Tag Archives: Rowan

The Ghibli Dream

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The Ghibli Dream

The last post has come, and boy, do I have a lot of stuff to tell you. You won’t believe what Komame has been up to all this time. In fact, I wasn’t sure if I believed it when I heard.

The day started off… wet… cold… and M I S E R A B L E.

Not only had Haru almost forgotten the museum tickets she and Kristina ordered almost a month beforehand, but she was late getting to their rendezvous point. While Haru may not be the most punctual person in the world, she tries. Unfortunately, remembering that the tickets were back home about halfway to Tokaichiba station, she had go back for them. It was a pain trudging through the mucky rain on the way there, but it was brutal going all the way back and out again.

Let’s just say that by the time we did meet up with our good friend, we were all a bit low in the spirit and just wanted dry feet and some place warm and cozy to eat lunch. Rainy days tend to do that to people.

So after arriving at Mitaka station about an hour and a half later, we found a little Italian restaurant near the station and set up camp there. After two steaming bowls of spaghetti and a sweet strawberry dolce later, we talked a bit more about what we would see. The girls talked about what their favorite films were and why, but all I wanted to do was to go back to the station and catch the bus!

It’s no Catbus from My Neighbor Totoro (となりのトトロ), but it was still pretty obvious where this one was headed. The bus was crowded, and while the journey there wasn’t too long, I decided to take a nap.

When I did wake up, Haru was rifling through her bag for her umbrella and almost made us late getting out of the bus. Again.

Unfortunately, we couldn’t take photos indoors. But we’ll use some visuals from Google to help you see what we saw.

I’ll tell you a bit about the inside. But don’t worry, I won’t spoil it all for you. It’s something you’d have to see for yourself, especially if you’re a Studio Ghibli fan and know the movies inside out.

Like Kristina and Haru – they got pretty emotional the instant they walked into the first room. It’s not like they were crying or anything, but Haru did have her handkerchief out, just in case. Those two have probably been watching those movies since they were in diapers. They were pretty overcome with nostalgia, particularly when they saw their favorite characters in action.

There was a platform with little figures of Satsu, Mei, the Totoros, etc. The order of repetition for the figures didn’t make much sense at first, but then when someone presses the switch, everything goes dark and suddenly there’s this flashing light. Then inside the case where the platform is, you see the characters’ figures moving. It’s bizarre at first, but once the lights stop, you can see how the platform had been turn around and around like a roulette wheel.

I didn’t get it at first, but Haru explained that it was only an illusion. But somehow, the figures really DID look like they were moving! I swear, and I’m even allowed to swear!

Aside from all the cool little displays inside, the rest of the museum is built like a cozy house – just like something out of their movies. There’s this really cool windy, wrought iron staircase that’s sort of like a bird cage if you look at it from afar.

And there are all these wooden bridges and stained class windows. On those stained glass windows are Ghibli characters.

We even saw Chihiro and dragon-Haku on the colored panels.

There were even secret rooms with tiny doorways. We got lost once or twice and stumbled into the bathrooms. If there was ever a bathroom where you felt like something magical would pop up… maybe see No-Face rise out of a toilet or flowers to start growing under your feet… it was there.

Those bathrooms were a work of art.

Of course, there’s the Catbus. However, this one’s only for little kids. The museum got itself a bigger one though, where adults could sit inside and enjoy the scenic windows of Saitama’s farmlands in the summer time. All we needed was a plate of chilled watermelon, iced green tea, and yukata to wear.

And we can’t forget about the theater room where a Ghibli short was playing. The day we went, there was a showing of Ghibli’s short film, Water Spider Monmon (水グモもんもん). It’s very cute, even for the arachnophobic. It’s about a water spider who falls for a water strider. While the water strider is scared of him at first, she eventually learns to accept him and become his friend.

It’s amazing how a 15 minute film can make the warm and fuzzies grow all over you.

Next up are photos Haru took outdoors. Having been all enchanted and warm inside the building, the instant we stepped out, we were met with the cold and wet unpleasantness all over again. However, it was still pretty cool.

There was a real water pump out back, just like the one Satsu and Mei used.

And Haru got to meet her… knight in shiny armor. Despite being rain drenched, the girl wanted to throw her arms around it. Anyway, it’s that giant Laputan robot from Castle in the Sky (天空の城ラピュタ).

Walking around the museum grounds was like walking around in an alternate dimension. You just never know what’s watching you behind your back…

All that wandering around made us tired, so we went and got some food. A hot dog for Kristina, and two milk-flavored ice cream cones for the both of them. But I was not feeling hungry, and chose to mull quietly to myself.

Our days were numbered here in Japan, and I still couldn’t find Komame anywhere. I looked everywhere we went, even as I helped Haru with these blog posts. But nothing… I knew my kitty was gone.

Seeing my long face, Kristina offered me her cone, but even then, I turned it down. Milk was Komame’s favorite flavor.

That was when Haru started messing with my wig, knowing it was the best way to annoy me/get my attention.

I was going to tell her to leave me alone when I realized she was holding Komame out to me!

“Where did you find him?!”

Haru looked bemused as she put Komame in my lap.

“Well, where to start?” she asked.

So she told me how she had known I was upset since the day I lost him when we went to Kamakura. She’d also known why because she was the one typing my blog posts for me. I guess I feel sheepish now – I thought she was ditzy all around, but I really should have given her more credit.

I remembered that day in Kamakura. I wouldn’t tell her about it all semester, because I had wanted to find him myself. She entrusted him to me, so it was my responsibility to make sure he was safe. But when he got lost, I couldn’t bear to tell her and ask for help.

“Remember the bus we took here?” she began, “Well, I couldn’t take my eyes off this cat shadow. I thought it looked familiar.”

So that was when she caught Komame almost sneaking off the bus. Luckily, she managed to catch him. He had been trying to get off at the wrong stop anyway.

When she asked him why he would run away and worry us like that, Komame told her he hadn’t meant to. He was just tired of being a simple house cat and had bigger dreams to fulfill. He’d been searching for Studio Ghibli all this time to get a job. He wanted to be their new mascot!

“So why didn’t you leave a note?” Haru interrogated sternly.

Komame said he didn’t have fingers. He did have a point…

Either way, Haru gave my little friend another lecture about running away regardless of what he wanted to do. I also knew she didn’t want to mention it, but aside from the obvious Totoro merchandise, Studio Ghibli already had a mascot. He was also a snarky black house cat, except his name was Jiji.

Now that I knew, I couldn’t help but feel badly for my friend. I hadn’t meant to be ignorant of his dreams… I was just so caught up with my own. You know, being a world explorer-journalist and all.

Haru wasn’t done explaining.

“I’d known Komame was missing all semester since you used to take him everywhere with you. But I wanted you to tell me on your own.”

I was puzzled. “Why?”

“This is the Studio Ghibli museum,” she grinned, gesturing all around, “Think about what most of their films have in common.”

I thought hard, but couldn’t think of a thing. There was lots of magic and lots of characters.

The characters would make lots of friends…

And with their friends’ help, they would solve their problems, and…

Oh.

“Sorry I didn’t tell you from the beginning, Haru,” I said quietly, “But thank you for bringing him back to me.”

Haru just smiled and told me not to worry about it because she’s always watching over me. She was just happy I learned more about friendship and what it means to be a friend.

“You grew up a little,” she told me. And I knew she wasn’t talking about my height.

“Yeah, but I’ve got some ways to go.”

Hugging Komame to myself, I wondered what my next adventure may be. But whatever it will be, I’m just glad I’ve got my friends with me now – and I can’t wait to meet those I haven’t met yet.

May all of you out there find good friends to keep, and visit as many corners of the world as you can!

Rowan

Ps. To see what other mischief I get up to on Haru’s country-hopping trips, go check out her personal blog: Sincerely, Nobody. Catcha later!

Banzai, Kansai!

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Banzai, Kansai!

After this post, there is just one left.

But before Haru gets all weepy over her keyboard and short circuits her computer, I’m gonna tell you all about our happy memories from the rest of the Kansai trip.

It was another early start for us the next day, so it was hard getting out of bed to go explore Kyoto one last time. But we did manage to drag ourselves out of our warm, plush futons and leave the temple/hotel.

Here’s another photo, to prove that yes, we stayed overnight at a temple.

Next up, Haru and friends went to see Sanjuusangen-do (三十三間堂), famous for being the temple that houses 1000 Kannon statues and 28 guardian deities. For those of you who don’t know much about Japanese Buddhism, Kannon is a bodhitsattva, one who is about to reach enlightenment, but holds back for the sake of others. Kannon is associated to compassion for this reason. Originally a masculine entity, Kannon’s masculine image in the East has long since evolved into a feminine one.

Photography isn’t allowed inside, so here are two photos from Google for the curious eyes. And as you can see, every single statue is unique with different faces and different decor. If you think about it, it’s kind of like those terracotta soldiers in China, huh?

Before we left to go see other Kyoto hotspots, here are some photos of the gorgeous gardens surrounding the area.

Have any idea where we went next? I’ll give you a hint – check out one of the main gates and one of the shrines behind it.

And here’s a hint.

For those of you who have seen Memoirs of a Geisha, you’ll definitely remember the scene where a young Sayuri tears through the stone path between the gates on her way up the mountain to pray for luck. Here’s another image courtesy of Google.

This shrine is the Fushimi Inari-Taisha (伏見稲荷大社), or the main shrine of the Inari. Not only is the mountain named Inari, but Inari-Ookami (稲荷大神) is also the Japanese kami, or god, of worldly success and agriculture. Back in the old days, rice was the main business. If you had no gold, you paid in rice. It is also said that the kami’s messengers take the form of white foxes, or kitsune (狐). Therefore, they are highly revered and seen throughout the shrine grounds.

This kami is so popular in the Japanese culture that there are well over 30,000 smaller shrines dedicated to this same kami throughout Japan. However, Fushimi-ku’s is especially popular, being the main shrine. It has the most torii gates to date, and sum up to the main attraction of the site. The torii gates seen here were all donated by businesses hoping to reap some luck and garner the favor of the Inari-Ookami. So if any of you are ever down on luck or something, here’s a place to make your pilgrimage!

Here are our friends wondering which path they should take. Hard choice, don’t you think? They both look the same!

And here’s an extra photo of Haru walking under the gates, courtesy of Yuan who caught her unawares.

Wrapping up our trip in Kyoto with the Fushimi Inari shrine was awesome, but after going to see sacred foxes, we went to see sacred deer.

And no, we did not photoshop the photo and place those wild deer so close to people!

These deer are so used to people, they’ll let you pet them. They’re called Shika (鹿), meaning “deer” in Japanese.

However, the deer weren’t there for no reason. According to religious stories, the historical buddha made his first sermon at Sarnath, or “deer park” in Hindi. Also, These deer are considered sacred messengers to the Shinto religion here in Nara.

And “here” is the Toudai-ji (東大寺), a HUMONGOUS buddhist temple. In fact, that temple is the largest wooden building created by man – IN THE WORLD! See how tiny people are compared to it?

So what do we find inside? Treasure? Other giant wooden buildings nestled inside it like Russian nesting dolls?

Close enough. Inside was a giant buddha, a Daibutsu (大仏) that was even bigger than the one we saw in Kamakura. To be fair, it is the statue of the Vairocana buddha, the celestial/omnipresent body of buddha, so it had the right to be as large as life.

And there WERE other buildings inside the temple – only they were too small for people to walk inside and look around in.

Next up, we traveled over to Osaka where we we ate okonomiyaki (お好み焼き) at Dohtonbori (道頓堀) in a very flashy shopping area near Namba station. It used to be a red light district, but now it’s just a really lively part of town.

Talk about some good food here! Everyone was stuffed by the time they were done eating.

The following day, we started with Osaka castle. If there was anything more famous here than the okonomiyaki, it was definitely the castle.

And to our good fortune, all the sakura were in bloom!

The last place we went to see was the HEP Five ferris wheel just a few minutes walk from Umeda station. The view was great, and we couldn’t stop taking photos. You would think that it would take forever to ride a a ferris wheel as big as that, but it was over all too soon.

To commemorate our visit to Osaka, we headed into HEP Five, which is a massive shopping mall complex all on its own. But we didn’t buy anything there – we just went to check out the Purikura (プリクラ), short of “print club.” They’re these popular photo booths developed by two very famous Japanese video-gaming companies, Atlus and Sega.

The end result?

Four starry-eyed girls floating among pink clouds and candied hearts. But did you know that at some Purikura places, boys can only go in if they are accompanied by girls? While I’m not sure if this was one of those places, I declined taking part in the shoot. Being virtually smothered to death in a sea of pink hearts was not what I called manly!

After scarfing down our final okonomiyaki dinner at Dohtonbori (again), we raced back to the international hostel where we were staying at to rendezvous with the rest of the group. Then it was a Shinkansen ride straight back to Tokyo.

As fulfilling as it all was, we were completely exhausted when we got back home in Yokohama. What an adventure.

But our adventures in Japan are still not quite over! However, in case Haru and I run out of time to post the rest of our adventures up here, feel free to keep up with us in her personal blog: Sincerely, Nobody.

The next post will be our last…

So here’s a sneak peak at our next story!

And if there’s anywhere Komame will show up at, it will probably be there. I hope.

Later gators,

Rowan

Korea Town in Tokyo

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Korea Town in Tokyo

Mid-terms have been railing hard on Haru, so she didn’t get a chance to write much as of late. However, in the eye of the storm, she took some time to hang out with her good friend Kristina, also a previous host student who stayed with Haru’s host family last semester.

Together, they went to Shin-Okubo, also known as Korea Town here in the big city of Tokyo. There, they met up with Haru’s childhood friend, whom she hadn’t seen or heard from since elementary school!

Here’s the beautiful Kristina. :D

And here’s Justin, a pro at using chopsticks and speaking Japanese. Maybe I should get him to teach me? He’s been living here for a while now. It’s funny how both he and Haru met up again coincidentally through Kristina. A miracle-worker, that girl!

The three of them ate at a small Korean restaurant tucked away somewhere near the station.

Judging the expressions on their faces as they dug into their food, the food must have been pretty delicious. Personally, I’m no fan of hot, spicy food, but Haru and her friends were. Here are some pictures of their meal.

For those of you with weak insides like me, doesn’t this just make you feel like you’d get a stomach ulcer?

Haru also got herself a peach and 日本酒 cocktail. Feeling pretty grown up, I guess. She was just happy they didn’t card her. Back in the States, Haru got carded all the time, even though she’s almost twenty-two now. She’s so old, and yet last time she was babysitting on Halloween, a neighbor thought she was a middle school student and offered her candy. When asked for her age, the poor woman went all bug-eyed when Haru said she was a junior in college.

After their lunch, they went out to explore Shin-Okubo with Justin as their guide.

There were so many stores selling beauty products, books, food, etc.

Perhaps the staple look around here though is the sheer amount of Korean band merchandise. They were everywhere! Here’s a photo of a music store on the second floor, with an entire staircase dedicated to Korean bands.

After the tour and wandering from bookstore to product store and back again, the three of them walked around Shinjuku briefly. Tokyo truly is a city of neon lights and sounds, but infinitely cleaner than Philly.

It was getting late, so it was time to part ways with Justin as he lives in Chiba prefecture, and the girls live in Yokohama over in Kanagawa prefecture. Before parting though, Justin and Haru goofed off like old times. Thanks to Kristina, a few jests were captured. It’s amazing how even in heels, Haru barely comes up to Justin’s chin. When they were both ten, Justin was the shorter one. I can’t imagine this, but Haru promised to show me her old photos when we return home to the US.

Before turning in for the night, Kristina and Haru dropped by Machida station, just four stops away from Haru’s home station. There, Kristina described Machida as somewhat of a college town where a lot of college kids gather, shop, and hang out. It’s a very lively part around here for young people.

Here, the two of them got their milk tea and tapioca drinks at Tapioca World. Bubble tea is pretty popular in Asia, and it’s been getting pretty big in the West too. If you’re in the Philly area, just drop by Chinatown or Upenn’s campus, and you’ll see bubble tea shops springing up around there.

By the time we reached Machida though, I was asleep inside Haru’s bag. Haru told me they went to a coffee shop to talk over some dessert.

While I didn’t get to hear what their conversation was like, I did hear a voice that I wasn’t really familiar with.

I’m still bummed that Haru hadn’t woken me up and let me try dessert. So whoever it was, better not have been eating my share!

Until the next post everyone,

Rowan

Bueno Ueno Zoo

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Bueno Ueno Zoo

A good day at Ueno Zoo for penniless college students is one that includes no entrance fee.

Which is a great thing for Haru and her friends, Kristina and Emmy that the zoo was allowing free entrance onto their grounds. Of course, that meant braving the huge crowds. But honestly speaking, when IS Ueno Zoo ever NOT crowded? Besides, it was still Spring Break for the students here in Japan, so that meant a surplus of little kids going to see the zoo. Including me, of course! I’ve been on a permanent break of sorts, so it was awesome when Haru told me she was taking me to the zoo with her.

I got to see a lot of cool animals that I’ve only ever heard about. Unfortunately, they were all locked away behind fences and cages so I couldn’t see them up close and personal. Like this elephant. Talk about huge!

Of course, after seeing a real elephant, I wanted to ride one. That was impossible, but I COULD have rode on the fake one, but Haru said no. As usual…

We also got to see Monkey Mountain, which wasn’t as much of a mountain as it was a small rocky hill with monkeys on it. Having all those people gawking at them the whole time, I’m not surprised that they turned their backs to all the visitors… It made me want to go Tarzan on the spot and set them all free. Haru would kill me, but I know she felt the same.

After seeing the monkeys, we went off to ride the monorail! I was really excited, and people who saw me kept staring like they’ve never seen a pint-sized kid before. It made me feel rather awkward.

We said hello to the conductor and found a seat right behind him.

It wasn’t much of a ride since it was so short, but it was still cool seeing the zoo from high above everyone else. Take a look!

 

Before we knew it, it was time to get off. Haru and the others couldn’t believe that we waited in line for over half an hour for that, but I thought it was well worth our time!

We then proceeded to come across birds. Lots and lots of birds, including crows, which are not part of the zoo at all, but are Haru’s favorite animals. She took way too many pictures of them when she should have been looking at penguins.

Among other birds we saw were flamingoes. There were those of the pink variety, and then those that were not. These blue ones were HUGE.

Haru was able to find her way closer to the blue flamingo (that’s what the sign said, anyway), and she almost dropped her camera when it turned to look her dead in the eye. After that, she told us that she would never call Big Bird ugly ever again.

The birds were fun, but the girls wanted to go look at some furry creatures in the small mammal exhibit. Unfortunately, the day was growing late so they ended up leaving without seeing much. Besides, the exhibit was cramped and dark – not a great place to take photos of the cute and furry things inside.

On the way out of the zoo, we passed under the monorail. It was cool being in it, but there was something really cool about being under it!

Everyone wanted to take last minute photos, so we hurried up the ramp to the outdoor balcony. Here’s a photo of Emmy taking pictures. Seriously, Haru should just quit school and join the paparazzi. She takes too many candid shots.

We didn’t stay up there long, because Emmy said she felt the ground tremble. Immediately, everyone thought of earthquakes and collapsing balconies, so the three of them ditched the scenery and headed straight for the exit.

It was a great day out – nice weather, cool things to see, etc. But a part of me couldn’t help but feel badly about how weary-looking all the animals were. Also, I couldn’t help but feel badly for the parents who took their kids to the zoo – they also looked really exhausted.

Before we left the premises though, I saw the children’s zoo, which I assumed was a petting zoo. I begged Haru to take me there, but she really wanted to go home and sleep, so I didn’t push it…

Even though Haru’s anything but a parent to me, I wondered if she was tired too, like the other sleep-deprived parents milling dazedly around with their kids. Finals have really wreaked havoc on her and her friends as of late, and I worry about her sometimes. But looking at her tired, but happy face that day, I was glad I got to come along and enjoy the zoo with her.

We apologize for the late entry, but stay posted for more adventures! Coming up, I’ll cover our trip to the Kansai area of Japan: Kyoto, Nara, and Osaka. I promise you that that’s a story you won’t want to miss.

Au revoir!

Rowan

Starstruck at Ebisu

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Starstruck at Ebisu

Ever had one of those moments when you think, “Well geez, this sure ain’t Kansas anymore”?

I think the reality of where she actually is, finally hit Haru hard across the face – in a good way of course. She was just surprised really, but I had to remind her not to leave her jaw behind as she traipsed her way through the Ebisu Garden Place (恵比寿ガーデンプレイス) with her friend, Yuan.

Before I get to that, how about I tell you why we were in Ebisu in the first place. For those who don’t know where it is, it’s close to the middle of Shibuya and close to Roppongi as well. In other words, it’s a pretty famous place around here with museums, stores, restaurants, and gardens around.

In our case, there was a class field trip this past Saturday to the Tokyo Metropolitan Museum of Photography. It was a tiny place inside a huge building. But I think the archives were most impressive – behind the librarian’s desk was an automatic double door. And behind those doors, it looked like it would lead into the Matrix. I was almost expecting Neo or Agent Smith, to stride out of there with a rocket launcher in hand.

While we couldn’t take pictures inside, here are some photos of the enormous plaza leading to it. Everything was just so… grand.

But here’s the really fun part – watching Haru and Yuan go goo-goo-eyed as they struggled between melting and exploding at the same time. Here’s a photo taken from my point of view of what got them so excited. It just looked like a stick of rotten swiss cheese, with square holes instead of round ones.

It really didn’t seem like anything to me, other than another monument stuck in the middle of brick desert with random people trudging around. I made my exasperation quite clear, so Yuan decided to break the news to me about why Haru would stand comatose for one moment and then go into a photo-shooting frenzy the next.

“That’s where Tsukushi Makino and Tsukasa Domyouji met for their first date!” Yuan bubbled, as she jabbed her finger towards the stone monument, “That’s where Tsukasa waited hours and hours in the rain for Tsukushi to show up. It’s romantic, don’t you think?”

I guess, I can’t say what I think because I don’t know. I’m just a kid after all! And only after asking more questions, did I realize Yuan and Haru were talking about characters from a famous Japanese drama, and not about real people! But I couldn’t help but wonder why the girl character from Boys Over Flowers, or Hana Yori Dango (花より男子) would think to stand up the guy character in the first place. Didn’t she realize that standing up friends was a bad thing? Then again, I don’t know their whole story.

While Ebisu Garden Place may have been a famous set for a famous drama, luckily, we didn’t spend our entire time standing there, gawking. For instance, we met a sweet old lady walking her dog! He’s in his sixties in dog years, but in human years, he’s nine. Haru thought he had a dashing personality, and Yuan was more than happy to play with him and talk to his friendly owner!

Yuan got hungry so we followed her to Saint Germain Bakery for some tasty pastries. I tried talking Haru into getting something, but she was saving her stomach for dinner. Everything they were selling looked so yummy though!

After that, we went about touring the grounds. It was such a big area! People looked so tiny milling about.

And beyond it was the famous Taillevent-Robuchon restaurant, catering to gourmet food lovers and お金持ち, rich people, or at least anyone who can afford to eat there!

It wasn’t open when we were there, but we still went ahead and looked around. Here’s a photo of Yuan scoping the place out!

It was getting late, and the girls had to hurry back to Minato to meet up with their friends for a dinner Haru planned earlier in the week. But here are some twilit scenes at Ebisu Garden Place. It looks totally different than those earlier photos, huh? The place took on such a completely different feel when day descended into night, it was almost like magic was afoot there.

On the way back to Ebisu Station, we took the Sky Walk route. It was scenic as well as convenient, like most things here in Tokyo.

Not only was it a walkway that spanned several blocks, it was also somewhat of an underground mall – or rather, an “overground” mall.

Here are some photos of a flower shop Yuan and Haru passed.

It was stocked full of expensive, freshly cut flowers; an explosion of color and scents.

There was a very nostalgic air in there for Haru, as it reminded her of a local flower shop near her home back in the States. But this time, the knowledge of being in another country came with an intense feeling of severe homesickness.

On the way back to the Minato area, Yuan and Haru took the wrong train and ended up in Naka-Meguro, when they should have been going in the other direction. But the awesome thing about Tokyo’s transportation system is that it’s fast and intuitive so finding the way again wasn’t so hard.

Finding the way again… Wherever he is, I hope Komame’s finds his way back to me.

We’ll meet again, right?

Rowan

No Boys in the Girls’ Hot Springs

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No Boys in the Girls’ Hot Springs

Welcome to Zao Onsen Resort in Yamagata, Japan – home to avid snowboarders, skiers, and hot springs enthusiasts.

In other words, welcome to the coldest, most boring place that a resin kid could possibly be.

It wasn’t all that bad, really. I just couldn’t go anywhere, except stay in Haru’s bag or watch the room that she and her friends were spending the night in… mostly because Haru was too busy face-planting down the mountain side to take care of me on the slopes.

Apparently, riding a snowboard is not like riding a bike. Ten years of neglect leads to eating a lot of snow, and complaining about bad joints like an old lady.

Haru couldn’t take me with her because it was too hazardous, for one. It was also too cold to take many pictures on the mountain, because the camera buttons kept sticking. But here are some shots that her shaking, frost-bitten hands didn’t mess up!

Check out how thick the snow is! Entire trees and shops were covered up from head to toe. Yamagata is actually known for its “Snow Monsters” or Juhyou (樹氷). It literally means “tree ice.”

Haru didn’t get to see them, since she didn’t go all the way to the top of the mountain, but here’s a photo borrowed from Google Images so you guys get the picture.

Of course, it’s not fun going to a winter resort, only to freeze to death. A hot meal, like hot-pot or Shabu-Shabu (しゃぶしゃぶ) warms the belly well enough.

There was also sashimi, tempura, nabe, and other traditional Japanese food to enjoy.

However, a body melting hot spring, or a hot onsen (温泉), is probably the best way to go. Though I was cold, there was no way I would go to the girl’s hot springs! And there was no way Haru could take me to the boys’ area either, so all I did was lounge around some more in the room while the girls played dress up and went to the onsen together.

Here’s the girls’ changing area – don’t worry, no naked bodies were present when these photos were taken. While everyone else went skiing and snowboarding on day two, Haru spent it taking a five-hour nap in the hot springs by herself. Lazy bones.

Not to mention, Haru also spent quite a while enjoying the massage chair.

Here’s the indoor onsen. Before you can even go into the hot springs, you must be squeaky clean. That means you take a shower first before going in for a soak.

This door leads to the onsen outside, in the freezing cold. Many people wouldn’t dare walk stark naked into below freezing temperatures, but a short trip from the door into the onsen to stew a few hours is rewarding, according to my onsen-loving friend.

Haru told me that even though she was outside in the ice and snow, she only had to submerge her legs to stay warm. I could barely believe her, but then again, that steaming water looks like it could have boiled a lobster!

While she slept much of the time away in the onsen, Haru also spent much of her time reading while taking her bath. Old bookworm habits die hard it seems.

Looking at these pictures makes me envious of her. Perhaps one day when Haru trusts her snowboarding skills again and saves enough money to buy me some proper winter clothes, I’ll get to come back and see the view with her. Komame too… once I find him.

Until the next adventure,

Rowan

Mango Snowballs and Dragon Parades

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Mango Snowballs and Dragon Parades

Spring is here! And that means – go to Yokohama’s Chinatown and see how spring flings are really flung.

Did you know Yokohama’s known for its diversity here in Japan? I know I didn’t, but there are huge cultural communities here, including Hispanics, Indians,  Filipinos, Koreans, and more. One of the biggest hotspots though is Yokohama’s Chinatown, Yokohama Chukagai (横浜中華街). There are other Chinatowns riddled throughout Japan, like Kobe Chinatown and Nagasaki Chinatown, but Yokohama’s is arguably the most well-known.

On top of being one of the biggest Chinatowns around, it also throws some of the biggest parties. While Haru and her host family didn’t get to go to Chinatown for Chinese New Years (it would have been impossible to navigate around anyway), they got to go see this particular event: The Spring Festival (春節).

Parents even had little kids sitting on their heads just get a glimpse of the show.

Of course, it’s to see one of these – and to get one to “bite” your head to make you smart (頭がいい). Luckily, I was inside Haru’s bag when all this was going on. I’ll be honest and tell you I don’t like seas made of people and scary dragons flying around the place.

Nearby to  the event grounds is a really famous temple, Kanteibyō (関帝廟). It’s another must see here in Chukagai!

After that, it was time to tour the rest of town. Including, food, food, and more food. Here’s a “mango snowball” which is shaved ice with mangoes on top. But there is something unique about the shaved ice because it melts in your mouth in such a way, that it feels more like snow than shaved ice.

Haru also bought ice cream (again) in the middle of a cold spell. It may look like vanilla ice cream, but this is actually almond flavored. If you’ve never tried almond ice cream, you really should. It’ll turn anyone into a sweet tooth addict.

Now, some foods are made of ice. But others come in plastic or billboard.

Later when it was finally time to visit Yamashita Park (山下公園), I wanted to get some fresh air. I was really groggy at first. But soon came to realize this place had been very different than anywhere else I had been to in Japan so far.

But even with Haru and Kristina, I still felt… lonely.

Haru loves the sea though, and made sure she and Kristina spent plenty of time looking around the boardwalk and taking pictures. Beyond where I’m pointing is Sakuragicho (桜木町). It’s got a ferris wheel there, but unfortunately, we didn’t get to go on it.

I garnered a lot of attention from other visitors, including a sweet, old lady, who was the only one unafraid of coming up to Haru and telling her I was adorable. She really brightened up my day! It’s always nicer to hear people say that, than hear people say how creepy I look. Really now! I’m right there, and I understand everything perfectly too. I just can’t say anything or look angry – the downsides of being born with a resin face.

Behind her was the Hikawa Maru (氷川丸), an old Japanese Ocean Liner. This old ship survived World War 2, and has a very long history. Now, it’s a floating museum, which Haru was too much of a lazy-bum to go see. But seeing it from afar was already pretty cool. SHIP AHOY, MATEYS!

At the end of the day, I couldn’t help but have a look at the nice sunset. Yamashita Park is known as a popular site for couples and friends to meet. Haru tells me Valentine’s Day is next week, so it will be very crowded then. I might as well get a good look at the place while the quiet lasts.

Omake (おまけ) – extra things – including possessed, singing pandas, Hello Kitty pandas, and panda doorways. In other words, a whole lot of pandas.

Rowan

Kamakura Upside Down

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Sunday. Where to begin… So many things happened in Kamakura after all. For instance, Haru ate a Buddha, President Obama visited an ice cream stand, and I… Komame…

KOMAME’S DISAPPEARED!!!

I know I shouldn’t have let him out of my sight, but, but…

How about I just start from the beginning?

So we got off the train at Kamakura Station, and walked on the broad path, Wakamiya Oji, leading up to the famous Tsurugaoka Hachimangu. It’s a big Shinto Shrine or Jinja (神社) in the area that you can’t miss. That’s when I realized Komame was missing!

I couldn’t remember when the last time I saw him was, since I was so excited the night before when Haru told me she was taking me to Kamakura with her friends.

I looked everywhere and couldn’t find him. I didn’t want to ask Haru if she knew, because she gave me Komame when I first came to live with her. Komame was – is my responsibility.

I tried not to show Haru I was upset, since she had been looking forward to the trip since earlier in the week when her friends asked her to join them. So I just watched quietly as they had fun drawing Omikuji (御神籤) or sacred slots.

It’s a Shinto fortune-telling method that’s really popular with visitors. You just buy a chance to draw from the bamboo box for a stick, which you exchange with the Miko (巫女), a shrine priestess, for a corresponding piece of paper with your fortune on it. Then you tie it to the Omikuji post and pray to the resident Kami (神), or resident nature god, to make it come true. If you don’t like it, you can still leave it with the Kami, and pray for it to not come true. You can also make wishes on wooden plaques and leave it there for the Kami to hear any personal wishes you’d like to make.

While Haru was taking pictures, her friend Yuan picked me up and brought her grape lollipop a little too close for comfort. It smelled really good, and was made of hardened grape syrup, glazed over a real grape. While I normally like sweets, I wasn’t in the mood to have anything since Komame was missing. I think that’s when Haru realized I wasn’t feeling well.

The next stop was visiting Kotoku-in temple, an old O-tera (お寺), or Buddhist temple to see Daibutsu-sama, Kamakura’s famous Great Buddha. He’s great, because he’s huge and super old. He’s also great because I felt cheered up seeing Daibutsu-sama’s gentle face. It was as if he was telling me everything would be okay.

And I know I’m short, but it also felt great knowing he dwarfed humans the way humans dwarfed me.

And did you know you could go INTO Daibutsu-sama? As in INSIDE of him. It was dark and crowded, but there was something about being inside that made me feel safe. Did you know he was made in 1252 AD during the Kamakura period? That’s over seven and a half centuries ago! He was cast in 30 separate stages and then slotted together using a very ingenious slotting method. Aside from reinforcing his neck with steel rods, he’s pretty much the same as he was back in the day.

Daibutsu-sama is so well loved that many little kids my age got together and created giant waraji (わらじ) for him to wear. I wish I could’ve helped!

After that visit, Haru and her friends when to a local dango stand to buy dango (団子) which is made of rice flour, related to mochi. It can be either sweet or savory, or both! Yuan bought some, but Toshi, Brittani, and Haru decided they wanted a Daibutsu-san manjyuu, which is basically soft waffle batter poured into a mold with some kind of filling inside. In Haru’s case, she got herself one with custard cream. Her expression was pure bliss as she chomped off Daibutsu-sama’s head.

And as if that weren’t enough, Haru and friends also went to get ice cream. It was a little shop they passed by earlier which caught their attention, because the sign said that President Obama had eaten there before. Yuan bought the ice cream named after Obama, while Haru bought the one that had sweet potato flavored ice cream in it.

We passed by this old red mail box, which seemed really old. It must have been somewhat important if the shop across the street had a miniature of it sitting on the windowsill.

 

Eventually, we meandered our way to Hasedera temple.

Toshi told us that it’s almost near impossible to visit in the spring with all the flowers blooming, because it was known for its Japanese gardens. Despite not seeing the gardens in full bloom, Hasedera is also well known for its seaside view of Kamakura… not to mention its array of cute statues. Their smiles are really contagious.

However, at the end of the day, I was so tired that all I could do was huddle into Haru’s scarf and fall asleep. I never did find Komame even after looking everywhere for him and turning the places we went to upside down. Perhaps he’ll show up one of these days when I least expect it… maybe that’s what Daibutsu-sama was telling me anyway.

Let’s hope,

Rowan

Raw Eggs and Fish Fins

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What’s on the menu today? Raw eggs and fish fins. I know it’s enough to make most people want to hurl.

I wouldn’t blame them. It doesn’t sound very appetizing, but this little entry will be about how delicious food is here anyway. Just wait.

Haru took me to school again, and I have to say I wish she would invest in a more comfortable form of transportation for me. Being wrapped up in a purple scarf and stuffed into her backpack is not the best way to go anywhere, especially during rush hour! If she thinks she feels suffocated, imagine being wrapped like a mummy and trying to battle her water bottle for space in her bag at the same time! Luckily, today was pretty sedate as far as traveling goes, but boy, was lunch not.

So here we are somewhere between TUJ and Tamachi Station with the Tokyo Tower in sight down the road.

Here, we found a restaurant on the corner called Sukiya (すき家). It’s a fast food chain store of sorts. But when I say fast food, I don’t mean hamburgers and fries like at McDonald’s. This place has more traditional food like various gyuudon (beef and rice) and curry dishes, among other selections.

It’s pretty cheap too! Only 380 yen for a big bowl of beef and other ingredients – including a raw egg. I was shocked that Haru chose it, but she told me it was because she liked the name, Negitama gyuudon (ネギ玉牛丼). It had chopped up leek, beef, and some special sauce drizzled over a bowl of sweet, short-grained rice. But the best part was the raw egg, according to Haru here. The egg should be strained for the yolk with the little strainer… but the way Haru did it was dump yolk and egg guts alike onto her beef, then churn it up together with her chopsticks like she was making cookie dough. Unfortunately, she felled the huge bowl of rice so quickly that she didn’t even get to take a picture of it because it was gone so fast.

Komame and I barely had enough time to dodge her chopsticks and get out of her way! I could only watch our human friend in disbelief as she mauled her food.

After lunch, it was back to school again, but not before Haru snapped a photo of her two victims who were (willingly) dragged to the restaurant. V for Vive – lucky to be alive!

On the way, we passed by this cool little restaurant. Judging the fish fins displayed by the front door, I’m thinking there’s a lot of raw fish inside.

I asked Haru, Nina, and Casey if those fins happened to be what’s on the menu, but they didn’t know either. I would have stopped to ask, but Haru put me back into her bag before I could go anywhere.

I WILL have my chance to do something more interesting than going on lunch dates and watching Haru stuff her face. However, I have to say I wasn’t expecting to see her eat raw egg and pass by a restaurant selling fish fins in a span of one hour. There’s always something new to see here in Tokyo, no matter if it’s a sky-scraping tower or a little restaurant nestled in between.

Till next time,

Rowan

Skyline View

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Hey everyone! It’s Rowan here again. I wanted to show you what I did this past weekend… I almost got to go bungee jumping off a 781’ tall skyscraper in the Roppongi Hills on Saturday!
  

Haru had to go on a field trip for her art history class, so she and her friend, Nina, took me to the Mori Art Museum on the 55th floor of the Mori Tower. And when I say tower, I mean the kind that you can’t tell where it touches the sky! I asked Haru if I could go bungee jumping, but she said I wasn’t tall enough for the ride. So I asked her to go bungee jump for me, but then she said she was too short as well. If you ask me though, 5’1” doesn’t seem short at all!

When we got there to see the exhibit, Haru had to put me away so I didn’t get to see anything… But I’ve been to the Metropolitan Museum in New York before, and I always fall asleep. Haru says it’s because I’m a little kid though. And she told me the Meta…Me-metalbowl…ism… show didn’t allow people to touch anything, so I would have been really bored. But Haru and Nina took me to see the observatory at the very top of the tower after they were done taking notes!

 

Nina was wondering why there were poles sticking out of the floor into the ceiling. But what got me was how the city looked as flat as a carpet rolled out under her feet! Normally, humans look like towers to me, but the humans on the streets below were so small that I couldn’t even see them!
 

And look at me! That red thing behind me is the Tokyo Tower. Haru found out a lot of it was made out of recycled steel from damaged US tanks used during the Korean war. I hope Haru will take me there one of these days.

The room near the observatory’s café was SO BIG. To me, at least…

 I wanted to use the binoculars, but it’s hard to see through them if your head is too small to fit right.

 

So Haru let me sit on a stone bench to look out the window. People kept giving us weird looks, but the sun felt so good and Tokyo looked so cool, I didn’t care. Even my kitty, Komame, was straining to get closer to the view.

After leaving the tower, Nina and Haru went back to the Japanese gardens outside to take pictures. There, they saw some kids playing with a dog. I wanted to go pet him too, but Haru wouldn’t let me.

But I got to get close to the water. It looked so pretty – like the sky was living inside of it.

I almost got to jump in, but Haru grabbed me before I could. I’ve never seen anyone turn so white and floppy so quickly, as if they had suddenly turned into paper. When I asked why I couldn’t go swimming, she just made a face at me and said I’ve never taken a swimming class before.

Anyway, I wish I could have had more freedom to do the things I wanted to do, but I don’t mind right now. This visit is far from over after all!

Rowan