Friday, March 28, 2008

Japan Booty

My apologies for not being able to post sooner. I usually blog during Maxime's morning nap (after such minor details as showering and cleaning up the morning's mess), but he decided he'd had enough after 45 minutes this morning (as opposed to his usual hour and a half). I'm hoping he'll make up for it by sleeping longer this afternoon.

Without further ado, here's my Japan loot, as promised:

Great, huh? What? You wanted more details than that? Oh. Well, OK then. ;)

First up, here's 5 balls of Diaexceed Silk Mohair. Even though, as it turns out, there's no actual silk in this yarn (it's a cotton, wool, mohair and nylon blend), I really love the sheen on this yarn, it gives it a subtle, luminescent hue. And I adore the colour. I'm thinking of using this for Juno. You know, someday. Maybe.

Next, we've got this reeeeaaaaally soft yarn. I was pulled towards it by the name (it's called Cashmere Touch, and being a softness ho', I couldn't NOT squeeze it) and I really loved the colour and texture. So I bought 5 balls, thinking I'd keep it for some as-yet-to-be-determined project. Then, yesterday Kate-the-Enabler and I were trying to figure out just how much cashmere there actually WAS in this yarn (I knew it was a blend, 80% something, 10% something, and 10% something else). So after Googling around for a few minutes, we stumbled on this great site (I had actually bookmarked their Japanese-English Knitting Dictionary before we left), and discovered, much to my inner fiber-snob's horror, that it was 80% ACRYLIC!!! Aaaaaaack! As Kate said, I wish we hadn't found that accursed site, I would never have known that I had been duped by deceptive softness into purchasing acrylic. However, it DOES have 10% cashmere, so that's what I'll be focusing on. We shan't speak of the rest.

I also picked up this cute package of 3 skeins of Make-Make, by Olympus, a DK weight wool/mohair blend, featured here with a cute wind-up sheep that Phil bought me in Kyoto (isn't he adorable???). There's a whole story behind that sheep, and Phil's been bugging me to tell you all about it, but I don't know how much time I've got here, and we've still got lots of yarn to cover, so I'm sure he'll be glad to tell it in the comments (when he gets around to reading this). I've got about 200 yards worth in this kit, but I don't really know what I'm going to use it for yet. Maybe some mittens? Love the colour.

Now, when I first mentioned I might be going to Japan, Robyn emailed me telling me that I absolutely had to go, and that I must purchase some Hello Kitty yarn. I remember wondering if indeed there WAS such a thing? I didn't find any (not that it would have surprised me if I had, there's freakin' Hello Kitty stuff EVERYWHERE over there), but I did pick up a Hello Kitty BOOK!!!It's actually mostly crochet patterns, but when Jun picked it out for me in Tokyo, I knew I had to buy it. I also picked up a copy of Men's Knit, Clear & Simple Knitting Symbols ('cause they're not the same as ours) and a book of crochet flower doilies (I couldn't find a link for that one). Wow!!! Can you believe the Needle Arts Book Shop's selection of Japanese knitting books????? I knew she had SOME, but I had no idea how many!!! I could have stayed home! :)

All this stuff was from Yuzawaya, by the way, our FIRST stop during our yarn crawl. From there we went to Avril (or Habu textiles), where I picked up these little gems. First up:

A lovely skein of really raw, 100% silk. I can't really be more precise than that (other than to say it appears to be lace weight, and I really like it), because Avril has these really great, descriptive names for their yarns (like A-13, or N-19 knitted ramie), and even THAT'S not written on the label. This yarn just spoke to me. It looks and feels very organic, and I think it'll make a fabulous something or other some day :)

Finally, there's this lovely variegated wool/silk. You'll notice (how astute of you!) that it's on a cone. The thing about Avril is that most of their yarns are on cones along the wall, and when you find something you want, you take the cone to the lady at the counter and tell her how much you want and she winds it up for you (it's actually pretty neat). The only problem with that is that they don't calculate yarn quantity by length in Japan, but rather by weight (so, for instance, you'd tell the girl you want 100 grams). They do give you a rough estimate of length for a certain weight, however. For instance, 100g would equal 400 meters. Considering that a) despite living in Canada (and using the metric system) I can't figure metric and yarn quantities (how many YARDS, man???) b) I then had to use math to figure how many grams = how many meters = how many yards and c) I never know how much I need for any project besides socks, even when I have all the relevant information, when it comes to this yarn, there is but one certainty: no matter what I choose to make with it, I will run out.

And I think that about covers it! Moderate stash enhancement (definitely not so much that I had to mail some home to myself!). I'm now on a yarn fast until I get the Japan debts taken care of.

I'll end this post with a picture of my daughter, Émilie, proudly showing off her newly pierced ears this morning. She's been talking about wanting to get her ears pierced since we got home from Japan, and we finally went yesterday afternoon. She picked out the earrings by herself, and didn't cry a single tear when they did it, as opposed to her mother who, despite being considerably older when she had her ears pierced (I was about 8), cried like a lunatic and wanted to run out of the jewelry store after they had done only one side (they do both at once now). I was so proud of her!!!!! My little princess is really starting to grow up.

Oh, and one more thing: my apologies to those of you who have a slow Internet connection and clicked on my Japan pictures. I didn't have Photoshop on the laptop while we were there, so I didn't resize them to my usual 800x600 when I posted them on the blog, and I sort of forgot about it when I got home. These are resized, so you can click away! Sorry!

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Last Day in Japan

I'm almost fully caught up! We will soon be returning to our regularly scheduled knitting content, I promise. Just one last post about our final day in Japan, and then it's back to reality.

So Monday the 17th was our last day in Japan. We were to fly out the following day, and even though our flight was only at 5:00 PM, we would be spending most of the day on the trains getting back to the airport, so we couldn't really do any sightseeing.

Despite the fact that there was still much to see in Kyoto, we decided to take the train to Nara, another "must see" stop in our guide book (and an ancient capital city of Japan), about an hour outside Kyoto.

After stopping at the local tourist information counter to pick up a map of the city (they even had a French map! And the lady at the counter gave us French directions! Very cool), we walked out to Nara Park, where most of the sites are concentrated. Our first stop was the Kofuku-Ji temple and it's five-story pagoda, and the nearby Nara National Museum, which has a lovely collection of Buddhist art.From there we walked out to the Kasuga Taisha sanctuary, which houses about 3000 stone lanterns in a really beautiful, peaceful setting. Phil really loved those lanterns (he wanted to bring one back as a souvenir!), so it was definitely something we had to see.I should also mention that Nara is famous for it's deer, which roam around freely in the park, cruising for handouts from the tourists. There are vendors selling biscuits set up all over the park, but we had suspected that their prices would be ridiculous (and we were right! 1000 yen (roughly 10$) for 5 biscuits!), so we had picked up some Ritz crackers at a convenience store on the way. They were pretty domesticated, though not too keen on being petted. Mostly they just wanted the food :) I drew the line at getting them ice cream, though.From the sanctuary, we hiked up one of the main paths and stopped at another temple (whose name escapes me right now, and I can't find my guide book.) where the Shunie festival (a Spring ceremony where priests swing long flaming torches in the air over a crowd of onlookers to ward off evil) takes place each March (we just missed it). It was quite beautiful, and boasted a spectacular view.Our last stop was the Todai-Ji temple, the largest wooden structure in the world, which houses the Daibutsu-Den, a massive, 16 meter bronze Buddha statue. We had been told that this was a MAJOR tourist spot, that there would be crushing crowds and that it was highly commercialized. It seems, however, that our timing was perfect, because there really weren't many people at all, and we were able to visit this awesome sight completely at our leisure.We figured this was a good way to end our trip (really, how were we going to top THAT?), so we headed back to Kyoto to have dinner and pack up for our long day's journey the next day. Our train to Tokyo was at 9:29 AM. From there, we took the Narita Express at about 1:00 PM to the airport, which put us at Narita an hour later (ample time before our 5:00 PM flight to Vancouver). Except for a major scare, when I realized that I had left my travel wallet (and passport!!!) in the train (fortunately, I ran back in and retrieved it before it left the station), the trip went smoothly. We arrived home on Tuesday, the 18th, at 11:30 PM local time, tired but happy to be home.

I think it's pretty obvious that I had a grand time in Japan. It was truly the trip of a lifetime, during which I got to have many experiences and travel on my own quite a bit, which is something I didn't think I would ever be able to do. I wouldn't have been able to do any of those things had it not been for my father and stepmother Margot stepping in and taking care of the kids. I'm truly grateful to Dad and Margot for taking such excellent care of them and the house while we were away. I know it wasn't easy (taking care of infants is a little more labour intensive than babysitting a 9 year old, after all), there was snow (understatement!!!) and slips and falls and all sorts of stuff. But they were always patient and loving and wonderful with the kids, and I just can't say thank you enough. Thanks so much, Dad and Margot. You're the best. :)

Next post, I'll reveal my Tokyo yarn-crawl booty! Stay tuned! :)

Monday, March 24, 2008

Kyoto, Day 2

Much as I'd like to wrap up my Japan travelogue in one last post, there's still too much to cover in one sitting (despite the fact that there are only 2 days left to recount!), so let's move on to our second day in Kyoto (Sunday, March 16th).

Sunday Phil and I met with another friend I met through Ravelry, Kimiko (aka chemmy), her husband Gaku and her dog Uzulla, and they took us to Fushimi Inari-Taisha, a huge shrine complex that spans over a 4 km trail (we didn't walk the entire 4 km, we were too beat from Saturday!). The shrine is one of Japan's favourite shrines devoted to the goddess Inari (goddess of rice and prosperity), and is covered with thousands of red toriis dotting the cliffs (when a prayer or wish is granted, the thankful donate a torii to the shrine). It's pretty cool to walk around in these long torii tunnels.
After the shrine, chemmy took us to a 500 year-old needle shop nearby. Unfortunately, they didn't sell knitting needles, but I did pick up some lovely, tiny scissors that will be great for traveling :) After the needle shop, we went to a lovely Italian restaurant (Italian, I know!) for a quick lunch, and chemmy and I surprised each other with yarny goodness: she had knit Maxime a hat and Emilie a little purse (check them out on her projects page) and I gave her some of my favourite yarn ever, some Cherry Tree Hill Supersock Merino in the Northern Lights colourway. It was hard to part with (Waaaaaaahhhhhh!!!!) but the look on her face when I gave it to her made it quite worthwhile.I had also given Jun (aka Tricoquelicot) a skein of Cider Moon Flurry I had brought with me as a thank you for taking me on the yarn crawl in Tokyo, but didn't want to blog about it for fear that it would spoil the surprise for chemmy.

After a really quick lunch, we had to run to the meeting place for the bike tour I had booked that afternoon. Though our time with Chemmy and her husband was short, it was another lovely experience, and we got to see something we wouldn't normally have been able to see. I'm truly thankful to them both for taking the time to meet with a couple of total strangers and accompany them on a tour of their city. Again, knitters rock.

So as I had mentioned before leaving, I had booked us on a bicycle tour of Kyoto. I'd never been on a bike tour, but I thought it would be a fun way to see the city and see things off the beaten path (we booked the Mystery Tour). We met with our guide, Keiko, and her assistant guide, Sachi (I can't believe I didn't take a picture of them!!!!!), and were delighted to discover that it would be just the four of us on the tour. It was loads of fun, and just the thing after a loooooong day of walking (Keiko just laughed and shook her head in disbelief when we told her what we'd done the previous day). And can you believe it? We went all the way to Japan, only to ride bikes that were made in Quebec (See? It's a Louis Garneau mountain bike). Unbelievable.We visited many parks, shrines and temples that were off the beaten path, but my favourite (and Phil's) had to be Kitano-tenmangu, which enshrines the patron of learning in Japan. It was a little crowded, mainly due to the fact that Japanese students were starting their examinations and had come to pray for success, but also because the lovely plum/apricot blossoms were at their peak. It was really, really great.(In case you were wondering, Phil's holding yet more octopus balls in that picture. He really loved them. Me? Not so much.)

We wrapped up the tour at the Imperial Palace park, an insanely large park that surrounds the now empty palace (the imperial family have moved to Tokyo). Here we are, posing in front of the main gate, which can only be used by the Emperor or Crown Prince (even the Empress has to use the side door).When we were done, we reluctantly gave our bikes back and headed out to dinner. We were planning on wrapping up our trip to Japan by going to Nara the next day, another "can't miss" city about an hour out of Kyoto.

By the way, in case anyone is wondering (and reading all the comments), Yes! That is indeed the very same Yuko I gave my beloved socks to in Akita, leaving comments on the blog. As an afterthought, I had put the blog address on the little thank you note I had written her, and I've been delighted to find that she's been reading. If you're still reading this, Yuko, send me an email at tlandryca AT yahoo DOT ca (replace the at with @ and the dot with .), and I can answer your questions by private message. But to answer your question now, yes, I absolutely loved Japanese food. It was food heaven, actually. Rice and/or noodles at every meal, including breakfast??? Heaven. :)

Friday, March 21, 2008

Memories of Kyoto

Even though we all know I'm now back in Canada, let's pretend for a moment that I'm still in Japan, in Kyoto in fact, and that I'm blogging about our first exhausting day in this beautiful city.

It turned out that Phil didn't have to go into work on Friday, so we were able to check out of the hotel in Yokosuka fairly early and head into Tokyo (actually, it was the Shinagawa station) to catch the Hikari Shinkansen to Kyoto. We were hoping to get there early in the afternoon, so we would be able to do a bit of sightseeing right away (pretty much all the tourist destinations close at around 4:00 pm).

After getting ripped off by the only female taxi driver we encountered in Japan (Phil gave her 1010 yen on a 710 yen fare, and she never gave us the change. She even made the receipt Phil asked her for out to 1010 yen.), we made it to our connecting station without incident. We had about 40 minutes between trains, plenty of time to locate the ticket counter and get our tickets for the bullet train. Upon arriving, unfortunately, we were told that the next train was full, and that we'd have to wait another hour. This wasn't really an issue right then, but it made us realize that we should probably look into booking our tickets ahead for the trip back to Narita the following Tuesday.

We hung out at the train station a while, then caught the train to Kyoto. This was Phil's first time riding the Shinkansen (by this time, I was an old hand, and was able to be quite blasé and nonchalant about the whole thing), and he agreed with me that this was definitely the civilized way to travel.We arrived in Kyoto about 3 hours later, and after some initial wandering around in the rain, managed to locate our ryokan. For those of you scratching your heads, a ryokan is a traditional Japanese inn, sort of a bed and breakfast, with tatami mat floors in your rooms and futons and everything. When looking for places to stay in Kyoto, I really wanted us to have the authentic Japanese experience, and this place came highly recommended in my guide book, and was really, REALLY cheap to boot (about 50$ per person per night, a bona fide steal in Japan, I kid you not).No sooner had we dropped our luggage off at the hotel than we hightailed it out of there and ran halfway across town to try to see the Sanjusangen-do Temple (also known as the sanzunjensenfendensen temple), a "must see" according to our guide book. Unfortunately, after walking in the rain for 20 minutes, we discovered that said guide book was out of date, and did not in fact close at 4:30 in March, but rather at 4:00, and didn't sell tickets past 3:30. Totally miffed, we decided to visit the Kyoto National Museum, conveniently located right across the street, instead. The book said to give yourself 2 hours to visit the museum. I guess Phil and I just aren't museum people, because we were in and out of there in 35 minutes. ;)

By this time we were getting seriously hungry, so we decided to find a restaurant to have dinner. Still following our guide book, it recommended a conveyor belt sushi place (which we loved) right around the train station. "Across the street from the McDonald's" it said. Hah! First off, there IS no McDonald's (I may be a twit, but I can still locate the golden arches anywhere, for Pete's Sake). It took us forever to find the place (as Phil said to me that evening, if only we could have recreated the insane detours we took trying to find the damn restaurant! It'd be a hoot), but find it we did, and it was delicious, as usual (if a little pricier than what we were used to in Tokyo). Beat and well fed, we headed back to the ryokan.

Saturday morning we woke bright and early and started our day with a traditional Japanese-style breakfast (omelet, fish, miso soup, rice, Japanese vegetables (LOVE that Lotus root!!!!) and other fixins). It was actually delicious, and would have been perfect were it not for the tea which, and I can't stress this enough, tasted like cigarette butts.

Were you ever at a party and took a swig from an almost empty bottle of beer, only to get a mouthful of cigarette ashes and butts? (I suppose that'll be an unfamiliar experience to future generations - don't worry, you're not missing anything). Yeah, like that. I actually had 2 sips and watched Phil take his first gulp with a puzzled, sourpuss expression on his face, before commenting that it tasted like cigarettes. "That's exactly what it tastes like, you're right" he said, before turning green. Needless to say, we didn't have breakfast at the ryokan again after that. Too bad, really, everything else was terrific.

We had a big day planned for Saturday (understatement!!!). The 2 main temples we wanted to visit were the Kinkaku-Ji temple (more commonly known as the Golden Pavilion) and the Ginkaku-Ji temple (the Silver Pavilion). Unfortunately, these are in different areas of the city, so we decided to head for the Golden pavilion temple first, which had more "must see" temples in the area.

We saw temples and shrines and gardens galore, gardens like the one at the Ryoan-Ji Temple, the most famous Zen garden in Japan.

Yeah, pretty much my thoughts exactly. :) Actually, it's supposed to represent the universe or islands in a tranquil sea or a mother tiger and her cubs or something. Yeah, I didn't get it either.
After lunch, we found something truly remarkable: the Golden Pavilion. It was magnificent, and doubly so because there really weren't that many tourists around. No amount of pictures can do it justice (and we took A LOT of pictures!), you just had to be there.

From there, we decided to head back to the train station (OK, I ran into the first bus that stopped for us, and it happened to be going to the train station), then take another bus to the Silver pavilion. This wasn't the greatest plan that Tara came up with in Japan, boys and girls, because where as the Golden pavilion is in the North-East of the city, and the Silver is in the North-West of the city, the train station in the south part of the city.

Riiiiiight. When we finally got to the Silver pavilion (after sitting, or rather standing, in a packed bus struggling through traffic for about an hour), we ran to the gate, and what did we find?
A temple wrapped in plastic. I was not amused.
By this point in the day, we had already walked about, oh, 8 kilometers, but we weren't done yet. I had read that there was a winter lantern festival going on in the Gion district while we were there, so we headed to the area (by subway this time), had dinner, and waited for night to fall and the lanterns to be lit. Lanterns would be lit over a 2.6 km course (hahaha!!!), with special entrance and illumination in seven temples.Again, pictures can't do it justice. It was beautiful (and CROWDED!), and after wandering around for about 2 hours, our poor legs called out for mercy, and we headed back to the hotel. It was 9 o'clock, we had been walking for 13 hours, and we were beat. A great day indeed, one for the books.

Thursday, March 20, 2008

5 Free Minutes

I'm back! Home at last from Japan, and I feel as though I haven't had 5 free minutes since I've gotten here. The trip back went well, we got in at 11:30 PM Tuesday night, and are slowly coping with the jet lag. The kids were happy to see us, so happy in fact that now Maxime is going through this "you aren't going to leave again, are you?" thing where he refuses to let me out of his sight for even a minute. This means less sleep, for him and for me, but I'm hoping it won't last too long.

I've been told that I'm going to have some pretty darn pissed off readers if I don't post soon, but since it's been hard to find the time, you'll just have to wait, dear readers. I shouldn't even be posting now, but I've bribed Maxime with Cheerios, so it's all good. For now, just know that we're back, we're well, and we're happy to be home.

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Winter in Akita

It's Thursday afternoon and I'm back in Yokosuka. I had a lovely time visiting with my friend Nadine, and tomorrow Phil and I are off to Kyoto! The trip is nearing it's end.

So Monday I headed into Tokyo station to take the Shinkansen (that'd be the bullet train) to Akita, which is in the Tohoku region of Northern Japan. I think it's safe to say that it's quite a ways off the beaten path as far as Gaijin tourists are concerned (at least for this time of year). I was very excited to take the shinkansen, actually, and really looking forward to some quality knitting time (it's about a 4 hours train ride from Tokyo).I took the 10:56 train out from Tokyo, which was to put me in Akita city at around 3:00. From there I was to take a taxi to Nadine's school, where she's be waiting with a group of her students.

Things were going swimmingly. I had just finished my sushi lunch, and had paused in my knitting long enough to look outside the window and think "Gosh, this really IS the civilized way to travel!" when things started to go horribly, horribly wrong.

We had stopped at a station along the way (I'll always remember the name, it was the Morioka station) when everybody starts to get off. No worries, I think, the train will soon be on its way again. They're just not going to Akita, that's all. Then a woman stops and basically signals me to get off. "Akita", I say. "Hai! (yes) Hai! Akita!" she says, pointing to herself.

I realize that we ALL have to get off the train. At this point I'm wondering what the Hell I'm going to do now, walking along the platform with all these people speaking Japanese at me, when I come upon the sweetest girl you'd ever want to meet. Her name was Yuko, she was a 17-year old student on her way to Akita to write her college entry exams (she wants to become a chemist), and she spoke a little English. She managed to tell me that the train had been stopped because of snow on the tracks, and that we had to take the next one.

I practically stalked her around the train station, but she was always polite and good humored, asking questions about my trip and offering to let me use her mobile phone to call Nadine in Akita. She was a sweetie, an angel.

Now, I had read that in Japan, when someone does something for you, you're supposed to give them a small gift in return. Certainly not cash (that would be insulting), but a gift of some kind. I wracked my brain as we got back on the train, trying to go over what I had brought with me and feeling desperate that I didn't have anything appropriate to give her.

Then I realized I DID have something to give her, probably the best gift I could ever give: a hand knit item. I had packed my as yet never worn, recently completed Embossed Leaves socks to show off to my girlfriend, and as I gave her feet a quick glance, I realized, miracle of miracles, that they were about the same size as mine. So I wrote her a note, tucked it into one of the socks, and gave them to her when we got off the train. Farewell, dear socks. I hope you'll be loved in your new home.When I was in Akita at last, I took a taxi to Nadine's school, and was met by a welcoming committee of her students to boot. Nadine's school is lovely, and she's very proud of it, as you can see.From there Nadine had a surprise for me. After dropping off our stuff at her apartment, we went back out, and headed to a local Onsen for a spa night, Japanese style. I had really wanted to visit an Onsen while I was here, actually, but I didn't feel comfortable going in there without a guide, you know? Well, after almost 3 years here, Nadine's an Onsen expert, and she took me to her absolute favourite one.

It was great! A little strange at first, because you have to get completely naked almost as soon as you walk through the door, but great. Very therapeutic! There are various baths and pools, with mineralized water and without, all at different temperatures and depths, and you just walk around and dip from one bath to the other. Sheer heaven after a stressful day on the trains.

After our baths, we put on these comfy pajamas, and went to the spa's restaurant for dinner. From there, we headed to the lounge area (leather lounge chairs, each with its own television) for a while, then went back for a dip in the Onsen before heading back to Nadine's apartment.

Tuesday, I walked around Akita while Nadine was at school, and that evening, we went to a, well, I can only describe it as a one-man run whole in the wall restaurant, the kind that most tourists would never dream of going into. Nadine promised that there we would eat the best Oden (sort of a Japanese version of stew) in the city. While there, we happened to run into two of her fellow teachers, and spent a multicultural evening toasting glass after glass of sake in French, English and Japanese.

The next day I took a day trip to nearby Kakunodate, a Samurai town about an hour away from Akita. I got to visit several old Samurai houses and museums, and spent a lovely day walking around this historic town. When I got back to Akita, we had a wonderful sushi dinner, and decided to head back to the Onsen to send me off in style.

Again, I had a great trip and a great visit with Nadine, and got to see a part of Japan and experience things I most certainly would not have had the chance to experience. And for that, I'm truly grateful.

Tomorrow we're off to Kyoto for the final leg of our trip. I don't think we'll have Internet access from our room, so I don't know whether I'll be posting again before we head back to Canada on Tuesday. Check and see!

Sunday, March 9, 2008

Weekend in Tokyo

It's Sunday evening here in Yokosuka, and Phil and I are sitting in our room in utter exhaustion, trying to recover from the weekend. This was Phil's first opportunity to really travel since we arrived in Japan last week (we've already been here a week!!!) so into Tokyo we went.

Let's just state for the record, right here and now, how incredibly huge Tokyo actually is. There's really no way to see everything there is to see in a weekend, so we basically tried to dabble our way through (a little of this, a little of that).

We left for Tokyo bright and early Saturday morning, where our first stop was to the Ueno district, to visit a Shinto Temple. From there, we visited the Ameyoko market, a huge outdoor market that seems to have grown out of the railroad track. It's busy with people and little shops (think Flea Market, multiplied by 50, but with 10 times less space), and you can find anything there from fresh octopus to designer jeans.
From there we had decided to visit the Tokyo Kite Museum. Those of you who read regularly will remember that Phil is quite the kite enthusiast. We took the subway (which is surprisingly easy to figure out, it's so well organized) to the appropriate stop, and that's when we hit our first snag of the day. The problem, you see, is that Phil had forgotten to pack the map of the area he had printed out which pinpointed the exact location of the museum. By a stroke of luck, one of our guide books actually mentioned the museum, which narrowed it down some, but it was still really hard to find. The problem is that Japanese addresses are quite difficult to understand. It's kind of like this: a regular street address will have 3 numbers and a neighborhood (ex: 3-15-24 Roppongi, Minako-Tu, tokyo). Minako-Tu would stand for the neighborhood, Roppongi the general street area, 3 the group of blocks, 15 the actual block or building, and 24 the street address. And the numbers aren't consecutive on the street, so number 24 isn't necessarily next to 25.

Still with me?

Anyway, long story short, we finally managed to find the place because I had written down the address, and by following various street atlases that are interspersed throughout the area (because even the locals can't make sense of their own system), we managed to find it. A one minute walk from the subway took us an hour. But still! I had the knowledge. Who da man?????
Phil has asked me to let you all know that more pictures of our museum tour can be found here.

After the visit, we had lunch at a Korean restaurant in the area, then we walked around the neighborhood (Nihonbashi) and visited Takashimaya, a high end department store that sells, well, everything. It's the kind of store that you just don't see in Montreal. I mean, there are elevator girls, for crying out loud. It was pretty amazing.

It also provided us with the answer to that question which has been plaguing philosophers, theologians and physicists since time immemorial: How many Japanese does it take to change a light bulb?By this point, we were pretty much zonked, but we had decided to have dinner in Tokyo and head over to the Shinjuku district, which has quite the nightlife reputation. So after a quick stop at Starbucks for some much needed refreshment, we took the subway again and headed over to Shinjuku.

It was still pretty early when we got there, so after locating what we thought would be our restaurant that evening, we headed over to the Kinokuniya bookstore, which spans 8 floors and has a respectable foreign books section as well.

Now, Shinjuku at night is all about entertainment. We're pretty tame by local standards (we wanted to catch the 9:13 train back to Yokosuka), so most of our frivolous spending was in one of the many, many, MANY arcades in the area.While walking around we stumbled upon a sushi restaurant where you sit at a counter and the sushi travels in front of you on conveyor belts. You pick what you want, and they ring up your bill by counting your empty plates. The place was packed with locals, and it was just delicious. Makes our sushi back home taste like Alpo.
Shinjuku was pretty amazing. The lights, the people, the noise, the ambiance. Really spectacular.
But after all that, we still had a long train back, and it had been a long day, so we bid Shinjuku Adieu and headed back to Yokosuka.

This morning we were back at the train station (though not quite so early). We headed to the Ginza neighborhood, and to the Hamarikyu park in particular, to meet up with a Water Bus that cruises up the Sumida river to Asakusa. It was a lovely boat ride, and gave us a different perspective of the city.We disembarked from the boat a few minutes away from the Kaminarimon Gate, the Thunder Gate, and the Senso-Ji temple. Ah, temples. Areas of quiet reflection, right? Weeelllll...

While there, we found a stand which specializes in these Octopus ball thingies that Phil had read about and wanted to try. They were OK (a little bouncy), but mostly they were HOT!
From Asakusa, we took the subway to Shibuya, another high end shopping district. And I mean High. End. Dolce&Gabana, Ralph Lauren, Dior, Missoni, Chanel, Emporio Armani, the works. We counted 3 Ferraris in a 2 block radius.
We did some souvenir shopping at the Oriental Bazaar, then headed back to Yokosuka.

It's now 9:15 PM, and I've been blogging for about an hour and a half (lots to cover!). Tomorrow I'm off to Akita to visit my girlfriend Nadine, who's been teaching English there for over 2 years. Akita is quite far from here, so I get to take the bullet train! I don't know if I'll be able to blog while I'm there, so my next post may not be until Thursday.

Stay tuned! :)

Friday, March 7, 2008

Knitting in Japan

OK, I didn't have time to blog this morning, so we've got a lot of ground to cover. Let's get right to it, shall we?

Yesterday was my second day at Kamakura. I actually visited different parts of the city, this time concentrating on Kita-Kamakura and Hase, with its various temples and shrines.

What can I say that pictures like these don't say already? These shrines and temples are so beautiful and awe inspiring, you just can't help but be speechless when you're there. I figured out what actually had me so enchanted about them yesterday. It's the gardens and all the greenery around you. Even in early, early Spring, when things aren't yet full in bloom, it's still magnificent. Here, take a look at what I mean.
Beautiful, right? After visiting the main shrines in Kita-Kamakura, I walked back to Kamakura and caught a train to Hase, a different quarter which houses some lovely temples as well as a giant, bronze Boudha statue. Dude was massive, I tell you.
After that I called it a day, and headed back to Yokosuka. Now, I realize I'm skimping on the descriptions of the day's travels, but trust me, I have good reason. What I really want to get to is my undying love and admiration of knitters in general and to profess my amazement at Ravelry in particular.

When I first found out about our trip to Japan, I checked on Ravelry to see if there were any interesting forums that where I could find out about Japanese knitting yarns and the like. I stumbled upon the Knitters in Japan group, and posted a few messages on various forums, letting people know I would be traveling and were there any special yarns and/or yarn shops that they would recommend.

Imagine my surprise and delight when people from Yokosuka, Tokyo and Kyoto (all areas I had said I would be visiting), sent me messages via Ravelry, offering to accompany me on yarn crawls and to take me to their local Knit Nights. Let's just stop right now and state the obvious: Knitters Rule!!!

So last night, as I mentioned in my last post, the kind and adorable Bethany invited me to attend the Knit Nights she had just started organizing at the Naval Base. This meant that not only did I get to meet a bunch of new knitting friends, but that I would get a tour (a Grand Tour, no less) of the base, someplace I wouldn't normally have been able to go, because as a visitor himself, Phil can't act as a sponsor for me.

Dudes, the base is huge. They have their own Taco Bell, elementary school, middle school, high school, two fitness centers, McDonald's, the list goes on and on. I couldn't believe how huge it was. And then, after all that, there were knitters.

Were present: Bethany, Vicki (aka monkeyMommy, as well as her lovely daughter Faye), Ginny (aka freegin), Cindy, Kathleen, Jenny, Marlane, Maria, and a few others who I unfortunately didn't get to spend much time with. It was a great evening, and a lovely group of women. I had a blast, and I'm really grateful to Bethany for letting me be a part of it.

Then, today I finally ventured into Tokyo and met up with Jun, who offered to take me on a guided tour of a few choice Tokyo yarn shops, after reading about my fears of getting hopelessly lost in that gigantic city (and it really IS gigantic). Not only did she meet me at Tokyo station (and locate me in 2 seconds flat, despite my wandering around like a dazed bunny), but a few ladies from her Stitch and Bitch group, Takkami (aka Takkami), Ako (aka Ako12) and Rhonda (aka Tokyomama, who had also volunteered to take me on a yarn crawl), came as well.

We took the train to Kichijoji, and navigated through the streets to Yuzawaya, a huuuuuge crafts store with practically an entire floor devoted to knitting goodness.See what I mean? The place is massive (according to Rhonda, they recently cut back on their yarn section - I can only begin to imagine what it must have been like before), and loaded with Japanese yarn and books and notions and... well, you get the picture. I mean, seriously, the place even had fleece.Here we see the lovely Jun and Rhonda, basking in a fibery glow. From there we walked up to Avril (aka Habu Textiles in New York). It's a little shop that's absolutely packed to the rafters with beautiful yarn. Lots of modern, novelty stuff (for instance, you wouldn't go there to pick up yarn for your grandpa's sweater vest), but really unique and one of a kind. There may have been a few purchases made (I don't shop and tell, sorry).We then had a lovely lunch together (which the girls paid for, no less!), after which I took the trains back to Yokosuka.

Whew! A busy 2 days, and tomorrow's going to be another long one. It's Phil's first day off, and we're heading back into Tokyo.

Before I sign off, can I just say again how frickin' amazing knitters in general, and Ravelry in particular, are???? As Rhonda put it to me today at lunch, thanks to the friends I've made via Ravelry, were I to move to Japan tomorrow, I'd be set. I know where the yarn lives, I've already got a nice circle of friends, and there's a Starbucks coffee around the corner. What else do you need?