules: I am wondering how much longer it will take until we all fly naked.”

I am wondering too. Because let’s face it, the just-instituted new TSA security rules are an epic fail, every moderately intelligent person who flies more than once a year can see that.

Delta x500

at Narita Airport, Japan

So, it’s either full-body scanners, which are expensive and you can expect them at a podunk-middle-of-nowhere airport in Borogravia (or Zlobenia) sometime around 2056 at the earliest. Or… flying naked, which would be much cheaper and infinitely more entertaining.

Or, and here’s a third alternative – paper jumpsuits and tranquilizer shots before the flight.
Now, wait a second and just imagine how convenient that solution would be!

Airlines could cut staff and save even more money, because if their passengers are unconscious (would we be called "cargo" then?), there’s no need for flight attendants. There would be no bitching over seat assignments. No need for overhead luggage bins – the space could be converted into additional passenger storage units.

There would be no need for food and drink service. No mess to clean up later - passengers would have to be fitted with Depends upon boarding (and frankly, with this new rule of no getting up during the last hour of the flight Depends might be something I’d have to consider – I have a bladder peanut-sized bladder).

Just imagine the cost cutting possibilities here! Instead, we get another set of moronic rules from the geniuses at TSA. No items in your lap during the last 60 minutes of the flight, including books and magazines. Brilliant! I want to know how they arrived at the conclusion that it’s possible to bring down a jetliner with a copy of Ladies Home Journal.

Luckily for me, I do not plan to travel to the US anytime soon.

PS. And for all those who think that those new TSA rules will improve our security, ha! Dream on people. Here's a photo of a non-functioning security gate and an abandoned hand-luggage scanner with absolutely no security personnel in sight at a certain international airport in Africa. And as it happens it was in Africa where that alleged Nigerian terrorist boarded the flight to Amsterdam.

Airport security 1

Photo taken in 2007, I don't think much has improved since then.

Sunday, December 27, 2009

Rice, Rice, Baby...

Many things confuse and baffle foreign visitors to Japan, that much is true. After reading an umpteenth travel blog post about “wow, it’s a washlet and I got sprayed” or “holy crap, it’s a squat toilet, in the middle of freakin’ Tokyo” alternating with “look at all the vending machines in this country!” and “meido cafés, those chicks are sooo cute” you may be excused if you think that Japan is visited mostly (only?) by idiots on their very first trip abroad.

But recently, it was my turn to be baffled when a brave tourist, who ventured outside of the capital city (read: got lost in the countryside) asked this: “And what are those oversized phone booth thingies?”

Come again?

Iseki x500

“Well, from the outside they look like miniature laundromats or oversized phone booths, but there are no phones inside. And no washing machines. Only some control panels and strange contraptions.”

Control panel x500

And then he added, “And I haven’t seen them in Tokyo, but here (meaning - in the countryside) they are everywhere.”

And then he added, “And it seems people dump some bags in there and it obviously serves a purpose, but not sure how or what…”

Very observant, indeed!

People do dumb bags – of rice – into the contraptions in those “phone booths” and what the machinery does is simply polish the rice.

Cleaning rice x500

“What? You need to polish your own rice?” I heard him ask.

Well, yes… You see, not everyone buys their rice at the supermarket. We don’t. We get our rice directly from the farmer. Such rice comes unpolished and yellow in color. And I’m sure that some health nuts would eat it like that just fine. But I (and most of this country) prefer my rice fresh, white and shiny.

And that’s where the machine comes in. You dump your yellow rice in at one end, put some money in, press some buttons, and voila, shiny white grains come out on the end.

Yellow rice
yellow rice in

We normally polish only a bucket at a time to keep our rice fresh and yummy. The whole procedure is very quick – it takes only a few minutes, and my only disappointment is that colorful lights don’t light up during the process and cute arcade music doesn’t play while the machine is running.

Clean rice x500
white rice out

And you’d think that where as where, but in Japan the companies would think of such obvious technical improvements.

PS. There are other rice-related machines, but I'm going to spare you the full-blown rice farmer story right now, OK?

Saturday, December 26, 2009

Jingle Bells Chicken Smells

Our very traditional Christmas dinner is over… And thanks to the Colonel and a local cake shop, it was a smashing success.

Yeah, the Colonel… I know this topic has been beaten to death on various J-blogs already, but not everyone who reads THIS blog frequents other J-blogs (and did I just include myself in the ranks of J-bloggers? Hell must have frozen over and the fat lady is singing…)

But where were we? Ah yes, the Colonel.

You see, it’s traditional in Japan to eat fried chicken on xmas day. Why? Simply put, turkey is/was too much of an assault on the very genteel Japanese taste buds, not to mention the fact that it’s pretty much impossible to cook a proper turkey in a standard Japanese oven. So, back in 1974 KFC got the brilliant idea to use this fact to their advantage and have themselves a merry, little xmasy fried chicken marketing campaign.

And as with all “new” things in Japan, there were only two possible outcomes – come January 1975 it was going to either fade into obscurity or catch on in a big way. There is simply no middle ground when it comes to trends in this country.

And as we all know by now, the campaign has caught on, big time. So big that now, only some 30-odd years later, eating fried chicken for xmas is considered “traditional”.

Other retailers have jumped on the fried chicken bandwagon and if you’re not a fan of the Colonel, you can get your xmas dinner from just about any food purveyor, from a local grocery store to the Hotto Motto bento seller.

Our “traditional” Japanese xmas dinner also included pizza and cake. “Traditionally” it should have been a strawberry cake, but I am very pleased to say that chocolate cake is gaining ground too.

Of course, this being Japan, the cake came from a cake shop, because:
a) no proper oven, and
b) nobody wants to slave in the kitchen, especially since for 99% of Japanese xmas day is just an ordinary work day.

And needless to say, this being Japan, every cake looks like a little work of art...

And why do we put candles on top of a Christmas cake? Well, it might be not baby Jesus’s birthday today, but it IS somebody’s birthday, so why not?

And now, if you excuse me, I need to look for some indigestion medication.
Happy Holidays!

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Sendai - the Capital of Gyu-Tan (grilled beef tongue)

This is Yoshi's debut as a travel blogger. Not bad for a first-timer, wouldn't you say?

It’s been a decade since my last participation in a job-related meeting of the Japanese, by the Japanese, for the Japanese, in Japan. Ten years ago it was in Fukuoka, and this time - in Sendai (Miyagi prefecture), in the north-eastern part of mainland (if you can call it “mainland”) Japan.

Sendai is also called “ A City of Trees” and that was the excuse a bunch of plant biologists (and I’m one of them) used to organize a meeting there.

This city of one million inhabitants (and counting) was established by a “one-eyed dragon” local ruler in the early 15th century (Tokugawa Edo period). His name was Masamune DATE (伊達 政宗) who lost his right eye to smallpox (hence the nickname).

Statue on horse x500 

Sendai's famous one-eyed founder on horseback. 


This “one-eyed pirate”-looking overlord (who also allegedly converted to Christianity at some point later in his life) was a fearless, intelligent and ruthless politician. Ruthless enough to assassinate his biological brother. And oh yeah, he was also into good food – and Sendai is known for its nice cuisine, because nothing calms down the nerves after a good massacre like a yummy bowl of gourmet goodies. Apparently, he was not only an expert at chopping off heads, but also generally good at chopping and cooking stuff in the kitchen, too. According to all historical records he was an exceptional cook, I believe the words "culinary arts" were even used to describe his cooking.

Masamune Date’s name and character overwhelms Sendai. I mean it (but I don’t mean that deadly sibling rivalry is a commonplace occurrence here these days). There’s a bronze statue at the Sendai castle, his mausoleum - Zuiho-den, and his name was even borrowed by a local FM station - Date FM, but the pronunciation is ‘deit’.

Another interesting historical fact is that he sent his retainer, Tsunenaga HASEKURA (支倉常長) on a diplomatic mission to España (via the Pacific and Mexico). That dude’s Christian name (yep, another “alleged” convert) is Don Felipe Francisco Hasekura!!! Now, how’s that for charming, huh?

Roses x450 

Roses were brought to Sendai from Europe by Hasekura 

Well, let’s proceed to my trip to Sendai. At the meeting, I realized how uniform everything in Japan was… men in their cheap suits (on a researcher’s salary you can’t really afford Armani or another Versace, unless you marry rich) looked like any other government-issue businessmen you could encounter on a Tokyo subway platform.

It appeared that I was one of the very few participants wearing… let’s say, “relaxed” clothes and four-year old sneakers. But hey, I didn't marry rich, and I happen to like my sneakers, after four years of constant wear they’re fused with my feet.

However, I realized one extremely basic fact that for some reason had eluded me until then. It was so easy and convenient to participate in a meeting conducted in my mother language. See? That’s what ten years of living abroad will do to you.

The boring scientific part took two days and there was even a celebration for those young, promising researchers in cheap suits, who provided a nice poster. Five PhD students got a prize for the best poster of the meeting and the “Daruma dall” was bestowed as an award by the organizer.

Daruma doll at meeting x500 

The winners with their daruma. 


In general, a Daruma doll has only one filled-in eye. However, in Sendai, because of Masamune Date, it is considered a taboo to have a one-eyed Daruma, or so the organizer told us...

Daruma is a representation of an ancient Indian Buddhist monk, Bodhidharma, who is also known as the founder of Zen. Anyway, the awarded young scientists with bright future all have Darumas with two black eyeballs, as a result. You know what? Actually that Zen founder is not an East-Asian! It is hypothesized that he was an Indian-born Aryan of uncertain heritage, but reportedly - with blue eyes. Yes, Zen was established by a blue-eyed guy (allegedly)! Chew on that, all you Asian culture freaks.

Zen style garden 2 

Zen style garden 


Zen style garden 

And even more zen. 


Because I happened to know one of the head honchos at the meeting, I was invited to visit Matsushima islands (松島), with the head honcho himself acting as a local guide.

Matsushima is popular sightseeing place around Sendai and is considered as one of the “Three Views of Japan”. Whatever. Matsu (松) in Japanese means pine. I expected to be able to find matsutake (松茸) mushrooms there but the weather was bad and it was not the season for mushroom picking.

Matsushima islands and ferry x500 

On the way to Matsushima 


Instead I had tons of oysters and a little bit of Ascidiacea (ホヤ) as the chef’s seasonal recommendation. Was it good? Hmmm… Let’s just say it was interesting, OK?

Another thing that Sendai is famous for is gyu-tan 牛タン (grilled beef tongue). I have to say that Sendai has a lot of yummy foods to offer (and that I can understand why Mr. Date was rumored to be a gourmand) and is definitely a place worth visiting.

Eating gyu-tan also made me realize how long I’ve been living outside of Japan. Last time I had gyu-tan in Sendai was in 1998. Back then, I was also in Sendai to join a boring scientific meeting (no fancy trips to Matsushima that time, btw). I remember eating gyu-tan in the 20th century was like chewing on a leather jacket, my jaw was ready to crack, and tears started to come out unconsciously from the sheer effort involved…
What a difference ten years make when it comes to food technology!

Tea x500 

I'd rather enjoy macha tea and a rice cake with edamame paste than chew old leather jackets.

OK, my next destination in the general Sendai area would be Tashiro Island (田代島), an island of cats!!!

PS> And what my poor husband doesn't realize is that with that last sentence he just decided MY winter break plans for me. The magic word - "cats"!!!

Monday, December 21, 2009

Winter Illumination at Ashikaga Flower Park

You'd think that someone who spent five years in northern Scandinavia would be resistant to cold and low temperatures, right? Wrong. There are few things I despise more than freezing weather.

Yet even freezing weather and low temperatures couldn’t stop me yesterday from visiting the Ashikaga Flower Park. In Ashikaga, of course. That’s Tochigi for those of you in big-city Japan.
Ashikaga is a wholly unremarkable town. At least for me. Oh, they have attractions over there – there’s the fireworks display (summer) and wine festival (fall). They also have the oldest school in Japan and this Flower Park thingie.

And if Ashikaga itself is rather unremarkable, the Flower Park is just the opposite – it’s a magnificent oasis of all things that cause pollen allergies. But not in winter. In winter it’s the home of a splendid seasonal illumination. And that’s what we went to see yesterday.

And it’s so splendid that I’m seriously considering going back there again to take better photos, because these do not do the place justice.

See? If it’s worth freezing my butt off twice in one season, than it must be really something. Because I hate cold weather. And that’s a fact.

How to get there:
Drive – there’s plenty of free parking.
If you can’t drive, there are trains:
From Tokyo to Oyama by shinkansen
or Tohoku line
from Oyama to Tomita - Ryomo line
from Tomita station to Ashikaga Flower Park it’s about a 13-20 min walk.

Price: 500yen and definitely worth it.
Address: 607 Hazama-cho, Ashikaga
Phone: 028-491-4939

New Year’s Day – closed.

To see more photos of the Winter Illumination in Ashikaga, visit Tochigi Daily Photo.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

My Guest Post Over at Brooklyn Nomad

I scribbled a little something for Andrew who runs the excellent The Brooklyn Nomad blog. A little something about Japan, naturally.

Go, check it out and tell him I sent you!

Here's the link.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Jomon-era Houses at Seizan Park in Utsunomiya

Last weekend I went to Seizan Park to look at some old houses from the Jomon era. Not that I’m particularly interested in the Jomon people and their houses, but Seizan Park is nearby and the weather was nice and it sounded like a great alternative to housework.

And I must say that I quite enjoyed the outing. So when a friend asked me how come I wasn’t home when she was trying to call me, I told her I was looking at old Jomon houses.

“Oh, the gas station barons?” she exclaimed.

It took me several seconds to process this sentence and realize what she was talking about.

“No, not Jomo. Jo-mon,” was the best answer I could come up with.

She looked at me all sad and hurt and said, “Just because I don’t move in the same social circles as you, that’s no reason to go all Jamaican on me now.”

Jomo x500

No, not Jomo. Jomon.

When I started to explain about the Jomon people, I could tell I lost her at “sticks wrapped with cords”.

What? Am I losing you too? OK, let’s start again, this time sometime around 14 000 BCE. And if you are going to say “no shite, that’s a loooong time ago,” you’re absolutely right.

But that’s when the Jomon period (縄文時代) started in the Japanese history, give or take a few centuries. It ended around 400 BCE, which is still an awful long time ago.

And where do the sticks with cords fit in all this? “Jomon” means “cord pattern”, and that describes the decorations those ancient people were fond of making on their pottery. And for that they used sticks wrapped with cords. And it just so happens that those people, who were so into sticks and cords, managed to make dishes, which are now amongst the first known pottery in the world. You can see some examples at the Tokyo National Museum.

Anyway, it’s not Jomon pottery I wanted to tell you about, but Jomon houses. And it just so happens that one of the largest archaeological finds when it comes to Jomon dwellings is in Utsunomiya. In 1986 some dudes building a road stumbled upon a site of 27 ancient Jomon structures.

The city lovingly restored them and created an archaeological park and museum (free of charge), and even put English translations (and you can even understand them without any problems!) on most of the information boards.

The houses themselves are quite impressive.
It’s not some huts we’re talking about here, but massive structures of almost 8 meters in height. And that’s for a medium size dwelling. Not too shabby for a bunch of Neolithic semi-nomads, wouldn’t you say?

Seizan 1 x500

The houses had only one entry – through an opening in the upper part of the structure, so basically, you had to climb up there on a Neolithic ladder.

In Seizan there are also remains of 15 really big buildings. And by really big, I mean structures that were 23 meters long, 10 meters wide and 9 meters tall. Those Jomon people sure didn’t mess around. When they were building something, they meant business.

Seizan 2 x500

There are also wooden pillars arranged in circles (a la Stonehenge but out of wood) and other assorted Jomon thingies to look at. I’ll have to go there again when I have more time and investigate the site in greater detail.

If you happen to be in Utsunomiya and want to visit Seizan Park, how do you get there? Sadly, there’s only one way – by car. Ask for a map at the tourist information desk, and if you feel like you are getting lost somewhere in the middle of a rice field, don’t worry, you’re driving in the right direction and you’ll reach Seizan in a few minutes.

Monday, December 7, 2009

Conveyor Belt Sushi revisited

I’m not a sushi snob. Though I have all the right in the world to be. I’ve spent many a miserable weekend slaving over slabs of fish, mountains of rice and endless nori sheets at a certain sushi establishment, where I was one of only two gaijin allowed in the kitchen (the other was proprietor’s husband). So yeah, I’ve paid my sushi dues. And believe me, there’s nothing to make you appreciate sushi like getting up at the crack of dawn to receive a shipment of fish.

And so it’s somewhat amusing when I hear (or read) comments from foreigners in Japan that go more or less like this: “I haven’t had any good sushi in (insert a city name here) yet, but then again, I’ve only been to the conveyor belt sushi places so far.” Why is it funny? Because most of those people wouldn't know good sushi if it hit them in the face (or sat on a plate in front of them).

Genki inside 2 x500

Somehow, the general idea that most visitors to Japan seem to have is that if you didn’t eat it at Tsukiji (or spend untold thousands of yen on it elsewhere) then it wasn’t good sushi.

I had a boss once who whenever she heard that comment from someone, she would invite them over for a sushi party at her house. She would get takeout from a conveyor belt restaurant, place it in a really fancy box from somewhere else and serve it in a very elaborate setting. And how many people who said, “I haven’t had any good sushi here yet, but then again, I’ve only been to the conveyor belt sushi places so far” realized they were being fed conveyor belt sushi? None. Ten out of ten oooohed and aaahed over the “expensive,” “gorgeous” and “amazing” fish and happily chomped it down in blissful ignorance.

Such attitude is not unique to foreigners. My own mother in law will not eat sashimi from Tairaya (a supermarket chain), because as she says, “it’s awful”. However, sashimi from Otani (a different supermarket chain) is acceptable to her. Yet when raw fish was bought at Tairaya and put it on a plate in front of her without announcing where it had come from, she proclaimed it “fresh” and “delicious”. The poor woman wouldn’t be caught dead anywhere near a conveyor belt restaurant, but I very much doubt if she could spot or taste the difference. But I guess those are the perils of being a raw fish snob.

Personally, I have nothing against conveyor belt sushi restaurants. They serve a purpose, namely – they’re cheap. And they serve it well.

And if they were really as bad as some foreigners seem to think, then there wouldn’t be gazillions of them all over the country. I like them. I eat at them. But then again, I’m a cheapskate.

Belt sushi

I like that fact that everything at Sushiro is 100 yen (plus tax), because I'm not a fan of the different color plate - different price system at Genki Sushi.

Friday, December 4, 2009

Adventures with Ink and Brush - Japanese Calligraphy Class

My handwriting is truly tragic. And that’s a fact. I vividly remember an incident in high school when a certain teacher held up my hand-written report (it was back in the olden pre-computer days) to the whole class and asked them just which way they thought it was intended to be read. Because she didn’t have a clue. And after that (and getting an F) I decided that typing my reports and essays was a really good idea.

So, you can imagine my general feelings towards calligraphy. I don’t do it and I want nothing to do with it. “Calligraphy” itself is a dirty word to me. As a child I was subjected to countless hours of cruel and unusual punishment that involved filling a notebook after notebook with practice writing. All in an effort to make sure that someday people other than myself would be able to decipher my chicken scratches. Yes, chicken scratches, because to the uninitiated, it really doesn’t make any difference if I write kanji, Arabic or the western alphabet, it looks all the same to them.

Unfortunately, my practice writing turned out to be an exercise in futility. All it did was imprint me with a morbid fear of calligraphy. And especially of calligraphy as an art form.

Caligraphy class

I’d been avoiding Japanese calligraphy (shodo) for as long as I could. I learned kimono dressing instead… and the tea ceremony… and sushi making (heck, I even worked as a sushi chef for a while)… and then bonsai cultivation, flower arranging, drag racing, racing in drag and professional shark hunting…. But I always drew the line when it came to ink, brushes and paper.

Until last Saturday. I agreed to accompany a friend to a calligraphy class. I had no intention of ever picking up a brush, but went along to take photos. And yes, I admit it, I was curious about what they did in there, too.

Orange ink

I’m not going to tell you about the history of Japanese calligraphy, you can look it up all by yourself on Wikipedia. All I can tell you is that calligraphy is as boring as it sounds, especially when you’re like me and have the artistic ability of a salt shaker.

There’s ink, there’s a brush, and there’s paper. And a set of highly involved instructions that are impossible for a mere mortal to follow. It requires a level of motor skills that are way beyond my simple “walk and chew gum at the same time” stuff. And while I may be ambitious, I am not THAT ambitious.


Templates for students to copy from

The class was organized by our local international association and sponsored by the city. And this is the real reason I wanted to talk about it today. Very few foreign tourists realize what a great resource those city-sponsored international associations, clubs, organizations and whatnots can be. Most (if not all) of their activities are open to anybody who wants to participate, and that includes tourists and other temporary visitors as well. And in contrast to professional hobby schools geared towards foreigners, those city-sponsored classes and activities are ridiculously cheap.

The international association in Utsunomiya offers the typical selection that most gaijins are after – Japanese classes (300 yen per hour, all levels, if you want just a single lesson that’s OK), kimono lessons, flower arranging, and yes, even calligraphy (two hour session, with all materials provided, and you even get a snack – 500 yen per person). All you need to do is to ask for a current schedule and tell them you’ll be coming.


Calligraphy teachers ready to teach you stuff

Our calligraphy class was led by a licensed instructor who spoke English. She was very passionate about this whole ink and brush business and managed to talk me into giving it a try. You know, just a “no obligations, here, hold this brush for a sec” kind of try.

And then, one thing led to another, and before I knew it, I was busy scrawling 森 (forest) on a sheet of paper. And needless to say, I sucked at it.


My attempt at Japanese calligraphy

So yes, I can honestly say that I’ve tried shodo and I don’t like it. No surprise here.

And oh, before I forget – how do you find an international association in cities you’re going to visit?

Google it, or ask at the local tourist office or city hall. Most (if not all) city halls distribute a very interesting English language publication intended to help new foreign residents settle in the area in particular, and in Japan in general. When I went to pick up my copy nobody asked me where I lived or why I wanted it, and I assume that they don’t really care if you’re just a tourist or a long-term resident.

And the best part? The publication is free. The classes that the international association organizes are cheap. And I don't know about you, but for me “cheap” and “free” are very important.

Calligraphy student

My friend, who's a very dedicated student

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Illumination Events in Tochigi Prefecture

  • Michino Eki Domannaka Garden Illumination 
  • Until March 30, 2010; Hours: from sunset to midnight; Free parking available; 366-2 Kissui, Sano, Tochigi; Tel 028 361-0077; Link here

  • Ashikaga Flower Park; Until Jan 24, 2010 (except on Dec 30 and 31); Hours: 16:30 to 21:30 (until 21:00 during weekdays); how much: adult 500, child 300 yen; 607 Oima Ashikaga, Tochigi; Tel 0284-91-4939; Link here

  • Uzuma Fuyu Hotaru Kirara Festival 2009; Until Jan 11, 2010; Hours: 17:00-23:00; Where: at Uzuma Park; Christmas concert on Dec 23, starting at 18:00

  • Hikari To Oto No Pageant; From Nov 27, 2009 to Jan 12, 2010; hours: from 17:00 to 22:00; Platz Ohira; Free parking available; Ohira, Tochigi (nearby Tobu Shin Ohira station); More info here and here and here

  • Christmas Fantasy; Dec 19 and 20; Hours: from 17:00 to 21:00; how much: Adult 400, child 200 yen (cut flower included); at Tochigi Flower Center (1612, Shimo kurihara, Owafune, Tochigi); Christmas concert starting at 18:30 on both days

  • 7th Kanuma Fuyu Matsuri (7th winter festival); Until Jan 11, 2010; Hours: from 17:00 to 21:00; at Machinaka Koryu Plaza; free parking available

  • Nikko Kanaya Hotel Christmas tree; Until Jan 11, 2010; Hours: from sunset to 23:00; at Nikko Kanaya Hotel; Link here

  • Illumination at Tobu World Square; From Nov 6, 2009 to Jan 31, 2010; Hours: from 16:00 to 19:30 (Mon-Fri), 16-21 (Sat, Sun, holidays, from Dec 23 to Jan 3); how much: for illumination - Adult 1500, child 1000 yen (with 500 yen coupon included); Free parking available after 15:00; Link here

  • 9th Minami Nasu town illumination from Dec 1, 2009 to Jan 5, 2010, Hours: from 17:00 to 22:00 at a park nearby Nasukarasuyama city hall free parking available

  • Yaita station illumination 2009; From Dec 1, 2009 to Jan 13, 2010; Hours: from17:00 to 23:30; in front of JR Yaita station

  • 8th Christmas illumination - this year's theme: “Country of Carmen”; from Nov 29, 2009 to Jan 11, 2010; Hours: from 17:00 to 22:00; at Nasunogahara Harmony Hall (1-2703-6 hon-cho, Otawara, Tochigi); free parking available; Link here

  • Aqua illumination; From Nov 11 to Dec 27, 2009; Hours: until 20:00; at Nakagawa Aquarium; 2686 Sayodo, Otawara, Tochigi

  • Nasu Garden Outlet winter illumination; Until Mar 14, 2010; Hours: from 17:00 to 20:00; 184-7 Sionosaki, Nasushiobara, Tochigi; Link here

  • Moka line Motegi station lightup; From Dec 1, 2009 to Jan 16, 2010; Hours: from 16:30 to 22:00; At Motegi station (Moka line); Free parking available



I came across this rather lame lightup in Utsunomiya while running some errands tonight.