Monday, 28 December 2009

Christmas in Osaka

So being orphans in Japan for Christmas we decided it was a good time to do some travelling. There were no public holidays in Japan but with Paul getting the Aussie holidays and Joss' work also shut down over Christmas it was an ideal time to get away for a long weekend.

We embarked upon our first shinkansen (bullet train) trip from Tokyo bound for Osaka on the afternoon of Christmas Eve. Equiped with beer and a few of our favourite snacks from the tasty bakery at the station, including calzone, custard cream and apple filled sweet bun and chocolate custard scroll, we were set for a fast and exciting journey.



The Shinkansen pulling into Shinagawa station.

On board, any transport where you can drink beer gets a tick. In fact they sell beer on the train so you could say beer drinking is encouraged.

We arrived in Osaka and made our way to our hotel, which seemed to be in the strangest neighbourhood. By the time we headed out just before 10pm for some dinner, nearly everywhere was closed... something that is rare in Tokyo!

After a satisfying but uneventful dinner we settled in for a night of Santa Claus the movie from 1985, safe in the knowledge that Santa knows where you are even when you are on holidays!

Our version of a traditional Christmas breakfast. Yummmm.

JH: Unfortunately I had started to get really sick the day before we left for Osaka, and I just kept getting worse. My head was all blocked up, I had aches & pains everywhere and I felt exhausted. I also couldn't taste anything for what ended up being 5 days...so although I still ate all the Christmas treats (one has to hope), it was a bit pointless!

After our Mo√ęt we headed into the main area of town. Through the wonders of facebook we also knew that a friend of Joss' - Ed - whom she met on her previous tour of Japan would be hanging about in a small area called Triangle Park. We met up in the evening and had a few beers.

On our way to dinner. Yes it was cold!

Looking down Dotonbori on Christmas Night - this long street is a big attraction with lots of restaurants and bars. unfortunately we didn't stay out too long as Joss' health was preventing us from having a big night, which was probably a blessing in disguise!

After some day time exploring around the area we were staying, we stumbled across some great little restaurant areas, with a lot of places that sold the Osaka specialty, Fugu or pufferfish.

This is a small fugu at the restaurant we had dinner on Boxing Day. With a whilst in Rome mentality, we decided to try some fugu, and we had it karage style, which is basically lightly battered and deep fried. It was very tasty, a really sweet and delicate meat. Next time fugu sashimi! Oh, and yes fugu can be poisonous if not prepared correctly - but yes we survived.

On our last day in Osaka, we went to Osaka Aquarium. It is regarded as one of the top aquariums in the world, so of course it was a must see.
The photo above are Emperor Pengins (Japanese spelling) outside the front of the aquarium.

Japanese rainforest section of the aquarium.

The big sea tank. That is a whale shark with a school of fish hanging about. There are 2 whale sharks in the massive tank.

This guy came up and gave us a smile.

A turtle picture of course

A tank full of anchovies and sardines, a lot of tasty snacks in that tank... if only they let you take in nets.




Thursday, 24 December 2009

Ari and Lloyd Update

PM: After a lot of interest in Ari and Lloyd I thought I would provide another update. It is also an opportunity to show off some of the photos taken with my new toy, a Nikon D5000. I finally took the plunge and bought an SLR!

I think the best way to update on the turtles is with some photos:

Ari and Lloyd getting some "sun". They don't do this very often so this shot was quite lucky.

Just hangin.

Ari and Lloyd both hang out a lot together, Lloyd is generally more inquisitive and the first to explore and try new things. I can't really tell who is who in this photo though.

Yes that is right we have thrown some fish into the mix.
Because turtles are natural hunters I thought it would be a good idea to provide them with some live food, and a bit of exercise.

The prize catch.

Preparing for the hunt.

Action shot: this is a pretty blurry photo (it was taken in low light and with some quick movements) but if you look closely you can see a turtle (Lloyd) at the bottom with his mouth wide open going in for the kill. The orange blob in the centre is the prize catch. Unfortunately Lloyd was not successful on this occasion. In fact, after some initial interest in the fish when they first took residence in the tank, the turtles have all but given up. I am doubting their so-called hunting ability.

However I do hold out some hope. Since we are off to Osaka, the turtles will not be fed for a few days (don't worry I have checked and it is totally OK for them to be without food for this long). I am hoping that they get hungry enough to start the hunt again!

Wednesday, 23 December 2009

Joss' Work Update

JH: Seeing as we’ve been here for about 3 months now, I thought I should do an update on my job situation.

When I first started looking for work I was offered a couple of English teaching jobs but turned them down. The contracts they wanted me to sign were ridiculously strict – long hours with no holidays, and a rather large penalty if I broke contract (in one case a whole month’s wage!) Considering we came to Japan for a working holiday, they didn’t appeal to me!

I also met some really odd employers. One lady told me that because the “Japanese are more diligent & hardworking than Westerners” the employees did not get any holidays other than 1 week in summer. They didn’t even get days off for public holidays! As you can imagine I knocked that job back pretty quickly!

It seems that most jobs for teachers in Japan are the same. If you want to come and work for a solid year you can make some money, but if you want to travel your options are limited.

I was starting to feel pretty low. I certainly hadn’t planned on spending my year here sitting at home all day because I couldn’t afford to go out!

Anyway, I finally got a job! I started about a month ago working at the British Culture Academy (BCA), a company that contracts out English teachers to schools. It’s a part-time job teaching toddlers, kindergarten and primary-school aged kids.

My toddler classes are pretty interesting – I never in my life imagined I would be in a job where I would have to work with seven 1-3 year old children!! I have two 3 hour classes a week with this age group. The classes consist of playtime, an English lesson (for a full hour!), craft time, a short DVD, snack time & a story-book (not to mention several toilet breaks, or in some cases, nappy changes – though I fortunately got out of that task). There is just me and my Japanese co-worker who run the class… talk about hectic!

We get given a general guide of what should be covered in lessons (for all age groups) but in terms of making it fun & interesting that is up to us. I have been asking all the teachers I know for ideas about how to make lessons exciting! So that’s about it really – it’s all quite a challenge at the moment, though I am sure with time I will get used to it.

In other news, my good friend Jessica & her boyfriend Steve recently stayed with us for about a week. It was great to see Jess again after almost 2 years (she has been living in Ireland) and to meet Steve for the first time. We had a couple of great nights out and even managed to drag them along to karaoke on one of the nights… I think Paul & I are getting addicted!

Paul and I are off to Osaka today for a few days for Christmas. We are both super excited to be going on a Shinkansen (bullet train) for the first time!

Hope everyone has a great Christmas from the both of us.

Here are some photos of us out and about.


Paul with Jess and Steve in Shinjuku

Jess and Steve getting into the karaoke action!

Thursday, 3 December 2009

November Round Up

Once again we are long overdue for an update, and again a month will be condensed into 1 entry.

First significant event for November were the lights at the Tokyo Dome.
A free light display has been set up around Tokyo Dome where you can wander around in the freezing tranquility. We think it is to provide an incentive for people to head outside during the cold nights of November. Anyway because we have a couple of photos, here is one.

Very nautic theme.

Next up we had some visitors to Tokyo, Paul's school mate and previous flat mate Michael, his partner Ca and her sister Co. Without going into too much detail we did some touring of the nightlife of Tokyo, including karaoke, 3am bowling and various izakayas (Japanese pub) around Shibuya, Omori and Ebisu.

Out to dinner in Omori where you can place orders with a computerised touch screen menu at the table, although the one we had was dodgey! Introducing everyone left to right: Paul, Joss, Co, Ca, Michael.

Ramen in Ebisu.

At the entrance to a lane way leading into the Golden Gai or small bars area in Shinjuku.

Everyone in Bar Garden in the Golden Gai. There were seats for about 8 people in this bar.

Michael and Paul inside Bar Garden.

What would a Tokyo visit be without some figurines? The guy in the background did the late bar shift and was sleeping standing up. I think we might have bored him.
The only way to finish off a night. Karaoke in Shinjuku

The weekend after Michael, Ca and Co left, Paul's brother Andy was visiting Japan on a business trip during November and extended for a weekend so he could stay with us. Among the highlights:
-Darts bar and a few different izakayas around Omori, we think we were the first foreigners to have attended the darts bar!
-Another trip to the ramen museum, although after a rather long evening of eating and drinking this may have been a little optimistic - we had to get up quite early and none of us were feeling 100%.
-Between ramen and night time activities we made a quick visit to the Ghibli Museum, details are fuzzy as we were very rushed, we will have to return.
-A night out in Shibuya and Shinjuku, where we returned to a restaurant (Bora Bora) that was featured in a post on Andy's blog where raw chicken was consumed (no none was eaten this time). Though we intend on returning as there are more delicacies on offer including raw horse.

Inside Bora Bora.
A railway overpass, and doesn't everyone look fresh?

Tea cememony - Now in our previous post we mentioned that we ended October with a bang, helped out by Masakisan and Kazukisan in a local bar. Well Kazukisan kindly offered for us to go to his house and participate in a tea ceremony. Neither of ue really knew what a tea ceremony was, but basically you get served tea and a sweet in a structured ceremony. Because tea has and is used as a medicine, it is quite a ritual to have tea served traditionally. To our surprise, Kazukisan actually did part of the tea ceremony, his tea master was there guiding him through (it is extremely technical, no angles or positions are accidental). Unfortunately we did not have a camera but it was a real privilege to be invited and participate.

Next up for us was a Japanese Cooking class. It was organised by our local area friendship society and is held in a classroom, similar to the ones used for home ec at high school.
There were quite a few people there, both Japanese and foreigners. The chef presenting spoke in Japanese with a translator relaying instructions in English. We cooked up a Japanese style potato salad, clam miso soup, and tonkatsu (Pork battered in breadcrumbs and deep fried) with shredded cabbage. It was actually quite challenging as the pace was kept up, and seeing as our table had only 4 people instead of 6 we had to be extra quick.
(PM: It was nice to have a place to show off my chopping skills, and get a few comments. I don't think the Chef's son who also worked with him could understand how an IT worker could chop quite so quick)
Again no photos, but it was a great day.

Since then we have been relaxing and catching up on some much needed rest. Looking forward to this weekend with our new visitors Jess and Steve!

Thursday, 5 November 2009

October Roundup - Long Overdue

Due to popular demand, we are back with our October update.
As the title says this is long overdue. We apologise - we meant to update it numerous times, but well, didn't...

So, since our last post there have been a few things to get up to speed on. Probably the best way is with some pics and descriptions. We know this is a bit crazy and different format to our previous posts, but hey, we like to live on the edge.

First up was the Ramen Museum in Yokohama. For the uninitiated, Ramen is a noodle soup that is very popular in Japan (especially after a few shochus). It comes in one of 4 varieties:
Shoyu (soy), Tonkotsu (pork), Miso (miso), Shio (salt). This is the main ingredient in the soup or stock. We eat ramen at least once a week, so yes we like it!

The Ramen Museum actually is not a museum but a food themed amusement park and the first such in the world (so the brochure said). Inside was a recreated section of 1950s Tokyo, with 9 outlets of bigger ramen restaurants from all around Japan which specialise in 1 type of ramen. At each restaurant you can purchase a full or half size bowl of ramen to try. We only got tried 2, but intend to try all 9.

The recreated section of 1950's Tokyo
Us getting amongst it.

Next up was the Tokyo Motor Show.
Lucky timing that we had a weekend free and the Motor Show was in town. The theme was definitely green. Pics:

Paul in front of the new Lexus.
The see through option.

Something for the kids.

PM: Now although this was the crappest car at the show, it was the most entertaining 'presenter'. The stand was packed with people taking snaps of the errr... car. Clearly the R&D budget was spent on marketing.

Easily the standout of the show. These bad boys hit the street next year.

There were very few non-Japanese cars at the show, however one was an Alfa, apparently it was one of Japan's top 10 best cars for 2009 - 2010.
Seriously this is a hybrid bike. The battery powers as you go downhill and brake.


Next on our list was the Shinagawa Aquarium, which is within walking distance of our place.
We found Ari and Lloyd's older cousin hanging out here. It was a map turtle, albeit a much larger one. For some reason the fish kept biting the turtle's head. (PM: I think it was an Andy fish, with an appetite for turtle)
An even bigger cousin! There were 3 giant green sea turtles in this tank. There was also a cool remote control camera, that you could use to look around the tank with.

On the subject of turtles and the very creative suggestions for Ari & Lloyd's fate (turtle soup was mentioned), we thought we should provide a photo indicating their size.
As you can see, a canape is the best that could be hoped for.

Most recently we explored the area of Tokyo known for it's plastic food and general catering shops, where we found some great things. PM: I particularly liked the knife shops - the Japanese are crazy about their knives. There is a lot of history and culture in their knife making, and some of them are pieces of art. We also stumbled across a building that was painted, well, rather interestingly.


Saturday also being Halloween, we decided to finish the month off with a bang.
Actually it kind of just happened, we were out and about in Roppongi celebrating but decided to call it a moderately early night at around 12. On our way home we of course stopped off for our midnight ramen. Outside the ramen shop we met a few friendly locals who took us to a cool bar in our neighbourhood, where we continued on into the morning.

Us with Masaki.
Kasuki & Masaki at the local bar.