Monday, 28 May 2012

Aoba Matsuri Part 1

Springtime in Japan is Festival time. As usual, there are plenty of details about the general way Japanese festivals go on Rurousha's blog. As you'd expect though, all Japanese festivals differ a lot. 
In Sendai, the main festival is actually Tanabata (which takes place in August, over my birthday :D), but the second biggest one is Aoba Matsuri. It took place last weekend. It takes place over both Saturday and Sunday and feels really like a British summer carnival.

Unfortunately, both John and I were working on the Saturday, but we went into Sendai after work. We bought some beers, went and watch a few dance performances and played some games. It was fun. Here are some photos. We went on Sunday too, but you'll have to wait for those photographs :)

The floats were put to rest along the pedestrian walkways overnight.

Baton twirlers. They were good, but none of them smiled at all. It was rather depressing!!

Our first time of watching the Sendai Sparrow Dance. More details and a video in the next post!

Performers watching other performers. Because it's such a big scale thing and so many people are involved, there are loads of people just wandering around dressed up in gorgeous costumes.

Japanese fairground game, part 1. Catching goldfish. Keep what you catch.

Pretty wagon, for photo opportunities!

Changing rooms. Bit prettier than the stripy tents that'd be set up back home!

Japanese fairground game part 2. Sumo wrestling cardboard. You hit the table to shake your opponent's character out of the circle. I won because I'm awesome, and because Date Masamune (founder of Sendai) is better than OnePiece character :D

Thursday, 24 May 2012

Hiking: Nikkawa Line

Taiwan has re-kindled my Hiking bug, and so the second free day (the first was spent hungover, whoops) we had when we got back we got our boots on and went to the Nikkawa Line.

With a lot of googling, I'd found out a little information about this hike, but not very much. There was this blog, which was helpful and had the only map I found, but is 6 years old. Then there were mentions of it on various Visit Miyagi type tourism websites, but nothing concrete. I'm sure I'd have been able to find more information if my Japanese wasn't so awful, but as it was, it was a bit of a leap in the dark!! We managed to persuade our friend Amy to embark on this madness with us, and off the three of us went!

We got the train 20 minutes from our house, in the opposite direction from Sendai, to Okunikkawa (it's on the Senzan Line from Sendai, 40 minutes, ¥570). It's a tiny hamlet with about 5 houses, and the hiking signs are really obvious as soon as you get out of the station.

Here is a map of the area (source).

We wanted to walk the brown loop in the centre-left of the map. We set off in that direction, but after about 600m there was a sign saying it was closed. However, being the bad foreigners we are, we went over the rope and down to a lovely river.

Pretty shrine in the middle of nowhere

Very dubious staircase

Going across this bridge would've been the next step...except there was no way to get onto it. The ladder was completely destroyed and none of us fancied climbing up sheer rock!

Undeterred, we headed back to the station and then walked the right hand side of the yellow loop along the road. At the bottom there was a car park and a sign to the walk marked pink on the map. That also had a sign saying it was closed, but we worked out enough of it to realise it was saying the path was shut from November last year until April this year. And since it is now May we decided that we'd take our life into our hands and ignore the sign. I know, we're bad people, but it looked too pretty and we wanted our hike!

The walk follows the river about 4.8km all the way down to the unused Yatsumori Train Station. It's a lovely walk, mostly along the river, which occasionally diversions into the forest on either side. There was a lot of rock scrambling (mostly due to broken steps) but only one or two places where it felt at all unsafe! Unsurprisingly, since it was officially closed, we didn't see anyone else and we had a lovely hike. 

Once you get to Yatsumori, you can follow very quiet roads another 5km, through farmer country, round to Sakunami, a hot springs town with a station on the same line as Okunikkawa. 

It made for a great day hike and took us about 5 hours in total. There's a campsite at Okunikkawa, and we're hoping to persuade some other friends to come there with us for a camping trip in the summer. When the really hot weather eventually arrives, a swim in this river will be just the thing!

Lovely mountain views 

As well as mini waterfalls

Taking the high road!

Next time I come, I'm bringing my swimming stuff, this water makes you want to dive right in! (It was ridiculously cold though!)

The only living thing we met on the whole trail!

Bye bye river, we'll be back sometime!

What I can only assume is earthquake damage on the road

Pretty shrine in the middle of nowhere Mark 2

Poor house

Can anyone tell me what these are? Graves? Memorials? Shrines?

Rice farming

Gorgeous tree in Sakunami. There was really nothing in Sakunami. We were all starving by the time we got there and we couldn't find anywhere to buy food :( So it you want to do this walk, take all your provisions with you!

Apparently John has "always wanted to do this" and the deserted Sakunami Station was the perfect opportunity. Silly boy!

PS - Mum and Dad, do you think a stay at the campsite here and a walk around this area might be a good way to spend a day of your visit?

Wednesday, 23 May 2012

Taiwan Trip: Food, food, food

I may have loved the Taipei 101, our fantastic hotel and all the amazing hiking, but the #1 reason that I'd go back to Taiwan is for the food. I'd never have put Chinese food that high on my list of favourite cuisines, but after our trip it's rapidly moving up. As usual, we ate more than was good for us, and moaned several times about there only being 3 meals a day!

I found this fantastic blog which has so many restaurants all over Taipei to try, and I'd definitely recommend having a look at it for ideas if you're headed there.

Our food photos aren't great because we were far too busy eating everything! Dumplings were our favourite savoury thing by far, but our absolute favourite thing was the cheap, fresh and delicious fruit. Mango, pineapple and dragonfruit are my personal favourites, and we ate a lot of them all. Mmmmm. No photos, which is for the best because I'm already salivating at the thought and if I was gazing at a photo too my keyboard would be awash with saliva!!

On that delightful image, let the photos commence...

I know I already posted this photo but there you go...
At Shilin Night Market. Crab, garlic greens and rice. Cheap and yummy! But we didn't love night markets here. I think we were spoilt when we were in South East Asia before. The Taiwanese ones  we went to are a bit mad! Plus we might be fairly adventurous eaters, but there are limits and Taiwanese/Chinese cooking definitely goes beyond them!

Dumplings for lunch at the National Palace Museum...

...and we loved them so much that we went for more dumplings at Din Tai Fung for dinner. Din Tai Fung was amazing, we went twice but I still have no good photos because we started devouring the food the second it hit the table! They have branches in Japan too, and next time we're in Tokyo I think I know where we'll be heading! I was sad that there wasn't a branch in Sendai but I think it's for the best that there isn't or I'd be waving goodbye to my waistline!

Beef noodle soup. Tasty enough, but a bit too like ramen for our tastes. 

Shaved ice, covered in mango and strawberry ice cream. So tasty!

We went to Modern Toilet, a bathroom themed restaurant. The food was average, the decor and theming was brilliant!

John and his dinner

Poo ice-cream for dessert!

Anyone else's tummy rumbling?!

PS - Rurousha, you can tell the Hero this post is a give to him from me :p

Tuesday, 22 May 2012

Local Sunny Days

The weather has been really variable recently, but on good days we've been making the most of our countryside location. It really is a lovely area in the sunshine. 

Behind a temple in Ayashi, there's a walk up a hill to this small shrine at the top. This is the view from the top.

And we saw this little green frog

Sunset over Ayashi's fields

The view as we cycled home from the train station the other day.

Sendai didn't get a full view of the annual eclipse this week, but we could still see it a bit. 

Sunday, 20 May 2012

Taiwan Trip: High in the Sky

Since I have well documented my brief love affair with the Taipei 101, you won't be surprised to hear that we spent out last afternoon there going up to the top. It was ridiculous. The weather was fairly misty and muggy and we didn't have the best views, but they were good enough to tell how ridiculously high you were. Usually when you go up tall buildings, people look like ants. When you're at the top of the Taipei 101, buildings look like ants. 

Where Skyscraper meets shopping mall

There are displays of intricately carved coral at the top. They're gorgeous, but rather random!

Hello down there 15 story building. You look so small I could squash you with a finger.

Somewhere just in the forest to the left of the photo is where we sat to take these photos.

Sun was in the wrong place for photos from the outside deck, but it was extremely beautiful.

The thing in the background is the damper. It's a big ball that stops the building falling over. I don't understand how, I chose just to trust it. The thing John is cuddling is the Damper Baby. Because it's not only Japan that makes everything cute :)

Taipei 101 with the really big moon there was that night. I'll miss you!

Saturday, 19 May 2012

Changing Scenery, Part 2


It wasn't a very clear day but you can still see how much greener the trees are :D

Just another photo from the same walk