I'll miss you, Oak-town

Well, this will be my last post from Japan *sniff* Tomorrow we pack like mad, Saturday we are going on a day trip to Kagawa prefecture with my pal S-ko (we get to make udon noodles--I'll be in heaven!), Sunday we clean like mad and move Kow's house in Kurashiki, Monday we'll go nuts in Kurashiki, and Tuesday we head to Osaka to fly home. Wheee!!!

To tide you over until I get back to Canada and finish all of my Japan posts (I have so many planned, I can't wait!), here are some pictures of the river, my favourite spot to hang out here in Okayama (some of the most entertaining things happen down by the river...so many stories, so little time!!). Enjoy!

Oh, and to everyone in Saskatoon, I'll see you soon! Yay!!!

In the top right hand corner you can see Okayama castle.
And here's a better shot of Okayama castle. You can see this badboy from Chaz's apartment--it's great!!

Behold peach boy!! This is a statue of Momotaro (which means peach boy), an extremely popular figure around here (there are statues of him all over Okayama). I'm too lazy to type out his story in detail, but you can read all about him by clicking on this link: http://www.creighton.edu/~bstack/peachboy.html. The readers digest version: One day a woman found a huge peach floating in the river. She took it home and when she went to eat it she found a baby boy inside. She and her husband took this boy as their son. When he was 15 he decided to go fight the evil ogres on Ogre Island. Along the way he was joined by a dog, a monkey, and a pheasant. They defeated the ogres together and got a crapload of treasure, which Momo brought back to his parents. All hail Momotaro!

More peach-tasticness.

they just think of everything here...

One thing that I think is really cool about Okayama is that most of the major streets have these yellow lines on them so that people who are blind can walk down the street without the help of a seeing eye dog. Apparently this was developed by an Okayaman (is that what people from Okayama are called?? It is now, apparently) and it's so simple and so smart...why isn't this everywhere?? The lines are raised and have a pattern on them. Whenever there is a corner or a turn the pattern changes (e.g., from vertical lines to small circles) so people know they have to turn or stop. How cool is that?? The only problem is that sometimes people park their bikes over the lines, but I suppose that's where canes come in handy. I tried using it with my eyes closed and it I didn't get run over, nor did I run into anything, so I was impressed and it has my seal of approval! Give it up for Okayama!!

bask in the glory of Korakuen

Chaz's apartment is near one of the top three Japanese gardens in Japan (they love to rank things here, I've found). It's so beautiful and I go there often, so here are some pictures I took today as I went on one of my last walks through there *sniff*

It's tea! I think it's pretty fun that they grow tea in this garden!

And, of course, you gotta have some crane action...

I still get excited when I see bamboo trees, especially in the wild.


did the earth just move or was that just me?

Breaking news: I just experienced my first ever EARTHQUAKE! Here's a transcript of the experience (please note this is not verbatim, but it's pretty darn close).

I am sitting at my computer blogging.

Chaz is sitting on the toilet.

The apartment starts to shake.

Me: What's up with the shaking?

Chaz: That's a tremor!

Me: So this is an earthquake?

Chaz: Yeah.

Me: That was cool!

Chaz: We're still shaking.

Me: What?

Chaz: We're still shaking!

[At this point I started to get excited about being in an earthquake, since I've always wanted to experience a mild earthquake]

Me: Yay! This is so exciting!! I need to blog about this!

...and scene!

a hunting we will go

Chaz turned the big 2-5 at the beginning of November and to celebrate we held a photo scavenger hunt around downtown Okayama. It was a blast. We had 4 teams of 2, 1 team of 4 (we ran into some semi-lost looking gaijin while walking to the meeting place for the scavenger hunt and guessed that they were the new AEON trainees, so we invited them along to play...it was very strange meeting Chaz's replacement on the street like that, but that's a whole 'nother story), and our team (Chaz and I with one of his students) all competing for prizes (except our team...since we made up the list we weren't officially in the competition, but we took some pictures anyway). The teams got points for the following photos:

- a manekineko (the cat that waves in good luck...you all know what I'm talking about)

- a tanuki (the insanely fertile--judging by the size of its testicles, anyway--raccoon-type thingy that I'm posing with in one of the pictures from Inbe that I've posted below)

- a birthday present for Chaz

- something ugly

- your favourite food

- something mini

- something huge

- something that costs 330 yen (about $3.30 US)

- you playing pachinko (pachinko is essentially gambling, but since gambling is illegal in Japan they have found a way to convince themselves that pachinko isn't gambling. I don't know how you can call playing a slot machine for either prizes or money anything other than gambling, but, really, what do I know?)

- you using hashi (chopsticks)

- a kimono

- you and an anime character

- an AEON poster (AEON is the company Chaz works for)

- high school uniforms (they got points for each different uniform they could get a picture of)

- some funny English

- something that says Canada

- an election truck (they have these terrible, terrible vans here that are equipped with speakers and sound systems and people drive around the streets and share their messages with THE WORLD (or it seems loud enough for them to reach everyone in the world, anyway). I hate them so much because they are so loud you can't even carry on a conversation with another person on the street or hear your cranked up MP3 player when they drive by. They are extra annoying when they wake you up in the morning despite the fact that all of the windows closed and they are driving down a street that's a couple blocks away. I sure won't miss those vans!)

- a baked potato (in Japan they sell baked potatos in vans that play this funny song...it's totally like an ice cream truck full of baked potatos)

- you in a taxi (I still can't get over how many taxis there are in Okayama)

- you in the driver's seat of a taxi

- you getting tissues (people hand out tissues with advertisements on them here)

- crazy Japanese fashion

- funniest picture (Chaz and I judged the funniest picture. T-dot and R-ko won by switching outfits...I still can't believe T-dot fit into R-ko's clothes...she's so tiny...and it's not that T-dot is huge or anything, but, R-ko is just so tiny!)

Below are some of my favourite pictures that my team took...

Me and some funny English.

Some crazy Japan fashion.
We were pretty excited to find people like this in Okayama. I mean, this would be NOTHING in Tokyo (see my Tokyo post below), but out in Okayama--in the COUNTRY--people this exciting are rare.

Chaz playing pachinko.
See how gambling-like that is? Do you see?! I mean, he might as well be in Vegas!

Chaz and a kimono.

My team members and an AEON poster.

Chaz with some school girls in uniform.
As you can see, they were VERY excited to have their picture taken with the lovely Chaz.
One really fun thing about Japan is that when you wander around you never know what you'll stumble upon. When we were shopping for Bizen-yaki in Inbe we found this neat little shrine.
We're not really sure what it was a shrine for, but when we climbed up to the top we sure did find a whole lot of little Bizen-yaki cows (and some other farm-type animals) so we decided this was a cow shrine.
At this random shrine in Inbe (or, what I like to call Bizen) we found these 60 and 100 kg stones and thought it would be fun to try and lift them. First up was Chaz with the 60 kg and, as you can see, he lifted it with ease...
Next up was the 100 kg...this one was a little harder, but my big, strong man (swoon!) lifted it like it was a piece of sushi (I swear he did. I wouldn't lie about something like that. Nope, nope, nope. No lies here. Not a one!).
Then I decided to give 'er a try. Here's me lifting the 60 kg like it was a piece of sushi (you can't really tell in this picture, but I blame the photographer. Clearly I need to hire a new one. Clearly. That last clearly was for you, JA)...
And here I am wisely not even attempting the 100 kg...

What I may or may not have looked like while making bizen-yaki.
A fun phone both in Inbe.

Me with a Bizen-yaki tanuki. These things totally creep me out. I mean, really, check out the nuts on that sucker! That's enough to make any girl uncomfortable, I think. Frankly I'm just relieved to have made it out of there without having become impregnated!
One thing I find entertaining about Japan is that they don't even try to hide the fact that they REALLY want you to take beautiful pictures of everything you see because I suppose they think that if you go home and show all of these beautiful pictures to your friends and family they will get so excited about how great and beautiful Japan is that they will immediately book a trip there. As you can see, the people of Inbe do their best to ensure that visitors leave with the best possible pictures by putting up maps that highlight the best points to take photos.

Can you imagine how much effort it would take to make Bizen-yaki that big? Clearly I can't!
I enjoyed how this massive vase was essentially a garbage can in a Bizen-yaki shop. The world's most expensive garbage can, perhaps??


you spin me right 'round, baby, right 'round, like a record, baby, right 'round 'round 'round...

Last weekend one of Chaz's students took us out to Bizen so we could make some Bizen-yaki, this wickedly expensive pottery that is famous in Japan (seriously, one tiny little tea cup will run you about $25 US). Bizen-yaki is one of the six ancient potteries in Japan (the others are from Seto, Tokoname, Tanba, Echizen, and Shigaraki regions). It's is pretty simple; the pottery never gets glazed or painted. Instead, patterns appear on the pottery during firing, so no two pieces are ever alike.

The entire Bizen-yaki process seems to be quite the ordeal. First, the Bizen clay is put outside to dry for 2 years. Next Bizen clay is mixed with other kinds of clay and then it’s filtered to separate the stones from the clay. Once the pottery is made it is dried for about a month, and then it is placed in the kiln. Due to the nature of Bizen clay the temperature in the kiln has to be raised very slowly or the pottery will break (I’ve read that the 400 and 600 degree points are pretty critical, and if it is rushed the entire batch can be lost), so Bizen-yaki is fired for 13 days (that’s how long it takes to get the temperature to 2300 degrees F). They use a noborigama, or a climbing kiln, which has many different chambers and apparently the different chambers yield different colours (I’ve also read that some of the colours appear when the rice straw they use to protect the pottery during firing burns away and also that how quickly the wood is added to the kiln can also produce certain colours). After it’s been fired, they let the pottery cool for one week, remove it from the kiln, and, finally, they polish it. Now I understand why it costs so freakin' much!

Anyway, It was lots of fun, and I think I did pretty well considering the pottery-making lesson was taught entirely in Japanese and I didn't really understand a word. I enjoyed myself so much, in fact, that it made me want to take a pottery class when I get back to Canada. Below are some pictures of us in action and some pictures we took at one of the many Bizen-yaki stores we visited that day...

...back when I still thought I was making a glass...

Check out that technique...

Me calling in the resident Bizen-yaki expert for help.