Nokogiri-yama (Saw Mountain)

20 07 2009

Today, being a Sunday and the first day of my school summer holidays, we enjoyed a leisurely breakfast of pancakes. After that we went to K’s (electrical store) to spend a 10000 yen gift voucher we got for signing up for our internet during a campaign. We bought a printer for Benno’s work and while we were there we met this water droplet mascot for an airconditioner company that were handing out free stuff like notepads and hats. Bonus!

We heading off to the Kisarazu train station late morning. We caught the Uchibo line south to Hama-kanaya station. It took over an hour because of the strong winds were slowing the train down but finally we made it to the station. We followed the road to the ropeway that goes up to the top of the mountain but ‘zan nen desu ne’ the ropeway was closed due to the strong winds. So we saved our 900 yen each and we walked up. It took about 40 minutes to hike up the hill, through an animal-path (narrow hiking trail) that was slippery underfoot. The stairs were covered in moist moss and mud and it was tough going. We soon were drenched in sweat due the humidity and our exertions climbing all the steps. When we arrived at the top we sat down and ate our bento lunch in the fog.

Continuing on a little way we came to the entrance gate to the sacred Daibutsu grounds. 600 yen entry gave us access to more fog and mist. It was very misty so we could see nothing from the lookout “Ruriko Observatory”. Ruriko is on the edge of the cliff with a steep drop 400m down (a ‘saw edge’ but with all the white fog we couldn’t see the drop.)

We trekked to the hundred-shaku Kannon but it was very hard to see with a thick layer of fog covering most of it. So we moved on, past some statues to the Daibutsu of Nihon-ji (the Giant Buddha of the Temple of Japan). It was impressive- 31.05m tall carved into the rock (twice as tall as the Todaiji buddha in Nara and three times as tall as the Kamakura daibutsu). It took 28 men 3 years of work back in 1783 to complete it. Benno saw frogs and tadpoles in the little moat around the base of the Daibutsu. We couldn’t stand still for too long or our leg muscles started shaking from climbing all the stairs. That’s why a lot of our photos turned out blurry.

Before the Daibutsu was carved the appretice artisans first created 1500 stone images of Arhats. Unfortunately many of the statues were eroded or deliberated destroyed by an anti-Buddhist movement from the Meiji era. Lots were missing their heads. By this time we had been walking for over 2 hours (40 minutes hike to the lookout and then 90 minutes around the mountain) so it was time to return home. Unwilling to go back down the slippery, dark and foggy animal path, we came down the other side of the mountain.

Heading down the southern side of the mountain we passed the Nihon-ji temple and grounds with lovely gardens and lots more stairs. We exited the sacred mountain and walked about 5 km to the Hota train station. It was quite a small station and walking there we felt like the only people around for miles (as it was just sparse farmland). The station had no gates, only a small building and a couple of benches to sit on while waiting for the train. This was another side to Japan – the countryside is a completely different world to the Tokyo-Japan.

It took less time to travel back to Kisarazu so the winds must have died down. We caught the 6.45 local bus back to Apita and then home to rest our poor feet and legs.

We watched the least strange movie that we have seen so far tonight, simply called “Always”.

Yet another strange movie

11 07 2009

Metro ni notte "Riding the Metro subway"
Yet another strange movie from Tsutaya video store that we watched. All the the movies that have English subtitles seem to be quite odd. Japanese movies/dramas are very slow, there is almost no conversation as it’s mostly monologue and the time-travel plot in this one was a little hard to piece together. Maybe Japanese understand the motives behind people’s actions without it being said, but I don’t understand at all why an unprovoked woman would throw her mother down a flight of stairs in order to kill herself in the womb in a time-travel moment.

I had after school dorm student study supervision duties today (yes, Saturday) so I was at school until 2.40pm. I went to catch the public bus as all the school buses had finished. I got on, tried to explain what stop I wanted, and I think the bus was actually an express to Tokyo that doesn’t stop in Kisarazu (although it does pick up as we catch it when we go to Tokyo). So, I couldn’t catch the bus home and had to walk instead. Benno met me halfway on his bike and we walked down the hill home. It only took about 50 minutes but I was pretty tired after starting teaching at 7.30am and I was disappointed that the public bus is no good. Had a few tears but then had a red-bean onigiri and a nap at home and was okay.

Dinners have been good this week – tofu and lentil shepherd’s pie, roast potatoes and gravy, coconut milk peanut satay sauce with battered tofu, blackbean sesame and broccoli udon, chickpea and sweet potato curry with brown rice, nasu-don (eggplant on udon).

The weather is not really warming up – it’s still around the mid 20s in terms of temperature- but the humidity is something else with 90-100% humidity most days. At least there’s often a breeze so it doesn’t feel so bad outside or inside.

Now after my 6 day work week it’s definitely time for bed! Only 6 more working days and I’ll be on school holidays. I have finished writing all my revision sheets and exams. On Monday I’ll photocopy the exams and Tuesday I’ll start writing the tests on the summer achievement homework that the students will take in week 1 of term 2. The work never ends!

Cat Socks and Movies

5 07 2009

With our stockpile of oats from Costco I made some toasted muesli with coconut, sultanas and mixed nuts. It’s pretty good so I’ll make it again when it gets too hot for poridge in the mornings.

I also made some cashew nut cookies that were so awesome – chewy and sweet – but they all got eaten before a photo could be taken.

Our Japanese top loader washing machine has been attacking our clothes in a way that we are not used to as we had a delicate front loader at home. So we decided we should buy some new clothes. The first store we tried was full of trendy young clothes – bright pink shoes, Engrish oversized t-shirts and short-shorts with suspenders. However, we did find some cute room socks.

We went to UNIQLO and found a store that was more conservative in its fashion expressions, although the slogan t-shirts were still in abundance. We each got a new outfit to last us a while – quick dry shorts, long pants, colourful t-shirts, linen pants, linen work shirt, pleated singlet top. Not bad for 8000 yen (I figure UNIQLO clothing is a bit like Target.)

It was a bit depressing finding the right size. Although I’m not big, I am a large here. The linen pants were L (hard to find as most of the clothes on the rack were only S or M) and the tops were M. I’m used to being a S or XS in Australia. Shoes also are quite narrow with a maximum size around 25 cm (fortunately that’s about my size) and always have heels.

Benno's colourful t-shirts, quick dry shorts and soft green long pants.

Benno's colourful t-shirts, quick dry shorts and soft green long pants.

Lara's linen pants size L, black linen shirt and brown pleated singlet top, size M.

Lara's linen pants size L, black linen shirt and brown pleated singlet top, size M.

Lately we have been going to the Tsutaya video store each week to watch a Japanese movie (with English subtitles) to improve our language skills. We have watched a kids movie called Panda Kopanda. It was Hayao Miyazaki’s first produced work in the 70s about a young girl called Mimiko who has no parents but is looked after by her grandmother. Her grandmother go away for a short while and she is looking after herself. One day a giant panda and his baby panda called Panny escape from the Zoo and come to her house as there is a nice bamboo grove outside. They become a family, mama Panda (Mimiko), Pa Panda and Kopanda (Panny). It was very cute and had a catchy theme song that you can listen to here.

Everyone playing their brass instruments outside Mimiko's house.

Everyone playing their brass instruments outside Mimiko's house.

Last week we watched a strange movie called Kamome Diner (seagull diner) about a Japanese woman who opens up a diner in Finland that specialises in homestyle Japanese food. Two other Japanese women end up helping in the diner – one because she knows the Gatchaman song, and one because her luggage was lost by the airline. It didn’t always make sense but it was a nice feel-good movie.
The lady who lost her luggage, the owner of Kamome diner and a woman who knows the Gatchaman theme song.

The lady who lost her luggage, the owner of Kamome diner and a woman who knows the Gatchaman theme song.

Last night we watched ‘Gou-Gou datte neko de aru’ or ‘Gu Gu the cat’. A famous female manga artist becomes depressed and stops drawing manga after her cat Ne Ca dies. After a while she gets a new cat called Gu Gu, maybe finds love, gets ovarian cancer, battles on, lets Gu Gu loose in the park and takes photos of it frolicking and has to chase the cat several times when it runs away…and finally she makes another manga. This movie also features Marty Friedman (guitarist from Megadeth who is now a Japanophile living in Shinjuku, wearing only platform shoes) as an English language teacher who happens to be Death.
Gu Gu the cat movie

Gu Gu the cat movie

I’m not sure if any of the movies we watch will make sense – only about 1 in 10 videos have English subtitles and we have been grabbing random movies to watch, not knowing what they are about apart from the front cover image.