Here I sit at my gray army desk, decorated with kanji cards and daruma dolls, there are no classes today and I have already eaten all the cookies I was going to give the kids for next week’s lesson. I have nothing but time. This is a far cry from last week`s teaching my tail off and taking an interview that will decide my fourth year fate concerning the Jet program and so with all these extra minutes at my disposal I have taken the time to think about why I would want to stick around.
Japan and I have danced a fine tango and while we have most definitely stepped on each other’s toes from time to time I think we have had a frak load of fun. Sometimes, when I am able to overcome my lazy ways, I have highlighted some of the places and people who have made this time on foreign soil so special but for the most part I just put up a few Facebook photos and get back to gaming, or teaching or trying to coerce Roland into making me some tea because I am trapped in my fluffy blankets and cannot escape. I have however seen some pretty exciting places and chatted away to some pretty amazing people so here is `Freda`s top 10 Japanese experiences. I have tried to stick to things I have not discussed before but I make no guarantees.
Number 10: Kumamoto
Einstein was wrong, there are three big infinites; the universe, human stupidity and Kumamon the bear and while this representative of Kumamoto is truly terrifying, and everywhere you look, he does not dull any of the shine given off by this breathtaking prefecture. Not only did Roland and I get to share a few beers over some raw horse meat (yes I felt bad) with great South African / Portuguese company but what rivals climbing up an active volcano in the dead of winter or spending time with ninjas and samurai at a picture perfect castle. Number 10 on the list is walking the summer gardens with Roland and freezing my ass off in the company of my brother in law and a very angry Mount Aso.
Number 9: Nara
|While standing near this sweet-potato seller, we heard a foreigner loudly say: there is always money in the sweet-potato stand!|
The old capital city of Japan has some hardcore deer! A few of them had tattoos and one was definitely smoking a cigarette while mugging me of every rice cracker I carried. If you are planning to brave this city stocked with giant bronze Buddhas and spectacular wooden temples make sure you keep your hands where the deer can see that they are cracker free. My dad getting damn near knocked down by deer and having my breath stolen by the immensity of Todaiji temple is why Nara is sitting pretty at number 9.
Number 8: Nagasaki lantern festival
Allow me to lay a little math on you. Take 3 effervescent South African ladies and add one stoic Namibian, subtract a snowy mountain highway but allow for a toasty car filled with road trip snacks and supplies, multiply by an amazing Dutch infused town and finally set it all alight with millions of glowing lanterns. We stuffed ourselves full of Izakaya food (pub fare) and Kakuni Manju (buns filled with pork BBQ) and ran around the cold night air taking thousands of photos of the magnificent paper lanterns. That night still inspires a huge smile on my face and a great desire for fatty pork barbeque every time I think of it.
Number 7: Fukuoka Beer Fest and Costco
|Being crushed under Costco goods|
|October-fest, Japanese style|
In a land of plastic cheese and pizza topped with mayonnaise and corn only one hero has the stones to step up and with a booming gaijin voice proclaim, enough of these flavorless potato chips and inability to find feta for your salad or muffins the size of your head, I will save you puny teachers of English for I am Costco! It might take two and a half hours of driving but if you take some good company along (I am looking at you Ducky and Katie J) the time flies.
Fist you load up on your yearly calories with a pizza slice, American hotdog and bottomless coke from the food court, then you wash handfuls of orange pizza grease from your face before grabbing a ginormahuge (thanks for the word Alisha) trolley that you proceed to fill with tubs of peanut butter, German sausages and of course mountains of cheese. If you are still good and hyperglycemic from all the sugar feel free to visit a fun German beer festival held every now and then and get your imported brew and pretzels on. It is impossible to have anything other than an epic time.
Number 6: Camping in Okinawa
|View from the tent|
Camping in the rain is not great, camping in the rain while dying of the flu is really not great. Camping in the rain while sick and discovering that the showers are cold and the toilet is of the squat variety is misery incarnate. And yet, despite all of this Roland and I crawled out of our tiny tent, feasted our eyes on the most incredible view and had a memory making time on the island of Okinawa. The aquarium is pretty spectacular and the main tank that holds a few whale sharks is impressive to say the least. The flower park / greenhouse right next door is also well worth a visit and driving little pineapple shaped cars while eating pineapple slices as you look at pineapple plantations is pretty damn fun. It was refreshing to dine on some foreign food like spareribs and American ice-cream but Roland and I will forever kick ourselves for assuming that the taco rice that we saw advertised everywhere was not as we assumed octopus rice (the Japanese for `octopus` is `tako`) but a delicious Mexican inspired deconstructed taco on rice. Oh well, at least we learned how to make it at home.
Number 5: Hakone
This little town just outside of Tokyo is ridiculous! It throws you over cliffs in cable cars, it lets you ride pirate ships over mountain lakes, it shows you actual Picassos and lets you lie down next to authentic Henry Moors, few places packs so much sightseeing into such a small package and it is well worth a visit. The open air art museum had me gasping at every second name I read and seeing a snow covered Fuji san from the deck of a pirate ship is as amazing as it sounds. Now add koi ponds and cherry blossoms in full bloom and you end up with a kickass mini adventure by anyone’s standards.
Number 4: Eating okonomiyaki in Osaka
I have always appreciated a good contrast and so when my early evening was filled with staring out over the entire Osaka from the Ueda sky building`s roof, nothing made me happier than getting down to the old-Japanese-street-style restaurants kept in the basement of this iconic building, sitting down in a tiny Okonomiyaki eatery and telling the sweet old Japanese chef to osusume (recommend) us up something to eat. The restaurant is pretty famous and has at most five tables so the in-laws and I had to wait a little while but holly molly was it worth it.
While I like Hiroshima style Okomimiyaks, as Roland calls it, I love the Osaka style even more. There is not all that much of a difference, one is more mixed and one has more cabbage to batter ratio but at the end of the day a meat, cheese, egg, sauce, mayo grilled pancake hits the spot. You can even add some noodles if you so choose. The atmosphere at that restaurant was friendly and warm and the izakaya style place around the corner was equally nice. The kind owner even gave us free desert because he said foreigners should enjoy their time in Japan.
Number 3: Disney…freaking…sea!!!
|Yeah....I have very little shame...|
When I was growing up in good old SA, telling my folks that I wanted to go to Disney land was usually met with `well I want a red Ferrari and we can’t always get what we want`. Don`t get me wrong, my childhood was far from Annie or Oliver Twist-ish but living so far away from the US-of-A meant my chances of meeting Mickey were slim indeed. Well you can suck it improbable childhood dreams because I randomly organized my ass all the way to Japan and in so doing put myself in the direct path of Tokyo Disney. I have seen both parks (Disney Land and Disney Sea), the latter park twice because why the hell not and I have some really fun memories to look back on. There is the time that we made my slightly claustrophobic mom-in-law go down an Indiana Jones cave ride just after she had told us that her biggest fear was getting buried alive, I fondly look back at Roland`s face radiating `what-the-hell-is-this`, during what he felt was a very boring ride down `it`s a small world after all`, seeing the fear in Ducky and the German`s eyes after doing the Tower of Terror and how much fun Cornelia and I had trying to do every bloody ride in the park while looking super stylish in our matching Mickey and Stitch hats. Yeah, I totally got to high five the hell out of five year old Freda.
Number 2: Osaka`s King Tut exhibit.
|Not only did I get to hang with king Tut`s stuff, I got to see a whale shark.|
Every now and then when I glimpse a famous artifact on an Egyptian documentary or in a random magazine, I still go `I saw that` to nobody in particular. As a little girl I was obsessed with Egyptology, thanks largely to my dad telling me the life story of Cleopatra while I sat, wide eyed in the back of our old Volkswagen bus. I knew the names of Egyptian gods like kids today know their Pokemon and on my wall hung a replica of the Rosetta stone (a gift from Ducky), kindly framed for me by my loving mom. I even took ancient cultures as a minor during my university days. So imagine if you will how shaky my knees were while I walked into an exhibit housing 122 objects excavated from Egyptian tombs, 50 belonging to Tutankhamen himself. I was beside myself with joy and I barely had the ability to occasionally whisper in Roland’s ear, `Can you believe this` or `I saw pictures of this sculpture in probably 20 textbooks`. I am trying to do it all justice but honestly that day was beyond what I can manage with words.
Number 1: It was always going to be Odaiba Island.
Most people know this manmade island as a slightly cheesy district of Tokyo city but I know it
as the freaking future! Odaiba adds a generous helping of sci-fi to your soul with its futuristic artworks, ultramodern architecture and of course the huge Gundam fighter looming over all of us mere mortals. What other place on earth comes equipped with an onsen village (an entire town built to look like Edo period Japan, where everybody wears yukata (summer kimono) before or after spending some time in all the different types of warm water baths), a Toyota test track where you can race (ok....go like 40 kph) any of their models for like R30, huge shopping centers where the ceiling of the building matches the sky outside, a Ferris wheel, a games arcade and my favorite part, the Miraikan science museum, where you can see the little robot named Asimo, kick a ball, shake his groove thing and chat away to his handlers. Few things are as fun as watching that little robot run around.
When all of this has tuckered you out I recommend getting yourself a huge Hawaiian burger from Kua'aina while you look out over the bay, sporting a fine view of Tokyo Tower and a fake statue of liberty.
This is also the home of the most famous Anime expo in the world. Comiket takes place twice a year and sees more that 500 000 people, many dressed up as their favorite characters, come to shop, chat to other fans and show off their costumes. The crowds are amazingly managed and you see huge Tetris squares of people marching army style into slots, eventually leading to the main event. It is something to behold but be warned the trains are a tad full on those days.