Wednesday, September 30, 2009
Posted by Megan and Nathan at 12:18 AM
Tuesday, September 29, 2009
Posted by Megan and Nathan at 4:39 AM
Sunday, September 27, 2009
Nathan decided to get up at 4.30am the next morning to tramp up Karakunidake - a 1700m extinct volcano, the highest point in the National Park. He decided to go at that time of the morning in hope of being at the top in time for a stunning sunrise... it was pure bad luck that only about 15minutes after he set off it started to rain! Being the real trouper that he is he carried on the hour it took him to get to the top and thankfully only 20mins after getting there the rain stopped at the clouds cleared. “Although it wasn’t the spectacular clear views I had hoped for the views were still stunning and it was a great way to start to my Japanese tramping adventures.” Back at the tent by 8am to find me still sleeping (hehehe) we packed everything up and went for a 2 hour walk around some stunningly beautiful volcanic lakes. Needless to say Nathan had had a busy morning and was pretty tired! So instead of battling the traffic on the free highways we decided to splurge out and took the expressway further north to Kumamoto. Normal roads in Japan even the highways have a speed limit of 50kms an hour. Toll roads on the other hand have limits of 80kms... but as there are absolutely no police most people drive at about 140kms... not us... I was a stickler for keeping Nathan at 100kms! Once on the road we decided to change plans slightly and rather than stay in Kumamoto the night we went straight through to another of Japan’s massive active volcanoes called Aso-Caldera. This is actually the world’s biggest volcanic crater with complete towns situated inside it... a sight you only understand by seeing it. In the middle are the five ‘new’ peaks that were formed in a huge eruption 20,000 years ago... these are all still fully active and regular throw stuff up in the sky. We camped on the side of this volcano in another pretty good campsite. We got up nice and early the next morning to try and beat the crowds up to the massive crater viewing spot... it was sooooo amazing! We were blown away! I have no idea how to explain what it was like! I don’t think we realised we were actually inside a volcano until we got to the viewing platform and looked down inside! Incredible! Again we took a million photos! This is one of the places we will definitely take any visitors that come here as it’s only about 2 hours from our house and has some good tramping trips around it that Nathan is dying to do!
So that’s our trip... like I said we had the most amazing time! We loved every minute of it! From start to finish it was 950kms... we came in well under budget and have memories that will no doubt last a lifetime!
Posted by Megan and Nathan at 4:07 PM
Once on the move again we decided that seeing as we were that far south we would check out the massive volcano called Sakurajima that the area is famous for. There might have been thousands of other people there at the same time... in the blazing heat... but it was still an amazing place to visit. Sakurajima is a massive active volcano that for some strange reason they have built a city next to. When I say that it’s active that’s exactly what I mean... every day it blows out ash and dust which blankets the city and all the near by towns. Rather than the trees being green they were grey with ash as were all the cars, houses, gardens etc. It’s so active in fact that all along the streets there are little concrete ‘volcano shelters’ just in case it one day erupts again. The school kids even have to walk to school wearing hard hat helmets! It was pretty impressive to see it steaming away and a whole city just operating right next to it without a care in the world... not so sure we would be as happy to live right next to one of Japan’s most active volcanoes!
From there we drove North again up to Kirishima National Park... somewhere Nathan was really looking forward to going. Unfortunately for us it seemed half of Japan was also trying to get there as the traffic was ridiculous! We sat in a traffic jam for about an hour... only moving about 15kms in that time! Once we broke free of the traffic we drove through some stunning scenery of forests and mountain views up towards our campsite. We had no idea it was going to be as popular as it was... thousands of people there! Unlike National Parks back at home this was a hive of activity with tourist shops, huge car parks, tour buses and people milling about everywhere. National Parks in Japan are also different in the fact that they can be made up of land hundreds of kms apart... so this National Park even includes an offshore island. We went straight to the campground in fear we might be out of luck but were lucky enough to get one of the few spots left. The campground was beautiful... in amongst all the trees! We couldn’t get over the number of people there... it’s a really popular place for people to go tramping with a number of walks attracting people from all over Japan.
Posted by Megan and Nathan at 4:01 PM
The next morning we were up and about early and tucking into the French stick we’d bought the day before... breakfast is hard enough at home here but on-the-go like we were its even harder... hence the bread stick and only the bread stick that morning! Back on the road again by about 9am after another walk along the beach we headed further down the Miyazaki Coastline towards another coastal campsite on the Nichinan coast. We had an amazing day along the way which was by complete fluke... we spotted a sign (in English!!) that said there was a waterfall close by to where we were... after a quick ‘should we, shouldn’t we’ we decided what the heck and followed the signs along yet another long and windy road through beautiful forests and more of rural Japan’s spectacular scenery. Once at the car park we had another ‘should we, shouldn’t we’ discussion about whether or not to change into our walking shoes of stay in our jandals... we opted for jandals... probably not the best choice and headed up the track. It probably took us way longer than it was meant to but we stopped every 10 metres or so to take more photos... it was really beautiful being amongst the bush (was actually quite a lot like home) but was strange not seeing or hearing many birds. Instead I got the fright of my life when a lizard (I’m not afraid to admit it was even a pretty small one) jumped out in front of me... a scream may or may not have escaped my mouth much to Nathan’s hilarity (but only after he’d made sure it wasn’t a snake like my scream my have implied). After 40 minutes or so we finally got to what we had walked to see.... a 78m waterfall. It was amazing! We scrambled our way over the riverbed along some precarious beams and got to within metres of it... again a million photos were taken! Sure was good to get out of the car and stretch the legs a bit! After a stop-off at a combini for some rice triangles (another stable food on the trip) we then headed the rest of the way to our campsite. Again we weren’t disappointed by it... another beachside location with more Palm trees and white sand.... paradise! Thankfully we had perfected our skills when it came to asking for a site so it was pretty straight forward. By this time our tummies were telling us we were hungry again and so drive into the little village looking for somewhere to eat... not too many options to choose from but we settled on a little restaurant which was lit up with paper lanterns on the outside. When we rolled back the door to the entrance we were met with walls and walls of baseball memorabilia – posters, balls, photos, trophies etc etc. Unfortunately my Japanese reading skills which served me so well the night before were not much use when it came to ordering off this particular menu – it was written in old-school Kanji = impossible to read! The one and only thing I could read was curry so we just went for that. What a fantastic choice it turned out to be! Rather than just getting a curry in a bowl on some rice like you usually would all the veggies and meat came out on their very own gas cooker for us to cook ourselves. Was great fun and tasted delicious! When leaving the chef, his daughter (the waitress) and his wife (also the chef) came out to say goodbye.... we tried talking to them in our limited Japanese to try and figure out what the deal was with all this baseball stuff... from what we could gather one of the local boys from the area had hit the big time by playing for one of Japan’s best teams and has since gone on to play for the Boston Red Sox.... he and several of the team have been to the restaurant to eat hence the many photos of them, autographs etc. The owners loved us so much they even gave us little ice-creams to take away with us. They are just some of the many friendly locals that make our experience here so worthwhile.
Posted by Megan and Nathan at 12:07 AM
Friday, September 25, 2009
We've just had 5 days off here in Japan so what better way to make the most of it than driving 1000kms around Kyushu! Thankfully Nathan had spent the week before we left analysing our one and only map (which .is in Japanese) and highlighting the roads we needed to take for the entire trip... it sure made my job a lot easier in directing him through the numerous intersections, rice fields, random little streets, cities, villages and back roads. We sure would make one heck of an Amazing Race team! Our trip down to our first campsite was on the Miyazaki coastline so the scenery along the way was stunning. The water is seriously the most amazing blue here! Much of the route we took involved winding our way in and out of little coves and through tiny little fishing villages. We decided not to take the main road as we wanted to take in as much of rural Japan as we could... a decision we never regretted as it meant we got to see some amazing sights! Much of the drive around the little bays reminded us a lot of the Marlborough Sounds... although the boats couldn’t be further from those seen back at home... no big flashy boats here... rather old and well-used fishing vessels used for hauling in the catch of the day. Our ‘off the beaten track’ approach to the trip meant that at one point we were heading towards what we thought was going to be a relatively major road only to discover it was in actual fact the most random windy road that really shouldn’t be considered a road at all. It wound its way through the forest, up and over a big mountain... it was a shame I was sitting on the side of the car that was right next to the big drop down the side of the cliff (with no barriers)... I was terrified and held on tight the entire way! We eventually came out the other side with a sigh of relief and carried on down a ‘normal’ road. Our first campsite for the trip was right next to the beach which was lined with Palm trees and had beautiful white sand. The waves were incredible (hence the 30 or so surfers in the water) with the only downside being it wasn’t a great place for a swim (as Nathan found out after being pummelled by the waved during his short dip). We had a bit of fun trying to communicate with the guy at the camp office... trying to say we had our own tent and only wanted to stay for one night proved trickier than we first thought but we eventually got there in the end.
Posted by Megan and Nathan at 1:07 AM
Friday, September 18, 2009
Posted by Megan and Nathan at 3:08 AM
Thursday, September 17, 2009
Posted by Megan and Nathan at 2:53 AM
Friday, September 11, 2009
This week 3 things happened to me that really made me go 'wow', they were those type of situations where you really feel like you're on another planet. A cultural barrier overcome.
Firstly, on Thursday morning at 8am we had our normal teacher's meeting, all 50 odd teachers at our desks and people saying what they need to say etc. I can't understand a thing so i just look happy and smile and bow when i need to. But this time i knew something was up....my home room teacher (form room) hurried off to the phone and took an important call, everyone carried on but you could tell they were all listening with 1 ear! A student in our class had been knocked off his bike by a truck (he's ok, only a scratch, tough guy) and the teacher told me she was off to sort things out. I was like..."what?", "why" (inside my head). Why would the teacher go?
When i asked her later that day why she had to go she looked at me with a weird expression and said "Because I'm his home room teacher" (with a look of 'why did you ask such a stupid question!!'). Still no closer to an answer. After asking another teacher i got a good explanation. In Japan teachers are responsible for students the moment they leave home, so even though he was on his way TO school, she had to deal with the situation as she was his responsibility!! Imagine if he had died.........!
Secondly, it was an action packed week with school festival (bunkasi, tue-wed) and sports day (unknown Japanese word, Friday). Basically no classes. The students had spent weeks preparing for both of these. Bunkasi is a mixture of shows, dances, performances, food stalls, entertainment, class projects etc. A huge highlight of the school year. My class made a planetarium, another class did a huge domino thing around their room and another built a huge statue made of cans. Along with fashion shows and talent quests it was a fun experience.
Sports day is nothing like in NZ, in fact its more of a games day. The only true sport or athletics are the relay races. But before we could get to the fun and games we had a whole day, 8-4pm, of sports day practise!! Yip a complete run through of the entire day to make sure everyone knew what to do and was doing it properly. When i asked a teacher why they do this he said "There will be many spectators tomorrow and if things do not run well it looks bad for the school so we must practise to ensure we present a good reputation". I get the feeling a lot of things in Japan are done purely for image and how something looks is hugely important.
The real sports day was a blast! Relay races, class skipping (40 people at a time), tug of war, obstacle race, some game where the girls compete against each other to steal hue long poles, class legged race(all legs tied together) and of course this is all after each class marches in with their flag and bows to the principal. Finally the day ended with what was clearly the most popular event. Boys team fighting. There is no other word for it. 3 boys create a pyramid and 1 boy sits at the top, at the whistle they go. Aim of the game is to knock the other person over. All the teachers swarm around to catch falling students or break up fights. I was shocked. All of a sudden we had a brawl going. 100 boys trying to kill each other and it was all in the name of sports day. Amazing. I saw 1 kid get smashed in the face by a beautiful right hander. I was right in the middle of it totally buzzing out, couldn't believe what i was seeing!
Posted by Megan and Nathan at 7:57 PM
Anyone that knows me knows that nothing makes me happier than baking! Cookies, muffins, cakes, slices... you name it, I love making it. So when coming to Japan one of the things I was saddest about was knowing that I wouldn't have an oven like back at home.
Posted by Megan and Nathan at 7:50 PM
Tuesday, September 8, 2009
Schools here in Japan are in the midst of School Sports Festival season. We really have nothing back at home that compares to what it is here but I guess the closest thing would be athletics day. However the similarities would stop there as nowhere near the same amount of preparation or effort is put in to it as is done here.
Posted by Megan and Nathan at 4:34 AM
I think it's fair to say that one of the things I was dreading most about living in Japan was having to have school lunches. So far I'm pleased to say it hasn't been all bad... but when it is bad... it's really bad! Unlike back home in New Zealand all elementary and junior high school students have a school lunch provided for them each day. It's quite a major operation with all the schools in the area having the exact same menu for the month and as far as I can tell it arrives at the exact same time at each school. The minute it arrives the kids all rush outside and start bringing in all the pots and pans, trays and cutlery needed for that particular day. The desks in the classroom are then all grouped together like clock work and the kids fall into line dishing out the days food in an unbelievable orderly fashion (I'm yet to see one kid push, shove or argue for more food). The menu is set a month in advance and is never repeated within that month... which for some things is a major bonus and others is a real shame... unless of course you are like me and cover schools in two different areas, meaning they have two separate menus... meaning I was most unlucky to be dished up the same thing two days in a row... the very thing that made me gag just looking at it (I went hungry that day). Within each week there are two bread days (nothing like the bread we get at home mind you!) and three rice days. So far I have had curry (yum), bread with chocolate sauce (not so yum), cold udon noodles (not so bad), potatoes with bacon and vegetable soup (pretty good), a weird pickled salad with tiny little white fish with nasty looking eyes all through it (yuck yuck yuck) and the most disgusting congealed tofu thing that had me closing my eyes just at the sight of it (the thing I had two days in a row). Last but not least every single lunch time each kid is also given a 200ml bottle of milk... some days it warmer than I would like but on the whole it does a pretty good job of disguising the taste of whatever it is I might have just eaten.
Posted by Megan and Nathan at 4:07 AM
Sunday, September 6, 2009
Posted by Megan and Nathan at 2:46 AM
Saturday, September 5, 2009
Well we have been in Japan for just over 1 month now so it's about time we had a little celebration - by way of a "what we love and hate " list:
-Vending machines; they are everywhere, even right next to the most sacred of shrines or temples. Buy a treat, pray,walk around, buy a treat, it's just what you do.
-No rubbish; this is so true. I would honestly say I struggle to find any even when I'm looking for it. There isjust none. And even crazier....no rubbish bins! The cleanest place we've ever been.
-Treats/Food; so many to pick from! some are wierd and totally disgusting but when you guess right, bingo!
-The heat; you sweat in the shower. It just doesn't let up.
-What I bought with me; why the hell did I bring 3 hoodies, 2 jerseys and a down jacket. I'd trade them all for a couple ofsinglets.
-The rubbish/recycling system; about 10 different categories. Headache.
Posted by Megan and Nathan at 5:57 PM
Tuesday, September 1, 2009
A month after leaving home I finally had my first day at school today. For the last 3 and a bit weeks I have had to sit at a desk in the Board of Education office until the end of the summer holidays.
Today I was at my base school which I will go to twice a week - Yamaga Junior High School which has 173 students ranging from 12- 15 years old. Today went smoothly enough... I only actually had to periods in the classroom but the kids seemed to enjoy interacting with me at every opportunity.
My first chance to talk with the kids came at exactly 9.10am (everything is done exactly on time) during cleaning time. Here in Japan schools don't have cleaners that come in after school like they do back home; instead each school has a set cleaning time each day when the students and teachers all muck in and do the chores. I was given the task of getting down on my hands and knees and scrubbing the floor... a great way to break the ice with the kids who have an annoying habit of talking behind their hands when they speak to you!
After cleaning time was over we all headed to the gym for a short Welcome Ceremony in which my instructions were to give a brief introduction about myself... the problem was everything I was going to say was said by the person who introduced me... a good lesson on how to think on my feet!
I then had two back-to-back English classes with the second graders which was a lot of fun... and even a little awkward at times... I was given 30 minutes to tell them about myself and about New Zealand which thanks to all the things I brought with me to show and the slides we had made was pretty easy. I then played a criss-cross game which involved the kids having to ask me questions in English... not only did this give me a good chance to get an idea of their English ability (quite low for most but some surprised me) but I also had my first taste of the kinds of hairy questions I can expect to be asked at my 9 other schools!
Some of the questions included: When will you love me? (asked by one of the baseball boys who has a large following of giggling girls), Will you kiss me? (asked by another of the baseball boys who also has a following of giggling girls) and If you wont kiss me, can I kiss you? (asked by the side-kick of baseball boy number two).
So what did I learn from my first day in the classroom?... The boys are going to be a handful... the girls will whisper when spoken to...and if you're not quick enough during school lunch... one of the baseball boys will whip it out from underneath you before you get a chance to notice (yes that did in fact happen while I had my eyes closed trying desperately not to bring back up the warm 200ml milk I have the luxury of having everyday!)
Posted by Megan and Nathan at 1:43 AM