Saturday, July 24, 2010

Vegan Voyager: Shikoku, the Mists of Iya Valley

And after those slight problems with Rachel and Josh getting to Japan and then weather and us getting to Tokushima, we woke up early and refreshed the next morning and were off!

And our first stop, after what we were thinking would be about a 3 hour drive, was our hostel. After driving on some of the most precariously small and windy and narrow and steep cliff-bordering, railless mountain roads I had ever seen (I'm serious, they all looked something like the following, except with the occasional waterfall pouring right down onto the road - I am NOT lying when I say it was SCARY!),

They really all looked something like this but scarier in life.

we made it to an even scarier, winder, steeper, so sloping downhill that you could barely see in front of you road that led us right to the hostel. Josh was driving, and he did an ABSOLUTELY amazing job. I was so stressed out just sitting in the car that I think there is no possible way I could have driven. We were sure hoping the hostel would be worth it.

And it totally was.

Yeah, that AMAZINGNESS is the view from the hostel.

We pretty much immediately set back off, as we had tons of things to see and not a lot of time!
Our first stop was the Kazura-bashi, the largest and most famous of the three remaining vine bridges in the world. They're made of wisteria branches, which are supposed to be some of the strongest in the world.

We just had to hope that sucker was solid as the rapids underneath were so hardcore that I wouldn't be surprised if they would have been considered illegal rafting in the states.

Seriously, that's what I would have fallen into. Unfortunately, the picture doesn't really do those rapids justice.

Right next to Kazura-bashi was Biwa-no-Taki, a sort of famous waterfall - although, to be honest, I really don't see what made it so different from all of the other bagazillions of waterfalls around. The guidebook says it's impressive because it's 50m high, and don't get me wrong, it was awesome, but there were far more awesome ones to be seen as well.

Me trying to use an umbrella to stop the waterfall spray from soaking my feet.

After hiking around the area for a bit, it was time to go off in search of Mannekin Piss. A statue of a little boy peeing off a very high cliff. They say that travelers used to stop there and pee of the cliff and so they built the statue to commemorate.
We saw many amazing things along the way.

Such as views like this.

After sort of getting lost, we finally made it to the statue.

While the statue itself was inconsequential, the view was, not shockingly, AMAZING!!!!

After driving around and hiking and exploring a little bit more, we followed this road

and returned to the hostel.
Where the night view was possibly even more amazing, if possible, than they day view.

The next day we were up early and ready for more Iya Valley exploring! First stop was the Samurai house!

At the top of a mountain was a thatched roof house in which Samurai used to live. Everything was still how it used to be, and it was super cool!
It was full of all sort of tools and utensils that samurai used to use.

And the view from the house was absolutely AMAZING!

The woman working there told us all about how they used to live hidden at the top of high mountains in the trees so that enemies wouldn't be able to easily attack. It was all in Japanese, though, so I only halfway understood.

Next to the Samurai house was a super huge, super old tree.

It was really cool because, because it was a cedar tree, the branches started super low down. It would have been so easy (and fun) to climb, but it was blocked off. Perhaps because it's over 800 years old.

After driving through some beautiful waterfalls,

we made our way to Oku Iya Kazura-bashi, twin husband and wife vine bridges. The other vine bridge had been fairly touristy when we crossed, so we were glad to get to see these, which, while smaller, were far less peopled and thus far more pleasant.

It's sort of crazy to think that, back in the day, people were actually for real crossing the river using these bridges, because there was no other way. And they had no way of knowing how sturdy they actually were. Next to the bridges was another way of crossing the river - this small little house thing. You had to pull on the string to move yourself across. It was small and shaky and super fun!

Next stop (well, aside from quite a few little small stops along the way) was Mt. Tsurugi, which we were going to try to hike. On our way there, we passed through a village that seemed to be 100% peopled by these life-sized stuffed human things. We had actually been seeing them everywhere, but this village had at least 20 of them out and about, and it still shocked us. The entire day, we definitely saw more of these stuffed people than we did real people.

Me with my new best stuffed people friend!

It was just weird.

We also saw this really cute/cool mountain village.

People don't really live on mountains here in Japan, so it was neat. Especially since, if I recall correctly, they are totally self-sufficient and technology free.

We finally made it to Mount Tsurugi, but by the time we got there, it was starting to rain, and we weren't sure it was such a good idea to hike in the rain.
We explored the cool shrine thing at the bottom.

We started hiking a little bit but decided to turn back when it really seemed like rain. And when we heard something that sounded suspiciously like a bear.

the beginning of the Tsurugi hike

It was a good thing we turned back, too, as it turned out we had a long, windy, rainy drive back to Tokushima.

The Iya Valley was absolutely AMAZING, and despite our limited time there, we really were able to see pretty much everything we wanted to see! Yay! I think it is now number 1 on the list of most beautiful places I have ever seen. Tied with Plitvice Lakes in Croatia. With Lake Bled in Slovenia in a close second.

Anyhow, if Picasa keeps cooperating, I'll be posting lots more pictures soon, and I'll be sure to post a link to that. Along with links to Josh and Rachel's photo albums, if they make them.

Sorry this is so long! YAY IYA VALLEY!!!! Be sure to check back soon, as the next morning, we made our way up to Kyoto!

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Vegan Voyager: Rachel and Josh Arrive and Getting to Tokushima

So, I know it's been a bit of time since I last wrote, and for this I am sorry. Especially since I had a 2 week vacation during which Rachel and Josh visited, and we did many awesome things. So there's lots to write about! :-)

So, Shikoku is up there as being one of the most amazing and amazingly beautiful places I have ever been, even if getting there wasn't so easy.
As I said last time, Rachel and Josh's flight was delayed by 6 hours (during which they sat in the airplane on the runway). They ended up having to spend the night in Tokyo, and we met up at the Nagoya airport the next morning for our flight. They got there JUST IN TIME to make the flight.
We flew to Tokushima, and when we got there, they informed us that the weather was bad so we were going to have to fly around for a little while waiting for it to get better.
We did this for about an hour before finally turning around and heading back to Nagoya.
Poor Rachel and Josh.

All of the rest of the flights to Tokushima that day were canceled, so we got our refund and headed to the Nagoya station. From there, we took a Shinkansen to Kobe where we quickly transferred onto a bus which took us all the way to Tokushima.
While it was long and we (especially Rachel and Josh) were tired, the upside of this is that we got to see the Naruto Whirlpools, which are sometimes thought of as one of the greatest natural wonders of the world, from this bus window. And, because it was SO STORMY and it just so happened to be the high tide, they were at their best. And let me tell you, it was a sight to see. They were absolutely AMAZING! I am SO glad that we got to see them. Unfortunately, also due of the ridiculousness of the storm, we weren't really able to get any good pictures. :-( Believe me when I say they are a sight to behold.

Pretty much all of the pictures take from the window looked something like this. Josh might have a better one - I'll post it later if so.

We finally arrived in Tokushima, surrounded by a thick shroud of fog and rain, at around 7:50 PM, and the place from which we had rented the car closed at 8. So, we hopped in a cab and called them to let them know we were on our way.
Our cab driver was NOT your typical nice, subdued Japanese man. He kept literally SCREAMING at us these things that we did NOT understand, and when we acted confused, he would just scream them LOUDER (even though we were already covering our ears in pain). He then proceeded to pull into this abandoned back alley, turn of the meter, and scream at us to get out of the car (in Japanese that I actually did understand). Needless to say, we were frightened.

Luckily, I have some minimal Japanese now, and I was able to explain to him that we were trying to rent a car and that we were obviously in the wrong place since the scary back alley was not a car dealership. I called the car dealership and stuck the phone in his face and told him to talk. He got directions, and we eventually made it to rent our car.

And FINALLY our luck started to change. They stayed open a little late for us, and we were thus able to rent the car. We had seen an Indian restaurant on our way in, so we decided to go see if they had some vegan food. They did, and it was DELICIOUS!

Rachel and Josh FINALLY settled in the restaurant!

We ate dahl and eggplant and vegetable curry and samosas, and it was DELICIOUS! I do love me some Indian food! :-)

From the restaurant, I called the hostel at which we were supposed to be staying that night. It was about a two hour drive away, and they informed us that they are located on an intense mountain and that, with the storm (which, admittedly, was raging), there was no way we would be able to get there. We were actually slightly relieved, as it was about a 2 hour drive from where we were, and Josh did NOT want his first time driving on the left side of the road to be in that horrendous weather. So I called a hostel in Tokushima and luckily, they had space!

us FINALLY relaxing in the hostel

I think we all slept as if we had never slept before (well, I know I did, and Rachel and Josh MUST have been far more exhausted than I was). The next morning we bought early our train tickets for the trip to Kyoto a few days later and then were on our way.

And since this is already so long (who would have thought that I could write so much about just GETTING somewhere) and since I have a festival to attend, Shikoku awesomeness will be for next time. That will give me time to go through my pictures, too! Yay! I've got some really awesome ones, so definitely be looking forward to that! :-)

Saturday, July 03, 2010


So, I'm on break right now, and I have been having a FABULOUS time traveling around a bit with Rachel and Josh, who are here visiting. But I will get to that in a while.

The last week of the term was actually sort-of sad. On Wednesday, we had our very last day of dance classs.

Jenny-Lyn, me, and Jin Han with our last group of dance class teachers

I'm so sad that it's over. Despite being a completely awkward, totally uncoordinated human being, I had a totally great time. Now I've got to take up something else, and I'm thinking maybe kendo.

On Thursday, we took our final test. The listening part was actually quite difficult. I ended up doing pretty good (94% if I recall correctly), but for once I wasn't SURE that I was going to. On the writing part, I made a few stupid mistakes, but I still got a 98%, so ROCK! :-)

After class, Alexis, Martin, and I went and hung out with Jenny-Lyn down at the river. She's leaving, headed to Australia, and not coming back for next term, so it was sort-of our Jenny-Lyn goodbye get-together, since it was the last time Martin would see her. So sad! :-( Jenny-Lyn, you will be missed!

Martin, Jenny-Lyn, Alexis, me!

Then, Andrea from our class is also leaving, heading back to Italy, so Alexis and I went and met up with him and a bunch of people from our class for Andrea's goodbye dinner.

Andrea, me, Alexis

I had a great time, actually, despite the fact that pretty much everyone was drunk wheen we got there and well, let's just say, being a non-drinker and observing, I felt sorry for the waitress.

John, Ii, and (a falling asleep) Ken

Still, it was great fun. I really do love hanging out with the people in my class. I'm really curious as to who will end up being in my class next term. I kind of wish I could know already!

On Friday, we had the going away ceremony, and everyone that was leaving had to give a speech. I really only knew two of the people leaving (and sort-of knew a third), but, me being me, when we got into the speeches of the upper class people, most of whom had been here for quite a long time, I found myself getting all teary eyed. Because some of them were teary eyed and obviously not wanting to leave, and so I just felt so sad for them! The empathy thing, yknow. . .

After the speeches, we went out with Suzuki-sensei and Sakakibara-sensei, our two main teachers from class. I ended up sitting at a table with Suzuki-sensei, Martin, and Andrea, and I talked a lot (in 日本語, of course) to Suzuki-sensei, and I discovered that I actually really like her. Right at the end when she will no longer be my teacher - perfect timing, right?

On Friday night, I went to Jenny-Lyn's actual goodbye get-togeter at Zig Zag, the school bar. I had a great time; we met a bunch of people and played cards for a super long time, which made me super happy, as I love playing cards and yet I never get to because no one ever wants to (and in any case, I can never rememeber how to play any of the games I like).

Unfortunately, I was also sort-of stressed, because Rachel and Josh were supposed to be coming in, but their flight had been delayed by 6 hours, and I was waiting for their call to see if they were going to get in on time for us to make our flight into Tokushima the next morning.
They finally called at around midnight; they were having to sleep in Tokyo and would theoretically be getting in the next morning with just enough time to make our connecting flight.

And that is another story for another time. Now, I'm headed to Tokyo to finish up the awesomeness of this vacation thing! :-) I'll be sure to write all about it when I get back!