A Travellerspoint blog

Shiretoko National Park

(知床国立公園, Shiretoko Kokuritsu Kōen)

Unfortunately today was a cloudy/ rainy day, so most of my pictures were overcast and not too appealing. But you get to see Shiretoko in all its beautiful glory because I looked up most of my shots from the internet or got some off of friends who also visited. I do have a few photos I took myself, and I know I didn't label which Sapporo pictures were mine, but I felt that they all blended so well that it was almost like I was there taking those other photos. But there is a big variety here, so I will label when a photo is mine.

The train ride there (These photos I got off of my friend Zeke who came to couchsurf with June as well):
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Those purple flowers were just everywhere lining the tracks on the way to Shiretoko.

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Almost the entire ride we got to stay on the waterfront, while the car traffic was on the other side of the hill, obscured from our view. (Very lucky)

The bus ride there:
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Here are my first photos of the day:
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I thought the rocks looked like a turtle.

Googled photos:

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Side of the road waterfall:
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Hiking to my first location:
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Furape Cliff:
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In this shot you can see a waterfall with no river feeding it (because the river is underground!)
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View from the other side:
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My photos:
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Here there were deer grazing all the way up to the edge of the cliffs! It was so beautiful and peaceful, I stayed here for maybe 10 minutes, just listening to the rain on my umbrella and watching the seagulls play with the boats in the water, and the deer jumping through the tall grass.

Youtube video someone else took (very long):
2:40 - my 2nd favorite spot in Shiretoko, the Furape Cliffs.

Around the 5 minute mark you'll hear bells jingling. Those bells were sold everywhere for you to put on your bags to frighten away the black bears. Also, if you watch the whole thing, I didn't go on a boat, but I do recognize some of the locations as placed I hiked to.

Hiking back to the main road:

My photos:
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Back to google photos:
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Here is my favorite Shiretoko video (from youtube, since I could not take video myself due to my limited storage space on my phone):

go-ko (five lakes) is my favorite part of Shiretoko.
Also, this video is really good because it looks like it was taken in summer, which was when I was there. I think I may have had a bit more snow on the mountains, but other than that.

Bus group:
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Go-Ko (The Five Lakes):
Entering the trail there were already signs warning of black bears:
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Here is a shot of the main lake out of the five, with it the ripples on the lake from the high winds that were going on that day. So many of these pictures where you get to see the smooth lake are not what I got to see, but you would get large circles of calm, as ripples would blow in her and there around them sometimes, so best of both worlds right?

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Here are some photos I took with my phone:
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Here, I stood for a long time, and was once again inspired to write:

A place where you can watch the great spirit of the wind blow glass into shards of crystalized ice that dance into thousands of twinkling stars before settling into ripples of snow speckled mountains with peeks massaged by soft mist.
~ Vanessa chan

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Back to google photos:

(This appears to be the exact same spot where I stood and jotted down my string of consciousness)
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And all throughout these areas there were walkways built to curb people having to walk through the wetlands, and at the same time preserving them.

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Walking along the paths I found these two old people taking photos of each other. I thought of asking them if they wanted me to take a photo of them, but my Japanese wasn't so good, and the older generations especially had a hard time understanding me. These two looked old, like around 70, so I pegged them at around 90... def. out of my English speaking Japanese age range. But then here we were, at the highest point of the footpath, and the mountains with the lake in front of them, well, it was a shot of a lifetime... "Watashi wa anatagata no shashin o tote ka?" While I said this I pointed at the couple, then make the international sign for clicking a camera in front of one's eye. At first they thought I wanted them to take a photo of me, but I explained to them I didn't have a camera. Then they thought that I wanted them to take a photo of me with them, but I told them that I was just trying to help them be in the picture just the two of them, not for me. Then they finally seemed to understand that here, this lone, lost tourist was trying to help them out in their own country... as amusing as they found this, they seemed grateful. I took their photo, then they felt obliged to talk to me some more, not just move on with their day. The old woman wanted to know where my camera was, and I told her that I lost it in Nagano. "OHHHHHHHH!" she said as she nodded as I explained to her my story in 5 year old Japanese. I told her to not worry though, and that I would be going to pick it up tomorrow. "Sugoi!" she exclaimed in excitement. But then she worried that I wouldn't be able to have any photos of myself here in Shiretoko! What to do!?!? "Ahhh!" she told me, and she set me up to have my photo taken with their camera. "Interneto!" She told me her grandson knew how to use the internet, and he could give me the photo over the internet! She handed me her notebook, and flipped to a blank page. Okay, I thought, what the hell, so I wrote down my name in Japanese Katakana " ヴァネッサ " and then my email address " vanran@gmail.com " This was the best I could come up with.

No, I never ended up getting these photos V.V;
But it was a shot in the dark anyways.

I seemed to be making some sense to the woman, that, or she was just really good at humoring me. The old man didn't seem to be able to follow my conversation, or just wasn't interested, so I thought I should let him get back to his tour at least (typical man and woman behavior in Japan). "Saionara" I said, letting them go after an overly long conversation. I had no more Japanese in my back pocket, I was spent. Then, as I stared into the mountains in my solitude, enjoying the absolutely breathtaking feel and look of it all, I herd someone speaking English. "Excuse me," Normally I wouldn't turn around to someone saying that from so far away, but who else could this person be talking to? I turned around, and on the other side of the observation deck was a tall Japanese kid, probably in his early 20's, and his mother seemed to be pushing him forward to converse with me. "Yes?" "Are you lost?" I thought he might tag on "little girl" at the end of it, but luckily, he did not. "Ie-eh" I said, no I was not, "Ushinawa arimasen desu" "My mom wanted me to talk to you and make sure you were okay, she saw you talking to the older couple before, and she thought you might need help." I explained to him what I was actually doing, and then he translated to his mother. "Oh!" she exclaimed, and seemed very happy. But then her worried face came back. She spoke very fast to her son, and I couldn't follow. "She wants to know if you are here alone." "Yes, I am." I left it at that. This seemed unacceptable to her. "How did you get here?" I wanted to say by eagle, but they were being very nice and concerned for me, so I told them that I took the bus and the train. "Far!" she said in Japanese. "Abashiri" When I told her this, she got really excited. "Really?" It turned out that they were from Abashiri too! She insisted that she drive me all the way home, but I told them that I really couldn't impose. "She wants to know where you are going next, and how you plan to get there." I showed them the waterfall that my buss passed when I first arrived, and I said that I wanted to go back there and take a look around before heading back to the train station. It was going to cost me another bus ticket, but I had decided it was worth it while I was still in Japan to pay to see the places I wanted to see. Basically her next words were that they would drive me to that waterfall, and that was that. I told her thank you, and then the 4 of us continued walking the trails together until we had seen as much of the 5 lakes as we could.

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We didn't get to see all of the 5 lakes because the path to the 2 other lakes was closed off due to bears, so rather than making a full circle we had to turn back at one point and head back through the lakes we already passed.

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After this hike the family I met took me into the gift shop and the father bought all 4 of us soft serve strawberry ice cream cones ^_^*

Heading home:
This was where I was going to have the family drop me off, but the waterfall area was closed because of heavy water flow from all the rain they were getting (yeah, I know), so they apologized over and over to me, and said now they really had to drive me all the way home, because I wasn't going to get to see the Oshinkoshin Falls! (Still got to drive almost right against them, so I saw, I just didn't get to hike).

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(By the way, that is the same waterfall from the side of the road that was at the start of this trip, only this picture depicts what the waterfall looked like when I was there a bit better.)

On the way back the scenery wasn't as good, but I got to have a really cool conversation with the son. Then, halfway home we got to move to the front as the father and son were switching drivers, so they forced me to move to shotgun so we could continue talking. He lived in Australia for a few years, knowing no English when he started classes there, and then gradually picked it up. We talked a lot about what it is like there as I was heading there next. In Australia he was one of the chemical engineers at a firework plant that made Japanese fireworks. He said that one night the owner's wife and kid were closing up late, and there was a fire... luckily they got out just before the fire alarm went off, and shortly after that all the fireworks started blowing apart the building! They were very lucky to be heading out just before the place went all to hell.

He told me that someone caught it on youtube, and that I should look it up:

At our bathroom break the mom looked around the gift shop and kept holding things up to me for her to buy for me. "Thank you, but I have too much to carry!" I had her son translate that everything I had I had to carry everyday, so I couldn't get any souvenirs. She settled for buying me a drink from one of Japan's many vending machines.

In Abashiri they dropped me off practically at June's front door to her apartment complex, and wasn't going to be satisfied until they saw June get me, but thankfully their son convinced them that I would be alright, and we parted with plenty of daylight for me to explore this small costal town at the top of Japan. The only thing north of us were the islands that Japan lost to Russia (one of the reasons Japan likes America, common enemy).

Here is the last video of Shiretoko, now I went in summer, so the ice scenes weren't there:

Posted by - Rain 17:59 Comments (1)

Sapporo is for Ravens

In the morning I met my small Japanese roommate. She was about 70 years old, and her english was very good. She stayed with me in our room, talking about Japan and my travels. I loved speaking with her, she was lovely. Last year she became a breast cancer survivor, so that was why she was here. She wondered if I was also here for the conference, but I told her I was just here at the same time coincidentally. She was very glad for me that I did not have breast cancer. I mentioned to her that I had lost my camera in Nagano, and she told me that all was not lost. "You are in Japan!" She let me know. She said that if I lost something, especially something that is obviously foreign, as in a camera with english on it, that a Japanese person would right now be trying their best to make sure that if I go looking for it, that I will find it. This made me very hopeful, and she talked me into retracing my steps at the end of this week, and seeing what I came up with. I told her it really could only be in Nagano at the few places I visited after the Olympic Stadium where I took my last picture, and the train back to Tokyo where I didn't take it out again until I was almost in Hokkaido. I mentioned to her that if I were going all the way back to Nagano, then I would take a trip to see the Matsumoto castle that Bjarke told me was the best castle he visited in all of Japan, very old fashioned, and no new gimmicks. She said that after she defeated breast cancer she climbed the Japanese Alps just outside Matsumoto, and she asked if I was going to do the same. I wish I could, but I just didn't see me having enough time with only one week of the rail pass left. That was a 2 day trip as well, and I wasn't sure my hiking was up to the task yet (and here I was, telling this to a small, 5 foot nothing, 70 year old woman who had cancer... yeah, I felt real lazy). But I told her that next time I come to Japan, I would climb Mt. Fuji and then go to the Japanese Alps and do the same, even if I didn't make it back until I was 70. She patted me on the back with a smile that I thought would be "sure sweetie, you just keep thinking that" but it wasn't. It was a smile of "good for you, I am proud of you before you even do it." I well and truly loved this woman, and I wish her all the best, she is so strong, loving, and full of life, I hope to always remember her inspiration.

Now, since she wasn't from Sapporo, I didn't really get much advice on where to go, so I hopped on the internet while I casually enjoyed my breakfast.

What is Sapporo known for? (Other than their beer?)

The Winter Snow Festival!
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Ahahahaha, you fell for it! Dudes, this is the northern hemisphere still... its summer. I just found these pictures on the internet while I was surfing for things to do in Sapporo. I know, it would have been so cool to see this festival, but hey, I missed the cherry blossom festivals as well, so timing is almost a bit of everything when you are traveling. Better luck next time I guess (yes, I do have plans to one day return to Japan for winter and spring... ^_^*) But until then, I am here now in summer, so I have decided to look at the many famous parks, the Art Museum, the Botanical Garden, the former governor's house, and the Former Hokkaidō government office building before heading further north to where I have my next couchsurfer in Abashiri, the closest city I could get couchsurfing to the World Heritage park at the tip of Hokkaido.

And yes, I still don't have a camera, so most of these pictures I went online in the evening to find so I could remember what some of these places looked like, even if I didn't take the picture myself.

First off, I got on the subway with a map of the city, and headed to the first large green colored area on the map (a park if my label translation is correct).

One of my favorite subway ads of the trip:

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I don't get it.

Now, one of the most convenient and wonderful subway systems in the world! Here is the subway exit called Nakajima Park:

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It is literally located inside the park! As you walk down that path, you are in the park! I love Sapporo (in the daytime when places are easy to find.)

Nakajima Park: Really nice, lots of trees, green rolling hills, a lake, and a european styled heritage building they were selling ice cream outside of. It was warm, mind you, maybe in the lower 20's (70's), but I just came from Tokyo where it was the lower 30's (80's), so I was tempted, but not enough.

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There were also scattered bits of sculptures around the park that were fun to look at:

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AND AN OBSERVATORY!!! When I saw a sign pointing for it, I almost yelped!

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I walked inside, and there was a man sitting at a computer who looked very excited, and apprehensive, about my coming in. "Sumimasen, Konichiwa" I bowed my head slightly, and he bowed his head in return. He asked me if I spoke Japanese, and I told him my usual tale. Then I asked if he spoke any english. He said none, or at least, he doesn't speak it anymore since he had forgotten most of it. I told him not to worry, and asked if I could see the, ah, er... I pointed at the large telescope in the next room that was pointing out of the dome. He was already several steps ahead of me however. By the time I could mumble "could I see that large thing over there?" he was already at the controls and pointing something out to me. "Do you see that?" he asked me as he pointed at the large reflection that was being projected on a white disk under the telescope. "Hi" I responded. "It is the sun" he told me, saying, "Sun, desu" I smiled at his attempt to speak in english terms. "I understand, thank you" I told him as he continued. It was amazingly beautiful to hear him describe the telescope to me in Japanese. His hand gestures alone allowed me to follow him through the operation of the telescope as it automatically followed the sun across the sky. This was equivalent to being told about it in english I decided, as most of the time I forget all the technicalities of what people explain to me anyways. What I remember is the experience of being there, of getting to see something in action that I already had a capable understating of. This was why I was so sad when we were robbed in Hawaii. Joe had a video tape of an engineer explaining to us how the telescope worked on the top of Mauna Kea. He told me all in english, but the amount I remembered from his over 10 minute explanation was, wait, let me go back and count it... 10 lines on this blog, which only made up 3 sentences, but you know me, I get distracted by periods, so I just use commas instead... or 3 periods to make up for all the missing ones I should have been placing between thoughts. There we go, nice use of sentence structure. Anyways, he then went onto show me sun spots (really cool, I got in close to take a look at some of them, and he was quite excited to see my interest even though we had a huge language barrier. Luckily, the Japanese had adapted much of their language to english, especially scientific terms, so a lot of what he was saying I could sound out and understand in english: "supeesu," "puranetariumu," "shisutemu," "enerugii," "purojekutaa," "kurodu," etc. He let me stay in there and watch the sun for a bit longer as I told him I studied physics at "Kento Diagaku" and was very interested in "asutoronomi." He seemed pleesed with my attempts to converse with him, but he was working on something in the other room, so showing great trust, he left me alone in the observatory to my own devices. I stayed only about 5 minutes more before moving on. I could have stayed longer, but for that I would have liked to talk a bit more with the man in the other room, and since we could not, I moved on.

Now I really had to use a bathroom, so I walked over to this amazing concert hall, gave myself a brief tour around the beautiful lobby, and then after using their pleasantly advanced bathrooms (Japan is full of these), I proceeded out and around the back to finish my loop of the park.

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Around the back of this building is where my day began to turn for the worse.

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As I walked, I noticed several very large ravens start congregating on the tree branches over the walkway. Now, these trees were very tall evergreens, so they weren't too close, but they were giving me this look that said if they were any closer, I might just turn around and go back the way I came. Underneath them I walked, and then, not a few feet forward did I make it than I heard rustling and crowing coming from them. They were not pleased with me at all. The crowing of a raven isn't as abrasive as the crowing from a crow, but it bellows, and it resonates. Crows can caw all they want, and you don't have to pay them any mind. But when a raven decides to be so harsh, you pay attention. I turned back to look at them, and I immediately ducked! They dive bombed me! I couldn't believe it! Really close, with rather large talons out for grabs! WTF? I was alone at the time, so I quickly stepped up my pace to get back from behind the building and into the park with everyone else. Then, again they came after me! This time I swung my plastic bag with my lunch up at them. What was going on?!?! I got out into the park's drive way and again, I was under attack, this time with people around to witness this. They were all shocked as well as I hurried away from the birds into a small pagoda.

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They didn't follow me in there, but flew back behind the auditorium building, but I was shaken still. There were some looks from the people next to me, but other than that, it was just one of those strange things you see, think, hu, thats strange, and them move on with what you were doing. "I don't understand" I told to the boys standing near me. They simply shrugged their shoulders and moved on. Okay, then...

Moving onto finish my circuit around the park, I took a gander at the waterfalls, and then moved to head out of this crazy place.

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They calmed me down a bit, but I was still edgy anytime I passed by these enormous birds. Like they knew I was wrong somehow. This was doubly embarrassing because my character in the story has an affinity with ravens, so... shouldn't I be cool with them too? As I walked I came up with a story plot line where the raven's attack my character at an early age, before she mastered controlling them. And even now, today, she is explained as not being completely in control of them, but being their dominant, and as long as she puts down any challenges from her flock, she remains the leader, not out of loyalty like a dog, but out of fear like a lion. This also gives her a nice rise to power as she has to fight for pack dominance, not simply being crowned queen because she is both raven and human. Thinking these thoughts made me feel stronger about the raven's in the real world as well. Japan is littered with these birds, probably more so than any other type as I have seen, and I would have to gain control of this fear if I was going to do any more hiking or exploring through nature.

Parting glance at the park:

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(And yes, this really is a picture I took with my phone, pretty cool huh?)

Freaking ravens from hell! They are everywhere!

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Next I headed for the Art museum, but it was closed for remodeling or something, so... I decided to have a picnic in the modern art sculptures that surrounded the museum. At first I was not alone with this idea, but that wouldn't last as I was eventually amongst a myriad of tiny Japanese babies about 1 - 4 years old, many of whom came pushed in strollers or pulled in wagons and yes, they even have wheeled playpens.

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After lunch on my way to the botanical, I passed what had to be the governor's house:

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Very nice place, very european amongst the Japanese architecture found everywhere else in this country. And they just let you wonder around it. When I was walking through the backyard they were cutting the grass on the large driven lawnmowers. There were also a few guys cutting limbs off trees and the such, and they seemed to think they were in my way, rather than the other way around. Very nice atmosphere. Then, surrounding the building was a small park with a series of creeks and pagodas. It was really nice that they turned it into a public park because so many people were loving having their lunches surrounded by children (I think there were a lot of daycares here today). Lovely atmosphere, very good for calming the nerves and nurturing healthy daydreams about assassinating people (back to thinking about the Kung Fu assassin novel with Reivan's backstory).

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I also crossed over the central line of parks in Sapporo and there were many great fountains and statues of European men for whatever reason.

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Then I finally made my way to the Botanical Gardens.

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It was only like $10 to get in, and I hadn't actually spent any money on admittance into anything yet, so I felt it was a necessary expense. Inside the greenhouse there were the usual themed rooms with amazingly beautiful plants all placed in easy walking around fashion. But then there was this man who was insistent that my Japanese was better than I boasted (which was not at all). He was a larger man, in his 40's or 50's, and in a wheel chair. His wife was short, and smaller built, but still large for Japanese standards. She would laugh and giggle as she would see me struggle to follow his story. "Do you know about Japanese Shoguns?" Yes, I told him, I knew what they were. They were military dictators in Japan. I'm not sure if I was right about this, but I likened them to sherifs, or medieval nobility. The term I remembered most from the 2nd Kill Bill movie when the small child tells Uma Thurman that she would like to watch her favorite bedtime movie... Shogun Assassin!

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礼文敦盛草, レブンアツモリソウ, rebun-atsumori-sou

He was trying to tell me that they would use this plant somehow for assassinating people, but I cannot really explain how. Something about they would be really really quiet, and something about stepping on something, I don't know if it was in invaders who would step on this something, or if the shogun would step on it, but then something would happen to the guy they wanted to kill, and he would fall down dead! "Wow, is that true?" I would ask him, only making him more excited to continue on with this story. Eventually his wife told him, "Come on now, she didn't travel all this way to hear you go on and on," or something to that effect, and she just grabbed him by the wheelchair and pushed him along. "Thank you! It was nice talking with you!" I called at them, both thanking him for his stories, and thanking her for letting me off the hook, because I could only fake understanding for so long before he realized all I was saying was "yeah, mmhum, really?, wow, no kidding," and the occasional, "I don't understand," just for good measure.

Outside the greenhouse it was a little sparse with displays, but the forestry the gardens were interspersed in were lovely enough on their own.

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Damn ravens! I don't know why they hate me! Why do they flock to me?!

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Then, I realized what my purse had on it... I had 2 raven feathers! Could they have noticed that? Did they think I had killed one of them? I went to toss it on the ground, but then really didn't want to, so I stashed them inside the bag. They hardly fit b/c my purse was just a little sack of cloth, but I got them shoved in, and I zipped the lid shut. Later in the day I passed a sign with a drawing of one of these huge ravens and it said "Warning!" And explained that it was mating season for the birds, and you are not to approach anywhere that could have a nest... like trees! OMG, I was brave, but only brave enough that I took the feathers back out while walking through the city, but would turn my purse around so the feathers were facing in when I was in a park... yeah, I'm a bad ass.

Later research shows, its not just me:

Crows in Japan

Here are some relevant excerpts from that sight:

Crows are particularly aggressive in the spring nesting season when they defend their territories from perceived intruders. At that time of the year there are hundreds of reports of crows swooping down and attacking from behind, kicking and pecking their victims head. Occasionally they draw blood.

Crows have largely lost their fear of humans. Attempts to shoo them away are often futile. The crow simply hop a couples steps out of harms way. Mothers are so fearful of crows they clear their children out parks when mobs of crows show up. People have been hurt falling while pursued by crows and even seriously hurt after being struck by a vehicle while fleeing.

An exterminator who takes down about 250 crow nests a month in the spring told the Washington Post, "People are scared by these crows. They are big, black, with big beak, and kind of scary." One 38-year-old housewife told AP, "When I see a crow, I usually run away."

Vanessa: "Jesus Christ!"

Crow Problems in Sapporo Area

Back to the botanical garden's:

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Here is the Canadian garden:
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And the best rock garden I had seen yet in Japan:
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And here is the taxidermy house:
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And the rose garden:
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And then a series of herb plots:
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I could have stayed longer because there was so much to see, but the sun was getting low, and I wanted to make sure that I got on my train to Abashiri with time to spare. I was a little tired of rushing at night to figure out where I was supposed to be. So without any need to delay, I crossed the street and saw the former Hokkaido government office building.

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I obviously was hitting it from the back, but just like the travel guides said, it was really apparent that it was the governor's mansion. The architecture was just all so very wrong to find in Japan.

The gardens around the sides of the building:

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And then I was off. I went back to the hostel and picked up my gear, then made my way back to the train staiton:

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Very cool looking during the day. But before I left, I took my roomy from this morning's advice, and I went to the police just outside the train station. I explained (using my Japanese picture phrase book), that I had lost my "bideo kamora" in Nagano, and was wondering if they could contact the Nagano police and see if anyone turned something in. We finally discovered that I must have left it at the train station, and that the train station (just behind us) would probably be of better assistance to me as they have multilingual staff and were the ones who would most likely know about the camera. So this really nice older cop took me to the lost and found desk, explained to the man there what my issue was to the best of his understanding, and then we all waited there together for a woman who spoke english to come and help me. Once she arrived they waited while I explained my situation to her. She smiled, and very quickly translated. "Very good!" The officer told me as he complemented my Japanese since apparently he had a similar working story already in his head from my poor description. Then the woman got on the phone and called the Nagano train station. They said they would call her back, and until that time, she led me to some sofas to wait. She talked to me for a good long while about what we could do if the train station didn't have it, and she gave me a phone number I could reach her at as I was leaving Sapporo pretty much as soon as Nagano called us back. Everyone was being really helpful like the woman from this morning told me they would be, and so I settled down a bit, knowing I was doing everything I could right now short of dropping ever getting to see Hokkaido and just high tailing it back to Nagano. The station called back, and they had no news about the camera, but they would now be looking for it and checking lockers to see if it was left behind inside. She wanted to stay with me longer, and work out some sort of plan, she didn't know what plan she could come up with, but she was determined that we could talk and talk until the video camera just magically appeared, and she wouldn't rest until that happened! I told her that she had already done all she could, and not to worry, and that I was sure that when I would make it back to Nagano something would click and I would remember where I left it. This seemed to satisfy, so she let me go and board my train. Very, very nice, but still, very depressing, I had such hopes, but I also knew better.

On the slow train to Abashiri the weather took a turn for the worse, and I was glad I got all my Sapporo touring done while it was sunny and beautiful. The cloud cover was a steady light grey, and occasionally it would drizzle just enough to let me know it was raining, but not enough to ruin my view out the window. There was one point when we were driving past a huge lake and I saw these trees growing from out of the lake, only the tops showing, as if they were bushes just floating by, that inspired me to write poetry. God, I haven't written poetry since, well, I couldn't remember. Sometimes when life is too busy, stressful, or nice even, poetry just doesn't flow. A rainy day while on a train by yourself after your partner just left you or you left him, whatever, you were free... is free the correct word, I was probably going for something else, like separate, but free seems to express the feeling you need to have for poetry, and separate just comes with the territory.

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How unique this tree
Born against the water
Solitude for health

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None of those pictures were what I saw out the window, but I feel that the combination of the 6 gives the idea of the rainy lake scene I was inspired by to, yes, write poetry.

Arriving in Abashiri I got soaked as I walked to June's place. Her directions were good, but I got messed up on the last part, and so, as usual, I had to get retrieved. "Just stay where you are, I'll come and get you!" She was so awesome. Here she came, running down the road in her cutoffs and no shoes. "Come on!" She rushed with me back to her place. There she totally made, no forced, me to feel at home, and the two of us stayed up talking for almost the whole night. She got my entire life story, and seemed really really interested! I even asked her to give my voice breaks, so I heard all about her life and living in Japan. Then, she wouldn't have me going to sleep depressed, so she made me look up the phone number for Mc Donalds (I know, I never go to Mc Donalds, but for some reason I just remembered I stopped in there for some unknown reason, b/c it couldn't have been for food, could it?) and she also made me look up the phone number for the Toyooka Hotel (the one where I stole free internet). I couldn't find Mc Donalds number for the life of me, only USA numbers, but I did get the Nagano Toyooka Hotel. "Okay, had me the phone!" She told me her Japanese was rudimentary, so she wasn't promising anything, but she would give it a go. Then, out of left field, she started speaking in what I understood as perfectly fluent Japanese. Sure, she did it slowly, and with acute pronunciation, but she had good sentence structure, a vast vocabulary, and she never needed to ask for clarification of what the other end was saying. The only thing she would say that let you know she was in fact having to try a bit, was she would interject "Slowly please, very slowly" as Japanese people have a habit of speaking really fast, especially when they know you speak Japanese, and are not just relying on a phrase book. I followed along with her conversation as best as I could, and I almost cried when I heard her say "Sugoi!" over and over again, she just kept saying "Wonderful, amazing, I can't believe it, wonderful!" They had my camera! No, fuck it, I cried. I had her tell them I could come and pick it up in 2 days if that is okay, and they said they would hold it for a week! June literally jumped out of her chair and came down to the floor and hugged me! It was like I knew her all my life. I don't think I have connected with a couchsurfer so well in all my travels. And on top of being an immediate friend who I could gossip with until the sun came up (we both agreed that we were too lazy for that and needed at least 7 hours of sleep to be happy), she was a life saver! Now, I could go to Shiritoko tomorrow, and enjoy myself knowing that I would get my camera and all the memories stored in it back. ^_^*

Posted by - Rain 20:07 Comments (2)

There was this Train...

Today, I hopped the train to Hokkaido, and it was long. I transferred trains a few times, so I was able to gain access to some quick snacks and fill up my water bottle, but that was about it. Travelled through much of the country that was hit by the recent tsunami/ earthquake, so I didn't actually meet anyone from those areas. Much of the land I passed through was farm, but more towards the eastern seaboard are the industrial cities. I tried to stay awake for most of it, but I was far too sleepy, and the scenery was far too unchanging. When we started getting into some interesting costal towns almost at the top of the main island, I went to get out my camera to take pictures of the strange and beautiful shingled rooftops... but my camera was nowhere to be found!!! It wasn't in my things, my video camera was gone! I still had all my videos from Toyooka on it! This was the part that made me sick, Joe was so excited about going back to Toyooka so he could do forms in front of the basalt formations, and I lost the video camera! This was just like what happened in Hawaii, except in Hawaii we still had the video camera with the 40 gig hard drive, I had just erased it for no reason after transferring the videos and pictures to my computer and back up hard drive. This was terrible, I truly didn't know what to think of myself. And now, without Joe's camera, I had nothing to take pictures with, except for my shitty camera phone. At the next stop I looked around for disposable cameras, but there were none, nor had I ever noticed any in Japan previously. Damn Japanese and their technology! Too good for shitty disposable cameras!

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The Shinkansen line stops before you make it all the way to Hokkaido, so we switched to a semi-fast train in Aomori, and thats where I noticed that the advertisement on the back of the seat ahead of me didn't look like an ad at all. A closer look showed me that for the next leg of the journey, we would travel under the sea of Japan! I should have realized that there wasn't a bridge between the two islands earlier... but this came to me as a surprise:

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I would later discover that the Seikan Tunnel "is both the longest and the deepest operational rail tunnel in the world, although the Gotthard Base Tunnel in Switzerland will be longer when it opens to traffic in 2016."

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That fact did not quiet my disdain for the situation at hand however. So, deep breath, and now, for the next half an hour, I wait, breath, and try to close my eyes, tell myself that I am not in a deep dark tunnel under the ocean...

Deep breath, don't panic!

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While we wait, here are some pictures I looked up on the internet of my previous travels this morning coming from Tokyo through the Tohoku region of the Honshu island (the largest island out of the 4 that make up Japan).

The day started out so promising:

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(Nice wheels)

And when we were coastal to start out, we traveled through some of the industrial cities.

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Then sunny sunny Japan let me fall asleep to beautiful landscapes that I eventually got tired of watching because they were so endless...

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Here are some in the overcast, but the day I traveled it was beautiful and sunny.

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And then we came to the lovely costal towns with the rooftops I wanted to take pictures of, but then realized that my camera was in fact, missing.

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And then, it came, the train operator came over the loud speakers to warn us that the tunnel was coming... first in Japanese, for a very long time, then briefly in english, straight, to the point. Here it comes, get ready for the longest, darkest, furthest underwater tunnel you will probably ever travel through:

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I tried reading, but my peripheral vision kept telling me that I was in a tunnel that could collapse at any minute, fill with ocean water, and kill us all... That was also what kept me from being able to sleep. So I settled for closing my eyes, and thinking about the story me and the Kung Fu'ers were writing. This was slightly empowering, and distracting. I came up with some nice moves for the Autumn (based on my little sister) and Reivan (based on me) fight. And then, after a little more panic, it was over, and we were out!

The sun was already beginning to set, so I was getting a little bit worried, but I continued on my way to Sapporo (yes, like the beer). There is no Shinkansen on the north island of Hokkaido, so we now switched to slow trains, and if it wasn't already impending darkness when I arrived on this island, it was black by the time I finally made it to my end destination where I looked up how to get to the hostel. This is almost what it looked like in the town of Hakkodate when I arrived:

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It was a bit lighter, but you could still see all the street lights lit up, so yeah, I wasn't getting off here and trying to find a hostel. I decided if I was looking for a hostel in the dark, it was going to be the one I knew existed, and had basic directions to. Little did I realize, but when we switched trains in Hakodate... we moved to the very slow local trains. I didn't manage to hit Sapporo until after 10pm, and then I got lost, as usual. Thankfully I wrote down the number to the hostel, and someone picked up! She talked me through some confusing directions about which way to walk up the street, then silly land marks to follow, and there were just too many subway stations to tell which one she was referring to, so eventually she had me just wait at the station I originally got off at, and she came and picked me up. I wondered around trying to find this place for about an hour. Once she found me, it took us maybe five minutes to walk to the hostel. Problem was you had to cut through a courtyard to find it, so the street was more of a people path, and the building was mostly not a hostel, but the hostel operated the bottom right corner... very confusing. But I got in before the office closed at 11! (Just barely) And they got me all settled in an extremely nice room! The place used to be a hospital, and now it was only part hospital, part hostel, and so the rooms still had the drag around curtains for privacy. I shared a room with 4 people, 2 of whom didn't show, so it was me and one other person. She was already asleep, so I quietly locked my gear in the bedroom lockers, then I quietly pulled my curtains around my bed. And the best part was, the beds were not hospital beds at all! They were the fluffiest, warmest, most wonderful beds ever! There were several gorgeous sheets and feather comforters cloaked in embroidered duvets, and I swear they fluff their pillows everyday! Quickly I went down the hall to the bathrooms like in a dormitory, got ready for bed, and then had one of the nicest sleeps of my life!

Posted by - Rain 18:06 Comments (1)

Dalai Lama

The next morning I woke before the sunrise, turned off my watch alarm, and took a quick shower. Without waking a soul, and I collected an umbrella from the front door bin that was filled to the brim with umbrellas (I didn't take the nice blue one Shelly insisted I take last night, but a transparent plastic one that was on its last leg... see, unlike Shelly's family, I didn't expect anything nice to last on my travels). It was raining outside as I boarded my train back to Nagano, but inside I felt like sunshine. Joe and I parted on good terms, and I didn't have to say goodbye as I left the house. I just said good night, and see you around, then spent the next 6 hours in the same room, silent, and peacefully asleep.

When I reached Nagano I shoved my backpack in a locker, and I already knew which bus to catch to get to Big Hat, so I avoided any further confusion or delay, and I made my way to the stadium. There, I had a very interesting time trying to talk to the people in the parking lot booth, and they eventually called over someone who spoke english. Well, at least he thought he did. He used a plethora of large vocabulary, however inappropriate the word may have been to convey his meaning, and I almost preferred giving my Japanese another go... eventually I did. So between my poor Japanese, and his poor english, we finally understood each other, and I got a ticket with a number on it, which when called in an hour, I could purchase my real ticket to get inside. It was only 1500 yen, so about 15 bucks, not bad.

Waiting for the tickets to be handed out:
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Now I wanted to get cash and some breakfast. I got some poor directions on where to find an ATM, and eventually I just followed the throngs of people heading away from the Big Hat stadium. This, fortunately, led me to a mall where I was able to pick up some breakfast and snacks from a mini grocery store, get some cash from the ATM, and buy some coffee. Then I headed back to the stadium, and waited in a pile of people all crowding around the ticket booth. I was number 126, so I hung back a bit until they hit hiyaku. Then I bought my ticket, and they sent me along a long rope linked fence around the outside of the building and into the building under the dome.

Last photo before they confiscated my video camera:
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Here they collected all camera's and personal belongings, put a tag on them like your checking your coat at a theater, and then sent you back outside to enter the main doors. At the main gate I was stopped by the police b/c I still had food and drink. Here, like a good bum, I drank and entire 1.5 liter of V8 juice, ate 2 bananas, and a thing of yogurt. I kept offering my food and drink to the officers, but the just laughed and said that they couldn't. Oh man, after that, I promptly found the ladies room.

Back in the oval that encompasses the stadium we all waited for them to open the doors to let us into the main auditorium. There were people selling food, prayer beads, and Dalai Lamma books for us to browse through, and then, 10 minutes before the lecture was to start, they let us in. Almost all of the ground floor already had people seated in fold outs, and I would say only about half of the bleachers were full. However, we paid for the last minute standing room only tickets, so we were not allowed to go anywhere near the seats. I even got yelled at for moving down along the railing to get closer to the stage. Apparently #126 was to be positioned near gate D as it said on my ticket, which wasn't a bad place, seeing as it was directly in front of the stage... but it was also the furthest position away from the stage. Oh well.

They started off with a video on the big screen above the stage of all the monks making a sand painting, and there was commentary over the video, but it was all in Japanese. You figured they could make the subtitles in English, but I guess since we were in Japan, why bother? There was a couple a few people down from me who were also white, but we were about it. Then the Dalai Lama came out. He spoke "a broken Xining language which was (a dialect of) the Chinese language" and then after about 5 minutes, he would stop, and allow this woman who was furiously writing down everything he said, translate. She usually took about twice the time as the Dalai Lama took, to say exactly the same thing, and at a faster pace still! About an hour into this, he had gone a little crazy, and the audience with him. But what could you do? They needed to give everyone headphones with the translation speaking into their ears in real time as they did in the Kyoto Gesha show, but it was a little late for that. While she translated into Japanese he sat there at first, calmly, respectfully, but as time progressed, he became more and more comical. At some points he even burst out into laughter because he would think it was time for him to start talking again, and then it would turn out she was just taking a breath before another long, fast paced speech in Japanese. Occasionally you could tell he made a joke about 10 minutes earlier when the translator would finally catch up, and then the whole audience would burst into laughter. The Dalai Lama found the delayed reaction amusing as well (a very light hearted man from the looks of him). T

A video to let you know what he was like (no, this is not from my same lecture, but of a lecture he gave to a group of Buddhist monks):

And yes, during my lecture, he also wore his matching red cap.

Below is an Akido Sense's summarization of the lecture I went to, in better words than I could say because I did not take notes, hoping I could find his lecture online fully translated (I have not found this yet, so if anyone has any ideas, let me know).

Joseph Pielech
Kokikai Aikido
Nagoya, Japan

Several weeks ago I was fortunate to attend a lecture delivered by His Holiness, the 14th Dalai Lama in Nagano City, site of the 1998 Winter Olympics. The lecture began with a recitation of Hannya Shingyo, a core surta in Mahayana Buddhism and Zen in particular. Following the recitation by the crowd of some 5,000 people the Dalai Lama spoke regarding various elements of Buddhist thought and philosophy. Although Tibetean and Japanese buddhist traditions are different, the Dalai Lama addressed several issues related to modern life and the challenges that we all face in our daily lives. Throughout the lecture, His Holiness continually refered to 3 of our Kokikai Principles: relax progressively, keep one point and developing our positive mind. I would like to offer a summary of what he said and how it relates to Sensei’s teachings.

The Dali Lama spoke at length about the need for all people to learn to relax. He maintained that one of the major contributing factors to personal turmoil, international disputes, terrorism and war was that people in modern society are too tense, too rigid and too stubborn. According to the Dalai Lama, when we learn to relax, we can see our problems more clearly and work positively not only to correct our existing problems but to also not allow them to be problems in the future. Essentially, what I believe he was saying was that only when we are relaxed we can be natural and it is only then that we can achieve our best, strongest state and reach our full potential.

Another element of the Dalai Lama’s lecture regarded developing our positive mind. According to the Dalai Lama, because the cause of our problems resides in the mind, the best way to help others and bring them peace is to help their minds. A human body and a mind full of potential give human beings incredible opportunities. This mind has the potential to attain any happiness we want, and by developing our positive mind, we can cause the temporary and ultimate happiness of others. It appeared to me that for the Dalai Lama learning to relax and developing a positive mind are inexorably linked and growing each of them in tandem, we can achieve some degree of inner peace. We can learn to be calm by discarding the impurities that exist in our minds.

A final element of His Holiness’ lecture dealt with keeping one point. The Dalai Lama spoke of ‘one point’ as the focal point for internal meditative and breathing techniques. By concentrating on this one point (hara, in Japanese) we can calm our breathing and focus more clearly on the task at hand. In addition to being relaxed and focus we not only benefit ourselves and our condition, but we can also benefit those around us by not reacting in a negative or disharmonious way...

In the middle of this lecture the Dalai Lama switched to English, and I got to hear the parts of his lecture on the Universe, and how it works with god, our minds, bodies, spirits, and all things. He also said that he believes that science does not disprove the existence of a god, but provides examples of god through different means than we are classically used to. Now, this is a translation of what his lecture meant through my understanding: Science is god; biology is god, chemistry is god, mathematics is god, life is god, emotions are god, material things are god, everything is god, even disbelief in god is god! So rather than thinking that the discovery: "god doesn't move the Sun around the Earth," disproves the existence of god; you now have another piece in the puzzle to learning how god works through he universe, because god still does! We were simply wrong about god spinning the Sun around the Earth, but that is not to say god doesn't exist, only that we didn't understand how god works. So science only helps understand god better, not prove that he doesn't have anything to do with us simply because we guessed how the universe works wrong.

Through all of that, he threw out some very large physics and philosophic terminology, and still apologized for his poor english. Sure, his english was slow at some points, and he puts his sentences together occasionally in a not entirely correct manner, but shit, so do I. I thought his english was amazing! Best I've heard in about 5 months now! (Well, other than Adam, but he doesn't count, he's Canadian. Oh yeah, and all the Europeans too, except for the Italian, I can't remember his name, but the Dalai Lama spoke better english. Okay, and the Brits back in Shinjin. Ok, hell, he spoke better english than most of the people I've met the past few months, native speakers notwithstanding.)

And then he asked the audience if he spoke in English, did he still need a translator? By a show of hands, he wanted to know how many people understood his english. I slowly rose my hand. The white couple down from me rose their hands too. A few teenagers raised their hands, as well as a few in their 20's or 30's, but I would say we made up for less than 10% of the audience. Now, the bad part... the Dalai Lama said that he believed that there should have been more hands. He told us that Japan is a wonderful country with so much to offer the world, yet most Japanese never leave their country! He said that Japan needs to get out more, fly to less prosperous countries and teach them what they know about being Japanese, being one of the most prosperous, innovative, and compassionate nations, they were not helping the global society the way that they could be. Namely, not enough of them know english! At this point I shriveled up a bit, and moved to the back wall to sit, allowing the Buddhist monk who sat behind me have my place. I offered it earlier, but he said that he could see over me while I sat on the ground. Now, I didn't want to be sitting on the top floor, hovering over the audience below as the white beacon of global domination even in their own country.

"Study English, and see the world to make contributions."

"Now, you should participate, wisely, (in) the outside world. But, the youth of Japan remain here, and (are having) some problems here. Go (to the) outside world! To Arabia, Africa, Latin America..."

"Japanese youth are (under) too much stress and lonely. As a result, some (commit) suicide. I heard that that rate is increasing,"

"Whether you like it or not, English is the universal language. Study English and go out. This is very important,"

He then joked that he doesn't like that english is the global language, and he would like it much better if his own version of Chinese was, but it is what it is, and we all need to adapt.

Then he held about 30 minutes of question and answer, and some of the younger people who were selected to go up to those mike pushed their question through the best english they could muster. He replied to all in english, so I got some of the ideas behind the dialogue. Mostly people asked about spirituality in their life, and specific problems that they were dealing with it seemed. I would say that about 80% of his answers began with "Thats a good question..." and then an admittance that he didn't know the answer. This was usually followed up by some chuckling (best way to describe is grandpa laugh), and then he would do his best to come up with something to say, even if it was only a path to take to find the answer, and not the answer itself.

Then one last time he made a call to learn english!!! And then reiterated, several times in different ways as he kept standing up, leaving the stage, then coming back, all the different reasons to do so! These were his closing statements (not as inspirational as they could have been, but he had been inspirational enough in his lecture, and this wasn't a speech, so he ended where his talk led him, not an outline).

After getting out of the arena I went and got my video camera back from "stuff check," and then headed back to the train station. I left my backpack in the locker because I wasn't heading to far down the line to get to the Olympic Stadium. I realized that it was probably also going to be disappointing, but I had some time to kill since it wasn't dinner time yet, and I didn't quite have time to see some other city now either today.

When I got off at the train stain in Nagano, but 3 stops down from the central district I thought the town was cute and homy. All the street lamps lining the strips of shops down their main street had stained glass sides on the left and right, and then on the front and back they had the symbol for the 1998 winter olympics! It was very cute, and they even had the street radio playing a nice set of classical songs. But once you left main street, you were back in Cleveland-esque simi abandoned industrial area with some dirty looking strip centers with take away fast food joints. I stopped for directions several times, but when the one guy told me I couldn't miss the place, he couldn't have been more true. The stadium stood out against the backdrop of mountains in a really cool way, and I knew why they picked this spot for the stadium, it was cool, except for the surrounding town. But hey, at least the Olympic stadium still has a nice park surrounding it.

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Toilets:
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Now it was nighttime, and I needed to find a place to stay. I went back to downtown Nagano, picked up my backpack, and then headed into the Toyooka Hotel (these things were at every major train station, real expensive, but they have free internet computers in the lobby). I asked how much, then asked if I could check the price with my boyfriend online, and they said sure. I told them that I had to wait for his response after I got online and checked out some hostels and see what Joe had planned for the evening, and maybe I could get in on a place with him since I had to go back through Tokyo to head up north. When I was done I told them I would come back after he meets up with me for dinner. Then I hopped on the train and headed back to Tokyo. I checked the internet at another hotel in Tokyo, but Joe didn't get back to me, so I got on a train back to the part of Tokyo we stayed at before with the cheep hostels. Luckily there was one spot left after the 3rd place I went to, and I tried to rest up because tomorrow was going to be a full day of traveling since I was going from Tokyo to the north island of Hokkaido.

Posted by - Rain 22:14 Comments (2)

Tokyo Kendo

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Morning video:

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From here we went in search of an internet cafe where Joe looked up Shelly's details again, and I looked up details on this supposed Dalai Lama visit, because none of the Nagano tourist information people seemed to know anything about it (very fishy). As it turns out that the Dalai Lama was coming to Nagano today, but he was only meeting with some 200 Buddhist priests at the Zenkoji Temple. Nagano was a city built around a temple, rather than a castle, so it was kinda important historically and spiritually. The temple invited the Dalai Lama to hold prayer at their temple, and then to give a lecture in the city. His public lecture was actually going on tomorrow afternoon at the Big Hat auditorium. So, technically, I had all day today to meet Shelly and her family, and maybe even get to see a real Kendo practice tonight as her husband is an instructor at her 2 little boy's school. We managed to get in contact with Shelly via skype, and she agreed to come and get us since we weren't too far away. So we waited for her, unfortunately, in this nice green area outside the train station (the one you can see from my videos crossing over the streets like the disney monorail); which was the designated smoking area. Here in Japan, they shun smokers, but at the same time as corralling them into designated areas, they make sure they are nicer than the surrounding areas, giving them feng shui for their relaxation with nicotine. Bitter? Who, me? Guess I'm not very empathetic.

Eventually she came on her bike (guess we really were close), and she walked us back through her inner city developments to her favorite donut shop. Here she absolutely refused to let me not get anything, and then to top it off, I couldn't pay for anything I got either.

Once we picked up breakfast for us and the boys, we began walking back to her place. She was astounded by all the stuff I carried, so she insisted we place our backpacks on her bike, and then she could wheel them back to her place. Luckily, she allowed me us to at least help steady and push the bike along. It was an absolutely gorgeous day outside, so it was unfortunate that we ended up spending most of it inside, but it was really nice getting to hang out in a Japanese house with her two little boys, and I think Shelly and I really hit it off with our gossiping about Japan, her sons, and her two nieces back living next to my mom; that we didn't even notice the time. After donuts and coffee (hot coffee, as Shelly made fun of her husban's like of iced coffee. In China and Taiwan it is every important to only drink hot drinks. This is good for your body and keeps you "looking young and beautiful." Shelly made a ta-daaa face while fraiming it with her open palms and batting her eyelashes... yeah, Shelly wasn't your average "Japanese housewife"); I got on the laptop to do a little planning for tomorrow, and then helped Shelly (for what I was allowed) to make lunch. Her two little boys, one about 9, the other about 5, were doing fairly well keeping themselves occupied, but the elder one wanted to pick up some more coloring books from the local store. Holding his little brothers hand and heading out the door, Shelly warned him to be back within the hour otherwise his lunch would be cold. I looked at her in shock, and she quickly eased my worry, telling me that in Japan, children are safe to travel on their own. The youngest boy was even upset that he wasn't allowed to ride on the train by himself yet, Shelly said maybe next year. I had noticed a lot of little children on the trains with us, but I always just assumed that someone put them on the train, and someone would be there to collect them off of it. But no, children in Japan learn to be self sufficient at a much earlier age than we do in the states, and since Japan is a much safer place, it is of no worry to the parents that they do so. And just like she said, the two little boys were back from the store, coloring books in hand, and nothing particularly interesting to report about their travels.

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The older one could speak english, but the younger one was only just learning. The older one could also speak Taiwanese, which was very impressive. Shelly was Taiwanese, but her husband was Japanese, making the boys automatic Japanese citizens. If it had been the other way around, and Shelly was the Japanese side of the family, they would not. That is how strict the laws are in Japan about being a citizen. If the parent is female, then they are not Japanese, they are the father's nationality! This is why Japan is not an immigrant country by any means. She said it was even hard for her living in Japan because people used to be able to tell that she wasn't Japanese once she started to speak, but now she said that they cannot tell she is Taiwanese, so it makes things easier socially. But still, she was way too rebellious and feminist to get close to many of the other house wives, so I don't think that she will stay permanently in Japan. And quite frankly, I think she misses Taiwanese food (it was very good). But she promised to take us to an amazing restaurant tonight after kendo practice.

She said that bringing the boys up, it was always a question of what their nationality should be. The eldest was born in America, so he could pick to be American, but his mother is Taiwanese, so he could choose that, and his father is Japanese, so he could elect that too! But once he choses a nationality, in Japan at least, that is it. If he doesn't pick Japanese, then he can never be Japanese. He could apply for citizen ship in Taiwan or America as an immigrant, but not Japan. The younger one was born in Taiwan. And all of these conversations about life, politics, religion, societal rights, etc, we had while watching the Madonna episode of a show called Glee. I guess it is a show based in my home state of Ohio. I have only ever seen TV commercials for the show, and a few posters with the characters putting an L on their foreheads. It was distracting, no, not distracting... eye catching. It was eye catching, but it never forced you to actually pay attention, so we easily carried on making lunch and talking about the word as we knew it. As seen on the show, the high school cafeteria served edible things Shelly couldn't describe as food. She said this was one of the reasons she didn't want to raise her children in America, she wanted them to know what good food was like... and traveling to Taiwan and Japan, I almost had to agree. They have real real food in Taiwan and Japan. Every dish is absolutely a masterpiece. No tots.

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When the father got home he got the boys ready for Kendo practice, and we all walked down the road to one of the best Kendo schools in all of Tokyo (which makes it one of the best Kendo schools in all of Japan, which then can be extended to being one of the best Kendo schools in all of the world... I was pretty excited). Joe recognized the name of the school, and its head Sense from a book he read at Corey and John's house they rented back in Hawaii called The 47th Samurai:

In The 47th Samurai,
Bob Lee Swagger and Philip Yano are bound together by a single moment at Iwo Jima, 1945, when their fathers, two brave fighters on opposite sides, met in the bloody and chaotic battle for the island. Only Earl Swagger survived.

More than sixty years later, Yano comes to America to honor the legacy of his heroic father by recovering the sword he used in the battle. His search has led him to Crazy Horse, Idaho, where Bob Lee, ex-marine and Vietnam veteran, has settled into a restless retirement and immediately pledges himself to Yano's quest.

Bob Lee finds the sword and delivers it to Yano in Tokyo. On inspection, they discover that it is not a standard WWII blade, but a legendary shin-shinto katana, an artifact of the nation. It is priceless but worth killing for. Suddenly Bob is at the center of a series of terrible crimes he barely understands but vows to avenge. And to do so, he throws himself into the world of the samurai, Tokyo's dark, criminal yakuza underworld, and the unwritten rules of Japanese culture.

Swagger's allies, hard-as-nails, American-born Susan Okada and the brave, cocaine-dealing tabloid journalist Nick Yamamoto, help him move through this strange, glittering, and ominous world from the shady bosses of the seamy Kabukicho district to officials in the highest echelons of the Japanese government, but in the end, he is on his own and will succeed only if he can learn that to survive samurai, you must become samurai.

As the plot races and the violence escalates, it becomes clear that a ruthless conspiracy is in place, and the only thing that can be taken for granted is that money, power, and sex can drive men of all nationalities to gruesome extremes. If Swagger hopes to stop them, he must be willing not only to die but also to kill.

When we got to class it was first only the small children, where the youngest child was still probably the youngest of the group.

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See that little one in the blue shirt? Yeah, he isn't part of the class. He is a baby brother that kept picking up things and running at the class, chasing them like it was a sword, and sometimes, when he could lift one, it would be.

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This kid was a menace, but so cute. The mom was also helped out by several of the other moms, including Shelly, by passing this little boy around to be held, because when he wasn't in someone's arms, he was charging the class.

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One of the drills they did was so adorable, I couldn't help but laugh the whole time. To get their lungs in shape and to work on their endurance, they had to run back and forth between the two far walls of the room, screaming their battle cries at the tops of their lungs! The kids were having so much fun doing this, it was fantastic! Wild eyes, and uninterrupted sprints for about 5 minutes made it for one of my most memorable experiences in Japan.

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Then it was the older kids class, of which both boys participated. Here, they got Kendo swords.

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You see that little one on the right? That's Shelly's youngest. ^_^* So cute and deadly!

My favorite drill they did at the end of this class was the one on one challenge. They lined up in 2 lines facing each other, then the first two in line approached the middle ground holding out their Kendo sticks. Completing the proper bows, the jumped into an on guard position and began screaming at the top of their lungs! The one who screamed the loudest and the longest in one breath was the winner. Yes, many of the kids did turn red in the face with strain. The instructor was particularly proud of one of the little girls in the class for winning, and Shelly leaned into me to tell me that was his daughter.

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Then it was the young adult class, and again, both boys participated. This class about a half dozen adults came to help with. One of them was this really proper sounding British lady. She seemed so off from the rest of the group who were all Japanese men. But there she was, probably about Joe's hight, but less than my weight, long blond hair, and perfect pale complexion, but once she fitted up in all the pads and Kendo helmet, it was hard to tell her apart. They had the children basically beating them in the head for about an hour! The kids got Kendo sticks, lined up against an adult, and then would charge at them, and the adult would bend over and give the kid a perfect target with their heads! This was good training for the kids to get to learn what it feels like to actually get a strike in, and its good practice for the adults to get some strikes against them, but keep focused and unfazed. Occasionally the adult would block their attacks (rather easily), and then give them a nice whack on the behind, but mostly they let the kids win.

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After a break, all the adults came in for their class, and the 2 little boys lined up to drill with them as well! I guess it helps when your father is one of the top instructors of the school. They did, I kid you not, 1,000 high kicks to warm up for the night. I was counting with the instructor as he called out the numbers in Japanese. This part of the class was quite boring, so as they hit kyu-ju-kyu, I figured the next one would be 100, and then they could move on. Nope. Well then, when they passed yon hiyaku, I figured they would only do one hundred more, reaching a nice round 500 kicks. After passing 500, I stopped paying attention to the count. I was grateful when they hit 1,000 and I think the instructors voice was grateful too. For the rest of the class you could tell the British woman was only a beginner as she was only allowed to practice specific sparing drills with her opponents, but it was very interesting to get to see all of them rotating through the different instructors, sparing sometimes quite impressively one one advanced would get paired up with another. But always loud, between the screaming and the stick smashing, I was getting a bit of a head ache. I went out of the room and joined the mothers in the lobby. They were all very impressed that I stayed in there for that long. ^_^* But I loved it so much, and became very excited about joining a Kendo school when I reached Australia. Best of all, I figured out that it was the same sword fighting they used for the light saber duels in the original Star Wars movies! Its Kendo! I leaned over and very excitedly told Joe about my realization, but I guess he already knew all about it.

Grant it, its really bad Kendo, but hey, the movies were really good, which is more than you can say for the prequels that had great martial arts but terrible story line, dialogue, and acting. Especially watch when Obi-wan kinda slaps Darth Vader's sword in little circles with the tip of his light saber. This is a common move that Kendo fighters use, and the move that actually got me to realize that this fight was choreographed by Kendo people in the first place. Its a classic move from the movie, and I believe that they use it as both a method to disrupt the other's planned movements, get the other sword off line and out of balance, and just to plane mess with the other person.

After practice we headed for the restaurant and got a table with its own iron cooker in the center. Shelly ordered for us as her husband got the soccer game on his phone. The two little boys were so excited to watch the game over their dads shoulder while we talked to Shelly. Then when the food came out Shelly would take the raw meat and vegetables, stick them on the hot iron, cook them in seconds, then pass them onto our plates. Every set of plates that came out of the kitchen, I would ask what it was, and Shelly would always reply that she would tell me after I was done with my dinner. This was a well thought out plan that she learned from having her nieces over. Apparently, my favorite dish was cow tongue. Who knew? It was sliced into thin peaces a little thicker than pepperoni, so you couldn't tell from looking at it (ps, pepperoni probably has cow tongue in it). The next in line for favorite dish I had a tie between the stir fried vegetables and the cow tale. Again, it just looked like thick pepperoni, but these ones had a small bone in the center. I probably just grossed out my entire family. ^_^* This is a 3 smiley face blog!

After dinner Shelly showed me where the shower was and a towel I could use because she knew I had to head out early to catch the morning train out to Nagano to make sure I got one of the few standing room only tickets still available to see the Dalai Lama, and then she looked at me surprised as she saw me take up the bed she made up for us on the floor, and Joe took the couch. He told her it was because he had a bad back, we still weren't mentioning to anyone at this point that we were separated. Yes, we could have slept together because of last night and all, but neither of us wanted to. We got our extra day together, which was all we really wanted, and we were sated from last night, so yeah, I think things were really working out very well for the both of us.

PS Thank you to Brittany, for if it wasn't for her, none of these pictures would be here. We forgot the cameras back at Shelly's place, so I took these photos with my phone. For some reason I couldn't or didn't download these pictures off my phone, so they remained there all the way to New Zealand. In New Zealand, Joe used my phone as a watch, and when it was finally time for him to fly home to Canada, he only returned the phone, the charger and usb cable were gone. So with no power to the phone... my photos were trapped. Brittany agreed to take the phone and get the photos off at the Sprint store, or somehow use cables and adaptors they had back in the States.

Posted by - Rain 14:18 Comments (2)

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