Friday, May 8, 2015

Another beautiful walk in Kumamoto

So, this wasn't the walk I had planned. I set off, armed with snacks and drinks for my epic hike in the hills of Kumamoto.

You see, I was headed up to that white dome there, up at the top of that mountain. It looks pretty far, right?

As it turned out, I was there and back in a couple of hours, and that includes a few detours. So, not quite what I had planned, but a lovely walk nonetheless. I also ate my snacks anyway, because why not be happy?

So, here are some pictures of the hike that was more of a walk.

I'm not exactly sure, but I think these are gravestones. You often find them around temples, and they sometimes have aprons on. This article explains a bit about them.

This building contains some of the Buddha's remains, which were given to Japan as a gesture of peace by India after World War 2. You can see this dome from all over Kumamoto.

The view from the top

Another view from the top. I think this photo showcases my artistic talent rather well, don't you?
I ambled down the hill, trying out some interesting looking paths to see where I ended up. The main road I walked up was lined with shady- looking love hotels, which didn't really mesh with the "nature hike" theme of the day (turns out there really is a Wikipedia for everything...)

I feel like I should have a poignant comment here about flowers growing from barren concrete....

This feels like it is in the middle of the countryside, when it's actually a short walk from the main station, where the bullet train comes into and leaves Kumamoto. It's hard to believe. There is also a little plot of land for sale here, if any of you are interested in a little piece of Kyushu countryside.

This day was Children's day in Japan. As my "hike" was a good bit shorter than I had thought, I toddled into town to see what I could see. Turns out, I could see some Koinobori, or carp flags, which people hang outside their house for Children's day. Traditionally, one is hung outside for every son in the family (girl's day is in March or April, depending on the season, and they get a set of dolls, so no one is left out here).

If you ever find yourself in Kumamoto, looking for a short but enjoyable walk, I recommend Hanaokasan. It was a really beautiful walk.

Sunday, May 3, 2015

A Week that is Golden

It's Golden week here in Japan, a row of public holidays that everyone waits for with great anticipation. So far today, I have finished watching Massan (no spoilers, but be ready to blub at the end, and, well, at certain points all the way through), halfheartedly hoovered and put my winter clothes away in storage (well, in the huge suitcase I arrived in Japan with that's far too big to actually go anywhere with, unless you are moving to a foreign country). Not bad, considering I had planned to do nothing at all.

There are all sorts of cool things going on in this season. It's the time of year Japanese people come out of winter hibernation. One of the things I love most about Japan is the way every season is celebrated. It's common to be informed by Japanese people that Japan is unique because it has four seasons. Sadly, the number of seasons is pretty standard, plus they are carefully ignoring rainy season, which brings it up to five seasons. The unique part comes where there is literally a special food, a special festival and corresponding kimono patterns for every conceivable occasion. It's awesome.
A quick Google search tells me that this is a traditional spring pattern. The picture is from here
Golden Week is a string of holidays, as I said, but the one that gets the most attention is Children's Day on May 5th. It used to be Boy's day, but equal opportunity and all that....

These are carp flags that are flown in Oguni Town in the Aso region of Kumamoto (picture from this blog)

As with every season, flowers play a huge part of life in spring. Azaleas have been blooming recently, with one park in Ozu, Kumamoto Prefecture having a whole park of them. Not bad, huh?

From this site
So, yeah, maybe I shouldn't spend the next few days cooped up. Golden Week is a good time to get out and do some cool stuff. This is a guide to events in Fukuoka. Here's similar one for Kumamoto, although this one deals with the whole year.

Friday, May 1, 2015

The answer to one of life's great mysteries.

And here is a random picture from my hike last weekend. If you had ever wondered what happens to old petrol pumps, here's your answer.

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Hiking on a sunny day

Now that it has temporarily stopped raining (seriously, it rains more here than England, I'm convinced of it, and when it rains, it heaves it down. So, we're thrilled in these parts when it finally stops), it's time to enjoy a sunny hike or two. One of the great things about living in Kumamoto is that you can walk from pretty much anywhere in the suburbs and find a beautiful mountain to hike up.

This weekend's hike was to Kinbosan, a mountain that you can see from pretty far away because of the TV masts at the top. I've been talking about going there for ages, and I'm so glad I finally did.
A little graveyard on the way up the mountain. Not a bad place to spend all eternity...

There is a bus up to the entrance to the hike that leaves from Kumamoto bus station, but why take a bus when it's a sunny day  you've totally overestimated your hiking fitness levels? It took about 4 hours to reach the top, including a few stops for a sit down. It was worth it for the views, though.

See? Pretty amazing. It wasn't a really tough climb, just a bit steep. You have to watch your feet a bit too because the path is strewn with tree roots and rocks and that kind of stuff. As I clambered up, it was pretty humbling to be overtaken by trail runners, retirees out for a little stroll and one older man who was running up and down repeatedly with 20kg of weights sewn into his waistcoat. So, yeah, my huffing and puffing and needing a sit down a few times was a little embarrassing. 

It seems like climbing Kinbosan is kind of a thing around here. There's some kind of club, and as you walk up to the summit, there's a sign with the names of the members ranked in order of the number of times they've climbed. The top man had climbed 8,000 times. I'm sure he huffed and puffed the first time, right? 
This picture looked better when I took it... It's the league of mountain climbers, but it's hard to tell from this picture.

I thoroughly enjoyed my day, and enjoyed the post-hike meal and beer on the way home. Of course, I'm promising myself to make it a more regular thing, but we'll see. Life is pretty good at getting in the way of these things. But remind me how much I enjoy seeing the world from the top of a mountain, won't you?

Sunday, April 26, 2015

Lanterns, Lanterns Everywhere!

Way back in February and March, Kumamoto went a bit lantern crazy. It happens every year. Well, there are a few lantern festivals. There is something really lovely about ambling around a beautiful town or temple surrounded by lanterns.

These are from the lantern festival in Yamaga. It was held every weekend through February. It's a bit late for this year, but maybe next? Put it in your diary now, so you don't forget.

There's also a very famous, and beautiful hot spring in Yamaga. It's conveniently located next to the bus stop, which I'm not sure shouldn't be more common at any bus stop in any place. Get off the bus and into a nice hot bath. Just a thought....

Next up was just a few weeks ago at Honmyouji Temple. I tried to go last year, but it was cancelled due to rain. It even rained on the day the day they scheduled it if it had been cancelled previously because it rained. If you made it through that sentence, I salute you.
This was the entrance to the festival. Not bad, huh?

There were even Geishas at this festival! 

I'm not sure what it is about Kumamoto and lanterns, but I'll be sure to let you know if I find out. :)

Friday, April 24, 2015

Long time no see Fried Brain Friday

Huh, so it's probably a good job I'm not relying on this here blog for an income right now, isn't it... It's been a while since I updated, not for any bad reason, just a result of not getting on with things really. I often think about writing something, I miss writing blog posts. I guess what I've really missed is that pondering that goes on, you know, while I'm thinking of things to write about. Or the thought that pops into my head when something happens, "oooh, I could blog about that". So, here I am, ready to make this a regular thing. Although, who knows how I feel next week...

So, as it is Friday and it's time I caught you up on things, here's Fried Brain Friday:

One of the things that kept me away from here was my Master's, and that's finished. Yup, 3 years later and I finally finished up. I don't technically graduate until the summer, but as I can't go to the graduation ceremony anyway, I feel like my happy dance is not premature...

By the way, my happy dance looks something like this:

It turns out, studying part time and working full time is no joke, even when you have little to no obligations beyond your job and yourself. Now it's finished, I'm not altogether sure what to do with myself. Well, almost not sure. I mean, I'm filling my days...

One of the things I'm spending inordinate amounts of time doing is watching a Japanese TV drama about a year after everyone else watched it. Massan is about the first man in Japan to make whiskey.

 Mostly, it's about his Scottish wife who came to Japan with him after he finished studying whiskey production in Scotland. The actress playing his wife, Charlotte Kate Fox, is an American actress who didn't speak Japanese at all before getting the part. It's an "Asadora", which means it's shown in the morning on Japanese TV. I never watched it when it was on, so I'm catching up now, but it was pretty popular in Japan last year. I never seem to catch on to things while they're popular, only afterwards, I think it might be my age.

I've also started studying Japanese again, now that I have more time and, more importantly brain space. I'm not great at memorizing things, which is needed when you study Japanese, but I'm plodding along. I enjoy learning things and studying things, so it suits me, as long as I don't put too much pressure on myself.

I'm off hiking tomorrow. There's a fair size mountain near here that I'm going to try to walk up. The weather is good, and I don't have to feel guilty about not working on Master's thing any more, so why not? 

It was a few weeks ago, but the cherry blossoms were amazing here, so I thought I'd tag a few random pictures on here at the bottom for your enjoyment. 

These were taken at a temple called Honmyouji in West Kumamoto. The stairs are a bit tough for the uninitiated, but it's a beautiful place. Although, if you ever want to feel bad about yourself, go in the early morning and watch countless people in their 70s and 80s zoom up and down the stairs multiple times as part of their morning exercise routine. 

Well, that's enough babbling for today. Hope there's still someone there reading, and that you're well if you are reading. 

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

30 Days of Yoga

One of my new friends, in this not-so-new place (it's almost been a year since I moved, can you believe it?) is a yoga teacher. The thing with spending time with a yogi is that they make you want to be a yogi too. Not in a "join our cult" kind of a way (well, if they're doing it right) but in a "look how happy and healthy I am and you could be too, with a bot of yoga in your life" kind of a way. So, in short, I've taken up yoga. Of course my new friend teaches me from time to time, but I'm cheap and she likes to be paid for doing her job (remind me to tell you how infuriating it is when people want me to teach them English for free, even though it's my job, and I'm, like, all professional and things, thus requiring a salary) so sometimes I learn with her and sometimes I learn with a video on You Tube.

There are many yoga videos on You Tube and one of the first things I noticed is that they are not all created equal. Some are so boring I fall asleep half way through, which I suppose means I'm relaxed, but that's not quite what I'm looking for. Some yoga teachers have really annoying "yoga voices" where they use a really soft voice and make every syllable reaaallllly lllloooonnnggggg, as if they're trying to lull you into a hypnotic state. I don't really want to be hypnotised, especially as it always makes me worry I'm going to quack like a duck every time someone claps their hands.

Eventually, I came across Yoga With Adrienne. She doesn't have an annoying yoga voice, she cracks jokes and she even suggests different ways to do things depending on your level. At the moment, she is doing 30 days of Yoga, with a different video every day for 30 days. So far, I have finished 12. For me, the Queen of the land of starting things you'll never finish, that's not bad going. 

Getting up early to get it in before work is never fun when it's dark in the morning. I find I do glide to work on a cloud of smug when I've done it though, so there's that. I also have been finding that I'm more productive during the day, although that might just be that I have a lot to do at the moment so I have no choice. I'm saying yoga because that sounds better....

So, anyway, Adrienne is not paying me for this, although she is welcome to is she would like. I accept payment in Reese's Peanut Butter Cups and Doughnuts. I just didn't want to bore you with my work schedule and as that is all that I have going on this fine Wednesday evening, I thought I'd tell you about yoga.

And that is all I have to say about that.