Nagasaki Must-Sees – I Got 6 Recommendations For Ya

Hey, squad-fam! I’ve been watching a few historical biographies on people who have promoted peace post World War II. (In particular, NHK’s “Houses for Peace” video on Floyd Schmoe is absolutely heartwarming and worth the read.) So this time, I went through some old pictures of when my host family graciously took me on a trip to Nagasaki, and I figured I’d dedicate this blog post to Nagasaki; things to see and do in this historic, beautiful city.

1. Huis Ten Bosch
Huis Ten Bosch is a huge amusement park, but first and foremost, rather than go for the rides and amusements, I’d say it’s well worth the visit to see the massive tulips gardens and Dutch-inspired landscaping when the season is right. When I visited, I ate lots of castella cake (famous to Nagasaki), saw some performers and magicians, and saw some and went to a bunch of different events, too. At the time, they were doing a One Piece special, which is an anime that’s apparently still very popular in Japan.

2. Glover Garden
After Huis Ten Bosch, we said goodbye to Sasebo and then headed to Nagasaki city to do more sightseeing. The first thing we checked out was Glover Garden. Glover Garden is dedicated to Thomas Glover, a Scottish merchant and shipbuilder. The architecture there was heavily inspired by the West, and it almost made me feel nostalgic looking around at the different residences-turned-museum.

Nagasaki’s really cool in the way that it became home to one of Japan’s first ports that accepted imports and exports from other countries. And so it was really neat to see “Japan’s first bowling alley” or “Japan’s first tennis court” and other influences that would not have occurred if Japan hadn’t opened it’s doors when Commodore Perry made them in the 1800’s.

3. Oura Roman Catholic Church
Another interesting side-trip I requested we make was to Nagasaki’s Oura Roman Catholic Church, Japan’s oldest church and first western-styled building built shortly after the Nagasaki port was opened. There’s not a whole lot to say, other than it was definitely worth the visit, and absolutely beautiful! (Note: Pictures were not allowed inside the building, so unfortunately, the only thing I can provide is this official link: https://nagasaki-oura-church.jp/

4. Nagasaki Atomic Bomb Museum
Visiting the Nagasaki Atomic Bomb Museum was a very surreal, yet very concrete and almost oppressive experience. I took my time here, reading, learning, and ultimately failing to even fathom such destruction and pain caused by war. The photos and videos were informative but very painful to see (could not stomach the medical videos of radioactivity treatment).

5. Peace Park
I said many prayers to the victims and for peace, and then me and my host family headed to the beautiful Peace Park to get eased and to visit the infamous Peace Park statue. The statue’s pose, I learned, has meaning: the right hand points to the threat of nuclear weapons, the left hand symbolizes eternal peace, the mild faces symbolizes grace and prayer for the victims, and the folded leg and extended left leg symbolize meditation and the initiative to stand up and help other people of the world.

When I had gone to Nagasaki, spring was in full swing; the cherry blossoms were in full bloom there, so I got to take some lovely pics of my first Spring in Japan! I learned that Nagasaki is a generally rainy place, so a lot of my pictures were taken in the rain, too. :>

6. Dejima
Though this place isn’t as glamorous as the other five things I’ve listed above, for history buffs, I’d recommend Dejima since it was one of the only ports open that exchanged trade to other countries back during the Edo Period of Japan (roughly 1600s – 1800s).

Maybe this is all conjecture, but when you think about it, Japan’s still a baby country when it comes to globalization, given the fact that it’s only had its doors open to foreigners these past 400-ish years. Though a lot has changed since then, Dejima, I felt, has preserved a lot of its old-school charm.

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3 Places Worth Chillin’ At in Kamakura

I’ve noticed that the Kanagawa prefecture holds some of my favorite chill places in Japan so far. It’s close to the ocean, so the atmosphere is fantastic and it usually smells pretty nice, too… Unless you’re on a crowded train on your way to Kamakura. Then it doesn’t smell that good. 😀

So yes, it was very crowded! But like Danielles do, I took a walk off the beaten paths, while also getting a lot of temple/shrine seeing along the way.

1) Hansobo (Chill Level = SUUUUPER Chill)
First I stopped by Kenchoji, one of Japan’s five big Zen temples started by the Hojo clan. This temple was absolutely beautiful and included a garden tour and indoor tour to boot. But what really stood out for me was nearing the end of the temple to Hansobo, a small shrine tucked up in the mountains. The forest mountains and pathways were all lined up with trees, and the steps to get to the top were very steep, proving to be quite the trek. But the view and peacefulness made it all worth it.

2) Tsurugaoka-Hachimganu (Chill Level = Only Somewhat Chill)
Then it was back down and through Kenchoji to my next temple, Tsurugaoka-Hachimangu. This temple seemed to be the tourist’s favorite, as it was packed with people. As in, there were waiting lines to climb up the steps to the temple, and there were lines to get into the temple, and if you wanted to go into the museum part, you’d have to stand in another line for that. No thank you, said Danielle, and so she took her camera and wandered off someplace else.

BUT! The surrounding area to this temple was very nice and proved to be excellent for walking around and taking in your own sights. Another cool thing about this temple was – with people, comes food – all the candy and sweet stalls they had. I got myself a strawberry candy before taking off.

3) Kotokuin Great Buddha (Pretty Chill)
I walked around the shopping streets of Kamakura for a while (always gotta buy a souvenir) before making my way to Kamakura’s Kotokuin Great Buddha. I guess a first-time visitor to Kamakura can’t NOT visit this statue. It was – again – very packed with people (guess I picked a popular sight-seeing day), but again, once you got out to the gardens, bought your charms, and took your pictures with the statue, it really became a nice place to relax.

Next time I get the chance to visit Kamakura (or Kanagawa, at least), I’d love to see the summertime hydrangeas. I’m told that if I go around the rainy season, a lot of the temples there have really pretty hydrangeas in bloom. And I am all about that kinda life.

Lake Chuzenjiko and Nikko

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06/20/2015

One of my most memorable “hitori tabi” (lone travel) during the last few weeks of my year-long internship at LEX was when I decided to take a long-anticipated trip to Lake Chuzenji and Nikko in the Tochigi Prefecture.

Let me just say, it is definitely a trip worth taking, if you’re ever in the Tokyo-area and want a close-enough trip off the beaten path. 10/10 TRUE GORGEOUSNESS.

Nikko’s Toshogu Shrine is the infamous mausoleum of Tokugawa Ieyasu, founder of the Tokugawa Shogunate that lasted for over 250 years in Japan. It was definitely a lavish sort of shrine; highly detailed in design, colorful, and really covered a lot of ground. I did quite a bit of walking around there, and I have a feeling that I still didn’t explore everything the shrine had to offer 100%.

Mainly because Danielle wanted to check out a different part of the Toshigi Prefecture.

Predictably, Danielle thought the popular Toshogu Shrine was beautiful, and the trip to Nikko was definitely well worth it. But she thought the less-populated Chuzenjiko was prettier. :>

I love a harbor town, and the smells and sounds of water. Had fun relaxing and watching the sunset at the lake. Though you can’t really see the sunset in Japan, what with the mountains and buildings blocking the sky (not as open as it is back at home in the USA). But I felt right at home at Chuzenji.

I heard that Nikko even has a fireworks event for the summertime, which, I’ll bet, is absolutely gorgeous. Again, if you’re in the area, check it, but that’s a trip I have yet to take. BUCKETLIST.

SunBretta Bakery: A Recommendation

One of the most dangerous places in Japan: The Bakery. D8 *Dun dun DUUUN*

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Seriously, the transportation lifestyle out here can be a lot to get used to. Taking the train, taxi, bus, and WALKING. To me, walking means window shopping, which means walking past bakeries, or in my case, it means walking INTO bakeries. Which is incredibly dangerous for my wallet.

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My local host mama introduced me to a bakery in Yachiyo, Chiba called “SunBretta”, and it’s cool because they also serve you free coffee or tea if you buy their bread. When I have time on my hands and have a hankering to go buy some bread at a cute local shop, I walk from my home to SunBretta to get those cravings satisfied. 🙂

In case you can’t tell, I love bread. And I love trying new things. For this blog post, I thought I’d show you my latest baked favorites.

Creme Pan (Pan = bread)

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Anpan (Anko = red bean paste)

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Chocopan (as close to a pain au chocolat I can get out here)

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Pizza (though it tastes nothing like the deep-dish wonders back in Chicago)

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and Melon Pan

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Before coming to Japan, I’d only seen this at a handful of Asian supermarkets out by Chicago. Back then, I never actually tried melon pan before; I’d always went for the fruit pastries, personally. But I had to give it a shot. And that was a bad move, because I’m now hooked. It’s sooo good.

God, I miss the walking.

Because I was curious, I looked up how it was made. For your viewing pleasure: https://cookpad.com/recipe/

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By the way, Cookpad occasionally has a lot of pretty decent recipes. I’ve tried a recipe for dango and dashi before, and they both turned out well (which may say a lot). Although I did guesstimate a bit with some of the measuring units like liters, grams, oosaji (large spoon), and kosaji (small spoon).

But now I say “occasionally” with purpose. The only downsides to Cookpad means that ANYONE can post to it. Meaning, that you can get a TON of recipes for mug-brownies, but only A FEW of them actually work out. Which means depending on the time you allot to recipe-finding online, you may need to do a lot of sifting. I’m told there is a subscription available for getting those good, monthly recipes, but I don’t actually know a willing individual who has utilized this service as of yet.

Fatal Frame III: A Cultural Journey

Well, here it is. I hereby dedicate this blog post to my favorite pass time: video games. And three cool things I didn’t know about traditional Japanese culture until I played Fatal Frame in Japan.

Let me tell you a story (and I’ll try to redeem myself in the process).

So shortly after coming to Japan, I bought me the Japanese version of one of my all-time favorite horror video games, Fatal Frame III (or Zero Shisei no Koe in Japanese). Found a copy for about 2500en at a Bookoff in Akihabara. I might dedicate another blog post to game shopping in Japan, but at a later date.

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Monday, February 16, 2015

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I soon learned that buying a Japanese PS2 would be a lot less accommodating on my wallet. Unlike the States, where you can find a cheap PS2 for about $20 or less at a pawn shop, typically, the older the console, the more rare – and thus, expensive – it seems to become here in Japan. Which is a major bugger.

Cultural Fact Learned in Japanese Fatal Frame #1: HIIRAGI

There’s a festival that passed in February called Setsubun. On the 3rd of February, there is a decoration that some people use called hiiragi iwashi (holly leaves and sardine heads) on their doorways, so that bad spirits won’t enter. The bad spirits are said to dislike the smell of sardines, and also fear getting their eyes poked by the sharp points of the holly leaves. Essentially, holly in Japan is like a good luck charm and means protection.

On one important room in this game (perhaps some of you remember the room where you first meet the Woman Brushing?), there are three special holly patterns on the doorframe that could mean that they don’t want bad luck in (or in this game’s case, they didn’t want any unwanted people to enter). Excellent little touch for a room that’s warning you about the boss battle to come.

Cultural Fact Learned in Japanese Fatal Frame #2: IRORI

The entire map you travel around in this game is traditional Japanese-esque (tatami rooms, shouji, futon rooms, and that sort of thing), but in one room in particular, we have the hearth room (irori).

As we all know, the hearth has many uses, such as cooking, heating water, lighting and heating the room, drying clothes, etc. But the traditional Japanese irori always has a hollow bamboo pole hanging from the ceiling that has a metal rod or chain with a hook at the end, as well as a lever that lets you regulate the height of the hook and how close your pot is to the fire.

Interesting thing about the lever, though, is that it’s almost always in the form of a fish. Why is that? The fish, a water creature, means protection against fire, accidents, or house fires. Fish also have no eyelids and are thought to never sleep, thus giving you around-the-clock protection. In Fatal Frame, though, the around-the-clock protection didn’t help to stop one particular victim’s fate they met in that room.

Cultural Fact Learned in Japanese Fatal Frame #3: KOBUN – OLD (OBSOLETE) JAPANESE TEXT

Occasionally, during your travels, your character can find notes or journals from times long ago. And those journals are all written in old-time Japanese, which obviously you don’t see in the English version of the game.

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For instance,

This: 起こしてしま is read like this: 起こしてしま
This: 見てると is read like this: 見てると
This: 帰てこない is read like this: 帰てこない
And this: 伝はつる is read like this: 伝わっている

I’m told that Japanese grade schoolers, high schoolers, and even some college students don’t know how to read these correctly. I’ve watched some Japanese gamers on Youtube pass up the text sometimes, saying they can’t read it. Even the kanji varied back then. It would be a dream come true to be able to translate Japanese language of this caliber.

As I try to come up with a good conclusion to this post (I suck at it, in case you haven’t noticed), I will say that after writing this, I’ve really come to realize how much I miss Fatal Frame III. I should visit the Manor of Sleep again sometime soon. And for all those looking for an insanely good Japanese horror adventure, I hope to see you there.

 

Negative Google Maps Reviews in Japan that Forget to Faction in Culture

I try not to be too depend on Google Maps reviews, just like I try not to be too depend on Amazon reviews. However, I will admit that they generally can influence the restaurants I choose to go to. Or the hotels I choose to stay at. Or the sightseeing I plan to do with a limited amount of travel time.

…Okay, so I guess I rely more heavily on Google Maps than I thought.

This morning, I had a breakfast date with an old friend in Umeda, Osaka. In general, I noticed that breakfast restaurants or pancake houses are more rare in Japan than out in the States, and I honestly had never gone out for breakfast in the Umeda area. Meaning, it’s Google Maps time.

I pull out that sucker and start looking for places to eat. Although I’m typically open to window shopping for restaurants, this time, I was limited on time and wanted to find a decent place for the two of us, and as a rule of thumb, I generally go for places with around four stars and up on Google.

Which is where I noticed a bunch of very good, reputable restaurants with some not-so-great reviews. I wondered what justified these reviews, so I started scrolling.

And this is where I started thinking a bit more education on Japanese culture might help people to think twice about posting ignorant reviews.

Now, to state the obvious, I won’t be analyzing any high-horse whiners, who post shitty things like, “they cut my sushi too thick, i like it thin” or “this shopping mall is a maze like constructed building, prepare to get lost” or “its too narrow!1! too crowded!” or “the staff didn’t speak english”. As we know, these don’t have anything to do with the restaurants, food, or service whatsoever, just the salty griping of a self-centered creep that probably shouldn’t have access to technology at all without proper respect. As a wise woman once said, “You can’t fix stupid.”

Anyway, disclaimer out of the way, let’s get to analyzing and interpreting.

TOO SMOKEY (at a shopping venue)
I understand this reviewers frustration, but it may not be the shopping mall’s fault, since smoking tobacco cigarettes are still a thing in Japan. When I ask around, though, I find that the times have been changing, and you’ll find less and less smokers as time goes on. In general, tobacco is now developing a bad image. Although you’ll still might be greeted in a restaurant with a, “Smoking or non-smoking?”, I also know that the amount of smoking sections out in public is dwindling. Also, honestly, I’m not sure what the vaping or electronic cigarette scene looks like out in Japan (can’t say I’ve looked), but I’m willing to bet that it may rise with the fall of tobacco, but mere conjecture on my part. I mean, cigarettes still make bank out here (you can buy these things in vending machines, for Chrissakes), so who can say.

THE LINES WERE TOO LONG, HAD TO WAIT (at a museum)
I see this every once and a while. Trust me, I feel cramped and tired of waiting. We all do. But in Japan, this is a cultural difference where we just need to put up and shut up. There are a lot of people in Japan, and we all are expected to wait patiently for our turn. You can see this type of line-forming very prominently when you line up to get on the trains, for example.

OPENING TIME (at a grocery store)
I saw a review once that complained about the late opening time of a grocery store that opened at 9:00AM. News flash, most places in Japan open around 9:00AM. Or 10:00AM. Or 11:00AM. Or if it’s a mom-and-pop shop, they can open and close and have regular holidays whenever they feel like it. And that’s okay.

I think in America we’re so used to having everything open 24-7, that when a place is closed, it’s a “major inconvenience” to us. Rather than feeling inconvenienced, just feel grateful that the hard-working grocery store employees can get the rest they deserve and come in to work at a decent time. Surely, we can wait.

THEY MADE ME HIDE MY TATTOO (at a public bath)
Part of me thanks this reviewer for their warning, but I’m not sure this onsen really deserves such a strongly-worded, negative review. At many public baths, you’ll find signs that say, “No Tattoos”. The meaning behind this is because, traditionally, having a tattoo meant you were involved with dangerous people, like yazuka. Understandably, they didn’t want to serve customers that potentially worked for the mafia, and also probably feared having them inside.

Of course, now times are changing, and more and more foreign people are starting to come to Japan to enjoy their hot springs. Meaning that – I sincerely hope around 2020 Tokyo Olympics – Japan will become more globalized enough to understand that tattoos are a fashion fairly common among foreigners, and cut us some slack. It depends on location, of course, but this is a changing phenomenon in Japan. Instead of whining about it, or getting mad that “they just don’t understand me”, please understand where they’re coming from, and just do as your told. “When in Rome…”

Sakura in Osaka – a Hanami Recommendation

‘Tis the season for cherry blossoms! If you’ve heard of hanami, then you know it probably has something to do with family, friends, or punch-drunk salary-men picnicking under the cherry blossom trees.

You’ve heard correctly.

To each person, hanami has its own different meaning. Some people prefer quieter, local areas, sharing a few snacks with their kids, friends, or special someone, while some people prefer to go out, get drunk, and get happy with a bunch of coworkers (depends how pushy their company is to attend, I guess). In general, everybody is just a lot happier, as they all break out of hibernation and get out to take pictures of their local sakura.

Things you can expect to experience around this week (give or take) of hanami are:

  • Seeing various food stands, selling takoyaki, ice cream, or mini castella cakes
  • Finding lots of random sakura pedals kind of scattered around the sidewalks
  • Getting some strong whiffs of sake/beer in more crowded areas
  • Getting some whiffs of other flowers that start blooming around this time
  • Seeing loads of different parks with their own festivals celebrating the season
  • A ton of birds, and some bugs starting to emerge into Springtime
  • Seeing lots of sakura-themed goods when shopping (probably the most impressive sakura collection I’ve seen so far is at Afternoon Tea. Check this shit out)
  • Seeing sakura-watching boats traveling up and down the rivers
  • Showing up in the background of tourists’ selfies

Just as quick as the season started, it’s already starting to end. It’s a shame that such beauty has such a short lifespan… But maybe that’s what makes them so beautiful? I guess the sakura means something different to each person, but to me, they kind of represent a beautiful, yet somewhat tragic similarity to life and life’s fragile impermanence. It makes me step back and appreciate things a little more. Makes me feel smaller and humbler in the whole scheme of things.

But then again, this could just be the long-awaited Spring talking, and making me feel all emotional.

Without further ado, I will now include photos of Sakuranomiya, Banpaku Memorial Park, Yodo River, Nara Park, and Osaka Castle – for your viewing pleasure. Although I’d recommend any of these places for next year’s hanami (if you can’t make it this year), I’ll leave that decision up to you.

Catching some early sakura at Banpaku Memorial Park:

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Osaka Castle:

Nara:

Yodogawa:

Sakuranomiya (my top hanami location recommendation for you):

Quick factoid side-note: As you can tell by the many photos I’ve included, the five-petaled somei yoshino, yamazakura, are the most common and popular wild cherry blossom trees out here in the Kansai area. They look more white than pink and have a very soft, cloudy appearance, especially when the sun hits them juuust right.