Sunday, August 30, 2015

Tohoku Road Trip: Day 1- Matsushima & Ginzan

The next morning, we went downstairs to get breakfast at Ikeuo no Yado Inn in Matsushima.  We had a table right next to the outdoor fish tank that overlooked Matsushima Bay.  Here was our breakfast:
Breakfast at Ikeuo no Yado
The sashimi was the best part of breakfast
Breakfast also came with bacon and sausage

View of the outdoor fish tank from our table
After eating we went on a walk back to Fukuura Bridge.  When we went the night before, the gate to the bridge was open, but this time it was closed.  We realized that we had to pay 200 yen to cross the bridge (whoops).  We crossed the bridge and arrived at Fukuura Island.  We really enjoyed walking around and seeing some of the other islands from Fukuura Island
Walking around Fukuura Island
Fukuura Bridge

View of other islands

"Oh my God, is he dead?"
Turns out he was alive

We left Fukuura Island and checked out of our hotel.  We found a parking spot nearby and made our way to buy our tickets for the ferry ride around Matsushima Bay.  My friend picked up a discount coupon for the ferry ride at the hotel before we left, so it only cost us 1,350 yen (as opposed to 1,500 yen).

We had some free time before the next ferry left, so we walked across the street to the Zuiganji TempleZuiganji Temple is one of the most famous Zen temples in Tohoku, but when we went it was under construction.  We were able to see the grounds around the temple, but we couldn’t go in.  The caves that we passed along the way were absolutely breathtaking.  I was amazed that they hadn’t collapsed due to the way that they were formed/ constructed.
Caves on the temple grounds
At Zuiganji Temple Grounds

After walking around the Zuiganji Temple grounds we went to catch our ferry around Matsushima Bay.  It was nice seeing some of the other islands from the boat.
Islands in Matsushima Bay
Once we got back to the mainland, we went to get lunch at Matsushima Sakana Ichiba.  Many kinds of souvenirs are sold here, and there are also many restaurants.  We both wanted to try the famous Matsushima Fried Oyster Burger (350 yen), so we each got one and split a cooked scallop skewer.  The burger was very delicious!
Matsushima Fried Oyster Burger and Scallop Skewer
Next was dessert.  We went to a nearby shop that sold Zunda Mochi, or rice cakes covered in sweetened mashed green soybeans.  I’m not a bean fan, but decided to try it anyway.  I would suggest it to people who really enjoy Japanese soybeans, or edamame.  
Zunda Mochi
After we had eaten we decided to make a quick stop at Godaido Temple before we left Matsushima.  It was a lot smaller than we both thought but it was still very beautiful.

Godaido Temple

Godaido Temple Bridge

The small, quiet town of Ginzan was about a 2-hour drive by car from Matsushima.  There are bridges across a river running underneath the town that connects each side of the town.  As we walked past the hotels and further away from civilization, we found a beautiful waterfall!

The area behind Ginzan was green and beautiful.  Walking through the forest was very relaxing.

Ginzan Hot Spring Town
Foot baths in Ginzan

Shirogane Waterfall in Ginzan
After spending about two hours in Ginzan, we made our way to Yamagata!  We stayed at Hotel View Kuroda in Tendo, Yamagata.  When we checked in, the receptionist said that our room would be a smoking room, but my friend and I don’t smoke, so we requested a non-smoking room (which we had originally requested when we made the reservation weeks before).  They kindly let us stay in a premium non-smoking room without charging us extra.  
Premium non-smoking room at Hotel View Kuroda

We were pretty exhausted by then, so we decided to get dinner at the hotel.  They were serving duck hot pot that night, which was pretty good. 
Dinner at Hotel View Kuroda
Duck Hot Pot

Tohoku Road Trip: Night 1- Matsushima

As one last hurrah before school starts in September, my friend and I decided to take a road trip around the Tohoku region of Japan. Our first stop was Matsushima.

According to Wikipedia, about 260 of Matsushima’s islands are covered in pine trees, or matsu in Japanese, hence the name Matsushima. 

My friend and I left Chiba at around 2:30 pm on Thursday and arrived at the Ikeuo no Yado Inn (Fishery Section) a little after 8:00 pm.  Once we had settled in to our room, we decided to go and walk around the area.  Our hotel was right on Matsushima Bay, and was very close to the Fukuura Bridge, which looked especially stunning at night.  We noticed that the gate to the bridge was open so we decided to walk along it for awhile.  Afterwards we walked past Godaido Temple and Kanrantei, as well as by the ferry docks. 
Night view from Fukuura Bridge, Matsushima

Since it was already 9:00 pm by this time, we decided to go back to our room and take a bath at hotel.  We were lucky that no one was there with us at the time that we went hahaha.  This was one of the nicest hotel baths that I had seen in Japan (as it turns out, it would be the nicest hotel bath on our trip), so if you stay at this hotel, I suggest checking it out!   
Our room in Matsushima
Bath at Ikeuo no Yado

Open window bath at Ikeuo no Yado

Monday, August 17, 2015

Skydiving in Japan!

Check out that view!
I have now officially started my fifth and final year as an ALT on the JET Program.  I can’t believe how fast the time has passed!  I still remember getting off the plane at Narita Airport and beginning to sweat; not from nervousness, but from the humidity.  Okay, part of it was nervousness too. 

Since this is my last year on JET, I decided that I want to do as many things as I can before my contract ends.  Travel, eat, meet new friends, everything!  I don’t want to leave JET thinking “I wish that I had done this while I still had the chance”.  So I wanted to start my last year off with a bang!  Or more precisely, with a drop.  Out of an airplane.  30,000 feet from the ground.

On August 16th, my friend and I went to Tokyo Skydiving Club in Saitama to go skydiving!! It was something that I had always wanted to do but was too scared to try.  We were originally going to go the Thursday before, but due to problems with the plane we had to cancel.  But we were able to reschedule for Sunday at 10:15 AM.

After parking the car at the drop-zone parking lot (less than a 2 minute walk away from the gathering area and main office), we walked towards the gathering area, where we were greeted by a Japanese woman who showed us the way to the check-in area.  After filling out the application form, we got to choose whether we wanted a cameraman, or a hand camera (there is also an option to opt out of having a camera).  Jumping with a cameraman means that they’ll take videos and pictures of you during your jump (costs an extra 16,000 yen).  The hand camera option (which my friend and I both decided on) meant that the instructor who rode tandem with us would take videos of us (no pictures).  This option cost an extra 8,000 yen, so altogether the total came out to 40,000 yen each (the base price for a tandem jump is 32,000 yen). Click here to look at the prices (in Japanese).

Once we filled out the application form we went back to the front office and paid.  We were told beforehand that we would need to bring photo ID and our hanko, or personal Japanese seal, but they didn’t end up asking for them.  Good thing we didn’t die!

A few minutes later a man comes out and starts naming off the people who will be on the next flight.  “…Sato-san…Mori-san…”  Then he stops.  He had already named off all the Japanese people, so my friend and I were the only two left.  He reads the sheet again, looks up and in my direction he says a simple “…ne.”  In Japanese, the word “ne” has many meanings.  In this case, it meant “This isn’t-a Japanese name  goddammit I don’t really want to try reading it katakana is dumb”  “And you.”  After telling him how to say my name, he looked at my friend and said “…issho.”  (Issho in English means “together”).  He did try to say my friend’s name afterwards, which came out as “Charushi”.  My friend (Chelsea by the way) and I both got a kick out of that hahaha.
Issho and Ne, on the way to the plane
After the man had checked that everyone had arrived, including Ne and Issho, we were ushered to a room.  The man gave a brief description of what we would be doing, but mostly told everyone to look at the pictures in the room.  And with a cute “Bye bye!” he left the room.  A couple minutes later our instructors came to get us.  My instructor’s name was Aki, and he was fluent in English.  He had lived in Seattle and in Australia for a while so he had a strong Australian accent.  He was hilarious too!  He told me: “Right before we jump, I’ll tell you to make a banana shape with your body.  So when I say ‘Make a banana shape!’ make a banana, okay?”

Once everyone had put their gear on we got in a van and made our way to the plane!  I was the first person to get on, so I got to sit in the cockpit with the pilot!  It was amazing to see the view from the front of the plane!

When we were at about 30,000 feet in the air, the hatch was opened and everyone began dropping out of the plane!  I was the second-to-last person to jump, and for me personally, one of the scariest parts was watching all the other people jump before me.  One second they would be there, and then they would be dropping and I wouldn’t see them anymore.  That was pretty scary.
Soon it was my turn.  We inched our way closer and closer to the hatch.  “Oh my God I’m really about to do this” was all that I could think about.  Aki said, “Okay now put your legs outside”.  This is insane.  Shit, the wind is gonna blow me away before he can open up the parachute and we’re going to die.  “Make a banana shape!  Ready?  Here we go!”
Dropping from the plane
The second we dropped out of the plane was the scariest part of the experience.  It was like someone held you by your feet and then dropped you, head first, into a never-ending abyss. 

But damn, the view was amazing.
Check out those clouds! And Aki's arm! 120 miles per hour isn't easy on one's skin!
My view from the sky (before diving into the cloud)
The clouds were so close, and skydiving right into a cloud was so intense.  It was like going through a really heavy mist (at 120 miles per hour).  Once we passed through the cloud, Aki opened up our parachute so we could enjoy the full view from the sky (at a more leisurely pace).
In the cloud
After we landed we loaded ourselves back onto the van and drove back to the meeting area.  Aki then took all the gear off of me and then gave me a SD card with videos of the whole experience.  The entire process took about 2 hours, but the experience will last a lifetime.

For anyone who is interested in skydiving in Japan, please check out the Tokyo Skydiving Club!! The instructors are extremely friendly and professional, and many of them can speak Japanese and English fluently!  The flights fill up pretty quickly, so I suggest emailing them about a week before you want to go.
Let's enjoy skydiving!