Wednesday, April 20, 2005

5.7 Magnitude Earthquake

A 5.7 magnitude earthquake struck Fukuoka this morning around 6am which woke Eden and I up. Fukuoka is around 100km north of us but the quake was quite mild in Kumamoto. It was enough to wake us up, but nothing fell over. (AND I had stacked five packs of ramen noodles on top of our kitchen cabinet last night and they didn't fall).

The Boston Globe carries an article about it. It occured in the same spot as the earthquake a month ago.

Shikoku Golden Week

This year the wonderful holiday period known as Golden Week ゴールデンウィーク will actually run for an entire week! On May 3rd, 4th, and 5th Japan celebrates three consecutive national holidays (Constitution Day, National Holiday, and Children's Day). Two years ago we had a Golden Weekend. May 3rd was a Saturday, May 4th a Sunday, and only May 5th was off :( This year we will take two days of paid leave (May 2nd and 6th) and combine it with another national holiday, Green Day (April 29th), and have an incredible ten days off! For these magical ten days we're planning our longest Japanese road trip ever; to the island of Shikoku.

Our plans are pretty much to see, eat, drink, bathe, and hike as much of Shikoku as we can. Hope we don't wear Krista Glen (Eden's friend) out (she's visiting for 2 weeks). Next Friday, April 29th, Eden, Krista, and I will pile into our little Suzuki 650 c.c. kei-car and drive to the east coast of Kyushu and the lovely? port of Saganoseki 佐賀関 to board our ferry for Misaki 三崎, Shikoku. This was the quickest and cheapest ferry between Kyushu and Shikoku, which I believe makes it the best option. From Misaki we plan on driving up to Uchiko 内子 and visit the local candle-stick merchants. Uchiko is famous for having one preserved old street, which I'll have to see how long it takes before we see a vending machine. After Uchiko we'll head to Matsuyama 松山 and the Dogo-onsen youth hostel. Dogo-onsen 道後温泉 has a history of 3,000 years and is the oldest hotspring resort in Japan so I look forward to seeing if it measures up to the waters in Kumamoto and Oita.

After doing our thing in Matsuyama we'll be driving to the famed Iya Valley祖谷which boasts deep gorges, vine suspension bridges, and roads to nowhere. I'm hoping to walk across some of the less visited vine bridges and have picked up a hiking map of the area which appears to have them labeled. After our first day of wandering around, eating soba noodles, and relaxing in onsens we'll camp at one of the excellent 500 yen sites along the river. The following day, May 1st we'll be staying at Chiiori, the 300-year old thatched roof farm house owned by Alex Kerr (author of Dogs and Demons, and Lost Japan {I've read both b.t.w.}) and Florence Mason (of Lonely Planet fame). The house/project is a non-profit organization that aims to "revive and preserve Japan's vanishing culture, arts, traditional lifestyle and natural environment, while promoting responsible and sustainable moderization." It seems like a cool place to stay and is quite well known in the JET community.

After our day at Chiiori we will start our three day hike. The first day we'll climb up Tsurugi-san剣山 and camp near the summit. The following day we'll make our way to Miune-san 三嶺山, described as the most beautiful mountain in the area, and camp around there. The third day we'll hike down to the road and then catch a bus to our car. That day we'll drive to either Tokushima or Takamatsu and spend our last night with Krista before we send her off to Kyoto, where she'll spend two days before heading back to Toronto.

From May 5th - 8th Eden and I don't have any solid plans. One route is to follow the inland sea back to Misaki (it's supposed to be lovely), and the other route is to head down to the Pacific coast and Kochi prefecture and do some beach camping and then going to the Shimanto-gawa 四万十川 and camp along it. It is famous for being the last/longest undamned river in Japan but at 196km it isn't *that* long. Particularly interesting are the 22 bridges along the river which don't have any side rails and are designed to submerge when the river swells!

So it looks like this will be our last major trip in Japan, which is a bit sad, but we're also looking forward to it and am sure we'll have a great time.

Currently listening to: Pearl Jam - Ten
Eden is reading: Devices and Desires - P.D. James
Josh is reading: Birdsong - Sebastian Faulks (I'm a slow reader)

Wednesday, April 06, 2005

Mom and Dad come to Japan

I was surprised to hear a month ago that my parents would be coming to Japan to visit. They had talked about it, but with Dad's work and Janine's wedding coming up in August I wasn't sure if they could make it. They arrived in Tokyo on March 23rd and spent a day and a half walking around, riding the subway, drinking expensive coffee (Starbucks in Japan is cheaper than at other shops) and filling up on ramen noodles.

Then on Friday, March 25th they caught their plane to Kumamoto. Having not seen each other in 2.5 years it was nice to talk over tea and cards nearly every night. We saw the usual sights around Kumamoto: Aso National Park (active volcanoe), Kumamoto Castle, Suizenji Park (Japanese garden and tea house), Hosogawa Mansion (House of the feudal lords of Kumamoto), a number of temples and we spent one day touring the canals of Yanagawa by boat.

Mom also bought a digital camera, a Sony DSC-W1 5.1MegaPixels, for a bargain $230 CND which we used to photograph and film Dad eating as well as take regular tourist snapshots. Some of Mom's video clips are quite funny, you'll have to ask her to show them to you.

Perhaps the funniest part of the trip was Mom's insistence on having sushi. Eden wasn't really interested and Dad and I were indifferent. Being accustomed to California rolls and similar tame sushi, Mom was a little surprised to see that most shops only served raw fish on cold rice. On their last night, April 2nd, we decided that we must finally bring Mom out for sushi and we went to the local kaiten rotating sushi bar. For around $18 CND the three of us (Eden was ill) ate around 13 plates of various items. It was quite tasty and it was a good experience. Mom seemed to stick to the safe bets of California rolls and prawns while Dad kept choosing "something exotic" and teasing Mom for picking "things you can get at home." One dish that we found quite good were fish eggs that had been laid on a blade of sea grass.

Other interesting things that we ate were grilled eel when we went to Yanagawa and ramen made with water from the Shirakawa river fountain head. (Water bubbles up from the ground there at 1000 l/second or about 60 tonnes a minute!)

What surprised Dad the most were the prices. He came to Japan expecting $10 hamburgers, $200 hotels and $5 coffees. He was quite amazed to find a good filling lunch for between $7-10 CND. At one restaurant in particular, Chikyu-ya in Kumamoto City, we ordered four sets of the fried chicken lunch and had so much left over chicken that we had it for two meals after. The total bill was less than $40 CND for the four of us.

On April 24th, Eden's best friend will visit us for two weeks. During Golden Week, April 29th - May 8th we will visit the island of Shikoku, hike in the Iya Valley and stay at Chiiori, a 300-year old traditional thatched roof farm house!

Currently listening to: Tracy Chapman - self-titled
Eden is reading: The Da Vinci Code - Dan Brown
Josh is reading: Birdsong - Sebastian Faulks

Eden and I at Kumamoto Castle. Check out the beard!

Mom and Dad at Kumamoto Castle

One of dad's plates at the rotating sushi bar not far from our apartment.

Shopping for fresh fish in the basement of the Tsuruya department store, Kumamoto.

Dad getting a mouthful of ramen. Sluuuuuurp!

Mom and Dad eating Ajisen ramen in Hakusui, Aso. The water for the ramen came from the Shirakawa river foutainhead and is ranked in the top 100 waters of Japan.

I caught Eden here weighing herself on an old-fashioned scale outside Chikyu-ya (also known as half-door chicken for the low entrance way).

Takahashi Inari Shine near one of my junior high schools.