Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Mark and Japan

After nine amazing days, I'm back from Japan!  The total trip length was 11 days but getting from Cairo to Japan and back is no easy feat.  But as a result, I've now been to Uzbekistan twice!

Ahma try to condense everything into a greatest hits post but first some of the basics:

I spent most of my week in Kagoshima which is located on the island of Kyushu.  It's the second largest city on the island after Fukuoka which is where I flew in.  Kagoshima is also the name of that prefecture (or region) in Japan.  The city is famous for many things like its sweet potato, black pork, radishes, and the giant active volcano a few feet away called Sakurajima.  One of the great things about Kagoshima is that any picture you take looks amazing because there's a giant active volcano in the background at all times.  In Japan, I was visitng one Anne Recinos, who has been known to speak five languages at the same time.  She is an English teacher there!

Highlights of my trip in mostly chronological order:

The Kagoshima Aquarium 

Home to lots of awesome looking fish and a fun dolphin show.

Cool looking sea horses

Tricky dolphins

Japanese Catholic Mass

While Christianity is not the hottest religion in Japan, it felt like it could have been given the temperature of the chapel (badump chhhh).  I was burning up but everyone else seemed ok.  Still, it was cool to hear the Catholic mass done entirely in Japanese.  Plus, since I didn't understand any of the sermon, I can't feel guilty about anything.

Drunken Horse Festival

Putting aside any concerns you might have about animal cruelty, this was an interesting (read: ridiculous) event we went to in Kumamoto last Monday.  Basically, lots of different groups dress up, do their hair in cool crazy ways, get a similarly dressed-up horse drunk on sake, and parade through the streets of the city while people bang on drums and two hypemen scream things like "Put your hands up!"  We got there around 9:30 am and the parade was well underway and continued to go on for hours.  Lots of drunk horses on the streets.  We had read on blogs that at the end of the day the horses were killed and disposed of since their drunken meat tasted bad but this probably isn't true.  Hopefully.

A wasted horse wearing some candy cane like thing.  

Partying in the street

This hypeman was intense.  And awesome.

Kumamoto also had a cool giant castle and nice botanical gardens and other things that were worth seeing once the billionth horse passed by.

The view from the top of the castle


To get to the volcano, you take a short, five-ish minute ferry ride over to the island its located on.

 The view from the ferry

You can't get too close to the volcano since it's still active and ashes all the time but you can enjoy other things that island has to offer such as:

Dinosaur Park

A small little park and playground that has replicas of dinosaurs, Dinosaur Park has no actual purpose aside from being awesome.  One of the best moments on my trip happened at the park when we saw a small boy start screaming at the top of lungs, take off his shirt and pants, and proceed to run around the park, naked and still screaming madly. His family was not as amused.

Anne and a stegosaurus trying to orient themselves in the park

Enjoying some hang gliding.


Also at Sakurajima, I experienced the relaxing hot springs on the island.  But in order to fully relax, I had to get over the fact that it was a public bath which meant that I got to shower and be naked and enjoy the brutally hot waters with lots of naked Japanese men, young and old.  It took a while to get over that--especially since as the only non-Japanese male at the onsen, I was getting lots of looks.  I was used to getting looks in Japan but getting looks when you're naked is ...different.  Still, the water felt great and bathing in the cold water afterwards felt even better.  No pictures were taken.

Ferris Wheel

Kagoshima has two gigantic shopping centers: AMU Plaza and Tenmonkan.  AMU Plaza is an actual mall which has a giant ferris wheel on the fourth floor that lights up at night and you can see from miles away.  Tenmonkan is a maze of streets filled with tons of shops and restaurants and slot machines.  It is impossible to navigate.  The only thing I can find there (usually) is the arcade where Anne and I played Taiko almost daily.
The ferris wheel gave us a wonderful view of the city but I realized that I'm not too fond of heights after riding it.  Or maybe I'm just not fond of someone trying to rock the ferris wheel cart when we're hundreds of feet above ground, Anne.

 To imagine this at night, think in neon.

Senganen Garden

We went to a beautiful garden on the outskirts of the city.


Entrance to a shrine

As soon as we got there, we realized that we only had enough money to enter the park and bus fare for one of us to return.  Luckily, Anne had her work card that let her ride the bus, but unfortunately, no money meant no food.  It wouldn't have been a problem if more places took credit cards or ATMs were prevalent but neither is the case.  (Fun Fact:  ATMs close in the evening.  Close as in you can't use them.  What is the point of an ATM if you can only access your money during regular bank hours, Japan?)  After going to every restaurant in the area and being rejected, we went to the gift shop which sold some packaged food gifts.  More importantly, they took credit.  Once we got the gift for ourselves, we had another dilemma--where to eat it.

I never knew this about Japan but apparently, it's semi-Ramadan all the time.  As in, you do not eat unless you are in a designated eating area.  That means no eating on the go.  Drinking is fine and you'll find vending machines absolutely everywhere.  But you'll never find any snacks in those machines since the temptation will be too great to eat it immediately, I guess.  In any case, we had food but we had no place to eat it.  I was all for playing the tourist card and just breaking the social rules but Anne was above that.  In the end, we found a semi-secluded bench and stuffed our faces until we saw people coming.  We then hid the food in our bags til they passed and continued to shovel food in our mouths til we were full.  I felt like I was committing a crime the whole time.

Sports Day

Sports Day is basically a long, glorified field day.  Every school has their own day where the students' parents come out and watch their kids run, do relays, traditional dances, etc...  They take time out of the school schedule to practice for the day.  It's a very big deal.  I went with Anne to both of her middle school's Sports Days.  After some marching and speeches (both in Japanese), everyone stretched to a great soundtrack that I'll hopefully be able to download from somewhere and the events began.  At one school, I got to participate on the teacher's team for an event where you throw as many bean bags as you can into a bucket on a pole.  We lost.  Not because of me.

In addition to relays, there was a feats of strength show.  Pryamid!

A performance that reaffirmed my view that everything here is real life Dragonball Z

And lots of other things.  There was so much that I saw and did.   Like eating excellent sushi!  And watching Kill Bill 1 and 2!  And going out for all you can eat and drink with Anne's co-workers!  And individually wrapped bananas?!

People here like everything to be individually wrapped. Example: I bought a box of chocolate chip cookies (Chips Ahoy style) and each cookie in the package was in its own wrapper.

I didn't karaoke but I'm already starting to make a list of things I want to do when I go back.  But for now, time to get back to life in Cairo.  On the bright side, I think I might have finally overcome Pharaoh's revenge.


  1. Cool!!! ATMs, what's the point Japan! lol hahaha

  2. Haha I agree with George's comment.