Sunday, January 27, 2013

A Monkey Hot Tub

On a day trip from Hakuba I went to go see Japan's world-famous snow monkeys. This group of monkeys live in a beautiful valley and keep warm during the winter months by bathing in one of Japan's many natural hot springs - it's the only place in the world you can see monkeys bathe in the wild.

They aren't bothered by people which meant we were able to get right up close to them. They were fascinating to watch, and had it not been for the subzero temperature I could have easily stayed there all day observing them.

Sneaky monkey stealing some man's food

About to enjoy some instant noodles

Posing

Such intense gazes

Beautiful valley

Holding her baby

Captivated by the monkeys

Friday, January 25, 2013

Yuki










When I left home almost four months ago bound for hot and tropical places I never thought I'd find myself in Japan, up to my waist in powdery yuki (snow) yet here I am. And it's amazing.

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Is Japan Really That Expensive?

When meeting fellow travelers you undoubtedly discuss each others upcoming travel plans. Over the last few weeks when I would tell someone I was going to Japan they would almost always respond with "Wow, that's so cool! But isn't Japan reallllly expensive?" I had heard that before I came traveling and have heard it many times since, but I have to say that I am not finding this country to be as pricey as I thought/feared it would be.

An amazing view of Mt. Fuji - for free!

Here's a rough breakdown of how much I've spent during six full days in Japan (in the cities of Tokyo & Kyoto):


Accommodation: $20
(I have been Couchsurfing and have technically spent $0 but I bought gifts for my Couchsurfing hosts)

Food: $170
(Considering I have been in the tropics for the last 3.5 months I am finding Japan to be extremely cold and so have been ducking into cafes every few hours for warm drinks and snacks... it has definitely added up)

Transportation: $120
(This is for local transportation, including a day in Tokyo where I made a mistake on the subway and spent way more than I should have, plus a night bus from Tokyo to Kyoto)

Attractions: $15
(Mainly temples, they're not that expensive)

Miscellaneous: $30
(The bulk of this was spent on a pair of pants from H+M)

Six days in Japan has cost me a grand total of approximately (drum roll...) $355 (or an average of about $60 dollars/day).

Hanging with locals (plus an international student!)

There are a few reasons why I haven't had to spend more during my time here: I'm Couchsurfing which means I'm paying nothing for accommodation; I've been walking as much as I can; I'm taking buses instead of the shinkansen (bullet train); I've only been visiting attractions that are cheap or free, and I haven't been eating sushi (not the fancy stuff anyway!) 

Obviously the way I'm experiencing Japan wouldn't suit everybody but it's been working out great for me. Couchsurfing has allowed me to meet lots of locals, walking lets me see more of the cities, the attractions I've seen have all been fantastic, I'm really not a big fan of the types of sushi that cost a lot and the night bus I took was extremely comfortable.

I'm not saying Japan isn't an expensive place (and compared to SE Asia it definitely is!) but so far it hasn't been the financial nightmare everybody kept telling me it would be. Tonight however I'm taking the night bus to Hakuba (also known as the 'Japanese Alps') to do some snowboarding, so I'll be spending quite a bit more after today...

Beat Of The Drum

Right now I am in Kyoto where I was lucky enough to find another Couchsurfing host to stay with. This evening I went watch to his Taiko (Japanese drumming) practice and it was nothing like I thought it would be.

Before the practice started I got a chance to try playing...

Learning the proper way to hit the drum

Feeling extremely silly

So much harder than it looks!

After I had finished making a fool of myself and my arms had started to hurt, I took a seat and watched my host and his club-mates practice. Since I didn't know what I was doing I hadn't been playing very intensely but as I watched the others play using all their strength for several minutes at a time (which had them sweating and out of breath!) I realized just how tiring playing these massive drums could be and what a good workout it is.

My host and his club-mates

A very intricate song

Once the club had finished practicing it was time for the senseis (teachers) to practice (they are part of a professional group). They were fantastic. They started off with an incredibly complex drill which they played flawlessly. Then just when I thought it couldn't get any more impressive they changed positions: they went from sitting to lying on their backs with their drums between their legs at pretty much the half way point of sit up. But they didn't stay still (that would have been far too easy...) they would move back and forth, essentially doing sit ups, all while whacking these massive drums with all their might and making it sound good.

Can only imagine what kind of abs these people must have...

Incredible stamina

So cool. Yet another example of why traveling is awesome.

Monday, January 21, 2013

Japanese Eating Etiquette

I haven't even been here a week and already I'm realizing how just culturally rich a country Japan is. Rather than let their customs and traditions fall by the wayside, as people of many places around the world often do, the Japanese seem to cling proudly to theirs. I have observed many customs that appear to remain very much an important part of every day life here, especially when it comes to eating. These are a few must-dos when it comes to dining in Japan:

"Itadakimasu"
Before you begin eating (or even drinking tea) it's polite to say itadakimasu. It's an expression similar to 'bon app
├ętit' or saying grace; essentially a way of showing gratitude before digging in.

Horizontal Chopsticks
Sticking your chopsticks in your rice standing upright or laying them down in your bowl haphazardly are big no-nos. When they are positioned in this way they resemble burning incense, which are always present at funerals and remind people of death. When you have finished eating you should always lay your chopsticks horizontally on your bowl.

Slurping is A-OK
I hate that at restaurants in Canada I can never slurp the last bit of whatever delicious thing I am eating. Luckily here in Japan it's 100% acceptable to slurp to your heart's content. Awesome.


The right way to place your chopsticks!

Saturday, January 19, 2013

Seriously Fresh Fish

This morning I was up bright and early to head into central Tokyo for the Tsukiji Fish Market, a well-known wholesale seafood market that caters to many sushi restaurants in the city.

Wow.

I woke up at 5am and arrived at the market around 7 but things were already in full-swing by that point. People had obviously been up for hours driving trucks, unloading crates and filleting fish. The market was filled with rows of any and every type of seafood imaginable being prepared and sold. Some of the fish were still moving - now that's fresh!

7am and already bustling

Doesn't get much fresher!

It was row after row after row of this...

My favourite picture of the day

Tentacles

"A big monster", as a Japanese man said to me

Tuna!

Mind-blowingly big fish

It was cold, I had to constantly jump out of the way of forklifts and try not to step on the fish entrails that were scattered all over the place but it was a highly enjoyable morning and a great Japanese cultural experience.

Friday, January 18, 2013

Down By The Bay

I have arrived in Japan! Apart from my butt which is freezing and about to fall off I am absolutely loving it here so far.

I'm staying with a delightful Japanese fellow I met through Couchsurfing (more to come on my first Couchsurfing experience!) who lives in Yokohama, which is situated just outside of Tokyo. On my first day here my Couchsurfing host was kind enough to show me his city. Before coming to Japan I didn't think I'd be able to turn around without bumping into someone (336 people per square kilometer here!) but I was pleasantly surprised by Yokohama's lack of crowds and tourists. Its calm atmosphere combined with its prime waterfront location, plus the fact that it's less than an hour from central Tokyo, had me quite taken. It actually reminded me a little of Vancouver, and it was comforting to see a place that reminded me of home.

Seeing outdoor rinks always makes me incredibly happy.

A little one excited to go skating!



Osanbashi Pier

Coolest pier I've ever seen!

Just adorable.

View of Yokohama from the Landmark Tower

Yokohama!

A museum all about instant noodles. Amazing.

Kicking some snow

Saturday, January 12, 2013

Tea, Trekking and Scrabble

When I decided I was coming to Malaysia I knew I had to visit the Cameron Highlands. A region full of tea plantations with temperatures rarely rising above 20 degrees sounded like bliss, and it was. I met a wonderful group of people, the guesthouse bed was ridiculously comfortable, the tea was heavenly, the scenery was first-class... all in all it was the perfect place to escape the heat, drink some tea, do some trekking and play scrabble, which is exactly how my two days there were spent.

View from the summit of our trek

Possibly even more trees than in Canada?!

Tea plantation!

A delicious cup of tea.

More tea leaves

The group, a bit tired post-trek

An intense game of scrabble