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April 29, 2006

Hey, its my one year anniversary!

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sarukoen.com is one-year old today!

I marked the anniversary by paying up for another year of hosting services.

Earlier this month, I was pretty excited about the milestone, but today has come and gone and no one brought any presents or cake. I suppose I should have been more vocal about it like I am when it is my own birthday.

I thought about doing a "best of sarukoen" post, with links to the posts that I liked the most, but I could not be bothered to go back and pick any. And if you read this blog, you have already seen them anyway.

Thanks for stopping by...please keep coming back!

Posted by Kirk at 06:27 PM | Comments (1)

Ninja madness!

When I was growing up, I thought ninjas were cool. They were samurai on steroids (not that anyone talked about steroids then, but you know what I mean). And mysterious as they were, you knew enough about them to know they were extremely scary.

* They dressed in black
* They were silent (and probably invisible)
* They used exotic weapons like throwing stars and nunchuks (sp?)
* They could fly, or at the very least jump 20 feet in the air
* They were mystical

In other words, ninjas were great for video games and comic books.

So, are there any ninjas (still) around? This article, on Grand Master Masaaki Hatsumi of the Bujinkan Dojo, says there are. Hatsumi-sensei is also the only living student of the last fighting ninja, who earned his spurs as a bodyguard in Japanese-controlled Manchuria before World War II, reputedly killing one Chinese bandit by taking his eye out of his head. Which is exactly the kind of story that makes ninjas so menacing.

As a result, when Nuala said she had tickets to see the last ninja himself make a presentation at the Foreign Correspondents Club of Japan last week, there was no way to say no. (Thanks Nuala!)

On the plus side, a man came in wearing some pretty cool looking samurai armour so that people could take pictures. Unfortunately, I did not have my camera, but Kevin did and if he ever sends me a picture I will post it. Also, Elton John and Mick Jaggers' bodyguards were there (not sure why that is cool, but it gives me the chance to do a little name dropping).

But the downside had to be the presentation itself - there was nothing on "ninjitsu" (ninja art of war) and instead of stories on silent infiltration and battle, we heard that the ninja's role is to protect nature and a host of other simple platitudes. Have ninjas become PC? There was also something about training in San Francisco and Cleveland, but I might have got that part wrong. In any case, listening to him answer questions was like trying to grab smoke: there was nothing to get a handle on.

At one point, Laura said the art of ninja is avoiding questions by slapping yourself on the back. I had to laugh, but not too loudly. If you are interested in ninjas, there are a couple of things you can do.

If you believe in the stereotype, you should head over to the Ninja restaurant in Akasaka. Not only do you get served by these secretive warriors, the food is better than what is served at FCCJ.

For more information on the real last ninja, you can visit his website here. In James Clavell's Shogun, ninjas were contacted by whispering your request in a certain temple at a certain hour. Using the website is probably easier.

Posted by Kirk at 05:26 PM | Comments (0)

April 23, 2006

Mt. Fuji (富士山) - a much better picture

Laura sent me her photo of Mt. Fuji from Inamuragasaki Park. It gives you a much better idea of how impressive it looked.

Thanks Laura!


Posted by Kirk at 06:51 PM | Comments (2)

Kamakura and Enoshima (鎌倉 と 江ノ島)

Thanks to an early morning call from Nuala, I was more active than I usually am on a Saturday. You see, Nuala was calling to invite me along for a beach stroll from Kamakura to Enoshima with her, the Lauras, Kevin and Paul. Despite the modest hangover and lack of quality time sitting on my couch recently, I was easily convinced.

And with good reason, because it was an excellent day.

We walked along the beach from Kamakura to Enoshima. That is about 7 kilometres, but the weather was excellent, so it was very nice. It was also good to be reminded how close Shonan is, especially with summer almost here!

We walked the first leg from Kamakura to Inamuragasaki Park (follow this link for a description of some of the local beaches), where we stopped for a glass of bubbly to celebrate Laura's birthday.

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It was unbelievable warm and lots of people were there to enjoy the good weather and views of Mt. Fuji (!). Unfortunately, it did not come out so well in the pictures - in person, it really was awe-inspiring. It is rare to get a clear view of Mt. Fuji, when you do it is always a suprise at how big it is.

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After that, we went across the street to the Sundish restaurant for lunch. Coming down from the park, it seemed too good to be true: outdoor seating on a sunny day at the beach - especially because this stretch of coastline is impossibly crowded in summer.

Well, it was too good to be true. The wind was much stronger there and it clouded up a little - instead of a balmy 20 degrees it seemed more like 10 degrees (or less?). We bundled up, finished our lunch and moved on. This could be a good spot for afternoon drinks in the summer, but it was still too early in the season yesterday.

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After walking farther down the beach (and past the fishing village), we eventually ended up at Enoshima (Omiyage Island), where we spent an hour poking around. It is a nice place to go, but it seemed a bit over-the-top...then again, we were all fairly tired by that point.

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Posted by Kirk at 11:58 AM | Comments (1)





Posted by Kirk at 08:20 AM | Comments (2)

April 12, 2006

I broke my coffee pot...maybe all this is my fault?

You may remember that I went through a period when everything I touched seemed to break. It took a few months but I had finally sorted myself out, including finally purchasing a new coffeemaker.

I thought I did well, because it has one of those stainless steel pots that keeps the coffee hot. Stainless steel. Not fragile.

Anyway, I washed it after making coffee today and set it down to dry. But when I flipped the switch to turn off the light in the kitchen, I knocked it on to the floor. You know that split second before something happens? I was soooo not worried. Until that split second passed and the oh-so-fragile plastic handle shattered on impact.

I can still use it, but I think this proves I am clumsy. Ugh. Well, at least it lasted a month.

Posted by Kirk at 03:43 PM | Comments (0)

April 08, 2006

Miyajima (宮島) and Hiroshima (広島)

Here is some more on the my holiday getaway. Like I mentioned before, I travelled down to the Hiroshima area. I spent the first day in Miyajima, about 30 minutes from Hiroshima by train and ferry, and the next day in the city itself.

I covered the high points in my last post. Miyajima is known for being very beautiful. There are also deer everywhere, which I cover below. Many people make a day trip out of it, so it is super busy during the day, but after 5pm it is almost deserted and all the shops and restaurants close down. It was SO QUIET! Also, spending more time there gives you a chance to walk around and see more of the island than you would otherwise do.

On the first day, I walked around the main street and then headed up the mountain by cable car to the Mt. Misen monkey park and some amazing views.

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I stayed at the Miyajima Hotel Kinsuiken (Annex), which is conveniently located across the street from the ferry landing, although Miyajima is so small that nothing is really far away.

On the second day, I roamed the hills above town, which is where the really good views are located. It is also where many of the cherry trees are, which undoubtedly made it nicer. Around mid-morning, I chanced upon the restaurant that I mentioned in the last post. It was awesome - you could see everything in town from there. The weather was warm, the sun was shining, and one of the three beautiful Japan views was laid out on front of me. And there was no one else there...just me and the owner. I could have stayed all day, but I will settle for going back again someday. This is the view...

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My next stop after that was the Daisho-in Temple. It is named after Kobo Daishi, who appears to be some sort of super Buddhist in Japan...I am sure someone else could so a much better job of describing him, so I will leave it to you to find out more on your own. As for the temple...it was very nice. Here are a few pictures:

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Don't feed the deer
Miyajima has a reputation for its deer population. Everywhere you go, they are walking around (in the way). And you are supposed to be careful that you do not let them get a hold of any papers that you have out because they will eat them – there are signs warning visitors to be careful. And with good reason…every deer that looked at me seemed to be sizing me up (yeah, he looks weak…if I get hungry enough, I can take him). Here are the deer getting ready to attack some poor tourists (left) and what they looked like after feeding (right).

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Anyway, the “do not feed the deer your important documents” campaign has obviously worked. I did not see anyone lose their passport, guidebook or cash. But I did see a deer go after a sign in front of one of the shops. Not only did it knock the signboard over, it tore the paper that was on it off and ate it. And whilst I thought that would be the deer highlight of the day, I was wrong. Later that night at the (empty) ferry station, there were two deer havt of the day, I was wrong. Later that night at the (empty) ferry station, there were two deer having a go at the garbage cans. They would get up on the hind legs and stick their snout through the lid and see what they could find. After checking all the cans in front of the station with nothing to show for their efforts, one of them walked into the station, went over to the phone booth and ripped the phone book off its cord. As I left them, they were merrily chomping away. I wonder how many times they have to replace that phone book…

Some last pictures of Miyajima
On the left...this could be the world's largest rice spoon. It is about 10 meters long. There was no corresponding rice cooker, although it may have been SO big, I missed it. And on the right, this is a stairway off the main plaza leading to some of the trails in the hills behind town. Not easy to spot unless someone takes a picture of it so you know what to look for (you can thank me later).

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And, finally...one more picture of O-Torii Gate. I think this is my best one, so you get the extra large size...

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I have much fewer pictures from Hiroshima, I am not sure whether this is because I took so many in Miyajima or because I slept a lot more, but it is too bad because it really is a beautiful city.

In any case, I arrived from Miyajima in the afternoon and spent a few hours orienting myself, i.e. having coffee, finding the hotel and walking around. I stayed at the Hiroshima Aioi Inn, which is possibly the closest structure to the Peace Dome (原爆ドーム), as you will see below. I visited the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum, which was a bit sobering, but the cherry blossoms were blooming in the Peace Park and the festive atmosphere added some cheer to offset that.

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The ryokan was fantastic and I could not recommend it more. The staff were very friendly and the food was excellent. I had the full Japanese dinner and I was so full when I finished I could not do anything. I mean it! I had planned to go for a walk on Hondori (see below) or, at the very least, go to the 7th-floor vending machines and buy a beer. Instead, I went to sleep sometime after 9pm. I think I was still full in the morning. This is my room...and the view from the room.

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Fortunately, the breakfast was smaller and I was able to get up afterwards and walk around. I wandered around Hiroshima for awhile. It is very relaxing. I stopped in a few scenic places and read for awhile. It is not a very frantic city, and it seemed OK to just stop what you were doing and hang out. I could get used to that. The pictures below include a row of cafes on one of the riverbanks...unfortunately closed (!) when I walked by, and a view from one of the places I stopped to read.

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Also, I would be remiss if I did not mention one of the major shopping areas called Hondori (本道), which was absolutely charming and so much fun to walk around. From 12-8pm it is a pedestrian street and the whole area is covered. It ends at the peace park only 100m from my hotel and one of the shops at that end is a Choco Cro (St Marks Cafe), which only adds to the appeal. It seems like a lot of people in Hiroshima commute by bicycle and many of them use this street. It was very busy.

Posted by Kirk at 01:23 PM | Comments (0)

April 07, 2006

A quiet, relaxing break

I tried to get an Internet connection in Hiroshima, but there was not one available when I turned my computer on so I gave up. I have tons of pictures and lots to talk about, but I will stick to the highlights for now and take care of the detail work later.

Miyajima is really, really cool. I stayed on Wednesday night and spent that afternoon and Thursday morning sight-seeing. Among the highlights...The monkey park at Mt. Misen, including this happy monkey and some good advice for monkey watchers.

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And more photos of the islands' attractions, including the five-story pagoda and another pagoda, cherry blossoms and O-Torii Gate.

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I also need to show two of my favourite places in Miyajima...first, my single room at the ryokan (more on that later) and a small restaurant in the hills above town (yep...more on that later).

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I better go edit some photos...

Posted by Kirk at 04:40 PM | Comments (0)

15,000 visits - thanks for coming

It might be kind of silly to mark milestones like this when some people get 1,000s of hits a day. BUT...this is my blog and I can if I want to. Thanks for visiting!

Posted by Kirk at 04:36 PM | Comments (0)

April 05, 2006

Miyajima - one of the three most beautiful views in Japan

I am in Miyakjma now, which is just outside Hiroshima and about 600 miles from Tokyo. I took an early train from Tokyo (733am!) so I had all afternoon to look around. It is amazing here. So much that I took 170 pictures. As a result, it will take me awhile to go through all of them, including some prime photos from the monkey park at the top of the mountain (can't swing a cat in Japan without hitting one of these apparently).

I did not think I would have access to the Internet, but there is a free wi-fi hotspot in my ryokan for some reason - very weird as they have a fixed-line connection you can pay to use. Anyway, I should make this quick in case they catch on.

I thought these would be a good start, however. This is O-Torii gate and since every advertisement for Miyajima has a picture of this, I thought I would show you some of mine. I took the first one from the ferry on the way to the island (about 1pm)...the second one, I took at 6pm. Notice that the tide has gone out so much that you can walk up to it. Which I did...very cool.

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I will post some more pictures tomorrow when I get to Hiroshima, including monkeys and more cherry blossoms.

Posted by Kirk at 08:54 PM | Comments (0)

April 04, 2006

Yotsuya cherry blossoms

OK...one last look at cherry blossoms for this year. I had to go to Yotsuya this morning for a regulatory seminar, which meant three hours of sitting in front of a computer in a windowless room - ugh. After that, I was more than ready to spend some time outside.

Fortunately, there is a very nice walk between Yotsuya Station and Kioi-cho and the cherry trees there still had their blossoms. In fact, this seems to be prime property for o-hanami and the path was lined with groups out for one last look. You can see some of that on the left. On the right, is one of the late bloomers, apparently.

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The path is an embankment with Sophia University on one side and sports fields on the other. It ended at the Hotel New Otani in Kioi-cho, just north of Akasaka. I found out that Kioi-cho is derived from the first syllable of two people and the Ii family, which had a residence there at the start of the Meiji Restoration. I do not remember the first two names...but they obviously start with "Ki" and "O". There is a sign next to the entrance of the Hotel's Japanese garden if you are interested...

And that should do it for cherry blossoms.

I am off to Hiroshima and Miyajima for the rest of the week.

Posted by Kirk at 12:37 PM | Comments (0)

April 03, 2006

More updating...I am finished now

Hmmm...I need to think of better ways to spend Sunday night. I wasn't satisfied with how things looked, so I decided to keep working on it. The major difference is the sidebar...I got rid of the picture icons for the photo album. There is a way to drop random pictures from your photo page into the blog - I just do not know how to do it yet.

I also re-organised the links so that they make more sense. And added cartoon icons to pretty things up. I am quite happy with how it looks now. If those that are interested, the icons come from Leo's Icon Archive and most can be downloaded free for non-commercial purposes. Very cool.

Posted by Kirk at 10:45 AM | Comments (0)

April 02, 2006

Re-working the site

If you are a regular visitor, then you probably notice some changes to this site. I have switched the colours around and updated the font and text styles. I think I will add a second sidebar on the left, but that was too much effort for me on a Sunday morning.

I am not sure if the banner picture works well with the new colour scheme...what do you think? It would be a shame to lose the monkeys after such a short period of time. Let's see how I feel over the next few days.

On 29 April, this blog will be one year old. I have been lazy about updating it over the last few months, but I am still posting somewhat regularly. Has it really been a year? Amazing!

Posted by Kirk at 11:48 AM | Comments (0)

April 01, 2006

Shinjukugyoen and cherry blossoms

Shinjukugyoen (新宿御苑) is one of the best places to see cherry blossoms in Tokyo. I went on Friday morning with Laura. It was excellent!

Here are some pictures of the cherry blossoms...these are nice, but they only give you an idea of how beautiful it was.

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There were lots of people in the park. You have to pay ¥200 to get in, but that did not seem to matter. It was very festive, like being on holiday. They seem to be having fun!

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Posted by Kirk at 01:18 PM | Comments (1)