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Road Trip to Itoshima

Raizan Sennyoji Daihyoin Temple

Raizan Sennyoji Daihyoin Temple

One of the veteran teachers at FIS offered to take a few of us on a road trip to a temple in Itoshima, and we wasted no time taking him up the offer.  It’s great when the locals offer to show you around their town.  They know the best spots – and they are usually not the tourist spots.

Itoshima is a peninsula 20-25 minutes drive south of Fukuoka.  The local train skirts the area, and there is bus service to a few key spots, but a vehicle is really the best way around. It was drizzling rain this morning and we hoped that it would help keep the crowds away.  On the way there we took the scenic drive, which included a quick stop at a smaller shrine, over a mountain range, and along many back roads until we got to Raisan Sennyoji Daihihouin temple.

The two main attractions at the temple are the 16 foot buddha with 11 faces and 1,000 hands, and the 400-year old maple tree in the front garden.  The colors on the grounds of the temple were amazing…occasionally bordering on surreal.  Pictures cannot do this place justice.  In addition to enjoying the temple grounds and buildings, we also attended our first Buddhist prayer session (Robert even thought it was cool).  The elderly Japanese in the room took it very serious…folding their hands, and chanting & singing along with the monk who pounded on a drum.

Our Barbecue with Oysters

Our Barbecue – with Oysters!

I think we were the most excited about the next part of the trip….eating at the oyster shack on the beach.  We left the temple, passed through the town of Maebaru, and made it to the coast.  We then drove along some narrow back roads and eventually made it to the local fishing docks which had 5-10 large party-style tents with colorful signs on the outside. We picked a tent and headed inside. There was a large rough timber table with two BBQ grills inset into it – perfect for our group of seven.  A lady came and took our order and before we knew it we had ten pounds of fresh oysters, two large squid, two brined fish and five scallops in the shell on our table ready to be barbecued…by us.  We also had a nice selection of beverages that we had purchased at the grocery store on the way…the makings for a perfect afternoon. The food was even better than we had imagined – and we had imagined good food.  We will go back there soon, even if it means taking a train, a bus and long walk to get there!

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Yusentei Garden

Yusentei Garden in the Fall

Yusentei Garden in the Fall

After visiting Rakusuien Garden in September, I have been wanting to find it’s sister garden….Yusentei Garden.

Well, my quest has been fulfilled!

Since we had another gloriously beautiful day, we decided to ride our bikes to this garden and view some more fall colors.  After a fairly long bike ride (I was beginning to wonder if we were ever going to get there), we arrived at the entrance.  This was obviously ‘the thing’ to do today.  There were plenty of other people there snapping pictures of everything they saw and a couple older women painting.  I could write about how beautiful this place was or better yet….you can just view the pictures.

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“Fall”ing Behind in Momochi

Momochi in the Fall

Reflective Pond near Fukuoka Museum

I must admit, I have not been as diligent as I should have been about writing posts.  You can blame it on the weather!  We’ve had absolutely perfect temperatures for the last month and the leaves have been changing; so, the last thing I want to do is sit inside and write.

I especially love it when I can get out in the morning and go for a walk/run around our neighborhood.  The last few times I actually took my camera with me so that I could take pictures.  I tried to capture some of the lovely colors as well as the sculptures that adorn the area.  Enjoy the pictures!

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Yanagawa: The Venice of Japan

Day trip to Yanagawa

Yanagawa Canal Trip

Yanagawa is a small town in southern Japan about 45 minutes from Fukuoka (by train).  It has little canals running through it which were originally used as irrigation ditches.  Today these canals are used for scenic boat rides.  Boats called “donkobune” are propelled by local men with bamboo poles down the moats through narrow tunnels and around sharp bends and past beautiful expanses of old stonework, houses, monuments, and water-side shops.   The word Yanagawa literally means ‘willow river’.  I should have guessed that, because there are hundreds of these trees lining the canals.

bbq eel on top of rice with cooked egg...hard to describe just how good this was

Our lunch – steamed eel w/ rice

Our boatman never stopped talking (except when he was singing), and even though we had no idea what he was talking about, it didn’t matter….it was an absolutely beautiful day to spend an hour going through this pretty town.  Near the end of the ride, the smell of steamed eel filled the air and we kept spotting all the wonderful places we could stop and have lunch.  One place in particular had a line out front, and we headed for that as soon as we got off our boat.  Luckily we didn’t have to wait and we were seated right away.  We could see the stack of eel dishes being steamed in the back.  We simply asked our waitress for her recommendation (“o susume”) and we were not disappointed.

Autumn colors

The Golden Ginkgo Trees

After lunch, we decided to walk back to the train station to work off our lunch and stretch our legs since they’d been scrunched up from sitting Japanese style all morning.  On the way back, we decided to visit the old castle ruins, but there really wasn’t much there except a few rocks and some beautiful old ginkgo trees in their prime autumn gold color.  We walked down one of the “100 best roads” in Japan, and discovered this town is also the birth place of one of Japan’s most popular poets.  It’s really amazing all the unique little experiences there are here in Japan….most of them simple, yet all so satisfying.  Yanagawa is yet another place we’d gladly visit again.

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Who says you can’t make good Italian food in Japan?

Cooking mushroom risotto at home

I’ve been searching all over the city for Arborio rice to make risotto.  I finally gave up.  In the land of rice, I think they refuse to import it from anywhere else.  They are very proud of their rice, and they should be!  The quality of rice here is light years above the typical rice available in the US.

Thanks to a Google search, I discovered that short grain rice makes a good substitute for Arborio rice.  My source says that it will be just as creamy, just not ‘al dente’.   So, we broke down and decided to try and make some “Mushroom Asparagus Risotto” for dinner tonight (using the rice we normally use to make sushi -which is a short grain rice).

Japan has more fresh mushrooms than anywhere I’ve ever been, so I figured dinner would be good even if the rice was a total failure because the mushrooms are fabulous.  Vegetables here (while a little expensive) are truly awesome!  Mushrooms are the exception…they are very inexpensive AND awesome.

We used four different varieties of mushrooms (don’t ask me which ones – although one was definitely oyster mushrooms).  We also used chopped garlic and onion, asparagus, green onions, wine, and (of course) freshly shaved Parmigiano-Reggiano.  We ended up with the best mushroom risotto we’ve ever made…and as long as you don’t over cook it, it still ends up ‘al dente’.

So, we agree with you Japan.  There really is no need to import rice from Italy.

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Current Fukuoka Weather Report

Weather Forecast

Current Fukuoka Weather

What the ??

I use Weather Underground a lot.  For me, it has always been the most accurate weather tool available (at least anywhere I’ve used it).  It usually gives very accurate information on the current temperature and condition.  I’m used to seeing:  sunny, cloudy, rain, light drizzle, windy, etc…  However,  I’ve never seen this condition before.  It’s not like we are living in the Sahara Desert and experiencing a sand storm.  I suspect it was meant to say “Haze” – but whoever is responsible for preparing the forecast has made a really interesting translation…lol.

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The Reclining Buddha

Day Trip to Kidonanzoin

Nanzoin Temple Area

When it’s as beautiful as it was today, we have to get out and do something.  And after a two week hiatus (recovering from Hong Kong), we were ready to start exploring some more.  Today’s adventure took us on a train ride about 20 minutes east of the city – into a pretty little mountainous area.  After a little confusion trying to figure out where to buy our tickets at the main station in Hakata, it was actually very easy getting to Kidonanzoin.   To our pleasant surprise we ended up no where near suburbia.  I absolutely love these small little town stations that barely have anything around them.  And as a bonus, Nanzoin Temple was literally right across the road (although you couldn’t see it from the station), up a small river canyon, so it was easy to find too.

Day Trip to Kidonanzoin

Stone Men

We had a wonderful time walking around the grounds viewing all the different lanterns, statues, temples, ponds and caves.  The leaves had just started changing colors and there weren’t many people there so it was an incredibly peaceful and relaxing way to spend the early afternoon.  We weren’t in any kind of hurry, so we took our time and spent a couple hours just exploring.  I have to say that I really loved looking at all the little stone men statues the most.  Everyone of them was different and each one had so much detail.  It was like I was looking at a miniature audience frozen in time.  When I’m not in a hurry, I notice lots of little things…like lanterns with moss and grass growing on them, the beautiful rock work, the turtles and trout in the ponds, all the little waterfalls and all the different species of flora and fauna.  It was a kick to see some of the statues wearing bright yellow and orange beanies on their heads and a few with bibs like they were going to eat lobster or something.  I wonder if the locals do that to keep them from getting cold.  Only one statue seemed a little out of place there….a huge colorful mad warrior at the far end of the little courtyard.  I’m not sure what purpose he serves, but I’m sure he’s there for a good reason.

Day Trip to Kidonanzoin

Face of the Big Reclining Buddha

We finally made our way up to where the big Buddha lay.  To our disappointment it was mostly covered in scaffolding.  Fortunately the head was still visable and it’s sheer size was still impressive.  After peaking through the side, it was very obvious that this cleaning job desperately needs to be done, and we figured we could always come back to see how well it cleans up.  We each enjoyed a yummy mixed green tea/vanilla ice cream cone and then headed back toward the station.  I’m sure there was much more to investigate in these hills as we saw lots of trails leading off to somewhere, but I was getting hungry and wanted to get back downtown to get a bite to eat and do a bit of shopping.

Trips like this just make me want to get on more trains and venture farther and farther away….

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Last Days in Hong Kong

I’m sitting here in the Taipei airport waiting for our connecting flight, so I have a few minutes to wrap up our trip to Hong Kong.  While we really enjoyed the city, we prefer Fukuoka, and we are ready to get back home.

Hong Kong Day 3

View of Hong Kong Island from Kowloon

It was hot and very sunny in Hong Kong yesterday.  Since China Airlines confiscated my little bottle of sun screen, I was trying to dodge the sun as best I could most of the day, so I took the subway across the causeway to Kowloon rather than the highly recommended Star Ferry.  This ‘other side’ of the city has a totally different feel to it than the island.  It’s not nearly as easy to navigate and they have annoying street hawkers.  I walked around the same block twice, before I realized the only way to cross the main street was underground.

Bird Vendors

Bird Vendor

After finally getting to the piers, I watched the ferries arrive, and then walked along the covered part of the promenade which presented another beautiful view of the city.  I made a quick visit to the art museum, and then finished walking down the ‘Avenue of the Stars’ which is China’s equivalent of Hollywood Blvd.  It has the names of all their movie stars on it, as well as some statues, and corny Kodak picture spots…the Chinese tourists seem to love it though.

I then headed back into the heart of the city (where I could be in the shade of the high rises) and made my way down Nathan Road (the widest road in Hong Kong), which happens to be lined with, believe it or not, more shops.  I made a detour through a crowded park, passed a huge mosque, and then headed farther down Nathan Road toward Temple Market (which I purposely skipped since it’s a night market).  It was here that the scenery began changing.  There were swarms of people everywhere, lots of worn down buildings with signs in Chinese, and lots of exhaust, horns blowing, and people smoking.  The side streets became far more interesting to look down (sometimes scary looking).  I started questioning if I really should be venturing out here by myself.  Occasionally, I would see some other foreigners and an English sign which helped assure me that I wasn’t lost.

Charcoal Roasted Everything

Charcoal Roasted Everything

I came upon a popular local temple (Tin Hau) and decided to checked it out (I confess, I like the dizzy feeling I get when I’m in there).  I decided to hang out here in their community courtyard for awhile and take a rest, drink some water, watch the elder Chinese men play some chip game at their tables and review my map for the next part of my journey.  I finally felt brave enough to venture into the ‘scary’ part of town where I found the dried food vendors, ‘butchers’, and fish markets.  It wasn’t far from there that I found the Jade Market (more of a bazaar really), which I really enjoyed browsing through.  I’m not sure why some of the vendors don’t post prices – at least on some things -they’d probably get more sales (at least from me).

After walking several more blocks down Nathan street, I found the Ladies Market where I came upon even more stalls selling handbags, baby clothes, jewelry, etc.  I was still very hot and thirsty, so I treated myself to a nice cold iced mocha from Starbucks (truly an oasis in the middle of the dessert).  The sellers in this particular market were pretty aggressive, so I went through there as quickly as I could…which was not an easy thing to do.  This whole section of the city is filled with streets that specialize in one thing.  I decided to skip the electronics market street, and instead I headed for the goldfish market street (which ended up being several blocks of pet stores as well as aquariums.  That area did not smell very good, so I wasn’t too tempted to buy any cute fury animals.  Finally, I arrived upon my favorite two streets…the Flower Market (which smelled so good and I wanted to buy one of everything they were selling), and the Bird Street Market (which was highly entertaining).  At times I felt pretty sorry for the birds, but it appears the Chinese love their birds as much as the Japanese love their dogs.  Some vendors even had their birds do tricks or talk or sing.  It actually was a pleasant way to end to my very interesting day.

Hong Kong Day 3, Flower Market

Hong Kong Flower Market

I hopped on the closest subway train I could find and beat Robert to the hotel by a mere 15 minutes.  We ended up going back to the Soho area for dinner.  Oddly enough we noticed large groups of women hanging out on the sidewalks playing cards, talking and just camping out…this went on continuously for at least a mile (I kid you not).  We thought they were waiting in line for some tickets to see Brad Pitt or something, but we were informed at dinner that all the ‘domestic helpers’ in the city do this every Sunday as a way of socializing.  That’s great, but why on the sidewalk?…why not in the park?

Today we slept in…knowing a full day of traveling was in store for us.  We made it home safely with no complications (other than having our cookies and candies X-rayed in Fukuoka when we arrived).  Robert almost lost his patience…he tends to get that way when he is tired.  So, sorry FIS faculty and staff…the odds of us bringing back any treats from our future travels is now very low.

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Hong Kong Day Two

Day 2 in Hong Kong

Birds in Hong Kong Aviary

It ended up being a beautiful morning, the skies were clearing, and the city officials lifted all typhoon warnings, so everything was back to normal.  I was going to head for Kowloon on the other side of the causeway, but I didn’t want to miss an opportunity to see the city from the infamous Peak, so I decided to head to the Tram via Hong Kong Park.

City Parks usually don’t excite me much but this one was great.  In the first 5 minutes I passed some fountains, lakes, waterfalls, and watched turtles sunbathing on the rocks.  I don’t know if this was a typical Saturday morning here, but the park was not very busy…it almost felt like I had the whole place to myself.   I made a quick detour into the tea museum which actually ended up being quite amusing….I had no idea how many designs you could make with tea sets.  I was almost out of the park, when I found the walk-through aviary, and I totally lost track of time in there.  I didn’t end up getting to the Peak Tram until lunch time.

View from the Peak in Hong Kong

View from The Peak in Hong Kong

I bought my ticket and while I was waiting for the tram,  I met a wonderful couple from northern England who lived in Hong Kong during the 70′s.  It was fun listening to their stories and their suggestions for things to do while here.  They said they always come up to the Peak when they return and walk the loop.  The tram is one of the oldest operating funiculars in the world, having made it first journey in 1888.  It is also very steep.  There were several times during the 7 minute journey to the top I prayed the cable would hold, because the alternative would be very depressing.

The view of the city from the top of the peak is specatacular.  I’ve seen pictures of this view many times in my life, but nothing beats seeing it in person.  Sadly, I can’t believe that on top of this beautiful hill they built an ugly shopping center that looks like a concrete boat and beside that they built another shopping mall.  Fortunately, I had planned on walking the 2 1/2 mile trail around the peak – which is still well preserved, beautiful, and a great way to spend a relaxing day outdoors escaping the hustle and bustle of the city.

That night, I brought Robert back for the night view – which was equally spectacular.  We had a delicious Indian dinner outside in the courtyard of the Peak Lookout restaurant (which use to be the old tram station).   It would have been nice to avoid the lines for the tram, both up and down, but those were inescapable.  Despite the lines, we still ended up having a wonderful evening.

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Hong Kong Day One

Day 1 in Hong Kong

Water Fountain in front of Former Supreme Court Bldg

I’m SO glad Typhoon Megi decided to vacation near Taiwan rather than Hong Kong….I really didn’t want to spend the next three days inside my hotel or in shopping malls.  Fortunately, the weather ended up being perfect.

Hong Kong feels like a San Francisco that’s being swallowed by ‘China Town’.  There is no apparent language barrier here…everyone seems to know English.  It’s very well organized and has a great and inexpensive subway system which I came to know intimately.  I spent my first day exploring from Hong Kong Central to the Western Market.  I would have preferred to explore everything with Robert, but unfortunately he was stuck in a classroom from 8:00 to 5:00…so he had to experience my day (and most of Hong Kong) through pictures.

The first half of my first day took me through the British historic areas of downtown.  It was odd to see small colonial buildings lost among all the steel and glass of modern day skyscrapers.  Times sure have changed.  With a little imagination, you could picture what it was once like.  I really enjoyed visiting St John’s cathedral (a very tiny cathedral with ceiling fans!) which is thought to be the oldest Anglican church in the Far East).  And not far from there, was the Government house and the Botanical Gardens filled with beautiful tropical vegetation and orchids.

Day 1 in Hong Kong

An Antique Market in Hong Kong

After such a relaxing and civilized morning, I was ready to take on the commercial markets.  Hong Kong has an insane amount of high end shops (most of which seem to have no patrons), and then sandwiched on small alleys between these buildings which house the shops for Versace, Valentino and Tiffany’s are street vendors in make-shift stalls repairing shoes, and selling costume jewelry, handbags, and cheap knockoffs.

The further East I went, the more exotic the shops got.  There were whole streets dedicated to dried/preserved items…including seafood, mushrooms, flowers, roots, bark, snake skins, and ‘herbal medicines’.  I can only imagine what eventually becomes of this stuff, and I’m not sure I want to find out.   I finally came upon the antique district where there were hundreds of dealers with a huge array of artifacts from jade and carved ivory to gourds and old war propaganda posters.  I’m a sucker for all things old and I would have loved to spend more time here searching for a treasure to bring back, but I really needed to be heading back, so on I went.

My last stop for the day was Man Ho Temple (the oldest temple in Hong Kong).  I passed on the palm reading, but I did go inside to view the large incense spirals hanging from the ceiling (that stuff makes me dizzy), and then I watched a few women bang the gong and burn their prayers in the big fire pit outside (sending their prayers to the spirit world).  On my way back, fortunately I discovered the Central-Mid-Level Escalators…after walking all day my legs were numb – and those moving sidewalks were a godsend!

The old Man Ho Temple in Downtown Hong Kong

When Robert returned from his training, we both headed for the SoHo area (stands for South of Hollywood).  There were numerous bars and restaurants in this area for us to choose from.  We decided on a small Italian place on one of the back roads to have our dinner.  It was an extremely relaxing evening with great food and wine.  It was exactly what we both needed.  The owner and staff were fantastic and very generous.  Neither one of us really wanted to leave, but all good things must end.  On the way back we checked out the IFC mall and walked down to the Harbor area to check out the city lights.  By the time we returned to the hotel we were both exhausted, but excited about what the next couple nights would have in store.

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