Friday, June 29, 2007

Dancing in the Street, with Turtles

After the parade we hit up festival area for some food and fun. Yakitori chicken skewers, french fries, and even some chicken döner kebab was all consumed with gusto, despite a 'bag malfunction' that dropped some yakitori sauce on various shoes. The meal was capped off with a chocolate covered banana. I love festival food.

Of course no festival would be complete without games, including a turtle catching game. Michael succeeded beyond anybodies wildest dreams, capturing a ton of baby turtles. He only got to keep one of course. Rambo is still doing fine in Michaels
apartment, despite several escape attempts. Of course, a 6 ft+ Kiwi doing children's game did attract quite the audience. Later on we ran into a bunch of his students and of course a photo requrest was submitted.

An okonomiyaki dinner was followed by us watching the street dancing. 10,000 people danced through Katamachi. It was pretty amazing.

Thursday, June 28, 2007

Hyakumangoku Matsuri- The Parade

The first weekend in June sees the annual celebration of the entry of Lord Maeda into Kanazawa to take control of the Kaga Feudal Fief.

The festivities begin with a parade, but this year I skipped the school marching bands, and waited till the Acrobatic Firemen show before I unlimbered my camera.

The actor playing Lord Maeda was a fairly famous individual here, so the crowd went kind of wild when he showed up. It was kind of funny actually, Michael and I standing there non plussed, while Sachiko and Yukie were super excited. Of course, if he had been Bruce Willis or somebody from my childhood then *I* would have been the one bouncing up and down.

Friday, June 22, 2007

Sleepless night and other tales

Wednesday began like any other average, normal day. Shower, go to work, change into suit. Pretty usual. Little did I know the HORROR I would soon encounter...

I had left my socks on the main floor of the school, so I slipped my dress shoes on sans socks and headed for the elevator. As I walked down the hall, I felt something move.

This perturbed me mightily, so I kicked off my shoe, only to see a cockroach a good 3-4 inches long come flying out of my shoe. (I would have sworn the hideous apparition was a good meter, but then he wouldn't have fit in the shoe so I must revise my initial estimate downwards.)

I did NOT in fact scream like a girl, but I really, really wanted to. I didn't say anything. I just collected my shoe, went downstairs to the office and collected the roach spray. My vengeance was as swift as it was deadly.

Last night I had a delicious dinner of Pizza with Michael, but had rather meaty 'pizza breath' and decided to chew some gum. I have been chewing this delicious cinnamon gum lately.

At 3 AM when I was still totally wide awake, I began to wonder if the cinnamon gum was by chance caffinated. A quick look at the packadge the next day proved my hypothesis true.

My sleep was also interrupted last night by yet ANOTHER 3:45 AM earthquake. Seriously, this has got to stop.

On the plus side of the balance sheet my package of birthday goodies arrived from my Sister. Any pretense of dieting this week is long gone, but at least I'll die fat and happy.

Thursday, June 21, 2007


A few weeks back the floating bookstore MV Doulos arrived for a two week stay in Kanazawa. In addition to being a bookstore and international exchange vessel, the Doulos is also the oldest still operating passenger liner, built just a few years after the Titanic sank.

Unfortunately for my desire for a good Tom Clancy novel, the Doulos is also a missionary ship, which isn't really a problem except that ALL the books in their bookstore were either non-fiction (atlases, cookbooks, etc) or religious books. No fast paced action thrillers for me. And I rode my bike all the way from my apartment to the Port of Kanazawa, a ride of a good hour at least. *sigh*

As always in Japan, if something is worth doing by one person, its worth doing by most of the town, it was a pretty long line to get aboard! I wonder how all those Buddists and Shinto believers felt after waiting in line for 40 minutes to get on the boat and find only Christian books in English waiting for them?

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Iris in Kenrokuen

So a couple of weeks ago Sachiko dropped by Kanazawa, and as she had never been to Kenrokuen in the Spring, we decided to meander around the garden a bit. Of course, being Ishikawa, it was overcast and threatening rain, but at least it wasn't too hot.

The iris were gorgeous, and really I must admit that I will miss this garden when I leave. It is so peaceful and beautiful, I can't even count the number of times I have been to Kenrokuen, and yet I always find something new and interesting when I go back.

Let's hear it for the 'hold the camera out' self portrait style. I knew I should have brought a tripod! ;-) Actually though, the pictures came out kind of nice!

After the garden we went to the 21st Century Museum of Art, and checked out the famous "swimming pool" installation piece. It was interesting enough, but neither of us have an eye for modern art.

Friday, June 15, 2007

HDR Attack

On the way to James Bond Island in Thailand. (1 exposure HDR)

Karon Beach. (5 exposure HDR)

A customs ship at Kanazawa Port. (The name, Tedori, means to catch or seize)(1 exposure HDR)

Sunset over the Saigawa. (3 exposure HDR)

Thursday, June 14, 2007

Weekend in Tokyo

Less than a week after returning from my epic journey I was back at the airport! This time it was my first opportunity to fly out of our local puddle jumper airport, Komatsu International. I was going to Tokyo to visit Sachiko, but rather than take the four hour train ride I opted for the slightly more expensive but much faster 1 hour flight. Please notice that the hop from Ishikawa to Tokyo was in a FULL 747. Thats a lot of people flying into Tokyo! In fact, Tokyo Haneda Airport, which almost exclusivly serves the domestic market in Japan sees the most passengers of any airport in Asia, and was the fourth busiest passenger airport in the world for 2006. And this is in a nation with an excellent (and highly used) high speed rail system. Wow.

Well after a quick bite to eat on the observation deck (do American airports even HAVE observation decks anymore?) we headed to the most controversial shrine in Japan. Yasukuni Shrine was built in 1869 to honor Japanese war dead. So far so good, but after World War II a gaggle of war criminals, including Hideki Tojo were added to the list of those honored dead. This is why Korea and China get angry every time the Prime Minister visits. The shrine has also become a bit of a hot spot for the far right imperialists who think the good old days ended in 1945. We still had fun though, as the place really is beautiful, and we got to see a High School Sumo team that was wandering about. Also, I got to see a Zero, which as a military hardware nut made me happy.

The locomotive on display actually used to run on the Nanao line here in Ishikawa prefecture, but was used on the Thailand-Burma railroad, aka the Death Railway (You know, the Bridge on the River Kwai railway.) The display of such a relic with no context of the suffering dealt out on that railway is a bit of an indication of the degree of remorse felt by those running the Yasukuni museum. We didn't bother paying to get into the main part of the museum. It's \800 and I didn't feel like lineing their pockets. Nice Zero though.

We spent the rest of the day hanging out and shopping, and then saw Spiderman 3, which was merely OK, but not too fantastic. The next day Sachiko had to work, so I was left to my own devices. I tracked down the Nikon service center in Shinjuku and had my camera cleaned, so no more photoshopping out dust spots. I then headed to Tokyo Tower, as I had never actually bothered to see it up close before.

The sunset really was quite fantastic, but the place was really crowded. I went to the top of Nagoya tower several times, and it was rarely that busy, but Tokyo Tower was packed. I guess thats what happens when you have an urban area of 12 million people compared to the 2.7 million in Nagoya!

I managed to put together these two HDR images, I especially like the first one, its kinda creepy, in a post-apocalyptic sort of way.

I flew out early Monday morning, so I could be back at work by noon. I have to add in that for domestic travel, its hard to beat Japan. It was seriously easy, with automatic check in and no massive security lines. I guess I've just been traveling internationally for so long that I had forgotten how easy it can be to fly domestically, or maybe it's just a lot easier in Japan than it is in the overly paranoid States.

Monday, June 11, 2007

Seriously too early

In short, a 4.8 magnitude quake hit Ishikawa at 3:45 AM! Now thats not THAT strong, just some shaking and moving, but its certainly strong enough to wake up the whole damn prefecture. Well I guess some heavy sleepers didn't notice it, but I sure as heck did. Its pretty hard to get back to sleep after being woken up by an earthquake too, no matter how weak it may have been. Seriously Earth, if 7 AM is too early, than 3:45 is way too early!

Southeast Asia: Final Thoughts

This was my first time traveling in 'the developing world' and it was certainly a very interesting experience. Especially in Vietnam, any traveler was seen as a walking, talking ATM. People constantly tried to squeeze money out of you, either by selling you a service, item or cheating some extra dong out of your pocket. I myself got cheated on the cab ride from Hanoi airport, using a non-metered Taxi. They warn you about that in the Lonely Planet, but the guy knew the first rule of sales. He didn't take no for an answer, and like a moron I got in the car. Luckily I only parted with an extra 20 bucks, painful but not super painful. Heck he TRIED to cheat me out of 200 dollars! A lot of the scams in Vietnam are based off of the 16,000 VND per 1 USD. Thats a tricky exchange rate to get used to, and if you mess up on your zeros then you can easily overpay by a large magnitude.

When I tipped the rower at the perfume Pagoda I gave her 10,000 dong, which is 2/3 her daily wage of 15,000 dong (yes under a dollar per day!). Now usually if somebody gave you 2/3 of your daily wage as a tip, I'd think you'd be happy, but she was pissed and kept yelling "is small, is small, that one!" and pointing to the 100,000 dong note in my wallet. Yeah, right lady, you realize that the rowers who row pilgrims and not tourists don't get tips at all!

Phuket is beautiful, bit certainly it is a couples island. Do not go alone, you won't have anybody to talk to. Or maybe I'm just unfriendly.

The most interesting thing I learned though was not about Thailand or Vietnam, it was about Japan. Upon returning to Ishikawa, and then on my trip to Tokyo the following weekend, I noticed a distinct lack of Western tourists. Obviously Phuket was full of people, but so was Bangkok, and even Hanoi had far more obvious tourists than I saw in Tokyo. Most of the Westerners you see in Tokyo are living there. Now I know that Kyoto does have a very high percentage of visitors and tourists, but seriously, where is the foreign tourist in Japan? Of the three couchsurfers I have hosted two lived in country. Only one was visiting, and she was visiting for about four months, which is quite the visit!

So why is smelly Bangkok more full of tourists than ultra-modern Tokyo? Expense? English level? Sushi? I wonder...

Saturday, June 09, 2007

Ha Long Bay

My final burst of adventure in Southeast Asia was a two day trip to Ha Long Bay, another dramatic Karst landscape about 170 kilometers east of Hanoi. There are thousands of limestone islands dotting the tranquil waters, creating an otherworld panorama of unsurpassed beauty. At least, you get that if its NOT horribly overcast and rainy.

I had booked the tour through the hotel at the same time as I booked the Perfume Pagoda tour. The Ha Long trip cost me 25 US dollars, and that was all inclusive of four meals, aircon van transportation, and one night out on the water. Not bad for 25 bucks.

The first stop was on one of the larger islands, one home to a pair of very large caves. The intricate stalactites and stalagmites were gorgeously lit. Unfortunately, in a trend that I have seen throughout my photos of Vietnam, the low shutter speed has led to some horrifically blurry photos. Alas, none of the pictures I took in the caves came out.

Our tour boat then anchored near a sea cave, and we got to paddle sea kayaks through the cave and into a sheltered lagoon. The steep green and black islands, combined with the constant din of the local bird population combined to create a very magical experience. I'd have to say it was one of my top travel experiences ever, it was just so interesting, enchanting, and utterly different.

That night though, there wasn't much to do, so after dinner I hung out with a pair of Czech travelers who were going to take the Trans-Siberian express back to Europe and an Australian couple who were spending three weeks in Vietnam and Thailand. We had a good time swapping travel stories over Tiger beer.

The next day, my final day of vacation, was a mess. I had a pretty bad hangover, was dehydrated, and had a headache the size of China. Add to all this a 4 hour drive back to Hanoi, and then a several hour wait before my 11:30 flight back to Osaka and I was NOT a very happy camper.

I made it thorough relatively unscathed, and the four hour flight back went without a hitch, depositing me back in Nihon feeling like I had been gone a month rather than a little over a week.

Tuesday, June 05, 2007

The Perfume Pagoda

I booked a tour to The Perfume Pagoda for my second day in Vietnam. What interested me about this particular Buddhist holy site is that it requires a two hour drive, followed by an hour boat ride to get there. The complex itself is nestled in the dramatic Karst landscape that typifies much of the beauty of Southeast Asia.

The pagoda is very popular among both tourists and devout locals, especially on religious holidays, so there are tons of boats waiting to ferry people downstream.

The journey itself was pretty amazing. The overcast day kept things much cooler than that sweltering pit called Bangkok. It was still plenty hot, but far from unpleasant. The steep hills were dramatically shrouded by the heavy air, being slowly revealed as our boat paddled ever closer.

Actually, shortly after we docked the heavens opened and it poured down rain. We really were remarkably lucky, making port mere moments before the rain began in earnest. The tour group opted to eat first, and hike the few kilometers to the pagoda later.

As with all the tour groups I went on in Southeast Asia, the food was pretty good. Certainly nothing terribly dramatic, but considering the cost for the entire day, food included was 15 dollars you can't really complain. The fare was tasty and plentiful.

The hike up the wet mountain was tricky but not horribly treacherous. You had to watch your step, and as always in Asia, watch out for umbrella toting old ladies who are liable to bash your head in.

The trail actually pointed to one of the many serious problems plaguing Vietnam, and the developing world in general. Trash. Trash was everywhere along the trail, in great piles. Especially when surrounded by such glorious natural beauty and such interesting cultural heritage, it was a real tragedy.

Another tragedy was that I didn't bring my tripod! The heavy overcast weather restricted the light levels a lot, so a vast majority of my pictures didn't come out. I had to use some pretty long shutter speeds, and sadly, a lot of them were just a bit too long. Alas.

On the bus ride back to Hanoi one of our group mentioned that he owned a restaurant there, and invited the whole tour group out for dinner, on the house! The restaurant, Bunta, was a trendy modern reinterpretation of Vietnamese cuisine. It was amazingly delicious. I tried the recommended apple juice for my drink, and it was tart and tasty and honestly I have to say it tasted 'green'. Really a perfect cap to a pretty amazing day.

Friday, June 01, 2007

Welcome to Hà Nội

Since my flight from Bangkok was an hour late taking off, I didn't make it to my Hotel till almost 5. This didn't leave much time for exploration of the city, and of course most tourist areas were closing or already closed. I did get to see the famous traffic of Vietnam. Bikes, motorbikes, cars, and more all jockeying for position. There are no road rules in Vietnam, or at least nobody follows that ones that exist. The only real rules are, use your horn whenever possible, and the biggest vehicle wins. Yikes. I hear the HCMC (Saigon) is even worse than Hanoi! The humanity!

I did have time to walk (carefully) down to the old quarter, and check out the beautiful and tranquil Hoan Kiem lake. The park was really quite nice, and even with the roaring honking traffic on the road behind me, the area just exuded peacefulness.

While this was really my only time to see Hanoi, and I left all the real touristy stuff the city has to offer unseen, I'll admit I took a liking to the capital of Vietnam. The French Colonial architecture is pretty interesting, and the tree shaded boulevards are a marked contrast to the wide hot streets of Bangkok.

It also helped that my Hotel was much nicer. It still had a bit of 'faded glory' but overall I was pretty impressed. The large room was a nice change to my living conditions in Japan, and the marble tiled bathroom just reeked of luxury.

The bed was gloriously comfortable, and despite both the fact that I had done almost nothing all day and the crazy traffic outside my window, I quickly sank into a deep sleep.