Sunday, August 21, 2011

Road Trip to Yamaguchi Prefecture

The weather has been nothing but rain for a week and looks to continue through the foreseeable future, unfortunately. It's like tsuyu (rainy season) all over again. Despite the weather, two friends and I took off for a 4 day road trip to Yamaguchi.

In August there is a holiday called Obon. On the first day (8/13) spirits of ancestors are welcomed back into the home with a lantern, a mukae-bi. On the last day (8/15), the spirits are sent out of the home when the lantern is sent down a river into the ocean, in a ceremony called okuri-bi. Recently deceased spirits are sent out in floats and taken to the water in a procession of bon odori dancers and fireworks. How is this relevant? Well, due to the three day holiday, companies give employees three free vacations days (apart from the normal use-anytime yearly leave). However, they must be used in August and consecutively. So, Obon has become a holiday of not only welcoming ancestors back home, but it's the time of year when people return to their hometowns- using their special vacation days. That being said, we used our 3 days and set out.

We rented a car (substantially cheaper than in the states) and our first stop was Shimonoseki, just across the straits separating Kyushu and Honshu. We headed up to a mountain outlook judged one of the best views in Japan, where we were able to see three bodies of water, the Kanmon Strait (separating the islands), the Inland Sea (to the south) and the Sea of Japan (to the north). During WWII, this spot was also used to fire and store artillery, so there were many bunkers and other shelters hidden under ground. It was pretty cool to walk around.

Next stop was fugu! We ate some blowfish sashimi and survived, phew! While it can only be prepared by highly certified chefs, most fugu nowadays is bred to be poison-free, so we were not really in much danger in eating it. It really wasn't anything special, not much flavor at all.

The next morning we went to a fish market at 4:30 in the morning. It was cool, but we got there way earlier than necessary. I got some nice pictures out of it though.

After a nice drive up the western coast, through some small towns, to and around a small island on a long bridge that is supposed to be over beautiful water (but we did it in a downpour so I can't say for sure), we made our way to Nagato. Here we went on a cruise to see beautiful rock formations around the island on Omishima. Luckily, the weather cleared up for this.

Down the road in Hagi, we saw the ruins of a castle, some old-preserved samurai houses where a coi river runs along and even through the houses. Back in the day, the water was used for washing and cooking, not sure if the coi lived in there then too... People were still using that water for their homes, we saw some tubes with siphon-filtration unit on it. The best part of Hagi however where the hands on activities we did. Hagi is one of the most famous Japanese pottery towns and we went to a shop where we were able to make our own cups on a wheel. Granted we were helped a lot by the teacher, they turned out awesome and I can't wait to get it (in the mail, it had to go in the kiln). The teacher liked us so much, he gave us each a cup which would usually cost around $30 or more for free! But wait! There's more! We also went to a glass-blowing shop and got to make our own cups there too! That was really cool also. I have to say though, I liked making the pottery better because I got to get my hands dirty and felt like I was doing more. When I get the cups I'll put the pictures up.
On the final day of our journey we headed to mid-Yamaguchi where we went to the biggest cave system in Japan. It was pretty awesome. The cave was huge and the limestone formations were spectacular.

Next we went to Safari Land, a drive through zoo. While I tend to dislike zoos because the animals usually don't look happy, I was so excited. I thought maybe since they weren't really in cages they'd be happier. I was kind of right? It felt like we were in Jurassic Park with huge electric gate system, controlled by a man in a watch tower and the animals could frolic about as they pleased, for the most part. It was cool to see animals interact, but most of the animals were sleepy (namely the big cats, but when are cats not sleepy), and not frolicking as merrily as I imagined they would be. There was also a petting zoo area with ponies to ride, kangaroos to play with and my favorite, baby lions to hold. While I did feel bad about succumbing to the tourist trap and the servitude of the poor baby lions, it was pretty great to hold him! He was so cute and fuzzy!The final stop on our trip was to a micro-brewery in Yamaguchi city. Probably the biggest complaint of foreigners in Japan is the low-quality of the beer. I'm no beer connoisseur so I can't say much on the topic myself. Micro-brews for the most part are unheard of and are very hard to find. There are good local brews, but my friends were not a fan of this beer (I didn't have any, as I was driving and drivers can't drink at all). The view was beautiful though and the pizza as very delicious!

We concluded the trip with a drive along the southern coast, with a stop by the water where we found some bioluminescent creatures floating about and on the sand.

Back to the grind at school this week, classes start again in next week.

Friday, August 12, 2011


Thank goodness it's summer. With all the new ALTs coming to Omura, I've been a busy bee, helping them get cell phones, home goods, etc. However, I was able to spend some mornings with my junior high's swim club. Many of the students swim in a club outside of school, so I only swam with 4 of the kids. But it was fun! The teachers in charge of the club were really excited to have me there, so I taught the kids some and made them some workouts. It was really great. Plus, I got some sun. I'm going to try to continue going throughout the year.