Tag Archives: japan life

Primer: Travelling Japan / places to go, getting around, accomms, culture, etiquette and geography

A rather rough overview originally compiled in advance of friends coming to Okayama for wedding. Re-purposed in slightly more general terms for logistical convenience as needed.

See also: “Travelling to and Around Okayama, Japan,” “Japanese Culture and Language Primer” and other resources in this archive including video guides. 

Japan Ramble Primer

Japan can be intimidating, even for seasoned travellers. You arrive to massive sticker shock, tiny octopi in soup, and 30 kinds of hot canned coffee (which all taste moreorless the same) in ubiquitous vending machines. 

Japan is a long country with 80% mountains – covering several climates, from frosty Hokkaido in the north, to tropical Kyushu giving adventurous folks much opportunity to head to the outer provinces for exploration of the heady scenery of this varied archipelago. With some planning, politeness and persistence, combined with a little zen, you can find big adventures.

Indeed, it is easy to get lost in the big cities of Tokyo and Osaka – crowded with skyscrapers and twisted alleys, piled high with screaming neon clubs pumping techno, reggae or karaoke and shops piled with futuristic technological gadgets that won’t make it to North America for another decade – but, far away from the expensive hotels and talking toilets of the huge Pacific metropolis, you may find yourself soaking in alpine hot springs on a starry night, drinking sake with strangers crammed into a mountain hut after a backcountry dinner of rice, seaweed, miso and green tea.

Continue reading Primer: Travelling Japan / places to go, getting around, accomms, culture, etiquette and geography

Primer: Travelling to and Around Okayama, Japan

A rather rough overview originally compiled in advance of friends coming to Okayama for wedding. Re-purposed in slightly more general terms for logistical convenience as needed.

See also: “Primer: Travelling Japan / places to go, getting around, accomms, culture, etiquette and geography“, “Japanese Culture and Language Primer” and other resources in this archive including video guides. 

Getting to Okayama, Japan

Airport

Best to fly to Kansai (KIX) Osaka airport. This schmancy modern airport is located on a human-made island in the middle of the bay and includes 2 hotels, like 100+ restaurants, post office, an airplane viewing platform and importantly, a train station.

The hotels (the full-service Nikko Hotel & business-single-pod-style First Cabin) are super useful if you arrive exhausted from the long flight (usually about 14 hours from N.A. west coast). A short trip from the airport’s island by shuttle bus brings you to loads of other hotels. This airport village also has loads of shopping for buying treats on your way home.

Of course, the are other airports, specifically Tokyo (massive international hub Narita NRT or sometimes Haneda HND which is usually used for domestic flights) and the new Centrail/Chubu/Nagoya (NGO) airport. While you might save a few dollars on the flight, you’ll have a longer (more expensive) train journey to reach Okayama which is the destination for the shindig.

Fly direct to Okayama (OKJ) via the charmingly convenient and cute Momotaro Airport. If you fly to Haneda or Narita (Tokyo) mentioned above, you can transfer and fly right here.  Sometimes this requires an airport shuttle between Narita (mostly international) and Haneda (more domestic).  There is a bus service from Momotaro to downtown Okayama too.

Note: there is a huge service difference for the long-haul flights from North America. My personal experience is to fly an Asian-based airline, i.e.: Japan (ANA *fave, JAL), Korean (Korean or Asiana), Taiwan (EVA), HK (Cathay Pacific) or Singapore if coming from YVR, SFO, LAX, etc. If coming from other Asian destinations, well you are usually all good. I have experienced much less enjoyment from US-based airlines and China mainland airlines often have low prices but check the reviews and adjust against your comfort levels.

Consider tracking flight options/prices with Skyscanner with a price alert or same with Google Flights and try Hopper (app) to see when best time to “pull the trigger” on purchasing flight. Flying from Vancouver? Check out YVRdeals.

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Diary: Autumn Miscellany / coffee, ramen, sandwiches, Godzilla, peach tree, ikebana…

“rubber chicken” NOT added to ramen

While dispatches and re-caps of various outings and events exist elsewhere in this archive, life is so wonderful right now i don’t want to miss a thing or fail to appreciate the glorious mundane details of just existing.

As such, what follows are bits and pieces which don’t fit elsewhere,  a round-up of miscellany and odds and ends and mild annotations.

Starting with the pleasantness of stopping for a coffee and receiving a free lil sandwich plate (and seeing Ryoko’s adorableness :)). 

The internets instructs food photos be posted with frequency.

Thanks Shiro-Kuma (white bear) cafe.

Continue reading Diary: Autumn Miscellany / coffee, ramen, sandwiches, Godzilla, peach tree, ikebana…

Boocuss (ska punk from Okayama, Japan) at a community festival

Saw a great band Saturday, Nov. 23rd at Mukunomi Fureai Matsuri (where Ryoko’s Mae Maes also performed) called Boocuss , a ska-punk funtime band.

Looking forward to seeing them again in a more suited venue (this was an outdoor community festival which was cool but ya know, not ideal for their style).

Anyhow, here’s a little variety pack video.

Trio: Sax, Drums and Singing at a Japanese Festival

 

An interesting trio with jamming alto sax, quirky on-in-one drum kit, and trad vocals as seen at Mukunomi Fureai Matsuri (festival) on Okayama, Japan, Nov. 23, 2019.

Taiko drums at a Setouchi (Japan) Community Festival

A small friendly group of taiko drummers have a good time at a community arts and culture festival in Setouchi, Okayama, Japan.

Diary: Setouchi Out n About / community arts festival with Mae Maes

 I tagged along with Ryoko and her Mae Maes band for a gig in Setouchi at a community centre. There was an autumn arts festival of some kind with musical performances, a few food stands and an exhibit of crafts, arts and tea ceremony. Such pleasant slice of life, just being part of the local scene.

Mae Maes played a short-ish set but a song i hadn’t heard before, Ryoko laid out some good stage banter and the room was small and more acoustically pleasing than the big convention hall the day before. 

The band (usually a 4 piece) had 2 guests, frequent supporters/collaborators Yano-san (who is a noted player, arranger, teacher and has released a few albums) on an acostic-electric bass ukulele – great sound! + Mitsuko-san on congas and percussion, she rode with us and is such a charming elegant lady. 

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Diary: Kurashiki / handmade market with Mae Maes + pet show

Mae Maes: Kazuko, Hatsumi, Ryoko, Rie

Ryoko’s band Mae Maes had a performance lined up at a handmade goods market fair at a convention centre type place between Okayama and Kurashiki so i tagged along. It was a big hall with rows and rows of booths, a special exhibit of sequin-ed up outfits used by a famous figure skater, a food court and a variety of entertainment with a sorta Hawaiian theme.

Plus a young lady called Suzu-chan with huge stage presence, solid banter and performance confidence.

I strolled around checked some stuff – not the super arts-crafty-crafts i would usually expect but great to see small-scale entrepreneurship in action.

Dug the fabric crafts – especially this Kaki (persimmon) tree in country scene which seems to be representative of my life these days – such pleasantness!

Continue reading Diary: Kurashiki / handmade market with Mae Maes + pet show

“Akiya” abandoned, cheap/free* houses in Japan / annotations and resources

an Akiya (abandoned) building (former post office?) with a splendid postbox – taken from one of many sites i’ve dug around, sorry can’t remember which one… so many! if this is your photo, please tell me and i’ll add credit.

+ Cheap Houses Abound in Japan + 

Notes & Riffs

So many vacant houses in Japan – millions! “Akiya” houses (free/cheap abandoned houses)Sometimes the owner is unknown – sometimes there are mysteries, sometimes houses have businesses attached, sometimes from way back in Meiji or Edo period! Sometimes someone died in odd circumstances within, sometimes just died.

Often very very messy, always requiring work, a lot sometimes. 

Materials, labor and disposal can be really expensive in Japan so good to remember (speaking generally for anyone else who is reading along, not just you :-)). But hey, you are crafty right? Ha, its a whole other style of construction than “western” places. Tile roof! Foundations, plumbing, electric all different, Sometimes need boundary surveyed.

Importantly: Also, just cause you own a house, doesn’t mean you get a visa.

The situation in brief: The big cities are growing and the countryside is shrinking, fast. Young folks move away to the big city to work, old folks stay in country, working til they grow old and in Japan, folks grow very old. They die, the heirs are unknown or simply refuse the “inheritance” or they try to think they will go back and fix it up and enjoy the legacy but year after year paying property tax, they finally realize they won’t ever fix it up. Property/houses is generally/always a depreciating asset in Japan. 

Anyway, the laws of changed significantly in the last year allowing local governments to appropriate more easily so there’s loads and loads of these available, does definitely take some hunting around though. Indeed! It’s definitely a scavenger hunt…

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Diary: Maniwa Out n About / hot springs hotel, bowling, agri-garden and lonely stations

Coffee stand, cute and tiny (clad with olden board) at the Agri-garden market area in town of Maniwa

Ryoko was teaching a tree-trimming workshop at a community centre for seniors in the logging town of Maniwa so I rode the bus to meet up. We stayed at a hotel for a couple of nights, went bowling plus i took some strolls to contemplate the change nature of rural Japan while Ryoko was working, oh and we found a quirky coffee shop/art gallery.

Let’s address each of these check points separately:

Bowling and Hotel (pleasantly lost in Showa)

First the hotel, the Maniwa Riverside was the sort of “once grand but now rather shabby” hotel i kinda dig.

Laden with memories a la Grand Budapest hotel. They were making a good effort though the rooms were unfancy and the carpets not changed since sometime in the Showa time. Importantly, there is an onsen hotspring bath with was the main reason. Nice outdoor bath too. No secret i love love love soaking in hot water. 

The hotel included breakfast which was a bit odd but the onigiri (rice balls) were hand prepared. Also hard boiled eggs with salt, pickles (yum) and a few various pastries and miso soup.

Continue reading Diary: Maniwa Out n About / hot springs hotel, bowling, agri-garden and lonely stations