Sunday, January 31, 2010

crafternoon in Izumi

Among the Sendai ALTs there are several fellow crafters and on almost every Saturday since November-ish Gareth and I have hosted crafternoons: afternoon knitting, crocheting, felting, sewing, cross-stitch and treats! (It also forces us to clean the house regularly, which is very good for us).

We have three scarves being knitted at the moment, toys being made from felt, one blanket being crocheted, and all the countries flags in the football world cup being knitted - it's very exciting business.

Gareth has yet to pick up a crochet hook or knitting needle, so he spends his time playing on the computer and making cups of tea.

I have just finished a little stag toy for a friend in New Zealand, and remember that blanket I started so long ago...

Just big enough for me and some picnic food. I will continue to work on it for a while and hopefully Gareth will be able to fit on there one day.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

a glaciating festival

It's cold in Sendai at the moment. Our pipes have frozen, the river near our house has frozen and we both have chilblains. But we are plucky kids and the biting night air could not deter us from going into town to experience the annual Dontosai Festival.

The festival is a traditional event in which people throw their paper and pine New Year decorations into a big bonfire at a shrine and pray for perfect health and good business.

It also involves poor boys and girls running up and down the street wearing as little as possible, ringing bells and carrying lanterns. And I can't express enough how cold it was that night! Even all bundled up Gareth declared he had never felt that kind of cold before, and I turned into the foulest little grump! but with gritty determination we persevered.

We followed the crowd past numerous festival meat-on-a-stick stalls, and arrived at the shrine. We threw in our five yen pieces, rang a giant bell and clapped our hands (to scare away bad spirits) wishing for good health and prosperous business.
Then we went home as fast as our cold, sore, fed-up little feet could take us.

All in all we are glad we went and experienced a traditional Dontosai. And now I never have to go again!

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Accidental zen

Spotted on the walls of a karaoke place in town.

Saturday, January 23, 2010

It's dangerous to go alone! Take this.

Real Final Fantasy elixir! Which you can drink! I bought some!

Appearance: nice, shiny can, kind of a pearly colour, with your typical Final Fantasy heroine gazing wistfully into the distance. The elixir itself is just clear and bubbly though. I was anticipating something green or purple; a little more magical, maybe with sparks flying off it or mystical smoke overflowing from the glass. No such luck though: elixir looks pretty boring!

And it tastes like... lemonade. Sprite or its equivalent. A little disappointing, although not as disappointing as it may sound, as Japan, strangely, doesn't usually have plain lemonade. They have this "cider" stuff, which contains absolutely no apples and kind of tastes like a bubblegum-lemonade mix stuff.

On the plus side, my HP and MP were fully restored, meaning I was able to go out and fight enough random encounters to go up two levels. My strength, magic and evasion attributes went up by several points, and one enemy dropped some mythril gloves. Great! Da da da daaah daah daah da da daaaah!

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Osaka-jo a-go-go

On our last day in Osaka we decided it was time to get proper cultural like, so we headed to the famous Osaka-jo (castle). It was completed in 1598 and is one of the biggest castles in Japan, and it's an impressive sight, towering over the surrounding park areas, its walls and moats sprawling outwards over a huge area.

This was my first castle, and considering how much I loved this sort of thing when I was a kid, I was super excited. See how into standing on this wall I am? Totally into it.

Diane Keaton also enjoyed herself.

The view from the top. Originally the tower was decorated with gold leaf. Pretty fancy.

The inside of the castle is now a museum and features loads of stuff about the history of the castle and surrounding area, including beautiful painted folding screens depicting famous battles and seiges, suits of armour, swords and letters written by former lords.

Also, this creepy ventriloquist was hanging around the touristy, foody area in the inner bailey. He gave us the wiggins.

I also ate some takoyaki (octopus balls, an Osaka speciality; basically bits of octopus fried in a batter-ball) here, but they were from a stall and I think they may have been undercooked? Anyway they were kind of liquidy in the centre and not that great, basically just batter and chewy bits. Still, overall, the castle experience was A+. Would visit again.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Otters holding hands

After New Year's Eve had been recovered from (a process that involved pancakes and lots of Super Mario Bros) we headed to the famous Kaiyukan Aquarium (still in Osaka), whose star attractions are two giant whale sharks, who glided slowly around the main tank accompanied by schools of fish groupies (pictured)...

And a selection of otters, both sea and river varieties.

What's the difference, I hear you ask? Well, aside from the obvious habitat disparities, the sea otters are about three times the size of the river guys. Here's a helpful chart, including the rare species Lutra Mirabela.

The aquarium also had these semi-aquatic rodents called capybaras, the largest rodent in the world. Japan is obsessed with them and they draw a crowd. Remember this post from way back last September? The fat, brown, squishy thing I won was a capybara! Kawaii!

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Akemashite omedetou gozaimasu

Japanese for "happy new year", which we spent in Osaka, staying with Darlene at her lovely friend Sarah's place. I wore a fox hat and Mirabel went as Diane Keaton circa 1979.

First it was cocktails and fortune-telling at Sarah's place. Select fortunes for 2010: Mirabel will complete a really hard crossword and her workmates will be jealous of it; Morgan Freeman will be signed to narrate the film of her life; next time I get hiccups I'm to buy a Lotto ticket with the numbers 19, 24 and 37 (other numbers unspecified); my (metaphorical?) wool won't split.

Then we were off to see in the new year at a quite-cool little bar down the road.

It was sweet! There were DJs playing some actually good tunes...

There was some roof raisin'...

Free sake...

This guy...

No wait, not him.

Then in true Japanese fashion it was a quick (ish) stop at the conbini and off to karaoke for the rest of the night/morning.

We are totally owning/being owned by "I'm a Flirt" by R Kelly. The rap bit is really difficult (isn't it always the way?).

Friday, January 8, 2010

A quick stop in Kobe

After the picturesque bizarroland that was Hakuba, we headed for somewhere a little more metropolitan, and in fact one of the most cosmopolitan cities in Japan, Kobe. Kobe was one of the first cities in Japan to allow foreigners into the country after the Edo period and is a major port city, so the population, architecture and food are pretty diverse, as you can imagine.

We pretty much instantly loved Kobe. Everything seems really central, there's a beautiful waterfront on one side and hills on the other, and the streets are dotted with cool sculptures. Basically it's a bit like Wellington, except with more ramen shops and karaoke bars.

The main catalyst for our trip to this particular city, as with Hakuba, was for hang-outs and catch-ups, this time time with our good pal Darlene, who moved to Japan a couple of months after us.

Oh hai.

First on the sight-seeing agenda was a trip down to the waterfront, but on our way there, Darlene took us through a big The Warehouse-like department store for a bit of a look around. The crazy thing is they have a whole pet section at the back with heaps of really quite exotic animals! Sadly, they're caged up in pretty cramped conditions, so it was a bit bleak, but check out the beautiful big owl, and the freakin' iguana!

Once we made it to the waterfront, we decided to take a little cruise around the harbour, and due to a spot of luck, we managed to time it right for a lovely, hazy sunset. Nice one, team!

I took over the controls for a while and made sure we were on course and ship shape (not really).

Later we explored Kobe's Chinatown area, and ate a pretty delicious Chinese dinner, followed by cute, panda-shaped anman (steamed red bean bun) for dessert. Kawaii!

Later still we found a nice little lounge bar called Radio Days and drank cocktails and listened to smooth jazz. I swear I had a much manlier drink before these ones came in, but look at the lil' garnishes on these guys. Kawaii!

And, of course, it wouldn't be hangouts with Darlene without some House of the Dead shoot-em-up action.

Ratatatatat. Braaaaaaains!

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

it's a winter wonderland in Hakuba

Up bright and early on Boxing Day, we embarked on our delicious 10 day holiday visiting chums down south.
After five hours of travelling, and five different trains our first stop was a small ski town called Hakuba where long lost BFF Julia teaches ex-pats how to ski.
Look at her, isn't she delightful! If I liked skiing I would choose her to teach me the art.

Hakuba was a glorious winter wonderland with snow like you wouldn't believe.
This was the view from our accommodation - swoon.

The houses were not at all Japanese but quintessential European gingerbread houses fit for a postcard. It was all extremely foreigner friendly; Gareth was even able to get his first flat white in Japan here.

This poor house was unoccupied while we were there and with no one to clear a path to the door the snow stacked up and up!

Gareth made a snow angel of sorts... maybe its a Rorschach Test - or Hello Kitty!

Being the only non-skiers in the village we amused ourselves by stomping through snow, looking at icicles, general scenic admiring and our first onsen experience.
The onsen was nice, just like the hot springs at Hanmer only nudity is required. I was a little nervous at first but you learn very quickly that nobody gives a hoot that you are naked, everyone just wants to relax. There was an indoor and outdoor bath, the outdoor one being particularly lovely - watching steam rise from the water and from bathers and seeing the stars and the snow! Oh lovely! Sorry there are no pictures.

Then it was time to farewell Julia and pack our bags with the delicious lollies she brought us from New Zealand. (Jet Planes, Pineapple Lumps, Black Forest and Skittles - AMAZING.) We were off to catch several more trains to meet Darlene in the comparative tropics of Kobe.