Tuesday, March 29, 2016

Yamaguchi Prefecture: Camellia Forest

After exploring the caves in Akiyoshidai, the gang and I grabbed lunch at a cute cafe. To our surprise, when we picked up a newspaper to pass the time while eating, we found out that there was a camellia festival going on nearby that day! We couldn't resist a side trip.

Unfortunately for us, it was still too cold for most of the blossoms to have bloomed, but I was enchanted by the bare trees' twisting branches and dappled sunlight on the ground.

Wednesday, March 23, 2016

Yamaguchi Prefecture: Akiyoshidai Cave

Over the long weekend, I had a neat opportunity to take a road trip to Yamaguchi Prefecture thanks to my friend, Satoru San.  We stayed with one of his friends from university (the lovely Shoko) and spent all of Sunday and Monday sightseeing. 

Going into our road trip, I didn't know much about Yamaguchi ken, but I had heard it was famous for fugu (pufferfish) and handmade pottery. What more do you need?

Our first stop was Akiyoshidai National Park, where we explored this cave and had a lovely afternoon checking out strange rock formations. My personal favorite, the "rice terrace," is pictured above. 

I'm a sucker for a fun nature adventure. Running around trying to get a good photo of all the strange naturally formed shapes was my bread and butter.

Outside the cave

Running For Ex-Pats

Both times I've lived abroad (in Hong Kong and in Kadogawa), I've become incredibly overwhelmed and sort of had a period of self-imposed isolation. It's hard to say why this happens. There's something about moving abroad and overhauling my life that makes me sort of lose it.

I get moody. I listen to podcasts all day because I like the sound of someone's voice in my ear. I cook a lot. I do things alone and think a lot and write excessively emotional prose in my journals.

And I run. I run a lot. There's something healing about exercise I think, something nice about getting up early and having a reason to go outside, to look out at the world instead of just peering inwards at your own thoughts. I think it's good for me, but also sometimes I feel as if my running is just a symptom of a larger existential crisis.

When I don't know what I'm doing, when everything feels big and I feel small, I put on tennis shoes and go out for a run.

Sunday, March 13, 2016

Fukuoka ONTAQ 2016

Living in rural Japan is great. Untouched nature, monkey sightings, friendly townsfolk and fresh vegetables at the vegetable stand, we've got it all.

However, I don't think it would be wrong to say that sometimes I feel a little uninspired by the lack of a creative community here.

So when Alex told me about a music festival in Fukuoka this weekend, I was so down. I'm always ready to jump on an opportunity to see people making art. It's inspiring!

The festival, ONTAQ 2016, was a two day extravaganza that had bands playing all over Tenjin. I'm not a music festival expert, but I was informed that the style was a little bit like South by Southwest, with different acts concurrently playing at different venues.

Leading up to the actual date, Alex had been researching the bands and sending me recommendations. I think when I listened to most of the bands on Youtube, I didn't get a clear sense of what their shows would be like, but seeing them live was a totally different experience.

Every show was so fun and the musicians were so passionate, and just so excited to be doing what they were doing. I even got to talk to a few of the bands after their shows! Ugh, they were all so cool.

 I ended up seeing about eleven bands each do thirty minute sets, everything from an incredible singer-songwriter (日食なつこ), to a couple of super fun pop punk/garage rock bands (EVERLONG, セプテンバーミー), and then some stuff that honestly I can't even describe (0.8秒と衝撃). Running around the city, watching people get really into the music, dreaming about being a cool front lady for a Japanese punk band-- I couldn't have asked for a better weekend.

If you're interested, here are links to the other bands I was able to see. They were all amazing!
a crow is white

If you want to check out all the artists who played at ONTAQ, here's the artist roster. If you'll be living in Japan around March next year, I definitely recommend this festival. It was about 3000円 per day, and totally worth it.

Now excuse me while I sing garbled Japanese into my hairbrush.

Sunday, February 28, 2016

Hokkaido Kaitaku No Mura

With my last day in Sapporo, I decided to get away from the Snow Festival crowds and do some sightseeing like a proper tourist.

TripAdvisor.com led to Kaitaku No Mura, a historical village outside the city. The featured buildings were brought from all corners of Hokkaido and reassembled in the little town, open for folks to come inside and look around.

I've tried to describe what it felt like to walk through this village alone. I'm not sure if the magic came from the fact that I'm not really used to snow, or the fact that I'm not really used to historical buildings in snow, but it felt like a fairy tale.

The houses and shops were mostly empty, sparsely furnished with the sort of things one might find in a Japanese residence or commercial building in the 1800s.


I wandered around the village until I came upon a huge fishing warehouse. I expected to walk inside another empty building, but when I opened the door, I was shocked to find a group of happy people with tea and a little cook fire going.

"Come in, have some tea!" the man exclaimed.

"Okay!" I said, surprised and delighted. I started chatting with him. He seemed pretty chuffed to find that I could speak Japanese, and we talked about my life in Miyazaki compared to life in Hokkaido.

After my bones had thawed and I had downed another cup of tea or two, he told me that I should make my way to the sake factory in the middle of town. Apparently, there were only two buildings in town that had volunteers manning them, and the sake factory volunteers gave people free hot sake and pickled Hokkaido radish.

Free food? Free alcohol? I'm in!

My tea enthusiast friend

The Fishing Warehouse cook fire
When I arrived at the Sake Warehouse, I was greeted by another warm fire and an old man and woman who welcomed everyone inside.

They gave me a warm cup of amazake, a low-alcohol traditional Japanese beverage, and unlimited pickled radish. No better way to win me over.

Like the man in the fishing warehouse, the pair of volunteers was so happy that I could speak Japanese that we talked for a long time about life in Hokkaido.

They answered all my questions, gave me recommendations for good restaurants to try in Sapporo, and then, when they had their lunch break, proceeded to take me out to lunch!

Sake factory friends

Traditional Hokkaido "Field Soldier" Meal - complete with potato pancakes and white konyaku
I don't think I had ever been so happy I had studied Japanese before. My day in the historical village was one of the most positive experiences of my life, let alone my time in Japan. There's something so satisfying about making new friends on a trip.

Especially if those friends give you sake and pickled radish. I love snacks!

Tuesday, February 23, 2016

Deja Vu at the Ruins of St. Paul's

Are you a long time reader of Lauren Loves Noodles? Then it's time to test your memory.

Look closely at the picture above. Notice anything familiar?

That is a snow sculpture from my trip to the Sapporo Snow Festival that is being colored with projection mapping. Every night of the festival, all the large sculptures were projected upon with lights and music. It was a neat counterpoint to the snowy white scenery you could see throughout the day.

Pretty neat right? This sculpture was, by far, my favorite of the entire festival. Something about it just kept me doing d

Here are some other outrageous colors.

Beautiful right? The whole time I was watching it, I kept thinking to myself, "this giant snow castle looks oddly familiar..."

Then suddenly, it clicked. I had seen that structure before.

The real life version of my favorite snow sculpture
Here's a close up:

The Ruins of St. Paul's College

If you've been following me since my Hong Kong study abroad experience, you might remember my trip to Macau in February of 2013. It was there that I visited The Ruins of St. Paul's College for the first time and took these photos.

In Sapporo, I was treated to a neon bright snow sculpture version. What a blast from the past!

The St. Paul Snow Sculpture was apparently sponsored by the Macau Tourism Board, to try and get more people to visit Macau. And people should! I thought Macao was a vibrant place, filled with unique Portuguese buildings, Chinese-influenced culture, and crazy casinos (if you're into that sort of thing). There's really nowhere like it in the whole world.

It felt so strange to have this massive structure appear in my life twice, once the real thing, and once, an equally impressive snow sculpture version.

So if you recognized it right away, give yourself a pat on the back.

Let's celebrate three years of noodles!

Monday, February 22, 2016

Sapporo Snow Festival

When I first started considering the idea of moving to Japan for the JET Program, I remember my mentor and former supervisor saying that the Sapporo Snow Festival was one of the best events she attended during her two year stay in Kyoto. She told me tales of snow flakes falling, huge snow mazes, warm crab soup, and lanterns lighting up the streets. 

Needless to say, I wanted to go. I wanted to eat soup and play in snow. It was my dream.

What I didn't count on was the cost. With flights and hotel expenses, the Sapporo Snow Festival looked to be a bit out of my price range. Just a reminder, I live in the very south of Japan, almost as south as you can go before hitting Okinawa. Sapporo is on the northernmost island. It's a ways away.

Last year, I passed the snow festival up, saying I'd go next year. This year, I once again, almost passed, saying "I need to save money! I'm moving in August! I can't waste my cash on frivolous things!"

Then, I did a Google Image Search and changed my mind again. When would I get another chance to see something like this?

The Snow Festival (Yuki Matsuri in Japanese) was a giant winter wonderland. There were ice sculptures, huge snow stages (with cheerleaders and raffles as pictured above), competitive snowboarding events, snow sculpting teams from all over the world, and a snow play dome for the kids. 

Strolling around getting snowflakes in my eyelashes, I felt like a kid too.