For Fukui’s Sake! – Matt’s Trip To Japan

Most Japan travel guide books say there’s little to do in Fukui, the place in Japan that I call home. I disagree and was determined to prove the boys and that Lonely Plant book wrong! I lured my brother and his friend Tim here, to this rural little middle-of-no-where-town, a place definitely off the well-beaten tourist track so they could have a few unique experiences!

Tim could only stay for a day before heading back to Tokyo for his flight, so Matt and I were determined to do all the best and coolest things we could while he was here. To kick things off, after I finished work at noon and picked the boys up from the train station, we met my friend Tomomi. She had kindly arranged for a very fun hands-on activity for the boys: soba making with a national soba master!IMG_0159 IMG_0154

Soba noodles (そば) are a type of Japanese noodle made from buckwheat. It’s served in a variety of ways, my personal favourite being “The Fukui Way” with sauce poured all over and grated daikon radish piled on high.  Fukui’s very famous for its soba noodles and you can immediately distinguish Fukui’s soba noodles apart from other areas’ soba because of it’s purple hue. You’re going to have to trust me they taste a lot better than they look!IMG_0152

The man who taught us is a personal friend of Tomomi’s and it was such an honour to be invited into his own house’s workshop for a private lesson! Making soba is tricky but with patience and lots of hard work the boys were able to transform their soba flour into noodles.IMG_0118 IMG_0119 IMG_0127 IMG_0128 IMG_0125

The coolest part of making soba is getting to use giiiiinormous knives to cut the dough into noodles.  IMG_0140 IMG_0134 IMG_0142 IMG_0143 IMG_0147

Hands down the best part of making soba is the noodle feast afterwards! Matt, Tim and I joked about the adorable duck Mr. Ping from Kung Fu Panda; we all will be having the “noodle dream” for a while, he would be so proud. Tomomi laughed because Matt and Tim couldn’t stop plotting how to open a soba restaurant in Calgary, they were convinced it would be a hit.IMG_0153 IMG_0151 IMG_0149IMG_0156After our soba-making lesson, we nipped over to Tomomi’s house for tea and scones. The boys really enjoyed meeting my infamous friend. Matt’s being hearing me talk about this “Tomomi character” (as he called her) for 3 years and was dying to meet her. I honestly can’t even begin to describe how amazing of a person she is. The only way Matt could know why I love her so much was to meet her in person. Tomomi stuffed us like turkeys on Thanksgiving with her home-made scones and delicious jam.

After tea time with Tomomi it was time for a much needed nap for our 2 heroes (3 if you include me!); they needed to rest up for the main event: Karaoke Fukui-style.

I invited several close friends out for dinner at an izakaya-style restaurant (a place you share lots of little dishes with people). The real reason we went to that restaurant was it has a 680 yen nomihoudai drinking option. The boys were in absolute shock that there was a place in Japan they could drink as much beer/wine/sake/whatever as they wanted for a whole hour and only pay about $7. Matt kept checking and re-checking this fact with me. I don’t blame him, it sounds too good to be true after every bar in Osaka was charging 600 yen for a single beer! Fukui’s the place to live boys, the sushi’s fresh and life’s cheaper out here!Fukui izakayaphoto-2

After dinner we meandered over to my favourite karaoke place: Rent-A-Car Karaoke. A car rental and karaoke centre run together…it sounds strange I know but it’s cheap (we each spent only 700yen for 3 hours of singing!), easy to get reservations for, and right across the street from a kick-ass nomihoudai restaurant. Win-win-win!

We all sang the night away, until about 1:30 in the morning! In my opinion the best songs are always the Disney songs, everybody knows and loves them, so I put plenty in throughout the night. The boys thought it was cheesy at first, but when “Let It Go” from Frozen came on, I noticed that Matt and Tim couldn’t resist howling away like the rest of us ALTs.

Finally it was time for us to head home to my apartment so we stumbled drunkly into a taxi. Both I and the taxi driver chuckled as the boys continued to sing long after the party was over and the Rent-A-Car lights faded from the rear-view mirror into the distance.

The last thing I said before we all passed out was, “And that boys is why Fukui is awesome!”

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Categories: Life in Japan, Lifestyle | Tags: , , , , , | 2 Comments

Owl Cafes In Osaka Are A Hoot!

Perhaps you’ve heard of Japan’s cat cafes? We’re pretty legendary for our fluffy feline hang out spots these days. I’ve only ever been to one, but enjoyed my time cooing over the cats there immensely. I’ll unabashedly admit that the cat cafe we were merely passing by had me hook, line, and sinker when they promised me a munchkin cat in residence. I have a total soft spot for this breed of short-legged cats like nobody else I know. Funny story though, the munchkin cat refused to so much as sit in my lap, even when I offered him chicken tidbits! SO heartbreaking, I know! Don’t worry, I (and my chicken tidbits) were very well-loved by all the other cats.

In a land where space is limited, and most apartments are not pet friendly it’s a smart business to open cafes where customers can cuddle and hang-out with their favourite animals without the responsibility that comes with ownership. I’ve also heard of dog and bunny cafes in Japan. It’s only logical I supposed that if such cafes existed for cat lovers, dog lovers and bunny lovers deserved cafes too.

Cat Cafe Tokyo Cat Cafe TokyoWhen one of my friends in Japan informed me 2 weeks ago there was such a thing as an owl cafe however, I’m pretty sure my heart skipped a beat, or two…or three. I was in utter shock and disbelief that there was a place in Japan where you could, um you know…just go chill with a dozen or more owls! It sounded so crazy I thought I was dreaming! I even looked a little like an owl when I found out because my eyes were as wide as saucers I have no doubts.

How,” I asked myself, “have I lived in Japan for 3 years and never heard about such a magical place until only 2 months before I leave!?!” Trust me, I couldn’t find out the location from my friend fast enough! It was bloody brilliant timing too because it was mere days before I was due to meet up with my younger brother in Kyoto and Osaka. We’re both HUGE Harry Potter fans so he jumped at the idea too.

Last Sunday, we went to the cafe my friend recommended called Owl Family. It’s pretty out of the way and a little difficult to find but go hunt it down! (At the end of the blog I posted details how to get there.)IMG_4699At first we were a little nervous about getting super close to live owls, after all those are some pretty serious looking talons!

IMG_4705 IMG_4712But slowly my inner HP nerd won out and I was holding them in no time!IMG_4753 IMG_4746

Tim I think was a little skeptical at first but made a new friend pretty fast!

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This little guy with his big baby black peepers was the absolute life of the party!  It was hard not to laugh at his curious nature and love his happy-go-lucky attitude. He bounced and bobbed all over the place and made everyone in the cafe giggle with how infatuated he was with one lady’s crochet-style sweater choice that day. He looooooved it and its multitude of holes so much he never wanted to let her go! I saw him wistfully look back at her “fun” sweater when he was transferred to a new person’s shoulder too.

I was really interested to see that owls, just like dogs and cats, have distinct personalities too!  IMG_4564One of the hardest things is timing the photo so the birds are actually looking at the camera. “Patience you must have, my young padawan.” (Bonus points to any other nerds out there who immediately got that quote).Owl Cafe

Soon it was just a blur of new feathered friends, Hogwarts-worthy selfies, and squeals of delight (from me not the owls!)…

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We had zero problems with any of the owls until we met this little fellow (who is exactly how I imagined Pigwidgeon from Harry Potter would look like in real life). When he was put on my brother’s head and Tim’s head he was on his best behaviour. When put on mine however, became immediately and absolutely infatuated with my hair.  He took one look at my brother’s camera before he began grabbing chucks of my hair in his beak and tugging at it, happily hooting every time he grabbed and gobbled all over a new chuck of my long hair. It didn’t hurt and was rather cute I have to admit.

The cafe attendants were all smiling, apparently he loves long-haired blonde foreigners the most, but on that particular day was willing to settle for my long brunette locks. The staff tried to coax him to let go of my hair and he simply turned and shook his tail feathers in their face. Eventually he grew board with my hair and hopped back on a staff member’s hand.IMG_4786IMG_4770IMG_4773

All too soon, our time was up. We chugged our drinks (which had been forgotten and neglected up until then), paid, and left with enormous smiles on our faces so the next group of people could come in. All in all it was a total hoot!

 

IMPORTANT INFORMATION ABOUT THE OWL FAMILY CAFE 

So you want to check out an Owl Cafe? Well, if you do, I’d definitely recommend the Owl Family Owl Cafe in Osaka! The cafe’s business card says that they’re open Tues-Fri 12:00 – 20:00 & Sat-Sun 11:00-20:00. (They are closed Mondays). The easiest way to get there is to take a train to either Temma Station or Osaka Temmangu Station. You can find more information and images on their website but it’s all in Japanese. (http://blog.livedoor.jp/owlfamily) On the map the red pin is the owl cafe!

*Also, if you get lost and decide to ask someone in that area “Fukuro cafe wa doko desu ka” they’ll probably be able to help you out.

Owl Family Owl CafephotoHere’s the deal about getting in:

  • It’s 1000yen for the hour ($10) which includes unlimited pictures and a drink which you order from the menu.
  • There are only a few time slots a day which guests can enter. You get to go in for 1 hour and then must leave.  Time really flies by (giggle!) so have that camera ready and get in line for the most popular owls. Each time slot begins on the hour (we went in for the 11am morning slot, we were told to be waiting outside the door there no later that 10:50am).
  • You’ll want to arrive early to put your name on the list for the next session (we arrived almost half an hour before hand). This is because only 15-20 guests can enter the cafe at a time, so if all the spots are booked up you have no choice but to wait for the next hour for the following session.

Overall the cafe is pretty foreigner friendly. They give a run down in Japanese of the rules, with visual demonstrations, but will put a laminated English instruction sheet on the table if you look foreign. Be sure to understand the rules, from what I understand the cafes are very strict about them and have been known to kick out people who don’t follow them. In particular, flash photography is very taboo and will definitely earn you a strong scolding in Japanese.  The rules to me were pretty logical and easy to understand: no camera flashes, only pet the owls gently with the back of your hand, only pet them on their backs not their tummies, etc etc.

The only thing I thought was exceptionally funny was that if an owl poops on you (the owls are real living birds after all!) it’s entirely your responsibility and the cafe isn’t liable. They also stress that if it happens, you “freak out” only mentally as not to startle the poor animal.

 

*Final Note On The Ethics Of Owl Cafes in Japan*

As much as I really enjoyed the opportunity to interact in such an intimate way with so many owls, an opportunity I could never have had in Canada, I do have many reservations about the overall ethics of owl cafes. I think it’s important to remember that there is a reason this isn’t possible in most countries in the world. The question being: Is it really fair to the animals to force them to spend their lives this way?

My brother Matt, his friend Tim, and I upon sitting down in the cafe and seeing the actual setting immediately felt guilty and very sad for the animals. Yes they are kept clean, healthy and fed and it’s obvious to anyone that the birds are very well cared for…..but they are also kept leashed at all times, are never free to fly, spend their days in a tiny little cubicle on a shelf if off-duty, are kept awake during the day when they would rather be sleeping being nocturnal animals, and forced to endure noisy hours being entertainment for camera-happy people. That doesn’t sound like a happy life to me, does it to you?IMG_4515

I sense with the gaining popularity of owl cafes that soon many more will open. I feel a bit guilty adding fuel to a craze that I cannot support whole-heartedly out of concern for the well-being of the owls. It was too late for us to change our minds when we got there as we had invested a lot of time and effort to get there (and I’ll admit we didn’t leave because we were excited)…but a big part of me did want to leave when I first sat down. I wonder now if I had hit the pause button on my excitement when I first found out about the existence of owl cafes, and really stopped to think about the ethics of what I was suggesting to my travel companions, if I would have gone?  I promised myself if I blogged about this experience I would also mention and question the ethics of it too, so as to bring greater awareness to the situation.

Some of my friends asked me, “Ok, then. Why are you ok with cat cafes but not owl cafes?” My answer is simple , cat cafes and owl cafes are like apples and oranges to me. It’s in a cat’s nature to love lounging around inside and sleeping all day. They enjoy being pampered by people and also, in their cat-cafe-homes they have freedom to roam around and do as they like.  Owls on the other hand, at least in my opinion, are not meant to be domesticated. They are wild animals by nature who are being forced to adapt to a very different lifestyle in these cafes than they would naturally choose to lead themselves.

All I’m asking is that you please pause and consider this information before you choose to visit an owl cafe in Japan. Because in hindsight I wish I had.

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Kyoto & Osaka Adventures – Matt’s Trip To Japan

Just wait until I tell you about my weekend! It was positively, absolutely incredible!

My brother Matt and his friend Tim came to Japan for a holiday. I couldn’t unfortunately take a lot of time off from work as it’s a really busy season for Japanese schools, but I was able to pop down to Osaka and Kyoto this weekend to play local tour guide. I was so excited to see my little brother I could hardly sleep the days leading up to our adventure!

Saturday we toured around Kyoto and I brought the boys to some of my favourite places and temples. I knew it would be my last trip to Kyoto, so it was really nice to see my favourite temples one last time and share them with my brother.

First stop was Kinkakuji Temple. The boys were delighted to get to ring the enormous bell inside the temple grounds.
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Then we meandered over, through the throngs of school kiddies out on their annual school trip, to the actual pavilion. I had never seen Kinkakuji look so beautiful! The temple was magnificent to behold with a robins egg blue sky in the background and the brilliant sunshine making it really sparkle. Also, the iris flowers around the temple pond were in full bloom much to my delight! (For more info in Kinkakuji click here)

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We arrived in downtown Kyoto, it was a scorcher of a hot day so we grabbed some matcha ice cream and took a shameless selfie. IMG_4472Our tongues turned thoroughly green and our stomachs happy, we skipped down the street to relax and putter around my favourite zen temple Kennin-ji. Matt and Tim both said that it was their favourite temple in Japan so far. Or perhaps I was simply so enthusiastic about being there, and singing it’s numerous praises, they dared not break my bubble of happiness…

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My favourite part of that whole day was walking around Kennin-ji and finally sitting down for a ‘quiet’ moment to contemplate the beautiful rock garden! Matt and Tim made friends with some of the cute girls wearing kimono and these photos were the highlight of their day.IMG_4631 IMG_4698

Truly tuckered out I retreated to my favourite cafe Malebranche in Kyoto Station to relax a little while the boys went shopping for Japanese goodies.  This was a  bittersweet and nostalgic moment, Malebranche’s cafe is one of my favourite cafes in the world and it would be my last time ever sitting there in it’s tranquility and comfort.IMG_4500

It’s a good thing I rested up because that night we went out on the town! Osaka’s big city lights lured the boys out of the hostel for a few beers and good times. I had to call it quits at 2 am little party pooper that I am eventhough the boys were ready to stay out till the sun came up; what can I say, these old bones of mine just couldn’t keep up! IMG_4503

 

We woke up tired but excited Sunday morning. Today was the day we were off to see some owls! A new and big trend in Japan is Owl Cafes which is basically a place where you go to hang out with live owls! Matt and I are die-hard Harry Potter fans, so this interaction with live owls was a dream come true.

Osaka today, Hogwarts tomorrow! Oh how I wish! Owl Cafe Osaka IMG_4753 IMG_4746We had a hoot at the Owl Cafe in Osaka (*wink wink*) and we all agreed it was a really memorable experience.

It’s pretty hard to beat that experience but I was determined to visit the Fushimi Inari Shrine with the boys. They were so templed-out by this point (a common affliction in Kyoto) that I had to promise them this was the grand finale and insist that they couldn’t leave Japan without seeing this magical place.

IMG_4809 IMG_4834 IMG_4843I normally hate to say, “I told you so!” but this was one of those times I couldn’t resist. The boys even admitted afterwards that they definitely would have regretted not going! I’m a pretty good tour guide, if I do say so myself. (For more info on the Fushimi Inari Shrine in Kyoto click here)

All too soon we had to say our goodbyes. I to go back to work in Fukui, and the boys to go on to have more crazy Japan adventures. Luckily it wouldn’t be long until we saw each other again. On Friday they will be coming to Fukui and I can’t wait to show them around my stomping grounds!

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A Bittersweet Moment In Time

Well…that’s it…I did it folks.  I bought my one-way ticket back to Canada just a few minutes ago. The reality is still sinking in and everything about this monumental moment seems so surreal. I can only begin to scratch the surface of describing how difficult it is to wrap my brain around the fact that my time in Japan is officially coming to an end.

It seems so silly now, how I waited so anxiously for my flight request to receive approval from my higher-ups, counting the hours down until I could purchase the ticket for real.  But now…now that it’s done it’s time for a moment of reflection. As excited as I am to return home to see my wonderful friends, family and country, I will also be very sad that this wonderful adventure is coming to an end. It’s both thrilling and terrifying!

Here’s a little sneak peak into my life at this moment. What you see before you is my impromptu mini-celebration at work right now.  In an attempt to cheer myself up, on my way back to work from the bank where I made the transfer, I stopped at my favourite little bakery and bought myself a tiny mont blanc cake (my favourite!) and brewed a cup of piping hot & strong earl grey tea (such a classic!).

Something sweet and something bitter.  A perfect fit for my bittersweet little celebration. photo-3Wish me luck! I may not know what the future has in store for me when I go home, but I’ll figure everything out in due time. Screen Shot 2014-05-21 at 1.50.34 PM

 

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Adventure Is Out There!

Friday was a pretty big day for those of us in Fukui who are leaving Japan this summer. It was “The Big Leavers Conference” that explained in great detail everything we needed to do before leaving the JET Program to return home. I thought I was pretty on the ball, after all I’m an organization madwoman superwoman by nature…boy was I wrong!

After a 4-hour long information overload at this conference, where I actually developed a headache because my brain felt so overwhelmed, my list of things to do is almost a page long and my stress level made cracking open a whole bottle of wine (with my friends!) absolutely necessary. I’m slowly coming to terms with this stress now, but it’s easy to understand why ALTs can just feel so spent, have their last months go by in a blur and constantly feel they just want to be home already.

Saturday was completely unexpected but exactly what the doctor ordered. Heather mentioned there was a great craft festival in Fukui and I was so desperately in need of something to distract me from my stress that I practically begged her to take me with her.  She laughed, because she understood exactly what I meant as she is a fellow “leaver” herself, and we agreed to meet up and drive out there together.

The craft market festival was held at the Kanazu Forest of Creation (金津創作の森 in Japanese) which was a location I had only been to once but always meant to visit again one day.   Kanazu Forest of Creation I love this pond with it’s Howl’s-Moving-Castle-esque structure. The wide open field below the museum was a perfect place for the visiting artists to set up tents with plenty of space and lots green grass for the kiddies to run around. Kanazu Forest of Creation festival Kanazu Craft Festival 2 The weather was glorious and Heather and I spent a good hour happily pursuing the handmade goods. Oh silly me, despite the fact I know I’m leaving in only 2 months and already have faaaar too many things to easily transport home, I fell in love with a lovely set of green pottery mugs. I tried in vain to resist their siren call, but they won me over and I emerged from the market delighted with my new treasure. They’ll make their debut photo a little later in the post, don’t you worry!

After that we deliberated entering the modern art museum itself. We were a little tired and I had just been to the fabulous 21st Century Museum of Modern Art in Kanazawa the weekend before. We peeked our noses in and decided “What the hell, why not!” so we handed over the 500yen entrance fee and went to snoop around. We were so glad we did! We both loved the exhibit by Risa Fukui who specializes in works of art created from paper using x-acto knives. I was blown away with the scope of her talent. You can check out more of her work here.Screen Shot 2014-05-13 at 9.59.01 AM Lisa Fukui I loved the exhibit of suspended faces. The white side was creepy but when you walked to the back of the room and turned around, surprise it was a rainbow! I couldn’t believe the various art she could create with only paper! At the very end of the exhibit Heather and I let our inner child out as we played with a projector and various images we could choose from to create our own masterpiece. After seeing the whole exhibit I can say with confidence that my favourite piece was this one, isn’t it neat?Lisa FukuiAfter a bite to eat, Heather and I hopped back into the car prepared to drive off home. Just as we were about to hit the highway Heather mentioned offhand how much she had been wanting to see a sunset at Tojinbo (Tojinbo is a famous set of cliffs in northern Fukui). We figured since we were already up in that neck of the woods (which was pretty far from where we both live) we might as well journey out to the coast and watch the sunset together! Make a real day of it if you will!Screen Shot 2014-05-13 at 11.02.52 AM

We went walking, adventuring, scampering, and finally sat down for a little relaxing in the sunshine. It was fun to frolic and live in the moment, forgetting our all our worries and our stress. I was very bummed to not have my camera. Luckily Heather sent me a few of hers so I could write this post. Doesn’t her camera take the best panorama shots? I definitely have a little camera-envy. DSC02973DSC02997Screen Shot 2014-05-12 at 3.47.46 PMThe sunset was spectacular and Heather even introduced me to a nice walking path that I’m certainly going to show my brother when he comes to Fukui. Our girls date ended in a spectacular discovery of a new coffee shop Presso. I haven’t had a coffee this good since I stepped foot back in Japan. かわいいですね!Presso Coffee Awara Fukui I’ll be back! That’s for sure! They also sold very yummy bagels. Heather and I each picked up one for Sunday’s breakfast.  We arrived back in Fukui very late and I waited up to Skype with my mom and dad because my day was so amazing I simply had to tell someone about it!

With all the stress that comes with moving home it’s easy to overlook that I’m still in Japan, and that living here is awesome! I still can spontaneously just hop in my car, whenever I want, and drive out to have an incredible adventure! I just have to not be so worried about the future I forget to love the present moment. This day was proof that life is what we make of it, and I choose to be happy. People love to quote that in your life at any given moment you have the power to say, “This is not how the story is going to end.” As these next 2 months fly by and I close this chapter in my life I’m determined that it shall not end in stress but with a smile. photo2I started my new resolution off with a great start the next morning. You could say I woke up on the right side of the bed! I made the best cup of coffee that I think I have ever whipped up (complete with a pumpkin spice heart, please note!), poured it onto one of my new mugs from the craft festival, toasted up my very special cheese bagel and basked in the sunshine streaming through my kitchen. Turn your face to the sun

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Golden Week Adventures

Golden Week is one of the biggest and craziest holidays in Japan as it’s the longest vacation period of the year for many Japanese jobs. The result is chaos and meyhem nationwide across Japan. It seems everyone in Japan is traveling at the same time, which they pretty much are! Even tiny little rural prefectures like my beloved Fukui aren’t safe!  People are everywhere, the lineups go out the doors, restaurants flat out turn you down if you don’t have a reservation, and everything is expensive. 

I planned to do what I do best: hermit. I had such grand Golden Week plans of doing nothing more than lounging around in bed, baking and cleaning my apartment before my brother’s big visit. Very quiet and boring I know. But that’s exactly why Golden Week is awesome; it’s the one time of the year in Japan where I have a lot of time off work and zero desire to do anything outside of my apartment other than merely enjoy the beautiful weather. It’s nice to have an excuse to do nothing!

Fate had other things in store for me, and I never ever saw it coming.

DAY 1  – SOCIAL BUTTERFLY BY DAY, WILD THING BY NIGHT 

Golden Week kicked off for me with a trip to the Echizen Washi Festival. Fukui’s famous for it’s handmade paper and this craft diva couldn’t wait for the market area full of exquisite paper at dirt cheap prices. Sooooomebody was a happy little shopper by the end! Best part, my 800yen ($8) shopping spree definitely didn’t break the bank! Screen Shot 2014-05-07 at 1.34.59 PMAfter that I went and had a lovely barbecue down by the river with my friends because Lizzy’s dad was in town and we all wanted to say hello. It was a little chilly, but it’s amazing what good friends and company do to warm you up! Time flew by and next thing we knew it was almost 11pm and we were yawning with almost every sentence. We said our goodbyes and I drove off to my bed…or so I thought.

It turns out there’s this tiny little club called Salsa Lab where the Fukui locals go to salsa! I had never been before, but had heard it was a lot of fun. A group of people from the barbecue were going and convinced me it was the perfect time to try it out. I will be perfectly honest, I was a horrific dancer!  My friends should consider themselves very lucky to still have all their toes, but despite having no idea what I was doing it was a blast! Crazy cats that we are, things got a little tipsy so after that and we decided to head to Fukui’s most popular club Church until about 4am. (Isn’t that just the most ironic name ever for a club? I still can’t get over the irony.) I still am in shock at my inner wild child drinking that night and definitely paid the price the following morning.

DAY 2 – TURKEY DINNER EXTRAVAGANZA

Fate once again had other plans, this time in the form of a surprise visit from a faraway friend. My friend Tomomi had asked me to teach her how to cook a turkey, and although I thought it was a little strange to have a turkey dinner in May I figured it was a weekend I would have lots of time on my hands so why not?  Plus this is turkey we’re talking about, no one says no to turkey!

I was so nervous walking out the door that morning, the destiny of two turkeys (and therefore the entire turkey dinner!) was resting on my rather inexperienced shoulders. When the window of Tomomi’s car rolled down, I was running through my mental checklist for the day frantically making sure I had everything I’d need so it took me a few seconds to process what I was seeing. There was already someone in the passenger seat, my seat! Wait a second..I knew that person…but how? Sweet holy macaroni! REBECCA!?!hey bex!

My friend Bex lives in Shizuoka, about a 6-hour train ride away from Fukui, but had decided to come to Fukui for Golden Week and surprise me. Mission accomplished, I was stunned beyond belief! That second turkey suddenly made a lot more sense because damn can that little lady eat! 
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I’d only cooked one baby turkey before this weekend and I was no expert, yet everyone looked to me for directions so I put on a tough face. The only time my “big-girl face” faltered was at the thought of shoving my hand inside that turkey to get the gizzards, BLEH! I’m still squeamish about stuff like that, but can you really blame me? I redeemed myself however, when I made everyone laugh with my hilarious turkey dance and yoga demonstration.

Thank heavens Zach showed up after we put them in the oven. He’s a total pro at cooking and unlike me never succumbs to pressure. While the turkeys were roasting away we busy bees made mashed potatoes, bacon-zucchini-mushroom risotto, pumpkin cheesecake and strawberry rhubarb pie.  Once all the goodies were finished and the turkeys golden brown and cooked to near perfection we sat down to our feast. It was a night full of laughter, good food and ever greater company. Zach’s pumpkin cheesecake was simply divine and don’t worry I’ll be begging for his secret recipe very soon!
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We left Tomomi’s stuffed as turkeys and I fell into a turkey-coma not long after getting home.

 

DAY 3 – SPONTANEOUS TRIP TO KANAZAWA

Thank heavens I hadn’t made any plans for Golden Week. Bex’s visit came as a huge shock, but luckily I was free the next day to go with her up to Kanazawa. So much for cleaning my apartment! We hopped on the train at far too early an hour for my taste and were soon strolling down the higashichaya district. We decided to try our hand at gold leaf application as it’s one of Kanazawa’s local craft specialties. I decorated a pair of chopsticks and Bex chose a small plate. The end result was pretty neat if I do say so myself! I’ll definitely be taking my brother here it was so much fun!

Screen Shot 2014-05-07 at 3.00.28 PMThe heavy rain eventually got to us, and we were feeling a little sorry for ourselves, so we decided to hit up the 21st Century Museum of Contemporary Art. It’s my favourite place it Kanazawa but I had been hoping to avoid it if possible as I knew the Golden Week crowds would be nuts. It was insanely busy but Bex and her crazy antics kept me in a good mood. One of my favourite photos of the whole day was our “rebel selfie” in the no-camera zone. 
modern art museum2selfie We had a blast checking out the new exhibits along with a few of our favourite old exhibits too. My favourite new exhibit was this metal structure you waked inside and felt like you were inside a geode or a silver kaleidoscope. The real winner of this modern art museum though, unequivocally is the Leandro’s Pool exhibit.21st century museum of contemporary artkanazawa modern art museum leandro's pool

It’s always so amazing to be inside this exhibit looking up at the sky through the water, feeling like you’re inside a giant swimming pool! I’ve seen it at least 5 times now and I still think it’s the bees knees.

We hurried back to Fukui in time to watch the latest Game of Thrones episode with my GOT group. My apartment complex friends and I are all obsessed with the series, and always rally together Monday evening so Bex had to take part. It’s a good thing she’s an even bigger fan than us.

DAY 4 – SEEKING OUT SUNSHINE

I dropped Bex off the next morning and drove up to Sabae for the Azalea Festival at Nishiyama Park. I had heard a lot of hype about this festival, but had always avoided it as Sabae is insanely busy to drive to during this time and parking is a legendary nightmare. Golden Week strikes again.

As it was my last year though I was determined to see it. After seeing the azalea flowers in all their glory I can testify that it really is worthy of all the hype. The whole park was a sea of purple, pink and white flowers. I lathered up on sunscreen and wandered around happily.IMG_3792 Screen Shot 2014-05-08 at 10.25.11 AM IMG_3806 IMG_3826photo 2-2After the Azalea Festival I drove out to the coast for a few hours on the beach. I’m trying to get a head start on a tan seeing as summer’s coming whether I want it to or not. I was the only person there and it was wonderful listening to nothing other than the sound of waves and with only my book for company. Peace and relaxation!photo 1-3A little peckish I decided to brave Cafe Mare. It was really busy, but because the restaurant was prepared for the hoards of people flocking to their beautiful cafe, and because I missed the lunch time rush by showing up around 3:30 I didn’t have to wait too long! It was a lovely end to an unexpectedly busy holiday weekend.Screen Shot 2014-05-07 at 4.27.11 PM

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Exploring Legends in Takachiho – Kyushu Road Trip Part IV

Mother nature never ceases to amaze me. There is so much raw beauty in the world that sometimes it’s easy to see where fantasy writers come up with their inspiration for magical lands. Certain places on this earth that feel like they’ve been plucked right out of some far away mythical land; Takachiho Gorge is one such place.

Takachiho Gorge (高千穂峡, Takachiho-kyō) is a narrow chasm cut through the rock by the Gokase River. The nearly sheer cliffs lining the gorge are made of slow forming volcanic basalt columns which resemble the scales of a dragon. IMG_3038

Do you know the scene in from The Lord of the Rings where the fellowship is paddling down a beautiful river with steep cliffs on either side? Remember that moment of utter awe at the grandeur as they float through the entryway guarded by 2 statues? That is what entering Takachiho Gorge in our little rowboat felt like. IMG_2966 IMG_2901

But before I get carried away singing the praises of Takachiho, let’s backtrack to the beginning.

We awoke very early that morning, gobbled up the delicious and beautiful breakfast our hostel provided, and made a beeline to the boats at Takachiho Gorge. We parked our car in the small parking lot next to the boat rental company for 500yen. Over time I have learned that one of the keys to enjoying traveling in Japan is to figure out the most popular tourist activity (or the place you are the most excited about) and get there eeeearly, before the hoards of tourists descend and transform a tranquil environment into a chaotic pandemonium.

For us the activity we were the most excited about was the row boat experience through the gorge. I knew that if we didn’t get there early we would spend our precious 30-minute time allotment fighting to manoeuvre through throngs of boats. Not appealing in the least. I wanted to feel the magic of that gorge, and appreciate its splendour without stress. The boat rental, if you go early, is definitely something I would recommend.

Boat Rental Information:

  • Hours of operation: 8:30-5:00pm (last boat rental time 4:30pm)
  • Cost: 2000 yen per boat for 30-minutes (maximum of 3 people per boat)
  • Open every day (unless water levels are dangerous)

The company is pretty strict, we were made to don dorky life jackets, only one person could man the oars they explained, they also made us promise to not switch seats, told us what time to return and because we were 4 people we had to rent 2 boats (1000 per person is still a steal in my opinion for the experience).  I personally appreciated this no-nonsense experience as it made getting on the boat a very quick process, 5 minutes tops! If you don’t speak Japanese don’t worry you’ll be fine.

We saw packets of duck food for sale and each boat decided to purchase some. I have no shame in admitting I love feeding ducks now as much as I did as a small child. It’s the little things in life right? Lizzy and I climbed into the boat after debating who would row; we ultimately decided, although I felt guilty she’d do all the work, that because my camera was nicer I should be the one to take the pictures.

We hopped into the boat and instead of heading straight to the gorge, we got a little distracted by our new feathered friends who swam over like miniature greased lightnings to quack ‘good morning’ to us. They knew where breakfast was to be found the smart things. I won’t lie that at the beginning our attention was solely focused on feeding those adorable ducks.

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Once the food was gone, with identical gleeful grins on our face, Lizzy paddled us off to have our adventure. “Captain Lizzy” did a great job navigating. IMG_2908 IMG_2947 IMG_2906 IMG_2955When our 30-minutes was up far too soon I felt very sad to leave Takachiho Gorge behind. Luckily there was lots more to be excited about that day. Next we walked the length of the river up to the Takachiho Shrine which was a really nice 15-20 minute walk.

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That big tree got us pretty excited for Yakushima. What can I say I like big trees and I cannot lie….sorry that was a really terrible joke, I just couldn’t resist.

After a quick exploration of the temple grounds we walked back the way we came (we needed to get back to our car) and hunted down the #2 recommended viewpoint of the Takachiho Gorge (#1 is inside the gorge on the boats). It’s from up above which is really nice. IMG_2978

After the Takachiho Gorge, we went to explore the birthplace of my favourite legend and a very famous “power spot” in Japan.

According to legend, the sun goddess Amaterasu was upset by her brother’s cruel pranks. So she decided to hide herself away in a cave, she refused to come out, thereby denying sunlight to the world.  Worried for the sake of the world, the other gods and goddesses searched high and low to find her hiding spot. Eventually they found her cave, but she refused to come out. The gods and goddesses tried everything they could think of to lure her out, it was to no avail, until one of the goddesses decided to dance in a ridiculous way which made all the other deities laugh. Amaterasu grew curious about what they found so funny and at long last decided to come out, thereby returning her light to the world.

About ten kilometers outside of central Takachiho, the Amano Iwato Shrine (天岩戸神社, Amano Iwato Jinja) was built near the cave where legend says the sun goddess tried to hide. Although tourists cannot enter the cave there is a nice pathway along the river leading to a shrine built nearby this cave into the rocks.IMG_3088 IMG_3125 IMG_3128I can say without a doubt that the Amano Iwato Shrine is one of my absolute all-time favourite shrines in Japan. The reason why is that it was like no other shrine I have ever seen in this country. Also, I had read that this shrine is one of the strongest “power spots” in Japan, but it wasn’t until I was there that I understood what people meant.  I’m normally not superstitious…and I can’t describe the feeling properly, but what I will say is that a visitor cannot help but feel a strong aura of power.

Perhaps this feeling came from the awe looking at the thousands of tiny stones stacked upon one another (called “iwasaka”) by worshippers that were everywhere you looked. An iwasaka was made in ancient times during worship to invoke the presence of a deity.IMG_3078 IMG_3112 IMG_3103 IMG_3123

Heather and I had a real blast scampering around the river taking pictures of these tiny stones. Eventually though, there are only so many photos you can take, we hopped back in the car to return for dinner at our hostel. We all packed our bags for Yakushima as we were leaving early the next morning, and then I napped a little while my friends relaxed as I had come down with a bad cold by this point after Nagasaki’s rain. I really have terrible luck when it comes to planning major hikes.

That evening, I had read on Japan-guide.com that there was a special dance performance held every night at the Takachiho Shrine from 20:00 to 21:00 for 700 yen.  The dance performance done by masked dancers reenacts the legend of the sun goddess, and is about 1 hour long. It’s purely instrumental so don’t worry if you can’t speak Japanese! If you’re a foreigner the people at the front door also will give you a sheet of paper explaining the story in English.  It is held at the Yokagura performance hall, just a few steps from the shrine’s main building. If you drive to the shrine, there’s a large parking lot from which all you have to do is follow the tiki torches. Be sure to get there about half an hour early as it’s a small venue that fills up fast, and you definitely want to be close to the front! We got there at 7:30 and got great seats.

Here are a few shots from the performance! I had a serious obsession with those masks; aren’t they just incredible?!

IMG_3133 IMG_3135 IMG_3136 IMG_3154 IMG_3146 IMG_3155The final scene of the play was by far my favourite as it was interactive with the audience. The story is about a man and wife who decide to enjoy drinking sake one night, things get a little tipsy and they approach people in the audience with a wiggle of their eyebrow (if you know what I mean *wink wink*) to the shock and anger of their partner.

The wife approached a really cool dude in the audience who made everyone laugh playing along. He was such a good sport, even smiling as I took his picture and he gave me a wink! I’m not kidding when I say I’ve never laughed that hard at a play in my life. It really helped that the guy was directly in front of me so I had the perfect front row seat to the hilarity. 
IMG_3161IMG_3162 IMG_3163Uh oh! And there came the husband to whisk his naughty wife away back to their bed.We left the performance in high spirits with huge smiles.

I really recommend Takachiho because as you can see on the map everything is relatively close together so it’s easy to see the major highlights in one day. Plus while you’re here it really does feel like you’ve stepped into a page straight out of a Japanese legend. I hope everyone who visits Takachiho can enjoy exploring the legends of the area as much as I did!  Takachiho Map

 

 

 

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Onsen Hopping In Kurokawa – Kyushu Road Trip Part III

For foreigners onsens may be just about the most terrifying thing to exist in Japan. At least they were for me. Bathing naked with other people?…I was expected to bath naked surrounded by strangers!?!

As I had never been exposed to this veritable nightmarish situation in Canada, had it been socially acceptable to not shower for 3 sweaty hot days during that English summer camp, I probably would not have entered that first onsen. I was so shy that even changing rooms at gyms back home made me blush fire engine red and make steam come out of my ears. For years my friends had often ridiculed my prudish tendencies in the gym changing rooms as I struggled to get dressed underneath my other clothes. I was that perfectly awkward duckling about being naked around other people. To this day I can still remember trying not to have a panic attack the first time I was forced to use an onsen in Japan, with a group of foreigners whom I had met for the first time that day.

Looking back, I realize I was a total prude and I’m glad I’ve changed. Once I learned the complex etiquette of onsen bathing and realized that no one really gave a damn what I looked like naked I began to grow more relaxed and enjoy this strange but wonderful ritual. Ironically for a person who thought “I am never, ever, ever going to be comfortable bathing naked with a hundred other women around me!” onsens will be the thing I miss the most about Japan. My friends and I have often joked about constructing an onsen in our backyards when we return to North America and traumatizing our neighbours with our naked bathing ways. As much as I say we’re joking, there’s a small part of us that is totally serious. We don’t refer to our onsen dates jokingly as “happy naked time” for nothing, I genuinely look forward to hanging out with my friends at onsens nowadays!

Before Japan, I used to be incredibly insecure about my body.  However, after 3 years of seeing naked women bodies in every way, shape and form, onsens have given me a priceless gift: I finally feel comfortable in my own skin.  Thank you Japanese onsens, you’ve forevermore made me a stronger, more confident woman.

An onsen (温泉) is a term for hot springs in Japanese, though the term is often used to describe the bathing facilities and inns around the hot springs. As a volcanically active country, Japan has thousands of onsens and they are very popular tourist destinations. The majority of onsens are gender separated, with women bathing only with other women, and men bathing with only other men.  

For me, an onsen is a sanctuary of peace and serenity. A place I can escape the chaos and stress of life and rediscover myself. After several days on the road I was really looking forward to visiting the famous Kurokawa Onsen Town. This town is one of Japan’s most attractive traditional hot spring towns and is located in the middle of Kyushu near Mt. Aso. The atmosphere is lovely, and very peaceful with traditional buildings lining the streets, a beautiful river flowing through the middle and people walking around in yukata. IMG_2841 IMG_2842IMG_2844

It was like stepping into a story from long ago. We went to the tourist information centre for a little information. There are about 20 onsen houses in this area and we were overwhelmed by all of our choices.  We were a little short on time, as we needed to check into our hostel in Takachiho in only a few hours, so we decided to only visit 2 onsens. The entrance price for each was about 500 yen.

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After this point no cameras allowed, sorry! The onsens were great, but we definitely were in for a bit of a surprise. We had gotten more than a little cocky, I won’t deny that I totally thought I had the art of onsening down, until we walked through the doors and looked for the showering area (you’re supposed to shower and clean yourself before putting so much as a toe into the baths) only there wasn’t one! We were so confused! We looked around, tried opening doors that were just “fake” doors pretending to be real, and shrugged our shoulders. It looked like that was all these onsen were, a bath.  Yet I was a filthy, greasy little disaster desperately in need of a shower so I really felt bad entering the baths. Just goes to prove that no matter how long you live in a foreign country you will always run into funny situations where you honestly don’t have a clue what to do. Just smile, learn to laugh about it, and follow the locals! If you do, everything will be ok. IMG_2857 IMG_2859Rather short post I know, but it was a rather short adventure.

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Learning To Go With The Flow In Nagasaki: Kyushu Road Trip Part II

Sometimes fate has something different set in store for you than what you want. As my dad would say “Tough luck buttercup!” He’s right; sometimes it is tough, especially when traveling and you only have one day to do something and zero luck on your side. In situations where things aren’t going as perfectly planned, I’ve taken to muttering “Hakuna matata. Hakuna matata. Hakuna matata!” under my breath. It’s a motto sure to put me in the right mindset, it’s not an outcome that’s important but the journey. I’d rather look back and laugh at bad luck than sweat the small stuff. It’s a lot easier too when you have good friends to laugh over your misadventures with. Timon and Pumba really were right when they said Hakuna Matata is a wonder phrase and not some passing craze. It’s stuck with me from my childhood and it really is a wonderful life philosophy.

hakunamatataWe woke up in Nagasaki to a downpour that was guaranteed to last all day. Every time I felt like grumbling that my feet were soaked and I was cold I reminded myself that I would far rather it have rained on us in Nagasaki than in Sasebo when we were sailing. It’s good to be thankful for the good weather on days when it mattered the most.

First we went to Glover Garden which, due to it’s location on top of a hill, lets you see a stunning (if slightly rainy) view of Nagasaki Harbour.  It’s a romantic area which retains the atmosphere of a foreign settlement area. It’s definitely more impressive to Japanese tourists who may have never seen a western style garden but it’s definitely a nice stroll for foreign visitors too. For only 500yen a ticket, I’d recommend it!

IMG_2788IMG_2796 IMG_2792 IMG_2794While strolling around this pretty garden keep your eyes peeled for the two love stones, it’s said if you find them you’ll be lucky in love. One of them is on your way out by a bush covered in heart shape prayers. I’ll let you try and find the other one by yourself though *wink wink*
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Thoroughly cold and wet by this time, our group took the trolley to Chinatown for a well earned feast of piping hot and flavourful Chinese food. This is something I’ve really missed in Fukui, and I know that when I get back to Calgary in 4 months one of the first places I’m going to beg my family to go is for dim sum at the Silver Dragon.

IMG_2803 IMG_2804 IMG_2805 IMG_2806I’m drooling just thinking of how good everything was.  Just a heads up for other visitors to Nagasaki’s Chinatown, it was much smaller than I expected. Don’t budget a lot of time here, unless you’re eating in the area. In total we only spent about 45 minutes including our meal. My #1 recommendation in this area is the speciality of Nagasaki “kakuni manju” which is a fluffy steam bun wrapped around a thick and meltingly simmered piece of pork. I honestly could have eaten 10 of them, in hindsight I wish I had eaten more than just one. Nagasaki Kakuni Manju

With our stomachs happy and content we gathered our courage and headed out once again into torrential downpour and to face the emotional challenge of the history surrounding Nagasaki’s bombing. The Nagasaki Atomic Bomb Museum is arguably the most famous ‘attraction’ in Nagasaki, although I personally can’t justify in my mind calling it an ‘attraction’ because to me it’s a place filled with such sad memories. While it can be incredibly depressing to visit, I do believe that it should be visited by anyone who travels to Nagasaki. It’s a lasting reminder to present and future generations of the horrors of atomic bombs and why they should never be used ever again.  As the memories of World War II are fading into history Hiroshima and Nagasaki have made it their mission to inform future generations about the horror of war, the terrible reality of nuclear weapons, and importance of peace.  They consider it their duty to ensure the horror of nuclear war is not forgotten by the world. This philosophy to preserve lasting reminders of terrible historical sadness and efforts to build such museums and monuments in my opinion takes great strength and courage.

I had visited the Hiroshima Peace Museum a year prior to this trip with my friend Nicole. It was an interesting coincidence that I would visit the second bomb museum with her also, something neither of us had expected. We both commented on how different the effects of the two bombs were. Having been to one of the museums, and knowing what to expect emotionally, made the emotional turmoil I felt easier to process somehow. The last time I walked out of the Hiroshima Museum I had to sit on a park bench for half an hour feeling emotionally numb from the information I had learned and struggling not to cry. This time was difficult, but not as difficult if you understand what I’m saying. IMG_2822

At 11:02am on August 9th, 1945 the explosion of the atomic bomb Fat Boy devastated Nagasaki. The ferocious heat of this particular blast indiscriminately slaughtered thousands. For me personally it’s always seeing the photos of mutilated and burned children, mothers holding wounded babies and school grounds which had been full of young students completely obliterated by the blast that truly breaks my heart. The words of survivors will haunt my memories for the rest of my life. I can’t even begin to imagine what the people of Nagasaki went through, the hell they miraculously survived to only have to struggle to survive a new life without their loved ones.

The one fact that really stuck home, at least for me, while walking through the exhibit was understanding the degree of heat released by the bomb. It is said that when Fat Boy exploded over the city it was like a second sun was created. This can be seen in the way shadow images were ‘burned‘ onto solid surfaces. A ladder and man stood in front of this wall when the explosion happened, afterwards all that remained was a shadow image burned onto the wall, as seen in the picture below.  Let the implications of that fact sink in, trust me it will haunt you for a long time. The museum contains collections of everyday items that melted from the heat of this explosion: coins, glass bottles, toys…

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After our time in the peace museum, we were all in desperate need of fresh air to sooth our minds. We climbed the stairs to the peace park and went to see the famous statue and reflect.

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We were pretty exhausted, wet and cold by the time we finished. We decided to call it a day and head in for a nap before the nighttime festivities. Honestly had I been left up to my own devises I probably would have spent my Saturday night a little something like this…

Screen Shot 2014-04-09 at 3.28.54 PMYet, knowing full well how I always think through my stomach, my friends successfully lured me out into the miserable rain once again with the promise of spicy Jamaican food. I fell for it hook line and sinker, little did I know what tricks fate had in store for us that evening….

Luckily I was still in a hakuna matata mindset because you honestly wouldn’t believe the trouble we ran into! It’s hilarious in hindsight just how wrong everything went! First we tried to go to a Jamaican Restaurant only to discover when we arrived the restaurant was actually just a Japanese restaurant that had been mislabeled somehow. After that we attempted to go to a fun-sounding bar yet when we arrived via taxi the bar simply didn’t exist any more! WTF!?!?! How does a group of travellers have luck THAT bad you ask?  Good heavens I have no idea. Hakuna Matata turned the night around though and we somehow, miraculously, had a great night out.

When we arrived at our exciting “Jamaican” restaurant we knew instantly is was not Jamaican. It was a very old and traditional Japanese style restaurant….and unfortunately for us very much not what we were in the mood for.  We had found the recommendation on Trip Advisor (a very trustworthy travel resource, no?!?) but this goes to show you even the best research can be wrong. I felt terrible at the idea of just mysteriously standing up our reservation, and the lady inside kept looking worriedly at us and wondering why we were huddled outside in the rain instead of coming in. I timidly walked inside an with my only so-so Japanese attempted to explain the confusion and apologize for so suddenly cancelling. She just laughed, accepted my apology, and passed me onto a nice Japanese lady who spoke English fluently so she could recommend another restaurant.

I chatted with this new lady for a bit and she told us she owned a Spanish restaurant right around the corner if we were interested in that cuisine instead. I conferred with my cohorts and we all agreed Spanish tapas sounded amazing! We were unbelievably lucky that at the exact moment we were in a pickle at the restaurant she had just happened to have popped over to pick up some fresh seafood!

We followed our new friend like little drenched ducklings down the street to her restaurant. We opened the door, and if my memory serves me right, I am pretty sure I squealed in delight. It looked like a fantastic restaurant and after eating there I honestly can not rave about it enough! Ironically as it turned out we were very lucky to have been unlucky, if not we never would have stumbled upon this real gem of a restaurant. Murpheys1

The Spanish restaurant is called Muckey’s Bar and if you’re a foreigner living in Japan it’s the next best thing to a vacation in Spain. We couldn’t help ourselves and just kept the food rolling in. Everything looked so delicious we ooohed when it was presented and sighed in satisfaction when biting into.

First up was the chips and salsa, which just exploded with tangy-spicy goodness.Muckeys

Followed by an assortment of foreign olives and Nagasaki olives (I had no idea olives could grow in Nagasaki!)muckeys2

By this time the good times were in full swing and we were all pretty darn happy. I ordered a citrus mojito made with brandy that definitely tickled my tastebuds and I felt so giddy I could burst! Or maybe that was just my tight slinky dress that was ready to burst from all the food…Muckeys5

Heather ordered the dish which won the award for best item on the menu in our opinion: carrot, walnut and citrus salad. I am really determined to replicate this salad. I plan on it being the ace up my sleeve for future dinner parties.muckeys6

For our main dish we ordered 2 plates of chicken and clam paella. Perfection in a bowl, we all agreed.muckeys3 Muckeys4

Our final dish of the night was a real indulgence: garlic-stuffed mushrooms swimming in brown butter oil sauce.  Nicole was in heaven and we had to order more bread so the ambrosia sauce wouldn’t go to waste.photo1

Thanking the restaurant profusely for the delicious food and fantastic service, we climbed into a cab and took off for the next destination. The bar we researched sounded like an amazing place, located on a permanently moored large old boat in the Nagasaki Harbour famous for serving unique cocktails created by a cocktail mixology expert.  Who wouldn’t want to go, thanks Wikitravel for the great recommendation! Wrong. We arrived at our destination…but there was no boat…where was it? It had closed down 3 years previously! We were in a real pickle, for a second time that evening!

In the end we were saved by a kind man with an enormous curly afro which was white as snow and dressed entirely in red. It sounds so surreal it sounds like I’m making it up just to have a good story, I am well aware.  But I’m telling the complete 100% honest truth. It was our own personal version of Alice in Wonderland. We followed our “white rabbit” and he led us to a bar called Crazy Horse.

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The whole bar was covered in famous English music bands’ memorabilia and photos of foreigners who had come over the years. We sat down, ordered a round of Guinness beers (a real rarity in Fukui), and struck up a conversation with two nice guys from Ireland living in Nagasaki which carried us well into the night. We even got our picture taken and put on the wall! photo3

Even though it seemed in hindsight that nothing that day went as planned, I still look back on our day in Nagasaki fondly. Things have a way of working out when you roll with the flow. Next time you feel like fate and the world are against you try to remember the wise words of hakuna matata and smile!

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Sailing in Sasebo: Kyushu Road Trip Part I

I have learned 3 things about road trips: (1) Good music is essential (2) Fun mates make the hours fly by and (3) logistics can be your worst nightmare. My good friend Lizzy and I had been planning this trip for nearly a year, a last hurrah for our time here in Japan if you will. It’s hard to believe sometimes that it’s only 4 months until I fly home to Canada!

So when the Japanese school term’s spring break finally dawned it was exciting to ditch the research & planning stage and hit the open road. It was time! “Let the adventure begin!” I exclaimed to myself as I scuttled out of school as fast as my long legs could take me. We packed up the car, crammed the 4 partners in crime inside (myself, Lizzy, Heather and Nicole) and took off in Lizzy’s famous little car “The Green Gatsby” for a 12 hour drive.

Our first stop on our 10-day road trip was Sasebo, home to the famous 99 Islands (Kujuku Islands).IMG_2746

Interestingly enough, although the name would imply there are 99 Islands, there are actually 208 tiny islands in this area. A long time ago in Japan, the number 99 was used to express something large and uncountable. Sailing through the islands is a popular tourist attraction and the entire reason we traveled to Sasebo.

You can ride the leisure boat The Pearl Queen that tours the Kujuku Islands from Saikai Pearl Sea Resort. The journey takes 50 minutes. As your magnificent ship zigzags through the islands, you can observe the islands up close and daydream about life as a pirate. Perhaps it has something to do with the fact I watched Pirates of the Caribbean 5 bazillion times (when I was younger!), but I would love to have a ship of my own one day, a life on the open sea would be amazing. After weeks spent in the office working on paperwork the wind blowing through our hair and sunshine on our faces felt pretty damn nice!

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After our adventures on the high sea we grabbed a cup of jo from the Badass Coffee Company. It was pretty badass indeed!Screen Shot 2014-04-08 at 1.08.58 PM

Happily caffeinated we trundled off in the Green Gatsby to the Ishidake Observatory for a 360° panoramic view of the islands. It’s a spectacular view and a great place to take a few pictures. It’s only about a 8-minute drive from the harbour; you can reach there by driving up from the side of the parking lot of the Sasebo Zoological and Tropical Botanical Garden, and walking up the mountain path for a few minutes. Easy peasy!

IMG_2750IMG_2754IMG_2758I was pretty surprised to discover that Sasebo was such a big city! I honestly was imagining a small town in my head when we did the planning….oops! Being adventurous certainly worked up my appetite and we all agreed we were starving. One of these days I’ll learn I am not a robot who can survive on only coffee…one day…perhaps. We decided to try and find a supermarket and grab supplies for a picnic.  Heather found a perfect place to hanami (cherry blossom party) it up and we lounged around in the sunshine relaxing and eating for hours. Hanami Hanami2 photo3 photo4

Just as I dozed off for a wee nap the cutest little boy came to chat to us in English. We were more than a little startled (where was his family?! How did he speak English so well?!) but ended up having an adorable conversation with him about all sorts of things. He said some pretty profound things for a 5-year old, I was impressed. IMG_2760 IMG_2773It was a wonderful end to a wonderful first day!

Categories: Life in Japan, Travel | Tags: , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

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