Wednesday, November 30, 2005

Thanksgiving Delayed

Warning: This post contains schmalzy sappy Holiday Content and is thusly rated Stupid by the blogging board of commerce and fit only for the dumpster, or for TV movies.

Ok, I suppose I did make a bit of whining and moaning about not having a 'true' thanksgiving. In my defense I just love Thanksgiving. After all it is relatively unaffected by the consumerism frenzy that has nearly destroyed Christmas. And as far as I am concerned any holiday that involves lots of food is a big hit. So with Thanksgiving Day passing with a rather paltry dinner in terms of size, I was a bit miffed. No family, no turkey, no gluttony. Nothing! Heck rather few people even noticed it was a holiday. For most here Thanksgiving was hardly a blip on the radar. One can rather understand my if not depression than certainly sadness.

What does this have to do with Holiday sappiness and happy endings? Well we had another of our montly parties on Sunday. By We I mean Myself, Jared, Johanna and the grouping of Sakae school students that we sat near at Johanna's welcome party in September. Since I was at that party, I've managed to tag along to subsequent events even though I have no real connection to the school and any of the students. Now remember that at most this was the third time I'd met these people. Yet when I told them I was leaving, they were sad, they wanted to have a going away party for me. One wants to visit me! They were full of stories about Kanazawa, both good (beautiful) and bad (colder than heck with lots of snow.)

When all assembled we trooped to a nearby restaurant for some shabu shabu. This is a dish very similar in idea to oil fondue, only with boiling water instead of oil. In the pot goes thinly sliced beef, tofu, mochi, mushrooms, and other various vegetables. After cooking, you swish your catch through a choice of sauces. We had a soy/ lemon sauce and a creamy concoction of sesame seeds that tasted rather like peanut butter. Rinse wash and repeat till full! With pots of boiling water, and for me a hot sake it made the perfect winter dish.

Afterwords we all headed out to Karoke, where I tried with mixed success to sing songs in three different languages. We all had a blast, spending over two hours in the booth belting out songs with various levels of tunefulness and good taste. Some we all sang along with, some were duets, and some tuneful solos. We brokeup before the last train, and headed home with a great night behind us. It wasn't till the next day that I realized that WAS thanksgiving, just without the turkey. We had all the proper requirements, lots of great food, fine liquer and most importantly friends. Ok while there technically aren't 'family'. We all have to pretty much be there for each other, and so in a very real sense, that is my family right now. A bunch of hard drinking hard partying middle aged Japanese women. Crazy.

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The group, this photo taken at the Okonomiyaki party in October.

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Where's the Beef? Right here! Looks tastey huh?

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The pot.

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If I may say so, using chopsticks to grab small discs of slippery mochi was very very difficult. Made moreso by the sake. Also a big thanks to Jared for the last three photos of the actual event, sadly I forgot my camera.

Sunday, November 27, 2005

The food that moves me...

In honor of Thanksgiving, and the general Holiday spirit of eating lots of tasty food, I offer a primer on the major restaurant chains, both national and local. Lets start with the best, the greatest, the mysterious, the coveted.... MosBurger!

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MosBurger is essentially the Japanese McDonalds, only much much better than that description implies. Their genius lies in three areas. First their portions are tiny, so you always want more. Well that and you don't get all supersized. Second they are a rare breed. There are no MosBurgers within miles of either home or work. So when you get it, it seems more like a special treat than an average everyday lunch. Third and finally MosBurger are just damn tasty. Combine all three and you have a tasty treat for any English Teacher.

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This is the Ramen shop near my house. Please notice the big number. I can get a big and tasty bowl of Ramen for a mere 180 yen. Thats almost cheaper than cup o noodles! (For those not hip on the exchange rate, at the moment 180 yen is around $1.40 or so). This is by far the best deal pricewise of all these eateries. They are tasty and very cheap. Whoo hoo!

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CoCo Ichibnaya Curry House. If anything has replaced Chipotle for me, CoCo Ichi is it. Delicious, filling, and relativly cheap. And did I mention it can get really, really, spicy? First some background. Here is presented the pinacle of the Japanese dish Curry Rice. Now do no think of Indian food, despite the use of the word Curry, this is pretty far removed from 'real' curry. Picture a nice bed of Japanese short grained rice, and covering it a thick curry gravy. You can also add on top almost any extra you want. I usually get the breaded and fried chicken cutlet. They also have Omlet curry, fried quail eggs curry, and just standard beef curry. You can also pick how hot you wish you sauce to be, on a scale of 1-10. On an average day I go with 3. I did do 4 once and ate it all but required a lot of water to do it! I wouldn't touch 5 or above on a dare.

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Ahh Yoshinoya. The pinicle of Japanese fast food, the noble Beef Bowl. Quick, cheap, delicious, and not unhealthy. Not really healthy mind you, but no fried food, no thick fatty sauces. Just beef and rice. What more needs to be said? Notice the Coco Ichi next door, those things are EVERYWHERE!

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Last but not least I present Yamachan. Now Yamachan is a Nagoya only chain, I think. They specialize in Nagoyas famous chicken wings. They marinade them in Teriyaki sauce, fry them up then dust them with fine ground black pepper. These are some seriously addictive wings. They also offer lots of other chicken dishes. Including chicken sashimi. And no, I haven't tried that yet. May I also reccomend the takoyaki shaped (round) gyoza. Really really good.

Ok that concludes are gustatorial tour of Nagoya, I hope you all have enjoyed it and are as hungry as I am now!

Friday, November 25, 2005

Movin on.

Well, the good news is my long period of uncertainty is over. I now know where I am off to when Okazaki closes on the 31st of December....

Do you want to know?

Of course you do!

Sorry bout that, but I must have my fun! As of January 5th 2006 I will be living and working in Kanazawa , a medium sized city on the west coast of Japan. Yup, I'm leaving Nagoya in just over a month. I can't say I'm completly overjoyed with that news, but there is a bright side. While I do love Nagoya, and really enjoy my friends and have gotten to know the city and my neighborhood, I miss nature. I miss beauty. Now thats not to say that nothing in Nagoya is beautiful, but the striking areas are certainly outnumbered by the nigh unending grey concrete cityscape.

What does that have to do with Kanazawa? Well I'm glad you asked. Kanazawa is a medium sized city (450,000) that had nothing industrial or military during that unfortunate conflict back in the early '40s. What this means is that unlike most Japanese cities, Kanazawa was not utterly flattened. So it actually has many of the historical buildings from the 1800s and even before. I have heard it is sometimes called "little Kyoto", and has what is considered the third most beautiful garden in Japan. (Honestly, who compiles all these rankings?) It is sandwitched between the sea of Japan and the north-western edge of the Japanese Alps, so there should be plenty of natural beauty.

So all in all I'm rather neutral at the moment. I'm certainly sad, and a litte upset, to be leaving all the friends I just made a few months ago. More upheaval in an already rather busy year is not to be courted. On the other hand, it certainly looks like Kanazawa is a really beautiful area, and I will be in a larger school, one with another native english teacher. So there will be chances to meet even newer new friends, and it will be nice not to commute as much as I do now. Head office told me that they are aiming for a 10 minute bike ride to work, much nicer than my current 10 minute bike ride plus 25 minute train ride! So heres to luck, and a fascinating fresh start to my new year. (and for 4 moves in the year 2005!)

Thursday, November 24, 2005

Happy Thanksgiving!

So the Irony of my thanksgiving day was that not only did I spend it in a foreign country, but that I spent it in the company of 1 man from England, 1 woman from Scotland, and 5 Canadians! So I was the only one who knew at all that today, was the beautiful holiday of gluttony. My delicious Thanksgiving dinner consisted of Beer, Gyoza, Teriyaki Chicken Wings, and grilled Mochi and Cheese wrapped in Bacon. Sadly, no pumpkin pie was evident. So those of you who are drowning in gravy, who are stuffing themselves on stuffing, porking out on Pumpkin Pie with lots of whipped cream, well give a little extra bit of Thanks, for me.

Monday, November 21, 2005

Kyoto, Kyoto Desu

For the past several weeks I have been pondering/ planning on taking a trip to Kyoto to admire the fine fall foliage. While I did end up downsizing from a weekend to a day trip, I still managed to get my completely lazy and not too healthy rear down to Nagoya Station. I aimed for this weekend as I heard it was maple season, and I heard right. While there were still plenty of green trees, the maples looked like land bound fireworks! The Shinkansen runs about every 10- 15 minutes, and takes only 40 minutes or so to reach Kyoto. The Shinkansen is the ONLY way to travel. Fast, comfortable, and a really smooth ride, what more could you ask of a train?

Once in Kyoto I headed to Kiyomizu-dera. This is one of the cities main landmarks, and one of the few major sights I didn't manage to see on my last trip. It really did live up to its billing, with beautiful views of the city. Unfortunately it also lived up to the reputation for crowds. Even on a Monday Morning it was jammed with people, locals and tourists alike. You could even say that there were throngs of people, luckily I'm taller than most Japanese, so I could still see the nice views. ;-)

From there I hopped on another bus (the right one, finally figured out the Kyoto bus system) to Ginkaku-ji. While I had seen it before, I heard that the garden there really came alive in the fall, and indeed it did. The brilliance of the colors there were quite astounding, and I did what I could to capture them on film. Leading back toward the center of the city from Ginkaku-ji is the Philosopher's Way, a path that is more famous for its Cherry Blossoms than its fall leaves. It was still very nice, and led me all the way to Eikando Temple.

Now a student had told me that I had to go to Eikando, so I went. I didn't think I had been there, but it turns out I had, I took refuge there during a rain storm last time. The weather was much nicer this time around. The colors and the temple were also amazing. Unfortunatly half of Kyoto was there to enjoy it with me! Eikando was jam packed with people. There was even a special exhibition of temple treasures, just in case there wasn't enough to draw people there. It was totally worth it though, amazingly beautiful. In one little area, tucked between the cliff and the temple buildings was only lit by light reflected from the trees further up the hillside. The air there glowed with orange, red, and brilliant yellow, like the inside of natures own neon sign. It was an amazing sight, and one that a camera can simply not capture. At least not mine!

Last on my list was heading back to Fushimi-Inari. This is hands down one of my favorite places in Japan. It is also certainly close to the top in my list of 'great places of the world, 'along with Notre Dame de Paris and the Cliffs of Mohr in County Galway. Those who saw my pictures will undoubtedly remember the photos of row upon row of the red painted Shinto Torii. They stretch for kilometers up and down a mountain south of Kyoto. The bright red torii and the dark green of the forest makes for a potent visual combo, especially at dusk. I made it to the top of the mountain just in time to watch the last vestiges of the sun disappear over the horizon. Then I headed back down, towards the train station. I was back in Nagoya by 6:30, poorer in cash but richer in memories and photos. And I still had time for a couple of beers, some bowling, and a burger. (89 and 94 if you must know, yes I know I'm not very good, I just need some more practice)

Ahh the good old Shinkansen.

The Pagoda at Kiyomizu-dera.

Kiyomizu-dera in all its glory.

A glorious spray of leaves near Ginkaku-ji.

The entrance to Eikando.

Maples dot the hillside above Eikando.


Torii are are good. More Torii are better.

The Sun sets over Kyoto.

At night Fushimi Inari can get a little spooky, but retains its unique beauty.

Sunday, November 20, 2005

The Bright Lights of Sakae

As promised, a few photos of Sakae. Sakae is the main downtown district in Nagoya. Tons of bars, restaurants, clubs, karaoke, department stores, the occasional ferris wheel, its all right there. It's a pretty cool place, there is almost too much choice of things to do! Well heck with words, on to the pictures!

Ok that is Oasis 21, a combo of large piece of modern art, major bus terminal, shopping mall, and outdoor/ indoor exhibition space. On top you have great views of the city, and some pretty water, the next couple pictures are taken from there.

The good old Nagoya TV Tower. I still haven't been to the top yet!

This is actually down the street a bit, it is the Nagoya Train Station. Needless to say with towers like that its a bit of a landmark.

Tuesday, November 15, 2005

Media and Mail

Ok, so my typical morning involves first hitting the on button on my laptop, THEN turning on the burner to make some tea. Because my laptop starts up a bit slow, they are both read about the same time! This morning as I sipped my Earl Grey and ate my Frosted Flakes (I'm where again?) I also chatted with my Dad on Instant Messenger. The conversation went something like this

Dad: So did you feel the Earthquake?

Me: What Earthquake?

Dad: The big one that Japan just had.

Me: Guess I must not have!

So I look online and sure enough the headline jumps out at me Powerful Earthquake Shakes Japan: Tsunami Warning Issued. So my first thought is, oh shit, how many dead, how many blocks reduced to rubble. Why didn't I wake up. Oh My GOD. Yeah, except... no injuries. No damage even. Heck the tsunami waves were between 12 and 20 inches. So yeah, the rats and mice evacuated to higher ground, but the foxes were OK. Honestly, that headline was horrid. Even the article itself noted that this was no big deal, but they wanted to draw you in. So they put a dash of danger in, spice things up. Stupid.

On to happier thoughts. When I got to work today there was a nice card from my Aunt (Hi Megan!!). Its always nice to start the week with a bit of mail, especially when you were sick all weekend like I was. (Hack, Cough, wheeeeeeze) So that was nice. Mail is always nice, makes you feel important. So then later in the day I'm out of the office, and I hear the door open, then shut. I walk back in and voila, there is a packadge on the front desk. With my sweet name on it. My urgent needs care packadge had arrived, ahead of schedule even! If mail is always nice, then mail with peanut butter cups and the Episode III DVD is double nice! Triple nice! Ahh what a great day.

Monday, November 14, 2005

Castles Pt 2: The Real Deal

As promised, back to castles for a short interlude. Now the reconstructed castles can certainly be interesting. They are often impressive looking, and certainly have better amenities. But there is something missing. That vision of living history just isn't present like it is with a castle that has been standing for a few hundred years. Perhaps the most illustrative lesson to learn is how totally uncomfortable these castles are. Like any old building they are drafty and rather chilly in winter. The wooden stairways are steep, more like ladders really. The footing is pretty treacherous as the wood is worn smooth. It doesn't help that to protect the flooring everybody takes off their shoes and puts on slippery rubber one size fits none slippers. A lawsuit in waiting to be sure. Yet despite the high probability of a fall and the chill, there is something incredibly romantic by these large, truly beautiful structures. Much more so than their western counterparts, the Japanese military castle is a work of art.

These two photos are of Inuyama castle. It is a rather small castle, out of the way and unimportant except for one distinctive feature. It is the oldest castle still standing, having been built in 1537. It saw some action in the warring that lead to the formation of the Tokugawa shogunate, but luckily wasn't destroyed. While its not as grand as some, the simplicity is rather nice, and the location is sublime.

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Matsumoto Castle is one of the more striking of the original castles, with its unusual black walls and red painted moon room. Photos taken last February.

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Himeji is perhaps Japans most known castle, it is certainly the most photogenic. It is also a worthy addition to the list of World Heritage Sites. Often if you have seen a castle in a movie, its Himeji. It was in both Kurosawa's Ran as well as standing in for Edo Castle in the Shogun miniseries. Photos taken last March.

Thursday, November 10, 2005

Turning and Burning

I have always had a weakness for airplanes, especially military types. With their speed and pure maneuverability they seem the purest expression of mankind's desire to fly. While in Inuyama the other day, I saw a poster for the Gifu Air Day coming up on the weekend. An open house on Gifu JASDF Airbase. (Japan Air Self Defense Force, wow that is a mouthful.) I texted Jared to see if he was interested in going, and not only was he interested, but one of his students had already invited him. So I got to tag along with them, in a car! No walking in the rain from the train station, nope we got to ride in style from the train station. Once their I discovered that not only did we all get on the base for free, but we got access to the VIP section. Nobuyuki (Jared's student) gets VIP tickets from his work every year. Now this goes beyond luck to pure divine intervention!

While the rain was a bit depressing, watching high performance military jets strut their stuff (turning and burning) was great. The ease at which the F-15s and 16s could change directions was amazing, and the noise they make is epic. I'd like to see a bass guitarist try and match that rumble. Other than jets we also got to see a rescue helicopter 'rescue' a man, and even two batches of 14 para jumpers leaping out of a perfectly good airplane. They were leaping pretty low too, both for our benefit and because of a low cloud ceiling. Unfortunately because of the weather the main event, a performance by Japanese stunt team Blue Impulse, was canceled. What we saw was still a ton of fun and very impressive, especially for the price of admission. An interesting aside, all the jets they flew were American models. There were no home grown makes in the JASDF, which seemed strange based on Japans reputation for high tech. But one of my students noted that she thinks that there is a blanket ban on armament production from Japanese industry dating from the end of World War II. So there you go, if they want nice jets, they have to buy them from somewhere, and they get them from the US. Crazy.

now thats what I call a runway model! F/A 18 on loan from US for the day.


F-15 taxis past the VIP stand.

Myself and Jared in front of an E-2 Hawkeye carrier born early warning radar plane.

The Rescue helicopter. A very impressive pilot, he did some showing off after he had picked up the man from the field.

Monday, November 07, 2005

Around the world in 180 minutes!

As mentioned below, one of the tourist attractions in the far west of Aichi prefecture is The Little World Museum of Man, a collection of houses and buildings from over 22 countries. Interestingly enough this museum is NOT mentioned in any of my guidebooks, not even the hopelessly comprehensive Lonely Planet. So while it is certainly a tourist trap, its more a Japanese tourist trap than a gaijin tourist trap. Unfortunatly for me, I went on Thursday, a national holiday called "culture day." Many people decided to celebrate by looking at what other cultures had to offer. Luckily for me the place is huge, and the crowds made little impact when just walking around. Of course get in line for bratwurst and you will notice the large number of people present.
Inevitably most of the cultural areas had a shop and/ or a restaurant with the local delicacies for sale. Some even had areas where you could pay 300 yen and dress up in traditional costumes. In the Kerlas village (India) they even had a yoga instructor. And of course a curry shop as well. Many of the buildings are reproductions, but a few are real, including the French farm house from the Alsace, shipped over to Japan and reconstructed!

The beautiful leaves clash a bit with the rainy weather, but it didn't rain too hard, so no major problems.

Almost like home! ;-)

A totem pole and cedar lodge from the Pacific Northwest, very cool. The weather was a good match to say the least.

A Peruvian plantation house. Here the weather is not such a good match!

A house from Bali. Note the intricate carvings, and the general outdoorness of the compound. Certainly NOT native to a culture that lives with cold winters.

A house from Thailand, and this is one of the original structures. One of the few that you couldn't go inside at all, unfortunatly.

Ahh Bavaria. They based their village reconstruction on Garmisch- Partenkirchen. Its fairly authentic looking, now they just need to hire a few Germans to man the restaurant.

The locals, in Alsatian dress. Luckily my paparazzi skills are still in full force, they weren't posing for me! te he he.

I swear in this photo you can't tell it is in Japan. It just looks so wonderously European. Thats the backside of the French Barn and the German chapel in the background.

A Tibetan monastary, high in the hima... hills around Nagoya.

So there is a brief tour of the Little World Museum of Man, there are many other cool buildings and such, but I think this offers a nice teaser.

Sunday, November 06, 2005

A fate narrowly avoided

This post is rated pg-13

ok, all the 14 and aboves gone?


Among Japanese youngsters there is a trend where you attempt to "kancho" people. Now some of you may know what this is, but for the rest, a quick explanation. Kancho is when you take your finger, and try and jam it in another persons rear end. Why this is appealing I can not in truth say. However it is a fact.

Now I myself am lucky, most of my students are females above the age of 12. This is not the ideal Kancho demographic, that being boys between say 8 and whenever. Now I have a newish student, today was the 4th lesson or so, and since the very first I could tell he was a prime suspect for Kancho attempts.

I was right.

Luckily for my bum, he missed. Today. However I now know to keep my senses fully attuned, ready for any attempt. I intend for him to never succed, almost more for his sake than mine. Almost.

Thursday, November 03, 2005

An epic quest

Every culture has a story where a young man must set forth on a long and dangerous journey. This is one of those stories.

Long ago our hero heard that far to the west there lay an unspoiled land filled with wonderous delights. Bratwurst, saurkraut, and good German beer. With only a vague idea of how to get there, the intreped young adventurerer set out, knowing that the powers above would have to smile on his desire to eat a truly filling meal. Sadly, he could find no exact maps to this mythical land, most just showing a dot, somewhere off in the mountains. He found no help in his volumnous guidebooks either. None even mentioned a scrap of this fable. He could see, based on a half finished orc map, that it was possible to get closer using a different train line than he was on. Trying to change trains proved difficult, as there were no set lines using each platform. One had to know which of 3 platforms their train would arrive on. Seeing a train bearing his destination station on it pull up across the station, our intrepid hero bolted towards it. He flung himself into the train car with many moments to spare. It sat for a minute before slowly moving off for a meeting with destiny. But wait, what was this? This train was going the wrong way. The morbid truth dawned. The outside had lied, trickery sent by evil minions of the lord of hunger. In the time between leaping aboard and the train leaving, the destination sign had changed. The tragedy! Precious minutes were lost as he retraced his steps, but soon he stood again at the train station. This time he decided there must be another way! And lo, there was. A bus stood like a pumpkin carriage waiting to take him the rest of the way. As he stumbled, weak with hunger into the rain, he percieved a great building, and beyond, smaller buildings, and beyond those, he could smell the tangy saurkraut and the grilled plumpness of good German sausages. Yet the journey was not to end yet. First he had to overcome the epic line, and then he had to decipher the arcane symbols used as a code by the locals. But with these challenges overcome, he tucked into a very tasty lunch. And there was even an added bonus. Gluwine!

The End

heh. so yeah there is a museum/ tourist trap called The Little World Museum of Man nearby, and it has among other attractions a Bavarian village. With food. I have been craving a good bratwurst for a while, and for some reason was set on reaching it by hell or high water today. So what if I had no idea how to get there. I wanted some sausage! Luckily it all worked out, the museum rocked. It has houses and other buildings from around 22 countries. Some reproductions, some real, Ill post more on that later. And honestly the food was pretty good. Expensive, but not japanofied at all. It tasted pretty authentic. And here is my reward for doggedly pursuing my dream...

Wednesday, November 02, 2005

Castles Pt 1: Fakes and Reproductions

Japanese castles are beautiful. Their soaring white walls and elegantly curved roofs stand in marked contrast to the large stone towers and blocky keeps of their European counterparts. While made of wood, it seems accidental fire and earthquakes were more deadly than enemy sieges, possibly because castle building really came of age in the Edo period, when peace was iron handedly maintained by the Tokugawa Shogunate. That said, there are remarkably few originals left, for two reasons. At the end of the Edo period, in the Meiji restoration the feudal system was abolished, and many of the smaller castles were outlawed and demolished. This is the fate that befell Okazaki and Ueda castles. However, many of the larger more important castles were designated landmarks and cultural treasures. These were preserved as works of art and beauty. Unfortunately for the castles, the Japanese picked a fight with their neighbors across the Pacific. Many major city castles perished in flames under the wings of B-29 Superfortresses. Castles like Nagoya Castle burned to the ground in 1945. Indeed inside the modern remake is a photo of the castle looking like an 8 story blowtorch. Merely saying it burned to the ground doesn't really do the image justice. It infernoed to the ground. Many of these missing castles, including Nagoya and Okazaki Castle have since been reconstructed in concrete. The outsides are built to the same plans as the originals, but inside there are elevators, 3-d film shows, and air conditioning. While you do lose some of the beauty and craftsmanship present in those original castles still left standing, the modern amenity's are very nice. Next time, some of the the original castles, including the oldest castle in Japan.

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Okazaki Castle, birthplace of the deified Tokugawa, Tokugawa Ieyasu. So I have now been to Mr. Tokugawas birthplace AND his tomb. Kewlness.

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Another pic of Okazaki Castle, taken just the other day. So yes it is fall and yes those are pretty flowers.

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Nagoya Castle. Once again, those are flowers that were present over the weekend, in Late October.

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Nagoya Castle

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All thats left of Ueda Castle, a part of a gateway. The central keep (donjon) has not been reconstructed. This picture was taken last March.