Tuesday, February 23, 2010

This week... in Kyushu

This week is my last one before I start working in Tokyo and I had all my paperwork finished last week. So, to make the most of my time, I decided to spend this whole week in Kyushu!

Kyushu is the southernmost of the main Japanese Islands and it was for many centuries the only point of contact with foreign nations. It was also A-bombed...

The cities I have visited or I am going to visit are Fukuoka, Nagasaki, Beppu, Aso san and maybe Kumamoto and Dazaifun.

Now some photos I took today in Nagasaki. Notice the influences from China and the West!

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Chocolate Sparkling

Today, I tried one of those things only Japan can offer: Chocolate Sparkling. It is soda with chocolate flavor! At the beginning you expect it is the worst thing you've ever drunk... but after trying it, you do not really know if it is good or bad... quite a special flavor!!

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Tuesday, February 16, 2010

節分 (Setsubun)

On 3rd February, I attended a unique Japanese festival for the first time in my life: Setsubun. That day, spring officially starts and people throw beans to people wearing demon´s customs (oni). At the same time, everybody is supposed to sing a song whose translation would be: "Demons, go far away! Good luck, come home!" I took my part as oni and got badly hit by beans! ;)

Parallely, the festival is also quite official and every shrine in Japan celebrates it somehow. In Nezu jinja, the celebration consisted of people throwing presents to the participants. At the same time, the demons were gone. When they left to the shrine to pray, the demons went out and when the priests came back, the demons fleed again. That repeated for a couple times.

Some photos here:

Monday, February 15, 2010

Running in Tokyo

I have started running seriously again in the last two weeks. After some problems with my Achilles' heel, it was time to finish my almost 2 month recovery period and start running again. I have started running between 10 and 15km almost every two days around Bunkyo, the ward in Tokyo where I live. I usually start running towards Tokyo University and go to Ueno Koen from there, sometimes passing by Bunkyoku city office. Then back home.

Yesterday, Sunday, i decided to go for something longer and went from Sendagi to the Imperial Palace and Kitanomaru Koen, turned around them twice and back home. It was a little bit more than 24km and the pace was good until the 20th kilometer, when I got too tired. It had been a long time since I last ran more than 20 km after all!! In total, more than 2 hours running non stop around a very beautiful area in Tokyo. Quite a satisfying experience.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Matsumoto jo

Matsumoto castle is one of the four castles which have been declared national treasure in Japan. It was built in the XVIth century and it is the oldest wooden castle in Japan. I passed by Matsumoto with my wife last Thursday and decided to stop by for a visit. This is one of the best shots of the castle I took.

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Saturday, February 13, 2010

Today, I will talk about the Kamakura Festival, held in late January in Yunishigawa, in Tochigi Prefecture, near Nikko. I went there with Naoko the first weekend I was in Japan, already a few weeks ago. The festival will last until March.

The place is in the middle of the mountains, in a beautiful hot spring area. In late January, some small snow structures called "mini kamakura" are built and candles are put inside them. At night, those are lit and the effect of all of them shining is quite nice. There are also some larger snow structures similar to iglus or simple houses, which are the actual kamakura. The most typical food there is yuuba (湯葉), derived from tofu.

This is one of the biggest snow structures:

And this is what a mini kamakura looks like. Notice its size compared to a 500ml beer:

Near our ryokan, there was a river and along it, there were many mini kamakura. Quite a beautiful view at night!

Kamakura are quite easy to build and everybody is encoraged to build them. We gave it a try and this was the result:

The hotel was really nice. A great dinner and breakfast and an outside onsen (温泉), what is called a rotenburo (露天風呂).

On our way back, we stopped at Utsonomiya, in Tochigi, to enjoy the food this town is famous for: gyoza.

A nice weekend away from Tokyo!

Friday, February 12, 2010

Snow monkeys

Even monkeys like going for a hot bath in a Japanese ofuro when it is freezing outside!


This photo was taken yesterday in Nagano-ken.
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Thursday, February 4, 2010

My current map of visited countries

After my honeymoon, my Xmas in Spain (and Tunisia and Andorra), and my trip to Peru and Bolivia, I have reached the figure of 46 visited countries! About to get to 50!! Although that may take some time, since I will soon start working and my holidays will shrink noticeably... This map shows those countries in the map:

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Snow in Tokyo

Yesterday it snowed in Tokyo, and today, the city has waken up to white streets and a nicely shining sun. I woke up, saw the snow and quickly went to the shrine where I got married (Nezu Jinja) to take some photos. These are some of the many I just took. Just warm from the oven... Enjoy!

Monday, February 1, 2010

Brief trip in South America: Bolivia

Last January, I spent one week and a half in South America, in Peru and Bolivia. I flew into Cusco (Peru), the heart of the Inca Empire, visited the city and around, went to Machu Picchu, and then moved to Lake Titicaca, to Puno, where I went to the Huros' islands. From there, I moved crossed the border with Bolivia and visited Copacabana, Isla del Sol in Lake Titicaca, La Paz (an amazingly unique city and a real sight itself) and finished in Tiwanaku, the most important archeological site of a pre-Inca civilization. In one hour, the trip was amazing. South America is made for traveling. It is very cheap, interesting and nature is outstanding. It is still a wild continent in every aspect. When you travel South America is time to fasten your seatbelt and enjoy a real ride.

Some photos from Bolivia:

The Labyrinth in Isla del Sol:

Indigenous people in La Paz:

La Paz, built in a creek, feels like a city falling into a deep trench...

A high mountain overlooking the city:

Some archeological rests in Tiwanaku.

I felt really sorry about leaving such an amazing place without visiting all it has to offer. Before leaving, I was already planning my next visit!!