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Happy Holidays 2011 December 6, 2011

Posted by Dru in Tokyo.
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Author’s Note:  Dru’s Misadventures has moved to HinoMaple.  Please venture on over there to read “Happy Holidays 2011” complete with photos.  http://wp.me/p2liAm-L9

It is another year and another Christmas.  As I get older, I notice that times goes faster and faster.  I can’t believe it has been a year since I last wrote this holiday post.  It is nearly a tradition to talk about the Christmas season now.  Unfortunately there is nothing left to talk about for Tokyo’s Christmas.  In my previous posts, see links below, I have mentioned the tradition of Christmas in Japan.  In reality, nothing has changed over the years.  Things are still going strong and people just party like it’s 1999.  It is a little difficult to find new things and I’m sure I’ll discover something, but generally speaking there are no new unique developments in Japan.

The most popular thing to do these days is to go around Tokyo and look at the various Christmas light displays.  There are several places that are now traditional places to visit.  Omotesando is one of the first places one should visit.  It is often credited as the place where Christmas Illuminations regained popularity in Tokyo around early the 2000s.  After they lit up the main street from Harajuku Station to Omotesando Station, lots of people flocked to Omotesando to enjoy the lights as well as do a lot of shopping. Most areas now do the same thing and it is almost a competition to see who can attract more people.  Unfortunately most of the displays haven’t changed much since they were first introduced.  The signs change and any lighting that is associated with a specific year has changed but the actual displays are generally the same.  It is a bit of a shame that they don’t become more creative but that is how things are in Tokyo.  People have an idea, make it possible then reuse it until it becomes stale.  Rather than revamping things so it stays fresh, they recycle things too often.  Thankfully some areas do change things up.  Christmas trees tend to be different each year and most weak displays are added upon each year until they become grand displays.  Some areas do change slightly each year but as mentioned the basic designs don’t change.

Other areas of mention are Shinjuku, Shiodome, Marunouchi, Roppongi, Korakuen, and Odaiba.  Most of the displays in these areas are very similar to previous years and the locations are the same.  It is possible that some of them will change but I haven’t heard anything about new displays this year.  Some areas are somewhat new but they tend to be on the small side in their first year.  Smaller areas of Tokyo will see light displays and they do tend to grow a bit each year.  Smaller areas don’t have the money to build a large display in one year so it takes a few years to build it up.  No matter where you go in Tokyo, you are sure to see Christmas decorations and lighting.  It can feel a bit commercial but it does put one into the Christmas mood.  Unfortunately, due to the greater importance of New Year’s decorations, after the shops close on Christmas day, the decorations are quickly removed and replaced with the New Year’s displays overnight.  It can feel a bit depressing at first but the thought of an exciting new year is wonderful.

Merry Christmas everyone and I hope you all have a safe and happy holidays wherever you are.  For those who aren’t Christian, Christmas is barely a religious holiday anymore so I hope you can still enjoy it.  (^^)

Happy Holidays 2011 is part of a series of posts each year talking about the year end holiday season in Japan.  To read more, please venture to the other posts below:

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Happy Holidays December 7, 2009

Posted by Dru in Tokyo.
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Author’s Note:  Dru’s Misadventures has moved to HinoMaple.  Please venture on over there to read “Happy Holidays” complete with photos.  http://wp.me/p2liAm-jM

HAPPY HOLIDAYS!

Last year was my first year with this blog and I talked about the differences between a Japanese Christmas and a Western Christmas.  It’s a little early for Christmas, but with December having started already, it’s the holiday season.  The actual Christmas season starts on November 1st, and gets into full swing on December 1st.  It also signals the party season.  If you have ever visited Japan in December, it’s highly advised that you be careful when taking the trains after 10pm.  In fact, you should always be careful after 10pm.  It is this time when people start to make their way home after a night of drinking.  The end of the year is a very important time for Japanese people to celebrate the end and have one last party.

Bonnenkai is essentially a Christmas Party, or for non-secular people, a Year End Party.  Offices typically have at least one party at this time, but depending on the company, this can increase significantly.  In North America, there tends to be an average of three Year End Parties, at least from my own experiences.  There is usually one for the department, one for the company, and possibly one with friends.  Sometimes, this is the only time to meet old friends as people can be busy with their work and their own personal lives.  On the extreme end, people could have up to three parties each week, or about 12 in the month if they have to have a bonnenkai with their customers.  Needless to say, this can put a lot of stress on a person’s liver.  Typically, restaurants are busy over the weekend, and there are always special bonnenkai deals to be had if you book ahead.  Be aware that sometimes they are not better than ordering on your own.

Other than bonnenkais, the only thing that happens during the holiday season is to head around town and see all of the Christmas lights.  It has become very popular for different shopping areas to have their own light display.  As always, Ginza is a hot spot for lights, although it’s not spectacular.  Roppongi is generally a more interesting area as they have the Tokyo Midtown, the Roppongi Hills areas for lights.  This year, there will also be another Lightopia event in Marunouchi along with the typical Marunouchi lights.  If you have seen the Christmas lights in the last few years, especially in Tokyo, there won’t be too many new displays.  Each year, there tends to be one major new light display, while the others are only slightly updated.  The general designs tend to be the same.  Below will be a link showcasing the major areas where you can see some lights.

Information:

Christmas Light Locations (All of Japan):  http://www.rurubu.com/season/winter/illumination/
Christmas Light Locations (Tokyo):  http://www.rurubu.com/season/winter/illumination/list.asp?KenCD=13

Note:  The three boxes in the key are, in order, “There is a Christmas Tree”, “There is an event”, and “There are fireworks”.  Unfortunately, the events will depend on the location, and I am not sure when the fireworks might be.  There are only three places where there are fireworks:  Tokyo Dome (December 14th at 7pm for about 3 minutes), Toyosu Lala Port (December 24th at 8:10pm), and Tachikawa’s Showa Kinen Park (December 19th and 24th at 8pm for about 5 minutes).


Tokyo Dome Illumination Information:  http://www.tokyo-dome.co.jp/event/illumi/index.htm
Tokyo Dome (English):  http://www.tokyo-dome.co.jp/e/
Lalaport Fireworks Information:  http://toyosu.lalaport.jp/special_event/
Showa Kinen Park Winter Illumination Information:  http://www.showakinenpark.go.jp/2009winter/wvi2009.html
Showa Kinen Park (English):  http://www.showakinenpark.go.jp/english/index.htm
Mapple Ilumination List (Tokyo page, you can surf to the Japan list page):  http://www.mapple.net/sp_illumi/list.asp?PREF=13
Nihon Kanko Illumination List (Tokyo page, you can surf to the Japan list page):  http://illumi.nihon-kankou.or.jp/list/result.php?m=1&c=03&c2=13

Note:  All sites are Japanese unless specified.  If you are curious about locations in a specific area, please feel free to ask with a comment.  I’ll do my best to provide a small list based on these sites.

このblogは英語のblog。もし私の英語は難しい、日本語のquestionは大丈夫。

The Great Motorcycle Adventure – Part II (Wrap Up) September 1, 2009

Posted by Dru in Japan, Shikoku, Travel.
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Author’s Note:  Dru’s Misadventures has moved to HinoMaple.  Please venture on over there to read “The Great Motorcycle Adventure – Part II (Wrap Up)” complete with pictures.  http://wp.me/p2liAm-eP

By now, you have finished reading about Shikoku and you know what to expect if you visit Shikoku.  In this post, I’m going to be a little greedy and talk about my adventure, personally.

Preparing for this adventure was a chore in itself.  There are a million things to do, and a million things to plan.  I purposefully left everything till the last few weeks, but kept a basic plan in my head.  I never even had a good idea of how long I’d like to stay in each area until a week before leaving.  In fact, I never even locked my plans on how to get to Shikoku until the last second, literally.  I decided to take the ferry, roughly two nights before I left, and didn’t even reserve a spot until the day I left.  There are two main reasons why I chose to take the ferry.  The first, I didn’t feel like riding for 8 hours on the expressway, getting lost, looking for gas, and generally being bored on my own.  The main reason I took the ferry was that a friend of mine was also heading to Shikoku at the same time.  Instead of driving, or riding a motorcycle, he and a friend of his decided to ride their bicycles from Kochi to Matsuyama.  It was also a great adventure, and I felt honoured to be starting our journey together.  In fact, we almost didn’t even start together.  They barely made it onto the ferry as they were late arriving at the terminal.  On the ferry, I also met a German man who was on a trip to Kyushu.  It takes roughly two days to reach Kyushu, but we had a great time drinking, eating, and talking.  I believe I made the right decision.

My friend, John, has his own podcast.  You can view it here:  http://weblish.net/
Please subscribe to his main Weblish Podcast (Episode 40 a~f) to see his own documentary of his trip in Shikoku.

Upon riding down the ramp at Tokushima, I had to wait roughly 20 minutes for my friend to arrive.  He had to get gas, and he also got lost looking for the terminal.  I was getting antsy to get out as it was a beautiful day and I was hoping to head up to Naruto for the whirlpools.  As we were looking for the hotel, we had a little accident.  My friend dropped his motorcycle.  This was our only bad luck, in terms of riding.  It took us about 30 minutes to find the hotel, but when we did, we were just happy to be in Shikoku.  My friend, however, had no energy and needed to get off the bike for the day.  This would actually be the mood of the entire trip.  Ride a little, and then relax for the afternoon and night.  We toured Tokushima before going to bed.  The hotel was great, and I wish I could have gone back.  The owner had a big Ducati in the garage, free motorcycle parking, and free wifi in our room.  What more could we ask for?  He even gave us a little advice when we left for our trip.  Unfortunately, when we returned to Tokushima, the hotel was fully booked.

Riding down route 55 was excellent.  It was our first full day, and like any other adventure, we got lost.  The first time we got lost was when the road just stopped.  They were still building a bypass.  Thankfully, we needed the break anyways and it was relatively easy to get back on route.  We got to see pretty much everything I wanted to see, in terms of sights.  We saw a dam, the beach, and the cape.  It was a beautiful road and I wish I could go back again, someday.  I’m not finished with Muroto.  I only wish I had an extra 10 hours to enjoy some of the sights that we passed, especially the beaches.

Kochi was our first rest day.  Since we don’t ride much, it was a good opportunity to keep our batteries full.  We had a great time walking around and seeing all of the people.  My only regret is not bringing flip flops to walk around in.  It was only the third day and my feet were already starting to hurt from walking in motorcycle boots.  This was also the day that we decided to not use our motorcycles aside from getting from A to B, as we didn’t want to look for parking, and risk getting lost.  It is way too easy to get lost, especially without a navigation system.  We did have a map, but it was for the entire region, so it wasn’t detailed enough for us, wherever we went.  If I lived in the area, I would definitely want to explore the area a lot more.

Our next leg of the trip took us from Kochi to Ozu.  We had a tough time finding a hotel as we were in the middle of Golden Week.  We were lucky to find a room in a town we wanted to stay in.  We thought about taking route 56 all the way to the second cape, but thought we had better skip it as we took too much time taking route 55.  We also started our adventure on the expressway for the first time.  I can’t tell you how much time you can save if you take the expressway.  People go much faster, and there are very few cars.  It’s expensive overall, but well worth it, even for short distances.  We cut through the middle of the cape to reach Uwajima.  We had several plans for the day as we didn’t know how long it would take us to reach Ozu.  We decided that taking a junction to Uwajima, first, and then heading north to Ozu would be better as we had a lot of time.  We got lost in Uwajima, but that was to be expected.  We were more lost when we were in Ozu.  We saw a beautiful European style castle or palace on the side of the mountain, but we didn’t have time to go looking for it.  We both thoroughly enjoyed Ozu.  It was the kind of small town Japan that you can only dream of.  It wasn’t very small, but small enough that you can walk everywhere.  The town had a train running through every hour or so, the shops closed very early, and there really wasn’t a lot to do except enjoy the scenery.  It was extremely peaceful.

Our final touring leg was to head out to Misaki and then head to Matsuyama.  This was probably the biggest disappointment of the trip for me.  Misaki turned out to be nothing special.  It was a nice challenge, but the area wasn’t that beautiful.  It could have been all the clouds, but I’m not too sure.  I enjoyed the coast from Ozu to Matsuyama, and loved the beach at Futami.  I hope to return someday and just spend a few hours relaxing.  We spent a little too much time there, and we were very anxious about Matsuyama.  Being the height of Golden Week, we had no place to stay, and we might have to find an internet café or something.  Thankfully, we found the Matsuyama Guest House, with an excellent host.  We met many great people and had the time of our lives.  I can’t say how greatful I was for staying there.  My only problem was the two men we shared a room with.  They were Americans who were hiking along the 88 temple route.  Matsuyama was their last stop before returning to Tokyo for work.  I can’t describe the stench that they and their clothes produced, but needless to say, I didn’t sleep well.  I got up early the next morning and went for a walk on my own to collect my thoughts.  It was about the time that my friend and I were starting to feel a strain on our relationship.  There is only so much two people can do together before they start to get upset at each other.  They can be the best friends in the world, but unless you live with them for a long time, it can be difficult.  Matsuyama itself was a great place, but not a place that I would want to visit again.  I came, I saw, I left.  I wish I went to the Dogo Onsen, and I would love to visit the Dogo Brewery again, but in reality, there isn’t much for me to see or do anymore.

After Matsuyama, we had to decide whether to risk heading to Takamatsu, with a chance of showers, or stay another day in Matsuyama.  We decided to risk it as the chances were low.  We weren’t so lucky this day.  We had a small shower on the expressway, and another one when we got in to Takamatsu city itself.  It took us a little while to find our way to the hotel, but overall, everything was fine.  We had a free computer in the hotel, and they even covered our bikes so it wouldn’t get too dirty from the rain.  The hotel was run by an older couple, like a family business, but it was part of a small franchise.  We were thinking of heading to Kotohira before getting to Takamatsu, but we changed our plans when we saw the weather forecast for the day, and also when we thought about parking.  We also made our first big mistake of the day.  We tried to take a train, but misread the timetable.  Instead of having an extra train on holidays, it said there was NO train on the holidays.  We had to wait at the station for over one hour.  We could have walked back, but in our motorcycle boots, probably not.  We also didn’t know about bicycle rentals, which would have helped us a lot, but that’s for our next trip.

We used Takamatsu as our base for three nights.  We spent a day in Kotohira and a day in Naoshima.  There isn’t much to say or add as my previous posts describe it much better.  My only regret was that it was raining so much in Naoshima that I didn’t get a chance to ride a bicycle on the island.  I will definitely have to return for that adventure.  At the time, I didn’t know about an island called Shodoshima.  It is another famous island that is close to Naoshima.  It is famous for being the olive capital of Japan, and known for a replica 88 temple pilgrimage.  Thankfully, I can also reach this island from Okayama, which is a place I’m considering to visit.  Okayama is famous for its black castle.  It was built to rival Himeji castle.  It would make a nice long weekend trip, if I get a chance.  If I do return to Takamatsu I will definitely have to enjoy the delicious Udon, but for now, I’ll be content with the udon in Tokyo.  Takamatsu is no longer on my list of places to visit.

Upon returning to Tokushima, I finally got to see one of the main things I wanted to see since I started planning my trip.  The Naruto Whirlpools are famous in Japan and I had to see them.  I was a little sad that we didn’t see them when we arrived, but I was still very happy to see them at the end of the trip.  By this time, my friend and I had nothing to really talk about, and we were basically trying to plan the end.  He ended up leaving a day early so he could be with his girlfriend and also go to a food festival in Osaka that was held once every four years, or something like that.  I couldn’t blame him at all.  I would have done the same.  My only problem was that the ferry I wanted to take was fully booked and I didn’t know if I could go home the next day or not.  The day that he left Shikoku, I had a full day to myself and my thoughts in Tokushima.  The city itself is very boring unless you get out.  I didn’t want to do that as I was tired from the travelling and really wanted to go home.  I ended up just walking back and forth in town until my feet gave up.  I had to change hotels as well because the one I stayed in was fully booked that night.  Needless to say, I had a restless night.

The morning of my potential departure from Shikoku was an early one.  I arrived at the ferry terminal very early, about 1 hour before they even opened.  I was the only idiot there that early.  I got my ticket to wait and didn’t even know if I could get on or not.  About one hour before we could board, one of the staff said I had a place, but I couldn’t understand him well enough.  Thankfully, I met a very nice old man, who reminded me of Mr. Miyagi from the Karate Kid (“Best Kid” in Japan).  He was kind enough to help me, just a little.  We did have a nice conversation before boarding the ferry.  The ferry ride home was the same as when I went to Shikoku.  The only difference was that I had my own bunk, and there wasn’t a “restaurant”.  Instead, they only had vending machine food.  It was still good enough.  I ate and drank all day and night until it was time to sleep.  I can’t tell you how different it was to sleep in a bunk versus the floor of a tatami room.  The only problem was that the curtains of the bunk kept all the air in, and I woke up suffocating in my own carbon dioxide.  Arriving in Tokyo, I was greeted by the fresh morning air; it was about 6 am.  I had a nice short ride home where I put my things away and could finally say “tadaima” (I’m home).

このblogは英語のblog。もし私の英語は難しい、日本語のquestionは大丈夫。

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