Hanami and the Dangerous Art of Fish-petting

•April 8, 2007 • 1 Comment

Every year in Japan, around the end of March, a funny thing happens that changes the mentality of the Japanese people. The transformation is catalyzed by the blossoming of cherry trees all over the country, a nationwide facelift of pinkish-white. The entire process of bud to blossom to fallen blossom takes only 2 weeks, and is monitored closely by the press and the public. During this 2-week period, the usually work-minded Japanese enjoy “Hana-mi” (“flower-watch”), spending their days and nights in the parks, eating and drinking on tarps on the ground as the bundles of blossoms slowly release their petals to create a gentle fragrant snowfall. Stands are set up selling various foods and drinks, some as obscure as boiled whole squid with BBQ sauce, fried pigs ears, and fish-shaped pancakes filled with fudge. Stages are set up with continual performances of dancing, drumming, and singing. Everyone is happy and friendly and consuming alcohol in public…aaaaah, what a great celebration. At any time, you can check online to find the Hanami stats for any specific park or region. For instance, on March 31, the blossoms were 60% full at Amagajo park. The blossoms peak at 80%, since the first have fallen by the time the last ones bloom, but 60% still looked pretty amazing to me.

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Amagajo park was the perfect spot to enjoy Hanami with Mayumi, Toshi, Gramma, and Hana. Surrounded by cherry trees with Amagajo castle peeking out above the blossoms, we ate to our heart’s content and drank beer and shochu until darkness finally came to hide the falling sakura.

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Unfortunately, our day of Hanami brought an abrupt end to my last week in Miyazaki, a week that was spent seeing the last of the local sites. This included one last bike trip to downtown and the Oyodo riverside, with it’s odd checkerboard grass.

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And one last visit to the koi pond, where I fearlessly risked life and limb to give my fishy friends a rather slimey but affectionate pet goodbye.


And a trip to the last unvisited park in town, Tenjinyama, with it’s pond, tower and shrine.

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And the final trip to Ikime; one last chance to find the burial mounds. Unfortunately, Rusty was out for the day with a sore back, so I was forced to take the 1-speed. I made it all the way to the Ikime sports complex and the burial mounds on this bucket of bolts, only to find out that the “ancient” burial mounds were under construction …hey, wait a minute here…

Of course, at the furthest possible point from home, the 1-speed started whining and complaining and puncturing her rear tire, leaving me stranded 10 kilometres from home. My Rusty would never do that.

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And so, my time in Miyazaki draws to an end, with fond memories of cats, castles, people, pedals, and petals. Fortunately, I still have 4 days in Okinawa, but we’ll save those stories for next time. Let’s just say that Okinawans have their very own rendition of the Mexican “worm in a bottle”… but they’ve taken it a bit further. 

My day of Hanami was an experience that will be remembered forever, with it’s friends, foods, and drinks, and it’s peacefully hypnotic atmosphere. Many thanks to Mayumi, Toshi, Gramma, Hana, and Amagajo herself.



Lucky Number 7

•April 5, 2007 • 1 Comment

Today’s adventures were a whirlwind of sightseeing stops to the North of Miyazaki, a direction I hadn’t previously ventured via armoured beast.  As any good day does, this one started with McKenna pancakes…maybe not the family recipe, but grilled to McKenna perfection nonetheless.

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After filling our bellies, the whirlwind began (whirlwind is a very accurate descriptive word for this day’s adventures, since the sky was gurgling and passing water like a drunk man after midnight).

Sight #1: Maizuru Park and the Ruins of Takanabe Castle

This slightly damp park had a shurin and a huge 500 year old tree held up with anchored steel cables. It was originally the sight of Takanabe Castle, but after searching the site, the only remnant we found was 1 lousy weed-ridden wall.

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Toshi accidentally got a bamboo pole stuck in his ear, but Mayumi thankfully supplied some pretty floating flowers to calm him down while I yanked it out. Ouch!

Sight #2: Takanabe Marsh

This quiet and lonely bog will be flourishing with swamp-life in another 2 months, including the world’s smallest dragonflies. Unfortunately, the only movement we saw was small droplets of water in the downward direction.

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Now I know the curvature of this bridge suggests a sagging suspension bridge, but this guy was pure concrete. I don’t understand why this bridge has any structural integrity whatsoever…maybe one of my engineering friends would like to explain that to us in the comments.

Sight #3: Takanabe Taishi

This was the highlight of the day. These huge grinning statues were very funny and intimidating at the same time (odd combo, I know). They were perched on a hilltop with a view of rural Takanabe; I particularly enjoyed the 8-armed whitey with the multi-head hat.

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I really wish I had taken a picture with someone (or somefoot) in front for perspective…you can’t tell from the shots but they were tall, around 20 feet for the big guys.

Sight #4: Lupinus Park

Huge open space and plenty of flowers make this a favourite summer hangout for the residents of Kawaminami. Mayumi was silly enough to get on the merry-go-round while Mike was within twirling distance. Two minutes and 200 rotations later, I finally let her dismount to stumble and collapse on the ground in a bitter dizzy haze.

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After playing in the park like a bunch of school kids, we stopped at a traditional Japanese restaurant for a late lunch of udon soup and boiled veggie patties. Then it was back to the sights.

Sight #5: Takajo Castle

Another rebuilt castle in a small town called Kijo. This was just a cute little baby castle, but cool nonetheless, with a nice view of the town. There was a time when all the hilltops around contained a string of castles, a defensive network held by the reigning samurai clan of the time. Unfortunately, all but a handfull have been burned down…one of the downfalls of wooden castles, I suppose. You’d think they would have learned…

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By this time, the sun was beginning it’s descent behind the hills. A long day of sights, but not quite over yet.

Sight(less) #6 & #7: The Ruins of Hyuga-Kokubunji Temple & the Ruins of Tonokori Castle

Unfortunately, by the time we reached our 6th destination, the light of dusk was just strong enough to see the 5 remaining stones from the 1200 year old temple, but not quite strong enough for a decent picture (no worries, you’re not missing much). Needless to say, by the time we reached sight #7, it was pitch black. Stumbling around the Tonokari Castle park, we did come to the blind conclusion that “castle ruins”=”grassy knolls where castle structures used to stand”. Seemed like a nice grassy park, but not high on the priority list for a revisit.

And so ends our damp day of sightseeing. Being the warriors that we are, the weather didn’t scare us away…but this guy sure did:


Ode to Rusty

•March 29, 2007 • 4 Comments

Gun-metal black but with small reddish spots

Your firmly filled tubes so comfy and strong

You brought me safely to Aya and back

Another adventure, with no third Foot along


You hoped to jump down the intense waterslide

But the slide was not all they would have us believe

With clean pictures of rides and the kids having fun

Yet a murky green pool was what we chose to leave

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But the war that we started, it more than made up

For the dirty shortcomings of waterslide fun

Oh the ducks and the Koi, how they fought hard in battle

For every last pellet you threw in the pond

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And the Ryu-O Castle, way up on the hilltop

Don’t tell me the view wasn’t well worth the climb

Even if it was rebuilt waaaaaay back in the 80’s

My dear friend remember…”It’s samurai time!”

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Oh the bike road we rode on we had to ourselves

Just you and me Rusty, we tore up the place

Of course free wine and shochu in Shusen-no-mori

Did lengthen the ride home and decrease the pace

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But we made it back Rusty, and I owe it all

To your smooth well-lubed chain and your strong metal frame

Dependable Rusty, I’ll be sad to leave you

Life back home without you will not be the same


Another 60 km spent together, thanks for a great day in the sun Rusty…


What Do Caves and Babies Have in Common?…

•March 26, 2007 • 4 Comments

I don’t know, but they’ve come together in Udo Jingu. This is the most incredible place I have been to so far; a bright orange shrine hidden in a huge cave by the ocean. The shrine is supposed to bless expectant parents with a healthy long-lived child. It’s about a 10 minute drive around an oceanside mountain on the Nichinan coast and another 10-minute walk to get to Udo Jingu, and the view is spectacular the whole way. With only one week left in Miyazaki, I hope to make it back here:

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If you look closely at that last picture, you’ll see a ring on “Turtle Rock” with a small pool inside. For a dollar (100 yen), you buy 5 little round red stones and attempt to throw them into the turtle pool (women with the right hand, men with the left). If you get one in, I guess you’re blessed (hmmmm, these gods seem fickle…). Mayumi and Toshi got one in. I didn’t. Unfortunately, I can not count on a long healthy life for my eventual son.

By the end of our oceanside drive/walk, we were all rather hungry, so the next stop was Nichinoeki park in Nango Cho (town) for a picnic. Once again, if you look closely at the first picture, you’ll see Toshi sleeping on the bench and Mayumi and Gramma lazing on the grass. This was after our delicious lunchbox picnic, when I decided to brave the full park hike whilst the rest braved a nap in the sun. There were some pretty incredible views, so I’m glad I chose the more adventurous option.

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After Nango, it was back to Aoshima, one of my first tourist visits in Japan, but this time with a twist. We ended up at Kodomonokuni park, which basically translates as “kids (kodomo) country (kuni)”. It was a big play area with plenty of rides and flowers, perfect for lazing around on a Japanese holiday. The Japanese holiday happened to be Shunbunohi, ie the spring equinox. I ended up getting some shut-eye in the much-appreciated hammocks located throughout the garden area, while the rest of the crew scavenged the flowerbeds and trees for signs of Hanami (TBA, future post).

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After Aoshima, it was back home for a break, then out for dinner at a local favourite. Okazaki Bokujou restaurant has really good Miyazaki beef, a dish I have come to love. The tables have a burner in the middle, so they slack off and make you cook your own meal. We ended up with endless plates of raw cow…and pig and chicken and veggies…and had the pleasure of cooking each piece to our own desired tenderness. Mmmmmmmmm, I love Miyazaki beef!


Clockwise; Hana, Kana, Gramma, Toshi, Mayumi, Mikel’s spot (with plenty of Miyazaki beef in front of it).

We filled our bellies with beef and beer, and it was good.

After a delicious sleep-in, we picked up Hana’s Victoria-met friend, Jinko, from the Miyazaki airport the following morning around 11:00am. We then proceeded back to Aoshima Jingu, since Jinko has never seen blue (ao) island (shima). I let the girls check out the shurin whilst I walked the circumference of the island looking for the perfect rock to bring back for Dad’s garden. I found it. Here it is in it’s natural habitat, closely followed by it’s removal:

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It’s small, yes, but it has to come back in a suitcase. Anyways, the girls enjoyed the shurin, and the flowers in Saito town later on that afternoon.

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But my mind was still stuck on Udo Jingo, the shrine in the cave. It was amazing, and I really can’t capture it in a picture, you need the full 360. I know this doesn’t do it justice, but here it is, one last time:


The Incredible Flying Bush

•March 24, 2007 • Leave a Comment

Kagoshima is a decent-sized city, some 500,000 people at least. Total daylight hours Michael spent in Kagoshima last time out = 0.5 hours (the morning drive to the Sakurajima ferry). Needless to say, a return trip was inevitable. This one had a slightly different look; first off, I was alone and staying in a real dive of a hotel, no pimpin’ purple Vegas room with enormous roulette wheel on the ceiling; second off, there was no gaping wound on my chin, and my jaw didn’t feel like it had been smashed with a sledgehammer; and third off, I had no car, just my dependable feet (only 2 of them). The trip began with me and my 2 feet at 8:30 in the morning with a coffee and donut in the Miyazaki train station, a little place called Mister Donut, which is about as close to a Tim Hortons as you can get in Japan. My train arrived in downtown Kagoshima around noon, and I made my way out of the attached mall with the ferris wheel on top. Feeling a tad peckish, I sat down at a nearby bench and got out my lunch. Bad move. After a brief pigeon attack, I closed my lunchbag and proceeded to a more pigeon-free environment.

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Sauntering down the road, searching for a safer spot to eat, I came across this sign:


I don’t know exactly why they would advertise this procedure quite so explicitly, but it certainly caused an abrupt loss of appetite. Perhaps it was a weightloss center, I didn’t stop to ask. So, with a temporary hold on the eating situation, I quickly found the Kagoshima castle remains (I have a spidey sense for castles). Not much left, I’m afraid to say, since the rest of the castle was burned down by samurais in their last defiant stand, the Satsuma Rebellion. Cool. The exterior wall and moat still remained, and that was enough for me to drool…of course, maybe it was just the smell of ramen in the air. I also found Garfield within the ruins, and attempted to scare him into action. Garfield does not scare easily.

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After the castle ruins, it was off on a short hike up the surrounding hills to Shiroyama, a great little viewspot of the city and of my nemesis, Sakurajima. Unfortunately, breathtaking views don’t always have quite the same effect in a picture, but you get the idea. There was also time for a quick trip to the local shurin before sundown, with highlights including a graduating gargoyle and a flying bush.

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By this time, poor Mikel has been walking with a heavy backpack for about 6 hours. It was time to find a hotel and relax with a drink before heading out for dinner. I managed to find a nice inexpensive hotel, if you can call it that. My “room” (used in the loosest possible sense of the word) could best be described as a decrepid 8×8′ box with sliding paper/packing-tape doors and no bed. The mirror gave the illusion of 19 Mikes in the “room” (which is a nice way of saying it was smashed), and there was a 14″ black-and-white tv and 2 water boilers stored on a small stained table in the corner, all of which did not work.


The good news is, the owners were a sweet elderly lady and her 70-year-old husband, and despite the room condition, the sheets were clean and the eventual sleep was rejuvenating…but we’re not quite at the sleep yet. Before leaving for dinner and nightlife in the exciting Tenmonkandori district downtown, I convinced 70-year-old husband to sit at the cluttered table with plush green-seated stools downstairs and share some Kirin Whiskey with me while speaking in slow, loud, broken, arm-waving English. It was great. Then I bought a few beers from the convenience store and walked down to a funky little strip by the beach called Dolphin Port. Picking a nice bench with a view, I cracked those puppies and devoured the golden godsend inside. Life was good. Then it was off to Tenmonkandori to meet my meal, and a lot of very friendly Japanese guys. This guy was the friendliest, and showed me his confidence-exuding greeting/goodbye gesture, which apparently gets all the ladies.

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At 1:30 in the morning, I finally found my way back to my “room”, and slept as sound as I ever have. The next morning, after a quick coffee from elderly lady owner, I said my goodbyes and headed out to the aquarium. I have come to the realization that fish make horrible picture subjects, not from lack of detail, but from an unfortunate mixture of low-lighting and the inability to sit still. A hundred blurry fish shots later, I left the aquarium with these 4 discernible pictures: dead dolphins, a shy seahorse, some tall crabs, and blurry yellow jellyfish…

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The aquarium did have one very Japanese element to it. In one section, sort of a learning section for kids, there were some small tanks with local fish…complete with little models below of the dinner dishes made from them. This brought a big grin to my face, something about it just seems so cold and callous. They even had a display board next to one of the tanks with the entire detailed procedure of how the poor fish inside are turned into tasty treats. Only in Japan…

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After getting my fill at the aquarium, I had a delicious domburi lunch with udon noodles at the ferry terminal and then another quick trip to Sakurajima. I’ll spare you the pics, since I’ve already posted plenty of the monster himself, but the remainder of the day was spent hiking along the Nagisa lava trail and cycling around on the worlds shittiest bicycle, rented from the only hostel I have come across in Japan so far. This screeching brakeless bastard did bring me to a funky dinosaur park, which once again awoke the inner Mike to the simple pleasures of childhood, but the ear-piercing brakeless ride back down the hill snapped me back to reality in a hurry, along with everyone else within a 3 kilometre radius. I definitely have a new appreciation for Rusty, who drove like a Rolls Royce on the bike ride back home from the Miyazaki train station. I love you Rusty.


More Pics, Less Talk

•March 20, 2007 • 3 Comments

I’ll make this a quickie, since dinner is on the go and I’m starving. The story begins with our lead characters in search of an unseen spectacle. The objective was the Ikime burial mounds, similiar to those in Saito, but not quite as spectacular. That was the objective. The result was Ikime Shurin, a temple in Ikime that gives good eyesight to those who visit (?), and has some really big trees. They were about this big:

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Unfortunately we ran out of time looking for the mounds, so I’ll have to find them with good ol’ Rusty before my departure. Speaking of my trusty steed, we went for another romantic pedal to another new destination a few days ago, this one known as Darumizu Park. If I could use one word to describe Darumizu, it would be “whatiswiththeseinsanofriendlycats?”. There were 4 of them, waiting to greet me upon my arrival, meowing a soulful goodbye at my departure. I must have walked a couple of kilometres through the park and they followed me everywhere, brushing my legs at every momentary standstill, meowing every time I went around a corner, running to catch up when I tried to hide…these cats were nuts. There was also a big grey one that didn’t get too close to me, but sent the rest running back for protection when they lingered too far from my side. I can only assume he was the pimp. Anyways, less talk, more pics…here’s Darumizu:

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Now look very closely at that last picture…notice anything out of place? Look closely now…and try singing the Sesame Street song; I always find it helps me distinguish even the finest of details:

“One of these things is not like the other

One of these things is just not the same…”

Did you see it? In the front? Let me help you a little bit:

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Foot! Yes, Foot came along for the ride and helped with the pedals. Foot also made some new friends, as you can see.

And to end, my favourite shot from the park; it really captures the feel of Darumizu. Notice the cat sauntering up the path towards me…she was meowing like crazy the whole damn way…and 2 more followed her. The one on the bench didn’t get farther than 10 feet from me the entire time I was there…what a sweetie…reminded me of my first cat. If reincarnation is possible, this girl was Pepper.


The Penis Shrine

•March 15, 2007 • 3 Comments

Before showing you the enormous Penis Shurin, some background information is required.

The intention was good: a hiking trip with my boss (Cameron, the red-topped Scot) and the Longman/Pearson rep (Boris, from Penticton), who was in town for a few days to MC an english-teaching seminar. It started well, a quick lunch at an excellent ramen house in Ebino, where we were all given free Engrish shirts (see Engrish page for pic…it rocks), and had a tasty ramen meal. Then it was off to Hell, a 10 minute hike from the Shiratori Onsen in Kirishima valley. The Kirishima valley is home to a range of active volcanoes, and the energy given off heats the nearby underwater springs, which feeds the onsen and escapes in big steamy pufts at “Hell”. Next, it was Ebino Plateau to see the sights there, but due to the stupid rainy weather, there were no sights to be seen except the Japanese dear roaming the area. Ah, thanks Dear.

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After that, it was a short half hour hike up a small Kirishima mountain to view the volcano crater lake, Onami Ike. The view was a bit of a let-down on a rainy day, as you’ll see from the 4th pic above. But then, *oh yes*, it was off to Penis Rock in Kobayashi, complete with shurin, carvings, statues, and a gift shop. 

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As you can see, Cameron and Boris felt pretty comfy mounting a penis together, so after a few more posed pictures, we all headed to the Yupoppo Onsen in Miyakonojo to get naked and take a bath together. For only my second onsen experience, this was quite the onsen, containing an outside hot onsen bath and cold bath, an indoor hot onsen bath and cold bath, walk-through tub, shoulder massaging tub, herbal tub, fully-jetted body massage tub, dry sauna, and an *electric bath* (really #$&*ed up, it has these things in the water that send electrial pulses and makes your muscles go insano when you put any body part in the nearby vicinity…it sent my ass, stomach, and back into convulsions when I sat down too close unsuspectingly). The onsen pretty much topped our day of masculine adventures, so we headed home shortly thereafter.

A few days later later (or maybe earlier, I’m not sure at this point, and I really just want to get your mind off the potentially preference-alarming adventures above), Hana (that’s my *girlfriend*) and I hit a really gorgeous Japanese garden hidden within the city they call the Miyazaki Sports Complex. It was set up to represent all the districts of the Miyazaki prefecture, so it had some very distinct elements to it, including a waterfall, a big lake/pond, and a few really cool statues, 

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as well as some big grassy fields with burial mounds and big rocks for Mike to climb up and attempt injury once again (unsuccesfully this time).

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As you can see, they also had a tribute statue to naked guys in the “sports complex”. And what the hell is with all the cocks in this article anyways?! I want my money back…

Now to do some (penis-free) housecleaning…here’s a few flowery pics for Calfy:

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And here’s a clock (that’s with an “l”), some oranges, a head (completely unintentional), and a farmer, respectively:

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Notice the suicide birds following the farmer. They hover around the tractor, dangerously close to the wheels and spinning blades, and follow it all over the field as it tills the hard ground and turns up soft dirt and bugs underneath. They’re constantly hopping and flapping and poking at the ground in their dangerous little dance of death, it was quite amusing to watch.

These guys in Ebino weren’t quite as bold, but their white heart-shaped bums make up for their lack of bravery. Nice bum dear.