“We keep moving forward, opening new doors, and doing new things, because we’re curious and curiosity keeps leading us down new paths.” – Walt Disney


This past weekend I went to Yamaga to be an extra in the new Rurouni Kenshin sequel. I started the application process in the middle of July because they had posted they needed foreigners for a scene — I had my fingers crossed and kept silent in fear that I may jinx the possibility of getting the role. I know that it wouldn’t have helped or lessened my chances of getting the role, but I didn’t want to get anybody’s hopes up. I requested a Saturday off from work, which my boss was none too happy about, but he reluctantly gave in.

So Friday the 9th after work my friend and I drove to Yamaga and checked into our ryokan hotel (which the owner was completely against allowing us to stay because we were foreigners). I was able to talk him into allowing us to keep our reservation because he tried to get us to cancel a few days before we left to go and there was no room left because it was a busy weekend for the staff working on the film and the fans coming to stake out the area for a chance to catch a glimpse of their favorite actor. I brought the owner of the hotel some donuts in attempt to buy over some trust, and I think it worked. We had a good experience at the hotel, so I can’t complain!

Saturday morning, bright and early, my friend and I got up at 4:30am and wandered down to Yachiyo-za where they were going to film the movie. It was a long process, but we got in for wardrobe, hair and makeup. They fitted me into a long 1870’s style gold dress, and underneath I wore a long petticoat. Those fluffy things are like ovens, by the way. After that I got into line for makeup. We weren’t supposed to wear makeup before hand, but the lady there thought I had put some on. She was surprised how nice my skin looked. What can I say? When ya got it, ya got it. She covered up my freckles and smoothed out some blemishes. She said she liked the color of my lips so we didn’t put any lipstick on. On to hair — now I had hoped that they would do something with my own hair, but they slapped a dorag on my head and slid on a very funny-looking wig. I couldn’t hold in my laughter when I looked into the mirror and saw my new “do”. I looked like something out of Little House on the Prairie or Goldilocks.

The first day on set we spent the whole day outside recording one scene. It wasn’t that there were any mistakes that needed to be corrected, it’s that they had to refilm the same scene from many different angles. I had absolutely no idea the amount of work and care that goes into making a movie. This scene can’t take up much more than maybe 4-5 minutes total, but it took 5-6 hours to film! First we began with the camera behind me and a few others looking into the “marketplace”. Along the way there was a camera in the marketplace filming. I didn’t realize it was there until I was walking so one time I did accidentally look at it. The next time they moved the camera from behind us to in front and above us, re-positioning some cameras throughout the marketplace for a different look. Next they completely moved the camera to the back, and above. Then there was another scene where we had to weave through it as though it was a person while taking care to continue acting our parts and ignoring the camera, and then there was another scene where the camera was on something motorized and would “drive” through the marketplace. There was probably more than that, and I lost count as to how many times we did that scene. There was a band there playing music and we were told that when the band stopped playing, we were supposed to stop speaking — but we were supposed to continue moving our mouths as though we were speaking.

Can you find Green Hat creeping in the background between Takeru and Aoki?

Can you find Green Hat creeping in the background between Takeru and Aoki?

The second day we were inside Yachiyo-za for another full day of scene shooting. The same scene, of course. But we were inside and they air conditioned the room when we weren’t filming. As I said before, we did the same scene many times with the cameras in different places. It’s hard to go into this scene without potentially giving it away and whereas it isn’t a huge plot piece, I still feel it was a rather important part of the movie. I believe this is when Kenshin will make his reappearance in the movie. How they will introduce him and the others within the movie.

Which brings me to the next bit — the actors were there. Munetaka Aoki (Sanosuke), Satou Takeru (Kenshin), Takei Emi (Kaoru) and Tanaka Taketo (Yahiko). The creator of the manga Kenshin (Nobuhiro Watsuki) was also there as well as the director (Otomo). I always thought that they would look different in person. Either their height would be not as I imagined or the screen told lies about how they looked, but no. They looked exactly like they did in the first movie. The only thing I was surprised about was how tall Munetaka Aoki (Sanosuke). I nearly walked into him leaving the theatre and I remember looking up and thinking, “Wow, you are tall.” Satou Takeru came off a bit cold, but I like to think it’s because he was working. Perhaps he was making sure he kept himself in character. While he’s on set perhaps he just doesn’t like to interact with anyone or anything. A friend of mine said he saw him balancing on the beams in the theatre, which he said seemed like a “Kenshin” thing to do. I’m not quite sure if it was a “Kenshin” thing to do or not, but I like to think he was just keeping his mind in character and avoiding all outward distractions. Munetaka Aoki (Sanosuke) was very vocal. He’d play with the kids and make all the extras on set laugh. I thoroughly enjoyed his presence. He and I kept making eye contact but I was rather nervous and I felt shy everytime our eyes met so I never actually reacted outwardly other than quickly looking away.

All in all it was a great experience and I loved every moment of it, even when I felt the drops of sweat dripping down my back. Even when the staff would come over and dab the sweat off my face before a take so the camera wouldn’t catch the beads of sweat dripping off my nose and chin. I don’t think everyone can say they were in a movie — a Warner Bros. movie! It’ll be out in theatres Summer 2014 in Japan. Unfortunately I won’t be here to see it. 😦 Yep, I’ll be here to see it!


In battle, if you you make your opponent flinch, you have already won.

On Saturday, April 7th, I took my first kendo ranking test–1kyu–and I passed. It was one of the most terrifying and nerve wracking things I have done in a long time. I felt so out of my element. I was putting myself far, far out of my comfort zone.

Kumamoto is known within the Kendo world as being a great place to study the practice. So many great high schools here who have won many national championships; so many individuals here who have one championships as well. Kumamoto is the very city where Miyamoto Musashi lived a good portion of his life and wrote The Book of Five Rings. The teaching here is strict and even the test, which varies from prefecture to prefecture, is a little different than other places where things are usually the same. I have been to Miyamoto Musashi’s grave and I have been to the very place he meditated and wrote his book–all here in Kumamoto City.

The day of my 1kyu test came about and I was a nervous wreck. Heck, the day before I was nervous. I understand that it may not be a good reason, but I was to be the only foreigner there at the testing–and I didn’t want to be the only foreigner. The moment I arrived on the day of the test and made my way down to the floor anyone who was able to see me on my way stopped in surprise, some even stopped whatever conversation they were having and just stared in surprise. Being the only foreigner there kind of puts a lot of pressure on you. People want to see how you do and are curious of how you do it. I was nervous. Very nervous. I wanted to do well, and I made many mistakes, but I passed.

The first part of the test had something called kirikaeshi which we had to perform twice, after that was something called uchikomi where the other person opens up specific hits on their body and the other is supposed to properly go for those openings and hit them. After those two things you recenter yourself and you start the shiai (match). In 1kyu it doesn’t matter who wins or loses. You just want to attempt to properly make cuts and hold your ground with good form.

If you pass that portion of the test you are allowed to move on to the second part of the test: the kihon kendo kata. In this portion of the test you are placed up against another person and perform specific kata. There are two sides to these techniques. One person is motodachi (loser) and the other is kakarite (winner). I got lucky in that sense because I ended up being motodachi. Motodachi actually started off being the hardest one out of the kata for me to learn, but in the end became the easiest. I performed my kata without any mistakes and that felt great.

The process was long. I was able to enter the budokan at 8am, things started around 9am and I sat around waiting to go on for almost three hours. I was #81 of 82 people! All in all, I finished around 2:30pm. My teacher was there watching, which made me even more nervous, but I tried. After the last part of the test was finished and while everyone was waiting for the results my teacher congratulated me on passing shodan before the results had even been posted.

After everything was said and done Kevin, Yuji and I went and got ramen and followed up with some ice cream to celebrate. It was a good day and I was very glad when it was over. My teacher is already pushing towards shodan which is in a month. I am already afraid, but if I really do intend to do shodan I will have to push myself harder and harder.

You should see me in a crown

Just replace “BARROWMAN!” with “MOFFAT!”

And then I found out about Sherlock, and I fell in love with the show because of that funny looking, sharp-as-hell cheekboned boy. It really is too bad that the seasons are so short. I love the fact each episode is 90 minutes long, but I want more time with the characters. More Moriarty. It really is too bad that I don’t have much of anybody to talk to about these two wonderful shows. Mom, Dan, grandma? That’s a hint. Hop to it!


I began kendo again after a long hiatus. I took a break back in June because I was studying for the JLPT N4 test–which I passed. I’m due for N3 in December. After which (if I pass) I will be taking a break from the tests and focusing on conversational Japanese. I had my first kendo class last weekend and I got my bogu armor set (hand-me-down) which I fell in love with. Yes, it’s used, but I love it. It’s different and unique. It’s old, with character. It’s amazing. The stitching is purple and everything is just good. It’s just perfect. Well, almost perfect. But it’s close enough. I bought a bokken for practicing alone (it’s heavier than a shinai).

I’m going to Tokyo later this month (on the 22nd). I will go to a art museum for some geeky Evangelion fun, the ghibli museum, Akihabara, Asakusa, Tokyo SkyTree, and some other awesome places yet to be determined. Nick and his wife want me to go to the huge Gundam statue. I will sure try, but I cannot promise.

Yeah, baby!

My phone is on the fritz. It’s broken, and I am looking for a new phone which means a new email address if I switch. I will not be going to iPhone and I’ll be switching back to an Android OS phone (YES). There will be mass emails when/if I get it. Don’t worry. The number should stay the same, so no worries there. Not like any of you know my number. But the email will change. Completely. No choice. I’ll be changing providers.

Ask not what you can do for your country. Ask what’s for lunch.

Lately on my bike rides home at night either from work or the gym I find my thoughts being flooded by the steps that I’ve taken that have lead me here. To this point in my life. To this country. To the path I’ve chosen to currently walk.

Sometimes it feels like it was only a few days ago when I was staying up all night chatting online in the Yahoo chat rooms with my friends about Japanese things such as anime and whatnot. Having sleepovers with my best friend Monique and watching Toonami after school. Sometimes I wake up in the morning with the very same sensation and feeling that I felt during summer vacation in between grades. It’s so hard for me to believe sometimes that time has really flown by this quickly.

Then I realize there is still so much ahead of me that I have yet to find and conquer. This part of my life is just a chapter. It isn’t the whole book. I think about where I will go, which path I want to take, if I want to walk that path with someone or go on my own for a while–and all of these thoughts flood my mind as I huff my bike along the path that follows along with Shirakawa River.

History and Tourism

Early last month in May I went to visit a friend of mine who lives in Osaka over Golden Week. For those of you who don’t know what Golden Week is, consider yourself lucky. It’s honestly one of the worst times to travel in Japan because everyone is traveling. Perhaps it’s similar to trying to travel and sight-see over Memorial weekend or Fourth of July in America. The difference is, you get about a week off from work (depending on your job) and since everyone else is getting time off, why not go places and see things? I decided to go to Kyoto and Nara. Both of which were full of tourists, but Kyoto was SO crowded. I was so surprised. There were crowded lines on the sidewalks just to get to temples and shrines.

I would not recommend visiting Japan during the first week of May. Everyone is going everywhere. Traveling is expensive because they jack up the prices during that time–because they can. Not only that, but tickets to travel by train, bus, or airplane are all sold out almost a month or two in advance because people plan ahead since it’s so busy during this week.

Because I am feeling lazy, here is a link to the pictures I took in Kyoto: http://www.flickr.com/photos/isshoni/sets/72157629971269309/

Here is a link to the pictures I took in Nara: http://www.flickr.com/photos/isshoni/sets/72157629591100774/

One strange thing, though. There was a guy at Fushimi-Inari Shrine (the place in Kyoto with all the red gates) who either had a REAL gun or a fake gun. He was dressed in American military wear, but the thing is the flag patch on his shoulder was not reversed, so it was clear that his uniform was fake. Diego and I stopped at the rest area on the way down to take a breather, and the guy came down and stopped just outside of the rest area, dropped his bag and pulled out a gun and proceeded to load a magazine. At that point I decided it was time to leave.

Other than that, the weather was beautiful. There were too many people, but that is to be expected of a tourist area. So many people say that they want to go to Kyoto to see “real Japan” but after living here for a year I can tell you that it isn’t “real Japan”. It’s a part of Japan set up to show you what they think you want to see. Yes, the shrines and temples are real. But everything else is just an act. People walking around in kimono or yukata pay someone to dress them up in that stuff so they can walk around Kyoto that way. Even the “old town” of Kyoto was rebuilt to show you what it used to be like and it’s all modern. It’s all tourist shops to try to sell you things.

If you want to see Japan, go to small towns. Get out of the big cities and just enjoy the surroundings.

What? No DDR? WTF Konami?!

A Konami Sports Club located in Ibaraki.

I mentioned before that I have been exercising pretty frequently, which brings me to now. I never thought that going to a gym in Japan would be so significantly different from having a gym membership in America. In some aspects it’s not–it’s more like they actually enforce the rules rather than give guidelines (at least in America it felt like the rules were more like guidelines…).

So when you go to a gym to sign up for a membership you’ll want to have all your information on you. Most likely, if you’re a gaijin, you won’t have a Japanese credit card because we’re not cool enough for that. Long story short on that one is I’m pretty sure Japan feels as though foreigners can’t be trusted, though I’m not sure if the new alien registration card (which isn’t actually called an alien registration card anymore) that they are releasing in July will allow for more “rights” for foreigners because it’s pretty much the same card as a Japanese citizen. Except you’re a foreigner–and you’ll probably still be treated like an alien…

(e.g. “So in America… do you eat rice at all?”)

Anyways, signing up for a gym membership is way more time consuming than it is in America. They want a whole slew of information that in America they really don’t seem to care much about. In America I’m pretty sure I gave them my address and phone number, handed her my credit card and then went on my merry way. In Japan you give the same information but like any contract of any kind they want a part of your soul… They want your health status, if you have any illnesses, if you’ve had surgery, if you have any weaknesses… how many partners you’ve been with–okay, maybe not that bit of information.

However, in Japan they do payments a little differently from how they do it in America. I think it’s safe to say that most Japanese people have bank accounts but it’s also safe to say that most Japanese people do not have credit cards or debit cards that they can use to buy items at stores. In fact, when I signed up for my bank account the closest thing they have to a credit card was the nifty Tsuruya credit card that you can only use at Tsuruya. Most banks do not offer online banking, either. When you pay a bill it usually comes to you in the mail  and you then take it to the nearest convenience store and pay it. For the gym membership, however, I had a choice of paying it in cash every month or allowing them to take it directly out of my bank account. To do that I needed to bring my bank book (which has the same information as an American checkbook would in regards to bank number and account number) in with me and they would take my account information down so they could pull the money directly.

Afterwards it takes about 2-4 months for their system to accept your information and proceed to take the money out of your account every month. For me, by the third month it still hadn’t verified my bank information yet and I found myself having to pay in cash while being reassured that it will probably go through by the fourth month. I guess we’ll find out soon enough.

Other than that, it follows pretty normal Japanese rules. When you check in you get your locker number and before you can move on to the locker area you have to take off your shoes. After that point your outside shoes are not allowed on the floor. In the locker room no shoes are allowed, but once you leave you can put on your gym shoes which are shoes that are basically inside shoes… but for the gym. I’m sure there may be people who wear outside shoes in, but I was told they wanted me to use shoes that were not used outdoors. It reminded me of when I was in high school and I had “gym shoes”! Except we all wore them outside.

Depending on your plan you can have access to the pool, the studio (basically workout classes), etc. I enjoy the workout classes (specifically body combat). There are always a bunch of staff on duty and they are always wandering around to make sure people are okay. In America I don’t think the staff really batted an eye at me once. Most just stayed behind their desk and texted or… zoned out?

Konami DDR game.

Long story short: it’s a lot of fun and I kind of like being part of the gym community in Japan over America. The people and staff are really nice (even if they’re supposed to be) and I feel welcome. Now other members are slowly warming up to me and chatting with me time to time. It’s a nice feeling. 🙂

Also, despite the fact my gym is called Konami, and pretty much has the same logo as the game company, I’m a little disappointed I can’t workout and play games at the same time using their machines. 😦

Fugu? Not So Bad! Just Another Day!

So Tuesday was Valentine’s Day. I didn’t do much on Tuesday though I must say I was pretty productive. I slept in, got up and cleaned my apartment. You know, you never really realize how much hair you shed until you’re living in a space about 14×11 feet. Nevertheless, I cleaned up the main room, did some laundry and then headed off to the gym and arrived about 5PM.

Usually my gym workouts consist of 30 minutes of running and 30 minutes of weights, but I was away over the weekend in Ube seeing a friend from my home town, Jake, and the gym is closed on Wednesdays so I figured it was time to make up for lost time. So Tuesday I ran until I hit 3 miles (it’s my usual distance, but I took my time today), lifted weights and did sit-ups for 30 minutes, took a short break and then power-walked a mile or more for about a half hour until it was time to take some taebo-ish class. I must say I don’t think I have sweat that much in my life.

One thing I don’t think I’ll ever get used to is how exercise classes are in Japan. I don’t know much of the language so some of what the instructor is saying is lost on me. Before the class begins the instructor introduces himself and says some inspiring things and then everyone bows to one another and claps. But Kai insisted that I’ll probably be all right. I am not the most coordinated person so I’m sure regardless of language I would have ended up making some backwards mistakes. However, after a while I was able to pick up right from left and was able to perform the kicks and punches as he instructed. I was dripping sweat and didn’t realize it until I began hearing my shoes squeaking on the wooden floor. That 30 minute class was a workout and next Tuesday I hope I can do it all over again. All in all I had fun and Kai was a great instructor. He’s one of the few workers who has attempted to chat with me which helps me feel a little more welcome–though there was another gaijin at the gym that day! The guy didn’t even smile or wave even though we made eye contact.

Now about my trip to Ube! It was a lot of fun and I ate many interesting things, such as iidako (飯蛸). There isn’t an easy way to explain it other than it’s a small octopus that is boiled in a soy sauce-type broth. It doesn’t have to be hot when served to you–in fact Jake and I ate ours cold. In retrospect I believe this is what was given to Mandi and I when we had gone to Tokyo. We never ate them, though. We passed the bag on to one of Kazu’s brothers. At first glance, I will admit I felt a little intimidated by it. I could see it’s brains–inside its head–so I wasn’t sure if I could “stomach” it. I was pleasantly surprised! Jake just grabbed it and went to town, but I hesitated a bit. If there is one thing I can learn from it’s taking more initiative and just trying more things instead of being so standoffish about food. I could have missed out on eating this just by being too afraid to bite into it. The texture didn’t even give off the fact that I was eating octopus innards. Very flavorful, and very delicious.

Among other things I ate was fugu (河豚). Fugu is the renowned blowfish that if not prepared correctly can take your life. I was a little apprehensive to eat it, but Jake was pretty adamant about me trying it. I ended up giving it a try and I came to the realization that it was pretty tasty. Our chef is a friend of Jake’s and also has a license to prepare fugu–I realize that accidents happen, but as everyone can see I am still alive and well. Some chefs even place a little put of blowfish’s poison on the sashimi (raw fish) to add a slight tingling sensation to the tongue and lips and there is usually where the problem arises because the poison is so potent. As far as I know the chef did not do that. I did not feel any tingling. The food was amazing and I am very glad I followed Jake’s lead and tried fugu.

Before all of the delightful food eating we went to Yamaguchi to see the pagoda. I’m afraid I don’t know much about the building besides it being the only one (or one of the few) that is made completely from wood. Wood nails, wood everything. There were a few other people enjoying the view–most of them were bird watchers trying to capture images of a kingfisher (kawasemi). I got a little caught up in the excitement, as well. I’ve never seen one before. It’s things like this (not so much the bird watchers) that make you realize the beauty of small town, more rural cities in Japan. Jake, someone who pretty much lives for the big cities, told me enjoyed small town Ube and was thankful that he was able to experience it. That there was so much to see and a lot of culture to be had. Kumamoto maybe big in comparison, but it’s still considered inaka (rural); however, it cannot even compete with how rural Ube is.

And now I will leave you with this:

Protect Your Home by Throwing Soybeans out Windows and Doors

Oni wa soto! Fuku wa uchi!
Evil/Demons out! Good luck, in!

Last week was 節分 (setsubun). It’s a tradition held every year on February 3rd, the day before Spring, according to the lunar calendar. Now-a-days families will have someone (usually the person who was born in the current zodiac year: e.g. It’s the year of the dragon this year, so someone born in the year of the dragon should play the demon) put on a demon mask and the children will throw soy beans at them yelling “oni wa soto, fuku wa uchi!” This is done to cleanse the house of any evil that may have been hiding within your home over the winter months. The ritual of throwing soy beans is called mamemaki.

During this day of work I had one student come in wearing a demon mask with a bag of peanuts. Now, it wasn’t the time or place to take part in Setsubun, but among kids it’s pretty popular and it looks fairly fun. Along with throwing soybeans out of windows and doors chanting “Oni wa soto! Fuku wa uchi!” people also eat something called makizushi (which is an uncut sushi roll) which they call eho-maki. It means “lucky direction roll”. When eating an eho-maki on Setsubun (well, it’s really the only time you’re able to buy one) you do so in silence while facing the “yearly lucky compass direction” determined by the zodiac symbol of the current year. Some people put sardine heads and holly leaves on their door entrances to ward off any bad spirits. Apparently even ghosts cannot stand sardine heads and holly leaves. I honestly didn’t have the pleasure of seeing any sardine heads or holly leaves above doorways but I suppose it doesn’t mean people don’t do it.

Anyhoo. On Sunday I met up with Keiko and the family to have dinner with them. We had a great time eating yakiniku, which is placing thinly cut pieces of meet on an open grill in the middle of a table. I have noticed that the Japanese enjoy eating their meat cooked rather rare. I normally like my meat cooked all the way through so I tend to wait what they would consider to be a long time. A few times they told me it was getting burned–which it wasn’t! I love yakiniku–it’s a great way to spend time together with friends. The meat comes already cut so you don’t have to spend a lot of time fighting with your meal or cutting it into small pieces. The down side is you have to wait for it to cook and if you have a bunch of people around you who don’t mind eating it on the rare side it might be a little difficult to make sure you get to eat your share. But you know–it’s not just meat they eat. They also put vegetables on there as well. I love Japanese pumpkin. 🙂

On the left: Noboru, Keiko, and ME! On the right: obaachan, Misako, and Naomi!

All in all it was a good weekend. I even practiced kendo again for about two hours. It was a lot of fun. This time I was able to get into hitting things. I learned how to hit the head (men) and the arm/wrist (kote). My problem seems to be in yelling. I have a hard time screaming at the top of my lungs and yelling MEN or KOTE depending on what I strike. That and it can be a little embarrassing. I was a rowdy, loud kid when I was younger but as I got older I became quieter. Many people ask me to repeat things when we’re just chatting because I talk quietly. I wouldn’t say I mumble at all, but I can be pretty quiet. Here is basically what I did my last session. I didn’t strike my teacher’s kote or torso. I mainly focused on the men (head strike). But that sort of yelling is what you are supposed to do. It’s safe to say afterward my throat feels pretty raw.

Tomorrow’s battle is won during today’s practice.

Pretty much how I trained today--in front of a mirror.

Today I had kendo training. This time it was with an actual kendo sensei and also with a friend of mine who I met on my trek up (technically it was down) 3,333 stairs to a very old temple. It was a lot of fun and very difficult. There was a lot of multitasking; but unlike the multitasking I am used to it was much more physically challenging. There are so many things to pay attention to when it comes to the basics of kendo. Your feet positioning, how you move your feet, how quickly you move one foot compared to the other, where your center is, making sure you’re moving your hips correctly along with the movement of your body, how you strike with your shinai (bamboo sword) and how you hold the sword in your hands. All of this must be done correctly otherwise you will begin to create habits–bad habits–that will be hard to break.

Full kendo gear. The armor is called "bogu". I don't have that yet.

Today was difficult for me. As I was training the basics–the foundation of learning kendo–in the background were high school students sparring and practicing and one couldn’t help but notice that they were way out of my league in terms of skill. But honestly, are you surprised? Most of them begin training at a young age and just continue on through high school. The crack of the shinai, the bellowing yells to express their ki, the quick and fluid motions that look almost effortless as they move to block a hit… it made me covet their skill. Sure, they aren’t 8dan or even close to it, I’m sure. But they have skill and they have the spirit… and I’m still finding it hard to do all the things I stated above and still yell out as I do them each time I swing my sword.

However, I am lucky. My sensei is a 7dan. The highest is supposedly 8dan. He tells me it will take years before he is able to test for it and the tests one must go through for it sound excruciating. The levels of kendo are on a 1-8dan system. To teach kendo legally you must be at least a 5dan; but if you want to have your own dojo or lead one you must be at least 7dan. I am told if I work hard I can probably achieve 1kyu which is one of the few levels that exist before one can get 1dan. As an example, it could take about 2 years just to get 1dan… pretty long time.

Until tomorrow!

Nagasaki is not just a few hazy images. I remember it as a real chunk of my life.

This past weekend some of my coworkers and I planned a trip to Nagasaki. It was a wonderful trip and I wish we could have had more time instead of just one day. There was so much we wanted to do, but just didn’t have the chance to do.

This was my first time traveling by train for an extended period of time–well, a train that wasn’t the shinkansen. We rode just an average train for about an hour and then switched onto an express line the rest of the way to Nagasaki. It’s really unfortunate. I enjoy traveling by train but the price can be a pretty penny depending on where you go. The landscapes fly by and you get to see snippets of Japanese life as they fly past your window. I caught myself wondering if some of the villages I watched from my window had changed much over the past couple of decades. How the Japanese build rice fields into their hills always amazes me no matter how many times I see it.

We arrived in Nagasaki at about 10AM in the morning and rushed to get our daily tram passes so we could be sure to get around the town. We first went to eat champon which was very tasty. Though I think I prefer just normal ramen. What is champon? Champon is a dish I assume was adapted from a Chinese dish. It has noodles inside which are nothing like those used with ramen, soba or udon. They are completely round and smaller than both ramen and udon but bigger than soba. In the dish there are a variety of things. Many different kinds of vegetables (leaks, sprigs, mushrooms) and seafood (little octopus or squid, some shellfish, etc).

Afterwards we went towards Suwa Shrine, which was lovely.  From the top you could look out over a nice chunk of Nagasaki. It allowed you to imagine what it would have looked like about a hundred years ago. The shrine was very nice and I think there was a small bird zoo nearby because we could hear the calls of peacocks.

Afterward we went to the Nagasaki Atomic Bomb museum. I have never been to the Hiroshima Atomic Bomb Museum, but I have heard that it is much more “in your face” in regards to what exacltly happened before, during and after the bomb was dropped. We slowly walked into the gallery where there were pieces of buildings and other items that survived the atomic blast–well, barely. As we continued forward we reached the gallery which housed familiar items to many people that had been exposed. Melted coins and bottles, burnt and bloody pieces of clothing. There was even a large glob of melted glass with the bones of a hand encased within. A young school girl’s obento (lunch box) with the rice still in tact within from being burned so fast and quickly. There were also items you could touch, which I touched. I took one picture inside, but I couldn’t take more than that. Even though it was allowed (or perhaps even encouraged) I felt as though it was rude.

There was a wall that had the shadows of items and a person etched into it. A ladder with the shadow of a man standing next to it, almost as though time there stood still and the shadow was still looking up toward the sky unknowing about what horror was going to shortly occur. The testimonies from people who survived the blast were also horrifying. A young kid who had to cremate his mother in the backyard of his school and that whenever he went to where she was cremated and scratched a stick into the dirt he could see the face of his mother in the black ash.

Afterward we went to Peace Park, which was very nice, but still indeed looming. There was a large statue with one hand pointing up towards the bomb that fell and the other stretched out in peace. The Hypocenter was also very dreary. I feel like I learned a lot despite how depressing the entire subject is.

Afterward we went to buy some omiyage (souvenirs) for the people we work with and went hunting for some yakiniku. We found a lovely grill, albeit expensive, but we were able to eat a lot of food and we couldn’t even finish all of it! We had beef, chicken, special cuts from pigs and even whale! I know many people do not agree with eating whale, but truth be told we didn’t know it was part of the course we ordered and since it was ordered and the money already paid for we found no reason to allow it to go into the garbage–which is exactly where it would have gone. Whether I ate it or not, the outcome would have still been the same–it would have still been purchased whale.