Thursday, January 21, 2010

Let's Look at Japan from the Sky!

I just saw this show for the first time 空から日本を見てみよう / Sora kara nihon o mite miyo / Let's Look at Japan from the Sky!

It's so cool. On the one I watched they followed a train line up in Tokyo. The two commentators, who are clouds which you don't see, talk to people and comment on the landscape. Practically porn for geography majors! They hunt for playground animals and triangle shaped houses among other things.

There's some videos on the show's website.

Here's an 1:30 long show here, but you need to install their player to watch the whole thing. A 5 minute long version is available however. This episode goes from Tokyo to Ise Shrine in Mie Prefecture.

Thursday, January 07, 2010

Shiominama Daifuku

01.02 ShiomiNamaDaifuku1

Last post I described our trip down to Ako, but why did we choose to go down there, well it's quite simple: Shiominama Daifuku [塩味生大福].

01.02 ShiomiNamaDaifuku2

Ako is famous for its salt and Ako salt is used in the mochi for these cream and asuki filled treats. Because the mochi is fresh it's chewy and pulls apart like cheese on a pizza. Inside the azuki and cream complement each other perfectly making one of the most decadent, and addictive treats I've ever had.

01.02 ShiomiNamaDaifuku3

These daifuku are only sold online or at the Tatsuno Nishi Service Area (in Japanese) [竜野西SA] on the Kobe side of the Sanyo Highway [山陽自動車道]. You have to get onto the freeway to just go and buy these things, but once you have them they are worth it.

Ako Trip

Yuko and I spent a day down in Ako city which is in the far west of Hyogo pref. bordering Okayama pref.. We went all the way down there to buy some special Japanese sweets that Yuko wanted, and we'll get to them later, but we started the day by praying at a local shrine.


Iwatsuhime Shrine [伊和都比売神社] is located on a cliff looking out towards the Seto Inland Sea. The shrine was originally built on on the rocks but was moved in 1683 to its present location. Thanks to its location and history Iwatsuhime is a shrine that is popular with sailors and fishermen praying for a save voyage and a big catch.


The detail in the animals carved into some of the temple was amazing. I'm not sure how old these are. You can see that they have aged, but they are still quite crisp. I believe these are the animals of the Chinese zodiac. Above is a boar, tiger (or dog I'm not sure), a type of bird (looks like a phoenix to me), and a dragon.


At the edge of the cliff is this giant torii gate.

Yuko sitting on the stairs leading down the rocky cliff to the oceans edge.

From the shrine there is a concrete sidewalk that is parallel to the seashore. It's great little walk. I found this map [pdf] on the website of Ginpaso, a hot spring hotel, and used it to plan our walk.


Of course I didn't take any pictures of the sea. Well I did, but I deleted them because who needs pictures of the sea when there's stuff like this lying around! When I stopped walking Yuko thought I was going to take a photo of the sea, then she realized what I was looking at.


I guess this is a popular swimming and boating location in the summer. In the winter it feels like everything is closed. Makes for a good get away time, especially with just about every other place being crowded because of the New Year's holidays. Taking a walk in nature away from the hordes of people at the malls and shopping arcades was great. We saw what seemed like 1km long queue of cars stopped on the freeway waiting to get into the area's largest mall and outlet shops. No thank you.


I walked by this abandoned car first without taking a photo, but Yuko looked at me and said, "Aren't you going to take a photo of that?" She knows me so well that she's calling out my shots now!


Here's Yuko in front of the Tiger decorations at Oishi Shrine [大石神社] near the site of the former Ako castle. Oishi shrine is connected to the Story of the 47 Ronin [赤穂義士] which has been made into many films and TV dramas in Japan a common part of Japanese folklore told abroad, although it seems the story is more popular in Kansai than in other regions. Looks like a must see spot if you're interested in the story.

After checking out the shrine we headed to Kanpo no Yado - Ako [かんぽの宿 赤穂]--which will be added to I Love ゆ once it gets finished--for a quick bath and then back home. But we had to stop at one more place. In my next post I'll show what we came all the way down here to buy. Probably the most insanely good Japanese sweet I've ever had, and one that is totally worth the drive to get.

Monday, January 04, 2010

My Favorite Photos of 2009 (3/3)

I've looked through all of the 1000 plus photos I took last year and found my favorite 30 shots. The pictures in this group contain more photos from my trip to Kyushu, and some day trips to places in Hyogo. This is the third and last set. All of the photos were ordered by date oldest to newest.

08.09 指宿枕崎線の駅-1
Chairs at a station along the Ibuski-Makurasaki line in Kagoshima.

08.09 Makurazaki-city-3
A store in Makurasaki, Kagoshima pref.. Perhaps my favorite place I went to in Japan this year. Also this is perhaps my favorite photo of the year.

08.10 Jigenji Park - Kagoshima 2
A bridge in Jigenji park in Kagoshima city, Kagoshima pref..

08.27 Tamba-7
The small family garden and shed at my wife's relative's house. Tamba, Hyogo pref.

A shoe shop in Okayama city, Okayama pref..

A sign in Tsuyama station. Tsuyama, Okayama pref.

First year students doing group exercises during Sports Day. Nishinoimya, Hyogo pref.

A wall in Amagasaki, Hyogo pref..

11.08 Ojiyama Park - Sasayama3
A sign telling us to be careful with fire in a park. Sasayama, Hyogo pref.

An old storefront along a Sasayama shopping street. Hyogo pref.

So there they are. My favorite photos of the last year. You can see them all at the Best Of 2009 set on my flickr. Thanks for looking!

Sunday, January 03, 2010

Hankyu 9000 Series - Hatsumode Marker

12.31-Hankyu9000Hatsumode, originally uploaded by sleepytako.

A Hankyu 9000 series train, the newest type. The sign on front says "hatsumode" [初詣] which means "first shrine visit." Many train lines in Japan run all through the night on New Year's Eve ferrying people to and from shrines for early morning prayer.

Taken on New Year's Eve, at Umeda station.

My Favorite Photos of 2009 (2/3)

I've looked through all of the 1000 plus photos I took last year and found my favorite 30 shots. This group starts after Yuko and I returned to Japan from the US. You'll also see some photos from my trip to Kyushu. I hope you enjoy them. This is the second set.

06.10Kobe-Maruyama 3
Typical single family houses perched on hillsides near Maruyama station in Nagata-ku above Kobe's old downtown.

06.15 Mimurotoji -1
Women in kimono heading up the stairs to Mimurotoji in Uji, Kyoto pref..

2009.06.15 - Natsuka Supermarket in Uji
Natsuka supermarket in Uji, Kyoto pref..

A construction barrier in the Shinsekai area of Osaka.

Storefronts near Tennoji station, Osaka.

07.15 Mukogawa-Mansion-1
A pair of apartment buildings near the Mukogawa river in Amagasaki, Hyogo pref.. Taken from across the river in Nishinomiya, Hyogo pref..

A very old children's ride inside a Tokyo bathhouse.

08.04 603 Kokura1
Making gyoza in Kokura, Kita-Kyushu city, Fukuoka pref..

08.05 BeppuLandscape 1
An air conditioner and a sake barrel turned into a pot along an alley in Beppu, Oita pref..

Two JR Kyushu trains passing at Hyuga Otsuka station in Kagoshima pref..

Tomorrow I'll put up the last 10 photos.

Saturday, January 02, 2010

My Favorite Photos of 2009 (1/3)

I've looked through all of the 1000 plus photos I took last year and found my favorite 30 shots. The pictures in this group of 10 are book-ended by shots of Japan, but most of them were taken during my honeymoon in the United States. I hope you enjoy them.

Gates in front of Fukushima station, near Umeda, Osaka

04-19 Laguna-Tucson Drive-10
Looking down on Borrego Springs, CA. The Salton Sea is visible in the horizon.

04.28 Tucson to Flagstaff-11
The historic and maybe haunted Hotel Monte Vista in Flagstaff, AZ

04.30 Grand Canyon_Monument Valley-22
Monument Valley, UT

05.02 CapitolReefNP-24
Capital Reef National Park, UT

05.03 BryceCanyonNP-1
A supermarket's sign on Highway 12 in Utah near the entrance to Bryce Canyon National Park

05.03 BryceCanyonNP-2
Looking north from Rainbow Point in Bryce Canyon National Park, UT

05.03 BryceCanyonNP-16
A tree growing in a tree, Bryce Canyon National Park, UT

05.05 ZionNP-2
Looking into Zion National Park, UT

06.10 Kobe-Maruyama 1
An abandoned house, Nigata-ku, Kobe 

 Tomorrow I'll put up the next 10 photos.

Friday, January 01, 2010

Osechi Ryori

This is our family's osechi ryori [御節料理] for 2010. Osechi ryori is a special set of foods that are eaten on and around New Year's Day. My mother in law prepares this each year for us. If you click on the picture and go to flickr I have notes explaining each of the dishes. More info on osechi ryori can be found on Wikipedia and at Kyoto Foodie.

January 1st, 2010

Happy New Years!

2010 will be a big year for Yuko and I. We are moving to our own apartment from Yuko's mother's house. I will be starting a new job. I just launched I Love ゆ, my new onsen and sento website. Most important Yuko and I will have our first child. The due date is June 12 and we're very excited. I've set up a separate blog about Koguma, or little bear, his or her nickname.