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1 year later August 14, 2009

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Author’s Note:  Dru’s Misadventures has moved to HinoMaple.  Please venture on over there to read “1 Year Later” complete with pictures.  http://wp.me/p2liAm-fm

Today marks this blog’s birthday.  Dru’s Misadventures is now one year old.  This blog was originally supposed to be a blog about my life.  However, I soon realized that no one would be very interested in my life, per se.  My passion for travelling around Japan would be far more interesting, so I decided to start writing about the places I have visited.  My first real post was about Beijing.  This was quickly followed by a post about Matsushima, which I visited the month before.  From there, I talked about baseball, football, and other cities in Japan.  I have also touched a little on culture, but I have mainly talked about travelling.

This blog now holds two purposes in my life.  One is to write an account of the places I have been and to hopefully share it with others.  It can be difficult to remember things that we have done in the past, and this is one of the best ways I can think of to remind myself of the sights, sounds, and smells of each place.  I can only hope that my writing has helped others, and hopefully yourself to understand the places I’ve been, and to hopefully get an idea of what things can be like if you ever visit those cities.  If you ever have questions about different places, always feel free to ask.  The other reason I’m writing this blog is to help my students learn English.  I am an English teacher in Japan and I use this blog as a way to help students learn English.  I hope that my own personal writing provides a nice variety of English words and phrases for them to learn, as well as to hopefully get a better understanding of my own personality.  I always encourage people to ask me questions, especially if they don’t understand something that I write.  While I am better at teaching face to face, I can always type an answer to any questions you may have.

It has been about one year since I first started this blog, and I’m very happy to hear from people around the world.  I haven’t done much to promote my blog.  As I have mentioned, this is more of a hobby than anything else.  While it is simple to write about Tokyo and get lots of people to my site, hopefully my journeys to the less traveled places in Japan will encourage people, especially expats living in Japan, to travel within Japan even more.  Since the first year I was in Japan, my view of Japan has changed dramatically.  I have been able to learn a lot about the people, its history, and its culture.  I do have to say that my first year of travels within Japan has been very doe eyed, compared to the way I see things now.  Now, I can look at Japan in a more understanding way, and be capable to finding new things easily.  The first time you ever visit a city should never be the last.  It can take two or even three times to visit a city completely.  While I have touched on many places in Japan, I always find new adventures on the second or even third time.  I hope that you will also be able to venture to these beautiful cities someday.

Ending this post, I would like to share a few stats with you:

In the first 4 months, this blog averaged 125 hits.  From December until February of 2009, I averaged 185 hits a month.  That was my first big jump in hits.  Since March of this year, the average has been 308 hits a month, and last month was the biggest yet, with 404.  It’s only halfway into August and there are over 200 hits.  It’s possible that this blog has reached an average of 400 hits a month, but only time will tell.  In terms of per day hits, things started well in the first month, but got worse towards the end of 2008.  By March, 2009, the average per day hit count has been over 10.  Hopefully that will continue to rise for the foreseeable future.  The busiest day, ever, was when I first started this blog.  I received 39 hits on August 24th, 2008, but on August 11th, 2009, I received 32.  That’s pretty close to the record.  Hopefully that will be broken within the next year.  It seems that most people are interested in the Azabu Juban Festival, as it has the most searches.  In terms of what people find interesting, by far, my post on Kabukicho is the most popular, followed by the Azabu Juban post.  Football comes in third.  Finally, I must thank IHC Way, as without their link, most of you wouldn’t even know about me.  I hope you can all put a link and tell others about this blog as I don’t do any advertising.


Hong Kong November 25, 2008

Posted by Dru in East Asia, Travel.
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Author’s Note:  Dru’s Misadventures has moved to HinoMaple.  Please venture on over there to read “Hong Kong” complete with pictures.  http://wp.me/p2liAm-1C

On January 23, 2008, I left Tokyo for a trip to Hong Kong.  It was my first trip to the “motherland” since I was in High School.  The Hong Kong I remember is nothing more than flashes of the past and nothing more.  I was excited to head to Hong Kong and re-visit a place that still feels very foreign to me.  While the main reason for me to head to Hong Kong was to re-visit my parents hometown, most of my family would be in Hong Kong at the same time.  One of my cousins was getting married and I decided that was my reason to go.

The day I left was a very odd day.  I took the first Bus to Narita on the first day of snow for the season.  I was sad that I wouldn’t be able to see more snow, but I was heading to Hong Kong, so it was okay.   The flight to Hong Kong is roughly 5 hours, but I went on a “free tour” package.  Basically, you get the airfare and hotel packaged into one, and a free ride to the hotel and airport.  Note that taking free tours from Japanese companies means you’ll have to wait for everyone to come out.  I had nothing but carry on luggage, and had to wait over 1 hour as everyone came out.  I would rather take the train in and I’d be fine.  Also, I was the last person to be dropped off.  Oh well.

My first day in Hong Kong was more of a night.  I had a nice “lunch” (it was around 5pm) near my hotel.  This place would be where I’d eat every breakfast.  I’m not a fan of congee (おかゆ – Rice Soup) so I didn’t order the tour breakfast.  Plus, it was probably cheaper and much better in the small shop.  They had traditional Cantonese food.  I can’t tell you how good it was, but I was brought up on Cantonese food, so I was so happy to have it.  Everyday, I had “lo bak go” which is “fried daikon cake” (やきもち).  It is still my favourite type of Chinese food.  After a nice lunch, I went out for a quick tour of Kowloon with my parents.  We went to see the Peninsula Hotel and the Star Terminal.  We even took a quick walk around Sogo.  It’s strange to be in another country and see a Japanese Department Store.  It was very similar, yet also very Hong Kongese.  That night, we went to dinner with a family friend and had a wonderful dinner.  If anything, the food is the main attraction in Hong Kong.

On my second day, I went for a tour of Kowloon, did some shopping, then headed out for a night on the town.  My cousin, whom I haven’t seen since I was a child, took me and my cousins (from Vancouver) out for dinner and dancing.  We had an East meets West dinner.  It was very British in the fact that it doesn’t look good, yet it had some Canton flavours.  The most memorable part was the cow’s tongue (牛タン).  This isn’t your Japanese cow tongue that is sliced very thin and barbequed.  No, this was an entire tongue and you can easily see the taste buds.  It looked very disgusting, but it didn’t taste bad.  If you ignore the looks, it’s fine.  We also ate some pigeon (a little dry and gamey) and then we were off to the club.  Our cousin did a great job and reserved a table for us on the dance floor.  There was a fillipino band playing rock music and it was great.  Lots of old songs from the 90s that made you want to rock out.  Needless to say, I drank way too much.  The night was half spoiled when my parents came.  Oh well.  I still enjoyed the drinks.

Being a “holiday”, I had to wake up early the next day.  I was going to Ngong Ping 360.  It’s a large national park that has a large Buddhist monastary the largest seated Buddha, outdoors.  However, the only way to get there is on one of the longest gondolas in the world and it wasn’t the safest either.  Shortly after they opened, it was closed because 2 cars crashed to the ground.  They fell off the ropeway.  After a year, they re-opened and we travelled on the “safer” version.  Hopefully.  🙂  We also had the luxury of travelling with a scared Chinese girl and 2 Japanese guys.  Everyone was teasing the girl and having fun.  I felt a little sorry for the girl, but I’m sure she felt fine afterwards.  The Buddha was nice, but I found the entire trek to get there to be nothing too special.  Honestly, I wanted to go hiking in the mountains instead, but I knew I didn’t have the time to go.  Afterwards, we had a little time, so we had dim sum for lunch and went shopping at the outlet mall.  At night, we went to Victoria Peak.  It was a nice place, and we took the historical Peak Tram.  There was one major problem.  It was raining most of the day and the peak was fogged in.  We couldn’t really see anything.  At night, we could see a little of the city, but not much.  It was also very cold.  I feel sad that I couldn’t really enjoy it, but that’s life.

On my last full day in Hong Kong, I had a lot of free time.  I just walked around my hotel as my family went to the wedding.  At night, I went to the wedding and had a nice time.  Lots of free drinks.  I even got to see my cousin who was getting married and a lot of her photos.  Apparently went to Hokkaido and a few other places in Japan.  The wedding banquet was okay.  Just a typical banquet.  Showing the bride and groom, lots of drinking, and many drunk relatives.  The only drama was when one of the staff dropped a bowl of soup on me and my suit.  They cleaned it up a little, but I was already a little drunk, and I felt that I shouldn’t complain.  I found out that another cousin of mine is the manager of the banquet hall and that someone got into big trouble.  I felt bad, but I didn’t make a fuss about it at all.  Plus, the next day I had to leave.  I almost couldn’t leave because my drunk cousin (the one that took us dancing) was trying to get me to party all night.  However, I still had to pack.  Oh well.  I did get back to the hotel okay and I did make my flight.

Going to Hong Kong is not difficult, especially from Japan.  There are only 2 places to really see in Hong Kong.  Ngong Ping and Victoria Peak.  The harbour is also a must, but you can do that at any time and it’s very easy.  Other than that, food and shopping is probably the main attraction.  I’d recommend eating everything you can, visiting night markets, and going to every shop that is unique.  Buying old Japanese music, or the most popular albums, is very cheap compared to Japan.  However, selection is very weak.  Taking the subway is very convenient, but sometimes it’s easier to walk 2 stations.  The amount of people and the noise is something that you can’t be prepared for.  I started to go crazy because there is noise on every street, all the time.  It’s not just the people, but the walk signals emanate a loud ringing noise for the blind.  You’ll also see how multi-cultural Hong Kong can be with lots of Caucasians and South-East Asians on all the major streets.  Lastly, bring lots of money as Hong Kong can be expensive, depending on what you do.


Miyajima (Top 3 Views of Japan) November 18, 2008

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 “Miyajima (Top 3 Views of Japan)” complete with pictures.  http://wp.me/s2liAm-miyajima

In October of 2007, I made my second trip to Hiroshima.  A city infamously known as the first city to be bombed by an atomic bomb, and famously known as the headquartres of Mazda.  While Hiroshima is a nice city, it shouldn’t be considered high on a list of cities to visit.  While it’s a mandatory place to educate children, it’s a pretty depressing city, overall.  The amount of memorials to remember the dead lives is extremely hard to take in.  For my second trip, I decided not to visit the depressing areas, but to go to Miyajima instead.  Miyajima is also one of the Top 3 Views of Japan, and between Matsushima and Miyajima, Miyajima is hands down the best.  As I approached the island from the ferry, you can feel a special energy that isn’t as common in other tourist sites in Japan.

Miyajima itself is an island located off the coast of Hiroshima.  It’s about 1 hour from Hiroshima station, and a quick 15 minute ferry to the island.  As you approach the island, you are graced with the view of the “Torii” of Itsukushima Jinja.  Torii is a gate that marks the entrance of a temple.  They can be as small as a single person, or as large as a building itself.  Once onto the island, I made my way to the shrine (Itsukushima Jinja).  The route to the shrine was full of people, and there were a lot of deer along the entire route.  With so many tourists, the opportunity to get free food, or steal some free food, is common for these animals.  While they are sacred, they can be annoying, so be careful.  They are very aggressive.  My first stop at the shrine wasn’t inside, but rather outside.  I went straight to the Torii as it was low tide.  I walked straight up to it, touched it, and was amazed by the sheer size of it.  After taking several pictures, I started to admire the shrine itself.  The shrine is built on the sand and it appears to float on the water during high tide.  Unfortunately, I wouldn’t experience this, but I can imagine.  The shrine is a beautiful red and white.  Red pillars with white panels.  I was amazed by how clean and smooth the pillars were.  The craftsmanship was amazing.  I was also treated by the view of a traditional Shinto wedding.  Weddings are apparently popular at this shrine for it’s beauty.  I would consider it myself for my own wedding.  The bride and groom were, to say the least, beautiful, and looked happy.  There is even a traditional Noh theatre, but I doubt it’s used much these days.  The atmosphere of the shrine is also interesting.  You have a bunch of tourists, and lots of kids running around.  Once I had finished playing around the shrine, I headed to the ropeway.

The ropeway to the top, or near top, of Miyajima is interesting.  You can fit about 4-6 people into each car for the first section.  You CANNOT stand.  You are crammed like sardines and if you are claustrophobic, you will probably have a tough time in this one.  However, while you feel you will die because it also feels old, you will get a very beautiful view of the forest below.  I recommend either hiking up and taking the ropeway down, or vice versa.  I never hiked up or down, but I’d imagine it’s a nice hike.  The second leg of the ropeway wasn’t special.  Just a typical 2 car system.  At the top of the mountain, there is only one warning, monkey poop.  Miyajima has several monkey families living on the mountain.  If you wanted to see them, this is a good place.  Just don’t look them in the eye and watch where you walk because their poop is everywhere.  It’s a short 30 minute hike/walk to the peak where you can climb onto a large metal structure.  I recommend the walk, if not just to see the natural fawna and rock formations.  The rock formations near the top of the mountain are a lot of fun.  Kids love to climb around the big rocks, and so did I.  🙂  If you are a Star Trek fan, this will remind you of all the classic battles where Captain Kirk fought on alien planets.  Just be careful as you can easily fall or slip.  The view from the top of the mountain isn’t so special.  The metal structure is actually pretty ugly, but since less people venture to the peak, it’s more relaxing.  You could also see monkeys, but I saw none in this area.  There is another lookout at the ropeway station, however it isn’t a 360 view.

Upon returning to the base of the mountain, I decided to do a little shopping.  Hiroshima is famous for “Kaki” (oysters).  They grill oysters everywhere and the smell fills the entire shopping area.  I wanted to try some, but I don’t like oysters.  I did try some Momiji Manju.  This is basically a typical Japanese desert/snack.  It’s a little dry and traditionally filled with anko (red bean paste).  It’s not for everyone, but after a while, you get used to it.  In Miyajima, they are formed to look like Maple leaves and filled with various fillings such as macha, chocolate, and cream cheese.  I highly recommend trying it.  I also had a chance to buy one of my traditional Japanese souvenirs.  Sake.  🙂

When Japan decided on it’s Top 3 Views of Japan, Miyajima definately deserves it’s ranking.  I have recommended this to many family and friends, however, many cannot understand the true beauty of this little island.  Kyoto and Nara are wonderful cities with culture, but Miyajima is prestine and untouched.  Get away from the crowds and you’ll feel like you’ve found a secret untouched world of Japan.  One that hasn’t been influenced by the West.


Hiroshima November 11, 2008

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” complete with pictures.  http://wp.me/p2liAm-2z

In February 2006, I made my first trip to Hiroshima.  In October 2007, I made my second trip to Hiroshima.  Hiroshima is a well known city.  It’s the first city to be attacked by a nuclear bomb in 1945.  Today, Hiroshima is better known for being the home of Mazda and Hiroshimayaki (Hiroshima style Okonomiyaki).  The city itself is very similar to many other medium-small cities in Japan and has a very interesting street car system.

In 2006, I arrived into Hiroshima in the afternoon.  I had previously spent a couple days in Kyoto and was extremely tired.  I had a nice curry rice lunch before embarking on the trek into the city itself.  My first afternoon/night was spent at Hiroshima castle.  It’s a very nice place to visit and relax.  There are many places to climb and explore.  It is best to go there early as the castle grounds close early.  Unfortunately, I didn’t arrive until after the castle itself closed, and the grounds were also closing.  All I could do was take a few pictures and venture back into the city.  On my second trip to Hiroshima, I had a lot of time to enjoy things.  I could visit some of the ruins of the old army barracks, explore the outer wall, and quickly visit one of the restored sentry walls.  It was a very peaceful place.  I do recommend visiting the guard wall located at the main entrance of the castle grounds.  It’s very beautiful and it has a unique smell.  The castle itself isn’t amazing.  The outside is the best, but paying the entrance fee is nice to get a good view of Hiroshima city.  Inside, it’s a museum where you can look at how the castle used to look, and even try on a few pieces of samurai armour.  Bring a drink when visiting the castle grounds as you will probably get thirsty.

The second place you must visit when going to Hiroshima is the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park.  It’s a section of Hiroshima that was the focal point of the nuclear bomb.  It’s something you should see when you go to Hiroshima, but be warned that I found it very depressing.  It’s a necessary place to remind us of how devastating a nuclear bomb can be.  The first stop for most visitors would be the Atomic-bomb Dome.  It’s the ruins of Hiroshima’s Industrial Promotional Hall, and one of the only standing buildings in Hiroshima after the bomb.  It’s a humbling sight and when I visited the Dome, it was cloudy, cold, and surreal.  I had a truly eerie feeling looking at the dome.  After visiting the Dome, a quick walk around the Memorial Park is a must.  There are various memorials and statues erected to remind us of the death after the bombing.  The Peace Memorial Museum is something I wouldn’t recommend unless you have extra time and nothing better to do.  The artifacts and mannequins are amoung the most sobering and depressing things I’ve seen in my life.  They have a few recreations of the aftermath of the bombing, various descriptions of what happened, and also many artifacts from after the bombing.  The images you will see will be burned into your mind forever and you will probably feel extremely depressed.  I regret entering the museum, yet, I’m happy I did.  It’s a necessary evil in order to understand the true effect of nuclear weapons.

When you have finished visiting the sights in Hiroshima, the main shopping district is very close.  There are many things to see and do, but if you have been to other mid sized cities in Japan, the shopping arcade will be nothing new.  However, do try to find some okonomiyaki, oysters, and momiji manju.  When you need some dinner, Ebisucho is a good place to find good eats.  There are also many good restaurants near Shintenchi.  If you are looking for gifts to bring home, the best place to visit is Hiroshima Station.  Inside the station, there is a huge Omiyage floor with lots of things to buy.  If you are travelling by Shinkansen to Tokyo, make sure you stock up on food and drinks on the way home.  It’s a very long journey if you are using a JR Pass, or about 4 hours if you use a Nozomi train.


Climbing Mt. Fuji September 10, 2008

Posted by Dru in Chubu, Japan, Kanto, Travel.
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Author’s Note:  Dru’s Misadventures has moved to HinoMaple.  Please venture on over there to read “Climbing Mt. Fuji” along with the pictures.  http://wp.me/p2liAm-p

On Wednesday, July 23, I went to Fuji-san. Not to see it, but to climb it. Most people would say I’m stupid, but as the saying goes, you’re only stupid if you do it more than once.  Just give it time. 🙂

The day started early with the 7:45am bus from Shinjuku to Kawaguchiko 5th Station. It was the first bus we could take, and the fastest way there.  It is also really cheap. When we got to the 5th station, there were a lot of people. Most of them were just coming down from Mt. Fuji.  I’m guessing they spent the night, watched the sunrise, and then waited for the post office to open at 8am to send their postcards home.  We wandered around a little and I picked up a walking stick.  1000 Yen, but they burn “stamps” into it as you climb.  My friend also bought an oxygen bottle, but we didn’t touch it.

After asking a few people for directions, we began our ascent. There isn’t too much to say about this. Generally, there are signs the entire way up showing you how to get to the top, and how to get back down.  There were also a lot of schools hiking up to the 7th station. Going to the top took us around 4 to 4.5 hours.  I didn’t really check the time.  We also stopped a lot to catch our breath, get our walking sticks stamped, and to take pictures of course.  There are roughly 3-4 sections of the climb.  The first is relatively easy. A nice slope with lots of rocks.  After the 7th station, it’s very rocky and steep.  You feel like you are climbing up, not walking up.  It’s similar to climbing the Chief (in Squamish, Canada) except the rocks aren’t smooth, rather they are jagged. At the 8th station, it turns into a nice walk again.  Note that a nice walk up Mt. Fuji and a nice walk around the house are completely different.  The very top saw us climing up like the 7th station.  The only difference is that the rocks weren’t as jagged as the 7-8th station section.  At the top, you are greeted by a torii (gate) and 2 lions/lion-dogs.  You walk around a bit, check out the crater, and then head down. Circumnavigating the crater takes about an hour, but we didn’t have time.

The trip down was fun.  We beat the 2 hour “expected” minimum time.  Then again, we were almost running down the mountain.  Our bus left at 6:25, it was 4, and they said it should take about 3 hours to get down… ….  We got down in about 1.5 hours.  Going down is fun and a pain.  The rock path isn’t too steep, but it’s very loose and rocky.  The top has a lot of soft rocks, and it’s easy to slide down.  As we descended, the rocks got bigger.  It became harder to “slide” down the mountain. Some areas had lots of lava rocks that were just a pain to walk down.  Other sections had big rocks that I kicked.  Yes, I probably hurt my feet. 🙂  Things don’t get easy until you are close to the 6th station.  From there, you are on the same path as the path that goes up the mountain, so the path is easy to walk… relatively speaking.  You are also probably very tired after climbing Mt. Fuji.

In the end, you are left at the 5th station, thinking about how to get home, and starving as food at the top costs an arm and a leg.  However, you also feel elated because you accomplished something that few people do, or even think of doing.

So, if you are crazy enough to think of climbing Mt. Fuji, here is what you should bring:

Clothes: Bring some warm clothes, but I didn’t feel cold at all.  Only at the summit.  Other people felt cold and needed a fleece.  Staying overnight will probably require warm clothes, and if it’s cloudy and windy, you’ll need warm clothes too.  We were lucky and it was mostly sunny and not too windy.  Sunglasses would be recommended but not necessary.  They would help a lot on the descent with all the dust you kick up.  A hat is a MUST.  Keeps the sun off your face and prevents a bad sunburn.

Money: Bring as many 100 and 500 yen coins.  Even 1000 yen bills.  Don’t even think they’ll accept 10,000 for a banana.  If you get a walking stick, it costs 200-300 for each stamp, and the stamps themselves will cost around 3400 yen.  That’s on top of the stick.  If you need to use the toilet, they start at 50 yen at the 5th station, and go up to 200 (I think) at the summit. Most are only 100 yen. If you need lunch, you can get hot food for around 1000 yen at the top.  Anything tastes good when you are hungry and tired. 🙂

Shoes: Wearing good hiking shoes is great, but wearing old runners is fine too.  Just make sure they are expendable.  I can’t wear my shoes again.  I wore out the sole of the shoes running down the mountain.  Now I have to find new ones. 🙂  Then again, my shoes were pretty old.  Also, I saw someone walking up the mountain in Crocs, but he wasn’t doing the entire thing.  Just going between stations.

Food: Buy those energy drinks in a bag.  If you are in Japan, you’ll know what I mean. It’s kind of like a jelly.  Bring 2 bottles of water (350mL*2), at least.  Also, pack a lunch if you don’t want to buy one at the top or along the way.

Lastly, check the weather before you go.  As long as it’s sunny, or no chance of rain, you’ll be fine.  The mountain is not humid, and very nice in the summer.


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