Friday, June 22, 2018

Japan: Kanazawa/Nagano

We were only in Kanazawa for one night. My MIL came last year and she just thought we would love it so we had to stop. We did love it! We stayed in a nice hotel and slept in a bed for the first time since Kyoto. 
We also ate at a realllllly good sushi place (twice in fact) that gave me unagi (eel) that will never be topped. 
We went to these Japanese gardens that were BEAUTIFUL and I would suggest going to Kanazawa just for the gardens. We could have spent a long time in there. Even wth the drunken tourists, it was really peaceful and quiet.

 My FIL pointed something out about this waterfall that was constructed in the 1770s...that while our founding fathers were fighting for independence in America, the Japanese were building this waterfall.

This is a waterfall. That tells time. And the date. JAPAN LIVING IN 3018.

This whole area by the train station was so cool, I loved this modern torii gate!
We spent a lot of time shopping in the train station, I bought a really pretty ring box that is traditionally Japanese so I thought that was an appropriate place to put my wedding ring.
dreamy breakfast
The next morning we had a few hours to kill before our train so we split up and some went to the museum and we explored an old samurai village, an old castle and then did round two of sushi before meeting up with everyone to catch our train to Nagano.
While we were walking around we met this Japanese guy who told us, in English, that he loves Trump. Blargh.

 The sushi people were so confused when we came back with half our little group.
We rode north to Nagano to meet up with Mark's uncle who I have never met! We weren't there very long either, one night in a glorious hotel, but it was important to see him! This was probably my favorite temple we visited because of the insane carvings.

After this we had to catch a bus to dinner, but I found this jewelry shop and spent significant time picking out jewelry when they said "WE HAVE TO CATCH THE BUS NOW! IT'S THE LAST ONE OF THE NIGHT!" but since I'm a brat I was like, "you guys can, I'm buying this jewelry!" and even though the cashier moved in slow motion and was being a brat, I made my purchase and about a minute later the bus came, so we made it! 
We ate some great yakitori where I inadvertently ate cow tongue and thought it was very good before Mark told me the truth (days later because he knows me and my rage)
This was the day I started really not feeling good (I caught a cold and it sucked) so I was really tired and wanting to go home when my MIL dragged us into a karaoke club. Guys, I would rather be naked in an onsen with family than sing karaoke. It is my biggest pet peeve, worst fear, whatever you want to call it. When I was younger I wrote a poem about getting rid of karaoke forever. So I was not the happiest camper about this karaoke thing. None of us were, in fact I would say we were pretty big snots about the whole deal. 
So I am reluctant to admit I warmed up to it and had a great time. I know!! I still hate karaoke with all my heart, but it was fun.
We were on our way to Odate the next day which would be six hours of traveling, bleck! Stay tuned.
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Thursday, June 21, 2018

Japan: Hiroshima/Shiniwakuni

 We were sad to leave Nakatsu after being treated so well, but we were excited to see family that I have never met and Mark hadn't seen in 11 years. They also treated us so well! They picked us up and took us to lunch. This was another meal I struggled with (I promise I didn't struggle with eating the entire time) you see that green stuff in the middle? This is where I didn't follow my own rule of trying things. My sister in law gave me her potato salad because she's a saint who didn't want me to pass out from hunger.
After we ate (Japanese style, by the way, aka on the floor) our family led us to this museum that they said we absolutely had to visit. I knew we were going to a bridge that was built with no nails, so I assumed this museum was about that. The museum was super nice, clear a lot of money had been spent on the displays and stuff, and we sat down to watch a movie about the museum. It was an animated movie about a white snake and it honestly didn't make any sense and I was really confused about where the bridge was?? We kept walking through the museum and there were all of these facts about snakes and then a big glass display case of real white snakes just slitherin around. We were all SO confused until finally we realized it was NOT the bridge museum and just a little museum about the white snakes that naturally live in this area of Japan. They are good luck because they ate the mice that were trying to eat the rice way back in the day, so they are super holy. Once we realized it was not the bridge museum and it was a snake museum it made a lot more sense but...there's only so much info that one needs to know about a very specific breed of snake, so we didn't spend a lot of time there and hopefully we didn't offend our relatives. Lost in translation is real! 

After THE museum of the year walked through the LOVELIEST park and splash pad area. It was gorgeous and so fun with little shops and ice cream stands everywhere. It led to this bridge, which I think at one time was built without nails but it for sure had nails in it when we walked over it so... *shrugs* but it's honestly so much bigger than it looks in this picture! Walking up the bumps wore me out. 

 After the bridge and a little ice cream break we traveled back to our relative's extra house (because who doesn't just have an extra house lying around) and got ready for our little baby cousin's first birthday party. I was real stressed because they bought two huge sushi platters that had been sitting in a warm house literally all day.....but I didn't get food poisoning on this part of the trip (lol) so it must have been fine. The cake was so good!

After a fun party, my mother in law and I were dropped off at the laundromat so we could do laundry for the family and I struggled with the Japanese directions, clearly. People don't show the unglam parts of being gone for three weeks, there is no way you can pack enough clothes/underwear/socks so you might have to spend a few hours doing laundry on vacation. 
A culture thing I realized while doing laundry which I had started to notice, Japanese people are a lot more lenient (is that even the right word?) about their children. I saw SO many little babies and toddlers in the front seat, sometimes in a carseat and sometimes not. When we drove the hour to Hiroshima, our little four year old cousin wasn't in a carseat, he was just chillin. Then in the few hours it took to do laundry, the one year old was asleep in the minivan and no one even checked on him nor was he really visible from where we were. It was just super interesting to me, but Japan is a LOT safer than America so maybe it's a non issue!
 The next morning we made the hour drive from Shiniwakuni, where our relatives live, to Hiroshima. This was a pretty intense place and one I would recommend anyone visiting and I wish that all American citizens were forced to visit. I have a history minor and I never, ever was taught Hiroshima accurately or as atrociously as it really was. 
You can see the before/after of this building. Everyone in the building was killed instantly.

 After the bomb, people would run to the river thinking it would help their burns but it made them worse and many drowned in the river.
 They have an extremely thorough museum, unfortunately a lot of it was under construction but they said they got most of the information condensed, we saw a good amount. We spent a lot of time in the video area where survivors shared their stories, it's just horrific and unimaginable. 
Clothes from people that were still very far from the detonation point

This was instant
Because I am a history nerd, this was my favorite thing we did on the trip and something I won't ever forget. I just think that if people visited these places, a lot of what we argue about politics wise would be a non issue. The museum really boils it down to humanity, and humanity and atomic weapons cannot co-exist. It was pretty life changing so I would recommend a visit. 
Also, I know that it's common sense but don't bring a drone to such a peaceful place. My MIL will go AFTER. YOU. HONEY! 

After Hiroshima and our lunch, which consisted of a banana and pringles for me and Japanese pancakes for everyone else, we drove to get onto a ferry (also, if you see this post and are going to Japan, there is a JR ferry that you can use your railpass on!) to go to DEER ISLAND! It's actually called Miyajima. You can read about the deer here. They really just want food and literally don't care about you at all if you don't have food. When we were there, they didn't have any deer cookies that you could buy so maybe the deer were getting sick or something.
On deer island there are SO many shops, restaurants etc it's a total tourist trap but I loved it. It's a fun place.

There is also a Shinto temple here with a gorgeous Torii gate that is over the water. We were trying to make it there earlier so we could see it at high tide. I'm sure it's beautiful all the time!

Okay, so after this the funniest thing happened. We got back on the ferry, got in the car and started driving. We assumed we were going home, but remember it's rude to ask what the plan is. So after not that long of driving, we pulled into a parking lot. We asked where we were and they said an "onsen"
So just to recap from my last post, an onsen is basically just a natural hot water spring. Sometimes they are hot to the point that you can't get in, and sometimes they are like hot tub hot, so it's a big thing in Japan to go in an onsen spa. To do this, you aren't clothed. Japan has this phrase that's basically like "such good friends because you have seen each other naked" and they just have a very different culture surrounding nakedness than America. So when our relatives pulled up to an onsen I thought it was the kind we had gone to a few days before where you just walk around and see it, but no, this was a naked onsen. I cannot imagine what my face looked like when I realized. I maybe would have been game to go if I hadn't 1. been with relatives and 2. wasn't already a spectacle, my naked body would have sent the poor Japanese ladies into a panic!
I was racking my brain trying to figure out how to say no but not be rude because that is a huge thing you have to be careful of when my MIL was like "you don't have to go!!" and saved me! Mark and I and his little brother hung out in the lounge area while everyone went in and then we all ate dinner together in the same building when they were done.  I do want to go in one one day, just alone! and preferably empty! I guess I just want to take a bath. Haha.

We were sad to leave our [fully clothed] family but were reallllly ready to not sleep on the floor and be in a clean hotel, so we headed off to Kanazawa!
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Wednesday, June 20, 2018

Japan: Nakatsu

Nakatsu! Looking back, my favorite part of the trip. Rewind to last year, my in-laws are on a hiking trip in Switzerland and they met this Japanese couple and my brother in law starts chatting with them for a few hours at most. They exchange emails and over the course of the next few months they invite us to stay with them when we come to Japan, and then they insist. We were all like, "this is gonna be freaking awkward" and we just didn't know what to expect, but regardless we went down south to Nakatsu, of course with a little bento box action on the way. Also, I had the best banana bread OF MY LIFE in the Kyoto train station at Andersen's. I would fly across the world for it.
I asked my mom if she would eat this and she said "no" instantly. It's salad, tofu and potato salad lololol 
So we get off the train, we are all a little anxious that we won't even recognize these people once we actually see them but luckily the guy recognized us (a Japanese family with two white people probably wasn't hard to spot) and he had rented this van and we all piled inside. On the way he told us, through interpretation, that he just retired and moved into his 100 year old childhood home to take care of his grandparents since he is the oldest boy. They had just done so many renovations. This is their garden and it is so pretty!
This is the view from their front yard, can you see that torii gate? Gorgeous.
We walked into their house and I just hear my sister in law say, "THIS IS SO JAPANESE!" and that is kind of when my culture shock started setting in because I have never seen or been in a traditional Japanese house before! It's really hard to explain so I just won't, but know it's pretty different than your American house. We walk into the living room ish area and there are two REALLY old Japanese people (the guy's parents) in like, essentially kimonos, on the floor bowing to us. When I get uncomfortable I giggle, so I was literally holding in the giggles for all it's worth as I followed everyone's lead and got down on the floor to bow. Then the Grandma opened up the buddhist shrine in the living room and lit some candles. Then they had a big coffee table and pillows on the floor so everyone sat cross legged on the pillows, which is not an activity for tall white people who have never participated in a second of yoga in their lives (me). Then they pour this tea for all of us and let me tell you, there is a reason it's called cigarette butt juice. It would have been so rude not to drink it! So I'm sitting there, awkwardly cross legged wondering which is more rude, to finish the tea and then excuse myself to gag in their bathroom or not to finish, when my blessed sister in law hurry and switches our cups and drinks my tea. Crisis averted!
After a little visit, they took us on a drive. They really live in such a gorgeous place. These mountains are beautiful.

You can see the little overpass for cars in this picture on the left, one guy spent thirty years making this alone, with a hammer and chisel.
Another temple and yes, it burned down.
We went back to the house because the guy said he caught a fresh squid for us that morning and I was so seriously panicked because I hate squid and I was starving. Luckily they had other food, like karaage which is fried chicken that Nakatsu is so famous for that KFC couldn't last.

After dinner they told us they were taking us somewhere else, but didn't tell us where. This was kind of a theme of the whole time we were with other family members, it was rude to ask what the plan was and so for a control freak like me, that was tough, but I eventually accepted my fate and went along with things. They drove us about 20 minutes away from their home, had us get out and walk into the woods area where I could tell there was a river. We had been joking before we went to Nakatsu that these people would probably murder us, but at this exact moment I was a little bit wondering if that was going to be the case. Then I saw one, and then more, and then hundreds, fireflies. It was the time of year that the fireflies come to this particular area, it only lasts a few weeks and we were lucky enough to see it. It's hard to explain something so magical, hundreds of thousands of lightning bugs along this beautiful river. I am kind of grateful that we couldn't capture it on film, because it was a truly a once in a lifetime thing we will never experience again. It was breathtaking in every sense of the word and I'm so grateful that we got to see it.

After we got home I naively asked where our bedrooms were, not understanding that we had been in the room where we were sleeping the entire day. I have never slept Japanese style but it is pretty uncomfortable, mainly because their pillows are made of rice. However it wasn't horrible because we were so tired, we just conked out.

 The next morning they had my favorite type of eggs, with soy sauce and sugar, and these bad boys.

 The people whose house we were at had a full day planned for us, it was pretty awesome. They took us to this temple which was especially cool because it was the one day that month that the priests were visiting, so we got to see that whole ceremony. We also prayed about 1,000 times which consists of throwing money in this box, bowing once, clapping twice, bowing again, clapping again. I think. 

Not very many people! So quiet. 

This was actually the one place I felt so uncomfortable. Now that we were out of the big cities of Kyoto and Tokyo, people were not as used to foreigners and therefore my tallness/size/blonde hair made people S T A R E and they were NOT shy about it. Especially in Japan, it's very much apart of the culture to not stand out, I was a spectacle. I was getting very bothered about it but tried my hardest to just not care. It's probably good for everyone to experience what it's like being a minority even if it is on a very small and temporary scale.
After a very windy drive in which we almost got hit by a semi, we got to another temple which was the oldest one that hadn't burned down! They had engravings of buddha that had been there since 900. 
I wish we had gotten pictures of the friendly temple cat and the ice cream store at the base of the temple, the worker lady was in love with us and wanted us to move there. 
Then we went to lunch, which was tough for me because yakisoba is not my favorite and I was hangry, but I got over myself. 
Then they took us to an onsen, which I thought was the hot springs where you get naked and I was so uncomfortable. Luckily it wasn't, but that wasn't my last run in with an onsen. They had two onsen's that were like heaven and hell, is what they called them. We got to put our feet into the hell one and even though the water was super hot it felt so good on our sore feet!

That night we were told to be ready at a certain time because there was going to be a big party in our honor because it was a big opportunity to be able to meet Americans, so we also didn't know what to expect. The host families cousins and their families hosted a big backyard yakiniku party and it was THE BEST EVER. It was such a fun party with tasty food and ADORABLE JAPANESE BABIES. They were so kind to us and we tried to communicate with only two interpreters, but we ended up being able to do it! One of the guys there loves Wiz Khalifa so much haha.
 It was pretty amazing and a great cure to the weird homesickness I was feeling at this point. It actually really made me think about how I want to have the feeling that they gave us to be a permanent feeling in my own house and my classroom. It was so special and something I won't ever forget. 

We all follow each other on Instagram now so hopefully they will come visit us one day. 
In Japanese culture, being good hosts is hugely important and our host family took such good care of us. We were so grateful.
We left them with full hearts and sped towards Hiroshima! 
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