Haiku from Spring Elegance Tour April 2012

Here is a selection of some of the Haiku that my Spring Elegance tour group came up with in a semi-inebriated state during our last dinner together.

Drink Japanese sake,

Eat tempura, sashimi,

You are Japanese.

 

We were very dry,

Our yen pieces at the ready,

Vending machines –  great!

 

If you want to go,

Lift the lid and let it flow,

Press button, heigh ho!

 

The day started hot,

Zen temples oh so quiet,

Later beer refreshed.

 

Spray and hot toilets,

Or hard squatting over bowl,

Not shoes off again!

 

New friends, new culture,

Made one by spring elegance,

My life is richer.

 

Miso oh Miso!

Every morn I see you,

Then you are no more.

 

Cameras are poised,

Cherry blossom is blooming,

Shame about the rain.

 

Chopsticks, yes, well, um…

Its not that I’m prejudiced,

I just prefer forks.

 

That teasing mistress,

Fuji in modesty towel,

Never showed herself.

 

I don’t think I’ll miss

Sitting on tatami mats,

But oh! the toilets.

 

Misty lakes, fast trains,

Beautiful trees flower too,

Where is Mount Fuji?

By  Steve Parker (Tour Leader)

Take me home country road…

I am sure that by now, you have realised what a talented bunch we are at IJT….if not, please don’t judge me on my picture on the website staff profiles! Anyway, IJT UK’s newest member Rie Fujimoto recently returned to Japan for the first time after moving to the UK and wanted to share her thoughts on her homecoming trip and travel experiences. Enjoy!

 

As the newest member of the UK IJT team I am the only native Japanese in the UK office. I moved to the UK in 2010 and until this Spring I had not been home to visit my family in Yamaguchi (the last prefecture on the island of Honshu before you get to Kyushu). Actually Yamaguchi has a lot to offer itself and is well worth a visit rather than passing through on the bullet train which is unfortunately what most tourists tend to do.

A lot has happened since I came to the UK including the devastating earthquake and tsunami in Tohoku which was deeply saddening. Thankfully all my friends and family were OK, but my heart goes out to those that are still rebuilding their lives and homes.

The day I left Japan to come to the UK, our Prime Minister changed … again! Actually I went to the same high school as Mr Kan from Ube Yamaguchi, but like his predecessors his term didn’t last long. Japan seems to get through Prime Ministers at the same rate it produces new Kit Kat flavours!

So my reason for going home was of course to see my family as well as to do a bit of travelling to some unfamiliar parts. Armed with a Japan Rail Pass , I set off on the long 3 stop flight back to Yamaguchi. I arrived to find that nothing much has really changed back home. The one thing that hit me the most was the smell of soy sauce at the udon shop at the airport! (a very natsukashii moment to be cherished!). I really appreciated the fine and consistent/predictable weather. I didn’t really appreciate the weather in Japan until I started living in the UK! It was nice to be back in my own kitchen where I can reach everything! And the bright cheery service in shops brought a welcome smile to my face; although I found myself this time refusing the endless packaging and unnecessary wrapping that Japan seems so obsessed with.

After a few days with my family, my mother, grandmother and I set off to Kagoshima in Southern Kyushu famous for one of Japan’s most active volcanoes (Sakurajima) and its black pigs (Kuro-buta). With the opening of the new Kyushu direct Shinkansen line to Kagoshima Chuo from mainland Honshu it takes just 2 hours to cover a distance of 375km from Yamaguchi when previously it had taken around 5 hours with a change at Hakata (Fukuoka). The point of visiting Kagoshima – one to see the infamous volcano which had exploded again just days before we arrived and secondly to explore the area to the West famous for its hot volcanic sand baths where you can enjoy being buried alive on the beach!

The new Shinkansen is a joy to ride – so wide and comfortable; you could almost forget you are in standard class. Being married to a Brit does have its advantages – cheap rail travel back home!

We stayed just one night in Kagoshima. First we visited the famous samurai houses in Chiran (1 hour from Kagoshima Chuo by bus). We then headed west to Ibusuki famous for its hot sand baths – a comical photo opportunity well worth the 900yen it costs for your grave to be dug for you to fit snugly inside. Actually the sand is quite hot so it comes with several health warnings and an egg timer will let you know when your time is up! We also visited Nagasaki-bana where we could see the stunning view of Mt. Kaimon-dake. As its beautiful feature like Mt. Fuji, it is also known as Satsuma-Fuji.


Our accommodation was a small family run ryokan famous for its hot spring baths (which I had really missed living in the UK). From Ibusuki we visited Kagoshima city where we stopped at Shiroyama (famous for its views of Sakurjima), Isoteien (Iso gardens) which were beautiful in bloom and ate Shirokumakun (a famous local shaved ice desert known across Japan) because that is what you do when you are Japanese and visit Kagoshima!

All in all a successful trip to a beautiful part of Japan. Thankfully we didn’t hear a grumble from the volcano! I highly recommend a visit as it makes fantastic use of the Japan Rail Pass and is now so close to Honshu thanks to opening of the new line. Unfortunately we didn’t have time to visit the island of Sakurajima itself where you can view the volcano close up which I will be doing on my next visit as I hear it is quite spectacular.

 

 

 

It’s a Dogs Life in Japan!


People on my trips often comment on how few dogs they see in Japan – by that I think they mean what they might consider as “real” dogs; Red Setters with dribbling jowls bounding across parkland to fetch a ball, Labradors rolling around in the grass, perhaps even the ugly and menacing presence of the Staffordshire Bull Terrier outside the local  newsagents; rather than the commonly carried or carted-around yelping little creatures so often seen in urban Japan – I have nothing against Chihuahuas, by the way.

"Yes, Keiko-San, I do insist that you carry me - I'm a Chihuahua after all, and deserve only the best in life!"

Japanese dogs are possibly the most spoilt canines on the planet and some of those yapping little creaturemajigs certainly have the attitude to go with it – and the clothing! This past winter was a long, cold one which saw the latest in doggy fashion ranges hit the streets of hip Tokyo. I have been here for many years but I just couldn’t help notice cooly-clad dogs everywhere these past months –  shades, lederhosen, dungarees, t-shirts, hair bands, bows, shoes, Hello Kitty jackets – you name it, someone’s dog was wearing it!

Many of the local pooches even seem to have lost the will to move of their own accord, being transported in doggy carts or special doggy hold-alls, which are particularly comfortable and convenient when tackling the insanely busy Tokyo hotspots.

Miki, demonstrating the driveability and comfort of the modern dog owner.

The perfect fashion accessories for the streets of Tokyo - personal hold-all and matching human porter

In the UK a dog is certainly considered part of the family, but in Japan, it may even enjoy the status of most important member – older Japanese women are often seemingly far more concerned about grooming their pooches and showering them with more love and affection than their own husbands! And the dogs age better for it! So it is hardly surprising that there are dozens of doggy salons to be found across town catering for the owners needs.

Keisuke, one of Harajuku's top pooch models receives a little professional grooming before a grueling photo shot

One for cat lovers - feline transporter with human driver

The one breed that never fails to attract the attention of my travellers is the beautiful Shiba (see below) – often described as husky-like and  fox-like in appearance, with the controlled serenity of a cat. Unlike many native Japanese breeds such as the Akita and the Tosa wrestling dogs from Shikoku Island, this dog is not attributed to any particular area of the country. The Shiba can be spotted all over Japan and for me is the classiest canine on the streets of Japan – even without the bows and ribbons! Not that I find other breeds laughable but…well…, ok, let’s just say that Chihuahuas don’t like me and the feeling is mutual.



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