sarahblack: (Oops)
I've made it to Auckland in one piece! I'm at my hostel right now, but I have to wait a few hours before I can check in. The flight was actually great! (A good thing, since it was 11 hours.) I'm so glad that I'm flying Air New Zealand again when I go to LA. They have a really funny flight security video, great entertainment system, super friendly and helpful staff, and a lot of free refreshments. The food wasn't half bad either - for airplane food.

My last days in Japan were spent in the company of Snaevar and his family. It was a lovely relaxing time for the most part. They took such good care of me. ♥

I did try to do some tourist stuff on my own on Saturday. It didn't go as well as I would have hoped. The major annoyance was the rain. It was pouring! But I suppose I was bound to get one really rainy day. But I managed to have a look at Yasukuni shrine and the museum. I was very interested, but I got the feeling I would have benefited from more knowledge of history to fully appreciate the museum. I didn't quite like how they glossed over the warcrimes committed in Nanjing. They barely had a paragraph about it!

After the museum I went to the Toshimaen Garden Spa onsen. I was in the water for maybe two minutes when I decided to move to a different area of the spa. This was a bad decision. I tried to step on the bottom step in the pool, but the bottom step wasn't there! So I kind of stumbled forward and the front of my right leg (a bit below the knee) hit the edge of the next step. This edge was sharp enough to leave me bleeding. The wound is not that big, but it's a little deeper than a superficial flesh wound.

The employees helped me stop the bleeding, get the area sterilized and bandaged up. They also gave me a refund, since I couldn't really stick around the onsen after getting hurt like that.

So that was fun.

But yesterday was better. The weather was back to being sunny and warm, and I went with Snaevar, Riya and Elin to the Tokyo Aquarium. It was so cool! Especially the tuna tank. Tuna fish are enormous! I also got to pet a little shark. Very awesome.

We didn't stay for very long since we wanted to get some lunch (mmm, gyoza), and then I needed to pack and get to the airport! But I'm very glad we went. It was so pretty around the Aquarium, and I always love watching the fish swim. ♥

Hiroshima

Jun. 8th, 2012 08:20 pm
sarahblack: (Anne being gorgeous)
My stay in Hiroshima was lovely!

It started out with some emotional moments, though. Not wanting to waste time, I went straight from the bus to the Hiroshima Peace Park. I spent the entire morning there, looking at the A-bomb dome, the monuments, the museum and the park in general.

It's hard to describe the sorrow I felt when I looked at the A-bomb dome. The dome has been preserved the way it was after the bomb was dropped on Hiroshima, and it's a very powerful reminder of how destructive nuclear power can be. The A-bomb dome is also called the Hiroshima Peace Memorial and it is a memorial to the people who were killed in the bombing. It's hard to imagine what it must have been like. You're just going about your business in one instant, and in the next moment...

The museum was an even more emotional experience. Among the things that they have on display are the destroyed garments that were worn by little children who died in the bombing, along with the mangled remains of a little tricycle.

Another thing that left a deep impression on me were all the letters. Letters of protest from the mayors of Hiroshima to various presidents and leaders of nations that continue to preform nuclear tests. There were so many.

I think I'd have trouble sleeping at night if I were the recipient of such a letter.

The park itself is very beautiful. It has all sorts of trees and flowers, and at least two very nice fountains. Then there are the monuments. I didn't look at all of them. I mainly looked at the Children's Peace Monument. While I was there a group of schoolchildren came by and sang a song in Japanese, and dedicated some colourful origami cranes to it. It was a lovely ceremony.

I took the afternoon off in order to recover from my emotional morning. Thankfully I was able to just relax at the house of my couchsurfing host. His name is Joel and he's an American marine who works at a military base in Hiroshima. We got along famously!

He took me to a really cool restaurant for dinner. It was another one of those 'do it yourself' places that the Japanese seem to be so fond of. We received a miniature coal barbecue which we used to grill various pieces of meat. Apparently I tried tongue! (I had no idea what I was eating most of the time - I only checked if I was allergic, not what it actually was!)

The next day we went to Miyajima island. I enjoyed it immensely! The ferry was nice, the view was gorgeous, the temples were serene, the deer were friendly, and the Okonomi-yaki was delicious! (I'm serious about the deer. They even let you close enough to pet them. I felt like a Disney princess!)

My favourite place on the island was this little underground passageway in one of the temples. It was pitch black down there so you had to feel your way along the walls, but once you got past the first corner you could see the most amazing softly glowing pictures of Bhuddist deities!

After Joel and I got back to the mainland he took me to visit his military base. It was pretty fun. Kind of like going to the United States. I got apple pie and everything! I love pie. ♥ We also went to a bar on the base where I was able to pass for a Californian. (Joel wasn't in the mood to linger at the bar for too long, and he knew that if this one guy found out I was Icelandic he would want to question me about it endlessly, so he told me to say I was American instead. Funnily enough, the guy made me say: 'Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious, I don't have an accent' in order to prove that I didn't have an accent, and then I had to think quickly when he asked me what part of the States I was from. I ended up saying I was a Californian from Pasadena. He totally bought it.)

My last day in Hiroshima was spent strolling through the main shopping street and being amused that there is apparently a store called 'Womb' in Japan. I also tried the iced coffee at Tully's because Elin said it was worth trying. Since I'm not much of a coffee person I needed three packets of syrup before I liked it, but then it was delicious!

I also tried another Hiroshima speciality - Oysters! I only had one because they're kind of expensive, but it was really fresh and tasty. I also succumbed to temptation and had another dose of Hiroshima Okonomi-yaki.

Japan is all about the food you guys. (No wonder my jeans are starting to feel a little bit too tight...)

Anyway, right now I'm at Snaevar's place again. I spent today recovering from the twelve hour bus ride to Tokyo from Hiroshima, but tomorrow I might do some tourist stuff. Depends on the weather - apparently it's supposed to rain tomorrow.

Osaka

Jun. 5th, 2012 12:08 am
sarahblack: (Bubblegum)
I've had an eventful couple of days in Osaka!

My bus arrived at Osaka station very early yesterday morning. I spent my first hour or so just wandering around the station. It's incredibly enormous! It must be at least 11 floors, if not more, and it seems to stretch on and on in every direction. Far too easy to get lost if one is not careful!

And I thought Kyoto station was nuts...

Thankfully I was able to find my way to the information desk and Get Informed. I purchased a two day city pass and received maps, coupons and other such shiny things. I dropped my bags off at the hotel where I stayed my one night in Osaka, and then I was off to see the Osaka Museum of Science.

The museum was a lot of fun. It is aimed mainly at children, but that suited me well. I couldn't understand any of the Japanese explanations, but the pictures intended for the kids helped me understand. Also, there were a lot of things to play with! Science things. It was great!

Oh, and there was a human sized robot there that solved Rubik's cubes for you if you stood in front of it for a while. Japan is just awesome like that.

After a lunch of Kushi-katsu (basically deep fried pork with sauce) I decided to go to the zoo. It was nice to see the animals, but I wish they had more comfortable surroundings and more space. Especially the chimps. They looked so sad.

I saw an Asian elephant while I was there! My first time seeing an elephant in real life. Interestingly, there were art students milling around the elephant enclosure. They were drawing and painting the elephants for school. One of them asked if he could draw me as I watched the elephant! I didn't mind, so he went ahead. The sketch was quite nice! He let me take a picture of it. Another student walked up to me as I prepared to leave and gave me a postcard sized drawing she had made of me as a gift. It was quite lovely!

I felt very flattered. ♥

Outside the zoo there are criss-crossing streets full of shops, stalls, and restaurants. Many were selling tako-yaki, and I had read that one simply must try them if one is in Osaka. Tako-yaki literally means fried or grilled octopus, and according to Wikipedia it is a popular ball-shaped Japanese dumpling or more like a savory pancake made of batter and cooked in a special takoyaki pan. Also it is delicious. I ended up eating it twice again today!

Yesterday evening started out very nicely. I went for a ride in a big red Ferris wheel close by my hotel. It was around sunset, so the view was very pretty! The rest of the evening was spent having a bubble bath in my hotel room, talking to Thorri over Skype, and reading Great Expectations.

Today I went for a cruise around the river, looked at the beautiful Osaka castle (fantastic view from the top!), saw Men in Black III at the cinema which is located at the top of Osaka station, and after it was dark, I went to the top of the Umeda Sky Building. It's a really cool pair of skyscrapers that are connected by a circular building at the very top. You can go out and get a 360┬░view of the city from the 39th floor.

I'm glad I decided to wait for dark to go up there, Osaka at night is magical! ♥

Right now I'm about to board my bus to Hiroshima. Hiroshima will be my last stop before I return to Tokyo.

Catch you later!
sarahblack: (Swimming)
Happy Golden Jubilee to the Queen of England! (I think she's immortal.)

Today is my last day in Aizuwakamatsu. I'm off to Osaka tonight. Since I'm only staying one night in Osaka, I'm treating myself to a stay at a four star hotel which is right next to the train station. I was quite lucky and got the room for only 5800 yen. (Just under 10.000 ISK.)

Anyway, I've been having such a wonderful time with Tommy and Natsumi. Tommy took me to the school where he teaches yesterday. It's in Shimogo, a town which is 35 minutes away from Aizu by train. I got to go to a few classes and introduce myself to the kids, and then they asked me a lot of questions. Mainly they were interested in whether I had a boyfriend, and whether 'I loved Tommy' (they don't know that he has a girlfriend), but I also got really random questions like: 'Do you like bananas?' and 'what is your favourite food chain?'

I was so amused when I said that I came from Iceland and one kid exclaimed: 'From ice cream?!'

Oh, and two of the classes had a group of boys that insisted I pick 'who is coolest'. They all stood up, and wanted me to pick one of them. I was a little worried that the ones who didn't get picked would take it personally, but apparently this is a common practice and there are no hard feelings involved. In both cases I picked small, shy looking boys with glasses. I think I made their day! They looked very pleased in any case.

S5006404


After the classes and a lovely lunch with the teachers, Tommy took me to see Ouchijuku - an old village just outside Shimogo, famous for the traditional thatched buildings from the Edo Period that line its main street. The weather was beautiful, and the surrounding nature was absolutely stunning. Mountains covered in trees with emerald green foliage, sparkling rice fields, and blue skies. ♥

In the evening we decided to go for a shabu shabu dinner. I loved it so much last time that I wanted to try it again, and Tommy hadn't actually ever had any! It was just as good as last time, and just as fun. Maybe I'll just start a shabu shabu restaurant when I come home?

S5006443


After dinner we ended up checking out a game center. Natsumi is a wiz at this drum game they have there. It's a little like the Rock Band drums. Notes show up on the screen, and you have to hit your drum at the right time to get the note. It was amazing to watch Natsumi at it. She is so fast!

Today we went to the Miyaizumi sake brewery. They have converted part of the brewery into a museum. It was really interesting to see the traditional sake brewing equipment, and it was a lot of fun to sample some of the sake. Very tasty! They also had a gift shop where you could buy traditional sake cups, and there was this one set where you got different kinds of cups and a sort of die which had pictures of the cups on it. A person throws the die and has to drink the sake from the cup that it indicates!

After the brewery I went with Natsumi to the Higashiyama onsen. It was amazing! It's a hot spring resort where you can bathe in hot water while enjoying a beautiful view of a waterfall and a hillside covered with enormous trees. Perfectly blissful! I would have loved to stay there forever, but it was probably a good thing that Natsumi pulled me out when she did - the heat made me all dizzy when I got out!

S5006482


For lunch we went to a sushi train with a special 'shinkansen' track above the usual train, where your special orders are brought to you by a little shinkansen train! Among the things that I tried was a piece with salmon eggs and mint leaves. Quite good, and very pretty. I love how pretty sushi is. I think food presentation is such a huge part of the dining experience.

Right now I need to get ready for my trip to Fukushima. I need to go there in order to catch the bus to Osaka. Hopefully I'll be able to keep my eyes open during the train ride to Fukushima. The views out here are so stunning.
sarahblack: (Geisha)
Yesterday was my last day in Kyoto. I took it pretty easy - bummed around some temples and took pictures of all the funny things at the grocery store. And then it was time to go to Aizuwakamatsu!

Aizuwakamatsu is such a great place to visit. Seriously, I'm so glad I decided to take Elin's advice and come here. (She's a friend who lived in Japan for over a year and gave me a lot of great advice.)

I arrived this morning, after a bus ride from Kyoto to Fukushima and a train ride from Fukushima. Aizu is a little samurai town with some very nice tourist spots to discover. I started by looking at the Byakkotai members' graves - they were young teenage samurai who committed suicide when they thought their cause was lost. Then I took a turn around the Sazaedo temple - it's a hexagon shape, and you go up one spiral stairway but come down another!

I also went to an outdoor samurai museum, where you can see the kind of house a wealthy samurai would live in, and the Oyakuen garden. It was very pretty, but I think Kyoto has kind of spoiled me when it comes to scenic beauty. Takes more to really impress me!

For lunch I tried some cold Soba - noodles that you dip into a very yummy sauce - and I was so proud of myself when I managed to find the restaurant using only the bus map and my dubious sense of direction. (Okay, so I asked one guy for directions, but I was basically on top of the restaurant when that happened. It's not my fault that I can't read Japanese characters!)

After lunch I had a lot of fun exploring Tsuruga-jyo Castle. It's a really pretty one! And inside there's a museum with a lot of cool samurai stuff. There's also a place where you can try on a kimono! I totally did, and got a picture. Seriously pretty kimono, too. Just the kimono thing was worth the admission price, but the view from the top was pretty fabulous too.

I kind of wanted to visit a sake brewery too, but it was closing time by the time I finished at the castle. Instead I met up with Tommy and his girlfriend, Natsumi, who are my couchsurfing hosts here in Aizu. They took me out for dinner at an Okonomiaki place. It's similar to shabu shabu because you cook your food yourself, but instead of boiling your food in broth, you make kind of an omelette out of the vegetables, meat (or seafood), egg and other stuff that's thrown in there, using the hot plate that is built into your table. Yummy!

Anyway, I really need to go to sleep now. Tommy is going to take me with him to the school where he teaches English, and we need to get up early. I'm looking forward to meeting the kids! I might also go to an onsen tomorrow. Excitement!

Lake Biwa

May. 29th, 2012 09:56 pm
sarahblack: (Default)
I had quite the adventure today!

I bought a day pass for the trains in the area around Lake Biwa and put it to use! First I went to Hikone to look at the famous Hikone castle, and to Nagahama to have a general look around.

Turns out that I could have picked a better day for this trip than today. Both in Hikone and in Nagahama I got caught in brief rainstorms. Thunder and lightening and everything! Thankfully they passed by quickly, and as I had the umbrella I borrowed from Halla with me I barely even got a drop on me. The lightening was very pretty to watch, and no one can say that walking through plum tree thickets with thunder booming in the distance and raindrops pitter-pattering on your umbrella isn't atmospheric.

When I got back to Kyoto I had a culinary adventure with my couchsurfing host, Tomoko. She took me to a huge sushi train place, and I tried squid and eel sushi! The eel was much better than the eel I tried in Sydney. I think I may try to eat more of it while I'm here. The squid was just okay. Not bad, but not a very memorable flavour.

Mostly it was just weird to try to get all the chewy tentacles sorted out.


Yesterday was less eventful, although I did go to the top of the Kyoto train station. There is a fantastic view up there! I noticed the Toji pagoda while I was up there and decided to go visit it. I really enjoyed it. The garden around the pagoda is beautiful. Also, more statues of Bhuddist deities!

Kyoto

May. 27th, 2012 10:22 pm
sarahblack: (Giselle sweet)
What can I say about Kyoto? It's amazing! It's also full of junior high school students who want my help with their English assignments. It's so adorable. One of them shily approaches you and askes if they can speak to you. They confirm that you sdo indeed speak English, and proceed to ask where you are from (Iceland usually gets a big Ooooh response) and what you think of Japan. Sometimes they ask you to write a message in their cute work books. One girl basically asked for an autograph made out to herby name!

So yeah. If you ever want tofeel famous, just visit China and Japan! (Unless you look Asian, I guess...)

Yesterday and today have both been extremely eventful. Since I'm typing this using the touchpad of the android tablet that Snaevar lent me, I'm going to talk about the most memorable things and try not to bore you with too many details.

I arrived in Kyoto very early yesterday morning. Luckily I was able to check into my Japanese style hotel - where you sleep on a futon on the floor - right away. Instead of getting some much needed sleep after a night of trying to doze off in a bus seat I went exploring!

My first stop was Sanjusangendo. It is a temple that houses a 1001 statues of Kannon - a Bhuddist deity - and the sight of them is incredibly overwhelming. It's really hard to describe. The temple itself is a very long wooden building with floors that creak pleasantly as you pad along the endless corridor of statues - your feet clad only in socks as shoes are left outside as a sign of respect. The statues appear golden, but they are made of wood. Each one unique, but appearing to look the same as the others. In the middle there sits a giant statue of Kannon, looking very regal and powerful.

I saw a lot of other temples that day but Sanjusangendo was the most memorable. It was lovely to walk between the temples, enjoy the weather, watch the people and explore the narrow streets. I was particularly happy to witness the start of a wedding and see a bride in a beautiful white kimono. I do love weddings.

Another memorable thing I did yesterday was walk around the Emperor's Palace. Or more like the walls surrounding it. It took forever! That thing is enormous!

Today I went to some of the most famous places in Kyoto. The Ryoanji rock garden, the Golden Pavilion and the Silver pavilion. The rock garden was literally very zen and it appealed to me immensely. I would love there to be more gardens that do not give me hayfever! The Golden Pavilion was breathtakingly beautiful. It was glinting in the morning sun, shining like a beacon! However, the garden around the Silver Pavilion was much more beautiful.

Also, because I am such a philosopher, and my feet hadn't been walking enough, I wandered down the Philosopher's path. It wasvery beautiful and quiet. Just a worn old stone path, some trees, a stream and me.

I hope you're all doing well.

I keep you with me in spirit!
sarahblack: (Smiling Jack)
Yesterday was probably one of the happiest days of my life. I got to live my childhood dream of Disney land. A dream that started with an Aladdin sticker book. There was this competition where you could win a trip to Disney land for your family if you collected all of the stickers and entered your book into a lottery. I was so sad when my masterful sticker-collecting plan failed. But it doesn't matter now. I went to Disney land and it was magical and amazing. ♥

The Disney experience begins as you walk from the train station to the park gates. The classic Disney music which can be heard, and the resort hotel, which looks like a beautiful palace, set the mood. But it's when you walk through the gates and see the quintessential Disney castle in the distance that you really know. Know that you're really in Disney land! ... I may have become slightly teary eyed.



The day was enjoyably spent. I went on some rides with Snaevar and his family, watched the parades, and ate too much ice cream. My favourite rides were Pirates of the Caribbean - which now includes cameos from some of the characters (Jack Sparrow!) from the movie - and the Space Mountain rollercoaster. Honorable mention goes to Captain EO for being hilariously 80s-tastic. Oh, Michael Jackson. ♥

The parades with all the characters and the shiny floats were so pretty. There were three parades, first the Jubilee parade, then the themed Easter parade, and lastly the electric lit up parade that they did after it got dark. I got some serious costume envy. What I wouldn't give for those princess dresses...

I was a bit sad that it was apparently too windy for the traditional firework display at the end of the day, but I've decided that it simply gives me an excuse to go again sometime!

The day before Disney land was quite busy as well. I went with Snaevar and his family into Tokyo to see the Harajuku and Shibuya districts, and we went to the top of Tokyo tower!

Harajuku wasn't all that busy, but I took some pictures and looked at some very interesting window displays. I didn't buy much, just a box of chocolate mochi. Mochi is a Japanese dessert. It's made out of rice, but it more like a marshmallow than anything else. A slightly less sweet marshmallow that can have different types of flavour. Really delicious!



Shibuya was bustling with people. I really liked watching when people crossed the street. Like an ocean of Japanese people! It was such a nice day to go for a walk, too. Sunny and warm, but with a breeze to keep you from melting.

Tokyo tower was a lot of fun. I loved seeing Tokyo city spread out in all directions. So many buildings! From the top of the tower I could see all the way to Mt. Fuji! But conditions weren't ideal, so it was a bit blurry. I also saw into a traditional old cemetery. Full of statues and things.

I took a lot of trains that day. The stations are always supplied with vending machines. I decided to try my vending machine skills and got a can of coke. But it wasn't really a can because it had a screw cap like a bottle. I'm calling it a canottle. Can-bottle. Very convenient for train travel!

Lastly, I want to tell you that shabu shabu is an awesome way to eat. I tried it on Tuesday. You basically go to a shabu shabu place and they give you raw meat and a boiling tasty broth of your choice. It is kept boiling because there is a hotplate on your table. You cook your strips of meat by dipping them in the boiling broth and swishing it around (shabu shabu is the noise that the swishing makes). It is so delicious and excellent fun!

Tonight I'm going to take my first overnight bus to Kyoto. I'll try to post something here or on Facebook when I arrive.

Hope you are all healthy and happy!

Japan

May. 21st, 2012 08:03 pm
sarahblack: (Princess and the Frog)
Hello Japan, indeed!

I arrived in Japan yesterday at around noon after an uneventful flight from Nanjing. Snaevar and his family were kind enough to pick me up at the airport, and after I had stashed my bag at their place they took me out for some delicious sushi!

It was so nice to see Snaevar. I have missed his company since he moved to Japan. Meeting his girlfriend Riya again was also really good. I hadn't seen her since 2008! But I was most excited to meet their 16 month old daughter, Elin. She is such a sweetheart! Beautiful brown eyes and happy disposition. Especially if you mention strawberries - her favourite. ♥

I got to spend some time with them in their home after our late sushi lunch. I was learning to use the tablet computer that Snaevar is generously going to lend to me during my stay in Japan. I have a feeling it's going to save my life! Especially since he is also lending me this pocket wifi device to go along with it. After a while of fiddling around with the tablet and watching Sesame Street episodes with Elin, Riya started bringing us all this amazing food! Salad, grilled chicken, and delicious little pieces of lamb (I think) which tasted just like the lamb that you get off the barbecue in the Icelandic summertime.

Later in the evening I went over to my couchsurfing host, an American girl called Tamitha. (She teaches Japanese.) I'm going to stay at her place until Friday. She is super nice and her apartment is clean and comfortable.

My first impression of Japan was the airport and then the quiet suburb where Snaevar lives. Everything seemed clean and organised and the buildings all looked brand new! The people were quiet, friendly and very polite.

Today I had my second impression. I walked from Tamitha's place to the train station near Snaevar's house where he was waiting for me. Together we went on a train adventure to downtown Tokyo! Mainly we saw Akihabara (Electric town) and Shinjuku station and its surrounding area.

So many people! Everything was very colourful and vibrant. Electric town was a lot of fun. It is basically geek paradise - I mean, the first thing I saw when I exited Akihabara train station was a giant SEGA logo! There were girls dressed up as anime characters handing out adverts, little shops devoted to once geeky niche or another, and we visited a sort of technology themed mall on six floors with an entire floor devoted to just games and toys! (I was able to pick up a gadget that enables you to charge your electric devices on the go. First you have the charge the charger, but then you can take it with you and use it to charge your device if it runs out of juice when you're on a bus or a train somewhere.)

It was a lot to take in, but my first impression of the Japanese people still stands. Even as a crowd the people are considerate and polite. Everyone proceeds to where they are going in a very orderly fashion. No pushing or yelling!

I am having a great time in Japan so far, and I'm very optimistic about my next three weeks.

I'll try to write more soon!

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sarahblack: (Default)
Sarah Black

March 2015

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