Sunday, March 05, 2006

Tack on another prefecture to the "been there" list...

After a lovely dinner of Niku-Jaga (meat and potato stew) last night, and a breakfast of Risotto this morning, Yoshiko and I headed out into the wonderful spring sunshine to spend a bit of time outside. The initial plan was a visit to Fukuroda no taki (Fukuroda Falls) in Northern Ibaraki Prefecture. Fukuroda no taki is well known not merely for being a nice waterfall to have a look at, but for the fact that ice climbers have a chance to do their thing over a good chunk of the winter when the falls freeze over. Of course, we're a little to late to see them in that state, but it was as good an excuse as any for a drive in the countryside.

So we departed at a leisurely 11AM or so, and after consulting the map and finding out we were driving through Bato, decided to make that our first stop of the day to visit the Hiroshige museum there. On the way east, we encountered a sign which said we were a mere 1.7 kilometers from Ryu-mon no taki (dragon gate falls) and decided to modify our itinerary and head out that way. It ended up being a nice opportunity to stretch our legs, and enjoy the fabulous sunshine and spring weather.


I also caught a rainbow with my camera, neat! What impressed me even more than the falls was the bamboo forest nearby. I really like the feel of the bamboo groves you find sprouting up here and there.


After about a 20 minute pit stop, we hopped back into the Pajero-mobile and got back on track. Once we arrived in Bato, we quickly found the Hiroshige museum and checked it out. Hiroshige was born in 1797 and became one of the last great wood block print artists in Japan. While his early works were not considered great, his later ones include the famed "36 views of Mount Fuji" of which a few are exposed in Bato. It was also interesting to see a few familiar places in his works such as Asakusa and Ueno in Tokyo and Enoshima near Kamakura which we visited a few weeks ago. The museum itself was also quite a different looking building and included a bamboo grove in the rear. A nice last minute addition to our day.



After crossing over into Ibaraki prefecture, which becomes the 9th prefecture to have been graced by my presence, (after Chiba, Saitama, Tochigi, Tokyo, Fukushima, Miyagi, Iwate and Kanagawa in that order. I've pretty much covered the North-East coast of Japan, need to hit the North-West next with trips to Yamagata, Nagano, Niigata, Gunma and such.) we stopped for a quick lunch of Ramen before getting to our main destination for the day. Here is the lower section of the falls as we approached them, the weather really was ideal to be walking around outdoors a bit.


Must be quite interesting to visit here in the winter and see this as one solid chunk of ice. I can see why these are one of the three (the Japanese seem to be obsessed with grouping things into three: 3 famous gardens, 3 famous views of Japan, etc.) famous waterfalls, after Kegon Falls near Nikko (visited in October) and another set of falls in Wakayama prefecture in West Japan.



After hopping along the river and checking out the falls, we started to make our way to Motegi to savour some fresh strawberry ice cream... but were impeded on our way there. We kept getting stuck behind these slow driving school cars, packed with high school students learning to drive. At one point (pictured below) we were behind 3 of them at the same time! It was quite interesting to see that these cars were decked out with an extra set of mirrors, both inside and out, for the instructor to see... how ingenious is that? I think it's a great idea. The car I practiced in was an unmarked white sedan, the only way you could tell it was a driving school car was the break pedal in the passenger seat!


All three cars eventually pulled out of our way and we hit the open road. One thing I noticed today about Japan is that driving in these small towns sucks! The signs aren't always clear, or present in both directions, which would be helpful. I guess part of it is the age of these cities and the fact that the roads were built around existing infrastructure while in North America, most of our cities were designed and built with the car in mind since we're so young in the grand scheme of things. So after a few U-turns (it's a good thing our sense of direction is good enough that we know when we're not heading in the right direction) we did find our way to Motegi. We were even lucky enough to be 2 of the final people of the day to enjoy some fresh strawberries mixed with ice cream before they ran out, to the disappointment of those behind us.

While devouring our ice cream cones and looking around at the Omiyage selection (a tradition in Japan which presses upon us the need to purchase gifts anywhere we go... a tradition I have not followed since my first month in Japan, believing it to be merely a money grabbing tourist trap since most of the goods are manufactured in China and not in the place you're buying them anyway) and spotted this lovely EngRish gem here on a box of strawberry cream filled wafers.


You know the sad part? After 10 months here, I can actually make a bit of sense out of that... though I think it ranks near the top for the worst English I've seen printed on something. I mean come on people, pay for decent translations! Not that I am one to flaunt my Japanese abilities, but if I were to produce something on which I wanted Japanese writing or if I were to put out a Japanese sign for my business, I would at least get someone to check it for god's sake... before printing off thousands of these and sending them off to the four corners of the nation.

Anywho, so we then made our way back to Utsunomiya, picked up some grub at the Supermarket, a sub at Subway and headed home for a relaxed meal. Fantastic day, nice and relaxing (for me since I wasn't driving... Thanks Yoshiko!) and got to see lots of countryside. Ah and the supermarket reminds me of a stupid thing I did today... yes even I can have blond moments... So in case you are not aware, loaves of bread in Japan pretty much come in one standard size, about 8-10 inches long. This loaf is then cut into anywhere from 4-12 slices depending, with 6 and 8 being the most commonly found. The 10 slice loaf of bread is the most coveted of loaves and is usually snatched up early on in the day. Well tonight, at the supermarket, I made quite the interesting discovery. There on the bread shelf were some bags which indicated 9 slices. 9 slices? Can this be possible? After pointing this out to my (obviously) more intelligent half, she was quick to point out that an upside down 6 looks like a 9. And that's all I'm gonna say about that.

Tomorrow, Scott and Matt are coming over to watch The Hurricane, since I'm the only one with a VCR in my apartment. We decided to make it a pot luck affair, I'll be turning out some fajitas and tacos, Matt may bring some Guacamole and Scott (being the culinarily challenged one of the three) will bring wine. Should be a good evening.

This past week also marked the successful return of Takahiro Cho, whom I had the pleasure of helping to interview for a part-time teaching position with us, after his training in Omiya. He was in observing lessons this week... Welcome Taka-sensei!


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