It’s been a while since I last posted on here (Eight weeks in fact!). Computer trouble requiring me to post my laptop back to Tokyo for repairs left me without a computer for about 4 weeks, and then after I started my job (YES, I found one!) I was too busy to write anything. but now with some downtime on my days off, here it is, with a short video of the time since I left Tokyo.
Kofu and Mt Fuji (Kawaguchiko)
As i mentioned in my last post, towards the end of January I had my first couchsurfing experience in Japan. I was traveling from Matsumoto to Shizuoka via Mt Fuji, and Yuto was kind enough to invite me to Kofu, which was on the way.
Yuto met me at the train station, and that night we went drinking at his bar that he works at (Hops and Herbs), a part of the Outsider Brewing craft beer company (owned and run by an Australian).
That night Yuto had to work so Yuto’s girlfriend Mimu and I went and had sushi for dinner before going to a beer hall type place, then we met up at Hops and Herbs and had a few more drinks there with Yuto behind the bar.
The next day we tried to go hiking. Unfortunately there was way too much snow so we went to a nearby onsen instead (hot spring bath-house) which had an outdoor pool surrounded by snow. After a quiet night, Yuto, Mimu and I drove to Kawaguchiko, where I would spend a very quiet three nights at K’s House Hostel. Before parting ways, we visited the lookout where a Pagoda overlooks an amazing view of Mt Fuji, a very iconic image of Japan.
I left Kawaguchiko for Shizuoka city, where I arrived at about 6pm and met my Couchsurfing host Noe at the train station. I couchsurfed with Noe for three nights in her apartment.
On the first day Noe had to work so I went in to Shizuoka to explore the city. I managed to find an old Japanese guy throwing a boomerang in the park, he was struggling big time to get it to return to him, so I gavce him a few tips in English, but it definitely got lost in translation!
I met up with Noe again later that night and we went drinking with her friends at an Izakaya that night. It was a lot of fun talking with them in English and Japanese, and the next day we went and got Indian for lunch and to the Onsen nearby. That night we made sushi together and I ate Natto for the first time.
(Natto is literally fermented soy beans. Many people find Natto to be horrible, personally I think that it smelled like socks, and the flavour isn’t so strong. Before eating, the Natto is stirred, which creates a cheese like web of natto string and seems to increase the smell of the Natto, making it more pungent)
After couchsurfing in Kofu and Shizuoka, I was really looking forward to couchsurfing in Nagoya, and it was equally as great an experience. I was staying with Rie & Katsu and their two year old son Yuwa. It was really nice to stay with their family.
On my first full day in Nagoya, I just had a quiet day and a look around the city, the Central Park area, Sakae and the Planetarium were all really impressive, the planetarium building is amazing!
On the 31st January, I checked out Nagoya Castle and its surounding gardens. Also, because it was Sunday there was a dance performance in Nagoya Central Park. It was a disco group dance competition, and really interesting. That night I met Rie and her family for the first time.
For dinner Katsu cooked Yaki-Soba and taught me how to cook Takoyaki (fired Octopus balls), and 2 year old Yuwa wasn’t letting me cook them alone, helping me stir the batter and dropping the octopus in each ball.
On 1st February, I hiked the 10,000 steps in Higashiyama park. I had arranged to meet up with Asakofor dinner , who my family hosted as an exchange student back home near Melbourne almost 10 years earlier.
The next day I met up with Kayo and Kana, who had invited me to Tokugawa-en park for the day and an Okinomiyaki class that night. The class was taught in Japanese and I was the only foreigner in the class who couldn’t understand the sensei, luckily there was some english instructions and Kayo translated the rest for me!
My okinomiyaki wasn’t so really interested on holding itself together, but it still tasted quite good, and for the 500 yen (AU$7) they gave each of us a gift of Oknomiyaki sauce, Yaki-soba sauce and Japanese mayonnaise, pretty good value considering!
The 3rd of February is a cultural celebration called Setsubun, the day before the beginning of spring. For setsubun, Rie and Katsu had a party at their home. There are a few Setsubun rituals, for the first, Katsu dressed up as Oni, a mythological demon and broke in to the house in an Oni mask, after which we all threw soybeans and shouted “Demons out, luck in!”. The other rituals are to eat one soybean for each your of age, plus one more for the year ahaead, and also to eat a large sushi roll in silence, while facing a particular direction.
Setsubun was a good way to finish my time in Nagoya, before heading to Nara.
On the 4th February I caught the local train to Nara, where I would spend three nights. I had been relatively busy for the previous week and hadn’t used my laptop recently, but when I got to Nara and tried to use it, it started playing up, this was the first time I noticed the problem. I figured I’d be able to sort it out, but it would just take some time, so figured I would leave it until I got to Osaka.
The train ride was very different to any other I had taken even to this day. It was a single car train that winded up through the mountains, like a bus but deviating away from roads and towns for long stretches. Half way through the trip an old guy who was sweating all over boarded the train and sat opposite me and took off almost all his clothes, his shoes and socks and hung them up in the train, making himself very comfortable.
In Nara I visited the deer park, the Pagoda and the town itself, spent one night drinking in the hostel with a couple of South Korean guys who were kind enough to give me a bottle of Korean Soju and invite me to hang out in Busan when I arrive later this year. On my last day in Nara I met up with Amane, a Nara local who I met through couchsurfing, and we explored the old town of Nara and a couple of city lookouts.
It was also about this time that I applied for a job with Bungy Japan. I had been searching a few job sites looking for almost anything except English teaching, which just doesn’t interest me. Unfortunately, 90% of the jobs available are for English teachers. But the Bungy Japan job sounded more to my interest.
Osaka (& Kobe)
I didn’t have any luck finding a Couchsurfing host in Osaka, so I arrived at Hostel Teltel Bouzu in the middle of Osaka city (Namba area) on 6th February. The place was really nice, but very quiet, so I spent some time in the common area trying to fix my laptop, to no success. After being quoted $200 for repairs from a nearby PC repair shop, I decided to ship it to Tokyo for repairs under warranty, and Tatsuya from Teltel was very helpful in arranging this. Teltel was a bit expensive and quiet so I relocated to Hotel Toyo Backpackers, a little further out of town.
Hotel Toyo was an excellent place to stay, I was pretty happy to have some downtime and sort my next move out a bit, and Hotel Toyo at $20/night for a private room was perfect to slow down a bit. It also had a good common area so I started cooking some of the japanese recipe’s I had learned rather than eating out every night.
On 8th February I went to the Umeda Sky Garden, a really impressive building with escalators spanning across a round opening suspended between two towers. The building itself had an observation deck with a lot of information on previous historical structures from around the world. Anyone who knows me knows that I find construction history pretty interesting. There is also a rooftop viewing deck, which gives amazing views of Osaka City and the river and harbour.
That night I met up with my Finnish friend Carolina, we went to a famous Yakitori Izakaya chain called Torikizoku, where everything is 280 yen each (roughly $3USD). The next day we went out again, this time in Japans most dangerous suburb Shinsekai, which by international standards is safe as houses. Again we found a Yakitori style restaurant and wandered around the streets a bit and found a busker with drum kit and boom box attached to his bicycle!
The next day I went to Osaka Harbour, I just really wanted to see the Ocean, even if it wasn’t a nice beach. There was a shopping centre, ferris wheel and Aquarium there, but I just watched the sunset and returned to Toyo, which had by this stage a second Finnish resident Emi, so the three of us and a few others got reaaaally drunk together in the common room until 3am.
Earlier in my trip, I had arranged a workaway, renovating and living in a hostel in Otsu (near Kyoto) for the month of March, and then a second workaway in April in Shimoda. So at this stage my plan was to see Osaka, go to Kobe, then Okayama for the naked festival Hadaka Matsuri, and to Hiroshima before heading back up North to Kyoto and Otsu at the end of February, picking up my repaired PC in Osaka along the way.
However, I had to change my plans after being awarded the job with Bungy Japan! The job was to start on 1st March in Gunma prefecture (near Tokyo), so I cancelled the workaways and also my plans for Hiroshima and Okayama, and booked a few nights in Kyoto from the 17th February, with plans to also meet a friend from Melbourne in Tokyo for a couple of nights on my way to Gunma.
On my last day in Osaka, I did a day trip to Kobe, where I visited Nunobiki falls which was a good hike and fairly peaceful in the middle of a city, and also Kobe chinatown, which was repetitive, tacky and overrated. However, I did managed to get featured on the Kobe version of Humans of New York, called Hazime Mashite (japanese for ‘Nice to meet you’).
On leaving Osaka, I visited Teltel Bouzu to thank Tatsuya for assisting with my laptop repairs and also to help me arrange for delivery to Gunma (my soon-to-be work address) instead of Osaka. Once that was sorted I took the local train to Kyoto and checked in to K’s House hostel on recommendation from my friends who had stayed there six weeks earlier.
K’s house, like most others in Japan is an awesome hostel, with a really big comfortable common room, in house bar, etc.
On my first full day in town I went to the Fushimi Inari Shrine and hiked the Tori trail over the mountains, an hour long hike up around the mountain through hundreds of Tori gates, its really pretty amazing to see the amount of work that has gone on here to install all the gates. After this I visited the Vermilion Cafe, a ‘Melbourne style’ cafe with the best coffee I’ve had in Japan.
The next day, the 19th, I hired a bicycle from K’s House and cycled to the Golden Pavilion, Arashiyama Bamboo Grove, and Arashiyama town, and also visited the monkey reserve there.
I was in Kyoto for seven nights, but definitely felt I was just killing time by the end, waiting for the commencement of my job with Bungy Japan. I spent the rest of the days just walking arond the town, or reading my book (The Longest Walk by George Meegan). I also made friends at K’s House with some other working holidaymakers Benji and Yun, and spent the nights playing cards and drinking games with some of the other travelers there.
On the 23rd, it was time to had back to Tokyo to see one of my friends from Melbourne for two nights before heading to Gunma.