The end of Golden Week

8 05 2009

The spring weather that was so sunny and warm on Saturday, Sunday and Monday (excellent weather for our excursions) took a turn to the cold side for the rest of Golden Week. Tuesday and Wednesday it rained on and off for most of the day and it was cold. Perfect weather for baking and reading books and so we stayed inside wrapped in mofu (blankets).

Benno had bought some minature cookie cutters from the 100 yen shop – a dog, a car and a fish. So I made some spiced biscuits so I could try out the cutters.

The little spiced biscuits in the shape of a car (kuruma), a fish (sakana) and a dog (inu).

The little spiced biscuits in the shape of a car (kuruma), a fish (sakana) and a dog (inu).

We ate soup and had our new found dessert, zensai. A steaming bowl of sweet adzuki soup and mochi works great to warm you up.


It was back to school on Thursday. I went in early at 7.30am to organise myself for the week – why would I do any prep in my holiday time, now? It was still cold and rainy at night so that called for curry and rice pudding for dinner.

Friday was another normal day.. struggling to stay awake. I never felt tired or like I wanted to fall asleep at my desk in Australia – why am I so tired in Japan? Is it because the work day is from 7.30-4.30pm perhaps (I actually only work these hours on Mondays – other days are from 8.30-4.30pm or 7.30-3.30pm)? Time to put fat on the bones and eat chips with gravy and a side salad for dinner.

So, it was dreary and drizzly for the rest of the working week, warming up again on Saturday when we had parents enter the classrooms to observe and see if they want their children going to Gyosei high school. Unfortunately they were scheduled to visit during my science lesson with J-2 (that is, the class with the worst English skills and lacking most in motivation to do any work). Oh well. Good/Bad news is that they arrived late and completely missed my fantastically planned lesson and the parents didn’t enter any of my classes (they entered the poorly planned block 4 classes instead). One of the parents asked an English teacher “my child has buck teeth. Will she be able to learn English? The dentist said French would be okay, but she may not be able to learn English with buck teeth.” How do you reply to that!?

Here’s a picture one of the girls from that class drew for me. The person has blue eyes, so it’s obviously me.

Rina's drawing of me, for me...I think.

Rina's drawing of me, for me...I think.

Onsen and BBQs

4 05 2009

Today we were entertained by Atsu and his girlfriend, Mizuki.

We drove for ages through traffic jams to a famous stone buddha site in Chiba prefecture, but it was packed and the line up was hours long. So we went straight to lunch, eating some homemade cookies and Japanese citrus sweets in the car.

On the way Lara saw a monkey on the side of the road. Then we went to a State Park in Kimitsu for a BBQ lunch. Atsu made a delicious sukiyaki sauce to have with barbequed potato, onion, tofu, konyaku and grilled rice balls. Then we passed stage 1 of becoming Japanese by eating rice balls wrapped in nori sheets with umeboshi sour plums.

After lunch we drove a while to find some hot springs. Some of the places had closed early due to Golden Week. We eventually found an onsen that was open and joined the queue for a hot spring bath. It was quite busy – lots of people were also wanting to enjoy the baths. We collected towels, then put our shoes in a locker, then wandered through and put our personal belongings in another locker. Then we split off into boys and girls. We undressed in the change room and then washed with soap while sitting on little stools. After getting clean we sat in the hot springs outside in a little rock pool while looking at the scenery.

We had a great day and enjoyed talking with Atsu and sharing Australian/Japanese culture. For example, we taught Atsu the Tim Tam Slam in return for being initiated into the onsen experience.

Thanks guys for a fantastic day out! Happy Golden Week!

Yokohama Yodel

3 05 2009

Early in the morning we packed our bags and headed to the train station on our bicycles to catch the 8.30am express bus to Yokohama for our Golden Week Sunday excursion.

We had been warned that during Golden Week it would take twice as long to go anywhere because of the crowds of people. Plus there were ongoing Y150 celebrations (Yokohama 150th birthday). But, it took the normal time of 55 minutes to get to Yokohama station.

We wandered down to collect a map from the next station, passing the Anpanman Children’s Museum. There was a line up of parents and their little children going around the block waiting for hours to get into the museum.. and for what? Anpanman merchandise? If you don’t know who Anpanman is, there’s a picture below.

We walked down the ‘horse-drawn-cart’ avenue, Bashamichi Ave. Features of the avenue include old stone buildings (for example, the Former Bank Head Office. As the sign said, “a fine example of European classical style work left to posterity by a Japanese architect. Large pediments in front and at corners on both sides, along with prominent giant order pilasters between windows, emphasize a baroque effect.”) and the first gas lamps. There were also lots of police men and people sitting on the footpath.. we asked a police man and he said there was a street parade for Yokohama’s 150th birthday celebrations in one hour. We ate some homemade cookies for a snack and kept walking.

We wandered past the old buildings, then to the Yokohama Stadium. A baseball game with the Yokohama BayStars was scheduled for 2pm and there were fans dressed in baseball costume already waiting for entry.

But we continued through Yokohama Park to Nihon-odori Avenue to look at a floral expo. There were artworks on the road made from coloured petals (not live plants like I was expecting, but nice none the less).

We walked up the floral avenue and intersected the closed off parade road. We watched the marching bands, floats and cheerleaders for a while. One band played ‘In the Navy’, followed by another playing ‘It’s a Small World’, then a coca cola boat float with the Yokohama 150th mascot, a camphor tree seed, went past followed by some Chinese dragons with a lot of noisy firecrackers.

We left the parade and went into Chinatown. Yokahama’s Chinatown is the world’s biggest with over 500 restaurants and shops. There are meant to be 10 gates in Chinatown. One is not even in Chinatown but is on the other side of the expressway, and two we didn’t walk past as Benno was getting hungry for lunch. We looked at the shops and restaurants and ate a huge sesame/bean (anman) steam bun. By lunch time the throng of people was bumper to bumper. Busy! We saw some funny t-shirts. Some lines read ‘LET EAT BEANS’ or ‘Curiosity Polishes’ or a grammatically strange shirt ‘I like your taste in men’s’.

It was about 1pm, now so we crossed over the parade road in a squish of people jostling to get over the road in-between floats. We ended up in Yamashita-koen (Yamashita Park) by the Port. We ate our marinated tofu salad sandwiches and non-msg chips under a tree while watching the end of the parade (yes, it was still going. It look about 4 hours just to pass the starting line.)

We looked at the Hikawa Maru Steam Ship at the Port (a passenger liner that sailed the world and once had Charlie Chaplin travel on it) and the Marine Tower (the world’s tallest lighthouse at 106m above sea level) before going further south and up the hill to the Minatonomieruoka Park (Harbour View Park). After a lot of stairs we ended up at a lookout point with a view of Yamashita Pier – industrial and not actually very pretty to look at. We could see a wind turbine, the Yokohama Bay Bridge and the Landmark Tower from the lookout, but the rest of it was just industrial Port buildings. Benno had a nap on a bench to rest after all those stairs and then we walked back down a different route back into Yamashita Park.

We followed the crowds (still bumper to bumper) to Minato Mirai 21. We looked at the touristy Red Brick Warehouses (Akarenga Kokusaikan), described as “nostalgic through its unique red brick architecture” but they were also packed with lunch-goers.

We wandered past the giant spider, La Machine, to Yokohama World Porters, a shopping mall with imported clothing and food. We ate a sweet potato bagel from “le Bon Pain” and found mexican food in the Vivre Supermarket. One night this week we will be feasting on tortilla chips and refried beans.

Next we went past the Amusement Park Cosmo World, with the world’s largest clock/ferris wheel called Cosmo Clock standing at 112.5m. In my mind I had an image of clock hands on a giant ferris wheel, but no, there is just a digital clock display on a ferris wheel. Cosmo World has free entry, just admission for rides. So we were able to walk through all the attractions.

Past Landmark Tower, a very tall building (296m to be exact, the tallest building in Yokohama), and past the Maritime Museum with a navigation sail boat called Nippon Maru, much like the merchant ships that arrived in Yokohama 150 years ago and opened up the Port and Japan to the West.

We laboured up a hill to Iseyama Shrine, which was almost deserted apart from about 4 monks. It was built in 1870 as a place to pray for national security.

Then we came back and watched the lights on the Cosmo Clock until it was time for dinner. Dinner was at a vegan macrobiotic restarant called Flancl Garden Chaya¬† Macrobiotic Cafe (another branch of the Chaya’s in Isetan, Tokyo) in a shopping mall attached to Yokohama Train Station. We ate the Millet and Soy Vege Loaf Plate, the Mild Vegetable Curry and a small Cabbage Soup. Dessert was Black Soybean and Matcha Cream Tart and Mixed Berry Blancmange with fresh mint tea and bacha tea (not sure what that is). All that for only 3500 yen.

We raced out after our delicious meal and back down to the bus station where we only had to wait 10 minutes for a bus at 8.30pm to Kisarazu. An hour later and we were back at the station, collecting our bicycles and riding home by 10pm for a good night’s sleep to rest our walking legs for another day out tomorrow.