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2 posts categorized "Anica Odell Smedley"

05/06/2012

Golden Week in Izu!

This week has been a school holiday, a chain of national holidays that fall over about 10 days. In Japan it is known as Golden Week. During these holidays most popular tourism spots such as Kyoto, Nikko, and Hakone are flooded with tide of vacationers. For my Golden Week vacation I decided to go to Ito city on the Izu peninsula. Even though it's near Tokyo (only 2 hours away by normal train) the peninsula has a completely different feel. Ito sits on the coast, as do most towns in Izu, and really does have a beach-town sort of feeling. There were many small shops and "Mom and Pop" style restaurants and attractions. Best of all, it wasn't crowded at all!

We chose "K's House Ito" as a place to stay and WOW! Did we ever make the right choice! I know K's House to be a great hostel chain because I stayed at the Kyoto branch during my trip last semester. However, the Ito house was extra special. The hostel is located in a 100 year old building that sits right along the river and the rooms all have little overhanging balconies. It is very traditionally styled- tatami rooms and beautiful raw wooden beams and supports. The whole place had a very ancient feel to it and the sweet smell of the tatami grass pervaded the entire building. The rooms had traditional paper screens and we slept on futons. It felt far nicer than most hotels I've been in, not to mention hostels! The best part of K's House Ito by far is that it boasts its own onsen! It felt great to be able to come back at the end of the day and soak away the soreness. Even though the baths are located underground where the spring emerges and therefore have no windows, the water felt wonderful.

1: Shimoda On the first day my friends and I decided to adventure down the peninsula to a little town called Shimoda. Shimoda is best known as the landing place of Commodore Perry's black ships when he arrived to initiate trading between Japan and the USA. However, the town also sports a beautiful coastline, great beaches, and many interesting temples. The town itself is nestled between mountains and extends all the way down to the water. We arrived in the morning after a beautiful train ride and the weather was great for exploring. We walked through the town and then down around a small peninsula that has many small islands just off the main coast, accessible by walking suspension bridges. The water was crystal clear and we could see the rocky bottom and many fish of all sizes. We continued on our hike, passing other walkers and local fishermen (and the packs of cats that hang around for scraps). We walked past a "floating aquarium" which was in a netted off inlet. This was an interesting and very conflicting thing to see. For one thing, I had never really seen a dolphin up close, much less a porpoise or a sea turtle. They really are magnificent. That being said, the place made my skin crawl (The Cove anyone?). Needless to say, we didn't linger for too long.

After that we walked further around the coast (I was really eager to find a nice white-sand beach). We ended up stopping in for food at a tiny restaurant by some hotels hidden away in a cove. The place was empty but for the proprietor and a friend of his, both of whom were just sitting there chilling and enjoying the great weather. We had a great meal of vegetable nabe (hot pot) and soba noodles, paired with some amazing fresh melon juice. All the while the guy in the restaurant kept up a conversation with us and spent a good amount of time teasing us.

 

It was a great experience- the man said that foreigners rarely stay in the nearby hotels and was surprised to see us- and the food was amazing! After our meal we were treated to a free cup of siphon-brewed coffee. It was incredible, one of the best cups of coffee I'd had in a long time. Super strong and very sweet thanks the the cream and sugar we were directed to apply liberally. After our meal we managed to find our way back to the main town of Shimoda and set of in earnest to find a beach as the sun was going down. We did eventually find our beach, though the sunlight was fading fast at that point. It felt great to run through the surf and collect seashells. The water was surprisingly warm, not at all like the California end of the Pacific that I'm used to. It was a pretty good way to end our time in Shinoda, and we sang Disney songs all the way back to the train station, where we had a quick meal before getting on our train back. The onsen that night felt particularly good as we had spent the whole day walking.

Day 2: Ito City and Jogosaki Coast We had done our Shinoda adventuring on the first day because the second was supposed to be cloudy. However, the day dawned beautiful and clear so we made the most of it. After breakfast we headed to the Ito Marine Town which is a more touristy area that looks as if it was trying to copy a Maine beach town but had got its color inspiration from a Crayola advertisement. It was a row of incredibly gaudily painted buildings which were full of Japanese tourists. We left from there for a underwater boat tour of the bay in a boat shaped like a multicolored dolphin. We stayed above board for the first part before going down to where there were windows in the hull. It was a very surreal experience to be in a small enclosed space while looking out at the fish swimming around- almost like a backwards aquarium tank. After our tour we headed back to Marine Town for some excellent ice cream. The place we went to would mix just about anything you wanted into an ice cream for you (I went with cassis, banana and vanilla). It was great sitting in the sun, watching the multicolored fish in the harbor, dangling our feet in the public foot onsen.

After our visit to Marine Town we went back to the hostel where we met up with some other friends. Together we decided to go to the nearby Jogasaki Coastline, a particularly dramatic length of coast boasting a 9km trail, a lighthouse, and a walking suspension bridge spanning an inlet. We walked around and took lots of photos, both scenic and silly. I got a bit daring and went right down to the water's edge and was rewarded by getting soaked by the incoming waves. Ah well, it was worth it and the water was bearable. When it started getting pretty dark we caught the train back to the hostel and went to a nearby hotel for an outdoor onsen. It was very nice, with natural rocks, a garden surrounding the pool, and a few waterfalls. After some melon shaved ice we headed back to K's house and played around next to the river with a bunch of sparklers that we got at a nearby convenience store. It was a great way to end a fantastic weekend.

 

 

I really enjoyed seeing Izu and it made me realize that there are so many wonderful sights to see right outside Tokyo. I definitely hope I can do a lot more exploring this semester!

Until next time,

Anica

04/11/2012

はじめまして!

Hello everyone! I'm Anica, a junior at Skidmore College in New York. I'm an East Asian Studies major and currently in my second semester in Tokyo with CIEE. I grew up in Berkeley, California but recently moved to Seattle. I've have an interest in Japanese culture which began in elementary school when my mom gave me my first ever Ramune soda, and grew when I entered my last years of high school. I have a passion for Japanese rock music and other aspects of Japanese culture, both modern and traditional. I came to Japan to fully explore my interests and really get the feeling of what it means to live in Japanese society. So far I have loved every minute of it, and I am always discovering new things!

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Anyways, I wanted to talk about my main activity over the last week- Hanami! For non-Japanese speakers, Hanami means flower viewing. Japan is full of cherry trees, and once a year for a few weeks, these trees explode into a visual cacophony of blooms. To be honest, until they bloomed, I didn't realize that Tokyo has SO many cherry trees! It really is magnificent to behold. I thought I would provide a brief summary/comparison of my various Hanami experiences.

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Now, you may ask, "What's the big deal about cherry blossoms?" Well, it partially hails back to a particular piece of Japanese traditional values termed, "mono no aware." (物の哀れ) This basically means appreciation for the ephemerality of worldly things. Cherry blossoms only last for a brief amount of time, and so they fit nicely into the concept. Therefore, Hanami is one way of celebrating the temporary nature of this floral beauty.

 

Day 1: Ueno Park IMG_1889

By far the most well known park to see blossoms in, Ueno is a crazy and fun experience. The park is big enough to feature various museums, a pond with swan boats, and Ueno Zoo. Under the hundreds of cherry trees is a sea of people eating and drinking, their picnic tarps covering the ground so it looks like the trees are growing straight up from the blue plastic mass. There are also many stalls selling all sorts of food and drink.

 

As much as I enjoyed Ueno, I found the crowds to be a bit overwhelming. Good luck trying to move anywhere in a hurry, and finding a friend in the masses of milling multitudes is tricky. However, that being said, you really shouldn't be trying to move fast. Just relax, take your time looking at the trees, and go with the flow of the crowds! Also, I recommend a visit to the zoo while you're at it! It was un-crowded and lots of fun, not to mention cheap (600 yen) for those of you on a budget.

 

Day 2: Shinjuku Park IMG_1925

The day after I went to Ueno I went on a Hanami picnic with my club, SISEC. The park is just a short walk from Shinjuku station, so it's pretty convenient. We had to wait in line to get in, because everyone has to undergo a bag inspection upon entering the park. This is due to a no-alcohol rule that, while unfortunate, does help with keeping the crowds in the park a bit more sedate and quite a bit cleaner. By going to the park with my club I got to experience what Hanami is really about when it boils down to it: Spending time with friends while enjoying the beauty that nature has to offer.

 

Not only was Shinjuku Park less crowded, it had a lot to offer in terms of flora besides just the cherry trees. The park features beautiful landscaping, teahouses, and water elements. It was great to sit down amidst it all and have great food, play games, and catch up with people in the club. The day was pretty windy and got a bit chilly, but it was still fun and I really enjoyed learning more games (takenoko takenoko nyokiki anyone?).

 

Day 3: Kinshicho IMG_1931

To conclude my three-day Hanami craze, I went to a small park near Kinshicho with some friends from my dorm. It was a great day and I had a blast getting to sit down under the trees and watch the petals falling in the breeze. We got snacks from Seiyu on our way and had a great time just talking and enjoying the sun. Even though Ueno was impressive, and Shinjuku was fun to experience with a big group of friends, I much preferred the low-key local park. Therefore, although I would say that the big popular parks are certainly an experience, I think it's perfectly enjoyable to just grab some friends and head to your local park! You can get your own patch of grass under some trees and eat, drink, and chat to your heart's content!

Well, that's all for my three-day Hanami extravaganza! Now as the petals are beginning to fall of the trees it looks like Tokyo is covered in a floral snow. Truly "mono no aware" if you ask me. I really do believe that cherry blossom season in Japan is something that everyone should experience at least once in their life, and I count myself very lucky that I was able to be a part of it this year.

Signing off until next time!

~Anica