Monday, January 30, 2012

New Years Part 1: Tokyo, Yokohama, Kamakura

I spent New Years in one of my (now) favorite cities in Japan: Yokohama! Not sure why I have this love for cities in the bay, but there it is. I left from Fukuyama station and I was able to take one of the new shinkansen trains, Sakura! The Sakura runs from Kagoshima in Kyushu to Shin-Osaka so I had to transfer, but it was *so* worth the hour to ride it. Unlike the other trains, the Sakura only has reserved and un-reserved (no green car). The reserved has 2 seats to an aisle so it's very spacious and comfy. I really wish it ran all the way to Tokyo.

My love for the shinkansen is yet another obsession I can't explain.

The day I arrived was a reunion/alumni meeting/end-of-the-year-party (忘年会 or bounenkai). My friends and I were able to meet with one of our Japanese professors!! It was so amazing to see her (and my friends) in Japan; she's one of the reasons why I'm here in Japan today.

At a cafe in Shibuya for alumni meeting
Us: What would you like to drink, sensei? There's coffee and juice, etc.
BAMF  Sensei: I'll start with beer.

All in all, our bounenkai was fun! My friend chose a really nice place with good food and we ended with karaoke (as all things should end with).

The rest of my New Years consisted of me stuffing my face with tasty things and occasionally walking, taking the train to said tasty things. My only regret was that Robeks (a smoothie shop in CA, I MISS SMOOTHIES/JAMBA JUICE SO BAD) was closed for the holidays! Yes, things get pretty quiet in Japan over New Years since this is a time where people travel to their hometowns and spend time with their families.

New Years Eve I spent under a kotatsu, eating soy milk nabe and flipping channels between Gaki no Tsukai and Kouhaku Uta Gassen. Gaki no Tsukai is a (usually) hilarious show where a group of comedians are taken for 24 hours, but they must not laugh. Otherwise they get punished. This year was a smack to the bootie, but there was one year where the punishers used a blow dart on the comedians.

This isn't the best one, but you get the idea.

Harsh! On the other end of the spectrum, Kouhaku is a singing competition that`s comprised of the red team (female artists/groups) and the white team (boys) hence the name Kouhaku 紅白. I`m not really sure how they judge which groups wins, but this year the white team won which was a surprise. The boys usually win.

The rest of my New Years was pretty chill.

Stuffing my face Hatsumode in Kamakura at Tsurugaoka Hachimangu shrine. When you reach the top of the stairs, you can see a nice view all the way to the water. Kamakura is one of the most popular places to do Hatsumode, so I wasn't able to explore a lot, but I would definitely go back to see the great Buddha, the ocean, and taste all the yummy foods in the shopping street, like German curry sausages...I'm not sure why German sausages are famous there, but there was a variety of them. The herb one was *delicious*.

I also went to the new Wendy`s in Omotesando.

It was so...fancy

Nothing too crazy, but I was able to see friends in Tokyo and Yokohama. I have no complaints. Hopefully soon I'll post the next half of my winter vacation spent in Beppu, Kyushu!

Tasty of the day:

SAD PANDA (in strawberry, matcha, and chocolate filling!)

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Nagano Winter Snow Extravaganza!

I`ve always wanted to try snowboarding, so I jumped at the chance when my friend/fellow JET invited some of us to his place in Yudanaka in Nagano (長野県湯田中) I jumped at the chance despite the distance (Shinkansen from Fukuyama to Shin-Osaka, then an all night bus from Osaka OCAT in Namba station to Yudanaka, sheesh)! Plus I get to go snowboarding where they held several of the 1998 winter Olypmic events!

From Yudanaka we took a bus to Shiga Kogen which is a huuuuge ski resort that`s made up of 21 fields of
skiing/snowboarding goodness. My friends and I went to 一の瀬 (Ichinose).

 The bus ride on the way to Shiga Kogen.

The snow and I got to know each other *really* well...

It was only when we arrived and I looked up at the slopes that I got nervous and remembered that A) I`m not a sports person and B) The only winter activity I`ve ever done is sledding and throwing snowballs. Let`s just say there was a lot of falling involved. BUT, near the end I was more or less keeping up with the guys who were more experienced in snowboarding and I fell down twice on my last run. Not bad for my first time ever. I think. And since we knew we were going to be sore the next day we ended the day with nabeyaki udon in みかさ (Mikasa, a local restaurant/izakaya. Best nabeyaki udon I`ve had so far) and soaking in the onsen. Bliss. We were still sore as hell, but the onsen was bliss nonetheless.

The next day we were taken to the Jigokudani Monkey Park (地獄谷野猿公苑、Jigokudani Yaen Kouen), sore muscles and all. I`m not really into monkeys to be honest, but I have to say seeing monkeys relaxing in an onsen is pretty damn cool. And how can you deny this:


Afterwards we headed back for the long trip home: 1 hour express train from Yudanaka to Nagano. 3 hour ride from Nagano to Nagoya, then another 2 hours from there to Fukuyama for the half hour train ride home. Whew. Despite the long travel time, it was definitely worth it. I definitely recommend Shiga Kogen and Nagano for any fan of the snow (and monkeys).

Tasty of the day:

Kaki-age soba (かき揚げそば). Mixed vegetables fried with tempura batter that you put on top of soba noodles.


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