A Birthday for the books.

On Friday I had my birthday party  organized by my lovely friend Yuki. She organized a birthday concert/ party for me and her boyfriend. The night started out with a concert at Okayama’s country western bar. Our friend Hiroshi has a band and they put on a great show. I even got a couple birthday shout-outs.

vids of the show: http://www.facebook.com/video/video.php?v=10150097085423526

After the concert we headed over to our weekend joint – Pinball cafe. As if the night wasn’t great enough Yuki brought out flaming cakes for Rod and I, and the whole place irrupted into “happy birthday!” In addition to the amazing events, we had some great additions to the typical OK crew;  Andrew, Miguel, and Dan and came down to Okayama for the weekend.

my wonderful cake!!

my cake surprise vid: http://www.youtube.com/user/Asmall722#p/u/0/OHRJcjhokxQ

 

As if my birthday party wasn’t enough my actual birthday was also pretty epic. The school that I was teaching at bought me a cake because it was also my last day teaching at this school. When they found out it was my birthday they decided to change the last 30 mins of work into a goodbye/ happy birthday party for me. Each of my classes that day also sang me “happy birthday” in the best English I have ever heard from them. Theeeeeen at lunch a group of girls who I didn’t have in class that day also came to sing to me.

goodies from school

I finished out the day going to dinner with the OK crew. We ate at a delightful little Italian restaurant. I’m not gonna lie, having some tomato and garlic on my pasta accompanied with a glass of red wine was a great change of taste. It was a pretty amazing day 🙂

spoils of the night (i have amazing friends)

Should I be worried that most of my gifts were snacks of some kind?

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9000 Naked Men

True story: in the course of 2 hours I saw over 9000 men in thong diapers fighting for a stick. No this wasn’t a bar fight gone terribly wrong, its actually a 500 year old religious festival known as Hadaka Matsuri, or the Naked Festival.

Each year on the third weekend of February thousands of men gather at the Saidaiji Temple, wearing a fundoshi (Japanese loincloth) and attempt to get ahold of a blessed stick. The temple priests bless these  sticks and those who gain possession of the sticks will be blessed for the rest of the year.

The minimal clothing is actually a safety precaution as well as tradition. As the fight for the sticks became larger the men’s clothing started to get torn off, so they just stopped wearing clothes. As I hear things got pretty intense in the heap and any additional clothing would have been ripped off anyway. The men even have to tape their socks to their feet. The fight gets pretty intense, people die almost every year getting crushed or trampled. (Luckily there weren’t any deaths this year) So after hearing all the hype we had to witness / participate in such an event.  (Girls/ Women are not allowed to participate, and that was totally OK. Glad I got the easy out)

Although the stick doesn’t get tossed till 10, there’s plenty to do throughout the night. Tons of food stalls were set up just outside the temple, and there we even fireworks before the event. So the group got to spend some time together before our boys went off to lose their clothes.

high school girls that asked to take a pic w/ us.

There are so many participants that people start to line up 2 hours before the stick gets tossed. All participants run a lap around the temple and through a pool of holy water to get cleansed. Even before the sticks get thrown things get dicey. I mean its not easy to fit several thousand men in a temple so there’s gonna be some squeezing.

http://www.youtube.com/user/Asmall722#p/u/4/jVgvLOnowh8

From what I heard from the boys it was really intense. They were forced to go with the flow of the crowd and some times that meant getting pinned to a piller, someone’s elbow, or pushed down a flight of stairs.

6 rows of police to make sure the crowd doesn't run into spectators

We could see most of the action from our post and were pretty worried about the boys the whole time.

Luckily everyone got out safe, and they even held the sticks which is pretty difficult. This was one festival that I was happy to simply observe, and I’m glad I got to take in such an event. However the image of so many butts has been burned into my eyes, and might be pretty hard to shake off.

If that wasn’t enough naked for ya, feel free to check out these vids fromt the event:

.enjoy.

little treasures everywhere

some recent gems I’ve encountered:

need too add an extra inch to your height but don’t want others to notice? just use these discrete insoles inside your boots and everyone will think you grew an extra inch overnight! really? I guess this is something I’ll never understand.

Jennie's face sums up our excitement pretty well.

we found a hello kitty popcorn vending machine. through the window you can see a little bear get a bag of popcorn and kitty pops it fresh just for you! you can even see popcorn popping in Kitty’s cup while you wait. And it was delish! There’s even 3 flavors, salt butter and carmel. I’m gonna have to go back and try all 3 kinds!

best 100 yen I have ever spent

 

Adele’s new video for Rolling in the Deep. I don’t usually like music videos but this is perfection. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rYEDA3JcQqw

Yes this is a real sign, and not for delicious breakfast food. Its a store in Okayama. Best name ever, who doesn’t love crispy bacon?

 

Found a new flavor of Kit Kat: European Cheese. It was probably the worst thing that I have ever consumed. It wasn’t sweet cream cheese cheese, think cheeze-it covered w/ mango yogurt. and not in a good way. Hopefully the other flavors provide more satisfaction… Oh well can’t say it wasn’t entertaining..

the week in review:

no big trips lately but I have done my best to shake things up. it was only a 4 day week, friday was another random holiday, made some plans for future trips, and solidified some of my moving plans.

In Japan there’s 3 brands of beer: Sapporo, Asahi, and Kirin. Well, it just so happens that there is a Kirin factory just outside of Okayama and they offer free factory tours. We made a reservation and a guy picked us up from the train station, we had a private tour, and beer tasting at the end. And did I mention that it was free? It was the best free.99 that I’ve ever spent.

moving update: Its official I’m moving to the town of Kanonji, Kagawa prefecture Japan. Its located on Shikoku Island and about an hour away from Okayama by train. It is the smallest prefecture in Japan, but famous of its Udon- thick noodle soup- and it just happens to be one of my favorite Japanese foods. On Friday the girls went down to Kagawa to check things out. I didn’t make it to my future home but we went to the city Takamatsu. There were lots of hills, the coast was beautiful, and the shopping was great. Beautiful views, great food, and shopping, I think I’m gonna be ok with this relocation. The only problem is my friends aren’t coming with me. Heather is the only one of the OK crew that is even staying in Japan, the rest are going home to various parts of the planet. We have been preparing for the divorce of the polygimist family, its gonna be a rough time.

 

view of the seto sea.

In march we get  5 vacation days 7-11th, so the OK crew has planned one last horah trip to Okinawa. We just booked the flight and hostel. Its safe to say that I’m pretty freaking excited; great friends, warm weather, beach. What more can I ask for?

Its been a great week, and next week brings even more: my birthday party concert (!), valentines day, and Saidaiji Naked man festival!!!

and now I leave you with some inspiration I found this week:

“Peace clover, a moment to play with the sky” (student’s pencil case)

 

is this tell you to drop down regardless of the consequences? (ie falling on your head)

break me off a piece of that…

My new sweet obsession doesn’t seem all that Japanese or original: kit kat bars. but Japan takes these simple chocolate wafer sweets to a whole new level. Its one of the top 3 most popular candies in Japan. Before coming to Japan, I never really gave kit kats a chance, they were my least favorite of chocolate bars. I never purchased them, Halloween was the only time/reason that they were in my possession. I started getting kit kats from teachers as an afternoon snack,  (who am I to turn down chocolate), and they started to grow on me. Its the perfect combination of crunchy and chocolate, but not too rich or heavy. (yes I’ve given it some thought)

But what makes Japanese kit kats so great isn’t the balance of snack perfection, its the flavors. Japan took the idea of wafers covered in candy, and ran a maraton with it. There are seasonal varieties (cherry blossom),  limited edition flavors (Cola and Lemon squash), and regional tastes (Hokkaido’s grilled corn). Wikipedia lists 81 flavors available only in Japan. I even found blogs devoted only to the discovery of  kit kat flavors….. (http://jenkenskitkatblog.blogspot.com/ and http://kitkataddict.wordpress.com/)

In addition to my Japanese bucket list I’m also going to try as many kit kat flavors as I can. Its not going to turn into an all consuming goal, but a fun journey for my taste buds. I’m not going to try to dominate the list because some of the flavors may not be available anymore. I’ll think I’ll just go for a number…50 sounds good. I am going to try 50 different flavors of kit kats.  I’ve tried chocolate, dark, strawberry, Houjicha (rosted tea), and strawberry cheesecake. 5 flavors down, 45 to go..

Here they are all the wonderful(ish) flavors: Aloe Vera. Aloe Yogurt. Apple. Apple Vinegar. Azuki (red bean). Banana. Beet. Bitter Almond. Black Tea. Blueberry. Blueberry Cheesecake. Bubblegum. Brown Sugar Kinako. Café Latte with Hokkaidō Milk. Calpis. Cantaloupe. Caramel and Salt. Caramel Macchiato. Caramel Pudding. Cheese. Chocolate Banana. Cola and Lemon squash. Citrus Pepper. Cookies & Chocolate. Cookies and Milk. Cookies PLUS. Creamy Apple. Cucumber. Custard Pudding. Dark Chocolate with Cookies for adults. Daigakuimo (sweet potato). European Cheese. Exotic Kansai. Framboise. Fruit Parfait. Ginger Ale. Green Grape Muscat. Gold. Golden Peach. Hazelnut. Hascapp. Houjicha (rosted tea). Iced Tea. Itoen Juu-jitsu Yasai. Jasmine Tea. Jyagaimo (potato). Kobe Pudding. Kinako (soy bean). Kinako Ohagi. Kiwifruit. Kokuto (black sugar). Lemon Chocolate. Lemon Vinegar. Mango. Mango Pudding. Maple. Matcha. Melon. Mild Bitter. Milk Coffee. Miso. Mixed Juice. Orange. Passion fruit. Pepper. Pickled Plum. Pineapple. Pumpkin. Ramune. Raspberry and Passion fruit. Relaxation Cacao. Rose. Royal Milk Tea. Sakura (cherry blossom). Sakura Macha. Semisweet. Sour Orange. Soy Sauce. Sports Drink. Sparkling Strawberry. Strawberry. Strawberry and Cranberry. Strawberry and Milk. Strawberry Cheesecake. Tiramisu. Tiramisu Macha. Triple Berry. Ume Soda (plum soda). Vanilla Bean. Wa Guri. Wasabi. Watermelon and Salt. White. White Peach. Wine. Yakimorokoshi (grilled corn). Yuzu. Zunda (mashed edamame beans).

gaijin smash

gaijin smash [gahy-jeen sm-a-a-sh] verb 1. the act of breaking the various rules and understandings of Japanese culture. Either deliberate or unintentional.* (such as forgetting to take shoes off or using the wrong bathroom)  2. Playing dumb when causing problems because you are a foreigner.  3. Can also be called “playing the foreigner card”

ex: Instead of waiting for the light to change lets gaijin smash it and cross now.

 

. *word curtesy of my friend andrew. i can only take credit for the definition

bucket list

To make sure I make the most of my time in Japan I decided to make a list of things to do. (Completed goals have been starred.) Considering I still have another year I’d say I’m off to a good start. I’m also taking suggestions for additions:

*eat at a  sushi train*

*visit shibuya crossing*

watch live sumo

*karaoke the night away*

*explore the temples and shrines in Kyoto*

get a fish pedicure

Sapporo snow festival

Hiroshima sake festival

explore the Tokyo fish market

Visit Okinawa

Climb mt fuji

Saidaiji (nearly) naked man festival (watch, ladies can’t participate)

cherry blossom viewing in the spring

*Visit the peace park in Hiroshima*

*participate in a tea ceremony*

*see a geisha*

attend a baseball game

*ski in Hokkaido*

go to hello kitty land

play at  universal studios (i haven’t been to one in the states either)

*wander Harajuku*

get pushed into a subway car

*Kinkakuji Temple*

*beauty photobooth*

Backpack in Hokkaido National Parks

Fishing in the Sea of Japan

Visit Yokohama

Osaka Aquarium