Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Day 26 - Wandering downtown Nagoya alone and All-you-can-eat Yakiniku

Went jogging with Happy, the family pup again, but went a different way than our usual route.  Took a few cool pics along the way.  This is rice growing in a tiny plot behind some houses.
Cool path along the way I liked as well :)
Climbed this stairwell and found a tiny temple!  
These tiny temples are hidden everywhere, pretty cool.
Found a cool path of red torii (gate) leading up to the temple from a different direction.
Later that day, we headed downtown with Megu's older sister.  I wandered around Nagoya for the first time by myself as the girls were going to a spa appointment.

Wandered around a video game/dvd store.  Checked out a pachinko parlour, dear lord are these things different than the videos I remember years ago.  They have full on video screens, computer graphics, blinging lights EVERYWHERE and the noise is INSANELY LOUD.

You'll understand a little more if you watch this youtube video, which i assume is like the ultra-ending-amazing movie part if you're an uber pachinko parlour.  Don't bother watching the whole thing, just enough until your ears bleed.
I wandered inside the pachinko parlour but one of the dudes working there full on like virtually chased me out.  Without saying a word.  Dude was creepy.

Checked out the Sony store for cool headphones and ran across interesting music by two cello prodigies on an album called... 2 cellos!  They do a bunch of covers of modern rock tunes and it sounded pretty awesome imho.  I was REALLY strongly thinking about learning the viola when I get free time back in Canada (as if!?!), but the cello sounds pretty sweet!

Here's a video of the 2 cellos dude's doing a Coldplay cover.
Also ran into a red light area in Nagoya.  In Japan, "massage parlours" and brothels etc as far as I understand are totally legal.  There's even a vast collection of monthly magazines talking about these girls, what they will and won't do.  They were having a promotion while I walked by for 3000 yen ($40) for 30 minutes that Megu says would get you some hand loving.  Can't remember the exact numbers, but it sounds extremely reasonable to pay for sex in Japan.  Might be even cheaper than taking someone out on a date and praying to get laid!

Friday, November 18, 2011

Day 25 - Ise Grand Shrine (Ise Jingu) in Mie Prefecture

Today, we went quite a ways to the next prefecture, Mie, kinda like going to the next province to meet Megu's friend Natsumi to visit Ise Grand Shrine.  It was a long train ride to get to Mie, and Na-chan picked us up from the train station and kindly drove us through the 2-hour traffic jam to get to the Shrine.

Apparently this shrine is for the God of all Gods in the Shinto religion.  Probably explains the ridiculous traffic!  People from all over Japan would make a pilgrimage to visit this temple and it was pretty darn busy the day we visited.  The way to the temple is a narrow road filled with all the omiage (souvenirs) you can possibly imagine.

One of the shops was run by a wood-carving artist who had some pretty awesome work.  I didn't remember to take pictures of his awesome art, but you can see a couple small items at the bottom of this picture.
The scenery was pretty awesome on the walk to the big temple.  Walked across a few beautiful bridges as below.
Here's a shot off the side of said bridge.
The girls and some Japanese-y looking trees.  It was hella bright out, hence why they're having trouble looking at the camera.
Corporations donate sake to appease the Gods.  Here's a wall of sake containers (they're actually full!  what a waste!!! er, i mean, sign of deep respect for the, uh, Gods)
Cooler shot of said sake, though I don't think it would make as much sense without the boring pic above.
Giant-ass Torii (Gate).
Cool shot of a torii and bridge by Megu.
Cool shot of trees overhead along the walk...
Once we got to the temple, you're only allowed to take pictures from the bottom of the stairs.
Girls again on yet another bridge :)
More bridges!  Apparently, I'm obsessed!!  Or maybe they just make cool photo-ops :)
Took a shot of this on the way out, but you actually have to wash your hands and pour water into your hand to drink from the cup to "cleanse" yourself before you head into the temple.
Here's a shot of the little wooden cups all bokeh'd!  Bokeh is a japanese word that we've stolen in the english language for photography.  
Bokeh refers to the defoccused areas of the picture, typically the background.  It's really useful for making your subject "pop" in the picture, by having them be the only in-focus section of the photo.  Plus everything else dissolves into pretty circles.  Here's a couple pretty random pics I nabbed off google images to better illustrate.

Obviously these pics are 1000X better than mine!  But yeah, bokeh is dreamy and awesome.  To maximize bokeh, you need a fast camera aperture, ideally long camera focal length (ie zoomed in!) and the background to be far from the subject.  I bought my tiny point and shoot camera because it had a relatively fast aperture setting so I could do limited bokeh-y stuff, but it'll still be much better with a more expensive camera.  Thus ends the camera lesson for the day!

As we left the temple, we ran into a traditional Japanese wedding.  Pretty cool!
Outside the temple, we grabbed sushi lunch.
We all ordered a Mie prefecture specialty, bonito (it's a fish!) marinated in soya sauce, mirin, sake and served on a bed of vinegared rice and topped with seaweed.  Freaking amazing!!!
Megu and I at the restaurant, hanging out the window!
Here's a shot of me on the train ride home, looking homeless (er, unshaven) as ever with gifts from Na-chan, yummy Mie prefecture seaweed (has a different texture than i'm used to and delish!) and mandarin oranges from her family's orchard.  They were great!
That's it for today!  Gah, another monster blog post!!!

Day 24 - Ramen and Nagoya Tower

So we made it back home from Hirugano safe and sound and had a pretty lazy day.  Didn't feel like cooking dinner so we headed out for ramen!  This place was pretty tasty and specialized in yuzu-flavoured ramen.  So like shio (salt) ramen... with a yuzu undertone.  A lil different, especially ramen is generally very hearty/heavy, but it was really fun to try and the combo they offered was a great value.  Yuzu is an asian fruit which tastes something like a frankenstein child of lemon/lime/grapefruit.  It's awesome.
Megu ordered, but I believe mine was shoyu (soy sauce-based) ramen, gyoza's, rice with chinese-style bbq pork, pickled veg, and a tiny potato salad you can't actually see!

This ramen joint was obsessed with cats, they were everywhere in the restaurant!
The doors in this place were also ridiculously small.
After dinner, we headed off to the Nagoya Higashiyama tower, which was included in our zoo admission, but we saved for when we could see the city at night.  Here's a shot from the outside of the tower.
Could have really used a fancy schmancy camera for night-time shots from the tower (those big cameras are a lot better for low-light shots), but got a  decent shot.  Pretty sure this was handheld too, 2 second exposure, not too bad.
All in all, another great day!

Day 23 - More Hirugano

Most houses in Japan don't have central heating.  It's not like super easy to just flip on the heat and evenly heat the whole house.  The house in Hirugano is actually heated by a wood oven and we throw logs in once in a while to keep the place from becoming frigid.  I usually wear like three layers while I'm there.  

Obviously this wood has to come from somewhere and it's delivered in ginormous freaking logs to the Hasegawa house.  Our task for the day was to use a tool which could slow shove these giant pieces of lumber into a splitter and chop it.  The tool is awesome because we don't have to use dangerous axes and such, but the tool has limitations, it can't crush pieces of wood that are too big.  We got the hang of it eventually though!  Here's a picture of me looking decidedly unlike accountant-like.
After lugging wood around for a couple hours, we were pretty famished!  Lunch was miso soup, random yummy rice stuff in a box which I can't remember at all, and tempura!!!  Megu's mom made the tempura and it was delicious!!!
The tempura is actually on a handcrafted ceramic plate.  All those lines are hand drawn freehand.  Megu's mom knows the artist, who's apparently really famous.  I've seen his stuff in ceramic shops, and something smaller than the size of your palm was like $200 bucks.  So this plate is hella pricey.

Here's a picture of me chilling with Happy at Hirugano.  Dunno if I mentioned it before, but the Hasegawa family has a massage chair at their mountain house in Hirugano.  Love it!  I seriously use it twice a day.  Definitely added that to my consumerism wish list.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Day 22 - Back to Hirugano!

On a whim, we drove up to Hirugano, Megu's family's second house in a ski resort area.  On the way up, we went for takeout burgers at Mossu Burger!  They packed everything tidily and you can even get half onion rings/half fries!  Awesome!!
I got a chicken burger with a rice bun instead of bread!  It was pretty tasty, but a smidge small.  The picture below was snapped really quickly and doesn't look that appetizing, but it was good!  
I got it with a "Pepsi", but it seriously tasted like messed up Mitsuya Cider.  Mitsuya Cider is described by wiki as a Japanese carbonated soft drink that tasted like a mix of Sprite and Ginger Ale (but WAY WAY better!!!).  It's much less sweet, more refreshing and tastes awesomer.  Yes, awesomer.

The next day we had hot pot for lunch.  Hot pot is so easy, you just chop up a bunch of veggies and meat, basically whatever you have lying around and throw in some dashi (Japanese fish soup stock), with a splash of sake and soya sauce if you feel like spicing it up.  Then at the end when you've eaten everything, you throw in a bunch of rice and maybe an egg and make congee (Chinese rice porridge).  Except Japanese people don't call it congee, they call it ojiya.  Anyways, it's yummy :)

After lunch we headed out for the day for a day trip to a World Heritage Centre, Gasshou Zukuri. 

On the way, we stopped by a ginormous dam in the area.  Japan was in desperate need of more electricity back in the 1950's or so I believe, so after 7 years of protests, they were able to convince the locals to let them flood the area and compensated them well.  They moved two 400 year old Sakura (Cherry Blossom) trees so they wouldn't be flooded to preserve a piece of the village, and here's Megu with one of them.
Moving them was a pretty monumental undertaking and there's even a video at a local museum we went to, explaining the process.  Sakura trees are notoriously hard to move and moving trees this old and size has never been attempted since.  Pretty cool!  If we were here in Spring, we could see the cherry blossoms.  Considering I'm going to be working in tax and audit for at least the next three years and likely way more, it could be years before I get to see the legendary japanese Cherry Blossoms!  Such is life.  Looking forward to it eventually though :)

Here's a shot of Megu standing on said monstrous dam.
The next picture was awesome because I actually got to use stuff I'd learn after pouring hours reading photo blogs.  I wanted to shoot the shot facing the water cuz it was gorgeous, but the sun was behind her, leaving her face very shadowed.  I turned on my flash, but turned it down to its lowest setting, basically just using "fill flash" to fill in the shadows but not over-expose her, (you know that typical point and shoot "white face" kinda look when the flash overexposes everything).  Stoked!
A shot of me at the picturesque dam.  Megu is actually a much better photographer than me because she's been an artist for almost 10 years.  She has a much better eye for design and balance in a shot, though I'm slowly getting better.
We made a small pit stop at the museum at the damn.  We even got to play with an interactive museum display in the shape of a fish (with a cherry blossom propeller, so japanese-y)
Mr and Mrs Hasegawa, older sister and Megu having fun with the Fish!
We finally made it to Gassho Zukuri and took a few shots overlooking the village.  It's a World Heritage site recognized by UNESCO because the village housing has been preserved for hundreds of years with their thatched steep roofs, which help them survive the crazy winters in the area.  Here's a shot I jacked from the internet with the first floors of the houses completely covered by snow.

Here's a shot of Megu's parents overlooking the village from the hillside.
We had lunch once we made it down into the village in one of those traditional houses, if by traditional they meant FREEZING!
Pretty basic, rice, tofu topped with bonito flakes, soba noodles in tsuyu sauce, pickled veg, red miso paste toasting over a small fire and a tiny fish.  The fish had been soaked in a sweet syrupy kinda sauce.  I literally had to bite its head off for the first bite.  I ate the whole freaking head.  Apparently that's normal in this part of the world, but I don't remember eating fish head growing up.  It was fine tho, but I was more grossed out in my head knowing that I'd eaten fish head.

We wandered around the village and grabbed some treats.  I think Megu is holding sticky rice treats on a stick, as well as Hida beef.  It's like Kobe beef, but not from Kobe!  Freaking amazing tasting cow.  
We paid a small fee and took a tour of a very large house which showed how people farmed back in the good ol' days, made silk using silk worms, all sorts of fun stuff I'm glad I don't have to do.  This is a shot I took from inside that house.
Here's a crappy shot taken by someone inside the house who was trying to sell us pictures he shot with his absurdly expensive camera.  It's part of the tour.  I look drunk as hell.
Photoesque shot of water pouring into a bucket.  Gooooo bucket!
We headed to a hot springs, but along the way we stopped at these giant wheels powered by water.  Except they didn't really work.  So Megu and I decided to shove the GIANT one around by hand... hard work but after a few minutes it was spinning around pretty good!  Good times :)
We went to another onsen (hot spring) on the way home.  The beauty of hot springs is you always go naked, so you can go spur of the moment, don't need to worry about swim trunks!  This one was rather small but gorgeous.  There was an outdoor area with a giant waterfall that stretched like 30 feet that you could sit under and let the water pour down on you.  I must admit I really didn't get "the point" of going to the onsen before, but it seems like it's mostly to meditate and unwind.  Chilling outside in a beautiful hot tub, full moon, beautiful waterfall, steam pouring off the water and blowing up to the night sky.... pretty sweet.