news

News from January to March, 2008

March 31st

How was your weekend? This weekend was overcoat weather again in Kyoto. I think we experience the coldness in the cherry-blossom time every year. I remember it was the same last year, too. It will take a little more time for the cherry trees in Kyoto to be in full bloom, I think…but, look at the picture below. It was taken at Sanjusangen-do. Isn’t it pretty? (Risa)

sakura

March 28th

How are you? It seems like cherry blossoms are in full bloom in Tokyo!! A number of people must go out to have a “Hanami” party this weekend. On the other hand, I can only see a little bit of spring in the area where I live. Some cherry buds seem to be still young to pop out. I wonder when spring comes into my place… Anyway, what is your plan for this weekend? I’d like to go see lighted up temples and shrines at evening. Everyday I see an advertisement on the train about the light ups, so I’m really keen on going this weekend. Nijo-Castle’s light up sounds really great. I’ll let you know what it is like if I go. By the way, we are going out to eat tonight. Thai food, yay!!! (Takashi)

March 27th

Sorry if you were looking forward to my BIG news…actually, that’s not really important news for you… It was decided only a short while ago, but I will be away on business from April 7th to 17th. Where to? Alaska! I believe it’s still freezing cold there…so, I asked Takashi to lend me a warm winter jacket yesterday. He kindly brought the jacket to the office today. I think I will survive the harsh Alaskan weather thanks to you, Takashi! (Risa)

March 26th

tower

How are you? I have nothing to write about, but I found a photo of Kyoto Tower, which I took quite a while ago. This photo reminds me of the time when I first came to Kyoto by myself. I was little at that time, so it looked really tall. Now it’s still tall, but seems a bit smaller than before. Kyoto Tower was opened in December 1964. Its height is 131m including the Kyoto Tower Building. It is said that is because the population of the Kyoto city was “1,310,000” when the Tower was built. Isn’t it something? Coincidence? Risa and I thought its shape symbolizes a candle, but it was wrong. Can you guess what it’s supposed to symbolize? According to “Wikipedia”, it’s a lighthouse even though there’s no ocean in Kyoto city. It was such a big surprise for me. Even though I live in Kyoto, I don’t know what I’ve written here. Isn’t it nice to be curious?? It seems like Risa has big news to tell you guys. Please wait until tomorrow. (Takashi)

March 25th

The cherry blossoms at the Imperial Palace had finally opened yesterday! I saw the buds just ready to burst when I was walking along Kamo River on Sunday, and they made me so happy. I believe you will see the full-bloomed cherry blossoms here and there in Kyoto in a week. Are you planning to come to Kyoto in the next 10 days or so? If yes, you are lucky! Surely you will fully enjoy the spring beauty! (Risa)

sakura

March 24th

How was your weekend? I chilled out at home, watched a couple of DVDs and did the washings. Believe it or not, I was in the PJs all day long and at I took a shower at night and changed into another pair of PJs. So, this means basically I was in the PJs all day long. It was warm outside and I left the windows for a while to let the spring breeze in. However, it was noisy outside, so I had to shut the door… Bummer. I should’ve gone out for a little bit of walk. On the way to the station this morning, I saw pink plum blossoms. I was wondering why those were still in full bloom… Anyway, cherry blossoms will be beautiful when time comes. It seems like cherry blossoms are not ready to bloom yet, but soon… I love spring. (Takashi)

March 21st

It was me. I made Takashi cook the tiramisu for us. Sorry, Takashi…but, it was so yummy! The dessert was extremely popular in Japan around 1990, and every cake shop sold them. Thank you again, Takashi. Hiroko and I remember your birthday is coming up next month, so we will do something for you in return!

I smelled sweet scents from somewhere on my way to work this morning. I knew what they were, but I couldn’t find them. I am not so sure how you call them in English…Daphne? The sweet-scented flower always reminds me of the coming of spring, and I love it. What’s your favourite spring flower? (Risa)

March 19th

tiramisu

I cooked a tiramisu last night as somehow I ended up promising to cook one for my colleagues. I have no idea how it all began and led me into a situation where I cooked a tiramisu. Oh well. I ran around Kyoto to get mascarpone. I went to “Daimaru” first and I was shocked to see the price; 2,100yen. So, I decided to go to Kyoto Station as I know there’s one imported-goods shop there. On the way back to home, I dropped in a supermarket to buy other ingredients. I rarely drink coffee, but I bought a small bag of it, which was quite ridiculous. :-P It’s been a while since I last cooked tiramisu, so I had to follow the recipe my friend had given me before. Beating up egg yolk and white wore me out, but it was fun. When I put the cheese and egg yolk together, I had this premonition; OMG, this might be a bit too much. As I expected, some of the mixture of the cheese and eggs were left. This means I can cook a small one tonight. I’m relieved and glad that it tasted alright although the bottom layer was a bit soggy.(Takashi)

March 18th

How stupid I am. I met a friend to return some books to her on Sunday, but I forgot to take them with me… I noticed that after we started chatting at a café…so, it was kinda too late to go back home to pick them… And, I swung by a drugstore to buy a liquid detergent and softener on my way home, but I noticed I bought a body-wash instead of detergent when I got back home. Argh…what happened to me?

It’s a graduation season in Japan at the moment. There are lots of girls in Kimono on the streets in Kyoto downtown. They look very cute. I still remember my graduation day vividly. Ceremony -> party with friend through the night -> graduation trip from next day… Wow. I had an abundance of energy back then! (Risa)

March 17th

What’s up, everyone? I came back from Fairbanks, AK, on March 6th and I took a week off straight after that. What I did during that period was just chilling out at home to adjust myself back to the Japan time. I guess I’ve overcome this nasty jetlag, but I still have a difficulty to adjust myself to the warmer climate. This is because shifting myself from the extreme cold weather (I call it “Icebox”) to this spring-like-climate. I’ve got defrosted at last and you can see a little paddle around me. LOL

Anyways, it’s nice to be back in Japan. One month in Fairbanks was pretty good though. I gained new friends over there, who I’d love to keep in touch with. Without them, my life in Fairbanks wouldn’t have been the same. Now I’m back in Japan, but I’ll try to keep in touch with them. Okay, I don’t know what else to write this time (obviously my brain’s not working well at all…) , I’ll continue later on. Have a nice day!!! It’s nice and warm in Kyoto. (Takashi)

March 14th

The first half of March is already gone. It’s been quite warm here in Kyoto lately, and the temperature is like 20 degrees every day. Spring is nearly there…and, I can’t wait! What are you up to this weekend? I hope you have a good one. (Risa)

March 13th

It is often said that Japanese people are poor at asserting themselves. I think it is quite true. But, I met a woman who has the wrong idea of [ASSERTIVENES]. She expresses her opinions, but she doesn’t listen to others… As I wrote yesterday, I attended a gathering of volunteers last night. There were quite a few more visitors there, and we were seeing how they got on with the meeting. To be honest, I was not so impressed with that. I had a chance to talk with the other visitors after the meeting, and they had the same impression as me. I do believe it is important to be cooperative and sociable as well as to be assertive. It’s common sense, but I was quite shocked and upset yesterday…(Risa)

March 12th

I went to Kyoto International Community House to attend an orientation last Saturday. I was always interested in volunteering, but I was just lazy… When I was viewing their website for other purposes, I happened to find the announcement of the orientation. I got interested in a few activities, so I am going there again to get more detailed information after work tonight. If you are new in Kyoto, why don’t you visit there? They might give you useful information you are looking for. Check out the site, too: http://www.kcif.or.jp/ (Risa)

March 11th

Hay fever season has started again this year. According to a recent research, it is said that 40% of Japanese are suffering from hay fever, some very seriously. One of my workmates came to the office at 6:40-ish this morning. Why? He believes that the amount of pollen in the air is less in the early morning…I guess that’s true. He says he wants to cut all the ceder trees in Japan… I was one of serious hay fever sufferers about 10 years ago(not too bad now), so I do understand his feelings. Believe it or not, some travel agencies have launched special tours to Okinawa and Hokkaido for hay fever sufferers, as these prefectures have only a small amount of cedar pollen. And, they are getting quite popular. I hope the season will finish for the sufferers as soon as possible! (Risa)

March 9th

How are you today? I received very nice pictures from a friend in Yamagata. I wrote about Jyuhyou (also known as Snow Monsters) on this news section on January 16th, so some of you might remember. According to my friend, they have them somewhere in Germany, too. Is there anybody who saw them? Do they look similar? Here are lit-up Jyuhyou. Really pretty, aren’t they? (Risa)

jyuhyou jyuhyou jyuhyou jyuhyou

March 7th

According to the Meteorological Agency, this year the cherry blossoms will open later than usual in many parts of Kansai region. March 29th in Wakayama, 31st in Kyoto, April 1st in Osaka and Kobe, and April 2nd in Nara etc... The cherry blossoms were in full bloom on Philosopher’s Path on April 4th last year, and…I wonder when the best time is to see the blossoms this year. A friend of mine is coming to Kyoto with his mother at the end of this month, so hopefully the forecast will be changed due to the higher temperatures or something. It might be the first and last time for her to visit Kyoto…so, I really want her to enjoy the beauty of the cherry blossoms in Kyoto! (Risa)

March 6th

I received bad news this morning… Actually, I am still in deep shock. A friend of mine in New Zealand has cancer, and he is in hospital now. It is quite aggressive and quite advanced, so at the moment they are not sure if they can stop its progress. It’s been already 8 years since I first met him, but he was always nice to me. He was talking about his future plans the last time I saw him in November…I knew there were still lots of things he wanted to do… How sad it is. I went to have a breast cancer screening the other day, and the doctor said 1 out of 18 women suffers from breast cancer in Japan and 1 out of 8 in western countries. Do you regularly have a medical check-up? If not, please do so. (Risa)

March 5th

It’s snowing now. It was expected to be warm again this winter, but I think we have had more snow than usual so far. The Japan Meteorological Agency will issue its first forecast of cherry blossom flowering time today. If you are planning to come to Kyoto to see the cherry blossoms, check out the forecast on a regular basis! http://www.jma.go.jp/jma/indexe.html (Risa)

March 4th

February is gone. I’m amazed at how fast the time goes by. My recent life has been kinda dull and humdrum… And, I am feeling a little unmotivated, too. When I mentioned that the other day, a friend of mine told me that I might be hard on myself. I don’t know…yes and no…

I guess you are getting sick of my pastnews_images/diaries. But, here is a great news for you! Takashi is coming back in a week, so he will give you interesting and useful information unlike me. (Risa)

March 3rd

How was your weekend? I hope you had a good one. On Sunday I attended a farewell party for a friend who will be transferred to Washington, DC next month. We thought he would leave for the US very soon, but we found out he wouldn’t leave until the 20th-ish last night. Maybe we can catch up again before he leaves...so, we are planning to get together again for a cherry blossom viewing. We had a big party under cherry blossom trees at Maruyama Park in early April last year. We were cooking over the gas stove…and it was fun, but we suddenly caught in a downpour. We were waiting under a huge blue plastic sheet, but it didn’t stop raining + our arms were getting tired, holding up the sheet. So, we decided to break up the gathering around 10 p.m. although we still had lots of energy to enjoy the night. Hopefully we will have a good weather this year! (Risa)

February 28th

A friend of mine sometimes asks me to translate Japanese into English. Actually, it’s not always easy… Of course, I understand the meaning perfectly, but I often find it impossible to replace an original word or a phrase with a translation. My friend is a native English speaker, but he is amazingly fluent in Japanese…and, he gets the meaning and nuance right…but, we both can’t find a good translation…Argh…How do you translate [よろしくお願いします] in a business situation? Have you been through the same kind of experience? (Risa)

February 27th

The Japanese Doll’s Festival known as Hina Matsuri is coming up on March 3rd. Families with girls display a set of hina dolls at home in celebration of the festival. That represents the Emperor, Empress, attendants, and musician in traditional dress of the Heian Period (794-1185). The Kanto region and Kansai region (Kyoto is in Kansai) have different placement orders of the dolls from right to left, but the dolls that are placed on each level are the same. The custom started during the Heian period. People believed the dolls possesssed the power to contain bad spirits. This Doll’s Festival traces its origins to an ancient Japanese custom called Hina-nagashi in which straw hina dolls are set afloat on a boat and sent down a river to sea, supposedly taking troubles or bad spirits with them. The Shimogamo Shirine in Kyoto still celebrates by floating those dolls between the Takano and Kamo River to pray for the safety of children. Personally, I haven’t seen my dolls for ages, more than 15 years or so…it is said that if you don’t put away the dolls right after the festival every year, your daughter will never be married. I think my case is worse… No wonder I am still single! (Risa)

Hinamatsuri

February 26th

I was strolling around Nishiki Market last Saturday. If you have been to Kyoto, you might have visited there. Nishiki Market is a narrow shopping street, lined by more than 100 shops. Various kinds of fresh and processed food including Kyoto specialties, such as pickles, Japanese sweets, dried food, and fresh seafood and vegetables etc are sold. There is a saying in Kyoto: There is no kind of food that you can’t find at Nishiki Market, and I think it’s really true. This [Kitchen of Kyoto], as it is called has a history of several centuries, and many shops have been operated by the same families for generations. Every time I visit there, I find something interesting. When I was strolling down the street on the weekend, I found a super expensive strawberry. How much do you think it was? 1,000yen (approximately $10.00)…not for one packet…it was for one strawberry! Would you buy it? (Risa)

February 25th

Welcome back, Mr Winter. You came back all of a sudden on Saturday afternoon although I was having a great time with Mr Spring. It was all a little unexpected. You brought back souvenirs from somewhere – strong wind and snow! I don’t know how long you will be staying here this time, but you’re more than welcome to stay here as long as you want!

I have started studying for an English exam, TOEIC again. I took the test a couple of years ago, but my score has already expired. Let’s see how many points I will get this time… The problem is that I forgot how to study for an exam! (Risa)

February 22nd

It’s been pretty warm here in Kyoto this week. I was surprised when I stepped out on a balcony at lunch break…We are having glorious spring weather today. According to the forecast, the temperature will go up to 15 degrees (59 degrees Fahrenheit). The cherry blossoms in Kyoto might get confused and start to bloom??? Hope you have a nice weekend! (Risa)

February 21st

I went to Starbucks last weekend, but it was packed with people when I got there. It was too cold outside to look for other options, so I decided to wait there till someone left. I was sitting on a chair, listening to music, and reading a book with my head down…but, I noticed someone called me after a while. He was kind enough to tell me there was a table for me…but, I knew a few groups were waiting before me, so, I wondered why and asked them if I could take the seat…but, everybody said yes. I felt a bit embarrassed and didn’t know what to do… I knew Japanese people wouldn't say no, but...hmm...what would you do if you were in the position? (Risa)

February 19th

The pictures of Otaru Snow Candle Festival reminded me of Kyoto Hanatoro which will start from March 14tht to 23rd. I went there with a friend a couple of years ago, and I really enjoyed it. It was very pretty. If you come to Kyoto during that time, please add it to your list of what to do in Kyoto. I’m pretty sure you will enjoy it. It will be still chilly at night in March, so don’t forget to bring warm clothes with you. Here is the URL of the site, Hanatoro, if you are interested. http://www.hanatouro.jp/higashi_e.html (Risa)

February 18th

I talked about Sapporo Snow Festival the other day. If you are a regular reader, you might remember it. A friend of mine went to Hokkaido with a group of friends on that weekend. Look at the pictures. Amazing, aren’t they?

snow festival snowfestival snowfestival

They went to Otaru to see Otaru Snow candle Festival, too. (I forgot to ask my friend how they went there…by rental car?) I love the pictures, they are really pretty. Thank you very much for sharing your pictures, my friend! (Risa)

snowfestival snowfestival snowfestival

February 15th

What are you up to do this weekend? Anything exciting is coming up? If you are around Kyoto this weekend, I recommend you to go to Kitano Tenmangu. The Japanese plum trees have started to bloom, and they are looking very pretty at the moment. The plum flowers are not so showy as cherry blossoms, but I like them, too. You can get more information of the shrine from their site; http://www.kitanotenmangu.or.jp/eigo/index.html I hope you have a lovely weekend! (Risa)

February 14th

Happy Valentine’s Day! How do you plan to spend your Valentine’s Day? This is a popular story, but lots of women give chocolate to their co-workers in Japan. There is no obligation to give them chocolate, but I think quite a few women feel obliged to do so even though much time has passed… I was watching TV the other morning, and the TV program said the average budget for the chocolate to co-workers is about $10.00. Do you think it’s reasonable? Poor men, once they receive chocolate, they have to give back something on March 14th called White Day. How much is the average budget? More than $10.00? I guess so… (Risa)

valentine

February 13th

We had a stunning day in Kyoto on Monday. I visited Yasaka Shrine for Hatsumode with a friend. Hatsumode is the first shrine visit of the New Year, and many people go to a shrine (sometimes a temple instead) during the first, second or third day of the year. I know my one is a month or so late…but, I try to think it’s better than nothing. My friend and I drew sacred lots to learn our fortune for the new year 2008, and it said I will have an excellent luck. I think nothing special has happened yet (or I just didn’t notice?), but I hope lots of good things are coming this year! (Risa)

Yasakashrine Omikuji

February 12th

How was your weekend? We had another long weekend. Saturday was very cold in Kyoto, and it was snowing almost all day. The snow accumulated even in the downtown area…but, the streets turned to slush easily. I was walking down the snowy road with a friend, and I asked her how to call SLUSH in Japanese. She was thinking for a while, but she started to explain in sentences… It was not an answer I was looking for. I did the same in my brain when I was asked the other day. Hmm…there should be a right word for slush… (Risa)

February 8th

I’ve been so busy this week… Hardly believe it’s already Friday. My workmate, Hiroko and I are both into yoga, so we went to do yoga together after work yesterday. The class was called Candle Yoga Night. We did yoga surrounded by candles…and lay down for 10 minutes or so to relax our body and soul after the practice. Our instructor put a lavender-scented eye pillow on our eyes…which was really nice and relaxing. That was definitely what we needed after a super busy day!

I talked with a lady I often meet at the yoga studio last night. She looks young, but she has teenaged daughters. She asked me what the best way is to improve their English. Hmm…I really don’t know. She also asked me how I studied English when I was a high school student, but I really don’t remember. What’s the best way to learn English? Can you tell me the answer, anyone? (Risa)

February 7th

The Sapporo Snow Festival, one of Japan’s largest winter festivals started on February 5th. Every winter, about 2 million people visit Sapporo to enjoy the festival not only from Japan but also from overseas. More than 400 snow statues and ice sculptures are displayed at Odori Park, Satoland, and Susukino Site. The history goes back to more than 50 years. The snow festival began in 1950, when six local high school students built six snow statues in Odori Park. The Japan Self-Defense Forces from Makomanai base joined in and built the first massive snow sculptures in 1955, and the festival became very famous all over the Japan. The festival will end next Monday (Feb.11th), but you still have got 5 more days. If you are already in Japan + you have no particular plans for this weekend, how about going to Sapporo?! (Risa)

February 6th

I’ve been thinking about what I should write…but, sorry I can’t find any topic. I will definitely post something tomorrow! (Risa)

February 5th

I am already thinking about spring… If people ask me what season I like the best, I would say autumn, but I can’t wait spring to come. Why? Cherry blossoms! There are lots of places to visit in Kyoto during cherry blossom season, so I have to make a list before it’s too late. If you are thinking about coming to Kyoto in the spring time, I recommend you to secure an accommodation now. The sooner, the better! (Risa)

February 4th

How was your weekend? I hope you had a neat one

I saw quite a few soybeans on the streets on my way to work this morning. Do you know why? I’m sure that sounds strange to you. February 3rd is a day called [setsubun] in Japan. The word literally means seasonal division, but usually the term refers to the spring setsubun. The spring setsubun is considered New Year’s Eve in its association with the Lunar New Year, so we have performed a special ritual to cleanse away all the evil of the former year and drive away disease-bringing evil spirits for the year to come. This special ritual is called mamemaki (bean-scattering). Pan-heated soybeans are thrown out the door, while the throwers chant [Oni wa soto! Fuku wa uchi!] The literal meaning of the phrase is something like [Demons out! Luck in!]. The beans are thought to symbolically purify the home by driving away the evil spirits that bring misfortune and bad health with them. Then, as part of bringing luck in, it is customary to eat soybeans, one for each year of one’s life, and in some areas, one for each year of one’s life plus one more for bringing good luck for the year to come. So, now it’s clear why there were lots of soybeans on the streets this morning, huh? (Risa)

January 31st

Today is the last day of January. Can you believe that? I really can’t. Time goes by so quickly… I keep saying this phrase for years, but I do feel so! What have you done so far in 2008? I think I will be asking myself the same question on February 29th, too. (Risa)

January 30th

Sashimi

Looks nice, huh? How many kinds of fish/shellfish did I have last night? Let’s count… Cod roe, turban shell, abalone, cram, squid, tuna, snapper, needlefish, fugu, monkfish, gizzard shad, filefish, octopus, shrimp, seaweed, eel, and what else… One of my friends invited me to a dinner at a Japanese seafood restaurant last night, so I joined them. It was a kind of welcome party for Roman from Switzerland. He arrived in Japan about 2 weeks ago, and he seems like he has been enjoying his trip so far. The food was really tasty, so we ate a lot – maybe too much! Talked a lot and laughed a lot, too. Roman has got one more week in Japan, so I hope he will fully enjoy his stay and make lovely memories.(Risa)

January 29th

I met with friends for dinner at an Izakaya after a yoga lesson last night. I knew only one person there, but I enjoyed the night. It was fun. Thanks, Akiko! I got back home a little late and found a letter in my mail box. There were a few pictures in the envelope, too. Good ones. They reminded me very much of the weekend. Thank you, the sender! It was very nice of you!

I just talked about the last night with my workmate, Hiroko…and, we found out that she knows almost everyone I met there. There are more than one million people in Kyoto…What a small circle of acquaintances we have! (Risa)

January 28th

Here is my weekend diary.

On Saturday, my friends and I had [Nabe] dinner together at my place. Nabe is a term referring to all varieties of Japanese steamboat dishes. We met up and went to the supermarket to buy ingredients and stuff. There are many types of nabe, but we decided to have Yosenabe on that night. Yosenabe is one of the most popular nabe in Japan. You can put whatever you like i.e. meat, seafood, tofu, and vegetables etc and cook in a pot. The broth comes to salt, soy sauce, and miso flavour, so you can choose according to your mood. As you see the picture below, it was quite a success. We ate a lot… and chatted until midnight. It was indeed a great night.

Nabe

On Sunday, I just spent a relaxing day by myself. Had a bath, went to yoga, and watched DVDs. One of the DVDs made me realise how important it is to be honest with yourself again. It was not a serious movie (sort of a movie boys never like), but I thought about lots of things during the movie. When you want to cry, just cry. When you want to tell someone your feelings, just do it. It's sometimes hard to express true feelings like 'I like/love you' or 'I miss you' ...but I always want to be honest with myself. (Risa)

January 25th

bbq

It's snowing now. No wonder why I feel so cold now. Things turning to white, which is beautiful though. Very COLD!!! I'm off to Alaska on the 28th. Well, the temperature will be minus 20, 30 or worse over there. As I've been reading a book "Into The Wild" in which a youth was found dead in Alaska, I'm REALLY worried about the climate. Chris McCandless made up his mind to seek what he lacked in his life into the Alaskan wilderness. I'm not as reckless as he was, so what I need to worry about would be how to overcome loneliness. I'll have people to talk to and I'll be busy with work, but I suppose I'll miss my friends a lot.

Well, even though I read publications and surf the Internet to gather info. on the weather, I cannot really imagine what it would be like. I see people wearing thick clothes (perhaps layers of clothes). I'll see what it is like when I get in Fairbanks. :-) The killer is the loneliness... The bright side is that I might be able to see the mighty aurora. Isn't it exciting? Wish me luck so that I'll be able to get back to Japan sound and good. :-) (Takashi)

January 24th

It’s a cold wintry day in Kyoto today. Actually it’s been snowing slightly…

I’ve been thinking about sharing a flat these days, but it’s not so popular here in Japan. I don’t know why…that’s weird. Japan still carries old traditions, but there is a lot of influence from western culture. Especially young people prefer a westernized style of living, I guess. If so, why do they still live with parents? They are just spoiled? Or it’s just a culture thing…? I’ve heard that flatting is getting popular in a bigger city like Tokyo, so I guess things are getting changed… Sorry I don’t know what I am talking about…(Risa)

January 23rd

I will go back to an older topic, Yamagata! My friend took me to a Kokeshi Gallery in the Yamagata downtown. I guess you don’t know what Kokeshi is…I put the picture for you. Kokeshi are Japanese dolls, originally from northern Japan. They were first produced in Miyagi Prefecture from where Kokeshi making techniques speread to the other spread areas in Tohoku region. It is said that those dolls were originally made from the middle of Edo period to be sold to people who were visiting the hot springs in the northern Japan. I really didn’t know about Kokeshi before I visited the gallery. According to the staff of gallery, there are more than 1,100 Kokeshi dolls there. Different faces, shapes, and sizes here and there… To be honest, I started to feel strange surrounded by them… It was the first time for me to see more than one Kokeshi at one time… I realized Japan has a very deep history of art!!! (Risa)

Kokeshi

January 22nd

I got out of Kyoto last weekend to see my friends in Tottori. I got a train from Kyoto in the morning on Saturday and got in Tottori around the midday. It was so cold there that I hurried to my friend’s house. When I got there, she was asleep, so I unlocked the door by breaking the code. No worries, this in not a so-called “breaking-in”. She’d told me the code just in case and it turned out to be a blessing. We spent a lazy Saturday afternoon staying at home because the cold wind and overcast sky never made us feel like going out. I cooked omelets (filled with fried rice) and stew that night. It was pretty hard to cook those: not because it is a difficult recipe, but because the kitchen is tiny. How come there’s only one tiny cooking stove? Well, anyway, I hurried to her friend’s room to borrow the kitchen. I was cooking omelets in one place and stew in a different place. It was pretty difficult but I managed to cook both of them. Do you usually sprinkle tiny bits of parsley over stew? I wasn’t sure if it’s for corn soup only, but I did it anyway. After all, it was fun to cook even though I could sniff the wafting scent of egg burning. (Takashi)

January 21st

tazuru

In one afternoon, about 2 weeks ago, I went to have a look at one of the ryokans called “Tazuru”. It was the first time for me to go there, so I was really excited. The owner and staffs were really kind. It was obvious they were paying every single attention to serve guests because when I went there, there seems to have been a lunch/meeting there. One of the staffs was arranging guests’ shoes so that they were able to get out easily. This kind of attentiveness may be considered to be normal, but isn’t it very important? At this point, I got a very good impression.

tazuru

The owner took me around the ryokan. All rooms are equipped with bath and toilet. From the rooms which face Kiyamachi-dori, you can see cherry blossom in the spring time. On the other hand, from the rooms which face the river, you can see the pagoda of Kiyomizu Temple. The owner seems to love this view. In addition to this, you can see it from the public bath on 5th and 7th floor. I didn’t have much time to take photos, but I took a few of the ryokan facilities. It was a good visit after all. (Takashi)

January 18th

[Yamagata Part 3] We went to Ginzan Onsen (hot spring) in Obanazawa, Yamagata on Monday. The area became nationally famous as the setting for the TV drama called Oshin. The program has been broadcast in 59 countries in the world. The Ginzan Onsen is a pretty town, and I really liked it. As you can see the picture, there are 3-4 story ryokan lining both banks of the Ginzan River. There is a ryokan called [Fujiya] in the town. The owner’s wife whom we usually call OKAMI in Japanese is from America. She met the 7th-generation owner of the ryokan and married him…we knew there is a person from abroad somewhere in the town, but we wondered how he/she got to the small hot-spring town…but, all clear now. There is a public bathhouse at the edge of the town, and a few of ryokan are open for day trippers, so you can enjoy the hot springs easily. The water was pretty hot, but we had a great time there. Thanks again Guy, I enjoyed Yamagata a lot with you! (Risa)

Ginzan

January 17th

[Yamagata Part 2] On Sunday, we went to Risshaku-ji commonly known as [Yamadera] located in a suburb of Yamagata City. The temple is said to be founded in 860 AD by the priest Ennin, but the other details aren’t so clear. A great number of people visit the temple to cut bad ties every year. A famous poet in Edo Period, Matsuo Basho also visited the temple and wrote haiku poems there. You can find some of them in his travel book called Oku no Hosomichi – The Narrow Road to the Deep North. When we got to the station, the sky cleared up. It was a good start. We climbed the steps briskly even though there was snow on the ground (pretty slippery on the way back though). I didn’t know, but there are apparently 1,015 steps there! We could see the village area from the top of the mountain. It was really pretty. You see the second picture below. We can’t get in there…only disciplinants are allowed to. The sky was getting darker, wind getting gusty. When we got back at the station, the wind was like a storm. It was freezing cold to wait for the train to come. After we arrived back in Yamagata, we went to eat famous Yamagata Soba (buckwheat noodle). It was very nice for our frozen body. My friend organised an Izakaya dinner on that night, so we went there. There were about 20 people, and it was a good fun. Of course, we didn’t finish yet. One more stop at a bar before we finished our day. (Risa)

yamadera yamadera2

January 16th

[Yamagata Part 1] My friend and I went to Zao, which is one of the 100 famous mountains in Japan, on Saturday. One key feature of Zao ski resort is the snow monsters that appear in mid-winter. These are trees frozen by winds from Siberia and covered in snow, giving a ghostly impression. So, they are called a snow monster. We went up to the top of Jizo Mountain by gondola. You can see the giant stone statue in the photo, right? It is a famous Jizo. It is said that the number of casualties in the Zao Mountain decreased after it was built in Edo period. We walked down to see another friend who works for a ski lodge. As you see the photo, we both were wearing normal clothes and shoes...so, it was a bit hard for us to walk down the ski slope. Finally we got to the lodge and managed to meet the friend. It was unordinary but lots of fun. I believe unexpected experiences make a trip more memorable, so that was good. We headed to a hot spring to warm up our body after we went down the mountain. It really was a nice hot spring, and I loved it. Our day didn’t finish yet. We went to a farewell party on that night. Dinner at an Italian Izakaya – Bar – Bar…It was a long day, but I had a lot of fun with the Yamagata people!!! TO BE CONTINUED…(Risa)

jyuhyo zao

January 15th

How was your weekend? I just came back from Yamagata! It was very cold while I was there (much colder than I expected)…but I had an awesome weekend. I met quite a few cool people there, too. Thank you so much for organising a really nice trip for me, Guy! I haven’t downloaded pictures yet, but I will post them with a comment here when they are ready! (Risa)

January 11th

It’s already Friday! We have been so busy this week, so it passed so quickly. What are your plans for the weekend? I am going to Yamagata to see a friend from tonight. Do you wonder where the Yamagata is? Check this out; http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Yamagata_Prefecture Yes, it is quite far from Kyoto, and it takes about 5 hours by Shinkansen. According to my friend, it’s been very cold up there, so I should be careful not to freeze… I will let you know how the trip went next week. Hope you have a lovely weekend too! (Risa)

January 10th

Takashi talked about Coming of Age Day yesterday. He went to the ceremony, but I didn’t. I decided to travel abroad instead. I went to Canada for 10 days (1 day back in Japan), Europe for 16 days, (5 days back in Japan) and New Zealand for 6-7 weeks. Sounds crazy? I didn’t know the value of expensive Kimono at that time, so I think I made a right decision. It is my happy happy memory. (Risa)

January 9th

How are you today? It’s such a nice day in Kyoto that it’s really nice to go out for a walk. In Japan, January 14th is set as a “Coming-of -Age Day” on which 20 year-old-guys celebrate their coming of age in their hometown. I’m from a small seaside town, so I remembered all of my old friends. It reminds me of mine vividly although it was a quite a while ago. It was such a cold day and snowed a lot. It was like a reunion day rather than a solemn ceremony, so I enjoyed it except a long Mayor’s speech. Long speeches always come along with ceremonies… Coming of age, people can have a right to vote, drink, smoke… and they have responsibility for themselves. If you come to Japan or you are in Japan on the 14th, you can see a number of men and women in kimono. That will be nice to see. (Takashi)

January 8th

How was your weekend? I had some fun with my friends. On Saturday, I went to the movies after walking around Shijo area. It was so crowded that I had a difficulty to move around without bumping into passersby. People streamed into shops to buy bargained stuff. (No wonder why my friend wanted to go there.) I got sick of walking in the crowd, so we evacuated into the theatre. The movie “The National Treasure” was pretty good. I always think why new movies come really late to Japan. Then, on Sunday, I went to “Kusatsu” to meet up with my friends from New Zealand. They seemed to have a great time in Japan. I didn’t walk around there at all because we just had a drink at Starbucks. They always love it. It’s becoming like a diary, so I’ll stop here today. (Takashi)

January 7th

How was your New Year’s holiday? I hope it was nice and relaxing. I went on another onsen (hot springs) trip to Toyama Prefecture with a friend at the end of December. I don’t know why but we were pretty tired, so we just wanted to relax, relax and relax… The hot springs definitely helped us relieve our fatigue, and we enjoyed our trip very much. PS It was frosty cold on the next day because a big cold wave hit Japan. I was shivering…but it was good to see the first snow this winter!(Risa)

TOYAMA

January 4th

snow

HAPPY NEW YEAR!!! I hope you had a good holiday. I went back to my home and spent some good time with my family. It was nice to see them, especially as I haven’t seen my grandparents since I moved into Kyoto. While I was there, it snowed a lot. Literally, everything turned into WHITE. Beautiful in one word, but the reality was hard work. We had to remove the snow out of the path. Otherwise, we could’ve got trapped in the house. Apart from this hard work, I went snowboarding with my mates 3 days in a row. It was such fun and good exercise after eating too much food. I think I’ve already had enough snow… It’s time to have another New Year’s Resolution. One of mine should be… enjoy my life, smile a lot, hopefully having heaps of laughing fit. I hope everyone will be fine and enjoy 2008. (Takashi)