Ramen and the Lantern Festival

Ramen Dinner

Ipudo – Spicy Ramen

I have been reading about the famous Fukuoka Ramen since March.  It has been high on my list of to-do’s since we arrived.  So when I heard a group of teachers were going to have Ramen before going to the Lantern festival, there was no way I was going to turn that down.  We all met at the Muromi Subway station and then biked up the river a ways and through town until we came to Ippudo.  The original restaurant is somewhere downtown…this was just one of their branches.  They actually have branches all over Japan, and in a few other locations including Singapore and one in New York City.  I ordered the ‘Famous Ramen’ in the red bowl, and Robert ordered the ‘Spicy Ramen’ in the white bowl.  It was so good and we ate it so fast, we almost didn’t get a picture of it.  I wish I could make this stuff at home.  We also got to try their gyozas (which are little dumplings filled with ground pork, cabbage, garlic, and green onions).  They too were fantastic.  I’d go back just to eat those.  I love ’em.  This place more than lived up to my expectations and we will shall return!

Lantern Festival by the River

Sunny loves the Lanterns

After dinner, we rode our bikes down the river trail until we couldn’t go any further (since it was blocked off for the festival).  We parked our bikes and headed down the trail to check out the local lantern festival.  I always enjoyed looking at the lighted lanterns that lined people’s driveways during Christmas in Arizona.  But now I’m spoiled.  This was quite impressive.  There were thousands of little lanterns lined up on both sides of the river walk and set up to make all kinds of designs.  I can only imagine how much time and effort went into setting this up.  Little tea lights were in bags of all colors: white, blue, red, yellow, orange, and some bags were hand drawn by the local children.  It was an absolutely perfect evening for strolling down the path, taking pictures, people watching, having a beer and just hanging out.  A good time was had by all, but I think Sunny probably enjoyed it the most.

The Shrine before Sinning

After our adventure up to the Yamanoue Lookout, we headed back down into the city to find the Gokoku Shrine.  I first saw the whopping huge entrance gate the day we went to Ohori Park a few weeks ago and I wanted to check it out then, but Robert biked right past it and later said he didn’t see it.  I’m not sure how he ‘didn’t see’ the entrance – it’s only the largest wooden shrine gate in Japan standing at over 40 feet high!  Dedicated to Fukuoka’s war dead from the Meiji period until the end of World War II, this shrine (unlike all the other ones we’ve seen so far) is modern.  I couldn’t find a build date for the shrine, but given the appearance, I would guess around 1950.  It seems to have an Arts & Crafts look, maybe some Frank Lloyd Wright influence?  Anyone with some architecture background, let me know.  There was a wedding ceremony going on in the shrine, so we just walked around the grounds to check out the different statues and buildings.

Walking around Gokoku Shrine

Gokoku Shrine’s Large Lantern

Walking around Gokoku Shrine

Gokoku Shrine

By this point in the day, we were starving, and totally craving a fat laden burger.   On our way home we knew we were going to pass Freshness Burger, so there was no doubt where our next stop was going to be.  Fortunately, it wasn’t very crowded, so we could order immediately.  I was amazed to see they already had their Halloween decorations up…as it was only Sept 25th!   We sat patiently at our table waiting for them to bring us our burgers and onions rings.  It’s always a good sign when you have to wait for your food…you know it’s going to be fresh and hot.  I can’t tell you how yummy these things looked and smelled when they arrived – fortunately they tasted just as good.  I don’t know how they can call this sinning, because it was truly a heavenly experience.

Lunch at Freshness Burger

Lunch at Freshness Burger

Lunch at Freshness Burger

Burgers & Fries!

Yamanoue Lookout

Today we set out to find the Yamanoue Lookout.  I could see it on my map, but since only the major streets have names, we had to use landmarks (namely the rivers and subway stops) as indicators that we were heading in the right direction.  Fortunately, our navigation technique did not fail us, otherwise we would have been majorly lost.  The road up to the lookout is a pretty steep climb, and with only a one speed bike it is quite a workout!  Robert was able to make it all the way to the top without stopping (or so he says), but I had to walk my bike up the last little bit.  Sure enough, at the top of the hill there was the tower, so we parked our bikes and headed up the stairs.  When we got to the top, it was an incredible 360 degree view of the city.  It was also incredibly windy.  Check out the video (you’ll hear the wind):

Then, we had to head down the hill…which is normally a ton of fun given all the hard work it takes to get up there.   Well, this hill was so steep and curvy, you had to ride the brakes all the way down unless you want to crash high speed into a concrete pillar or some poor pedestrian after a sharp turn.  My bike is kinda rusty and usually squeaks when I brake.  However, this time, my bike did not squeak, it shrilled – constantly…in the highest pitch you can imagine all the way down.  I thought my eardrums (and everyone’s around me) were going to explode.  I really, truly have no need for the attached bell that’s suppose to  let people know your approaching…there is no doubt I’m coming.  I have got to find me some WD-40.  Luckily, there are no pictures of this – but I’m sure you have no problem imagining the scene.  It’s days like this that I really miss my Stump Jumper!  However, the upside of having this bike is that I can take it anywhere and never have to lock it, because I know no one will every steal it.  And if they did, I’d be happy.

Viewing ALL of Our Photos

For those readers of Ichi, Ni, San who are new to the blogging world (no mom I am not talking about you – really, I am not), I wanted to point out that you can get to ALL of our pictures from our time in Japan by clicking on the “Photos” tab in the top left corner of the window (next to the “Home” tab).  Our photos are organized by album to help you navigate to the pictures that you want to see.  If you click on a album name (or its associated picture) you go to a page showing thumbnails of each picture. If you then click on a picture it will be shown in an enlarged format with a darkened background – at this point you can browse through the entire album with a simple click in the window (my preferred method of viewing albums).

You can view all the pictures that were embedded in earlier posts as well as many more that didn’t actually make it into a post.

I just wanted to make sure that everyone knew this…Enjoy!

Rakusuien Garden

Rakusuien Garden

Rakusuien Garden

I didn’t have enough time last night to write about the Rakusuien Gardens we visited yesterday, but it is worthy of it’s own post.  If you’ve been keeping up with the blog and checked out yesterday’s posting you probably have already seen the pictures, but after reading this, you’ll enjoy them more.  The garden is actually not very big.  It takes up a very small city block downtown (less than an acre in size), but it is beautiful.  It’s the kind of place you would want to take a picnic lunch and just hang out.  While we were there, a woman was working on a drawing of the waterfall.  The gate attendant offered us pellets to feed the fish (koi) when we entered, but we declined.  Just walking into the garden, the koi head for the next visitor and follow you around, hoping you have their next meal…it’s quite amusing (or sad, I’m not sure which).  When someone does arrive with food they go into a feeding frenzy…fighting over every morsel thrown.

An old villa and tea room of a wealthy Meiji-era merchant once stood here.  They replaced the villa with the gardens and restored the tea room.  They offer green tea with a Japanese sweet for ¥300, so I might have to do that one of these times.  One of the most interesting things about the garden is the wall that surrounds it.  According to the little pamphlet they give you, walls were built for shrines, temples, and places of commerce in the city as part of the war-damage restoration.  These particular clay walls were made from reclaimed roof tiles and burnt rock.

There is a sister garden somewhere else in the city called Yusentei Garden (on 2.5 acres)…so now I have a quest!  (Remember:  to see all the pictures…click on the photo.)

Keiro No Hi (Respect for the Aged Day)

The third Monday in September is a Japanese National Holiday.  They have lots of National Holidays here, and that usually means a day off from school.  Well, I guess since we officially ‘worked’ all day Saturday for Sports Day, this particular National Holiday replaces the Saturday we lost.  Today they were celebrating ‘Respect for the Aged Day’ or Keiro No Hi.  The best interpretation I’ve read for this day is that is sort of like Mother’s Day or Father’s Day, except that people honor all their elderly citizens.  Originally this holiday always fell on Sept 15th, but they moved it to the third Monday in September, so families could have an extended weekend together…what a great idea!

Gionmachi Zen Temple

Gionmachi Zen Temple

Since we had the day off, we decided to go exploring, and took the Subway to the Gion station.  From there we just meandered around the city looking for Canal City.  On the way, we noticed a Zen temple which had lots of activity, so we went in to check it out.  There were vendors selling flowers at the entrance, there were police directing traffic, and there seemed to be some sort of service going on inside the temple.  Not wanting to disrupt the service, we decided to check out what was behind the temple.  Interestingly enough we found ourselves amongst lots of tombstones.  Incredibly big, beautiful tombstones.  So now, I can only assume that it was a funeral taking place.  There were quite a few people back there, some were burning incense at the grave site, others had left flowers and or food and drinks as presents.  The groundskeepers were busy keeping everything perfectly manicured.  I found out later that during the equinoctial weeks (which this is) and Obon week,  families come to visit the graves of their ancestors – which would thus explain all the activity today.

Sumiyoshi Shrine

Sumiyoshi Shrine

We did eventually find Canal City, which architecturally looks very futuristic.  It’s houses a shopping mall, which I will have to return to at a later date, when the husband is not in tow.  However, there was one restaurant in there that had a line out the door, so I’m sure we’ll be back at some point, just to try that out.  As we walked further down the street we came across Sumiyoshi Shrine (which is under repair), but is still actively being used.  We arrived right after both a wedding and a baptism had taken place.  They were actually taking formal pictures of both and the monks were busy putting things away.  Everyone was dressed up in their traditional attire, and I really wanted to take some pictures, but I always feel awkward taking photos of someone else during such important life events, so I didn’t.  It’s actually a quaint old shrine, with beautiful surroundings.  It’s in settings like these, I sometimes forget that I’m in the middle of a city with 5 million people.  Given the events I got to experience today, I feel like I came full circle with today’s holiday.  I can’t wait for the next one….which happens to be this Thursday.

Spirit Week and Sports Day

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9th graders on Hippie Day

It is a Japanese tradition to have one day in the school year devoted to sports.  At FIS, the whole week leading up to Sports Day is called Spirit Week. It is similar to homecoming back home.  Each day has a theme (Hippie Day, Wild Hair Day…) and the kids and teachers dress up and score points for their team.  We had four teams that included students from pre-K to 12th grade. Having the teams have kids at different levels really made it fun.

The culmination of Spirit Week is Sports Day at Momochi Beach.  The teachers got there around 8am to get things setup and then the students and parents started showing up around 8:30.  The events began promptly at 9am.  The first few events were with the combined teams (pre-K thru 12th).  It was really great to see how much the older students helped out and supported the younger students on their team. Although there was a real competitiveness between the teams it never turned into anything negative – very nice.

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Sports Day – Tug of War

My job was to help run the secondary events – including the sprint for the batons and the 3-legged race. We quickly fell behind schedule and had to drop one of the events to make up time. The day ended with a tug-of-war between the teachers and the parents. I honestly thought the teachers had this one in the bag. But…we lost!  I have never worked so hard – or been so sore the next day. The weather was awesome – mid-80s and sunny.

After Sports Day ended all of the teachers were invited to Dr. Gush’s (the Head of School) apartment for drinks and food. It was great…I am not sure she expected us to stay there until 5:30 pm but it sure was fun.  I am already looking forward to Spirit Week and Sports Day next year!

Our First Festival in Japan

Stalls along entrance to the Shrine

Robert at the Hojoya Festival

We almost didn’t go to the Hojoya festival.  It was cloudy; it had just finished raining; it was already 12:30pm; and we had just eaten lunch.  We could have easily talked ourselves into staying home, but I packed up our rain gear and the camera, and we headed out the door.  I had only read about it in the Fukuoka Now magazine yesterday, and I wasn’t even really sure how to get there, but I acted like I did.  This place was not on my trusty map, but I couldn’t tell Robert that, because he wouldn’t have gone (not true – I would have :)).  I had a vague idea where it was after looking at a Google map, and I figured out the rest while in the subway station waiting for the train.  We had to transfer to another subway line about halfway there, and I kept reminding myself to ‘just follow all the people’….and it worked!  We emerged from the subway station and Voila! we were right in the midst of the festival.  How cool is that.

Stalls along entrance to the Shrine

Lots of Yakitori

There were stalls everywhere.  Oh, how I wish I hadn’t eaten lunch!  We walked up and down the street looking at all the tasty foods…yakitori (grilled chicken), takoyaki (fried octopus dumpling), grilled corn, stir-fries, mochis, chocolate covered bananas, sweet potato fries, fresh ginger, chestnuts, and endless amounts of other stuff that smelled divine.  There were also booths with all kinds of toys for the kids to take home and some with games for kids to play (with live little turtles and goldfish).  It was interesting just watching what everyone was doing.  You could hear the kids blowing into little toys that looked and sounded like birds, others were playing with big plastic swords and blow-up Miss Kitty dolls.  A few people were even dressed in their yukatas (casual cotton kimonos).

Hakozakigu Shrine

Procession at Hakozakigu Shrine

We eventually made our way into the shrine to see what was going on in there.  On one side was a theatrical performance of some kind that we watched for a few minutes, and on the other side, some Shinto monks were preparing for their procession to bring sweets to the gods.  We watched them go into the shrine and do whatever it is Shinto monks do (chanting, etc).  We then walked around the interior of the courtyard and found some beautiful flower/plant arrangements, displays of champons (glass ornaments), ohajiki (small ceramic game pieces), and other interesting items.  We walked around a bit more, and then headed back.  It was a good thing we left when we did…had we stayed too much longer, we would have been drenched!

Hakozakigu Shrine

Hakozaki History

For you history buffs…the Hokozaki Shrine has an interesting background.  According to several Fukuoka Tourism websites, it was founded around 923.  In the 13th century, the mongols twice tried to invade Japan, and both times their forces were decimated by heavy storms, which they referred to as ‘kamikazes” (divine winds), which they believed were a result of the the divine protection offered by this shrine.  This led to many important Japanese military leaders visiting this shrine in later years.  I wonder if this is where the WWII term for the pilots came from?   The main sanctuary eventually had to be rebuilt in 1546.  This is one of three major shrines in Japan dedicated to Hachiman (the god of war and protector of Japan), and it is now a ‘nationally-designated important cultural property.’  The Emperor Ojin, the Empress Jingu and Princess Tamayori are all enshrined in the Hakozaki Shrine.  I might have to come back in early January for their other festival in which young men run around in loincloths chasing after a wooden ball….now that I gotta see!

Time on Task – It’s All About Practice!

This post is not about Japan!  However, I felt compelled to post this as it relates to teaching mathematics (one of the purposes of this blog).  I am “sort of” tired of hearing students say that they are just not good at mathematics (not so much here in Japan…but generally and consistently over the past 3 years).  I am convinced that NO ONE is genetically (or otherwise) bad at mathematics.  Instead, their poor performance/understanding of mathematics is the accumulated result of years of lack of practice.

The attached article has a scope well beyond mathematics – the author argues that practice applies to everything!

Sweating Your Way to Success – NYTimes.com

But Syed shows that in almost every arena in which tasks are complex, top performers excel not because of innate ability but because of dedicated practice.

In effect, the stars among us have practiced so much that they are better at what psychologists call “chunking.”Syed shows that most better performers have practiced so intensely that they chunk better at their tasks than normal people. So we see impressive performance and think someone is naturally skilled, whereas the reality is that person has simply practiced for longer and more intensely than others.