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February 24th and 25th Laura and I took a weekend vacation in the beautiful town of Kinoseki. This place is known for it's onsens (hot springs) and you can walk from place to place in your little geta (wooden clogs). It is also known for it's amazing crab dishes.

Whenever Laura talked about it before I was totally envious as it sounded like a dream. It was very close.

The ryoukan we stayed in was one of the more expensive ones we've ever stayed in, but after considering that it included a super amazing crab dinner, breakfast, a service that dropped us off in the center of town, and onsen passes, it was very reasonable.

This was also the first trip (as so far the only one) where the trains were late and therefore we missed our connections. But we got to Kinoseki in time to check into our ryoukan, take a quick dip in the ryoukan's onsen, and have an amazing dinner.

After dinner we went around to 3 other onsens in the town. One was in a cave, one had a waterfall (!), and one you sat under a cool little hut. At the end we took a taxi back to our ryoukan and I got into a discussion with the taxi driver.

On the road there were little spigots that were spraying water, and I wanted to know what was up with them. He explained that since there is a lot of foot traffic along the road in the winter, once the air temperature drops below a certain temperature on days with snowfall, the roads will spray water automatically so that the snow clears away without salt or chemicals. It was very clean and impressive. It sounded expensive, though.

That night we curled up in our futons and slept like the little melted people we were.

The next morning we woke up pretty early, due to breakfast times, and we wandered around the town after dropping our bags at the station. The town had an awesome Hello Kitty saloon-like store, and I had some fun.

We also tried some kinako ice cream, which was really tasty.

We caught the train back to Kyoto and met up with J-chan and had our favorite tonkatsu for dinner. We also tried a new tart store that was really delicious.

Then we took the shinkansen back to Nagoya. On the shinkansen home a salary man discovered I spoke Japanese and I talked to him the whole forty minute ride home. I can't remember what we talked about for that long, but it was entertaining.

Overall, it was an amazing weekend and I now understand why Laura raves about it so much. It is totally ravable.

Here are the pictures:

http://picasaweb.google.com/Elzkitten/KinosakiOnsen


*note The pictures aren't captioned due to the Picassa website having a bit of trouble. As soon as I can caption them, I will. :)
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Sometimes bad things happen when you confuse 'l' and 'r' in English words.

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My trip to 'Hakuba/Goryu.'


So... (flips open real, paper journal to check details on this trip) 

February 10th (Sunday) I sleep late and wander over to my home stay parents' place by mid-afternoon.  After purchasing some last minute snowboarding things (a neck warmer, a better pair of gloves, and some of those self heating packs) I hang out with Teruyo and Masao.  We enjoy a super tasty sukiyaki diner and then around 11, instead of going to bed, they drop me off at their friend, Yumie's place. 

In the past Yumie has taken me to an all night dancing festival and has brought me wake boarding. Weekends with her always prove entertaining. She has 'a wide face', which means that she knows scads of people. 


After loading up the car, we met the rest of our snowboarding adventure party in the parking lot of a sports bar. When the bus got there, all 30 (or so) of us got on. By 1am we were underway and surprisingly everyone was super happy, and while a little sleepy, ready to stay awake for some good old game show fun.


The bus ride ended at 6:30 at the base of the mountain, however, from 1-2:30 we played a trivia game. After a break at a rest stop, we boarded the bus in our newly designated 'teams'. I was in a team with Yumie and 4 other people who spoke very little English, so I was a little nervous about being sleepy and needing to speak Japanese.


But you may be asking yourself, 'Hey, you're going snowboarding tomorrow! Why aren't you all sleeping?!?!” Well, my answer for you is that Japanese 20 and 30-somethings are crazy. The way they got us from giving up and going to sleep was that the team with the least amount of points would have to wear super embarrassing clothes on the mountain when they snowboarded the next day!!! So, I tried my best.


The questions were mostly sports related, which meant I was no help at all. There were some that I could help out with, but mainly I was just crossing my fingers that we weren't the lowest team. At 2:30 it was the decision time, and it wasn't looking good for my team. However, we were (thankfully) second to last!!! phew


We stopped at a rest stop and got back to our normal seats. After that, I fell sound asleep against the window.


When I woke up the window was crusted in ice, and I was pretty cold and still rather tired. However, my excitement made up for my lack of sleep.


Upon entering the ski lodge we changed and I rented equipment. Oddly enough there were a bunch of Australian staff members who I found out got 'working holiday' visas and were staying for the season. So, I was outfitted and at 8:30 we hit the slopes!


Yumie and her friend are less experienced than me and the boy we were with. (forgive me, I've forgotten his name.) Let's just call him, Takuya. So Takuya and I after going once on the main slope for a practice run, left Yumie and Ayaka on the easier slope. We went up the gondola to the top, and without really consulting the map, we headed on down the mountain.


I can justify the mistake I made after this point in two ways: 1. I was a little tired. 2. The English on the sign was misleading. It just said 'no beginners'.

So that's when I found out that men all around the world will nearly kill themselves rather than be shown up by a girl at a sport. We found ourselves on the double black diamond of the mountain. The name was 'Champion, Expert Course.' HA! It was covered in mogles and to be fair, I fell quite a few times. But I was doing so much better than poor Takuya. I think he might have turned twice and mainly fallen down the rest of the course. (oops) At the end, though, there was some delicious powder snow, which relaxed me, and I was ready for more!


So we met up with Yumie and Ayaka and together went up the gondola and went on a less insane path. Over all the mountain wasn't as crowded as I expected for a national holiday, and I didn't have many problems. It helped that we weren't on the main easy parts. The snow was very nice, and comparable with Utah and Colorado. While the mountains weren't as well developed or as wide, they were as high.

There weren't many lines to wait in, as there were almost 2 lifts (mostly high speed) for each run. But as it was one day, it was perfect!


Lunch was at 11:30, and I enjoyed some curry rice. It was excellent and full of calories that I was excited to burn. Then we went up for a ride, and my three companions felt their energy drained, and decided to call it a day. I was still gung-hoe for more, so I headed off to the other side of the mountain. I explored on my own and had a great time people watching from the lifts and enjoying the scenery.


At 3:30 I came in and turned in my cute electronic pass, and then after a bath (there was a hot spring there), I changed and clambored back on the bus with the rest of the very tired group. I slept from then until we reached Nagoya.


Overall it was an incredibly enjoyable and strange experience. While I prefer the more relaxing snowboarding schedule of home, it was very enjoyable.


And now:


Pictures!!!

http://picasaweb.google.com/Elzkitten/NaganoSnowboarding

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Laura and I went this past Monday to scream our heads off at Nagashima Spaland in Mie.  It took about an hour all together to get there, and then for about 40 dollars we had our tickets for a day of unlimited rides.  We definitely got our money's worth!  And in the end my stomach was a little queasy.

This park is famous for the roller coaster called 'The Steel Dragon.'  It was closed for a few years due to an accident that involved something flying off it and landing in a pool nearby.  But it re-opened a year or so back, and we decided to try it first when we got to the park so we wouldn't get chickened out.

Well, after about a 30 minute wait we found ourselves at the very front of the coaster!  At the end of it I had tears streaked across my face, as the speed and adrenaline rush forced most of the excess water out of my eyes.  It was both super scary, and a great deal of fun.  I would totally recommend it to any roller coaster lovers! 

Then we went on a ride called 'Bobcats', which were like a go cart with a bobsled design.  Weird and cool.  Then we proceeded to go on a lot of different smaller roller coasters and rides that flipped us all around. 

Eventually we took a break for lunch, took purikura (tini pictures that are also stickers) and then waited a while to make sure we were totally digested.  So we waited 40 minutes and then waited in line for the 'White Cyclone', which is the longest roller coaster in the park.  The line for that was about a 30 minute wait, so by the time we were at the front of the line we were very safely digested.  While this wasn't as scary and the Steel Dragon, it was still great and rather scary as it goes through its own supports.  Very spiffin ride.

Then we rode on the jumbo frisbee and then finally on the giant Viking ship.  By 4 we were tired and our stomachs and inner ears had had quite enough.

After buying omiage for my staff and a Hello Kitty charm to add to my collection, we  went to the nearby shopping center and bought some Cold Stone ice cream.  I had some yummy concoction with peanut butter, oreos, nuts, and coffee ice cream.  Maybe Rocky Road Mojo?  I'm not sure.  But it was tasty!

Then Laura and I hopped on an express bus back to the station and took the train home. 

Over all, a totally excellent weekend, and I think my voice has recovered now!

Enjoy the pictures and the videos!

http://picasaweb.google.com/Elzkitten/NagashimaSpaland
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But before I try and post anything, I want to show off my pretty DS addition.  This has been a long time coming.  :)

My DS before:





My beautiful DS after:





So now I have a cute, sparkly, ridiculous DS.  I am a happy kid.

However, I need to sleep as this weekend was quite an adventure!
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In the end of January, Laura and I took off to Kawaguchi-ko.  Despite being geographically pretty close to Nagoya, it took us around 5 hours to get to this picturesque town.  We had the dream of onsening with a view of Mt. Fuji, and we got what we craved!  Really good food, a nice outdoor hot spring with a view of Lake Kawaguchi at night, and in the morning we enjoyed another relaxing bath with a beautiful view of Mt. Fuji. 

That night there were some less than amazing fireworks.  I'm sorry Laura, I thought they might get more interesting.  We stayed up on the roof the whole 30 minutes, and it was so cold.  Laura wanted to go in, but stayed due to my stubbornness to see all the fireworks.  Really, they should have made the fireworks into a 10 minute exciting show, instead of a 30 minute snoozer. 

Mt. Fuji and the weather may have defeated us in the summer, but we totally conquered this weekend!  The next day we went up a ropeway and enjoyed the view from an odd observation platform that had a story that I think involved a guy and a tanuki (racoon dog) saving the day.  I honestly can't remember the story.  I think it involved the tanuki stealing fire, and his fox buddy helping him when he burned his back.

Then we enjoyed some ice cream.  We could get 'three steps of stacks' ice cream.  Which means 3 layers of flavors.  I chose the unusual ones, which were grape, peach, and lavender.  Yeah.  It was weird, but tasty.  It was super strange to be eating ice cream on a cold day in January. 

We had wanted to take out a swan, paddle boat, and go ice breaking, but unfortunately it wasn't an option.  They were closed on Monday, despite being open on Sunday. 

Then we took a bus to Tokyo, and then rode one of the new Shinkansen N700es.  It was very stylish.

Pictures here!
http://picasaweb.google.com/Elzkitten/KawaguchiKoAndFuji
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Warning:  For those who are abroad and miss home things, this may make you a little homesick.

These are some pictures I took during the holiday season.  Mainly it's the yummy food from Thanksgiving that Mom made for me during the Christmas holidays.

http://picasaweb.google.com/Elzkitten/HomeThings


The pictures have individual captions, so enjoy!
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So, when leaving the Shinkansen one day, Laura and I stumbled upon:



This is out of season, but Nisshin does some winter decorations.  Here's our Christmas tree and our dragon.

http://s54.photobucket.com/albums/g113/picturepanda/?action=view&current=ChristmasTree.jpg



And for the holidays Laura and I tried a ridiculous Hello Kitty beverage.  It tasted horrible, but what do you expect from a sparkling, pink beverage that cost a whole dollar?  It was very pretty, even if it wasn't really drinkable.



More to come soon!
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This is a link to Laura's webpage for those of you who haven't explored the link on the left of my main page.  She has a rockin' journal as well, and posted a video that shows me playing a new Taiko game on my DS that's very similar to DDR.  I'm hooked.

Check it out at:
http://thelandoftherisingfun.blogspot.com/

This weekend we're off to onsen near the Sea of Japan, eat tasty seafood, and play taiko. 

Hope everyone is having a good weekend!
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To try and get new students in January and February, my assistant manager, who is in charge of advertising, put up these posters of me around my school's station.    They say 'Happy Valentine's Day' at the bottom.

Who knew I'd ever have my face on a poster that huge?!  Not me!



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Today I ran out of milk mid pour, so I hopped over to the grocery store and also got some bananas.  As I put them down on the counter to be scanned the little 5 year old boy behind me grabbed them and hugged them.  This amused me, baffled the cashier, and terrified the mother.  He didn't say anything while his mom tried to pry him off the bananas, and the cashier asked if we were together.  After we said that we were not together and the boy had relinquished my bananas the cashier totaled up everything.  She told me the number and then gave me one of the 'worried that the foreigner is going to freak out or have some problem that she can't figure out how to fix' looks.  Amused, I smiled at her and she finally relaxed a bit and smiled back.  I have no idea what was going on with the kid, but the mom looked like she had been having a hard morning as it was.  Ah, children.

So I now have hugged bananas and milk.  What's in your kitchen?

Disney

Jan. 24th, 2008 11:13 pm
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This weekend totally rocked!  Despite being not 100% healthy, I had a great time on Sunday at Disney Sea and then on Monday at Disney Land.

We were cold, but got to go on almost all the rides!   Some things were canceled as it was out of season, but we had a great time anyway!  It wasn't as expensive as I expected it to be, and the food was surprisingly tasty!  Also, we lucked out as it was supposed to rain or snow, and it did neither.

I seriously liked Disney Sea a ton.  There was even a water ride that was trackless.  The cars could sense the blue painted lines on the bottom of the pool floor, as well as each other, that way they were all a bit different.   It's hard to explain, but when Laura puts up pictures on her page, it'll make more sense.  She took more rockin pictures than I did.  My excuse for not taking amazing pictures is because I was sick.

Anyway, despite being sick, I did take some and here they are:

http://picasaweb.google.com/Elzkitten/Disney

Osaka!!!

Dec. 23rd, 2007 08:48 am
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On December 16th and 17th Laura and I met Fil in Osaka. The city that has embraced food and underground city like tunnels. We didn't get lost too many times in the underground passages, thanks to the convienient maps of the tunnels on some of the main posts.


Our hotel was in Nanba, arguably one of the more confusing stations as there are about 3 different stations in the area, ALL of them are called 'namba-eki.' But namba is a great location as it's the headquareters of the food district.


Laura and I really wanted to see more taiko, and her dad found a group called 'Kodo.' After looking it up online we bought tickets at a convienience store about a month ago, and were not disapointed. The show was amazing and also the comedy of watching Laura try to open a candy to stop coughing in a super quiet piece sent both of us into a *giggle loop. You wouldn't think that in a drum concert worrying about the slight rustle of a bag to stop some coughing would be difficult to mask, but Laura's body knew to attack during the quietest taiko piece I have ever experienced.


From Wikipedia.org:

*The Giggle Loop

The giggle loop is the increasing urge to laugh during a moment of solemnity or silence. Jeff's standard illustration of the giggle loop is that of stacking pint glasses in a tower; each pint representing one iteration of the loop, and the eventual fall and costly breakage representing the giggler's credibility."To know about the giggle loop, is to become part of the giggle loop."


The concert was fantastic, and if this traveling group ever comes your way, try to see them.


The rest of the weekend was spent shopping in the kitchen supply section of town, and eating lots and lots of food.


During the weekend we had:

Udon

A Crab Feast at the restaurant with the moving crab on top (I've always wanted to eat there)

Takoyaki

Okonomiyaki

551 Horai steamed pork buns (the best in the world)

and some chocolate.


I really love Osaka's food, and also they have an amazing selection of adorable Hello Kitty charms.


Check out the pictures at this link:

http://picasaweb.google.com/Elzkitten/Osaka2007

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So the weekend after my Friday excursion to Hikone, I went to Kyoto with Laura, Becky, and Fil.


Becky and I stayed over at Laura's place on Saturday night after school. We had Chinese at a place near Laura's apartment and an old guy could not stop turning full around in his seat to stare at Laura. Old men in Japan take creepy to the extreme.


On November 25th, we took off for Kyoto pretty early, and met up with Fil. Our first stop was a flea market near a temple and we all wandered around and looked at all the things for sale and the food. Then we took the bus to Ginkakuji (the Silver Temple) and we had lunch. The red trees at Ginkakuji weren't as red as last year as, apparently, there wasn't enough rain in September. After the temple, we walked along the Philosopher's Walk to Eikando, and we were in time to get a good place in the line to go in for the 'night time light up'. It was fun walking around the temple at night, even if the pictures didn't come out so well.


Then for dinner we went to Kyoto station to Laura and my favorite tonkatsu restaurant. They have really good yuzu salad dressing, in addition to having rockin' tonkatsu. Then we went back to our hotel and crashed.


We got up on the 26th rather early as Laura and I were interested in getting to Tofuku-ji before the swarms of people. It was amazing as we expected. Then we had some fun taking pictures. 

After having a good time at Tofukuji we had my favorite Kyoto snack... the yaki mochi near that shrine. It's amazing, and perfect for a cool Kyoto morning. We headed over to Sanjusangendo which I'd never been to. There are 1001 statues of Kanon, and despite being a bit chilly in the building it was very peaceful. We couldn't take pictures, but I enjoyed looking at all the dust and cobwebs on the statues, and wondered at what it would be like in an earthquake. The building also used to be used for archery tournaments back in the day.


We went back to the station and had lunch and then took some purikura. (Tiny pictures that double as stickers.) Then it was back to Nagoya!


 

And here are the pictures:

http://picasaweb.google.com/Elzkitten/KyotoAutumn2007

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My work week is from Tuesday to Saturday, so when we got a Friday off in the middle of November I was very excited to do something fun. 

Laura's Dad and her friend Fil were in town and so we went together to Hakone to see a few temples.  This was the first time in a long while where I didn't see any English on the trains and very few guiding signs.   I felt very useful on this trip, and even though I didn't bring my dictionary I managed to get by with no problems.  Yahoo!

The temples were super crowded, but very beautiful.  This year the leaves weren't as red as they normally are, but they were still very nice.

We visited two of the temples, and got there by an electric train, and then by a little bus that seems to only run when there are leaves to see. 

In anycase, the pictures are viewable at the link below.  Enjoy!


http://picasaweb.google.com/Elzkitten/Hikone

OLPC

Nov. 27th, 2007 10:43 pm
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This is a really cool project. 
http://www.laptopgiving.org/en/index.php

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So, I love Japan.  However, taking a 3 day weekend trip to Taipei was like going back home, just that I didn't see anyone I knew, there were a lot more Asians than usual, and people were speaking more Asian languages. 

The people in Taipei actually hugged each other and physically came in contact with one another!  They were talkative, friendly, relaxed, and most predominantly, they were outwardly happy!  It was a super nice change from the tired, solemn people of Japan. 

The food was excellent, and the shopping was so much fun!  Even though I couldn't partake in the shoe shopping that Laura was enjoying, I had a personal bag festival.

We did a fair amount of sightseeing as well, and one of the highlights was the Lin Family Mansion and Gardens.  If you're in Taipei, this is a place I'd recommend hunting down.  Parts of it were like a children's fantasy book, but in real life.  Curving staircases, ponds, rock paths that lead absolutely no where, tiny caves... it was wonderful. 

Taipei 101, the 2nd tallest building in the world, was pretty impressive.  Unfortunately it was cloudy, so there was no point in climbing to the top.  Instead Laura and I got some ice cream, wandered around the inside of it, and then went off again in search of greater adventure. 

The flight over and the hotel room (2 nights) all together was about $600, roughly.  It was a great deal, and I'm excited that I also have another passport stamp to show off!  :) 

The pictures in the album at the bottom of the page have captions which should clue you into what was going on. 

http://picasaweb.google.com/Elzkitten/Taipei


My favorite unexpected thing was the fire dancing / stage fighting we stumbled upon on our first night.  I took some videos and even though we were facing the back of the stage it was rockin. 

In any case, enjoy the pictures!
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So, this week is the start of the kids open houses.  I had my 3 classes of little kids on Tuesday, and a class of 1st and 2nd graders today.  The open houses make me super stressed and it reminds me how I felt when I started teaching. 

But this was a fun picture from Halloween. 
The kids are so cute, and yet...

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This post is to show off how rockin' some flower arrangements in Japan can be.  This is mainly for Mom, but hey, why not have everyone enjoy!






Taipei

Nov. 5th, 2007 11:55 pm
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This past three day weekend Laura and I went to Taipei, Taiwan.  If you ever get a chance to go to this amazing country, do it!  I loved it there!
The food, the happy, sweet people, the architecture, the paperless subway system, the shopping... it was wonderful.
I will post more when I am more rested, but here's a little taste of the awesomeness to come:





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