Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Staying at a Japanese ryokan

A ryokan is a traditional Japanese inn. Somewhere between a hotel and a B&B (although you can get some extremely luxurious ryokans which I’ve yet to experience) Ryokans are a great opportunity to experience the “real Japan” especially if you’re on a pit stop tour and want to experience Japanese hospitality (which is like no other) and customs.

So here is the lowdown on staying at a ryokan:

Tatami Room
The Japanese don’t measure rooms by metre/feet squared. No, no, no, it’s by tatami flooring (straw mats to you and I) A tatami mat is traditionally made of rice straw to form the core with a covering of woven soft straw. One tatami mat is about 191 cm length by 95 cm wide. Most ryokans will advertise the size of the room by tatami, ie they’ll advertise “a 6 tatami room”.

So as you enter your 6 tatami room or whatever size it is the first thing you’ll notice is that there aren’t any beds. Don’t be shocked. They keep them in the wardrobes! As you go to the onsen after dinner these little fairies will go into your room, pull out the futon bedding and make your bed for you for your return. The futons are quite hard but fairly comfortable. The pillows for some reason are always filled with beans, still haven’t got used to that.

Our futon beds out a night

There will be green tea (o-cha) waiting for you and a hot water dispenser so you can make more if you want. You will also see yukatas (summer kimonos) laid out. Put these on and head straight to the onsen!

Breakfast and dinner are usually included in the price of the room so although it might sound expensive wait until you see what gets served up for dinner.

Dinner is usually served in your room on the knee high tables. You sit on these tatami chairs (mum couldn’t stop laughing when she first sat on one) which are essentially chairs with no legs and then about 6/7 courses are served to your table by your waitress. The food is exquisitely presented, tastes so wonderful and is so healthy you don’t feel guilty about stuffing your face.

Here is our waitress giving us a lowdown of some of our food at Hakugin-kaku ryokan in Echigo Yuzawa:

Breakfast, be warned, is usually served early. No chance of a lie in at a ryokan! One place served breakfast at 8.30am at the latest so by the time we went back to the room the beds were packed away back into the wardrobes.....not even a chance to crawl back into bed. I don't think the Japanese do relaxation quite like we do.

Onsen (hot spring baths)
Try and stay at a ryokan with an onsen (hot spring). They will make your stay so relaxing and don’t worry if you’re not sure what to do in an onsen, I’ve written the basics about onsening in this post.

Saturday, June 13, 2009

Japanese "pet" beetles

Here’s a fact that you probably won’t know about kids in Japan. They keep beetles as pets!

I only found this out by accident when I was shopping for a plastic measuring jug at Saty, a huge superstore in Nonichi, just south of Kanazawa. I was wandering about, getting lost as usual and came across a shelf full of those plastic hamster looking cages. On closer inspection, I saw something move. There were certainly no cute hamsters, just huge brown rhinoceros beetles (Kabutomushi) about the size of my palm scrambling up their cages. Eeeeek, it makes my skin crawl writing about it!!

Anyway, see video below, one of these huge things will set you back the equivalent of about £18

ALT Lesson Plans with Eigo Note: Lesson 1 6th grade (elementary)

Eigo note has set out 8 lessons for teaching uppercase and lowercase alphabet, bit of overkill if you ask me!

Anyway, here are my 6th grade lesson plans for "Eigo Note Lesson 1"& "Eigo Note Lesson 2". I didn't really use a lot of EIGO Note as you will see although I did play karuta (slam hand on card game) which they loved. The counting activity on p10/11 I am leaving until later (I was unfortunately made to skip it due to a months show lesson that the school wanted to do)

Grade 6, Lesson Eigo Note 6.1 (I used the first lesson for a welcome & greetings lesson)

Grade 6 Lesson Eigo Note 6.2- alphabet uppercase
Grade 6 Lesson Eigo Note 6.3- alphabet lowercase
Grade 6 Lesson Eigo Note 6.4- alphabet upper & lowercase recognition
Grade 6 Lesson Eigo Note - 6.5- alphabet writing practice

Anyway, any questions let me know!

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Takigi Noh at Kanazawa Castle and firefly spotting

Yesterday evening I met Kari and Sarah to watch the Takigi Noh drama performed at Kanazawa Castle grounds. Takigi means “bonfire” and Noh is a traditional Japanese musical theatre. Noh actors wear lacquer-coated wooden masks and are dressed in amazing costumes.

The setting was truly stunning, an open air stage right in front of the castle surrounded by small fires. I honestly had to pinch myself that I was there. We didn’t really understand what was going on, they speak in a type of ancient Shakespearean equivalent Japanese so even if I was fluent I wouldn’t have understood, but just being there was enough for me.

Kari then suggested we went firefly (aka lightening bug) spotting. For those who don’t have a clue what a firefly is, they’re the nocturnal flies that flash light when they fly. It looks like lots of mini flash torches in the dark. Now it might sound silly but this is a serious seasonal event in Japan, one of the many reasons why Japan is so endearing! They have an area just outside the Kenrokuen dedicated for spotting! It was full of kids and parents, even expert firefly catchers with little nets so we could get a closer look. I’m absolutely gutted that there was a problem uploading my videos so lost the little fella who I got on film.

Brilliant night all round!

Hyakumangoku Matsuri, Kanazawa. THE best festival to see in Kanazawa

Ooh im so excited to write about this. This weekend was THE biggest and best festival in Kanazawa, the Hyakumangoku Matsuri (meaning of Hyakumangoku here). The festival is held in commemoration of Lord Maeda Toshiie's entry into Kanazawa castle way back in 1583. Maeda was one of the most powerful clan in ancient Japan. So, every year during the noon parade, there will be a re-enactment of the scene where someone will portray Lord Maeda riding the horse into the city.
The main attraction is the televised parade, over 1000 people performing along the streets of Kanazawa from Kanazawa station to the castle with a finale a re-enactment of the scene when Lord Maeda rides the horse into the city.

So get this, I was part of the procession!!

I found out through a girl I met Tammy (a Jet) who told me that every year a few gaijins (foreigners) are allowed to join the parade as churro (the Queen’s assistants) all dressed up looking like Japanese (well trying to…) Brilliant, I didn’t hesitate in signing up.
The day started at 9.30, we joined about 400 other Japanese girls to get dolled up
First our arms and face were whitened.

Then the make up- a scary amount of black eye liner, drawn on black eye brows and those little red geisha looking lips.

Next, the kimono which comprised of 3 separate layers (each layer heavier than the last) to which I was helped into by a volunteer. To be accurate it was a kimono without the obi (the big belt around your tummy which tucks you in nicely). This coupled with the fact I was given an orange one, made me look like a gigantic satsuma!

Last, the wig. Here’s me getting mine fitted, in fact actually getting it glues to my forehead and sides of my face!

The entire fitting process took about 4 hours. We were ready at last. We were whisked away by our awaiting carriages (buses) to Kanazawa station (starting point of procession) and were reunited with the guys in their samurai gear. I'm the giant satsuma on the far right.

At 3.30 the procession started. Wow is all I can say, a great performance of Japanese taiko drummers kicked off the show right outside the station, followed by marching bands, traditional dance groups then my favourite performance of the day, a bunch Kaga firemen doing stunts up these wobbly 20 ft bamboo ladders held only by 4 fellow fireman. No safety equipment whatsoever. WOW WOW WOW

I've nabbed this piccie of them from another site.

By 4pm we had started our extremely slow march behind our famous Queen (every year they pay a famous actor and actress 1 mill yen to pretend to be the Queen and King) The crowds and atmosphere was incredible. I felt very important! 2 hours later it was over; my feet were killing me & I was dying of thirst but oh so worth it.

Later at 6pm there was the Odori-Nagashi Odori procession and contest. Teams from different companies dressed in yukata of team colous all dance in Katamachi competing for the top bon odori team. I was en route home to scrape off the make-up..

Monday, June 8, 2009

New Apres Bar in Kanazawa has opened

Being a newbie in Kanazawa, I can’t really rave on about the great nights I had at the last Apres but boy have I heard about them! Apres this, apr├Ęs that...

So I was intrigued to check it out this gaijin friendly bar/restaurant when I heard it re-opened last week. So before the Noh performance we popped in for some nosh and a chu-hi.
The bar itself is pretty uninspiring, sticky floors, a few long tables/chairs, definately a Sat night gig and not a daytime hangout. I chose a curry from the all Thai menu. I was hoping for some proper spice since it doesn’t seem to exist in Japanese food. It didn’t disappoint. Our mouths were on fire. A litre of water later we took a little explore around the new Apres. So it’s firstly pretty small, so not much of an explore, but there is this cool little private room with a huge glass window which Kari decided to dance provocatively against, oh jeez, a sign of times to come?

To find Apres, go to the scramble in Katamatchi, as you're standing outside Mr Donuts, cross the road to directly the other side and walk down that street for about 2 mins, on the right, on the corner you'll see the Apres sign. Apres is on the 8th floor. Google map here

Yes and "club blow" is what you think it is.....I think its a few floors down from Apres.

Sunday, June 7, 2009

Japan: a land of bizarre quirks and contradictions….

Over the past few weeks I have been continuously amazed with some of the bizarre nuances, quirks and contradictions that I’ve faced so far in my time here.
From seeing kimono clad women sipping coffee in Starbucks surfing the web on their keitai’s (mobile phones) to the surprise of finding a huge modern elevator in the middle of Nagoya Castle, Japan continues for me, to be a melting pot of east/west, modern and traditional and I’m so enjoying the cultural ride!
Below I’ve tried to summarise my experiences so far, I’ll add to the list as and when!

The older generation in Japan are mostly conservatively dressed. I haven’t yet seen anyone over the age of 40 in anything but pastel. Maybe there’s a cultural explanation somewhere? I’m not sure what happens down the family tree from seniors to juniors but the difference in dress is shocking.
Japanese teen fashion.
Girls as young as 13 in knee high tights, super minis, knee high socks and plastic stilettos which they can never walk in properly! I thought Japan was supposed to be famous for conformity? I’m confused!

Either state of the art, heated seat- music playing- bum wash & dry toilet or the self-degrading squat variety. Take your pick! (more on the Japanese toilet experience read this post)

The Japanese have a great reputation for politeness. You will notice it immediately in Japan, the gracious looking bows from people and then later with the language (since there are no pronouns like I, you, he/she etc you will be addressed as name + san)
So a quick word of warning, although in the majority of cases the Japanese are indeed polite don’t always equate the politeness with regard/respect for others. Just get on a train during rush hour and politeness goes out of the window. Maybe it’s a 7am thing but grown adult male commuters will think nothing of pushing me out of the way to get a seat! Old ladies are the worst offenders…be warned!

Hygiene: Masks

As I mentioned in another post, the Japanese wear masks, to protect people from their illnesses and also to protect themselves from other people’s viruses. The ironic thing is as soon as you go into a bar/restaurant/karaoke confined space type place masks are tossed to the side & everyone will be chuffing away on their fags or sharing the karaoke mic for a blissful duet.

Hygiene: Nose Blowing
Nose blowing. Yes sounds so minor but read on… In Japan, if you have a cold it is considered ruder to blow your nose in public than not which makes my commute to work on a crowded train sometimes UNBEARABLE. Some bloke with an awful snotty nose stands pressed up against me sniffing interminably. I’ve had to change carriages to avoid it!

There is huge popularity among Japanese couples of getting married in small Christian churches and chapels even though they are not Christian themselves and have no intention of converting. A guy I met here actually conducts the weddings, he’s no trained priest or anything but apparently it’s a good little money earner. Funny!