Thursday, May 31, 2007

Talkin' Terrific Tokyo

The Hato bus people offered to let us off in the ginza area upon the completion of our tour and we were quite curious to see the area, so though that it was a good idea. One of the places that caught my eye is the Kabukiza- the Kabuki theater. The building has classic written all over it and should be treasured as a building of tradition. Unfortunately, according the tour guide, the place will be torn down and a new modern building will be put in it's place. If that truly comes to pass, I say it is unfortunate.
That night we met up with another guy that had gone to school with Scott and Makoto and had a good laugh over more Izakaya food and a few beers.
Can't remember exactly where this spot is (shinjuku or Shibuya) but Makoto said that it is a famous place to go to meet up with your friends.
We concluded the day going to Akihabara and while we wanted to see some of the freaky people that hang out there- there were only a few people garbed up as popular Manga characters and the only Maids we saw worked for some service called Moe- where you pay to walk around with the maids. Well the picture didn't turn out so great but in the background you can see the Yodobashi Camera in Akihabara- a building that we thought might be a stadium at first. It's big.

Todd Tours Tokyo

Our next day, we woke up bright and early to take a Hato bus tour of Tokyo. The amazing thing is that we were able to do in a single day a lot of things that I never did in my full year living in Tokyo.
We started with a tour of Tokyo Tower- the Eiffel tower looking building in the heart of central Tokyo. Here Scott is enjoying the view of Tokyo using this state of the art TV technology (state of the art for 1978 that is...). The day wasn't too smoggy and we had fair visibility- no sign of Fuji-san today though.
After the tower we headed out to a Japanese garden (I can't remember the name) and we were shown the art of the Japanese Tea ceremony. A very peaceful and interesting tradition that is about enjoying the little sounds and some very strong tea!
Next we were ready to strap on our feed bags. We were transported to a Four Seasons Hotel and we were able to enjoy a truly delicious meal bbq'ed on a hot stone. It was great! Makoto, myself and Scott were quite giddy after such a delicious repast.
Next we drove around a bit and saw the outside of the Emperor's palace grounds. Then we drove around Tsukiji fish market and finally got to Ferry docks where we took a boat up the Sumida river to Asakusa temple. Asakusa is a very popular tourist spot and the street leading up to the temple is lined with a number of stalls selling everything from sembe to kimonos to running shoes.
At the end of the street is the main temple and pagoda. Here is Scott outside the main gate.

Finally the tour had come to a rest and all we had from our trips and all the new friends we made that day was our memories. It was a nice tour from the "pigeon bus"...

Friday, May 25, 2007

Todd Takes Tokyo

My friend Scott had to go to Shanghai on business and was able to squeeze in 4 nights in Japan. Unfortunately 4 nights just wasn't enough to come out to Hamamatsu, so we had to meet up in Tokyo. Luckily it was a big holiday here, Golden Week, so I was completely free to go down to meet with him.

A little while ago, I had heard from a student of mine there was a new bus that runs from Hamamatsu Station to Shinjuku in the heart of Tokyo. The hotel that Scott had booked just so happens to be in Shinjuku as well, so I decided to save some money and bus it to the big T(only costs about 3700 yen-- about half the Shinkansen fare).As you can see from the header picture, Fuji was clear and there was a great view from one of the rest stops.

I left really early to ensure that I could met up with Scott in the early afternoon at the hotel, the Keio Plaza hotel. While walking around I was surprised by the line up for this new Krispy Kream donut shop in Shinuku. The lineup wrapped around in front and continued across the bridge to the right.
I got pretty tired of walking around and headed to the hotel around 1 pm. I hadn't checked his flight status, so missed the fact that his flight was slightly delayed- that coupled with the fact that he missed his first shuttle bus to the hotel meant I waited about 3 hours in the hotel lobby. One of the staff member noticed I was waiting a long time and the hotel manager offered to help me quite enthusiastically, he was a pretty funny guy. While I was talking to him, Scotty finally showed up.
After Scotty quickly checked his e-mail we hooked up with his high school buddy Makoto and ate all sorts of goodies like Horse and chicken liver and other staples of Izakaya food. We took a little look at the night scene around Shinjuku and called it an early evening.

Thursday, May 24, 2007

A Normal Post... :-)

It was really fun to recount the story of my mom and aunt's trip over the last several entries, and I had some more adventures last month that I will talk about starting next entry. But this time, I want to make a regular entry.

Well most of the people that are reading this already know, but it looks like I am going to be a dad! Of course we have had an idea this will happen for the last 2 or so months, but I wanted to wait out the first 3 months before really announcing it. Well at the 3 month (or is it 4- I am a little confused actually) checkup it looks like everything is proceeding as expected and Ritsy is indeed still bearing child. Wow! I am going to be a papa... I think it is still a bit surreal to me right now but it is starting to sink in!

Well what does that mean for me then? Ritsy will be able to take a year's maternity leave but will make a greatly reduced salary, so the two of us definitely need to build up our savings before then. While I had worked hard to make my schedule easier on myself in this year, I now have to step back into the fray a bit and work a little extra. So, I am working Mondays again for now and will probably take a few strange classes that I might not have before. I can live with that and should be able to have a little bit saved by time we have the baby. Ritsy should have a bit saved too, thanks to Bonus time coming up.

It looks like I might have to cancel plans for returning back to Canada this year though! That really sucks, I could use a little dose of Vancouver right about now. I had been planning to take the trip during Obon so that I wouldn't have to disrupt my schedule, but that would have meant that the trip would be a bit expensive, well that renders the trip basically improbable. That makes the recent visits from my mother, aunt and Scott more valuable to me, at least I did get a bit of a taste of home this spring!

Right now, I still have a bit I need to learn about the pregnancy process in general and how it works in the Japanese system. I will start my research soon!

Well either way, it is a new, exciting and welcome experience!

Thanks to the miracle of photoshop and an old picture of my sister and nephew Mac (sorry Tracey!) I have created a picture showing what our baby might look like. Cute eh?
One more bit of news- this coming Monday is my wife's birthday and I had already planned to take her out to dinner on Sunday. On Tuesday one of my students- Satomi was nice enough to give us a couple of tickets to see the soccer team Jubilo play on Sunday afternoon. That should be a fun day! I was really touched by my students thoughtfulness!

Okay next up.... Tokyo Times...

Saturday, May 19, 2007

Wrapping up....

After having a real great adventure tour guiding around Hamamatsu through their stay, the last day we had a few mishaps, but the ladies at least had a chance to see the real country side of Hamamatsu.
We have many times seen a sign around talking about Akiha shrine, so when Ritsy suggested going there, I thought it sounded like a great idea. The thing is that there is actually 2 Akiha shrines, the upper one and the lower one. The GPS pulled us towards the lower one - which I would guess is the less popular one. Above is shown the view from the parking lot.
The temple area is as shown here, quite small but peaceful. They had a really large shovel, but neither of my two pictures worked out, so I can't show it here. The sign talked of walking to the other shrine, a 45 minute hike. When we asked a local lady, she said it was probably more like over an hour. So we got into our car and tried to find the second shrine, but instead we ended up on one of the scarier roads I have been on. Mostly a single lane road that has mirrors on every corner so that you can see any oncoming traffic (oh- ya check out my pick for website of the week- the world's scariest roads). Because of the rainy conditions and the sheer slope of the hills surrounding the road I had a feeling that a rock could pelt my car at any minute. Well eventually we made our way out to a more normal, safe feeling road.
We stopped for a little Chinese food at Bamiyan then headed over to Flower Park in Kanzanji. The day was a bit rainy so I thought it might be a bit of a disaster, but the layout was quite lovely and the bulk of the interesting flowers were inside the greenhouse. I really learnt a lot of flower names, but I am already forgetting what each one looked like. That night we went to Sushiro for some kaiten sushi which the ladies really seemed to enjoy.
The end had arrived, the next day was the day to return home. We couldn't get the pictures to turn out well, so the top one was the best we could do- after taking this picture we headed to Hamamatsu station for a final coffee all together.
Poor Ritsy had her head cut off in this picture. Unfortunately the Starbucks and other coffee shops nearby are always so packed, so we found this nice bake shop in the basement of the station. Next Ritsy said goodbye and I escorted the ladies across to Narita airport. They felt bad I wanted to come out with them to say goodbye, but it is much easier to find the way if you have a guide and I remember Ritsy doing the same for me when I visited one time before, it kind of feels nice to have the company. Well I showed them how to find the cheaper Shinkansen ticket machines, and all that good stuff. Finally we arrived, they checked in, we checked out the shopping mall at the airport and we said goodbye.
That closed a great time, at least for me and I am sure that they also enjoyed themselves. The trip home felt a little anti-climactic and I was really glad to be able to show the ladies around this country. It actually probably helped me to more appreciate the greatness and beauty of this country- kind of a chance to bond again with Japan. Well, the fun wasn't over yet, my friend Scott was making his way to Japan about a week later...

Thursday, May 17, 2007


After we finished up at Kakegawa Castle, we hopped into the car and drove to Fukuroi to check out Hata-san. Hata-san is one place that I have been to a couple of other times, once on New Years eve 2 years ago and the other time to see the Sakura. Therefore, once again I didn't take enough pictures to do justice to this beautiful gem in Fukuroi city.

When you arrive, you have to start out on a 10- 15 minute walk through the woods until you finally encounter a wall of stairs. Of course I hadn't taken into account all the stairs we would have to walk and the poor ladies had to make the climb, but they did well and they enjoyed the pay off in the end.
I sound a bit like a broken record, but Hata-san is another example of the Japanese love for balance between the beauty of nature, the beauty of the Japanese architecture and the serenity that one enjoys from a clean and green environment.

I really enjoy going to Hata-san and I think the ladies did too. On the way out, I picked up some dango(rice cake balls with a bean paste topping) which is quite famous from this place.

Afterwards we made it home and the ladies made us some chili and Ritsy's sister Setsuko came over with some Chirashi rice. We enjoyed a very international meal and some laughs. Ritsuko's sister really surprised me, I had never heard her speak so much English before. Unfortunately we all realized the next day that we neglected to take any pictures together.

Monday, May 14, 2007

Kakegawa Castle

The next day was a light day, only two destinations really but both were a little further out. We started the day by heading out to Kakegawa castle, which is about 30 kms or so from my home. To get out there we had to travel through Morimachi - yes that's right Forest town. The ladies had mentioned wanting to buy some tea and maybe even a tour of a tea farm. Well it wasn't quite season yet (very close) so I remembered seeing a nice tea store in Mori town and we stopped off there on the way. The store was great, there was one lady that could speak a little bit of English so tried her hardest to help us out (apologizing for her poor English- though I thought it wasn't bad). They sat us down and gave us a sample of the tea and of a nice tea jelly. The free tasters are a nice touch, but I did feel like I had to buy something now that we had tasted. Anyway, she gave us a bunch more samples and answered our questions and we all left with a little bit of tea in our hands.
Finally we found ourselves at Kakegawa castle. The castle looks quite large and is strategically located on the top of a hill, offering a great viewpoint for the surrounding area. The literature there said that Kakegawa castle is the largest all wood reconstruction of a castle in Japan. It is quite beautiful and has a nice courtyard.The castle was also quite easy to defend as you can see in the picture my mother defending the castle against marauding samurai.
There is also a nice little park located next to the castle that made it quite a peaceful setting and in my opinion a little bigger and nicer than Hamamatsu castle.

Friday, May 11, 2007


After we finished off at Hokoji Hansobo, I was still determined to find the other shrine that I had heard of before in Inasa and the name Iinoya came to mind. So we managed to find it by searching out a restaurant in the area with the same name.
Iinoya in my opinion was a little small and a disappointment, but we wondered around and into the back area where there were some gravestones which my mother had taken an interest in. We could see another temple near the graves and we found what we had been looking for from the beginning, Ryotanji temple.

Ryotanji was very beautifully designed and featured an amazing Japanese style garden that is definitely worth a return visit to see again! I could see the lure of Buddhism as time and time again there is a showing of a love nature and a certain spiritual serenity to the settings that they build for worship.
Every new angle either showed the beauty of Japanese architecture or the beautiful Japanese love of nature, often I could see both at once.
From doing a quick search of the net I see that the temple is famous for it's carvings of dragons and the the boards in the temple are designed to 'sing like nightingales' when people walk on them. A great archaic alarm system. I actually remember hearing of that sort of floor board style in a temple in Kyoto (maybe chionin?) and thinking it was quite a clever idea.

Having enjoyed a great day of site seeing, we packed it in and made our way back to Chez Lowrey for a delicious home cooked dinner.

Wednesday, May 9, 2007

Hokoji Hansobo

Rain swirling down on our heads, I was next trying to find a famous temple in Inasa that a student had mentioned that I had forgotten the name of. We hopped in my car and I started searching frantically on my GPS and found a little picture on the screen, so I thought I had found the place. Whenever there is a little picture on the GPS it means that I have found a somewhat famous place. So we made our way out to the little icon on the map.
The place we had found was not the place that I was actually looking for, we would get there later in the day. The place we found was called Hokoji Hansobo. Despite the rain (and the lady at the entrance booth was so nice she offered for me to borrow her umbrella- but being the Vancouverite that I am, I refused it) we hiked through the lovely short walk through the woods to the main temple. The path was lined with the so-called gohyakurakan - I am not sure what rakan means but gohyaku is 500- so must be the 500 buddha statues, they were pretty neat.
Up some stairs and across a footbridge, we found our way to the main temple area and found the view quite beautiful. I especially thought that the pine tree sculpted as a bonsai was quite interesting. The area we saw was quite small, but I found it to be very serene and peaceful location.

We passed on a 30 minute hike to more buildings, though I definitely bookmarked this place for deeper exploration on a future date. The actual Hokoji Hansobo spans 60 acres with over 60 buildings. The place acts as the headquarters for the Rinzaishu Hokoji sect that has roots back to 1371.

We had accidentally stumbled across a hidden treasure that I knew nothing about! I was getting heady thinking I was a great tour guide- visions of quitting my day job and just touring people around the area.... Okay not really, but I was having fun exploring the area with the ladies!

Sunday, May 6, 2007

A restful day, Bentenjima and Ryugashido

After the hectic pace of walking in Nara, we had a mellow first day back in Hamamatsu. We drove around Lake Hamana down to Arai near where I used to work, then we stopped off at Bentenjima to see the Torii in the water. In the background you can see the Highway 1 bypass.
I then took them to witness the joy of shopping at Aeon Shitoro, the big box shopping mall that most people go to in this area. Here you can see the ladies picking out their favorite Hello Kitty merchandise. Ah... Kitty Chan!
The next day we took our way out to Inasa City to see the naturally formed caves. The man at the booth seemed pretty excited to see some foreign visitors and offered to take our picture for us, nice guy! I already have a bunch of picture from a previous visit (which will probably find their way into the blog one rainy day) so I only took two pictures. Here is the other one....
It was a nice start to the trip in Hamamatsu and a good break from the number of temples they had already seen. But of course I would take them to another temple next!

Kasuga Taisha (I'm back!)

I have spent the last 4-5 days in Tokyo (which I will get back to a little later- sorry for the backlog but it's fun to actually have something to blog about) so haven't been blogging, but I will continue with my tail of entertaining my mother and Aunt in the middle of last month.

On our last day we at least had a chance to visit the last World Heritage spot that is within Nara Park, Kasuga Taisha. Regrettably, I can't find the handout about the shrine- but it proved capable of matching the pure cleanliness, serenity and beauty of the other places we had managed to visit in our quick two day journey.
The ladies working at the Kasuga Taisha all wore a strange attire, that doesn't turn up so well in this picture, but it was definitely quite unique and piqued my interest. They wore wisteria in their hair, apparently the Wisteria tree is quite important to the shrine.

The shrine is also well-known for the many lanterns that hang around, they have been donated by worshippers throughout the years. Here is a beautiful young lady surrounded by the lanterns.
As we finished up there, we picked up our bags and strolled back to the station, it was time to say goodbye to Nara, and time for the ladies to get to know the Hamamatsu area.