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Tokyo (Azabu-Juban) May 19, 2009

Posted by Dru in Japan, Kanto, Tokyo, Travel.
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Author’s Note:  Dru’s Misadventures has moved to HinoMaple.  Please venture on over there to read “Tokyo (Azabu-Juban)” complete with pictures.  http://wp.me/p2liAm-8w

Azabu-Juban (Azabu) is not a place you would normally want to visit. It’s generally an upscale residential neighbourhood. It is an area that is immediately next to Roppongi that has many festivals and activities all year round. If you are a resident of Tokyo, Azabu is a very good place to visit during the day and enjoy a nice coffee and a little shopping. There are only a few main streets in Azabu, and they are lined with shops. In the middle is a small park where you can relax on most days. The far end of Azabu is actually Roppongi Hills, so walking from Azabu station to Roppongi station is a very nice way to spend a day. You are guaranteed to see many interesting things that are unique to Azabu. Azabu, as it’s next to Roppongi, is also a hub for foreign embassies, just like Roppongi and Hiroo.

The main reason I’m writing about Azabu is because of the Matsuri. Matsuri is literally translated into English as “festival”. Every year, in the heat of summer, Azabu is transformed for one weekend. It becomes an extremely busy place where people gather. The station is situated close to a highway and canal, and this is the best starting place if you visit the festival. This area traditionally has the most open space with many food stalls selling foreign foods. You can sample food from almost all over the world. There are very few places to actually eat, but if you don’t mind standing or sitting on the street, you won’t have any problems. There is also a nice set of fountains that make for good picture opportunities. One warning though, being the summer festival, you’ll have a tough time getting that perfect shot. You’ll have to do a hit and run. Another warning is to be patient. Often, each stall has a long line-up. The workers can barely keep up with the demand. Be patient and you’ll be able to eat a lot of different foods.

The main attraction has to be the regular festival stalls. If you have never been to a Japanese festival, this is the best one to see. You’ll see all of the regular foods and games that can be played. Starting with the food, there are plenty of places you can get good Japanese fare. The most popular food must be yakisoba. For 500-700 Yen, you can get a small box full of fried buckwheat noodles in a teriyaki sauce. If you call it teriyaki in Japan, people will probably look at you a little funny. They just call it sauce and it’s very easy to find, but it’s never labelled “teriyaki”. The other major food to eat is okonomiyaki. Okonomiyaki is a traditional Osakan food. Some will call it a pancake, and others a pizza. I generally choose a pizza. The basic okonomiyaki is cabbage and batter with “sauce”, Japanese mayonnaise, and dried green onions on top. Often they add eggs, bacon, and anything else they can add. Okonomiyaki is literally translated into “as you like it”, so there isn’t any set recipe. You will find that kansai (Osaka, Kyoto, and the Nara area) food is very popular at any festival.

Takoyaki is the other essential food. This is similar to okonomiyaki, but without the cabbage, and instead of a pizza, it’s a ball. Be warned, takoyaki is EXTREMELY hot. While the outer crust of the ball is cool, the inside is still very hot. Tako is octopus in Japanese, and you’ll always find a large piece of octopus in the middle. Some places outside Japan make takoyaki, but they don’t always put a big piece of octopus in the middle. It makes a BIG difference. Other than that, you can get grilled fish and squid, and anything else that can be cooked on an open fire or flat grill. For desert, you usually have only two choices. Chocolate dipped bananas or kakikori (Japanese style snow cone). If you are thirsty, you can buy soft drinks, or beer. Yes, they have beer. Unlike Canada and America, you can actually drink in public. The price of beer is a little expensive, but you can get any brand you wish. If you need to save money, there are a few convenience stores in Azabu and beer is regular price.

Games are also part of the festival. Generally, the most famous game is a fishing game. You don’t get a fishing rod, or even a fishing line. You get a kind of “net” that is made of rice paper. It looks like a paddle, and it’s very fragile. After one or two tries, it will break and you have to stop. You generally pay for a few paddles and you try to scoop small goldfish into a bowl. Whatever you catch, you can keep. The festival also sells a few goods that are popular as souvenirs. If you aren’t interested in the games, the park is an excellent place to visit. At night, they start the bon odori. This is a traditional Japanese folk dance. They usually have a big taiko drum that is played by various people while music is played over a speaker system. People form a big circle and start dancing. It looks very much like line dancing, but in a large circle, and each dance tells a story. Don’t worry if you don’t know the moves. You can easily learn them by watching them. If you don’t know, one of the older ladies are usually happy to teach you. Many Japanese people don’t even know some of the dances, so don’t be afraid.

If you are in Tokyo during the Azabu-juban Matsuri, I highly recommend that you go to this festival. It’s probably one of the best in Tokyo. There are other festivals held throughout the summer and into late September, but this is one of the biggest. You’ll be able to see all of the other smaller festivals in one place. Make sure you are prepared for the heat, and buy lots of beer.

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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Hakodate and Hachinohe February 24, 2009

Posted by Dru in Hokkaido, Japan, Tohoku, Travel.
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Author’s Note:  Dru’s Misadventures has moved to HinoMaple.  Please venture on over there to read “Hakodate and Hachinohe” complete with pictures.  http://wp.me/p2liAm-7D

This is Part VI of a multi-part series chronicling my motorcycle adventure from Tokyo to Sapporo and back again.

Background:  In 2007, I had finally gotten my Japanese driver’s license and a motorcycle.  I had been an avid motorcycle rider in Canada before I came to Japan, so after 2 years of no riding, I finally bought a motorcycle and decided to go on a big adventure.  I went from Tokyo to Sapporo by motorcycle and ferry. It was an adventure to say the least.

Leg 6 (Hakodate and Hachinohe)

The last day in Hokkaido and the poor weather had returned.  I had a two day journey that would take me straight back into Tokyo.  I had only one morning to get from Sapporo to Hakodate, about 270 km.  While I normally wouldn’t consider this to be tough, I originally planned to take the low roads and enjoy the vast scenery that Hokkaido has to offer.  Instead, with my bike troubles in the back of my mind, I ended up racing in the very early morning from Sapporo all the way to Hakodate along the Hokkaido Expressway.  It was very cold in the morning, but at least it wasn’t raining.  By the time I reached the 1/3 mark, it started to rain again.  In Japan, they call me an ame-otoko, or rainman.  Whenever an ame-otoko travels, it rains wherever he goes.  I certainly felt like this was true for me.  The expressway itself is much better than the Tohoku Expressway.  There is a section just past Muroran where you start to enter a narrow section of the island.  It is a very windy place and there are many windmills making the scenery very picturesque.  On my way to Chitose, I mainly took the low roads.  I felt the sea, and saw a little of it, but I never really saw everything.  The highway is located a little ways up the mountain range and every so often, you can see the entire curve of the coast.  It was very beautiful, but unfortunately, I would have preferred to have a car at that moment.  I kept dreaming of a car with a rooftop and a strong heater.

Once I reached Hakodate, I had to find my way to the station and ferry terminal.  Because of my horrible sense of direction, I almost got lost, but I figured things out.  Hakodate really isn’t a bad place.  There is a nice little hill near the city centre that has a nice lookout, and the fish market is one of the best in Japan.  Do note that almost every major coastal city in Hokkaido has a “famous” fish market.  In order to warm up from the cold rain, I decided to get a nice hot bowl of ramen.  It did a great job of warming me up and I was ready for the ferry ride back to Honshu.  If you do have the chance, Hakodate would be a great place to spend a night and enjoy a lot of sightseeing.  I’m sure there are a lot of great places to see.  While Hakodate isn’t the ideal location, there is an underground train station in the Seikan Tunnel on the Aomori side.  The Seikan Tunnel is currently the longest undersea tunnel in the world and the deepest.  There are two stations within the tunnel itself that provides emergency access.  One of the stations doubles as a museum to the building of this tunnel.  There are three tours available everyday.  However, you can only choose one.  One starts in Hakodate and ends in Aomori.  One does the reverse, and one goes from Hakodate, to the station/museum, and back again.  If you are a trainspotter, this might be a lot of fun for you.  If you have a lot of free time, this might also be fun.

Crossing back to Oma was a little different this time.  I knew the crossing, and the seas were rougher than last time.  It was raining and I spent my time drying my clothes.  I wish I was better prepared for all the rain.  The next time I take a long trip, I’ll try to prepare a lot more.  Once in Oma, the sun blocked by the clouds but it wasn’t really raining.  I only had to deal with all the mist from the cars and such.  I made a quick trip from Oma to Hachinohe, which was my final destination of the day.  The trip was cold, wet, and dark.  I had a bit of an adventure about 30km from Hachinohe.  I missed a road sign, or it didn’t exist, and I went in the wrong direction for about 7 km.  I had to turn around and find my way in the middle of nowhere.  Thankfully there was no one around to help me, whatsoever.  To say the least, I was a little scared, but I was happy that I turned around instead of getting completely lost.  It wouldn’t be the last time I got lost either.  By the time I entered the city limits of Hachinohe, I got lost again.  I ended up wandering around the city for about 1 hour before I found the main station.  I found the station and had to decide on where to sleep for the night.  I found a place in the downtown area and headed for it.  Unfortunately, the sign for the hotel was so small, I missed it three times.  I ended up going to a convenience store and asking for help.  After about 10 minutes a very nice man decided to drive ahead of me and show me the way.  I was so happy for the help.  After checking in, I had a few hours to dry my clothes and enjoy the city.

Hachinohe itself isn’t as bad as my personal experience.  It has all the amenities that you could need and everything is centrally located within the city centre.  They were also preparing for the summer festival.  I could hear taiko drums beating for a good portion of the night.  Aside from the festivals, I doubt that there is anything to really do in Hachinohe.  I’d be better off going straight through Hachinohe, but unfortunately, I needed a place to sleep unless I rode all night to Tokyo.

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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