Sunday, May 30, 2010

Going to Otaru... Two

18th October, 2006 - Well T-chan has definitely been feeling worse in the mornings now - and still no sign of her  taste returning. We decided to borrow the parents car and head off across to Otaru to spend some more time together. On the way we planned to visit <a href=" />Asari Dam again. The "UFO Bridge" looks quite different during the day, and I have to say that it's even more freaky to drive over when you can see what you're doing! Did I mention my growing fear of heights?

Deep waters run still. However, deeper waters also tend to overflow... not sure why the engineers hadn't quite worked out where the water level was going to get to when they build the fence. Still... keeps the fishes in. This is a hard thing to watch all of this water... just sitting there.... considering that Australia and Adelaide was (and still is) in the grip of a drought.

This is generally a good place for Autumn Colours, however, this year was definitely a disappointment. There was very little colour around, especially when I recall Jozankei and how absolutely impressed I was.

It's still a nice area, but it's a bit cool for a picnic.

We left Asari Dam and continued on to Otaru (here's a link to a useful map of the Otaru). It had been three years since we last came during the Autumn months, and it had be beautiful back then. Once again the weather was beautiful for strolling around... but the chill air had started to appear lately. These sorts of days were coming to an end with the approach of winter in Hokkaido. Otaru is separated into two main tourist areas. The canal and the Sakai-machi street where you will find most of the glass and music box shops.

The following shows just some of the scenes along Sakai-machi street. The big building here is the Kitaichi Venetian Museum of Art. Why in Otaru? I think it's the link to the glass/crystal industry. Venetian glass being the yardstick by which others are measured.

School kids on excursion. This is a typical "real school uniform" look... very smart. Not exactly sure what they'd be doing here today - T-chan says they'd be part of a school trip from somewhere else in Japan (2nd year High School students invariably go for a trip either to another part of Japan or even overseas). You'll notice that there's not that much bling on these girls. When T-chan went to school (a few years ago now)... their dresses were measured to ensure that they were "appropriate length", and hair dying was definitely prohibited. T-chan and her mother had to convince that her hair was naturally curled (actually it was permed... shhhh... family secret). Generally things have loosened up a lot in Japan these days - even in the private schools.

Near the end of street there is a large public square, known as Marchen Square.

LeTAO le Chocolat cafeteria in Marchen Square... you'll often find someone outside offering free samples of their wares... yummy.

Otaru Orgel Doh (often translated to Emporium)... Orgel or music boxes are one of the famous things in Otaru. Here you'll find just about any type of music box from the modern and small to the enormous and old (and with prices to match). Sorry - no photos inside on this trip...

Out the front of the Orgel Emporium is the Steam Clock... yes - a steam powered clock. It's supposedly the largest in the world, and only the second to be built. Actually, whilst this appears old, it was made in 1995 by Raymond Saunders. Steam clocks are a generally recent thing, the first popular one was actually made in Gastown, Vancouver in 1977. Every 15 minutes the chimes ring out...

Whislt your here - if you've got any anime interest at all, make sure you stop in at Yume no Oto (The Sound of Dreams). There's a great range of Studio Ghibli gear, as well as a raft of other anime-themed gear.
(care of Street View)

Good ol' Totoro! And if you don't know about Studio Ghibli then you should go out and hire one of their movies - especially anything by renowned director Hayao Miyazaki.

Bears are never far away... at least this one is not stuffed! He also looks much more friendly (on account of not being stuffed I'm sure).

The architecture in Otaru is quite eclectic. Theres the more traditional old Japanese building...

And the stranger fusion styles as well.

Nothing says old like living walls...

Not exactly the golden arches of McDonalds... not sure it will catch on.

Or if you want a treat - you can always go low-brow and get a Frankfurt-on-a-stick . Not quite a hot dog, but yummy nonetheless. And yes... they're called Furankufuruto! T-chan was looking forward to reliving childhood memories of eating these... but not sure they're that appetizing when you can't taste.

Otaru is famous for it's hills. And it's snow. Generally this is not a convenient combination. Outside of winter you get to see how they keep it all together. Doesn't look that sturdy - but works a charm.

And here's the obligatory canal shot. Not much has changed in 3 years.

Our fourth trip to Sapporo is winding up... and today was just a test-run for our hectic adventure in Kyoto. It's been a good day -  but we know it's going to be hard trip.
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Saturday, May 29, 2010

Jingisukan... By Any Other Name... Not.

17th October, 2006 - After a quiet day, and some considerable anticipation, T-chan's family head off to one of the local Jingisukan restaurants. Only to find that it wasn't open. Ok... deep breaths. It's not the end of the world. Not nearly.

Anyhow - after a lot of brain-wracking, we came up with an alternative that was all the way towards the city centre. It was a small shop and a bit pricey - but we were all hanging out for some yummy BBQ mutton.

As an aside - we're still busily trying to find our own recipe... and if it wasn't for us also stressing out about our son's 3rd birthday party and the rapidly approaching departure of T-chan and L-kun then I'd likely have torn the house down looking for it.

In the mean-time... back to the story. The shop had a couple of rooms... but given that it was a tuesday we were the only customers. Not a good feeling in any eating place. The meal was... basic. It wasn't "bad" as such... just ordinary. Anyhow - the shop is called Yoshitsune in Chuoku.

We had our fill - and although our stomachs were full, our hearts were not... this was not good Jingisukan. We all felt somewhat disappointed. Expectation can be a mood spoiler when it's not met. Especially after about an hour of running around getting here. My glass was definitely more than half empty...

The only one of us that wasn't disappointed (or at least not because of the BBQ) was T-chan, who would have given anything at that time to have been able to taste even so-so Jingisukan. Over the last few days her feeling in the morning had definitely taken a turn for the worse. Morning sickness. What a brilliant idea Nature. At times like these I feel very happy to be a man. Then again - I most probably feel that way most of the time.

We had started having some pretty serious discussions around this time. We had already booked over two weeks in Kansai (due to start in few days), and we'd spent the better part of the last 3 months planning meticulously. Pregnancy has a way of changing things, and it's not always easy to anticipate in advance. T-chan knew how much my heart had been put into the Kansai trip - but we both knew how hard this would be.

Quietly her family and friends were a little worried about us running around doing heavy duty touristy stuff with T-chan starting to feel the effects of her pregnancy. Not to mention the fact that the first trimester is the most dangerous in terms of miscarriage. We had lots of thinking to do ahead of us... and that included coming up with lists of hospitals in Kyoto - just in case.

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Going To Buy Latest Apple Products in Mashike

16th October. 2006 - After a day and night out on the town, T-chan's family had organised to go on a bit of a tour... for a great new Apple product that had not even hit the stores yet. However, this wasn't the sort of product you'd find in downtown Yodobashi or BIC Camera howerver... We had to go a little further afield. In fact up the western coast of Hokkaido to a small little town called Mashike (population around 5,000). It's about 115km away, and most of that is on windy coastal road. By the way, here's an interesting link for some helpful hints of driving holidays in Hokkaido.

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The trip is primarily along the coastline, and there's a few vantage points on the way to look back. The coastline towards Sapporo is not that interesting however (see above). The further away from Sapporo the more attractive the scenery. One of the nice little breaks is at Shiragane-no-taki.

The sun is low at this time of the morning. It may be a small waterfall, but it's faint cool mist and beautiful sound is still good for the refreshing the senses. That rock looks old - yet much of this land is actually geologically quite young.

The one thing that you definitely see a lot of on the drive to Mashike is tunnels. From memory we drove through over 20 tunnels along the coast. Most of them are small, but some take upwards of a minute to drive through.

It's at times like these that I think about all the seismic activity in this neck of the wood (long tunnels would not the best place to be, I imagine, when an earthquake hits). Man am I paranoid about tunnels! T-chan just reminded me that a few years before this trip one of these tunnels had collapsed (due to an engineering fault) killing quite a few people. Perhaps I wasn't so paranoid after all...

Still, it's not all coastline and tunnels. The countryside around here feels (despite the netting of electrical and fibre optic) very raw and untouched. This is quite different to the countryside around Jozankei for example (where you know that it's on a well-traveled route to a tourist town). I'm not sure how many people get out into these hills. 

And here we are - eventually... in Mashike... to buy one of the best Apple products around. No that's not Apple with a (TM). It's the real thing. (Not an IPad in sight). That's right, we've driven for about two hours to buy apples!

 Ok - we're not actually in Mashike, but rather an apple orchard just out of town. And yes - the apples are delicious! T-chan's parents have come here before and this has become a sort of annual pilgrimage for them. The apples are so good that not only will T-chan's parents bring a whole heap back home for themselves, but they'll use them as a sort of omiyage for many of their friends (these are presents for thanking and consideration). And these are always well received as Mashike apples are quite famous in Hokkaido. Not sure what type of apples are grown but they are amazingly crisp and juicy. Here's another link I found to some very funky looking docos on apple-growing in Hokkaido.

It's certainly a beautiful and bounty land to grow produce in. This area grows a lot of different fruit and vegetables. Yumm-o... but T-chan couldn't taste any of it. And she was also starting to suffer from morning-sickness.

After buying apples we headed back to Mashike where we popped into the Kunimare Sake Brewery... which was established in 1882 and is reasonably well known around Hokkaido at least. Don't ask me why the people in Hokkaido love their stuffed bears, but you will find them every where. It's a little degrading... but apparently not enough that I would refuse to have myself photographed with it.

As for the brewery itself - I'm not much of a sake drinker, but it seemed quite reasonable... The brewery looked very much like that. Very business-like (and by that I mean it's all brewery, and only a very small back room for tasting). Don't expect a totally awesome tour, but it's not everyday that you can have a look around a working sake brewery. Sorry - can't recall the prices.

On the way back to Sapporo, we stopped off at one of the many river outlets along the coast. It's spawning time for the Salmon here now, and sure enough we see quite a few salmon heading up-stream... trying to jump up the regulators along the way.

It's a somewhat sad sight... and a little confronting if you've not seen it before. There's a raw desperation and energy about the salmon struggling against current, barrier and ultimately fatigue to reach their goal in order to spawn. This however, is nature at it's most raw...

And I have to say... seeing all that salmon makes me hungry. I just love to eat'em. T-chan's mother makes the best salmon dishes.  ?;^)

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Tuesday, May 25, 2010

A Changing Perspective... Night Out in Susukino

15th October 2006 - T-chan and I had organised a night out with her best friend, T2-chan. We caught up for dinner and then Karaoke at one of the many places around Susukino. This is where we feel most relaxed...

On the way back, we decided to be a little adventurous and try the Ferris Wheel at Norbesa building. This is not an uncommon sight in Japan these days, giant ferris wheels sticking out of buildings. This Ferris Wheel has a name, Noria (who knows what one should name Ferris Wheels!). It stands about 78m above the ground - starting on top of at 7 storey building. The cost is about 600 yen (the image here is once again from good ol' Street View).

The strangest thing about pregnancy is just how many really strange things there are about pregnancy. You'd think we'd know it all with all of the information available to us... but we weren't prepared for this one. After all three of us had boarded the Ferris Wheel, and within seconds of it starting to move - T-chan freaked out. I mean, literally went into a massive panic attack. The smile below was somewhat forced. It's a bit hard to feel the moment when your wife is digging her nails into your flesh. T-chan is not good with heights, but somehow the pregnancy had brought with it a whole new level of fear.

My expression here, about 6 mins later, was one of relief and tiredness. T-chan was by this time completely over her panic attack, and was now feeling on top of the world. I was feeling just a little stressed.

They don't tell you about these sorts of reactions... and I guess it's different for everyone. We haven't been on a Ferris Wheel since then, and I have to admit that I try to avoid them myself these days. Bad association?... I would recommend doing this (especially at night) - but perhaps you should pass if newly pregnant.

It was clear from tonight that our life really had changed, in even the most basic of ways...including our fears. Undoubtedly hormones have a big part to play - but I suspect that this was Nature telling us that our perspective had to change. One way or another.

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Monday, May 24, 2010

A Golfing We Do Go...

13th October, 2006 - The Japanese love their golf... and they love their skiing (at least in Hokkaido)... so of course, it makes sense to combine those two things by having a ski course that converts to a golf course during the non-winter months. Otousan took me to a simple "beginner" golf course called Koba-world (that's because I don't play golf)... As a golf player I make a good excavator....

Do I look like I know what I'm doing... the magic of photoshop.

Compared to Otousan, who has played for the better part of ALL OF HIS LIFE (ok - not quite), I barely know which end of the club to hold on to. He tried to give me some tips... such as.. hit the white ball towards the flag... avoid "OB"... out of bounds. There was way too much of this OB for my liking.

Mark Twain said that golf is a good walk spoiled. Well, if nothing else it's a great walk around Koba-world even with the golf. This course is not going to win any awards - however  the good mix of slopes adds a nice variety. As mentioned it's reasonably small (par 66 for 18 holes), but it's great fun especially for beginners.

Koba-World is situated in the Bankei Area, one of the popular ski-runs near Sapporo.

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After a long day (of doing many other physically demanding chores, such as cutting down trees, or lifting cars bare-handed...) I felt a little tired. T-chan's cat doesn't normally get that snuggly to me - but clearly she knew that tonight I would be especally comfy as I took a nap. And no... I didn't sleep on the couch (at least not the whole night).

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