Wednesday, 25 April 2012

Mori Gardens

Our final stop on our trip was up a very wet, very steep hill, and we eventually arrived, quite wet, and downtrodden. I hadn't really heard where we were going, but it was this lovely Mori family house.It is one of the largest, single family homes in all of Yamaguchi, and was home to a feudal lord. It actually was only just opened to the public a few years ago.
The entrance way was very grand, and we were given a tour by the current owner, who has turned it into a museum. We got to see where the feudal lord met his subjects, and learnt all sorts of things about the correct way to meet the lord, depending on what rank in life you were. And we got to see the beautiful walls, which
I thought were made from wallpaper, but were actually painted with liquid gold! He told us that the windows in the main recieving room were some special wavered glass, which was handblown. You couldn't see into them, and we were told not to touch them, because they are now worth 10,000 dollars....each! After viewing some of the lower realms of the house, we headed out into the garden.
It was so lovely, all traditional and Japanese, but it reminded me of a traditional English garden, with paths, and different trees, and rivers and benches. If it hadn't all been so wet, we could have had a snack in the garden there. But the sun did come out, and the rain stopped, which was lovely, and we all got to take some photos. Actually, a photo of us appeared in the local paper!

Hofu Tenmangu

I have been wanting to visit Hofu Tenmangu since I first saw it in an advertisement in Shin-Yamaguchi Station. It was a shame about the rain, but it was still colourful enough to enjoy it. We started off with learning the correct way to clean your hands before entering the temple. It seemed that noone knew how, but after my travels all around Japan, It was definitely a skill I had picked up. Even if I am not Shinto or Buddhist, it is just respectful to behave a certain way when you go to the temples to photograph them. So the temple actually wasn't as big as I thought it would be, I really expected it to be much bigger! But after learning
that was one of the last 3 remaining Tenmangu shrines left in the entire country. Aparently, at one time, there was one built in every major city in every single prefecture.
Maybe at the time, there weren't that many cities, but if Hofu was a city, then there probably were a lot! So we wandered around the shrine a little, learnt how to pray correctly, and then Brad and Kerri bought some new "safe driving" charmsfor their car.
And we learnt about a lot of the signs which turn up in the temples, like if you were born a certain year, then it is beneficial to pray, or to go and cleanse your self. Very interesting, and I really enjoyed learning so much without any prejudice, or anything. After visiting the temple, we had a really nice lunch in this large wooden building. I cant remember what it was called, but it was
intentionally built to be a 5 story pagoda, like the one in Yamaguchi City, but instead, it ended up being just a large, flat, one storied room, with open walls. It gave us great views over the city, which was sadly a little....cloudy and rainy, but it was a great place to have a nice picnic lunch. So we enjoyed our bento, and spent time introducing ourselves and talking to the lovely Japanese people who had brought us on the tour.

Tea in Hofu

On Saturday night, we spent a great night at 550yen Karaoke (for three hours with all you can drink softdrinks, tea, and icecream!) Sunday, it was pouring, and we were meant to do a bike tour of Hofu. In the end, they altered it a bit, and instead, we ended up in the temple's tea room, learning about the proper way to drink green tea. It was really nice actually, mainly because someone was there to tell me exactly why and how to do things, without any of the formality. So we learnt actually how to make the tea, and they even let Amanda try it. It was nice to learn about how to drink tea with others present, there is actually a specific way to deffering to the people next to you and bowing so that you apologise for drinking first. Very insightful!

Down at the beach

After the kind of confusing museum, we headed out past the bunny ears and to the beach. On our way there, we made a few stops. There was an old shrine, now long deserted, which was very rustic, and so interesting. The Japanese policy is to just leave things as they were, not tear them down, so it was interesting to see it so preserved, but overrun by the rabbits and the trees. Farther along, we came to a memorial for the Atomic Bomb in Hiroshima. Because of being in Hiroshima ken, you see these type of memorials a lot of plaaces. We saw one in Mihara too. They usually consist of a large stone with an inscription, as well as tons and tons of folded paper cranes, made by school children when they come to visit. So around the memorial were the beautiful sakura trees. At first I thought that they must be some other type of flower, but truley they were. Which was lovely and we got some lovely photos of them.
A little further along was a very cool star map. I assume Okunoshima is a great place to star gaze, I havent actually done much in Japan, but on a whole, the countryside is pretty dark, and so I bet it's really fun there in an island with no electricity. I just loved it so Wayne snapped my photo and made me happy! We finally arrived at the beach. It was small, but pretty nice. We had seen it from the ferry on
the way in, but I was glad we went down and saw it anyway. There were some kids already building sandcastles, considering the warm weather. There were bunnies here who seemed a little less...fed, and were adorable. We sat on the sea wall for a while, and I realised then, that I love being at the beach so much. Between this, and my school trips to the beach, I just love the smell of the salty air.

Bunny Ears

Down by the beach, we came across these pretty strange things. I had seen some random pieces of art around the island, but I had no clue what they were. Wayne thought they were periscopes, but in fact they were things you put your head into to hear the sea! They are meant to look like giant bunny ears, maybe so you can hear like the bunnies do? They were pretty cool, and loud too! There were 4 of them, all at different heights! I tried really hard to get a photo of us in them, but well, it was a camera fail. Sometimes I wish I had my tripod here!
After playing around in the bunny ears, we went through this random little museum, where there was a big model of the island, and a random tree growing through the museum. We, in the end, decided the tree branches running through the wood of the building were fake, but it was a nice idea none the less. We didn`t quite know what the museum was about, maybe it was more of an information centre, but it had a nice view of the ocean!So we sat on these very strange, very uncomfortable chairs for a while and looked out at the ocean, before deciding to head down to the beach.

Abandoned buildings and vines

Okunoshima played quite a big part in the second world war. The Japanese used to test mustard gas here. It was considered far enough from the big cities, and yes, they used to test it on bunnies. It is quite a sad place, and has a museum documenting the horrors of mustard gas. But after the war, the bunnies were released, and the entire island was deserted. I`m sure its exceedingly creepy at night, but during the day its not too bad. They have old labs which are just locked and left like they were, or warehouses which were looted, windows smashed and the like. Its definitely creepy.So what is left is these abandoned buildings all over the island. I wasn`t really sure how to photograph them, much to my chargrin, but I did like how the vines had just overrun all the buildings, and doors and railings.I had seen pictures of friends who had actually gone inside the buildings and taken pretty cool photos. However, there was a railing, and I didn`t feel like breaking any rules. It would definitely be just my luck that the unstable building would collapse while I was in it!

Sakura and Palm Trees

It was nice to see the Sakura, after considering them dead and finished. They build up to Sakura is huge, and I went out and took a million photos of them this year, mainly because as soon as they are there, they die and are gone again. Of course, Hanami is fun, but over quickly! I couldnt decide if Okunoshima was tropical or not...bunnies just dont seem to fit with a tropical image, but they have massive palm trees there, right next to the sakura trees and the beach. To be honest,I really liked seeing the Sakura right near the beach. And the ones here were a really vivid pink colour.We saw them all over the island, in random places, and we even saw one set of photographers covering a bunny in Sakura so they could take a photo of it sitting in all the petals....that was kinda weird...I felt bad for that bunny! It was a sunny day, more like summer than spring, so it was nice to have that beach, springy feel to the air!

Okunoshima - Bunny Island

Facebook is terrible for getting travel envy. Especially lately, when everyone is off to places like Malaysia for Golden week. A little while ago, Laura and some of the Yamaguchi JETs had gone to Okunoshima, the bunny island, and taken some amazing photos. So I knew it had to be on my list while the weather was good.
I was joined by Julianne and Wayne, and we spent the entire day feeding the bunnies. They are addicted to the bunny food, and not scared of humans in the slightest. They will climb on your lap, and just nibble right out of your hand. They are all over the island too, so wherever you go, you see some.
I found a favourite fluffy bunny, who sadly wasn`t very friendly, but adorable none the less. He would eat from my hand, but not let me stroke him! It made me really want a bunny. If only I had someplace to keep one! I did consider putting one in my exceedingly large handbag...he might have fit!

On the ferry

I`m quite a big fan of ferrys, especially ones which go out to little tiny islands. The Okunoshima one wasn`t anything special, but still fun. Inside was a nice warm area, considering it was very windy. Wayne loved it, posing like Leo and Kate from Titanic, and I had to snap his photo.

Mihara Castle Ruins

When we stepped off the Shinkansen, we could see what looked kinda like Hagi Castle ruins. We knew it was right by the station, and althought we searched for how to get in, we could only get to the moat and the edge of the castle. And of course, to this sign!

Mihara Station Octopi

At the weekend, I spent a great Friday night with Jamie and the boys, and then Saturday, Wayne, Julianne and I headed to bunny island. We had to change trains in Mihara. It is just a little station, but it does have a Shinkansen!They also have a strange facination with octopi, which were all over....not sure why, but they sure were cute! I love how all over Japan, little random places have somthing famous. Hagi is pretty small, so it doesn't have a character per say, but Mihara appeared to be much bigger. They had those daraemon dolls and apparenly there was even a massive one somewhere in the city! I am quite in love with the little red octopi, especially the close up of the eyes on the giant one in the station. It is so much bigger than me!Blogger seems to have reverted to this weird format, and I'm not sure how to change it, so it looks like I will be having much longer blog posts from now on!

All the way for a Starbucks

Monday was a really fun day. I finished work early, and ended up having lunch with Wayne, had ice cream on the beach and sat in the sun. Later, Wayne came to Hagi and decided he wanted to drive to Sanyoonoda. It was amazing. They had a Starbucks, a Subway, and a foreign foods store! Possibly the best mall ever! Certainly in Yamaguchi!

Courtney's Party

Courtney had one last girly night before she leaves. It was so much fun, lots of fondue, and magazines and lots of lovely people. I am very lucky to meet all their lovely Japanese friends. Once her and the O'Briens move, I'm not sure how much I will see them! I love this photo of Courtney and Ikimi!

Saturday, 14 April 2012

Nighttime under the trees

So eventually the sun set, and it got dark, and the lanterns all came on. I used it as a great oppourtunity to take photos of people under the pretty lanterns. We looked pretty red, but I liked that they were still clear. And it was so nice, as some of them will be leaving soon too!

Playing in the trees at Sunset

I got a really cool photo of Kurt while he was hanging out in a tree. With the sun behind him, it looked like he had become part of the trees shilloutte, and I spent a lot of time trying to get the photo. I went and had a go, and made James take a photo of me in the same pose! Not quite as cool, but pretty fun!

A little bit of Sakura

We did find a few trees that hadn't dropped all their petals, which made them still pretty! I wandered around with my camera for a bit...not terribly long, as I got sidetracked with watching people play dodgeball and then ultimate frisbee! It's a shame there weren't more sakura, but it was still pretty and a beautiful fun sunny day!

Hana-less Hanami Shenanagins

On Saturday, after an awesome 3 hours of Karaoke on Friday night, Brad drove us down to Shimonoseki. I love road trips with him. The sun was shining, we put the music up loud and rolled the windows down. We were meeting people for Hanami, even though all the sakura was all on the floor and dying. None the less, it was so nice to see everyone, and have dinner and snack and just chat to old friends!

Baseball in Hiroshima

On Thursday, I rushed to Hiroshima after work to meet Jorge for a baseball game, where the Hanshin Tigers were playing the Hiroshima Carps. Baseball is such a big deal in Japan, so I was so excited to go! We had a great time, I got myself a shirt, we ate fried chicken, and cheered and had so much fun. It was possibly one of the greatest post-work ideas ever. And as much as I was tired, it was so worth it, because there was lots of cheering, and balloons, and cool baseball mascots too!

Wednesday, 11 April 2012

The Big Buddah

The Buddah inside the building is so huge...and you just seem so small next to it. We actually visited on Buddah's birthday, which meant lots of people lined up in order to pray. It was also, coincidentally Easter Sunday! The building had to be built to encompass Buddah, but there are also two huge cold statues on either side...I'm not quite sure what they represent, but they were very pretty! The building itself is so impressive, with huge pillars, and there were lots of little kids lined up to try and pass through the nose hole! I think I was a little big for it now, and it made me so sad to not be able to try again!

Toidaiji Temple

Last time, we didn't go into Toidaiji temple, we just went up to the gate. This time, I paid to go in, and I was so glad I did. When I lived here when I was younger, I used to be able to climb through this hole which was the same size as Buddah's nostil, and so I needed to go back just to have those memories. The temple is home to the largest Buddah in Japan, and the building it is housed in is the world's largest wooden building. Pretty cool eh? The origional building actually burned down, and they rebuilt it at 2/3 of the origional size. It must have been even more impressive before!