12 September 2008

Ise and Toba

Here's another update on where I've been so far in Japan. One day last month, Takeshi, his dad, and I up and went to visit some places out of the blue. His dad got the urge to seek out and try a speciality desert from area of Ise. I wasn't really sure what it was, but I was all for going somewhere new. The drive there took close to about 2 hours.

There were reports of rain all over the area, so I hoped we wouldn't be hitting any of it, especially since we would most definitely be walking around outside for most of the day. So we hit the road fairly early in the morning, almost as soon as we woke up at 8am. We stopped at 1 or 2 rest stops along the highway. Tousan had to use the facilities but he always seems to park the farthest away from the restrooms, at those kinds of places. He could always save himself a huge walk.

Tousan usually has Takeshi share the driving if we go anywhere farther away, and I am very relieved in that way. His dad is not good with longer driving trips. He can't even stay awake the whole time, even if the trip is 2 hours long. Fat chance he wouldn't crash into something while nodding off. I know Takeshi is not that bad. If I could share the driving too, I would.

We reached the Ise area, and more specifically, the town which served the special desert. This small town ran alongside a big river, with the dark green mountains in the background. In the center of this town was a (sorry to put like this but,) touristy section. In this section the buildings still retained the architecture of feudal times. All of the moldings, wood, and rice paper construction had been taken of very well throughout the ages. It was a tanglement of narrow passages and alleyways leading to multiple directions, small shops selling their wares, and beautifully trimmed and treated plant-life. And it was packed with people, that day.

Walking across river, on the giant bridge, to the town.

It had just rained in the area so it was quiet humid out, with giant puddles everywhere, and the mountains were threaded with streams of fog and steam, because the sunshine had become extremely bright after the rain showers. We walked around to all of the stores. We saw tons of the usual gift food being sold to visitors: mochi and manju molded into every type of shape, in some case, small bunnies and frogs, an endless variety of crackers, giant and small, spicy, sweet, powdered with matcha, lots of dried fish, octopus jerky, squid, bonito flakes (yum), and canned, regional seafood including clams and oysters. All of these places, like the usual tourist gift shop, had tons of samples to try, and we're always sure to do just that. I swear, I've seen mochi of every color so far. You can do a lot with mochi, it seems. Certain other gift shops had no food to speak of, but the usual wall of phone charms, ceramics, masks, and children toys. 98% of it, you can be sure, would do nothing but collect dust in your house after about a week of having it. Certain game booths were also set up here and there, with old-fashioned games, such as shooting little boxes with a small rifle, and also sometimes a small slingshot.

Some of the architecture off the roof of one building.

A Corgi takes a breather, while their owner looks at a gift shop.

A view down one of the streets.

At a couple places in the town were large, very wide walkways, paved with white stone. Small shops flanked us on each side and above us was a sun cover which I've seen most households use sometimes. At people's house though, they take the huge piece of threaded bamboo sticks outside and lean it up against the window at an angle to help block the sun in the summer. Here, several pieces of these sheets where laid flat across larger bamboo shoots. It made for a really cool photo and environment, I thought.

The bamboo sheets above, and the white stone below.

Finally we found the building where they were dishing out the Ise area, speciality desert. And it was a special summer desert at that. This small building was packed, packed, packed with people holding numbers, waiting for their bowl of the stuff and rightly so. This desert (whose name I can't remember...) was comprised of a huge pile of match-flavored shaved ice. In the center of the pile was a big scoop of red bean paste and a couple small balls of mochi. I can say that it was the perfect treat to have in such gross humidity. Very very good stuff.

My bowl! Yum.

We left the building very satisfied and with another burst of energy, we walked on through the town. We came to the main street of the town; a huge walkway paved with large grey stone, flanked on both sides by a variety food places, gift shops, and other attractions. One place we wandered into was the establishment of a woodworker. A thin, balding man and set out his woodworking art around the small store, and he sat on a raised platform at the back of the room with his small work area.

Another cool little establishment along this huge street was a small cramped shop where they sold nothing but packed and dried fish and seafood. The most unique thing about it though, was that all along the walls of the store they had hung actual, whole dried fish. And these were not small - fish. At the very front of the store they had hung a huge dried out shark. At the back end of the store we could see an even bigger, more giant dried fish - it seemed to be some type of blowfish/flat fish. It was eerie with all the pigment gone from it, it was ghostly white and its small spiky teeth jutting forward. Of course, these giant fish were a lot thinner than I'm sure they were in life, but, they were still very big.

The crazy dried shark.

Well, after a while we finally left that town in Ise and hit the road again. This time, I'm sure if we ended up where we did because it was intentional or not. We did get lost on the way home from Ise, which led us to be in Tobe. Tobe is well known for it's seafood but more importantly for the quality of the pearls which come from that region. I hear pearls from Toba sell for quite a lot. I believe the pearl/jewelry company Mikimoto features pearls from Toba. While traveling through Toba, Tousan decided to take a road up into the mountains. We stopped at a pay booth and then sped through. He said that there was a nice spot somewhere up there that would give us a good look at the surrounding scenery. We climbed and climbed for about 20 minutes before finally reaching our destination.

It was crystal clear up there among the rolling mountains. The rain clouds had been pushed back and the cool mountain wind was strong. We felt very refreshed and almost liberated from the stinking humidity we become used to below. The mountains in Japan are so green, they're almost emerald in color, bushy in texture. We stopped at a small gift shop (I guess for this particular sight-seeing spot) and climbed a large set of stairs outside, right next to it. It went behind the building and led to a high point. From there, we were so high up that we could see ocean and the other groupings of smaller islands of that part of Japan, in Toba. Being able to see where the land stops and leads into the vast, never-ending blue of the ocean, really brings home the fact that you are on an island, not a continent. I was thinking in awe, "Wow. It just - stops there. That's it!" Overall it was beautiful up there, and it almost felt like another world. I didn't want to leave.

Very steep steps to a lower level of the parking lot.

Islands in the distance.

Walking back across the pathway behind the gift shop building.

Panoramic view of the mountain ranges in front of the gift shop.

Panoramic view of the mountains and ocean view, behind the gift shop.

02 August 2008

Jeez it's August already....

Wow time flies. It felt like only yesterday I was thinking that, "wow the first day of August is tomorrow!" And then I look today and it says it's the 4th of August already. I also have been seriously losing track of time since moving here. So it's no wonder that I usually think it's a different day or date. I least I get the month and the year right.

Today's temperature was 37 degrees Celsius, which means it was roughly 98.6 degrees Fahrenheit, with probably the humidity being up around 70%. Today was disgusting and uncomfortable to say the least. The air conditioning was finally turned on in the dining room/kitchen area at about 3pm, but until then there was no way to escape the heat, inside the house or outside the house. In some ways inside the house is worse because the air does not move as well inside rooms, so you usually feel like you're trying to breath in very hot, thick fog into your lungs. Bleh. But I soldier on. I just hope my health isn't in danger...

So anyway, I told you that I would be recalling several trips I just took recently to different places around the Mie prefecture. A couple of weeks ago, a family friend by the name of Mrs. Nakae and her daughter, Tomomi, decided to take Takeshi and I out for a drive to visit some different places around Suzuka. This event was brought about mainly because Tomomi had wanted to meet me after hearing that Takeshi had married an American girl. I had met her mother a few times before, but not her daughter. Tomomi's English skill was quite good, and she told me that this was because she (and her family I presume) had lived in Canada for two years. She probably went to school there, and she said that she had even acquired a Canadian boyfriend at one point. She told me with a shake of her head that she wouldn't want to live there again because of the cold winters there! No wonder. Tomomi and her mother look so much alike, and are very laid back (when it comes to your normal Japanese person in the presence of a foreigner). They had been told, or had learned that both Takeshi and I had an interest in photography, so they decided to take us to places where we could let go and be the photography geeks that we are. This was no problem with us, because we also wanted to get out of the house that day; one, because it was immensely hot inside as usual, and two, because we hadn't gone anywhere in a while.

So we scrambled into the back of their car and drove away towards the nearby mountains. Our first destination was shrine grounds located at the base of one of the many mountain chains surrounding the area. To get there, we left the city limits with it's restaurants and malls and into the farmlands with rice patties stretching out far as the eye could see. Like little islands, clumps of humble homes sat surrounded by the fields of rice patties, tea bushes, palm trees, and other various produce. At one point I was reminded of some U.S. states in the west where there is nothing around you, as you drive along a tiny road. Finally we started to climb higher in our car, through tiny towns no bigger than 15-20 buildings, and on streets which were so narrow that at some points, the low stone walls in front of the houses threatened to smack the rear-view mirrors clean off if you turned the wheel just a fraction more to the left or right. We reached our destination at the end of a long, steep, narrow road which led into the mountain woods. There, we pulled into an small unpaved parking lot right in front of the first of the shrine buildings. The trees were unbelievably tall and straight as a ruler. The area was so close, and you could smell water, musky earth, and incense in the air. As we left the car we spotted a possible priest(?) of the shrine grounds being led to a car by an older man, the car's owner. The man's wife stood beside the car. The priest then proceeded to speak a chant in front of the car, which I can only assume where prayers over the car. He circled it many times, slowly, and paused over each side of the car for a moment in his chanting. I interpreted this as a possible way to "bless" the car, perhaps to ward against future possible car accidents? Perhaps a good luck prayer for a newly bought car?

We made our way into the grounds and up the mossy path towards more buildings. At Japanese shrines like this one, I always am able to totally feel the ancient air of it. To know that Japanese citizens in past feudal times may have taken the same steps as my feet do on the cleared paths between tree trunks and stone lanterns. Shrines are always very peaceful and beautiful places to me. At one of the shrine buildings we found the usual memorabilia which the shrine sells to all its visitors; little tokens, prayer pouches to put in one's purse, prayer tokens for cellphones, etc.

Mrs. Nakae and her daughter, Tomomi

After leaving the shrine grounds I thought that we would be heading back to the house, but Mrs. Nakae said she then wanted to take us somewhere else. Takeshi was unsure of what exactly it was, but he told me that she said something about a river that was really clean. Our second destination was a quite large park of sorts, again located in the mountains. After passing through a small entrance, we drove up another narrow, semi-paved, road with twisted and turned through the woods. Our car hugged the side of the mountain's hills and earth on the right side, for on the left side of us, the earth dropped off completely and led to a steep fall to a distant river below, through the trees. The river was plastered with boulders and rocks of all sizes, and the water ripped through the maze of stones, downstream. We drove higher until along the road we spotted a cleared area in the grass off to the side where we could park and look around. right in front of the space where we parked was a tiny path no longer than a couple feet, which led down to the river itself. We took several snacks and drinks, that we had bought earlier at a convenience store, with us from the car and proceeded to wind our way through the rocks to the water. The spot we picked was very nice and secluded with a lot of shade from the overhead trees. I have never seen water so clear before, for sure. You could spot every little pebble and fish in the water. We spent about an hour wading around in the water, which in some places came up a little past my knees (because I'm short...). Takeshi and I wandered everywhere taking pictures of course. Not once did we see anyone else in our area at all; only a few more parked cars along the road on the way up.

On the way up to the river, with a field of tea bushes behind the sign.

A tiny grouping of houses in the distance.

A lonely foot.

31 July 2008

Is summer over yet?

I cannot wait until some fall weather kicks in, and pushes this humidity out for good - or at least for many many months. I need a break from it.

Lots of stuff has been going on since I posted last (ages ago....sorry).

I just submitted my application to my chosen online art college today, so hopefully I will hear from them soon about it. Takeshi has finally, finally received his driver's license and him and I have been gleefully scooting around town in his dad's car during the day to various places, instead of chugging along through the humid air on our bicycles. Big improvement.

I've been trying to cut back on my white rice intake at meals now. White rice is present at every meal and is not unlike eating bread at every meal, so, I'm cutting back.

Here is a list of the usual food items which I eat on a weekly basis, be it either from family meals, or from places around town:

fish sausages
red bean paste
raw seafood
unknown root vegetables
beef patties
udon noodles

There are American fast food joints and restaurants here but are few and far between. Of course, there is more American fast food here than any other kind of foreign food. The places that I have seen so far are McDonald's, Denny's, Baskin Robins, KFC, and Pizza Hut.

So anyway, like I said, I've been up to a lot of things since my last post; mostly traveling to different places. I'll probably just break up each trip (all of which happened within the last few weeks) into their own posts or whatnot.

20 June 2008


Yeah...I haven't posted anything for a while as of late, just because....I haven't. Oops. But anyway! Back to posting, and redeeming myself. ;D

Yesterday afternoon Takeshi and I went over to the Ishii's house for a "Welcome to Japan (for me)" and a "Welcome Back!" (for Takeshi) barbecue party/get-together. The Ishii's have been very good friends of Takeshi's family since he was little, he told me. They have two sons, the younger of which, Junpei, is currently dating Takeshi's sister. Takeshi's best friend is the older son, Ryosuke. Mrs. Ishii had been wanting to pick a day to do it and decided last weekend that yesterday would be the day, rain or shine, since she said we shouldn't put it off anymore. Takeshi and I left the house at around 6pm. Baasan had already been over there - I guess for some mingling with the other ladies and such. Takeshi said that she would be coming back to the house, though, and returning again later with Tousan when he got home from work. Saori would be coming later on at around 7pm, after she returned from school. The Ishii house is about a 5 minute walk down the street from our house, if you walk really slow. The Ishii's own a lot of land, for being in Japan. On their "home turf" they have 3 building all together, situated in the shape of a "U". When you walk into the front yard/parking area, to the left you have the Ishii's old house, where they used to live. As of now, the residents of this house are the Ishii grandparents (who's mother and father, I don't know). To your right is a large shed-like building which hold various yard tools, storage space, and chopped pieces of wood. And at the back, to your front is the new house that the Ishii's had built. This house is a very western-looking house. It is built totally out of wood (which I've been told they had imported out-of-country = expensive). This house looks like it was taken right out of mountain country, in the States. I always think "log cabin" when I see it.

When we arrived, we were led around to the back of the house to the back deck, where they had set up a table with chairs and various other barbecue items. At the back of the deck, Mr, Ishii was already starting to grill groups of sliced onions, slices of beef, eggplant, and sausages. At the front gate we stopped to say hello to Nana, the family's dog of 3 years, who is a Bernese Mountain Dog. Nana is very friendly with everyone she meets so Takeshi and I always make sure to spoil her and give her lots of belly rubs and pets when we come over. :) Mr Ishii was grilling all of the food in a certain way that I've seen other Japanese family's do it - he takes a small, thick pot filled with active coals, places a sheet of metal over it, and then places the meat on top of that. They had about three of these little "grilling stations" on the deck behind the table. I had never really officially met Mr. Ishii before then, since (like every other Japanese father) he had always still been at work when I had visited the house. So I took this chance to say hi to him and to properly say "Hajimemashite onegaishimasu" ("Nice to meet you.") to him. He seemed like a very nice, laid-back guy. The whole Ishii family is very down-to-earth, friendly, and easy going - even more so than my in-laws, I think. Mrs. Ishii has got to be one of the most energetic women I've ever met. One time when we arrived at the house to visit, she came down from the front porch and leaped right up to me to utter a big "KONNICHIWA LORA!" Other people would think she's a bit weird, but I actually really like it, since she's able to not be so shy around a foreigner and say hi to me.

Mr. Ishii grilling on the back deck.

Ryosuke in the green, Takeshi in white right behind him, and Mrs. Ishii's friend on the right. Mrs. Ishii in the black shirt at the center of the photo.

Mrs. Ishii's friend was there as well with us. I've met her before a couple of times, but Takeshi and I still don't know her first name. Later on, Mrs. Ishii and her went to get her husband from work, and he helped Mr. Ishii grill for a while, near the end of the barbecue. Only after about an hour of being there, we could start to feel tiny raindrops hitting us, so we decided to pick up everything and take it inside the house for the rest of the night. Mr Ishii would stay outside to grill food, and we would bring it in inside. I felt bad for him, but fortunately it actually did not rain for the rest of the night. And also, as the night went on, they moved all the "grill stations" to the side of the house (since they had a wrap-around porch), and then the grilling was going on right outside of the sliding storm door, which was conveniently located next to the dining table.

Takeshi enjoying his favorite - a Guinness.

Cow intestines! Not my favorite. It's like chewing meat flavored bubble gum.

The Ishii's house was FILLED with stuff. This is usual of many (maybe all...) Japanese homes. I thought OUR house had a lot of stuff until I saw their house. I can definitely see the Japanese custom of surrendering to materialism. Half of the dining room table was being swallowed up by a pile of "nothing-stuffs". I call it stuff because there's no way to categorize all of it. It's all of the things you see in a store of kind and say "Wow, that has almost no use to it." I could sense that somewhere in the mountains of items, the Ishii's were trying to organize it. It wasn't working very well.

The rest of the family arrives.

Mrs. Ishii and Tousan sitting at the table.

The two husbands grilling away.

Takeshi and Saori share a conversation with Mrs. Ishii's friend's husband.

Takeshi and Saori with the cluttered house behind them.

By about 8:30pm, everyone had arrived and assembled at the house, and everyone was talking, eating, or playing with Nana (*AHEM* Takeshi *cough*) For the first time since arriving here in Japan, I felt a small sense of "family" and "friends", there with the Ishii's and my in-laws. And at the same time I felt very alone, since my own family and friends were not there to celebrate and visit with me on my recent, and various accomplishments and life-changes.

The Ishii's friend and Nana.

Nana doing a trick. Waiting....

At several times during the night I would surprise the people there by how much Japanese I knew. At one point, I sat inside with Tousan, Mr. and Mrs. Ishii, and her friend, and talked about what I liked to eat. They wanted to know if I liked sashimi, or was ok with it. Little did they know, that I've liked sushi and sashimi for a long time before that. :) When Mrs. Ishii and her friend came back from picking up her friend's husband, they presented us "kids" with a small pack of fireworks.

After a while he took them outside in front of the old Ishii house and waved them about, drew with them in the air, and stared at them until they expired. Emerald greens, fiery reds, and white sparks in the night. Overall, a very good night.


Saori and Junpei lighting fireworks.

04 June 2008


As requested, here is a look at the house in which I live with my husband's family.

A view from the street.

A view of the neighborhood street past the house.

A view of the dining room from first walking into it from the hallway.

A view of the kitchen from the dining room. Takeshi and Kaasan were looking for something. :D

The backyard/garden.

Our bedroom!

The veerrryy steep stairs that go downstairs from our bedroom.

The tiled area infront of the door, where everyone puts their shoes before entering the house.

This is the room that you're in before the bathing room - washer, sink, and mirror.

The bathing room, with the tub, hose, floor mat, and shampoos, soaps, etc.


Ok, I've decided to use some different terminology from now on in my posts, because I'm a little tired of typing "my father-in-law" and "my grandmother-in-law." And besides, that's no where close to what I, and the rest of the family for that matter, actually call them from day to day. So here is a list so you shall know who I'm talking about:

- "Otousan" or "Tousan" = father/dad (my father-in-law)
- "Okaasan" or "Kaasan" = mother/mom (my mother-in-law)
- "Obaasan" or "Baasan" = grandmother/grandma (my grandmother-in-law)
- and Saori is my sister-in-law, Takeshi's sister. :) easy enough.

The first three terms above have the option of being more polite with the adding of the "O" at the beginning, such as "O-kasan" instead of just "Kasan". Just makes it more polite.

Anyway! Takeshi and I went to the mall again the other day, for some reason which I cannot recall now (oops). Whenever we're at the mall Takeshi and I almost always make a visit to this one store who sells a lot of San-X merchandise, specifically Rilakkuma items. Rilakkuma is a combination of the Japanese pronunciation for relax and the Japanese word for bear, which is "kuma" - so Rilakkuma is also commonly known as Relaxation Bear. He is also shown with two other characters "Korilakkuma" a white baby bear, and "Kiiroitori" a small yellow bird. Takeshi and I think that these characters are pretty cute, and have been trying to pick one of the plushies in the store to buy.

Right next to that store in the mall, is a huge arcade. Lo and behold one day, we both walk in to the arcade to just look around and we find that several of the arcade machines have Rilakkumas in them. Takeshi has stated that he's always been good at the "claw" arcade games so he wanted to try to nab one of the bears. And why not? It was only 200 yen per try. Of course we both forgot that the sole purpose of arcade games is to rob you of your money and leave you sniffling with anger and shame.

Needless to say, we did not manage to rescue any cute plushies from any of the machines. And it didn't help that in the middle of all of these machines that there was a HUGE Rilakkuma plushie just sitting there, looking cuter than ever. We got out before the addiction of arcade games took complete control. So we sobered up and went right next door again, to BUY a Rilakkuma plush. We don't know why we didn't just do that from the beginning.