Saturday, January 30, 2010

Just cos they're funny!

You might need to click on each photo to make them big enough to read!

Monday, January 25, 2010

School lunch from hell...

School lunch today hit a new low... and by low I mean waaaay low!

As in.... WHALE!

Yip that's right.... I was served up a big plate of WHALE!

Did I eat it? Hell NO!

Did I make sure everyone around me knew why I wasn't eating it? Hell YES!

I felt like a traitor just having it on my plate in front of me!

Friday, January 22, 2010

The Critter kingdom

No words - just pics! Here are some of the wildlife we caught on camera during our trip south over Christmas.

Hermy the Hermit

Cocky the Crow

Gary the Gecko

Crabby the Crab

Burt the Butterfly

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Kimono photo shoot

This is one of those blog entries that we never quite got around to writing - but seeing as I only had one class today...

A few months back we asked my sister’s mother-in-law (Bachan) if she would be willing to share her amazing kimono collection with us so we could spend the afternoon taking photos to send home as Christmas presents - and of course so Nathan could pretend to be samurai warrior!

The photos speak for themselves but the time and effort that goes into putting a kimono on is not easily captured by camera. Bachan literally spent hours making sure each step of the process was done in the proper way - that each tie was knotted perfectly, that the folds were in the right place and the layers in the right order etc – all the while teasing Nathan about his big belly! (Which to be fair has got a little smaller living off rice).

We had lots of fun and a few giggles along the way but are damn pleased we don’t have to dress like it every day - if not for the time it takes to put it on and take it off then for the sore back you get from being so rigidly tied in!

Monday, January 18, 2010

"Fun" run

Sunday was one of those beautiful winter days where there was no wind, the sun was out, the frost had gone and for a moment you think winter is over. Actually looking outside from my perch at the work computer Monday also looks like one of those days. Unfortunately I've been assured that winter is far from over and February is the coldest month of them all, Oh yea!

Anyway getting back on track. A while ago I was asked if i wanted to participate in a 5km "fun" run. I had been doing the occasional run after work, a nice 3.5km circuit along our (yes we own it) waterfront and figured an extra 1.5km as part of a fun, social, slow and relaxing "fun" run wouldn't be a bad idea. long story short I am now of the opinion "fun" runs are just not apart of the Japanese psyche. Apart from spending half the day lazing in the sun at the beach, the absolute euphoria of finishing without stopping after no training for a month (damn that Christmas break) and seeing the kids run two great races there wasn't actually anything "fun" about the run at all.

500m in - still feeling good....
note the old gramps in the back with the blue nappies
, don't let him deceive you, he's a quick wee whipper snapper

Strangely the event was setup like a national time trial!!? With each category broken into small groups so every person could be timed. This meant instead of a mass start with 200 odd kids running 1 or 2kms they had about 15 races with 15 kids in each. Needles to say this dragged on a bit. We were OK though, we had secured a highly prized section of the beach and were enjoying the spring like weather. It wasn't until I learnt I was running in the under 30 category (no problems so far) with a bunch of super fit high school track and field athletes (oh crap). You see the thing is school clubs train everyday. This meant a bunch of high school kids who were already in prime physical shape now had the added advantage of having trained everyday for their junior and seniour high school lives. I smelt a hammering. My "fun" run had just turned pear shaped!

Not wanting to finish 10minutes behind everyone else and stick out anymore than i already did (as the only "foreigner" running) I asked to have my entry changed to the 0ver 30 category. Figuring my lack of hair would aid me in `looking` 30 I didn't see any reason why they wouldn't let me. Obviously i am bald enough and there was no problem with me joining the older ranks, as long as my time wasn't counted in that category and I couldn't win a prize. Like I was ever going to finish anywhere other than at the back!

The support crew

Standing at the line warming up I was sizing up my opposition, feeling slightly happier I was racing people nearly twice my age I started to pick out the slow ones in the group. Yip I thought, i'll beat him, him and him. Bang, the gun went, we were off. It was about 8 steps into the race I realised these old buggers might look slow and as though they need to lean on a pole while standing around but obviously once they had forward momentum they were unstoppable. As the race progressed so did I - towards the back - I went from wanting to beat a handful of people to just wanting to finish regardless of my position, this was supposed to be "fun" after all, right?

Feeling the burn

Pleased to have finished but my dreams of being an elite Japanese runner were shattered.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

The Haircut

After putting it off for as long as I could bare having may hair looking like a scruffy rag I finally took the plunge and went for a haircut.

Back at home getting a haircut is of course no big deal but here in a country where I don’t speak the language and have hair about as different to theirs as possible I was more than a little nervous about letting someone loose on it with a pair of scissors. Not to mention the fact that Japanese people tend to either have one of two hair cut styles... long or short... both of which have fringes that hang in their eyes.

Nevertheless 6 months without a haircut wasn’t doing me any favours and so after driving past a hair salon everyday both to and from school I finally forced myself to actually stop in on the way home from school yesterday to face my haircut fate.

I was a little dubious seeing as I have never actually seen anyone in the salon getting their hair done but was greeted by a friendly guy who seemed more than happy to have a go and my untidy mane.

My Japanese managed to get us through the awkward first questions like ‘can you cut it now?’, ‘how much will it cost?’ etc but as soon as I sat in the chair and he started spraying my hair with bottled water the old fashion way my heart began to sink as I pictured myself walking out with hair no better off than what it was when I walked in.

So here I was freaking out slightly trying to figure out if it was a blessing or not that I couldn’t see myself in the mirror clearly (I had to take my glasses off and the chair was just that little bit too far from the mirror for me to get clear vision). The guy had next to no English and so my Japanese was put firmly to the test as he asked a whole range of questions from ‘how much do haircuts cost in NZ’ through to ‘where have I been in Japan’ etc.

Before I knew it the cut was over and he was telling me to put my glasses back on. I was sure only about 10 minutes had past and sure enough when I looked at my watch it had taken him a mere 13 minutes to cut my hair which was well below my shoulders to just above my chin. After a short intake of breath at how short he had cut it (I had asked for it just above my shoulders) I started to get up out of the chair to take off home to hide with a hat on.

“Would you like it shampooed? It doesn’t cost any extra”. At this point I really felt I had nothing to lose so followed him over to the chair. Next thing I knew I was being tilted back by an electronic armchair and then covered with a blanket, my face covered with a fragranced face mask and headphones playing music put into my ears. This is where the whole “it’s way too short” shock miraculously evaporated from my mind as I relaxed into the most amazing shampoo I have ever had – all done by an electronic shampooing machine! I kid you not it was the most amazing thing I have ever experienced at the hairdressers! I lay back with music playing in my ears, my face covered in a face mask and all the while my head and hair were being massaged by varying water pressure – which I was given a remote to control. One word – AMAZING! What’s even better is that it went on for 10 full minutes!

When I was forced to come out of my relaxing shampoo coma I was then led back to my chair where he set about blow drying what little hair I had left. I truly felt sorry for the guy as he had no idea just how long it takes to blow dry my thick head of hair! He started off on the lowest setting and every few minutes he would increase it confused as to why my hair still wasn’t dry! I got the feeling if he had known it was going to take him 15 minutes to dry it he wouldn’t have bothered. But seeing as he still had no other customers he then decided to style it for me. So it was back out with the hairdryer and a whole array of brushes and he spent the next 20 minutes curling the ends under so it sat perfectly from front to back.

And so... while I still think I look like a mushroom I don’t hate it as much as I initially and will most definitely be going back - if for nothing else than an amazing shampoo!

I do however dread to think what my hair is going to look like tomorrow when I’ve washed it – as we all know it never ever looks as good when you do it yourself!

Friday, January 15, 2010

Kyoto by night...

After 8 hours or so of sightseeing every day we wanted nothing more than to just blob out in our hotel room but to see another side of Kyoto you have to venture out at night. Our hotel was in the perfect location to check out the covered arcades that during the day look like grubby hobo stores but come to life in spectacular fashion at night. We also made sure to stroll up and down the streets known as the Geisha district in hopes of spotting one on her way to or from appointments... it was very exciting to see 3 all within a matter of minutes!

And of course no trip to Kyoto would be complete without sampling some of the amazing food it has on offer. The nearby food market is somewhere we would highly recommend to anyone going to Kyoto! It sure was an experience walking up and down the crowded aisles looking at all the strange food on offer. Our purchases were embarrassingly non-adventurous... freshly made mini donuts and a punnet of strawberries!

We unfortunately lucked out one night when our cravings for western food took over all matters of judgement and we ended up going to the British pub called the Pig and Whistle. Let’s just say it’s important to remember you’re still in Japan when ordering the likes of nachos, fish and chips or the chicken burger! We weren’t down in the mouth about it for too long though as the next night when we were on the search for some local Kyoto cuisine we stumbled across an inviting looking Thai restaurant. With the logic, we live in Japan so can get Japanese food anytime; we went in with high hopes of a tasty Thai meal reminiscent of the goodness we can get at home. And boy were we not disappointed! The authentic Thai chefs might have had something to do with it but the Pad Thai was incredible! Not to mention the fresh spring rolls and chicken, cashew nut stir-fry! Yummy!

The only other thing worthy of a mention is the restaurant famous for its desserts... while we didn’t eat there we did stop by to check out its impressive array of plastic menu items in the window... our favourite being the dessert that was priced at ¥18,000!

Yip these are all plastic! The big whopper at the top is the expensive one!

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Kyoto sightseeing

What do you do when you only have 4 days in a city as rich in culture as Kyoto – you go hard and don’t stop till you drop!

I seriously think we came home from this leg of the trip needing a holiday more than we did when we left but we had a super fantastic time (and let’s be honest... it’s not like we were coming back to stressful, run-off our feet jobs!).

Just as much a highlight as all the amazing places we saw was the incredible breakfast our hotel had each morning! There really is no better way to start a day of sightseeing than with freshly baked croissants, apple danishes, cherry danishes, cinnamon scrolls about 5 different types of bread rolls all from their very own in-house bakery – not to mention the amazing freshly squeezed orange juice and hot chocolates!

So once we had eaten ourselves to the size of elephants and wrapped up in our winter woollies we would head out with our Lonely Planet guide tucked firmly under our arm for a day of jam packed sightseeing.

With too many places to mention I will only comment on our favourites. In the number one spot would have to be Kin-Kakuji - the Golden Pavilion. Pretty much everyone who goes to Kyoto inevitably visits this spot but we somehow managed to fluke a particularly quiet afternoon which meant we could appreciate the beauty of the temple without gosling for a space to stand. We were also lucky enough to arrive at the perfect time for taking photos with the sun reflecting off the gold and into the water. Magic!

Making it into 2nd place would have to be Gin-Kakuji – the Silver Pavilion for its stunning Japanese Zen gardens. Again we somehow managed to fluke a really quiet morning with practically no one else there (the sub zero temperature might have had something to do with it) and enjoyed meandering around the serene gardens stopping every few steps for some photos. We were particularly chuffed to time it just right to see one of the grounds keepers making some alterations to one of the amazing sand gardens – watching him etch the lines these gardens are famous for was almost mesmerising as he meticulously swept perfectly symmetrical (almost hypnotic) lines into the sand!

In a tie for 3rd place are Kyomizudera on the hillside of Kyoto and Todai-ji in Nara which is home to the massive 16m Buddha. Adding to the beauty of Kyomizudera was the snow that was falling while we were there – probably only rivaled by what it must look like in Spring when it’s in full cherry blossom bloom. The views over Kyoto were pretty spectacular which of course meant a great number of photos were taken.

After debating whether or not to make the effort to go out to Nara we were mighty pleased we did and thought the giant Buddha was as impressive in real life as the Lonely Planet made it out to be! The Buddha lives inside the world’s largest wooden building which to be honest was just as impressive as the Buddha itself! Again a great number of photos were taken! The deer that stroll around add a bit of character – thankfully we chose not to buy food for them as those that did were harassed by them for the rest of the day!

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Let it snow, let it snow, let it snow

I know I'm interupting Megans holiday blogs but we are in the midst of arctic blast number 100! Now were certainly don't get us much snow down here as the fellas us north do but i reckon you can't tell the difference between -2 and -20 anyway so for arguments sake lets call it even. The temperature never got above 0deg today!!

Mr. Scoot with 3-5cm coverage

The one and only class i taught had a thermometer in it and it was only 8deg inside! For some reason female students still wear their tiny miniskirt uniforms....a bit stupid if you ask me! Megan and i often debate appropriate words to use with 'Snow'. My favorite is "it's pissing down", one i use often here. This is not usually accepted as Megan says it's not possible for it to "piss down with snow" but today it actually did.

Looking out over Beppu

It started during the night and hasn't stopped. Scooting to work in it was a bit of a fun, although i drove incredible slow as fear of sliding out took over. At times it was hard to see the road ahead and i was dissapointed to see no other scooter had made a path for me to follow through the snow, actually i didn't see any other sooters today for the first time since getting here.....wonder why?! I did pass a set of broken chains and a traffic jam as long as the eye could see because all of the highways were closed.

The trecherous road

I took some pics on the trust cellphone but snow never looks as could when you can't feel it on the face. These are for all you people enjoying a hot summer!

My school grounds

All aboard "whoawhooo"

So after an amazing 10 day tropical island extravaganza we traded in one of Japan’s finest holiday spots for another but this time we headed a little further north to Osaka and Kyoto.

Travel within Japan is pretty expensive so when we heard about an overnight ferry that runs between Beppu and Osaka for a fraction of the cost of catching a train or flying we jumped at the chance to keep a few extra pennies in our pockets. Now I am no lover of ferries.... as in I hate them! So when I say we jumped at the chance what I really mean is Nathan jumped at the chance but luckily for me (and him) it was surprisingly a pretty sweet trip from start to finish. I’d even go so far as to say I would do it again! To begin with the ferry was way flasher than what I was expecting... it even has an onboard onsen!

But what really sold it to me was the fact that I had no idea I was even on a boat! Given that the ferry weaves its way in between a whole lot of little islands along the way the sea was dead calm and only once for no more than 10 minutes could I feel any kind of rocking at all. So anyways after boarding the ferry at 6.30pm and setting sail to Osaka we found our way to what would be our bed for the night. We had paid for the cheapest option – futons on the floors in the main sleeping area.

We were expecting just a giant room with hundreds of people sleeping on the floor together but it was in actual fact lots of smaller rooms – with people still all sleeping on the floor together. All I can say is thank god it wasn’t peak season.... if the boat had been full I can see how it would have been a less than pleasant experience. Each person is allocated a spot on the floor... you have a cubby for your bag, a blanket, a pillow made of vinyl and a thin sleeping mat. There is literally no space whatsoever been each person’s allocated spot. As in you are lying shoulder to shoulder with the stranger next to you.

Thankfully there was hardly anyone onboard so we had plenty of space between us and the next person which also meant we could nab a few extra sleeping mats to help pad the hard floor a little (much to the disapproving looks of the oldies we had in our room, who for the record would have to be the most annoying old people I have ever encountered... laughing and singing till all hours and then complaining to the crew that the TV in our room wouldn’t work... when in actual fact they just didn’t push the button... then going to sleep leaving the TV on even after it had lost reception and was making a god awful ‘I have no reception noise’ until one the others we were sharing the room with were brave enough to go and turn it off ).

Phew – I needed to get that off my chest!

So after docking at Osaka at 6.30am the next morning we pretty much headed straight to Universal Studios. I think maybe our expectations were a little too high leaving us a tad disappointed but we still had a good day jumping on and off all the rides all the while freezing our little faces and hands off (you weren’t allowed to wear gloves, hats or scarves on any of the rides). Our favourite ride was most definitely Spiderman followed by Back to the Future. We also really enjoyed the Shrek 4D movie although couldn’t understand a word of it. My less favourite was the Dream-Caster rollercoaster...

I was petrified from start to finish! I have a fear of falling so the big drop at the start was less than amusing... my eyes were clenched shut from start to finish and my face and hands were so numb from all the cold wind rushing into my face that I seriously thought I had turned into a snowman! Nathan was sitting next to me saying over and over again ‘oh my god, oh my god, oh my god’ meanwhile everyone else around us had their hands up in the air squealing with delight. The most hilarity we had was when we saw the obligatory photo they take just as you come down the big waterfall at the end of the Jurassic Park ride – our faces said it all but were nothing compared with the face of the little kid sitting in front of us!

The park was still celebrating Christmas despite it being well into January so we were treated to jolly carols through the day (cute at the time but oh so annoying 2 days later when we were still singing them) and a street parade featuring giant gingerbread, snowmen and of course Santa himself!

Towards the end the day when our noses and hands could take no more we made one last stop off, this time it was to watch the WaterWorld Movie show they perform in a big arena complete with damsels in distress, pirates doing tricks on jet-skis, jet boats zooming off ramps, canons firing in all directions and of course the manly man who comes and saves the day! But of course our Universal Studios experience wouldn’t have been complete without tucking in to a giant turkey drumstick to help warm us up before jumping on a train... this time bound for Kyoto!