Archive for the ‘Tohoku Journal’ Category
It’s been over a year since my family visited me in Japan but only half a year since I posted about our time in Hiroshima and Miyajima. Since then I visited my Uncle Stan who’s quite the photographer and had him play around with some of my photos just a bit.
Here’s three images from Miyajima that he spent two minutes sharpening up. Thanks Uncle Stan!
The International Studies office here at the University of Wyoming is having a photo competition. They’re looking for photos from anyone affiliated with the school who spent some part of the last year abroad. Going through my thousands of photos from my year at Tohoku, I’ve found a few folders of photos that never made it anywhere further than my own hard drive. One folder like that, dated February 22nd, is photos from a night I finally convinced my good friend Sarah to come to Tomiya with me.
I’ve posted about Tomiya before – it’s a fantastic little izakaya a bit of a hike from where I lived, but the owner, his clientele, they were all great people. Best of all, everything that crazy man in the brown jedi robe cooked was god. damn. delicious. Even now, some nine months later, I remember the magnificence of this unassuming little pizza.
Sarah also approved of the pizza, and let her approval be known.
But after the first dozen photos, Sarah stops showing up in this album. If memory serves, she had a cold that night and the inevitable drinking that follows (and comes before and with) food at an izakaya doubtlessly wouldn’t've been the right sort of medicine for her that night.
So, that photo is goodbye to Sarah. She walked out, my good friend, and left me…
Terrifying, I know. I was clearly in an unsafe situation and needed to go home, but I think something may have been slipped into my drink to cloud my judgement (alcohol?).
The booze (and omelets!? what can’t this man do?!?) kept coming. At a place like this, each of the regulars has his own bottle on the back wall with a tag and his name around it. You’d swear you were drinking your drink if it weren’t for the fact that it was always full whenever you looked away and back.
When Master gets caught up cooking food, he’s always got his young girls from the nearby college to cover for him, keeping the customers tipped up and happy. Sometime’s I’d watch one of them make herself a something befittingly colorful and fruity for herself, and ask her to make one more.
As the evening wears on and carrying on a conversation becomes too much of a cognitive burden, Master breaks out his tiny Karaoke system. With the words written on the screen, it’s no longer so difficult to vocalize (somewhat) recognizable syllables.
The last bit of some pass-the-mic Karaoke at Tomiya in Sendai, Japan. The song is known in America as Sukiyaki, in Japan as 上を向いて歩こう
One of the guys that I would see so often at Tomiya became an actual friend of mine. Watanabe was his name, and he was just an all around good old guy. I can’t tell you what he’s doing with the pink hanger in the photo below, but I can tell you that he’s the blue collared man wearing it.
While I was gone traipsing Japan and then Thailand for two months, he moved down to Tokyo for work, and I didn’t see him again. I’m still hoping someday there’ll be a serendipitous reunion back in Sendai, where we exchange hearty slaps on the back while drinking beers and sake and singing Japanese songs from the sixties.
Hiroshima was great. We stayed on the bay, bounced our way across the waves in a boat or two, and had a fancy meal up on the twenty second story of a hotel where yet another serviceperson who couldn’t speak English refused to communicate with white people in Japanese. It happens.
I just want the photos to tell the story of our time in Hiroshima and Miyajima. I feel these photos somehow managed to capture not just the colors and shapes of where we were but some of its essence as well, particularly the ones in Miyajima. Hope you enjoy.
広島湾 – Hiroshima Bay
宮島 – Miyajima
And that’s it. My family and I went back to Osaka where they boarded a plane home. I spent the night with Gary and Mona, and in the morning I abused my brother’s tourist (read: not student) train pass to go back home to Sendai.
I passed two days in Sendai switching between frantically packing for Thailand and saying hi to friends I hadn’t seen for a month before it became two. I actually wrote my first post mentioning my time running around with my family (and the first post in this series) during this time.
Thanks to Ryan, Tammy, Jenn, Hiro, my family, my other family, Nellie, Gary and Mona, and everyone I saw along that monthlong trip. Thanks also for coming along and reading (or at least looking at pretty pictures) about it. Half a year after it happened one twelfth of my time in Japan is finally up on the blog.
The whole series about my spring break has been craftily tagged to make it easy to read through, you can do that with this link.
Oh, and thanks for the nice camera Pops. Hope I put it to use well enough for you during those two weeks you visited me.
Jenn finished her two weeks in Japan with one last ride on the bullet train, headed back to Tokyo. We said goodbye to her at our fancy hotel on a man-made island named Odaiba (お台場 – I always thought it meant ‘platformed land’, fitting for a man-made island, but apparently it’s a word for fort) out in Tokyo Harbor, and tried to take things easy after the bluster of Kyoto. Mom, John and I spent a day walking around Odaiba, Dad taking time off his feet back at the hotel.
I knew there was a giant robot (a Gundam, to be specific) somewhere on the island because I’d seen photos of Ryan in front of it last time he was in town. I knew it’d thrill my brother, but had no idea how good it’d look behind my stoic mother.
Keep in mind that Tokyo isn’t all robots, staircases and tall buildings. It’s one of the largest metropolitan areas in the world, but big cities have lots of room to hide big parks.
Night at our hotel left us with a view of a lit up Tokyo skyline over the waters, the spectacular Rainbow Bridge crossing the gap between our little island and the bustling city beyond.
We spent a few days in Tokyo and then moved on to Hiroshima, my family’s last stop before they went back to the States.
An hour on a train put us in Japan’s first capital, Nara. It boasts the largest wooden structure in the world, Toudaiji (東大寺Great East Temple), and is also famous for the deer that casually walk its streets. I have so many photos of how cute, sweet, and hungry these deer are, but there’s really only one photo I want to share. It’s by far my favorite of them.
I’d spent time at Toudaiji before and seen the great Buddha statue it housed, but I hadn’t passed much time wandering around in the nearby park. As always, water makes for good photos.
We did make our way over to that great wooden building though. Here it is, followed by a shot of my family in front of one of its monstrous doors to give a bit of perspective on its size. Inside is a giant statue of Buddha, the Daibutsu (大仏 - literally “great Buddha” ).
Halfway between Nara and Kyoto lies a little town called Seika-chou (精華町), where my Japanese family lives. On our train ride back from Nara we stopped over at Seika and my two families got to meet at last. We ate delicious temaki-zushi, hand rolled sushi. Essentially, my host mom had cut up lots of different fish, meats, and veggies into bite-sized chunks and laid them out on the table along with two large bowls of rice and palm-sized squares of seaweed. Everyone picks up the seaweed, puts on rice, whatever toppings they want, and throws it down the hatch. Finger foods are always a fun way to get to know each other.
Nellie had gotten there a few hours before us to have a talk with my host mother and to help her with dinner preparations. She and I got to enjoy the job of translating between the families. While my host mother understands English quite while, she doesn’t feel nearly as comfortable speaking it. One of the topics of discussion became the hundreds of years old sake bowls that the Iwai’s had been passing down through their generations. My mother got them out, showed them to the gang, and even had some sake to try drinking out of them with.
After our dinner fun, we presumably went back to the hotel and slept. There’s then a four day gap in my photo. I know at least one day of that was Osaka, and it wasn’t much longer that we took Jenn back to Tokyo and changed our base of operations.
After the shrine, Jenn, Dad and I joined back up with Mom and John to go visit a castle right in the middle of Kyoto, 二条城 (ni-jyou-jyou, ‘Second Street Castle’ — I’ll just call it Nijyo from here). I burned out on Japanese castles years ago when I first came, and was feeling tired after the morning’s hike, and so don’t actually have any real photos of the castle area. Instead, here’s one of my parents and brother trapped in a Japanese street, looking like tourists.
After the castle we moved to one of Japan’s more famous views, 金閣寺 (Kinkaku-ji, “the golden temple”). Careful not to get Kinkaku-ji mixed up with Ginkaku-ji, the garden we saw the day before.
A good photographer might make Kinkaku-ji look like this
but our visit lacked for both snow and sky. I did walk away with more photos than I did at the castle though.
Of course, I wasn’t the only person taking photos out there.
Our last destination for day two was Arashiyama (“storm mountain”), which I remember being (keep in mind I’m writing this half a year after the fact) quite the bus ride, with transfers at places that weren’t even real bus stops, in the middle of nowhere. We made it none-the-less, even with my getting us off at the wrong final stop. Arashiyama is a small area near the mountains with a great bridge over a wide river flowing towards the city. The houses in the area are kept in a historic-looking state, but we arrived so late (and exhausted) that we really didn’t look at much more than the river and view around it.
The Night Ends(?)
We took a fun and cute little train back to Kyoto central and called it a night. People were tired, but Jenn’s time in Japan was coming to a close. She and I went out to a little bar I had found near the major shopping district in Kyoto. It has fun memories – when Gary visited me in Kyoto during the summer I took him there; we drank and were merry. Later again I took my friend Kevin there for his birthday. We drank heartily, then met up with five or so girls and went to my first club, an adventure that ended with my worst hangover ever. Five dollars for a half cup of water?!
The photo isn’t good, but nostalgia doesn’t require focus, subjects, canvassing, backgrounds, or anything like that.
As much as we may have wanted to party it up, and as little as we may have wanted to admit it to ourselves, Jenn and I were devoid of energy. It wasn’t too terribly long before we headed to the hotel and slept.
Wait wait wait. Is that right? Did we? Or was this the night?
Oh god I think this was the night.
So, over the summer I met the sweetest girl named Nellie, who I’m happy to report at least feigns friendship for me and whom I think of quite dearly. She was living in Osaka while I was up in Sendai, but was visiting friends in Kyoto while my family and Jenn and I were there. This night, Jenn and I met up with her for some drinks.
We went to a bar with an interesting name on a whim; inside was a few other foreigners and a pretty lively crowd. Jenn, Nellie and I took a table towards the back and had ourselves a beer. Not halfway through our first pint did a sleazy seeming guy walk up and say something about how he couldn’t help but notice we were speaking English over in our corner and try to worm his way into our conversation
Clearly, he was after my wummen.
All my angry and distrusting glares aside, he somehow snaked his way into the seat across from me next to Nellie. We kept talking, and, okay, this guy was actually a good fun fella who found himself alone at night in Kyoto and just wanted some friends. Whoops. You can’t call ‘em all.
Anyways, Matt, Nellie, and Jenn and I kept having fun, and the bar kept getting louder, and louder, and louder. Somehow we had turned into a gaijin bar, and the foreigners were packing it in. One ripped, handsome Spanish man bumped into our table, apologized, did his thing in the washroom, and came back and apologized more, this time with drinks. His accent and pecs had my full attention, so I can’t imagine how the ladies were feelin’, mrowrr.
He and a friend were essentially world-travelling wine / security business men / bachelors who got together every so often in exotic locales and got things plain damn rowdy in there. I’m pretty sure Jenn fell in love with at least one of these handsome devils, and they put enough beers in me to have me convinced of their sainthood. The bar was getting ridiculous – I’m not sure if there was anyone who didn’t get at least one drink from the gents.
Meanwhile, a young German backpacker was doing his best to get Nellie to at the least give him a kiss, and if at all possible have a look at his hostel. It started out cute, but when he couldn’t take a hint, got rather rude and not so bueno, as our jovian friends would’ve put it.
Well, we were there for awhile, things were quite silly, and more than a little fun. OH! Sebastian. That was the name of the German kid – I ran into him again by chance in Tokyo a couple of days later, but that’s a story for another post.
I’d tell you more of the night, if only I remembered it (er, half year, that’s why, not Spanish beer). Jenn and I had a great time that evening, but damned if we didn’t regret it in the morning when we got on a train and hiked around Nara, the most ancient of Japan’s capitals and a great place for temple sightseeing, followed by a reunion with Nellie at my host mother‘s house for dinner. Tell you all about that in the next post!
After a full day of Kyoto tourism on day one, day two found my dad, Jenn, and myself up a bit earlier than Mom and John who wanted to get a bit more rest out of the morning. They had, after all, just finished a twenty-six hour journey not two nights earlier.
Our goal for the morning was Fushimi Inari Taisha – taisha (大社) meaning “great/grand/head shrine” , Inari (稲荷) being a god(dess, depending on the story), and Fushimi (伏見) being the area where her head shrine is built. Thus, 伏見稲荷大社 – Fushimi Inari Taisha.
Listen to the sounds of the mountain as you read this blog entry, or have a first-hand view of what it’s like to walk through the gated passageways of Fushimi Inari by playing the short clip below.
The shrine is my favorite Kyoto tourist spot, and I recommend it to anyone going there. The shrine is comprised of a long walk through many gorgeous and picturesque orange torii (arches/gates) up a mountain by way of long cobbled stone steps. The entire mountain (also named Fushimi) is given over to the shrine, so while the main gate of the shrine may be a stone’s throw from the nearest train station it doesn’t take much wandering before you can convince yourself you’ve left the bustle of a Japanese metropolis behind.
This was a place I really wanted my family to see, but my brother’s health and mother’s knee made the hike questionable for the two of them. Thus, their resting during the morning was the perfect opportunity to Jenn and the Father up to see it.
The shrine begins rather typically for anyone who has been to another large shrine, but just a little bit of hiking will take you back behind its colorful facade.
Our early departure gave us a mountain wrapped in a fog and seemingly empty of other sightseers. My camera was grateful for the lack of people, particularly at a spot where the gates are built so thickly and near to each other that it’s hard to say whether you’re inside or out. Usually these two walkways are bustling with people on their way up and down the mountain, but we were happily able to get photos with just us and the orange passageways.
At the first peak we took a small side journey up to a little graveyard populated with guardian statues and miniature torii. Going back to the same spot again in August, nearly half a year later, I found out that by taking the right narrow path through that place you can find a dirt path that opens up onto a view of the whole of Kyoto; not that the fog would have let us look back on that cold March morning.
The rock paths at the top were wet and slick with the morning fog, but cobblestone steps were carved out for sure footing on the way to the top. From here, I’ll just let the photos take you up and around the mountain.
Disappearing into the Fog
Here’s another video, this one to give you an idea of just how thick the fog was (and how silly my dad is)
After Kiyomizu and a spot of lunch at a cute little cafe we went off to our last major tourist destination for the day. This time around it was somewhere I’d never been to before, “Ginkaku-ji”. It boasted a neat garden that I think was one of the things we all agreed we were happy we had gone to when the trip was coming to a close.
Climbing a good set of stairs we put the clouds sitting low in the valleys of the mountains around Kyoto into my lense.
And that, along with the Thirty-Three-Lengths Hall and Pure Water Tmple was the end of my family’s first full day in Kyoto. Well, according to my camera anyways. The danger of writing these trip diaries up well after the fact is not having any way to recall what all occurred but the photos that are left. Let’s not forget just why I started this blog. The next day Jenn, Dad and I would be up early to see my favorite place in Kyoto – Fushimi Inari Shrine.
It might be a while until I share pictures from that wonderful morning stroll. In two days I’m leaving for a two week journey around Japan before leaving to be back in the states, and I’m still not sure what’s going to happen with my bicycle…
Playing around in software I previously only considered useful for browsing through my folders and folders of digital photos has taught me the value of even the simplest, automated digital editing.
It can take a picture from this
Look at how much more prominent the statues are, while their foggy, eerie background is still preserved. I first started using photos edited in this way just a little bit ago with my photos from Korea, but from now on it’s going to happen to all photos before I look at uploading them.
That’s not too say the color-normalization always goes well – infact, I’ve noticed it is often unflattering to skin tones. But hey, who wants to see people in photos anyways?
These photos were taken from the first thing we visited during our second day in Kyoto, which I reckon’ you’ll see more of someday in the future.
Another set of before and after, this time, pictures of a swimming hole I went to on my second day in Korea:
The sun comes up early in Sendai, and seeing 定禅寺通り early in the morning with no one else walking its forested walks was a new sight.
When I came to Sendai Airport back in September I came in late at night and took a bus to town. Back then the train was still unusable, still a mess from the tsunami. The morning train out was the first time I got to have a look at what the tsunami did to that area. At first there’s nothing startling about the fields of grass growing between the hills around the train tracks, until you notice the natural square shapes the grass is growing on. The patterns in the grass are the ghosts of the foundations of towns that use to be.
I took my flight from Sendai to Fukuoka, where I ran into some last minute passport / visa problems that I worked out just in time to board the flight to Korea. Good thing I had a little bit of a layover.
The lack of sleep made me feel like I took a teleporter to Korea — I got on the plane, then was being punched awake by a stewardess telling me to turn off my music and put my seat back in the full-upright position.
I then hopped on a bus from the Jeju airport down to the town on the southern tip of the island, where I’d be staying for the duration of the conference.
After an hour on the bus I was dropped off on a hill with quite the view, although it was somewhat obscured by fog. Jeju was in the height of its rainy season and hadn’t seen the sun in weeks.
So here I was in my destination town. My first set of hosts were going to meet me at a central area in the city, so I started walking along the bigger streets, going along with them as they merged like tributaries working their way to a large roundabout in the middle of the town. The Dunkin Donuts here was where I was scheduled to meet… some six hours from when I found it. I had no idea how to pass the time other than reading a book in a cafe, which seemed rather unappealing. So I took option two and walked around town with my monster of a backpack on.
I came to stop at a pedestrian crossing as the cars and scooters that had been waiting on a red light revved up their engines and started forward. At the same time, on the opposite side of me, the first foreign girl I had seen in the town came to a stop, waiting to cross the street. While we waited on the light I started a dialogue with myself.
Looking at my watch, it was still another five and a half hours until I would get to meet up with my hosts. I was hot and sweaty, tired of carrying around my backpack, and rather tired of wandering the city like a lost puppy. I’d have nothing to lose in just asking her… well, something, right?
The light changed, and I turned off my brain before it could shyly rebel to the plan. Halfway across the walkway, “Hey. I’m new to town and without a friend or anything to do. Would you mind hanging out?” someone (it couldn’t have been me!) asked.
Man, if you ever get the idea to do something like that, please listen to yourself. I had an absolutely amazing first night in Seogwipo only because I did not back down from that little impulse.
It turns out that it was Yazmin’s birthday just a few days ago. She told me that she had made a promise to herself on that day. She had promised herself that she was going to stay open to new opportunities, and what was a strange traveler looking for a friend if not a opportunity?
We walked to her apartment, I dropped my bag, we cooled down a bit, and then hopped in a car with two of her friends and their daughter. We had a great dinner, compared notes on Korea and Japan as a white person, and followed it up with
From the left you have Yazmin, me (trying out for a role as The Flash), little Emma, her mom Joy, and Joy’s husband Matt.
Oh, and here’s few photos made more fun with some post to show what’s hidden in the dark.
May飛 Cafe & Backpacker’s Bar
Joy got a phone-call from Kate, Yazmin’s roommate, and mentioned that they were hanging out with a couchsurfing. Kate said her co-workers were suppose to be hosting someone that night, and a quick bit of coordination had my meeting with my hosts moved from Dunkin’ Donuts to Maybe Cafe, where there was going to be a good gathering and live music to celebrate two years of being open.
I finally met up with Dan and Amy, my hosts, along with their co-worker Steve, a great guy from Florida, and by the end of the night, I’ll be damned if I hadn’t met every foreigner in Seogwipo. The music was good fun, the drinks seemed cheap compared to Japan, it was my first night in Korea and things were good.
The cafe was on an interesting street, decorated by a famous artist from the island. People were spilled out onto the street, enjoying the night air with their drinks. Here we have Dan, Amy, and Steve enjoying the music, the drinks, and the night air.
After a drink or two it was decided we would be changing venues to somewhere cheaper and more conducive to conversation (the music was just big enough for raised voices to be necessary). At the Backpacker’s Bar (or something like that) we met up with even more people and the price of a drink plummeted from seven dollars to two. Ruh roh?
I met some interesting characters here, including a girl I had sent a couchrequest to, and the couchsurfer she was hosting instead of me, razzle frazzle. I was very happy with the hosts I had though – all along the walk to the bar Amy and I were tearing into each other like old pals. She got me all riled up though, and I kept tearing into people once we got to the bar, which earned me a verbal black eye or two later on from a lady from New Zealand. One chap had a guitar, and as the night went on, songs started getting requested. Ohhh drunken singing.
At some point we were in cabs going home, where another beer was set infront of me. I wisely chose to ignore it as five or six of us played a game of Apples to Apples. As I played my last card and said “I win” I closed my eyes and let all the hours of travel, lack of sleep the night before, and makkori kick me off into the darkness. At some point Dan got me to get to my bed, but I was pretty unsuccessful in my use of the mosquito net and woke up with three bites… on my forehead alone.
Still! The bites were part of day two, meaning day one was nothing but terrific, terrific fun. I’m terribly grateful to Amy and Dan for putting me up and taking me around, and to Yazmin, Matt, Joy, and Emma for allowing me to intrude on their evening before even that. You can look forward to more posts on Korea sometime within the next… year :D