Squeezing the sunshine out of summer

When I went home I asked my Grandad if he read my blog. He said, not really, “Isn’t it just you writing what you did each week?” I explained to him I put more about Japanese culture and things I find interesting here, than my daily life in it. But this post is unashamedly me-centered.

Basically, what Sophie did in the last two months whilst she hasn’t been blogging. This one’s for you Grandad. 

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Summer was not as sweltering as I remembered from last year, and the warm nights were perfect for late night BBQs, beach parties and midnight swims, and many laps of the local pool. Since the August humidity lifted, September and October were perfect weather for enjoying Japan.

Sado Island Earth Celebration Festival 

My best trip in Japan so far was to Sado Island, in Nigata Prefecture. With five girls in a car, camping by a beach and watching sweaty men play taiko drums, the trip was always going to be a winner. I recommend seeing the amazing Kodo to anyone and everyone, especially at the Earth Celebration Festival on the island they train at. 

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Mud Volleyball Tournament

I took part in a local mud volleyball tournament that has to go on near the top of my “Best Moments” list. We squelched, jumped and fell over in the paddy field filled with dirty, brown mud. The funniest match we played was against a team of “New Halves”, or transvestites, who were dressed in bikinis, had gorgeous long hair and were wearing plenty of makeup! They were also terrible at volleyball, and before the game had even started had fallen over and lost their fake eyelashes to the heavy mud! A crowd gathered around, mostly to watch as the floundering who did a little dance every time they won a point. We won the game easily, but the cheers went to the muddy New Halves who had entertained us all.

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Climbing Mount Haku

Another weekend my friends and I climbed one of the three sacred mountains in Japan, Mount Haku. The start of this 2000m high mountain is only an hour out of Fukui Prefecture, so it is really a must for anyone who likes hiking in Fukui. Unlike the torturous and monotonous climb up Mount Fuji, this mountain is covered in dense forest and has brilliant views from the start. We began in the morning, and with ample breaks and photo-snapping time, we were at the top by 4pm. We had booked a night at the Murata Lodge near the summit, so didn’t have to worry about the time, or bringing food. The dinner and breakfast at the lodge was great. I have never enjoyed miso soup and rice so much for breakfast! I suppose after getting up at 4am, climbing to the summit to watch a spectacular sunrise, then doing an hour’s walk before we made it down to the lodge, anything would’ve tasted good!

1374541_10201037935576188_182132618_nNaoshima and Takamatsu, Shikoku

Since September and October are lucky to have quite a few long weekends, I’ve tried to travel further afield. In early October, my friends and I drove to Takamatsu in Shikoku, a seven hour drive, but one which was worth it. We went specifically to see the island of Naoshima which is famous for its modern art museums and installations. We had great fun posing in the giant pumpkin that is on the island, and seeing fantastic architecture by Ando. The museums formed part of the Setouchi Triennial Art Festival, and due to that the island was busy with chic looking tourist, with their newest cameras at the ready. Modern art can be great, it is something to be part of, to experience, rather than just looking at a painting, it feels as if you become part of it. We enjoyed the chattering men in the Benesse Art Museum, and laying on huge pebble-shaped marble stones whilst looking at the open sky through a large skylight. The Chichu Art Museum was even more impressive in its architecture and installations.

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Our funniest moment was when we queued in line for thirty minutes to see Monet’s water lilies paintings, but then found out it was actually a queue to see another installation called “Open Sky”, and it was exactly that! The sky does look better when you have waited and paid to see it! After disturbing the peace of the museum with our laughter, we joined the right queue to see Monet’s work, and again had to take off our shoes to see it. Wearing white slippers and being guided by young women in white clothes, we entered a completely white room. The huge Monet painting made us all gasp, and as you walk further in the square room there are three more paintings surrounding you. Unlike other museums, these paintings are behind pieces of glass, but due to the natural light coming in from the roof, there wasn’t a reflection from it, so you could get as close as you liked to the paintings and look at the individual brush strokes of each painting. It was like stepping into Monet’s world. As clouds went across the sun, the light would become darker and the change in light brought out different colours in the paintings. Even after seeing Monet’s work in his Parisian museum, I was more inspired by his paintings in this museum than in Paris. Just for that moment, the trip was justified.

We were also lucky to stay with my JET friend Julia, from the UK, who let us sleep on her floor, and was able to show us the best places in her city. She recommended us to visit Ritsurin Garden, which is one of the best gardens in Japan and lived up to its reputation. We saw tea ceremonies performed there, newly-wed couples having their pictures taken dressed up in traditional costumes, and other people dressed as samurai! After that we tried the famous Kagawa Udon, thick white noodles in a thin broth, and they tasted good, but I was more impressed by the chopstick stand! 

Takamatsu's famous udon

Takamatsu’s famous udon

 So there are a few of my escapades from the last couple of months and I’ve certainly built up a fair few memories to keep me going during the winter. I had different motives when I came here; I wanted to save money to pay off a fair chunk of my student debt, yet as the yen has dropped so low compared to the pound, that it’s really impossible. So my new motive is to see and do everything I want to in Japan. But like this tourist sign says, the possibilities are endless. 

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Here’s a video and some more photos to make up for my two-month blogging absence. 

 

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