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Hiroshima Redux September 7, 2010

Posted by Dru in Chugoku, Japan, Travel.
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Author’s Note:  Dru’s Misadventures has moved to HinoMaple.  Please venture on over there to read “Hiroshima Redux” complete with photos.  http://wp.me/p2liAm-tx

Almost 2 years ago, I wrote my first blog post on Hiroshinma and Miyajima.  I wrote about my 2007 trip to Hiroshima.  Recently, I had the chance to go back after nearly 3 years away from Hiroshima.  Each time I have visited Hiroshima, I have seen it through different eyes.  On my first trip, it was my first year in Japan, and I didn’t speak much Japanese.  I was with a friend of mine who didn’t speak any Japanese and we had a hotel room that wasn’t in the best location to do anything in the city.  It was a good location as it was close to Hiroshima Station, but far from the night life.  On my second trip, I stayed in the same hotel, but I was with my girlfriend, so the experience was also unique.  Travelling with different people to the same place will inevitably give a different impression on you.  This time, I travelled with an old friend from Vancouver who is living in Osaka, and a friend I work with in Tokyo.  This was our last stop on a great adventure that started in Tottori and ended in Hiroshima.

On this trip, we drove into Hiroshima rather than taking the train.  We were coming from Izumo and spent the morning and early afternoon driving.  The approach into Hiroshima from the north-west was amazing.  We drove through a tunnel that basically cut through a mountain and under a park.  The exit into the city shot us out of the tunnel and directly onto a bridge that took us over a river and into the heart of the city next to Hiroshima Castle.  We headed straight to the station to get some tickets, which we failed at, and then on to the hotel.  If there is anything I hate more, it’s driving in major Japanese cities, especially around the station.  It’s a big mess of intersections that leave you wondering how to get from A to B without killing yourself.  We thankfully arrived at our hotel safely.  Our hotel was located on the edge of the Hiroshima Peace Park, which made for a great staging area for our adventures in the city itself.

The city hasn’t changed much, if at all.  It is the same city that I remember when I first visited.  Things look familiar, and staying in a newer area meant that I could get familiar with the surrounding area a lot more.  Hiroshima Peace Park is still a must see for a first time visitor.  The need to educate oneself on the horrors of an atomic bomb in an urban area is something that must be seen and experienced.  I’m not sure how other tourists feel, but I am always humbled to the point of near depression when I visit the park.  The symbols you see are all of peace and destruction.  You will see objects of twisted metal, earthen mounds to symbolize death, and various objects to symbolize the hope for peace.  I didn’t go to the peace museum again as it was something that I would not enjoy.  It’s something that should be done once in your life, but that’s all I can handle.

On this trip, I had a chance to walk around two new areas.  The first is around Former Hiroshima Municipal Stadium and along the river towards Hiroshima Castle.  The stadium itself is not an important place to be anymore as the Hiroshima carp have moved out to be closer to Hiroshima Station.  The stadium is now closed, and I don’t know what they’ll do with it in the future.  The area behind the stadium, near the library is an old train called C59161 or C59 for short.  It is an old steam locomotive that has been mothballed next to a library.  The locomotive is open to the public and you are free to climb into the cab area and take pictures.  Inside the cab, it’s a little dirty, but it’s a fun place to be.  There weren’t many people when I went, but I went on a weekday, so things may be different on a weekend.  The river behind the train is also nice. It’s good for a walk and there are several joggers in the area.  I found it to be a nice relaxing place that is away from the noisy streets near the stadium.

The other place that I had the joy of discovering is a river that is located near Hiroshima Station.  Heading south from the station, you will soon run into a river.  You can’t miss it as all of the trams cross over it.  Walking along this river for an hour or so is wonderful.  The banks are lined with trees here and there, and there are a few pieces of art.  I learned a little about the Kappa, a strange little devil-god that looks like a cross between a turtle, a frog, and a human.  While most people won’t have the time to go for a walk in this area, I do recommend it for people going to Hiroshima to work/live in the area.

As I mentioned, everything else in Hiroshima hasn’t changed.  The area around Ebisucho is still a hangout for good food and the sex trade in Hiroshima.  There is one shopping arcade that goes from the Peace Park towards the station that is nice to visit.  I found a nice park that went parallel to the shopping arcade that is near the peace museum.  It’s interesting as it has a few trees that survived the atomic bombing.  I wouldn’t consider this area to be of special interest as it’s not special.  There aren’t too many pieces of art, but it’s nice.  When going to Hiroshima, I always recommend going around and just exploring.  Pick a direction and just go.  You’ll always find something interesting no matter which direction you go.

The Hiroshima series continues with Hiroshima.

Hiroshima Information:

Japan Guide: http://www.japan-guide.com/e/e2160.html
Wikitravel: http://wikitravel.org/en/Hiroshima
JNTO: http://www.jnto.go.jp/eng/location/r…mashinai.html#

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。

Shinkansen – North Routes March 2, 2010

Posted by Dru in Hokkaido, Japan, Kanto, Tohoku.
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Author’s Note:  Dru’s Misadventures has moved to HinoMaple.  Please venture on over there to read “Shinkansen – North Routes” complete with photos.  http://wp.me/p2liAm-kJ

Heading north, rather than south, provides a very different experience using the Shinkansen.  Unlike the Tokaido/Sanyo/Kyushu Shinkansen, the lines heading north share a main trunk and branch off at various points.  There are three main lines, and two “mini-shinkansen” that start from Tokyo Station.  The longest line is the Tohoku line.  This line started at the same time as the Joetsu line, but the Tohoku line will become more important in the near future.  The Tohoku line currently runs from Tokyo all the way to Hachinohe.  By the end of 2010, this service will be extended to Aomori, which is the larger than Hachinohe.  Ultimately, the line will be extended further from Aomori to Hakodate, and then Sapporo.  Unfortunately, Hakodate won’t be open until 2015, projected, and Sapporo may not open until 2020.  It will be a long time, but when finished, it will cut the time from roughly 12 hours, to just under 4 hours for the most direct services.  This will severely affect air travel as it currently takes 3 hours for most people to reach Sapporo from Tokyo.

The Tohoku line is also connected to the Yamagata and Akita Shinkansen lines.  These services are slightly different compared to regular Shinkansen.  These lines use special trains that are narrower, and run at grade with various level crossings.  They are usually coupled with regular Tohoku trains, but branch out at their respective start points.  For this reason, it’s very important to know which train you are boarding.  It’s very easy to be on the wrong train from Tokyo Station, but the signs are usually clearly marked, and train staffs usually check tickets while the train is between stations.

The Joetsu Shinkansen is far simpler as there is only one line with no connections.  The complex part is that it shares the tracks with the Tohoku Shinkansen from Tokyo to Omiya.  This is due to costs.  It’s very easy to see trains along the Tokyo portion of the line due to the volume of trains passing.  Recently, it has also become popular for hotels to create “train” suites.  These are rooms with views of the train tracks.  This is popular for “te-chans”, slang for train spotters in Japan.  You could also make it derogatory by saying “densha-otaku”, but that’s a different story.  It has also proved popular for young families with boys who love trains.  What better way to “take a trip” and not spend too much money.  As always, kids love boxes more than the toys that are inside them.  The Joetsu Shinkansen itself was built to service Niigata, but it also serves a small ski resort called Gala-Yuzawa.

A relatively less used, yet equally important Shinkansen line is the Nagano line.  This was built in time for the Nagano Olympics.  Currently, it shares over half of its line with both the Tohoku and Joetsu Shinkansen lines.  There are relatively few trains that travel this section due to the limited service range.  It basically follows the Joetsu route from Tokyo to Takasaki, where it branches off on its own to Nagano.  There is a planned extension from Nagano to Kanazawa by 2015.  By this time, the line should be renamed to the Hokuriku Shinkansen, further extensions to Tsuruga Station has been planned and will be built.  The line will ultimately link up with Osaka someday in the future.  The main purpose of this line is to connect the major cities on the Sea of Japan side of Japan to the main cities of Japan.  Whether it will prove popular or profitable will remain to be seen.

All three main lines utilize the same trains, while the Yamagata and Akita Shinkansen use their own specialized trains, for reasons mentioned above.  The trains have a similar styling to the southern route trains.  They used to use similar naming methods as their southern route cousins, but now they use the prefix E before their designation.  Due to this naming convention, you can still ride the 200 series train, which is very similar to the 0 and 100 mentioned in my previous post.  The first “modern” train you can travel on is the E1, a wedge nosed, bi-level, Shinkansen.  In 1997, the E2, E3, and E4 were introduced.  The E2 is similar to a duck billed train, but it isn’t as strongly pronounced.  It’s also one of only two trains that have been exported, the other being the 700 series.  The E2 was exported to China for use on their high speed railway.  The E4 is a bi-level train, like the E1, but with a duck bill nose.  The E3 looks like most European high speed trains, but used only for the Yamagata and Akita lines.  By 2011, there will be a new rain, the E5 entering service.  This is expected to take the system into Sapporo when that line opens.  It will be the fastest train in the entire Shinkansen fleet.

The final impression of this fleet is that it’s great!  Coming from Canada where high speed rail is non-existent, this would go a long way to connecting any country.  Countries such as China have begun their own high speed networks.  President Obama has also pledged to start thinking, and possibly building it soon.  If done right, it can earn money and save a lot of fuel.  Connecting Vancouver to San Diego is a viable option, so is Toronto to Miami.  While we must never forget how we get the electricity to power trains, it’s still probably cleaner overall compared to planes.  Can they replace planes completely?  Conventionally, they cannot replace planes at the moment.  We’ll have to wait for maglev trains before that could happen, but even then we are limited to specific ranges.  If you do travel to Japan, do try to use the Shinkansen.  It’s a fun, if expensive, way to travel.  Be sure to buy a JR Pass if you are only visiting.  It’s worth the cost if you head from Tokyo to Kyoto, even for just a day.

This is the second part of two in the Shinkansen series.  To read more, continue to the Shinkansen – South Routes.

Information:

Wikipedia:  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Shinkansen
Japan Guide (Great page for a snapshot of major services): http://www.japan-guide.com/e/e2018.html
Japan Railways (Lots of information on what to do in Japan):  http://www.japanrail.com/
Japan Railways (Shinkansen Page):  http://www.japanrail.com/index.php?page=JR-Shinkansen-bullet-train
JR East:  http://www.jreast.co.jp/e/routemaps/shinkansen.html

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。

2009 Sapporo Snow Festival (Part II) May 5, 2009

Posted by Dru in Hokkaido, Japan, Travel.
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Author’s Note:  Dru’s Misadventures has moved to HinoMaple.  Please venture on over there to read “2009 Sapporo Snow Festival (Part II)” complete with pictures:  http://wp.me/p2liAm-al

Note: Any and all descriptions of sculptures and activities are for 2009.  The sculptures are guaranteed to change, and some of the activities may also change.  It’s best to check just prior to going.

5-chome brought a little ice and eco awareness to the festival.  The first part was an Eco Plaza.  This was essentially a place to put windmills and other eco friendly stalls.  It was easy to forget this section as it was there to promote ways to save money and the environment.  If I could understand Japanese a lot more, I would have enjoyed it.  Unfortunately, it was too difficult at the time, and too cold, to really appreciate it.  The main attraction was the Hakodate Bugyo Chousha.  This is the original government building, located in Hakodate, to govern all of Hokkaido.  It was destroyed but it is currently being rebuilt.  It should be opened in 2010.  The park is well known in Hokkaido.  This sculpture was made out of ice, and lit up with various colours at various times to coincide with special shows.  Unfortunately, they turned off the lights as I was about to start taking pictures.  It was beautiful though, and how a large ice sculpture should look like.

6-chome was a place that I could easily forget.  It was the site of the food park.  One block where all they did was sell nice hot food for the hungry festival goers.  I would avoid this block as a lot of the food didn’t look that good, and I was already full from dinner.

7-chome was the first site of the first non-commercial snow sculpture.  They recreated, to scale, Sungnyemun.  It is the main gate that allowed people to enter Seoul.  Having been originally built over 500 years ago, it was a national treasure.  Unfortunately, an arsonist burned the structure down in 2008 and the wooden structure was destroyed.  The stone foundation was still standing, and thus they will be capable of rebuilding this beautiful structure.  Thankfully, the Korean government did an extensive analysis of the structure prior to it being burned down, so they know how to rebuild it.  Unfortunately, we don’t know when it will be rebuilt, but hopefully it will be sooner than later.  While this is a non-commercial sculpture, it was sponsored by HBC (Hokkaido Broadcasting Company), so their name is featured in all advertising, and below the sculpture itself.  In this day and age, it’s hard to get anything done without sponsorship.

8-chome brought another beautiful sculpture.  Hamamatsu castle, located between Tokyo and Osaka, was recreated.  While it isn’t the most beautiful castle, or the most majestic, it is, as any other castle in Japan, historical.  I can’t help but feel it was recreated because they ran out of other famous historical buildings to recreate.  I will admit that it was more beautiful and more detailed than Sungnyemun.  This one was also sponsored, by HTB (Hokkaido Television).  Behind Hamamatsu Castle, they had a mid sized snowboard ramp.  They had small competitions and demonstrations for people to watch snowboarders in action.  I doubt it was very special.  I find watching a half pipe competition to be more exciting.

9-chome saw a large reduction in the size of the sculptures.  A mid sized sculpture of a train and station was the main attraction.  The only problem was that the station was hard to see, and the train was covered in fresh snow.  I’m sure it could have looked better, but unfortunately, it seemed to have been rushed a little.  Thankfully, the rest of this block was comprised of various other sculptures that were no bigger than 2 metres in height.  Unfortunately, with so many people, it was difficult to take any pictures.  I might suggest going before 10am, as the festival officially opens at 10am.

Information:

Sapporo Snow Festival (English): http://www.snowfes.com/english/place/index.html
Sapporo Snow Festival (Japanese): http://www.snowfes.com/
Sapporo Snow Festival (Wikipedia): http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sapporo_Snow_Festival

Note:  Part II of a 3 part series .  (Part I) (Part III)

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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