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Magnolia festival in Fujieda (Shizuoka)

It is the beginning of spring and you can find everywhere plum blossom and cherry blossom. But there is another very beautiful flower you can find around whole Japan. The very beautiful magnolia in white or pink. During my trip to Shizuoka I used the good weather to visit a magnolia festival. Southwest of Fujieda (Shizuoka) you can find the Jurinji shrine, which is a very small cute shrine. But the main attraction is the small hill next to the shrine. You can find many beautiful magnolia in white in pink there. It is like an ocean of white flowers. I´ve never seen so many white magnolia before. So I was very happy and enjoyed it very much.There is a small way around the hill where you can enjoy the flowers and also you will have a beautiful view over the city. If you are close to Shizuoka, I recommend to take a small stop there!

Tofu + Sesame Icecream (awesome!)

When you visit Arashiyama in Kyoto, I'd highly recommend you to check out this little corner shop on your way to or from the mountain to the station. The shop serves what are two of my favourite ice-cream flavours in one cone: Tofu icecream and black sesame icecream.The creaminess of vanilla blends perfectly with each flavour, and yes, the two match fantastically too. You won't be overwhelmed by the sweetness like with some other icecream choices, and this peaceful sweetness is perfect for a spiritual place like Kyoto.Kyoto is famous for its tofu, and this little dessert option is one not to miss, especially when you're visiting Kyoto in summer!

English-speaking Dental Clinic in Fukui City

Last weekend, I had a dental emergency. My level of Japanese is just enough to set an appointment, but definitely not enough to understand any medical procedure (I had to google what "gums" were in Japanese). Hayakawa Dental Clinic is a rather big clinic with 3 attending dentists and a lot of dental hygienists and assistants. Initially, I had an appointment for a week later because the clinic is a little busy. But the pain became unbearable a few days after I set the appointment. I asked a friend to call them and tell them that I had an emergency. So I came just before clinic hours started just in case they could accommodate me. The staff were patient, treated me as if I had an appointment, and one of the dentists was able to accommodate me. I had an X-ray taken, my tooth cleaned, and my situation explained to me. The dentist I saw could understand English, and could also speak basic English. The assistants spoke Japanese, but were very gentle and used signs to explain whatever I couldn't catch. I am very grateful ! 

Cold, wet, and windy Kujukuri. Feels like home!

If I can help it, I refrain from the checking the surf forecast for the weekend until some time on Friday. I do this out of fear. If it turns out that there will be no surfing over the weekend, I’d rather not know about it until later. The prospect of work without the reward of surf is more than I can be bothered to bare.    Sometimes you just have to go and give it a try though, even when wind charts are telling you to spend your Sunday morning in bed. It’s a daft form of denial I suppose, especially when it’s going to drag you out of bed at 4 am and into the cold and wet dark. Still, one of my favorite things about getting up for a surf is stealing out of the city on empty highways with a good CD playing in the car. It’s one of the few times I listen to music through speakers. There are indicators I look out for on route to the beach in Chiba which give me some idea of what the ocean will be like. The first is a river seeping into Tokyo Bay. From the bridge I check the surface of the water; if it’s glassy, that’s a good sign. Today it was a little bumpy, but not really giving too much away. Of course, it’s not until you actually lay eyes on the ocean that you know if you’re going to be surfing or not. There is, however, one more advanced indicator that is rarely off; the old geezer that attends to the car park by the beach. This morning he greeted me, “Daijoubu kai?”. A kind of eyebrow raised, Are you alright?. Not a good sign (we still can’t see the ocean at this point). Then he nailed the coffin shut, “Ki wo tsukete ne!”.  Take care, alright!.  Now, he only ever says that when the ocean is rougher than a hangover. So there and then I knew that the surf was likely a no go. (Don't know what he's looking so happy about!)This morning I probably should have turned around immediately and headed for home. I decided to hike around for a bit and get soaking wet, instead. This kind of weather reminds me of home though (even after plenty of years in Japan, it still isn’t home) and it felt nice to be out in it. The scruffy desolation of a Japanese beach outside of season and in grotty weather also has the look and feel of mid-winter seaside resorts back home. In the end, despite getting soaked to the bone, I enjoyed snapping some pics of beach (sorry, this is the Fudodo area of Kujukurihama, by the way). I took these with my pretty out-of-date iPhone (Are they ever in?) and played around with some filters when I got back. Kujukurihama, Chiba on a foul Sunday morning then: (Wind swept)(I snapped this as I was racing back to the car to save from getting any more wet)(The other side of the road that runs parallel to the beach; houses that look like they've seen better days)

The highs and lows of Omiyage

Japanese love giving omiyage when they go somewhere for a visit. In some situations you are socially obligated to bring something back with you, especially if you are “inconveniencing” someone else without your presence. One such situation is taking “nenkyuu”, or paid-leave, to go travel or vacation someplace. Often the members of the staff room will expect to also partake in your adventure by indulging in something tasty that you have graciously brought back with you. Omiyage often includes anything from chocolates or normal snacks you would get but the packaging happens to have the local characters face on it. But this isn’t the only time omiyage is appropriate. Other reasons you could receive omiyage is for celebration(less likely), or regret (most likely).  Because omiyage is so ingrained in Japanese culture, you can buy it almost anywhere, even at rural (yet large enough to have a store that sells something) out-in-nowhere train stations where you wouldn’t expect to see a box of nicely individually wrapped confectionery. I always knew where my co-workers had gone during their obon or New Year’s vacations because the packaging would conveniently have the name of the place written on it. It was especially nice when the teachers I worked with went outside of japan, because it was guaranteed the snacks would be different from the usual chocolate or “senbei” rice crackers.  I think the strangest thing brought back was some reindeer jerky from Finland. I honestly can't say what the best thing brought back was, because well, I generally like most things sweet or salty or savory or food, I like food. That being said, a few of my favorite things that I can easily recall are some wafer crackers with a sort of thin creamy filling. I've seen them different places, often reflecting the region. For example, Tochigi which is famous for strawberries has a strawberry filling. Another I remember well is from Ashikaga (ironically also in Tochigi. I’m guessing you gotta go to Tochigi for the snacks). The look of it is unimpressive. But oh the taste. It’s sweet but not too sweet with a crispy outside and soft inside. Having just one will certainly make you want another...until you realize just one little rectangular prism of goodness will set you back 120en. They aren’t even the size of a mouthful really. But they are great to get as a gift. So, you know, if you happen to come to Ashikaga for the wine festival in November, or the fireworks in August, or the flower park during spring or Christmas, check around the stations. You are bound to spot them. But nicely packaged food isn’t all that it’s cracked up to be. Sure you get to try lots of different things, but that also means you have to smile and thank someone politely...even if you don't like the item. Every year, the PTA would provide omiyage for the staff after the sports day or other such activity where the teacher must have been “inconvenienced” and needed to celebrate for a job well done. This is what I was told anyway the first year I got a pile of sweets on my desk. They were all the same basic omiyage, “anko” or sweet bean paste. In small amounts, or when I am really craving something super sweet, anko can be good. But four large dumplings are just too much. They are also encased in an overly sweet wafer of cakey casing that sticks to your teeth. It’s kind of like eating a heavy chalky sugar paste that sometimes also has a random chestnut stuck in it just to add to the chalky grit. Really not the best gift to get. And their expiration dates always seem too soon. I don't like wasting food, but I can say a few of these went in the trash. These must be a regional specialty because on another occasion I received a whole box of these same sweets.  This time as a “sorry I inconvenienced you by hitting you with my car” gift. Super sweet right? I think I might have eaten the whole box for dinner out of sore and because my body hurt too much to cook. But that's a story for a different blog.  You can check the first part out here.  But these weren't the worst omiyage I've ever eaten. No that title belongs to a box of delicious looking mochi balls (smooshed up gluttonous rice cakes) that I bought myself for my colleagues. To be honest I just wanted to try them myself.  Bad decision. But they looked so good. Powder covered chocolate flavored sticky rice balls on concurrent to eat sticks! How could I go wrong? Well let me give you a back story as to where I got these first. On a whim, a friend of mine invited me to climb Mount Fuji with her and her family.  Because it was on just a whim, and I didn't really do much research or think too much about the trip, I was highly unprepared to say the least. Dangerously so. And. It made for a very hungry lady when she finally made it to the bottom (5th station, so not actually the bottom) of the mountain.   But you remember that friend and her family? Well, me not being a nice friend had left her behind thinking we could just meet up the next day before our bus ride. There aren't that many places near the bus stop, so it wouldn't be hard. That was my thought anyway. So hungry tired me went in look for omiyage while I waited around for the friend to show. Let's just say I had ample time to make my decision and I finally settled on this.  Looks good right? That's why I got it. I wanted to try it before bringing it back to my office of teachers ready to share my harrowing story of climbing Fuji.  Turns out I didn't want to share this with them. It was bad. Really really bad. And I had just done enough physical exertion that should have made anything seem edible.  Not these. That white powder coating is not sugar like I had thought, but in fact cornstarch, straight unflavored cornstarch. The texture of the mochi was also off, not sticky and soft but had a gelatinous putty like feel to it.  And that chocolate taste it promised, I'm still looking for it years later. Whoever made these either never tried them, or was too cheap to care and change the recipe. They are the worst and please never submit your co-workers to these monstrosity of omiyage. unless you don't get along with them, then by all means make a trip out to Mount Fuji and stock up.

Gifu-city's Nobunaga buses

Oda Nobunaga is the most famous warlord of Japan for his ambition to conquer the country during the time of sengoku jidai, and Gifu-city, the city that holds the castle where his legacy began takes pride in it. Sights of Oda Nobunaga can be seen from all over the city, and there is a golden statue of him standing right outside of the train station.But not just that, the other most prominent sight of the famous samurai is on the city's buses. There are two loop lines that run in the city, and they are all painted green and feature different heroic poses of Oda Nobunaga in action.And with the loop line being the line on the quickest rotation (which is 15mins per bus, not an impressive number, I know), we can see Oda Nobunaga running around the city all the time.The inside of the bus is also designed to look like the interior of a castle, welcoming any visitors on the bus and reminding the locals of the pride that we have in being the home of the warlord that changed the country.Do you have any local historical pride like that being on display everywhere?

Cool Japan: Taking Awesome Photos with Trick Art

Japan is a country with many amazing things. Not only because of this more and more tourists come to Japan every year. They want to experience the traditional and modern specialties on their trips. One of these modern facilities is appearing in more and more cities in Japan: Trick Art Museums. Isn’t it cool to take some awesome photos on your trip? Here we go!   Trick Art Museums are a perfect combination of art and amusement. The two-dimensional paintings in these facilities are created with an optical illusion technique which will make them look like 3D art. The human instinct normally wants to judge and observe things as they are, but trick art makes this complicated. On the first view of photos taken with trick art, the brain can’t decide if you are really touching a giraffe or are close to being eaten by a shark, because they look so realistic (if you are a good actor). So the art work can lead the brain to make mistaken judgments about what the eye observes. Isn’t this amazing?   While visiting a Trick Art Museum you can experience many art works with this effect. Furthermore, some pictures will be seen in a different way if you change the angles of view. You should try it out and will definitely be impressed. Some other works have a hidden puzzle – for example finding animals in a landscape or guessing what will be seen in the lamp reflected from the table when you turn off the light. Our brain can make amazing things, you just need the chance to find this out. You can experience the illusion in a magical room which makes one of you look bigger or smaller. Or maybe let your friend look like your mirror image. The imagination knows no limits. Mainly the Trick Art Museums are split into several areas, so you can experience more than one topic at each facility. They all have their unique art works, however some might be similar. So, even if you visit more than one Trick Art Museum in Japan, you can always find something new. Normally, you will find a description to all art works in Japanese, English and sometimes Chinese. Some of these also include a sample picture with a pose you could make. However, you are free to choose whatever you want. Also, staff members are really helpful and teach you about the right angle for taking the perfect photo. If you want to visit a Trick Art Museum make sure you go there in a group, at least two people, so one can take the photo and the other one can pose. If it is not so crowded, staff members can help you, but it is recommended to take the photos by yourself. So don’t forget your camera or smartphone. The entrance fee varies between the locations, but mostly you have to pay 700 ~ 1300 Yen for adults. Students until middle-school-age pay a bit les and children up to three years are free of charge. Some Trick Art Museums in Japan Because the most tourists come to Tokyo, the easiest to reach would be the Tokyo Trick Art Museum in Odaiba. You will find it in Decks Tokyo Beach Island Mall on 4th floor. Enjoy taking photos at the Edo Area or meet Japanese monsters at the Haunted Mansion. At the Trick Art Gallery you can find art work with animals, but also parodies of famous masterpieces.  Just opened in September 2016, the Yokohama Trick Art Cruise is a new highlight of your visit to the harbor city. For sure, most of the art works inside have a harbor-theme. You can sit on a sofa with a seal, steal the treasure of a skeleton pirate, and go diving. There is a jungle area, too. The location inside the Yokohama Landmark Plaza is a good one, because it is just next to popular shops such as the Pokemon Center, JUMP Shop und Ghibli Store. Another museum is the Takao Trick Art Museum located at the foot of Mr. Takao close to Takaosanguchi Station. It already opened back in 1996 in the west of Tokyo which makes it one of the oldest Trick Art Museums. Here you can find a lot of Egypt-themed art works. Take cool photos at the Floating Palace or with animals at the Nature Park of Pharaoh. After or before your visit to Trick Art Museum Takao you can enjoy the nature of the mountain area. The Trick Art Pia Nikko is the largest site of these kinds of museums in Japan. It is divided into different corners including objects from famous world paintings and sculptures. You have the chance to take photos in a waterless aquarium, a cage-less zoo or inside an Egypt-themed area. Furthermore the Trick Art Pia Nikko is located close to the famous theme park Edo Wonderland.   Here I have a list of Trick Art Museums in Japan Tokyo Trick Art Museum (Odaiba) Trick Art Museum Mount Takao (Tokyo) Yokohama Trick Art CruiseArtrick Museum Yokohama Daska Trick Art Museum Atami   Trick Art Museum Kyu-Karuizawa Trick Art Pia NikkoYufuin Trick Art Meikyukan Museum (Oita) Nasu Trick Art Pia (Tochigi)   Trick Art Museum NagoyaTrick Art Museum Matsushima


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