The rainbow bridge in Odaiba

Tokyo

Over the winter holiday, I went to Tokyo to see the New York of Japan (for some reason I kept calling it New York).

One thing for me defines Tokyo. It is not the skyscrapers,  not crowds of people with a number of foreign faces bobbing through… it’s the trains. Tokyo has an expansive railway that is the lifeline of the place. Coming from Nairobi where there is only one railway line, serving only a few routes, I was really impressed by the railway network in Tokyo.

The Nairobi Commuter Train Route.
The Nairobi Commuter Train Route. Image from www.jambonairobi.co.ke

The subway was up to 7 floors down.. on each floor below the ground, there was a different line running. I was actually excited to be riding the subway, riding a tube under the ground was like being in the future :) Bear in mind that the map below is just the subway, the (normal) railway line, JR East, is not included.

The Tokyo Train Map.
The Tokyo Metro Map. Image from http://www.wa-pedia.com/

The Journey to and From

Japan’s total area may be less than Kenya’s, but it is a series of islands stretched wide and long. So moving from one part of Japan to another takes quite some time actually, it will take a number of days (driving or train) to move from Hokkaido in the North to Okinawa in the South. It takes about 4 hours by train from Kanazawa City to Tokyo, but 2 hours by the Shinkansen (bullet train) which one can take from April this year. Trains are not so cheap, it costs about 10,000 Yen (Ksh 8,000) one way! However, there was an offer by JR Railway where 5 people buy a ticket for about 10,000 Yen but only using local trains. We went to Tokyo in a group of 10 people, used only local trains (stopping at every small station along the way),  and transferring a total of 6 times. We took 11 hours to Tokyo, having watched Japan’s beautiful countryside in winter. Coming back, I took a night bus for about 8 hours and slept through most of the journey back.

Japan countryside in winter
Japan countryside in winter. Much of the countryside was covered in a beautiful layer of white.
At one of the transfer stations along the way
At one of the transfer stations along the way

Sometimes we caught a glimpse of the sea.

A glimpse of the Japan sea
A glimpse of the Japan sea

In Nagano,  a renowned ski area, the snow was window-high and if it continued then it would soon be over 2 meters high. Perfect for skiing and snowboarding. I hope I can go skiing or snowboarding end of this month or early the next.

Look at the height of the snow!
Look at the height of the snow!

Chiba

Chiba is a neighbouring prefecture of Tokyo. I met a number of Kenyans living there, including my friend Anthony with whom I got the MEXT Scholarship. He taught me how to ride a bike (it has been embarrassing to admit that I don’t know how to ride a bike, but now that is behind me!).

The Edogawa river in Matsudo, Chiba
The Edogawa River in Matsudo, Chiba

We traveled on the 23rd and on Christmas, had dinner in at Australian restaurant in Chiba. the portion sizes were huge. We told ourselves, “ganbarimashoo”,  the Japanese expression for let’s do our best!

Christmas dinner was a feast at an Australian restaurant in Chiba
Christmas dinner was a feast at an Australian restaurant in Chiba

Odaiba

This place is famous for various sights such as its giant robot (my camera doesn’t take good photos at night so I couldn’t capture this well), the rainbow bridge, a replica of the statue of liberty, a beautiful walk near the sea and various illuminations during the festivals, among other sights and sounds.

Illumination at Odaiba
Illumination at Odaiba
The statue of liberty at Odaiba
The Statue of Liberty at Odaiba

The Rainbow Bridge is beautiful.

The rainbow bridge in Odaiba
The rainbow bridge in Odaiba

Tsukuba Kenyan party

On another day, I joined Kenyans having a party at Tsukuba at the JICA center there. Tsukuba is a city in Ibaraki prefecture next to Tokyo. The road there was beautiful in winter, I am sure it will look great in spring when the cherry blossoms are blooming on the trees lining the road below. There was ugali, sukuma wiki and chicken stew, there was pilau, chapati and beef  (just writing this is making me salivate). We also attempted some nyama choma (barbecue), braving the cold outside. A good time was had by all!

The road to Tsukuba
The road to Tsukuba

Shinjuku

This area in Tokyo is defined by its skyscrapers. Exiting West from the Shinjuku Station is like being in the West side of Moi Avenue in Nairobi. Exit East and you walk into a multitude of people, and it is here that I first saw a homeless man living in a tunnel! He surrounded himself with cardboard boxes and warm blankets, and he appeared to be staring at some poster in his hand.

During the earthquake in 2011, these skyscrapers were swaying from side to side ( you can even hear the sounds they make as they sway, watch this video if you are strong enough), a testament to Japan’s engineering ingenuity. If they were inflexible, they would crumble from the pressure of the quake!

Shinjuku Illumination
Shinjuku Illumination
Skyscrapers in Shinjuku
Skyscrapers in Shinjuku

Fascinated by the building below:

Shinjuku skyline
Shinjuku skyline

Tokyo Sky Tree

This is the second highest structure in the world (after the Burj Khalifa in the United Arab Emirates), standing at 634m high (picture 600 meters on the ground.. seen it? Okay, then make that vertical and you can picture what you are looking at). However, as a standalone tower, it is the highest in the world. I wanted to get up there, and take in the areal view of Tokyo. However on the day I went, there was a multitude of people, and we were told to come back 3 hours later, to start queuing! We gave up.  I will be in Japan for the next 3 years at least, so I will save some places for next time.

My friend managed to go up however, and you can check out her breathtaking pictures of Tokyo’s skyline here.

On a related note, if the Japanese got a very thin, long wire and added it to the top of the Sky Tree, it could go back to being the highest structure in the world, no? When will Kenya make a remarkable contribution to the world’s skyline? Now that we discovered oil, isn’t it high time?

The Tokyo Sky Tree jutting into the Sky, highest tower in the world.
The Tokyo Sky Tree jutting into the Sky, highest tower in the world.

Roppongi

Of course no trip to Tokyo is complete without a visit to its entertainment district! Somewhat dodgy, a little dangerous I hear, but otherwise fun. However, we went on a Tuesday evening and were told the dance clubs are closed until Thursdays onwards. There were lot of sports bars though.. Irish, British.. the British pub we went to was run by this guy who is half Japanese, half Ghanaian.  On that day, there didn’t seem to be much happening so after one drink and a round of darts, we left. Trains in Tokyo don’t run all night, they stop at midnight. So if you want to party you must be ready to stay till morning, or take a (fairly expensive) cab home. Anyway, place earmarked for next time :)

At the end of the 8 days, I was actually glad to get on the bus and go back to my fairly quiet city of Kanazawa. I had missed it.

And that dear readers, is my winter holiday report. Now rate it below.

 

The Ishikawa Zoo

(There are times as a blogger (writer) when you will be sitting at your computer, fingers poised over the keys, cursor blinking, and a hot cup of coffee/tea or cold beer/wine just within reach, but the words just won’t come. The mood is right, the time is right but the words are stuck in your mind. Sometimes you give up altogether, and switch to other mundane stuff, like watching videos of The Real Househelps of Kawangware on Youtube. And then you ask yourself, whom am I writing for? Then I finally realized that I am not writing for you readers (sorry!) but for myself and now my mind is finally free, I can write more easily. On that note then, back to blogging.)

There is a class I am taking, there are actually two classes I am taking that are not compulsory (but they somewhat are). One of them is a free-conversation class, just a class for Japanese students to meet international students and vice-versa. We do fun activities like Christmas parties and presentations about each other’s countries. In the last week of classes last year, we had a visit to the Ishikawa Zoo which is about 30 minutes from here.

The visit to the zoo was interesting and depressing all at the same time. I think this is my first visit to a zoo, does the Nairobi Orphanage counts as one? I was impressed by its diversity. Despite its small size (relative to our wildlife parks), there was a wide range of animals (the number was not much, but the variety was big), from birds to tropical reptiles, to fish to bigger animals like the giraffe and even an elephant! However, while the smaller animals  and the aquatic ones seemed to thrive, the bigger animals and the primates seemed lonely and and their sadness was tangible and infectious.

It was a beautiful winter day at the zoo and we walked around in groups of about 5 people each admiring the animals (plants, maybe not so much).

Ishikawa Zoo
Ishikawa Zoo

There was a lion lying in the weak winter sun trying to bask in vain. Now that is not something you see everyday, an African lion in snow. You get the feeling that it isn’t right, it should be roaming the extensive Savannah plains of Africa, running freely in pursuit of its meal or lazing with the pride under a tree licking its jaws and giving a satisfied roar. Instead, it lay there just beyond the glass and when it saw us, turned and gave us its back! But before that it gave a thundering roar that would have been scary were it not for the glass between us. But maybe it’s a lion that grew up in an orphanage or in a zoo and does not know what life in the wild looks like, and might not survive there, I comforted myself. But does it feel the call of the wild, a thought persisted? Judging from its roar, it probably did.

Lion at the Ishikawa Zoo

Lion at the Ishikawa Zoo

The lion giving us its back

The lion giving us its back

We had gone to the lair of the big cats first, so we saw a lioness in a tiny room where we could peer at her up close, but no good stills of her were possible as she paced restlessly up and down. The tiger in the next stall also paced up and down as if in synergy or is it resonance. By contrast, the leopard in the next stall sat still in a depressed stance, barely blinking as we gaped and took photos.

The lioness paced up and down her cage
The lioness paced up and down her cage, she couldn’t be still

The tiger(or tigress) in the next room paced too

The tiger(or tigress) in the next room paced too
Clearly photography is not my strong suit but then the best place for photographing animals is in the wild

The next subject was more still. Too still if you ask me.

The sad leopard
The sad leopard

Wait, not all the animals at the zoo were sad! The snow leopard was cheery, running around its habitat and sometimes ambling silently over our heads. We had to stare at him through the glassy ceiling as he (or she) also sought some sun.

The snow leopard at the Ishikawa zoo
The snow leopard was more cheerful, thankfully!

After that, the mood grew lighter as we saw numerous other small animals playing, eating or just sleeping.

Cute and sleeping
Cute and sleeping

We then stepped into what was a recreated tropical rainforest environment, complete with the heat and humidity. The vegetation, fish and animals are all thriving in the artificial micro-climate.

The python looks really comfortable up on that tree
The python looks really comfortable up on that tree

And resting below is the giant Iguana lizard, I didn’t know it’s name and had to ask on twitter. Thanks for the answer, 

What are you looking at?
What are you looking at, it seems to be asking. I guess the vegeterian meal wasn’t so satisfying?

There were penguins being cute, and rodents called Capybara that are the largest rodent in the world. These love being in hot baths and they had and even had a running jacuzzi (ofuron/onsen), very convenient in winter, don’t you think?

Kapibara at the zoo
Kapibara at the zoo. That’s what their name reads in Katakana. (Capybara)
Penguins at the Kanazawa zoo
Penguins at the Kanazawa zoo

Lots of birds, but you know.. caged birds. Amazingly, they have also at the zoo a giraffe and an Asian elephant. However they were too huge for the tiny rooms they were housed and being behind metal bars.. I am not even going to share their photos. Instead, look below at this fantastic image from Mutua Matheka’s blog of an elephant in Ambosel! After that, continue visiting the website to download new wallpapers every Monday or even using the Android App.

Elephant in Amboseli

Elephant in Amboseli

The seals were really fun to watch. They did flips in water and swam with grace. We watched one being fed fish and it seems as if it was also being taught something (not sure what) as it was patiently fed one fish after another. Initially, I assumed they were sea lions and had to Google to see the difference, learning a lot in the process.

A seal swimming
A seal swimming

Feeding of the seal:

A seal being fed at the Ishikawa zoo
A seal being fed at the Ishikawa zoo

Can you believe all that lasted just an hour? There was no time to linger at the zoo, it was a touch and go (or glance and go) moment, and it was a lovely experience, sad animals notwithstanding!

When was the last time you went on a class tour?

Google Anita Borg Memorial Scholarship 2015 Europe, the Middle East and Africa

Dr. Anita Borg (1949-2003) devoted her adult life to revolutionizing the way we think about technology by dismantling barriers that keep women and minorities from entering computing and technology fields. In honor of her vision, Google is announced the Google EMEA Anita Borg Memorial scholarship, which awards a group of female students a € 7,000 scholarship for the 2015-2016 academic year. All recipients will also be invited to attend a networking retreat.

Anita Borg
Anita Borg

Deadline to apply: February 2, 2015

To be eligible to apply, applicants must:

2014 Highlights

Happy New Year 2015 to all my blog readers, thank you so much for reading and a special one to those who comment from time to time. A blog is nothing without its readers, thank you!

2015 Happy New Year
2015 Happy New Year

I have a lot of things I intend to achieve in the year 2015 and onward, they are not really resolutions but goals. A year ago, I did a 30 things to do before 30 list, but it remains private for now :-) I will publish it once I hit 30 and I can take a look back and see what I have achieved so far.

But in our quest for bigger, faster, better things, we sometimes forget to reflect on the past and just be content that we are alive and still have the chance to achieve more. Reflection should not mean complacence and accepting the status quo, but rather should spur you on further if you can see how far you have come and just what you are capable of.

Here are some highlights of 2014 for me:

Jeremy Turned 1 on March 30th

Being a mother has of course, made me a better person. Jeremy is a healthy and energetic young boy and there is nothing more I could ask for. Sooner than later, he shall be joining me here in Japan. I cannot wait for that day!

I turned 26 on April 23rd

Well, all I had to do is continue breathing, and eating, and the years will roll by, but for me a birthday is important even if I don’t like to make a big deal on the actual day. I am grateful for every chance to be alive, every extra day.

Jeremy and I 3 months ago
Jeremy and I 3 months ago

Master’s degree in July

Finally, after almost 3 years I got my master’s degree from Strathmore University. Thanks to the Safaricom Academy for the sponsorship.

Meeting Wole Soyinka at the Storymoja 2014 Festival 

I still haven’t done a post on my blog, but I met The Man, and he signed my two books! Ake, The Years of Childhood and You Must Set Forth at Dawn. He was an honoured guest at the Storymoja Festival and he gave a lecture in memory of Wangari Maathai. That link is my summary of his lengthy speech.

And on the second day, I also attended another of his sessions and I got to ask him some questions, can you believe it guys? I got a chance to ask Wole Soyinka questions. This man makes me feel like my English level is rudimentary, at best.

It seemed Dr. Auma Obama was his right hand person (even if she is seated to his left in the below picture), so I guess I got to meet her too. She’s an author, activist, philanthropist and also Obama’s half sister. Read her interview in Time Magazine.

Wole Soyinka with Dr. Auma Obama at Storymoja Festival
Wole Soyinka with Dr. Auma Obama at Storymoja Festival

Flying to Japan

I waited for almost a year after getting the scholarship to get on the plane to Japan. It was not an easy decision to make, I had to resign from my previous job as an IT auditor with a big 4 firm, I had to leave my son behind for some months because logistics couldn’t allow him to come with me immediately, and I had to research in a field I am interested in, but which has little in relation to my previous work experience.

In the end, I am glad I came. Japan is amazing. Sure, there are some things I don’t like about it (shh.. I didn’t just say that), but there are many things I love about this country. I look forward to the next 3 and a half years or so, and I am enjoying my experience so far. So much to see, so much to do.

I just came back this morning from Tokyo, where I spent about 8 days. Took the subway for the first time. The train network in Tokyo is dizzying, it feels like you’re living in the future :-) Before that, I had been living and continue to live in a relatively quiet city of Kanazawa. You almost forget you are living in a country best known back home for its technological advances.

Anyway, the sights and sounds from Tokyo will be another blogpost.

There were very many moments that stood out for me in 2014, but I cannot highlight them all. I read a lot of books, at least 13 from my book reviews. I also read quite a number of lengthy articles (or essays) on the web, from varied fields. Reading for the pleasure of reading. For instance, Aeon magazine is one source of essays I spend weekends reading. I also watched a number of TED Talks (and yes they are all kind of motivational at the end -yay, we can do it!-, but I like to hear about amazing stuff people are doing). I learned to solve the Rubik’s cube, crossing off an item on my 30’s bucket list.

Here’s a toast to 2015, let’s do it!

 

 

 

Got a Petrol Engine? Try the Total Quartz Engine Oil

I still don’t know much about cars, in spite of owning one for over a year now. There are a few things you must know though, like what important liquids it needs: engine oil, ATF, fuel and wiper fluid. You should check them every day, but I never did. Sometimes I’d go for a week or two, and all I did was top up my fuel weekly (I’d fill my tank). Which is why when my engine oil was leaking, I never noticed and had to push my car off the road when it stalled. Embarrassing? No. I look at it like an adventure.

This is why I want an electric car. No fluids, period. No hood full of  sputtering liquids and complicated wiring. But that is a wish for another day.

In a quest to find the perfect engine oil (which is important for lubrication of the moving engine parts as well as keeping it clean). You can get oil which you change after every 10,000Kms or every 20,000Kms. If you cover long distances daily, then you should choose the 20,000 Kms one.

Regularly servicing your car will improve your engine efficiency so you burn less fuel per kilometer. Before, I was quite indiscriminate on where I serviced the car, but after that embarrassing episode, I serviced it at a reliable mechanic’s and also got Total Quartz Engine Oil. There’s a smoother feel afterwards, but I don’t know about fuel consumption, I didn’t measure it.

So today I am checking out what others say about this engine oil, is it any different from what they used previously? All the reviews on Amazon are good, 4 or 5 stars (17 out of 22 reviewers gave it 5 stars). Here’s another review from a motorhead. The engine is an integral part of your car, and every day, scientists are trying to create the best products for it. If you want more out of your car, you have to take good care of it!

So have you tried the Total Quartz Engine Oil? If you have, please share your experience!

 

 

Okonomiyaki – My Favorite Japanese Dish

Every time I do a post on Japan, I will find a way to talk about food! Yep, I love food. The eating part, the cooking not so much. I have tried many Japanese dishes, although I am yet to try the seafood delicacies that are served on special occasions like New Years  Eve/Day (Christmas is not that big of deal in Japan, but it is somewhat celebrated). They include delicacies like Octopus and crab. Someday I shall try them.

Japanese food for New Years's Day
Japanese food for New Years’s Day

For now, my favorite dish is okonomiyaki. In Japanese, that is お好み焼き. And there is this restaurant where I have been to twice, they let you make your own. Fear not, it takes about 10 minutes to cook once they bring you the ingredients. It is a dish that’s pan-cake/pizza-like. It has various meats and veges inside, and then it’s cooked on a special pan.

The end result is then decorated by a soy-like sauce, fish-dressing (can’t remember the name), sometimes mayonnaise and it should look like this:

Okonomiyaki.. delicious
Okonomiyaki.. delicious

The restaurant we went to is just 2 minutes walk from where I stay. It’s called 古川, which means Old River. They give you a menu and you get to choose what ingredients you want in your okonomiyaki.

Ingredients for okonomiyaki
Ingredients for okonomiyaki
Friends mixing up the ingredients before the cooking begins
Friends mixing up the ingredients before the cooking begins
Pour everything onto the hot plate, already oiled, and watch it cook
Pour everything onto the hot plate, already oiled, and watch it cook
Flip it over and decorate
Flip it over and decorate

The end result? Does it look like anything in the first picture? Hmm.. close enough.

Was it delicious? Totally. おいしいですよ!

The end result
The end result

Washed down with a beer, it’s the perfect Friday night meal with friends!

The Book Thief by Markus Zusak

The movie adapted from the book was released in November of 2013. I am glad to say I haven’t watched the movie, but it is finally in my laptop and I plan to watch it soon. I am sure I will not enjoy it as much as the book, same as The Fault in Our Stars book/movie. The girl did an awesome job, the boy in the movie, Augustus, didn’t quite live up to the boy in the book. Just my opinion!

The Book Thief by Markus Zusak
The Book Thief by Markus Zusak

Anyway, The Book Thief is set in Germany during the second world war. It is narrated by death. Death has its way around words, I can tell you that. The words are beautifully woven to create scenes and images that stick around long after the book is finished, like warmth in a hearth long after the cooking is finished. The story’s timeliness might be confusing, as it goes back and forth from present to future, to past and back to present again. The chapters can also be brief and at the beginning of the chapter, there is a little introduction and for the obsessive like me, you will spend quite some time trying to decipher what is ahead.

For all that, it was a well written book about a girl called Liesel. She loves reading, even if at first she is not quite good at it. War being the terrible time that it is, and she being a poor girl living in foster care, books are a precious commodity. She didn’t so much steal her first book as she neglected to give it back to the owner who had dropped it. The story starts with her being in a carriage headed to Munich, with her brother and her mother. Her brother never makes it, and she never sees her mother again (at least not in the scope of the book). That is shortly before the war breaks out.

We get to watch the war unfold and its effects on ordinary Germans, including Liesel who is at the center of this story. I don’t want to give away too much, but I would re-read this book in perhaps another year. And as I said before, if I can re-read a book, then that’s my definition of a good book.

The Noto Peninsula Trip

This post is long overdue!

I know Japan is a series of islands, but I only got to see the sea the Saturday before last. After landing in Osaka, I took the train to Kanazawa, my current city, and since then I have spent most of my time exploring it and its residents. There is always something interesting, from class parties to snow falling early in December (isn’t it beautiful), to meeting Kenyans and having my hair plaited, to cooking various gourmet meals (as the solo consumer, I can tell you they are delicious), to sampling various wines and finally learning the difference between Cabernet Sauvignon and Sauvignon Blanc, Merlot and Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Moscato, to going to church for the first time in 5 years (my mother would be so happy) to trips various places. Follow me on Instagram already!

It's cold but beautiful snow is the compensation. This is the path to school, formerly in autumn colours, now all white.
It’s cold but beautiful snow is the compensation. This is the path to school, formerly in autumn colours, now all white.

On Saturday 29th, the International House where I stay organized a trip to Noto Peninsula for its residents. Chartered tour bus with a guide, doesn’t matter the guided tour was in Japanese. We had a translator who did a pretty good job while we dozed in the heated bus. We were served coffee in the bus, and were welcomed into it with juice/water/tea/milk tea.. whatever you wanted. It took about 2 hours by bus from Kanazawa to Peninsula but the view of the ocean was worth it. It was like the last day of autumn, that Saturday. It was rainy in the morning but later in the afternoon, the sun shone and it was quite warm.

Noto peninsula
Noto peninsula

The first stop was Kiriko Lantern Museum. During summer festivals, they (the Japanese) will walk with these lamps through the streets. Inside the museum, the lights are low and the lamps are lit, and it was breath-taking. There were various lamps on display and their history was also explained, mostly in Japanese.

I captured a few bad pictures, so they cannot do the place justice!

Kiriko Lantern Museum
Kiriko Lantern Museum
Kiriko Lantern Museum
Kiriko Lantern Museum
Kiriko Lantern Museum
Kiriko Lantern Museum
Kiriko Lantern Museum
Kiriko Lantern Museum

We then had an early lunch, and for the Japanese (and many other societies), a meal is not just about the taste but the presentation is also important. Observe. Wonder. Proceed to dig in. おいしい。 The beautiful container down-left contains the rice.

Lunch at Noto Peninsula
Lunch at Noto Peninsula
Lunch at Noto Peninsula
Lunch at Noto Peninsula
Lunch at Noto Peninsula
Lunch at Noto Peninsula
Lunch at Noto Peninsula
Lunch at Noto Peninsula

Lunch swiftly dealt with, we went to the rice fields of Noto where they still use traditional cultivation methods as the fields are too small for machine use.  The sea is always beautiful no matter where you look at it from, large, ominous, goes on forever..

The sea goes on forever
The sea goes on forever
The sea goes on forever
The sea goes on forever. The rice fields at Noto Peninsula
The sea goes on forever
The sea goes on forever

The last stop of the day was a traditional tie and dye workshop where we got to make our own handkerchiefs. Once white, now permanently coloured in various patterns.

The white is before, the blue and the rest is what we aspire to make
The white is before, the blue and the rest is what we aspire to make
Boiling the handkerchiefs in the dye
Boiling the handkerchiefs in the dye
Boiling the dye
Boiling the dye
The end result
The end result

As we made our way back, we stopped by Noto Airport, a small airport where we watched a plane land. I have watched planes take off but never the landing, it was exciting! After that, we waved at disembarking passengers, I am sure they were wondering if we were nuts! Well, in our defense we had seen some other Japanese waving too, but probably to their families!

X marks the spot where it will land. Well, not x exactly.
X marks the spot where it will land. Well, not x exactly.

It was a day well spent. I look forward to the lantern festival in the summer.

For now, the focus is on staying warm. And learning Japanese. So don’t worry if you don’t read a post from me in a week, a lot is happening in a relatively quiet city, but there is no time to put it all in writing.

じゃ、またね!

The Holidays are Here… and January Bills Will Be Here Soon Too!

December, the Christmas month, is finally here with us. I always look forward to December, being the holiday month that is. Signifying the end of what is sometimes a long year, sometimes a good year (which would feel short). This will be the first time I will be spending Christmas away from my family :-( (大変)

Anyway, I woke up this morning to the beginnings of snow and the coldest temperatures I have ever experienced. It wasn’t so bad, but of course this is only the beginning. By February the winter will be at its coldest so I should reserve my judgement until then. Still, the landscape is beautiful.

Snow at the Kanazawa University campus
Snow at the Kanazawa University campus

That being said, in December, you will indulge in all manner of excesses: shopping, eating and drinking. By January, almost everyone is broke. I am going to Tokyo for the Christmas break and Tokyo is quite expensive (perhaps the world’s most expensive city) and I am contemplating leaving my ATM card behind! Of course I must first set aside the money for January survival!

Anyway, if you are in Kenya, there is a way to clear your January bills early through OLX, bearing in mind you can sell everything and anything on that site. You can also raise money for December debauchery :D Start early, make an ad that stands out. Sell anything (except the illegal stuff) and everything. Go through your inventory for the year, find clothes and shoes you haven’t worn in 2014, books you might never read again, random electronics gathering dust on shelves, furniture crowding your apartment, quails that failed as a business.. the platform to sell everything is there, so use it. Create ads that stand out, here are some tips to do that. Good luck in raising the money! Let’s enjoy the holidays, but stay safe. Long live December!

The Kaga Tour

Japan is very welcoming to foreign students. Well, I have never been a foreign student elsewhere, but I am sure in Kenya, we don’t give free passes to our National Parks and Heritage Sites to the foreign students there (or do we?), nor do we offer free tours to visit said places. We currently have student passes to visit parks and museums around Kanazawa City so we don’t have to pay any entrance fee.

This past Saturday, I was among a group of about 30 foreign students from various universities invited by the Ishikawa Prefecture Tourism Strategy Department International Exchange Division (I am not kidding) to visit the Kaga area. The schedule was sent like 2 weeks in advance to our emails, and later a printed schedule was also sent to our mailboxes.

This past Saturday was a beautiful autumn day. The day was warm, the sun shone brightly, the clouds stayed away. Perfect weather.

Kutani Ceramics Center

Kutani ceramics center
At the Kutani ceramics center

After assembling and beginning the journey from the station, the first stop was the Kutani ceramics center. Here, ceramic dishes and other objects are beautifully decorated/painted, after which they are fired up in modern kilns (although we were shown a traditional wooden kilns where temperatures could reach as high as 900deg Celcius). You will remember in the previous post, the artwork engraved into the tea bowls? We were given our own dishes to decorate, some brushes and some water paints. Yours truly was gifted many things, but art was never one of them. Un-originally, I painted our Kenyan flag colours.

The back of my dish
On the back of the dish is my current university name (Kanazawa University) and my name in Katakana, and the date. They will send us the dishes when they have been fired.

Here is the front of the dishes. No marks for guessing which one is mine!

The painted dishes
The painted dishes. I can even see Sponge Bob somewhere there!

And some guys are real artists:

Given a chance, would you have been this good?
Given a chance, would you have been this good?

From the ceramics center, we headed for an early lunch and the menu had been sent to us beforehand. I had a set of udon, and rice with pork cutlets and what-else on top. Nevertheless, it was totally delicious and despite it being 11:30am, I did not have a problem finishing it all.

Lunch was delicious
Lunch was delicious

Natadera Temple

This is an ancient (Indian-Buddhist?) temple built long ago and currently restored. It is surrounded by beautiful gardens and we had a chance to wander around. It was a beautiful day (I know I am repeating myself but it’s true) and although I couldn’t walk as much as I wanted (I injured my ankles exercising but that is a story for another day), I sat down on a park bench and enjoyed the autumn colours and the feel of the sun on my face. I was happy.

Below are some pictures from Natadera Temple and gardens.

We stand and stare in awe at the temple
We stand and stare in awe at the temple
The gardens surrounding the temple. Breathtaking.
The gardens surrounding the temple. Breathtaking.
Can you see the caves? I couldn't make my way up there due to the pain in both ankles but I was content with the view!
Can you see the caves? I couldn’t make my way up there due to the pain in both ankles but I was content with the view!
Serenity
Serenity

After about an hour at Natadera, we again got into the bus and drove to Yamanaka-bushi. This area is famed for its onsen but unfortunately we did not have time for even a quick dip. Which reminds, I recently went to an onsen (less of the hotspring variety, more of a public bath) and that is also a tale for another day.

Yamanaka-bushi and Kakusenkei Gorge

We walked the length of the beautiful gorge, about 800 meters, crossed it and walked along the other side until we could cross another bridge and complete the loop. The colours were so brilliant. The gorge, was gorgeous.

Tall trees with colour foliage dominated the landscape, and a beautiful river ran at the bottom of the gorge
Tall trees with colour foliage dominated the landscape, and a beautiful river ran at the bottom of the gorge
Tall trees with colour foliage dominated the landscape, and a beautiful river ran at the bottom of the gorge
Tall trees with colour foliage dominated the landscape, and a beautiful river ran at the bottom of the gorge
The beautiful river
The beautiful river
A beautiful street
A beautiful street
The beautiful bridge that signified the end of the walk
The beautiful bridge that signified the end of the walk
The view from the bridge down to the gorge below.
The view from the bridge down to the gorge below.

Back to Yamanaka-bushi. There was a folk dance and we were given free tickets to by performances by Yamanaka geishas.

Japanese dancing is not in the least like African dancing, I can surely confirm that. While we move to the rhythm of the drums, the Geisha dancing was more to the rhythm of the shamisen. The thumping of a West African drum would induce me to jump in and shake my body, the melancholic tune from the shamisen, coupled with a long day of walking, soothed me into an uncomfortable nap while upright in my chair. The graceful hand movements of the geishas and careful shuffling of feet added to this effect. The lights in the hall were of course, turned down low. Who can resist? The fight went out of me, and my eyelids drooped.

A geisha plays the shamisen
A geisha plays the shamisen. Image from wikipedia

The last act, was that of a mask dance. There was a tiger’s head and body, and this time I was awake throughout as it went through the motions of the dance. When it was done, I was surprised to find the masked ladies doing all the acrobatics were not as young as I thought. I am truly impressed and hope to be as flexible and fit when I am their age!

We couldn’t take photos during the performances, but we did take photos with the performers after. A beautiful evening and a good time was had by all.

The geishas take photos with the international students
The geishas take photos with the international students

At around 5:30 p.m., it was dusk and we got into the bus to start the short ride back to Kanazawa City.  I had a wonderful time.

There are many more pictures that I took, and other people took, but no time to share them all. There are a few more or less on my Instagram account.

This coming Saturday, I have yet another trip to make. Don’t miss out on the next post :) Watch this space