A Trip to Sadogashima – Part 1

Sadogashima is the sixth biggest island of Japan after the four main islands and the largest island of Okinawa. Sadogashima lies around 50 km off the coast of Niigata city and prefecture and the big car ferry ride there takes two and a half hours.
The island has an odd shape with two mountain ridges to the east and west and a flat middle in between. The highest peak on Sadogashima is a whopping 1172 meters high and called Mt. Kinpoku.

Sado has a rich history, first as an island where political and religious figures unliked by the establishment were banished to, and second it is one of the very few places in Japan with natural resources, namely gold. Alas, the goldmine is long depleted.
It took me twenty years of living in Japan before I went to this island with my usual interest more in the direction of the Izu islands and the Okinawa islands. But the company asks its employees in times of coronavirus to take their annual paid leave and so I made the rather quick decision to take a few days off and to go there.

Despite its decent size it’s a pretty quiet island with only some 55.000 inhabitants. That there are so few around might also have to do with strong winters and half a meter of snow, which I find hard to imagine!
The boat ride from Niigata was a very lovely affair in nice weather, with seagulls following the ship the entire way, being fed with shrimp crackers from the tourists.

On my first day I borrowed a free bicycle from my hotel in the middle of the island and rode down south to the sea town of Sawata. There was nothing much going on on the several kilometer long beach and that was a smooth ride.

I tried to get to the south-eastern tip of the island, but without an electric assist and the sun and heat coming out, that became too daunting a ride through the hilly mountain roads. With a battery assist I would have pushed on, but not without it, considering the over fifteen kilometers I would have had to ride back. It was a lovely day on the bicycle though and I enjoyed every bit of it.

Mt. Fuji – 2nd Station

With the mercury ever rising and rising, I saw no way to do e.g. temple sightseeing around Numazu. A third trip to Osezaki also seemed kinda boring and thus I decided to get higher up to escape the brooding heat and that was an extremely good idea! I wanted to go to one of Mt. Fuji’s 5th stations (there are four or them) but I soon found out that Mt. Fuji is closed for the climbing season of 2020 due to the coronavirus. This may sound odd, but: around 100,000 people climb Mt. Fuji every year, most of those climbs happen during the climbing season in July and August, when there is no snow even on the top of the 3776 meter mountain. Also, usually, the huts on the stations 5 to 9 are open during those 2 months. But, this year, everything was shut down. However, one of the bus services up the mountain still went to the 2nd station on the south side, which lies at 1450 meters. That sounded high enough to me and I rode to Mishima by train and from there around 90 min with a normal city bus, not a coach bus, as I had expected. The bus passes also Fuji Safari Park, but I’ve been there once before and it’s “only” at 900 meter elevation. The bus usually climbs up until the Fujimino 5th station but ended this year at the 2nd station with its park called Mizugatsuka.

At Mizugatsuka is a large (pretty newly built) souvenir shop and restaurant, a parking lot for a thousand cars and that’s it. It offers various walking routes around the area. It also has jogging/running courses around the car park and hordes of runners galloped around there. The by far best thing of the place was the temperature – a balmy 23 degrees Celsius. When I returned to Numazu in the evening it was 37 degrees Celsius there… Mt. Fuji itself, which you can theoretically see from a clearing in the forest and from atop a nearby hill, was shrouded in what I have come to call the mothership cloud. If there are clouds, they get stuck at Mt. Fuji, since it’s in their way coming from the sea barely a few kilometers away. It looked to me like the clouds were starting at around 2000 meters elevation. I then ventured on one of the walks/hikes that start from the car park of about 90 min to a shrine at the flank of the mountain. The path was fantastic. Very easy to walk, almost no ups and downs as it went parallel to the mountain and since it had been super wet all of July, every log and rock around was covered in very green moss.

It was absolutely beautiful to walk through these woods. The path was sometimes hard to discern, but every few meters pink ribbons in the trees helped to identify the path and here and there were also signposts. The shrine was standing guard over a cave and a few underpasses, but the cave itself was off limits and also didn’t look very big, just for one person to be able to crawl through, which is not my kind of thing 😉

At the car park were maybe a hundred cars, on the trail to the shrine, I met maybe ten people. It was a great walk and a welcome respite from the omnipresent heat. The bus had around eight passengers along the route. I don’t know how busy the area is during non-covid times.
I once attempted to climb Mt. Fuji some 15 years ago. It was end of July, the bus from Shinjuku was full, there were hundreds and hundreds of people on the same trail. (Despite wonderful weather in Tokyo, there was a thunderstorm around Mt. Fuji. It rained like hell, I slipped on the wet rocks and hurt my knee and gave up, spending the rest of the night in the 8th station hut). I’m not sure how many people would be at this second station and Mizugatsuka park in a normal year, but I surely enjoyed the relative peace and quiet. It was kind of just right, a few people there to make you feel not too lonely, but not enough people to disturb you. So, even though I didn’t see the top of the mountain, I thoroughly enjoyed the walk to the shrine and the fantastic temperatures.

Where is Numazu?

Numazu is not such a popular Mt. Fuji destination as Hakone or Gotemba or Lake Kawaguchi, but I chose Numazu because it is located at the sea 🙂
Deprived of my visit to Okinawa I wanted to have at least a little bit of ocean in August and actually I got more ocean than I expected 🙂
Numazu downtown is rather sad, I must say. I’m not sure if it is COVID related or not, but many of the shops in the Main Street down from the station towards the port had their shutters closed. After checking into the hotel, I walked down to the beach and was a bit disappointed. First of all the beach is gravel, not sand and second it was not maintained but loads of wood debris and plastic among it lay on the beach. Another point of disappointment was that a mothership cloud huddled around Mt. Fuji and it was not enticing the eye.

However, I made one discovery. I saw something like a ferry leaving Numazu port. Yeah! Boat! Back at the hotel I found out that this is a ferry which goes only during the summer to a place called Osezaki, on the northeastern tip of the Izu peninsula.
I went to the port and the ferry promptly the next morning and had a fantastic little day trip. It was nicely windy and the 33 Celsius felt like 33 Celsius instead of 41 or so in the city. Blue sky, blue sea, boat, great views of the surrounding hills and at the end of the boat ride awaited a sleepy beach village of some twenty houses only, and I wonder if anybody even lives there when it’s not summer. The ferry was built for 200 passengers but only 15 or so were on board. I feel so bad for all these summer holiday providers all over the world who are not making good business this summer. One of the staff on board sold shrimp crackers for the seagulls and I admired their flight skills and several took the snacks from my hand without harming me. Their precision is amazing.

Arrived at the beach there were at least some normal summer activities going on but even there all sales staff at whatever stalls wore masks and some of the guests too.

The Osezaki peninsula has a shrine and a pond with carp to offer and some very old trees and is altogether beautiful. In other weather it must look even more amazing to have Mt. Fuji across the bay, but the mothership cloud hung over the mountain the entire time, seeming not to move even a centimeter.

I thoroughly enjoyed the place and the wind and it truly felt like summer vacation.
Arrived back in Numazu port, I went to the small deep sea aquarium there. It’s nice, but cannot compete with the great and huge Notojima aquarium the week before.
On the way home I crossed paths with a not very well looking guy in his fifties. His face was super red, he was not wearing a hat and he was walking very fast while staggering a bit. He looked like a dangerous case of heat stroke… I am sure there were many that day in Japan, which saw temperatures sore to over 40 Celsius in some places and that with high humidity… uh.

On my second day in Numazu I actually did the same thing as the day before, I took that ferry to Osezaki. It seemed the most sensible thing to do in the insane heat. It was even hotter than the previous day due to less wind. But luckily on the ferry and at the Osezaki peninsula tip there was still some wind to be had which made the heat bearable, if just barely. But my second trip was rewarded with the very tip of Mt. Fuji peaking above the omnipresent mothership cloud. I had contemplated to go into the water, but a prickly heat rash from the day before on my legs made me decide against it, that rash would have definitely gone worse in the merciless sun. Nevertheless I had a good time at the beach in the shade and with some wind in my face.

Giant Aquarium at the End of the World

Considering the ridiculous heat in Kanazawa, which increased every day, I was looking for something to do without too much heat exposure and came upon the idea to go to Notojima (Shima, or jima means island) it’s an island off the shore at the tip of Ishikawa prefecture but close enough to the shore to be connected by bridges to the mainland. It’s about 70 km from Kanazawa. Across from the island, on the mainland is a famous hot spring spa place called Wakura Onsen.
On the island are two main things to see, a glass manufacturing place and a glass museum and an aquarium. Originally I wanted to check out both, but discussing with the lady at the information desk in Wakura Onsen, it turned out to be logistically impractical because the bus going there is only operating once every two hours. The three kilometers between the two sites seemed impossible to walk considering 35 degrees Celsius humid heat. The lady then recommended to concentrate on the aquarium. I am not big about informing myself in advance of my exploration targets. It’s like, there’s an aquarium, fine, let’s go there. I had no idea how huge the aquarium was and that I would need all three hours I had there. How come there is such a huge aquarium at the end of the world? It’s 16km from the train station and the public bus goes only once every two hours. It’s first of all of course a car destination. Also the hot spa town is getting a regular flow of visitors (in normal, non covid times) and they are probably organizing visits to the aquarium. Nevertheless, the thing’s size baffled me. It was constructed in the late seventies, early eighties during Japan’s bubble time, which also explains its size and it also means that it’s pretty old by now, but it’s also well maintained.
Right at the start you get to see the giant tank with two whale sharks and a multitude of other beasts. It’s cleverly made because you get to see the top of the basin and then spiral your way down alongside plenty of large and small windows. There was some interaction at the top of the basin with this giant dude who was fooling around at the edge of the basin glaring at you. It was a lovely moment of who is looking at whom, the fish inspecting the landlubbers or the other way round?

The two whale sharks are smaller in size, meaning younger than the whale sharks of the even bigger main tank at the Okinawa Churaumi aquarium. I hope the basin is not getting too small for them as they grow.

The whale shark tank seemed younger than the rest of the aquarium, the core part of the original aquarium has another large tank in the classic style, only one way to look at it, from the front. Inside that tank was a swarm of small fish that entertain with the patterns they make. There was feeding time for them too and the explanation lady said there were 10.000 of them. Then there were plenty of smaller tanks with loads of inhabitants and the usual seals, penguins, turtles, also dolphins and otters. The dolphins had two tanks, one for the performing ones, one for the perhaps retired ones, with a glass tunnel through the basin. They also had a giant sea otter and I was surprised by its huge size. In two areas they were working cleverly with mirrors, duplicating the fish and also the tanks with jelly fish. There were only four tanks, but it looked like many more thanks to the mirror reflections.

Last but not least they had a kind of cinema with a tank of swarm fish that was being lit in all colors of the rainbow. I hope the fish don’t mind the constant change in color.
As for visitors, there were quite a few around, but much less than usual I suppose, which became evident during the dolphin show. Four dolphins performed and one seal and the ranks in the outdoor theater were not very full. For me the amount of visitors was kind of just right, a few there so you didn’t feel odd about it, but few enough to be able to enjoy each tank at your own pace.
One way or the other, the aquarium was quite amazing, especially considering it’s remote location and it was well worth the visit.

The Holy Void is out to get you

And another one done! A new baby has been released into the cruel world. It’s the fifth installment of my Dome of Souls series: The Holy Void
The other books are: Dome Child, The Anatomy of Anarchy, Jeronimo, Red Angel 42 and now it’s the time of The Holy Void.
The Holy Void was an easy book to write, since it was all pretty clear to me what was supposed to happen and most importantly how it was supposed to end.
I cannot say the same thing about the (maybe) final (?) book in the Dome of Souls series that I have started writing since middle of August. I’m 25.000 words in at the moment and I have no clue yet how to end this book and (maybe) the entire series with it 😉
Number six will be a hard book to write. But who knows, maybe it’s not the end and when I’ve reached 80.000 words or more, I might decide that there will be a number seven? No clue yet, and that’s the fun of it. Let’s see where those characters will take me.
But I’m getting ahead of myself, now it’s the time for The Holy Void.

Bahrein! I’ve been writing about the Bahrein since The Anatomy of Anarchy and now it’s their turn finally and we are dropping by their home planet. Humans thought the Bahrein discovered them during the times of Jeronimo, but the readers of the Dome of Souls series know better – since there was this certain guy called Lofgar who played a pivotal role in The Anatomy of Anarchy. The humans Arion and Jamie, who arrive at Bahrein now, a few thousand years later, are in for a surprise 🙂
It was great fun to connect back to Jeronimo and The Anatomy of Anarchy with The Holy Void. But that’s just a side plot of course, since the main happenings are around the bad guys = the House of Kol, and the new good guys around the House of Mar. Arion and Jamie soon wade ankle-deep in Bahreinian intrigues and the grapple for power.

What is left for me to say is that I hope some people will enjoy reading The Holy Void, while I struggle through writing Dome of Souls book number six! Will it be the last one??? Maybe, maybe not 😉 Cheers!

Kanazawa Part 2

My second day started out with a walk through the Nagamachi samurai district and the Omicho fish market but both were pretty much deserted and many shops and stalls were closed. While I didn’t feel the lack of tourists really the day earlier at Kenrokuen, here it was all too obvious that the place is a tourist town and that there is now a lack of them. There had been not too many people in Kenrokuen but a few had been around and I had perceived that as an advantage, but in the samurai house district and the fish market the disadvantage became truly obvious. Luckily there is still some local tourism in Japan. I cannot even imagine what e.g. Angkor Wat is looking like now, since Cambodian people have in general not enough money for tourism. Siem Reap must be so sad now and all the locals who depend on tourism for their livelihood are out of jobs and probably struggling to survive.

I wandered all the way to the Higashi Chaya tea house district, and at least there were a few people again and a few shops were open. I had an excellent Yuzu (a Japanese lemon variety, very tasty!) shaved ice in one of the open cafes and cooled off a bit thanks to it. The heat that day was pretty insane.

Giving in to the heat, I rode with a bus back to Kenrokuen and the museums around it and visited the Ishikawa Prefectural Art museum. They have a standard exhibition of pottery, lacquer ware and paintings, but they also had a special exhibition going on of a local artist called Rei Kamoi (never heard of him before). He lived in Paris and Spain for a while it seems. His paintings are mostly portraits of elder people, most of them pretty dark and close to depressive. He did not vary his style very much, all those people have their mouths open in some form and their eyes are just holes. He also painted churches, cubic things without resemblance to real churches. It was interesting, but didn’t knock my socks off. I wondered around a bit outside again to two shrines, then made a stop at the very minimalist D. T. Suzuki Museum. He was a Buddhist philosopher who introduced Zen Buddhism to the rest of the world. The museum is tiny, but has great architecture stressing clarity of thought in its minimalist style.

Post Post Post Modern

The 21st century museum of contemporary art, Kanazawa, is housed in a very impressive building, which alone is worth the entrance fee. Within a large glass circle is a labyrinth of corridors that have glass roofs and they lead to the no-window rooms for exhibits, large and small. The building is really cool and kudos to the architect. No photographs are allowed inside the building.

When I visited, two exhibitions were going on, one of a Japanese contemporary artist I’ve never heard of, the other was called de-sport: the deconstruction and reconstruction of sports through art. Now that alone is a mouth-full. It seemed more interesting than the stuff of someone I’ve never heard of.
Every exhibition room had its own installment and the first room was showing a video on two screens of a woman running around in Greece with a fancy torch thingy that was supposed to resemble an Olympic torch. The other camera showed stuff from the perspective of the torch. Bizarre, boring, and it’s meaning escaped me. I liked the Polish weightlifters trying to lift monuments in Poland much better. They were the main attraction in a room which also had portraits of Japanese sumo wrestler kids, a synchronized swimming team from Russia, a water ball team from Russia and some rugby kids from Australia to offer. The portraits (photographs) were interesting, showing diversity in uniformity, but the Polish weightlifters also had a video, simply showing how they were trying to lift monuments hundreds of kilos heavy, with a silly reporter guy commenting on their efforts (in Polish, with English and Japanese subtitles).
Another video installation showed an event in the US. They had an upside down tank whose chains were running noisily and above one set of chains was a treadmill like from a gym and runners were jogging on that treadmill wearing USA Olympic team shirts. People around the tank gawked and took pics and vids of the action with their iPhones. Hm. Well, at least there was some symbolism going on here and various messages depending on your interpretation. Sports as war, military as a treadmill, the US running over the rest of the world like a tank… many more interpretations possible!
Then there was a bunch of tennis balls in the next room and that was it, their meaning escaped me.

Apart from the awesome Polish weightlifters, the Xijing Olympics of 2008 were a blast. Three artists, one Japanese, one Chinese, one Korean held fake Olympics with nonsense disciplines like bread throwing, massage boxing, brush tickling and so forth. The objects, including stone-old bread, were exhibited, as well as nicely designed posters of the Xijing 2008 Olympics and a video showing the guys in action. Now that was cool. It also conveyed a message, our adoration for faster higher stronger is silly, the commercialization of sports sucks and sports should just be fun. I liked that exhibit the most, together with the Polish weightlifters of course.
Then they had another bizarre thing, two guys playing jazz drums while playing chess in some video installment showing the stuff from various angles. Um… okay? So fxxing what? Neither funny, nor a message anywhere, at least not that I got it. Last but not least there was a redesigned ping pong table with a lotus pond in the middle. There were three ping pong table halfs enabling you to kind of play three dimensional ping pong with balls coming also from the left and right, not only the front. Also here I could get a message, change the rules and sports won’t work anymore, it becomes chaos and are all those rules really necessary? It was neat, but couldn’t live up to the Xijing Olympics or my Polish weightlifters.

There also is a permanent installment in the museum of an optical illusion swimming pool. When you look into the pool from the top, which I did, it looks like a deep pool that is at least three meters deep, but in fact there is only ten or twenty centimeters of water. You can go into the pool from the cellar and look up at the tiny pond from below. I would have liked to go down, but due to corona they limited the number of people in the small pool to five at a time and all “tickets” for the pool for that day were already taken. From above it truly looks like deep water, which is pretty neat.
So, that was my brush with contemporary art, it was worth it for the amazing museum building, for the Xijing Olympics, for the air conditioning on this hot summer day and of course for my Polish weightlifters!

A Trip to Kanazawa

At first the coronavirus situation foiled my plans to go to Europe during summer holidays, then, virtually last minute, the governor of Okinawa announced a state of emergency for his prefecture, 36 hours before I was supposed to go there instead. I managed to cancel all arrangements for Okinawa with luckily minimal financial loss and then wondered what to do with my precious two weeks off. I decided to first of all head for Kanazawa. I’ve never been there before and a work colleague recently went there during our Golden Week and liked it and brought the name back into my head. Kanazawa is a three hour Shinkansen direct ride from Tokyo. Due to last minute booking, I got an incredibly cheap price for an excellent apartment that offered cooking facilities, which seemed like a good idea to be able to avoid hotel staff, restaurants, (due to covid) or living off a convenience store.
The unreserved seat area in the Shinkansen on an early Monday afternoon was luckily nearly empty. Much of Japan stayed at home during this year’s summer.
Kanazawa is a tourist town, rich in history and it sports one of the three major Japanese gardens, which are the Korakuen in Okayama, the Kairakuen in Mito and the Kenrokuen in Kanazawa. I’ve not been to the Kairakuen in Mito yet and to the one in Okayama only once during my very first trip to Japan a horrendous amount of years ago, and naturally I don’t remember much about it.
Okayama is a long way from Yokohama and I don’t see myself going there again any time soon, but Mito is not that far away and I’ll check about opportunities to go and see the Kairakuen one of these days.
The Kenrokuen of Kanazawa is fantastic. It was first designed as an outer garden for the Kanazawa castle some 400 years ago and of course was changed and refined plenty of times. As early as 1874 it was opened to the public and its basic structure does not seem to have changed a lot since then. It’s astonishingly big and has plenty of lanterns, flowing water and ponds to offer. Due to the heat and the general lack of international as well as domestic tourists, it was delightfully deserted. There were a few people around of course, but I am developing a talent for photographing around them 😉

Next to the garden is a villa which some lord built for his mother as a retirement home. The villa is pretty damn big for one old lady and her probably myriad of servants. It was not allowed to take pictures inside the building, only its garden. All of it exquisitely beautiful.

Next to the Kenrokuen garden are the Kanazawa castle grounds. It’s a large complex with a lot more gardens. Of the original structures nothing remains expect for the outer castle walls. The castle itself has burnt to the ground plenty of times. The current structure is in part as young as 2015. While museums have been made out of plenty of other restored Japanese castles, Kanazawa castle is just empty halls, which I found a bit odd. Why not make a real museum out of it either? There are just some displays about how the castle was reconstructed and what building materials were used. Nevertheless it looks neat.

Next to the castle grounds is a famous shrine, called Oyama, which, guess what, has another amazing garden and a quite unique entrance gate.

I like the lanterns of the city, many of them remind me a bit of spaceships, especially this one.

Let it be added that it was ridiculously hot and humid, as is the habit of Japanese summer. So, after this marathon through gardens, castles and shrines, I sought refuge in the air conditioned 21st century museum of contemporary art, Kanazawa, which is south of the castle complex. But that is worth its own blog entry.

Would Have

So, I thought there’d be no more “would have” about my summer holiday, but now there is. Originally I would have gone to Europe this summer, but that was cancelled quite a while ago. Then I booked two weeks in my beloved Okinawa… I would have flown to Naha today, but… on the 31st of July the governor of Okinawa declared a prefecture wide state of emergency, asking people to stay at home as much as possible. And that for at least the period of August 1st to August 15. My plan was to go to Okinawa (main island this time) from August 2nd to August 15th. Aaaaahhhhh!!!! Okinawa has currently 300 active cases (adding 200 in the last four days…) with 1.4 Mio inhabitants, while the prefecture where I live, Kanagawa, has 400 active cases with 9 Mio inhabitants, and that despite being right next to Tokyo with its now 3200 active cases.
It’s not forbidden to fly to Okinawa, but I’d just feel so awkward to be frolicking about during a state of emergency and the request to stay home. So yesterday I spent the morning with cancelling everything and luckily my hotel was super nice and let me cancel for free and it also looks like I’ll get most of the money back for the flight.
So what to do with my precious two weeks off in this very volatile atmosphere? I’ve booked an apartment now for 4 days in Kanazawa on the Japanese sea side where I’ve never been to before and will probably, hopefully go there tomorrow. Let’s see what happens! Stay safe everyone! And wear masks please!

Temple Mania

The number of tourists to Japan reached a new record in 2019. I found on some website that it’s been 32 million visitors. By comparison, in 2020 only 8.6 million came to Japan and in 2003 it was only 5.2 million. Not all of those millions are tourists of course, there are plenty of business trip people who have no time for sightseeing, but every single one of the millions of tourists goes to Kamakura!
There is a whole historic period named after the area, from 1185 to 1333 – the time of the Kamakura Shogunate. You can read all about it on Wikipedia etc. Fact is the place breathes history and has myriads of temples and shrines of offer, of which some 25 make it onto tourist maps. I have been to Kamakura (of course) during my very first visit to Japan in (OMG) 1993, when there were probably only 2 million or so visitors coming into the country and then again some time around 2005 with my sister (on a rainy day and we saw nothing much more than the great buddha statue). Ever since I have not been to Kamakura again, scared off by the horrendous number of tourists walking through the small town.
Now it happens that my current apartment is only 50 train minutes from Kamakura and I thought, hey! It’s the chance of a lifetime to explore Kamakura in detail, while there is an entry ban to Japan for 129 countries during the corona crisis.
So far I have been to Kamakura four times and I intend to go another two times or so, since on one trip I manage only 5 to 6 temples and shrines due to heat and rain 😉
There is also a reason for why the place is so full of tourists, because, yes, it is bloody great 🙂 If you like history, temples and shrines, Kamakura is the place to go.
It’s all quite stretched out and you are walking a lot, but you can also take some buses which run frequently through the town.

On my first visit I did the “main” route with a side kick to the great buddha statue, which is at Kohtoku-in temple. Then on to the grand Tsurugaoka Hachimangu shrine, on to Kencho-ji temple, Meigetsu-in temple and Engkaku-ji temple.
On my second trip I walked through the so called Kanazawa Kaido area with the Eragaten shrine, the Kamakura shrine, the fantastic Zuisen-ji temple, the Sugimoto temple, the Jomyo-ji temple and the other gem of the Hokoku-ji temple.

Trip three brought me to two temples of the Kita-Kamakura area that I missed on the first trip, the Tokei-ji and the Jochi-ji, then down towards the coast to the famous Hasedera and the much less visited Kosoku-ji. The fourth trip brought me to the Jufuk-ji and the Eisho-ji and another highlight, the Kaizo-ji, then to the two big shrines of Zeniarai Benzaiten and my favorite shrine, the Sasuke Inari.

What’s left to explore will be the shrines and temples of the Zaimokuza area, which I will target in August or September.
During the four trips in June and July some temples were virtually deserted, some had a few Japanese visitors and also the occasional foreigner who lives here, but no comparison to the busloads of tourists that usually flock the place. While it is hard for the local businesses to do without those busloads, I can firmly say that I’m greatly enjoying the place without them 😉

Discover Your Neighborhood

I’m a bit at a loss at the moment as to what to write for the blog. World events are crazy… Japan, at the moment, seems like a happy island of calm with only some 18,000 coronavirus infections and a thousand deaths. Even if there is a gray zone and there actually might be more cases, this is nothing in comparison to many other countries.
What’s happening in Trumpfuckistan is beyond any words, that country is so sick on so many levels and yes, black lives do matter and the biggest virus of the country, agent orange, or as I like to call the creature: the orange fart face, just please please please has to go at the end of the year. Crazy many cases in Brazil, despite a hefty lockdown so many cases in India, the UK the worst affected country in Europe… but alas, their idiot government made them leave Europe…
And then the arctic is on fire and climate change rambles on. We are expecting a record summer in Japan too with “temperatures above normal” for the three months of July, August, September.
I had wanted to fly to Europe in August as usual and me idiot booked and payed for a flight in February, now I’m trying to cancel and maybe get some money back… all events (festivals) are cancelled and oh, yes, crazy Japan would not let me permanent resident back in anymore at the moment if I left the country, because I don’t have a Japanese passport… thanks for taking my taxes and all but granting no re-entry.
Money… there are salary cuts and we have shut down days at the company, usually Fridays. We are all doing the work of five days in four and get less money for it, but hey, at least I still have a paying job for now.
Which brings me to the good part and the title of this blog entry. I now have three day weekends and ever since our lockdown ended, I’ve been making use of those and done day trips around the Kanto region, so far mostly Kanagawa, where I live. It’s awesome. I’ve come to love my three day weekends and those day trips to places close by that I haven’t visited in years or not at all.
I’m posting pics on twitter and Facebook with a two week delay to make sure I didn’t catch anything at place x or y and that it has been safe to go there. But this is probably just over-caution, since our virus cases are pretty damn low and everyone is taking care. Everyone wears masks, always and there is hand sanitizer at every shop or museum or restaurant or whatever it is.
I’ve been to Enoshima = at the beach the first weekend after the state of emergency ended. Then for the first time ever I went to Mt. Takao and I loved it there, why the heck have I never gone there before?? 😉 I’ll definitely go there again in autumn/winter, when there is less humidity in the air and the view will be better. I’ve been to Hakkeijima Sea Paradise for the first time in some 15 years or so. It’s great to discover the beauty close by. I hope I can travel far away too again in the future, but for the moment, I am enjoying the little gems next door and there will be more to write about soon 😉
Take care everyone, stay safe, wear masks and let’s try to make the best out of it!

Bamboo Magic

Due to all the staying home and home-office as well, I had the opportunity to study the growth of bamboo this spring. lol. This is mostly a photo protocol rather than a blog entry. Bamboo grows so fast it’s incredible. You can virtually stand next to it and watch it grow. You can read all about bamboo in wikipedia, so I won’t repeat that here, but did you know that bamboo is not a tree but a grass? 😉 And a bamboo “tree” can live up to 120 years, but does all its growing in the first 60 days it said elsewhere.
Since the stuff is not growing where I grew up in Germany, to walk through a bamboo forrest always and still has a certain “wow” effect on me. The thing is though, you have to maintain a bamboo forrest in order to be able to walk through it. If you don’t then there is no walking possible 😉

In the park where all the following photos have been taken, a caretaker sees to it that things are not getting out of hand. A few meters down from the bamboo grove are some other trees and a bamboo shoot peaked out between them, but the caretaker ripped it out soon, otherwise, I suppose the bamboo would have taken over that tree grove. One way or the other, bamboo is a very “cool” plant from the European perspective and thanks to the enforced home-office and my walks to the park during lunch break, I documented bamboo growth for the first time in my 20 years in Japan 😉

April 10

April 17
May28 – that’s the top of that particular bamboo tree, it’ll grow leaves soon!

Adventures in Cooking

Let me say this right up front – I cannot cook at all and I don’t really like cooking either, although I unfortunately like eating, 😉 I do like baking once in a while with that home bakery thing I happen to own, but cooking? Uh… So a tiny bit of positive stuff has come out of the stay-at-home because of that bloody virus, since I have expanded the number of menus that I am (kinda) cooking and I’m a tiny bit proud of myself 😉
Until now cooking meant: frozen pizza on weekdays after work, or just some toast or bagels with cheese or ham or smoked salmon and an instant soup, if always with raw salad, and fruits for desert (I LOVE fruits).
On weekends cooking meant whatever form of spaghetti, gnocchi, potatoes, or pre-cooked rice packs that you throw into the microwave and whatever sauce or curry packages that you equally throw into the microwave. Occasionally I made pancakes but that was the utmost of effort.
I’ve been a vegetarian as a student (but I always ate fish) and even though I do eat meat these days, I never cook/fry meat at home. Maybe I eat a slice of ham or salami next to the spaghetti sauce, but slabs of meat I neither buy, nor cook, nor want to. Due to all the staying at home, I grew tired of my choice of meals and browsed about in the Internet for meals that you can make in 15 minutes, since I know myself and more time investment will not (yet) be on my radar. I also bought again a (tiny, cute) rice cooker. I had one in the past, but stopped using the thing after the discovery of pre-cooked rice packs you chuck into the microwave and threw my old, clunky, huge rice cooker away when I moved last time (3.5 years ago).
So, here are some new meals I “discovered”. Variate the noodles and chuck ramen noodles into a frying pan where you cook them and add a slice of cheese to them in the end. Those cheesy ramen give a bit of a new taste and variation from the Italian noodles.

A new spaghetti variation cooked in the microwave with eggplant chucked into it and some bacon. I never, I kid you not, cooked eggplant before in my life, lol.

I do like kitsune udon and made it for the first time myself, for the first time ever buying “hontsuyu” (the soup base) and atsuage (the fried tofu) to chuck it into the soup.

And the highlight, for the first time in my life, I kid you not, I threw a piece of salmon into the frying pan, which was very tasty, lol.

I am also enjoying rice made in the rice cooker again, it does taste better and more “real”, if that’s the word, than the microwave packages after all.
So, let’s see where else my cooking adventures will take me and what else I might try. For now I am quite happy with the additions to my menu, lol, and bon appetit!

To Close or not to Close

I find it interesting how my local shopping mall struggles with the best method to close or not to close which kind of shops during these lockdown times.
There is of course the directive and the necessity to keep food shops open, especially those with fresh produce. In the rear of the LaLaport Yokohama is the Ito Yokado department store with three floors, ground floor is a huge supermarket, and floors 2 and 3 are for clothing, stationary, kitchen items, etc. I go to this supermarket usually on Saturdays to refill my stocks for a week. Other than the Ito Yokado, there are about 50 to 100 other shops in the mall.
For two weekends before our official state of emergency was announced, the shopping center closed down on weekends on a voluntary basis in order to reduce large gatherings of people. The three floors of the Ito Yokado stayed open and awkwardly some restaurants were open, but not the ice cream shop for example. Next to the Ito Yokado is also a food court with a MacD and other fast food stuff, which also remained open.
Then came the official state of emergency and the mall closed down apart from Ito Yokado, a drug store and two other specialty food shops (which were closed during the voluntary shut down). On the first weekend after the state of emergency was declared, also floors 2 and 3 of Ito Yokado were roped off. They closed the food court as well, put all chairs and tables to the side, and put socks and underwear into the middle of the food court while at it’s far end only MacD remained open for take out.
Yet another weekend later all the socks and underwear had been moved to their original floors again and Ito Yokado had open in its entirety. Chairs were back in the food court, if roped off and MacD was still open for take out. Yet another week later, the food court was empty of chairs and just remained an open space. Yesterday they had an “event space” there with pottery items. What a hustle for the poor Ito Yokado staff having to re-arrange everything every week!
There is also no logic as to which specialty food shops are allowed to open and which not. Why is Kaldi (coffee and import food shop) allowed to open, but Tomiz (baking goods) and the Okinawa and Hokkaido food shops must close? All three have some perishable produce to offer but are shut down. I especially missed Tomiz, since I have rediscovered baking (as so many other people these days).
I wonder how we will get out of the closure of all these shops. Once they are reopened, there’ll be a run on them! Well, let’s see what happens. My only hope is that they all can reopen and have not gone broke in the weeks and months without customers. If I can’t to go Okinawa, then at least I wanna be able to get my Shikuwasa juice and the Chinsuko cookies… The first “round” of the state of emergency ended on May 6 but was extended to May 31. Despite that there were two additional shops open yesterday, the ice cream parlor and Tomiz! So, luckily I could get some of those wanted baking items 😉
Let’s see what will be open next weekend as the chaos continues… 😉

Golden Week at Home

Japan has a collection of national holidays end of April/beginning of May, which are known by the name of Golden Week (GW). It also happens that the company I work for closes off for the entire week around those holidays (using other national holidays on which we have to work).
Golden Week is thus the perfect time for a little travel and it’s easy to extend the GW a bit by adding one or the other day of paid leave.
I have made use of GW extensively and the last time I spent GW at home was 2010……… Alas… 2020 will be spent at home as well! I had booked a trip to my beloved Okinawa, but now cancelled it all, following the #stayhome directive.
I am of the kind who of course remembers having been on a trip to country X or island Y, but I do forget which year I went where. As a remedy I am in the habit of writing a journal and now it came in handy. I checked my journals and made a list of where I went every year during GW since the last time I spent it at home in 2010. The list is lovely and I shall bicycle around the neighborhood lost in memories of happy travels and island visits!

2011 – that was right after the big earthquake in Japan and I ventured out on my pre-booked travels to the Netherlands and the UK for sightseeing and heavy metal concerts in Amsterdam and London.
2012 – one of my most adventurous remote island trips so far. I went to the Ogasawara islands, 1000 km straight south of Tokyo in the middle of the Pacific. These islands have no airport and can only be reached by ship. One way takes 25 hours. The islands are insanely beautiful and I saw whales and dolphins during boat tours and in the harbor of Hahajima I saw sharks and mantas frolicking about.
2013 – I went to the island of Izu Oshima, not so far away from Tokyo and hiked around its central volcano, Mt. Mihara, which was great, but alas, my hotel was super crappy and infested with cockroaches, giant spiders and centipedes and I fled it one night earlier than planned.
2014 – No tiny Japanese island this time but a bigger one – I went to Taiwan finally after postponing a trip there for many times. I had a great time in Taipei and Kaohsiung walking around temples, skyscrapers and having good food.
2015 – Miyakojima. I rode around there with a rental car, sweating my guts out because of my fear of driving. But it is a wonderful island and I grew especially fond of the neighboring islands of Irabu and Shimoji where there is a fantastic beach studded with black rocks. Every day after the driving session was done, I went to an ice cream shop and rewarded myself after the driving stress.
2016 – Ishigaki. That time I tried with a scooter instead of a car, but found that to be equally scary and ended up not seeing much of Ishigaki island at all but hopping on boats every day to go to the surrounding islands which I explored on foot, with busses or rental bicycles. There was Kuroshima with 2000 cows and 200 people, Hateruma with a dream beach, and my favorite, Iriomote island with mangrove boat tours and hiking to waterfalls through the jungle.

2017 – something completely different! I flew to Moscow and St. Petersburg for sightseeing and heavy metal 😉 It had always been a dream of mine to stand on the Red Square in Moscow and visit the Basilica and the Kremlin. I enjoyed every minute of the trip to Russia. So much history and great people, even if they don’t speak English 😉

2018 – island time again, but not a Japanese one. I made another long held dream come true and flew to New Caledonia. Before coming to Japan, I didn’t even know about this place. I stumbled upon a flight coming from Noumea, had to google where that is and ever since I wanted to go there. Noumea is a wonderful city. I flew with a small plane to the Isle of Pines where is one of the most fantastic places ever called Piscine Naturelle, a closed off beach, where tropical fish swim around your feet in shallow waters.

2019 – Kumejima. Another lonely Okinawa island to explore. I had given up on car driving meanwhile and went around the island by bicycle up and down steep hills. The island has great beaches and stunning cliffs, but unfortunately the weather was not so good and lots of rain hampered the enjoyment, but that’s of course not the fault of the island.

So… what a nice list. I made great use of my Golden Weeks the past decade. I hope I can make equally good use of GW in the coming decade after spending the GW of 2020 in bicycle radius around my apartment! #stayhome #staysafe #stayhealthy