The year abroad adventures of a Scottish otaku in the North of Japan

Monthly Archives: January 2014

So my experience literally was fire and ice, both in the same week!

First off, we had a trip to see the Hi-buri Kamakura Festival (this is literally the Kamakura fire-swinging festival) and yes, we were definitely allowed to participate. Imagine, me + fire…..a fantastic combination! It was happening only about a half an hour from the university and as soon as we got there, you could smell that wonderful bonfire smell (which permeated EVERYTHING I was wearing).P1070807

The festival itself is to bring good luck for the new year, so it started with a Shinto priest saying some blessings over an alter filled with offerings. It seemed very sombre (and bloody freezing) and was only offset slightly by the fact that, under that traditional costume, the priest was wearing welly boots!


As soon as he was done praying, they moved the altar away and set fire to the pyre behind it – it was spectacular! People threw all their old fortunes and new year things onto the fire (to send away the bad luck) and then bales of straw, attached to a rope, were lit from it. You took the straw and swung it around your head for good luck. It’s a lot harder than it looks (I totally didn’t almost set my arm on fire!).




When we were done, we all had a nice cup of local sake to keep us warm (and get a little merry). Then it was back home to stick everything into the wash….seriously, it stunk of bonfire smoke!


The following weekend, while fighting a cold, I had another outing – this time to go ice-skating with some high-schoolers from Akita city. We were supposed to be practicing English with them, but as I seem to be finding, none of them seem very inclined to talk much – we got some conversation done, but it was minimalistic. The more fun part was the ice-skating bit. The prefectural ice rink is HUGE – literally a rugby stadium size of huge!


We all got our boots when we got there – I had to change mine several times to get the right size and even then it was tricky. The boots are not rigid like the ones I’ve worn before…so it was hard on the ankles. However once I was on the ice it all came back to me! We were there for two and a half hours and I didn’t fall over at all! I even managed to pick up some speed!



(I’m holding up the girl behind me at this point!)

Tired and with sore feet, we made our way back to AIU where, an impromptu snow battle began – nobody was spared. Even Dr Ashmore (who happened to be at the bus stop) joined in! I ended up in a dog-pile face down in snow at one point! It was brilliant fun!P1070881


(by the way, us lot on the back row are standing on about a foot of snow)

Oh…and this happened:


So until next time: またね!

The next leg of my New Year trip was across to Jakarta – I was up bright and early (6.30am) in order to get the bus over to Narita airport, nice and quick due to the very sparse New Year traffic. Then my flight at 12.00 to Jakarta. I was fortunate enough to see Mt Fuji on the way out, as well as some of what I assumed was Malaysia, but in that general direction!



When I landed at Soekarno-Hakatta Aiport, it was night time, humid and about 29 degrees. My only issue getting through the airport was having to wait almost half an hour for my suitcase – my fault for getting to the airport early I guess….I also went out the wrong doors of the airport, so had to double back to find Lizzy (who I was staying with). We took a taxi back into central Jakarta and I got to catch up with people I hadn’t seen for at least a year! I also got to make up for the lack of fireworks since I saw loads on the drive. Apparently they have fireworks almost every week!



On my first real day in Jakarta, we just bummed around – taking the car to be fixed and building a stupidly complex Lego windmill (with a very active 6 year old and 4 year old).


However, the real adventure started on the next day. We were all booked to go (via a speedboat) to stay on one of the thousand islands for 2 days. It did mean we had to get up at ridiculous o’clock to get the boat over, but that was cancelled out because I was able to sit on the outside, watching all the islands go by. I also got to count the ridiculously high number of flip-flops randomly floating by…..


This is the name of the island – Tiger Island (although there were 2 cats, the island was sadly lacking in Tigers…)



The best thing we could do on the island was go snorkelling in the nearby coral reef – there were some wonderful fish (one of which bit my finger), coral and even some sea-urchins! I also saw some of the weirdest coloured crabs – purple and green with really hairy legs….



This also meant we had some of the freshest fish I’ve ever had, for dinner!


I did kind of get munched on by mosquitoes (my eye swelled up at one point) but I got a decent amount of relaxing done, got to watch a storm rolling in and watched a beautiful sunset from the beach.




I also got to meet this guy, who seemed determined to sit in my hair….


Unfortunately, we had to leave on the afternoon of the second day. This boat trip was a lot worse than the first one – the sea was ridiculously rough (so we were constantly splashed with sea water on the inside) and the air con inside the boat was broken (so it was about 40 degrees in there). I felt horribly seasick so I opted for sitting outside and not throwing up on everyone…I had a layer of salt all over my arms by the end of the trip!


The day after we got back was Sunday, which meant the main roads were closed for a few hours to cars and all the daft people who wanted to go jogging in 35 degree heat, were able to do so. It also meant there were a lot of bikes about, so the kids took their bikes and we went to the shopping centre.


The best thing about the shopping centre was the fact that there was an ENORMOUS slide going from the 4th floor to the 1st floor. It wasn’t open when I was there, but only adults could use it and had to wear a crash-helmet!


In the afternoon, Lizzy, Maggie and I went to have a crème bath – this is where you get some creamy stuff massaged into your hair and then it sits for 30 mins (it smelt like Tiger Balm….). We also got a mani-pedi which was very enjoyable!


On my last day, we chilled out a bit and in the evening went to a Japanese restaurant. It was hilarious – they tried to do the whole ‘Irasshaimase~’ thing and got the shock of their life when I thanked them at the end in Japanese. I had great fun!!

Sadly, it was soon time to leave (my flight wasn’t until 23.40 so I had loads of time to kill at the airport), so I had to get the taxi to the airport. The airport itself was stupidly stressful: the check-in guy thought my visa was out of date, he charged me airport tax I thought was included in the air fare and then had to go through the stupidly complex security procedure (which they blatantly didn’t give two hoots about). However, I got back eventually…..

So, I finally managed to get this post up…sorry about the lateness! Next time will be the excitement of ice-skating and a whole lot of fire – so until then またね!

Where do I start? Probably with HAPPY NEW YEAR (akemashite omedetou gozaimasu, kotoshi mo yoroshiku onegaishimasu)! It’s been a few weeks since New Year, but it feels a lifetime ago! I had quite an adventurous trip – first stop was Tokyo (riding down in the night bus was eventful to say the least, definitely cheap travel for a reason).

I arrived in Tokyo to this:


(this is literally just after I stepped off the bus in Shinjuku)

Not only did I feel ridiculously small, but the weather was absolutely glorious – especially compared with the mess we had in Akita. The bus arrived in Tokyo at about 8am and I couldn’t check in until 15.30 so I had a lot of time to kill. After a little trouble, I managed to dump my suitcase in a coin locker and went off to explore Tokyo.

Since the weather was this fabulous, I thought it would be a good idea to go up Tokyo tower and see if the view would be decent. I certainly wasn’t wrong! When I reached the top, all I could hear around me was people going ‘ah, Fuji-san’.




After this, the weather was still lovely, so I went for a trek around Ueno Park with all its temples:





However, the best bit? Sitting down by the huge fountain (in front of the art museum), listening to an old man play his banjo in the late afternoon sun. It was the most relaxing time I’ve had in a while…..



Next was a whole different type of fun! In the backstreets of Ueno, there are some windy narrow streets full of shops selling foreign merchandise, kebabs, etc. That day was unexpectedly crowded so, even through there were police trying to split up the traffic flow, the crush was immense!! It was great fun just trying to get from one end to the other without getting pushed over.


Skipping ahead to the second day (missing the part where I got lost trying to find my hotel and then surprising the clerk when he found out that, yes, I could speak Japanese), it was beautiful weather again. This time I decided it might be rather nice to walk under the Rainbow Bridge. There is a promenade, I’m not just going all spiderman on it! I took the train over the Minato-ku and then walked the few kilometres across the bridge to a park on the other side (in Odaiba I think), where some old battlements and cannons are still there. I also happened to see a bunch of people dressed up as Power Rangers…..




At this point, I could ignore the call no longer and decided I had to let the geeky part of me loose in Akihabara – the biggest geek paradise of them all. I randomly met 2 AIU students there and we went for a trawl of a HUGE figurine store (I escaped with a few key rings, despite the fabulous Predator and Avengers figurines they had for sale).


Since it was New Year’s Eve that night, I had to decide what I was doing pretty early on. Unfortunately, the people I was supposed to meet up with were being stupidly unorganised and not answering my texts. So by about 8pm I went with ‘screw you, I’m going to enjoy New Year my way, by myself’. I trekked over to Tokyo Tower and just got in before they shut down for the New Year viewing (it was 9.30 by then). People who wanted to see the first sunrise were already queuing up with thermal blankets and whatnot! The view from Tokyo Tower at night was pretty spectacular and I tried to grab a good spot (facing rainbow bridge) ready for the countdown.


3 hours I stood there, I could see the people crowding into the temple down below for the first visit of the year, I could see an outdoor show in the park nearby. The countdown got closer and the Fuji TV building was lit up. So what happened when the clock struck 12? Bugger all. We could see the fireworks going off in Yokohama and what did we get? Balloons. Friggin’ balloons!! I cheered with everyone else and then caught one of the very crowded trains back to Shinjuku for my 4 hours sleep (it was 2.30 by then and I had to be up by 6.30 to get to the airport).


I’ll cut this off here, next stop: INDONESIA!!


A/N Forgot to post this before I left for the land with no wifi 🙂 Enjoy!

It’s not been feeling particularly Christmassy here, especially since this is my first Christmas away from my family! However this Sunday, my church had a ‘Candlelight Service’ – basically a bit like a Christingle service crossed with a carol service. This is one of my favourite parts of Christmas so I was eager to go.

The actual service wasn’t until 6pm, and I have bugger all to do here at the moment, so I decided to go into Akita early. I thought that at 2 in the afternoon, the free shuttle bus might not be too busy….I only managed to get a seat because I was near the front of the queue! You certainly can’t have any personal space issues on Japanese buses (one I was on the other day had upwards of 60 people on it).

It was a rare sunny day, so I got a fabulous view of the mountains (I know I go on about them, but they are beautiful and they remind me of home)!


Anyways….I underestimated how many people would be out shopping, so after braving the crowds I decided to get out of the shops and see if I could find the castle ruins of Akita city. They’re actually why Akita city was build in the first place – to surround the castle! While not much of it was left, there were a couple of temples, the main gate and a fantastic view left for visitors to enjoy. I certainly did!




After taking a load of pictures, I realised I had to run to get the next train to get me to Tsuchizaki (where the church is) so I carefully sped back towards the station over the snow covered streets.

Even though I was early, it was a good job I got to the church when I did – the seat filled up fast! The actual service was a collection of the various worship groups – so it was more like an end of term concert! There was the infamous Gospel Hula Group, the Hallelujah Kids and several members of the congregation. This included a very moving version of ‘You raise me up’ on the saxophone – I was caught off guard when half way through the performance they started to show a slideshow of the damage from the Tohoku Earthquake/Tsunami. I’m guessing I wasn’t the only one who didn’t have dry eyes!


The finale was what made it best. We were all given candles at the beginning of the service and at the end, we passed a flame among the congregation (wishing people ‘Merry Christmas’ as we did). The candles were amazing, the bottoms changed colour! The lights were dimmed and we all sung the Japanese version of Silent Night.

Definitely a nice way to spend an evening!

Next will be New Year’s stuff, so until then – またね!

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