Snow Monkeys

After spending a few days in Tokyo, Khoa and I took the shinkansen over to Nagano to see the snow monkeys. Technically, they’re called “Japanese macaque,” but everyone knows what you’re talking about when you say “snow monkey.” Khoa had wanted to photograph them for a long time, so I’m glad that we were finally able to make it out to Nagano. Unfortunately, April had already come to melt most of the snow, but it was still really exciting to see the monkeys lounging in the onsen even without a background of white.

We went to the Jigokudani Monkey Park two days in a row. It was pouring rain the first day, so I did my best to hold our flimsy clear umbrella over Khoa (and his camera) as he excitedly took pictures. It didn’t do much good because Khoa was more focused on taking the best possible picture than staying dry. He kept moving out from under the umbrella to capture a shot as I frantically tried to catch up to keep him from getting soaked to the bone.

We were fortunate to wake up to sunny skies the next day. After hiking for about twenty minutes, we arrived at the Monkey Park and were greeted by very energetic monkeys. They seemed to perk up thanks to the nice weather.

The monkeys aren’t bothered by their human visitors at all and barely interact with them. I say “barely” because while Khoa was standing next to a trio of baby monkeys, one reached out and monkey slapped Khoa’s leg. I couldn’t stop laughing! Other than occasionally monkey slapping park patrons, the macaques seem happy to just lounge around or play amongst themselves, allowing photographers to get very close.

Khoa and I loved visiting the Jigokudani Monkey Park and we hope to be able to go back again. Maybe Khoa’s monkey friend will remember him and give him a little slap for old times’ sake.

Sakura Showers

Last week, Khoa and I took a trip to Tokyo. I was determined to see some sakura, so even though it was raining, we negotiated the puddle-filled streets to visit Shinjuku Gyoen.

I’d like to be able to take credit for these shots, but this is all Khoa. But I was the official umbrella holder while he was shooting, so maybe I get +1.

365 photos in 365 days: Photo #212-#229

WE ARE BACK! 🙂

I would like to apologize for not posting any pictures for the past two weeks. We had an awesome vacation and I am back and ready to catch you up on my 365 photo project!

For the past two weeks Michelle was on winter break from work. For the first week we traveled around Tokyo and Kyoto. We saw Christmas lights in Shibuya, Shinjuku, and Roppongi, and went to Tokyo Disneyland and DisneySea. Then we ended our vacation in Kyoto where we relaxed and watched Skyfall at the movie theatres (it cost us 1800 yen [over $20 USD] each). After we did all of our traveling, we came back to Chibu and had a great week of playing video games and watching movies; just enjoying one another’s company before Michelle had to go back to work. I have to say that this was one of the best vacations we’ve ever taken. We got to enjoy food that we can’t get in Chibu, watched a great movie, and we got to spend Christmas together in Disneyland!

But now back to real life…cleaning the house, doing laundry, cooking dinner, and being home alone. 😦 I am already excited for our next trip to the Sapporo Yuki Matsuri in February!

Location: Chibu-mura, Shimane-ken, JAPAN
Location: Chibu-mura, Shimane-ken, JAPAN
Location: Shibuya, Tokyo, JAPAN
Location: Shibuya, Tokyo, JAPAN
Roppongi, Tokyo, JAPAN
Roppongi, Tokyo, JAPAN
Tiger TailLocation: Tokyo Disney Sea, Tokyo, JAPAN
Tiger Tail
Location: Tokyo Disney Sea, Tokyo, JAPAN
Location: Tokyo Disneyland, Tokyo, JAPAN
Location: Tokyo Disneyland, Tokyo, JAPAN
Location: Tokyo Disneyland, Tokyo, JAPAN
Location: Tokyo Disneyland, Tokyo, JAPAN
Location: Kyoto train station, Kyoto, JAPAN
Location: Kyoto train station, Kyoto, JAPAN
Kyoto Station, Kyoto, JAPAN
Kyoto Station, Kyoto, JAPAN
Location: Kyoto, JAPAN
Location: Kyoto, JAPAN
Location: Sakaiminato, Tottori, JAPAN
Location: Sakaiminato, Tottori, JAPAN
Location: Chibu-mura, Shimane-ken, JAPAN
Location: Chibu-mura, Shimane-ken, JAPAN
Location: Chibu-mura, Shimane-ken, JAPAN
Location: Chibu-mura, Shimane-ken, JAPAN
Location: Chibu-mura, Shimane-ken, JAPAN
Location: Chibu-mura, Shimane-ken, JAPAN
Location: Chibu-mura, Shimane-ken, JAPAN
Location: Chibu-mura, Shimane-ken, JAPAN
Location: Chibu-mura, Shimane-ken, JAPAN
Location: Chibu-mura, Shimane-ken, JAPAN
Location: Chibu-mura, Shimane-ken, JAPAN
Location: Chibu-mura, Shimane-ken, JAPAN
Location: Chibu-mura, Shimane-ken, JAPAN
Location: Chibu-mura, Shimane-ken, JAPAN
Location: Chibu-mura, Shimane-ken, JAPAN
Location: Chibu-mura, Shimane-ken, JAPAN

 

The coolest kid’s meal toy since the Burger King spinning top shooters

Remember when you used to see fast food commercials on TV during the Legends of the Hidden Temple commercial break and the kid’s meal had such a cool toy that you begged and pleaded with your mom to get you one immediately, lest the fast food joint ran out?

I still vividly remember the Burger King commercial featuring spinning top shooters that seemed to promise an endless supply of fun.  I even convinced my family to have Burger King for dinner that very night in hopes of procuring the coolest toy to accompany a greasy cheeseburger.  To my disappointment, our friendly neighborhood BK Lounge didn’t have the awesome spinning top shooters the commercial promised.  I was crushed; a flame broiled burger never tasted so unsatisfying.

Fast forward to adulthood and the kids meal toys of today rarely ever come close to my beloved neon-colored spinning top shooters.  That is until now.

Check this out!

Taiko no Tatsujin McDonald's Toy

It’s a taiko drum from Japan’s drumming game sensation, “Taiko no Tatsujin” (Japanese Drumming Master).  The game is similar to Dance Dance Revolution, but for drumming.  Check out a video here if you’re curious.  This cute little guy makes drum sounds and can even hold a card or paper in its hands.

Yes, I’m a grown ass woman, but when I saw this toy at McDonald’s, I had to get a Happy Meal.  I was actually worried I’d be turned away upon placing my order.  Feeling a bit nervous, I uttered the words, “Happi Meelu” with a bit of an inward cringe.  To my relief, the cashier accepted my order and I am now the proud owner of the coolest kid’s meal toy since the Burger King spinning top shooters.

The six year old in me is doing cartwheels and stuffing her face with victory burgers right now.

Chibu’s Dossari Matsuri

Last weekend was Chibu’s first annual Dossari Matsuri, a new festival that was created to replace bunkasai (culture festival).  Khoa was asked by the town hall to be the official photographer, so he was busy all day taking photos.  I was acting as his “assistant” but really all I did was eat, drink, and talk with people.

Outside, many food and game booths were set up for the people of the village to enjoy.  This year, the village sponsored the first annual Gourmet Contest, a cooking competition open to everyone on the island.  Participants were supposed to create a dish that showcased Chibu’s local food.  As you would expect, everything was made with seafood.  Three groups made it to the final round of the contest and were invited to make their dish on the day of Dossari Matsuri and the people of the village would choose a winner.
^ Squid Croquette
^Deep fried squid balls
^Sazae (sea snail) Curry Bread (deep fried dough with Japanese curry in the middle)
^That’s a lot of fried food!
We paid 300 yen (about $3.70 US) for the three dishes.  After eating each dish, we voted for our favorite.  The Sazae Curry Bread, won the competition!
^Lots of people lined up to try the Gourmet Contest food.  I was at the back of the line 😦
Inside the community center, there were many displays set up by different groups in Chibu.  The kindergarten had a section filled with little art projects.  Take a look:
They’re so cute!  I love the Christmas origami!
The Eco Flower Club displayed their handmade flowers at the festival as well.  Each flower is made out of newspaper!
^These flowers were made out of the newspaper displayed on the board.
The police officer in Chibu also had a booth set up.  Khoa and I tried on beer goggles and did our best to walk in a straight line.
^I didn’t do so well…
There was also a test to see how good your reflexes are.  Two of the twenty buttons light up and you have to press them as soon as possible.  At the end of the test, a little print out tells you what age you are based on your reflexes.  My little print out read, “24 years old,” and Khoa’s run through scored him at the young age of 20.
There was also a tuna show where fishermen displayed and cut up a tuna for the crowd.  In Chibu, the local fishermen catch small tuna which are then sold and shipped live to Kyuushu, the large island south of mainland Japan.  Chibu’s small tuna frolic in the warm southern waters, grow big and strong, and then one lucky fish is chosen to come back to Chibu for the tuna show.  This year’s tuna weighed in at a whopping 50 kg (110lbs).
^Using a spoon to quickly make nigiri sushi
^Some already made nigiri sushi (on the left).  Everyone at the show could try the freshly cut tuna for free.  It was sooooo good!
Location: Chibu-mura, Shimane-ken, JAPAN
^Each of these pieces were being auctioned off for 3,000 to 5,000 yen.
Khoa also displayed nine of his pictures at the festival.  We were lucky to get a spot in a bright part of the hallway next to the staircase.
^The Japanese writing simply reads, “Pictures Khoa-san”
All day, people were coming up to Khoa and telling him how much they like his pictures.  One of our students’ fathers liked a picture so much that he just took it off the wall at the end of the festival and emailed us later to say he had it.  Khoa and I were both surprised, a little annoyed because we wanted to display the picture in our own home, but happy because someone liked the picture so much they decided to steal it (I guess there isn’t a bigger complement than that :P).
Here’s the picture that was too good not to steal:
I really like this picture, too;  it’s one of my favorites.  I like how there’s only one man preventing the mikoshi (portable shrine) from toppling into the ocean.  If you’re wondering what’s going on in this photo, take a look at my post about Chibu’s summer festival.
Khoa and I had a great day at Chibu’s first annual Dossari Matsuri.  I’m already excited for next year!

It’s that time of year again! Squid fishing in Japan

A few nights ago, Khoa and I went squid fishing with two of our friends.  It wasn’t our first time, but of the few times Khoa and I have fished for squid, we’ve only caught one little cephalopod between the two of us (PS – I caught it!).
This time, our friends took us to a really good fishing spot.  As we walked out on the wave breaker where we were going to fish, the cement was stained black with squid ink. It must be a good spot!
To be honest, Khoa and I never really knew the proper technique to fish for squid.  We just attached a lure to our fishing pole and hoped for the best.  As we casted out our first lines, Khoa and I kept peering over at our friends, trying to mimic the whipping motion of their rods.
Our friends go fishing together every week and the husband goes fishing almost every day, so of course he caught the first squid.  As it was hauled out of the water, the squid sprayed ink into the air.  I was in the direct line of fire, but luckily, it didn’t get all over me.
After ten minutes of casting out, neither Khoa nor I had a squid to call our own.  We were left longingly gazing at our friends’ squid which were lying on the cement making weird, airy squeaking noises.
Finally, after another five minutes of (impatiently) waiting, I hooked one…or at least I thought I did.  It was really hard for me to tell when I had a squid on the line.  The lure is so light, there’s almost no drag when whipping it through the water and the squid only adds a little more resistance.  I learned that if I felt even a little resistance (not even a tug) on the line, it meant I had a squid.
I reeled in my first squid of the night, and plopped it on the cement.  It wasn’t going to give up without a fight and spat ink at me in protest.  Being careful not to hook myself in the process, I gingerly grabbed the lure and shook off the squid.
For those of you who have never seen a squid lure, here’s what it looks like:
The lure is meant to look like a shrimp.  It’s weighted in the front so when you quickly whip your rod in a vertical motion, the lure scuttles through the water like a shrimp.  When the squid strikes at the lure with its tentacles, it gets caught in the prickly barbs.  That’s why you need to shake off the squid when unhooking it.
So at the end of the night, I came back with four aori-ika, blue squid.  Khoa managed to rangle in one squid of his own.  It doesn’t matter if we’re fishing for catfish or squid, I always manage to out fish Khoa.  It’s not that he’s a bad fisherman, it’s just every time we go out fishing together, he doesn’t catch a whole lot.  I must be his bad luck charm/fish repellant.