Tag Archives: japan

War is crap whichever way you look at it

I was in Canberra again over the weekend and visited the War Memorial for the first time since I was 12.

It’s a sobering experience to wander through the miles and miles of exhibits that meticulously catalogued every conflict Australia’s been involved in since the Boer War. However, the most interesting fact was a little display detailing the WWII massacre at Bangka Island, the place where my grandparents came from, and from which they had fled from probably just weeks before this took place.

The two long corridors that made up the Roll of Honour was a reminder of how many people were lost.


Some people in my group were surprised to see so many Japanese tourists at the Memorial, but I wasn’t surprised at all. After all, I have been to the Japanese musuems when I visited the Tokyo and Hiroshima. Hiroshima in particular was heartbreaking. It brought home to me that neither side got through unscathed.

The only surviving structure

War is crap whichever way you look at it.

When cuteness rules

I was talking to a friend about My Neighbour Totoro today and I forgot what a wonderful film it is.

I actually saw it for the first time a couple of months ago, after I went to Japan, although I’ve seen and loved quite a few Studio Ghibli films. Of course, since it’s Japanese and because Hayao Miyazaki is the Japanese equivalent of Walt Disney, there was no shortage of merchandise shops:

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There was even a museum, which was so wonderful to visit!

After all that, I did come away with one souvenir…

Can you guess what it is?

Monkey Majik

The last place I stayed in before re-entering civilisation was a place in the mountains near Nagano called “Jigokudani”, or “Hell’s Valley”. From the little geyser and sulphurous hot springs it quickly became obvious how the place got its name, but the place wasn’t quite as inhospitable as it sounded.

Shiga Kogen

Getting there was a bit of an adventure in itself. First was a taxi from my ryoukan (a Japanese-style inn with futons on a tatami mat) to the station. And then 3 trains to the spa town of Yudanaka. Then a bus to the bottom of the hill where my next ryoukan was meant to be. After a “30 to 40 minute walk”, the instructions said. That was where the fun started. The directions I had from the website was a little bit, um, skewed. It was starting to drizzle as I approached a young service station attendant in my broken Japanese.

“Er, excuse me. I go…” It took me awhile to dig out the printouts of my reservation. “Here. Where is it?”

He looked at the printouts, ink slightly runny, and ducked inside and fetched a map (woopee!), circling the service station and then my ryoukan – two thirds up the map via a road and a path.

“Oh. That [path]. Where is it?”

He looked as if he didn’t know and fetched his boss. The boss was a bit more sure. “Go back to…[???] And go up…”

“How long?”

“Mmm… 30 minutes maybe.”

He looked at me some more, and then looked outside. “It’s raining a bit. Do you have an umbrella?”

“I have rain jacket. Ok.”

“And the path is slippery.”

“I have hiking shoe. I’m ok.”

They didn’t seem convinced as I set off, now expecting to encounter a wilderness like Tasmania, with waist-high bogs and extreme rock-hopping. The first part wasn’t perilous, though the road was very steep. I had put on the said rainjacket because it was raining more heavily and my pack was getting heavier with every step. A lady in a soba eating house saw me trudging through the rain and called me over. She must have seen a lot of crazy foreigners hauling backpacks up the hill.

“Monkey park is that way. 30 minutes.” she said.

Still 30 minutes? Well I must be closer. I found the dreaded path soon after that, which wasn’t scary at all – wide and pretty flat and only slightly muddy. And I found the ryoukan without too much trouble too. It was a rickety, sprawling old wooden house with real mineral hot spring baths inside and outside with lovely views of the changing autumn foliage.

Real autumn foliage

It also served dinners featuring beautifully crisp mountain vegetable tempura, a hot pot featuring wild boar meat, and wait for it, little fried crickets. Which for the record, I ate.

And of course there were snow monkeys. Plenty of them.

Baby monkey

One morning I awoke to find them on the roof ledge outside my window doing a bit of nitpicking. But they really all congregated next door, where the monkey park had specially designated baths for them.


The area gets heaps of snow in the winter and when it gets that cold, a hot bath is the only place to be for both monkeys and humans. It wasn’t very cold when I visited so there was only one monkey in the bath, although it wasn’t so happy to be disturbed, and I can understand why!

Into the mountains… and into the past

Shinkyo bridge
One of the joys of the trip was the 1 ½ weeks I spent alone in the Japanese Alps. I had been really excited going to onsen (Japanese spa) towns for a soak among the mountains and forests, away from the overwhelming cities, and I was not disappointed.

After three culture-shocked days in Tokyo I headed out to the cool hills of Nikko, a small town north of Tokyo that was famous for its shrines as well for its scenery. While most people came on day trips, I stayed for two nights at the lovely Annex Turtle Inn. It was set by the river and had a magnificent bathroom!

What a way to end the day

Post-tour, I also headed out to the mountains, this time north-west of Nagoya. The Kiso Valley is surrounded by steep mountains, and the towns of Tsumago and Magome are lovingly preserved.


There weren’t any telephone or electricity poles in the towns to marr the view, and the effect was truly as if I had stepped back 100 or so years ago.

On the Nakasendo

There was also a path, once the old post road (the Nakasendo) between Kyoto and Tokyo, between the two villages.

Odaki waterfall

I spent a very peaceful Sunday morning walking the 7 or so kilometres between them. You can almost believe that a samurai will come walking down the path at any minute!

A spring at a shrine along the way

TV Mayhem

I have always known that Japanese TV was rather, well, unusual. Over the years I have seen glimpses of this in the Iron Chef and zany game shows and pranks that have that have a particular emphasis on pain endurance as well as humiliation, but these shows are truly unique!

Firstly, this little show takes corporal punishment to new levels.

But eclipsing all of this is Razor Ramon Hard Gay.

Razor Ramon Hard Gay

No pain on this show, but something altogether more disturbing… OK, somehow I don’t think he’ll get a show in Australia, but it is nevertheless compulsive viewing and had me in stitches!

Sushi Breakfast

Just to prove that this is not only a Mr Hottie blog, I will change the subject completely and focus on Japan, my most recent holiday destination.

Don’t worry, I’m not going to bore you with gazillion snaps or an endless slideshow (though it could be arranged), but on some of the more amusing (or omoshiroi as the Japanese say) aspects of the trip.

First up, the food. I’m not a tour kind of girl as most people know, but I wanted to see a more meaningful Japan, and when I found out about a gourmet tour, well, I signed up there and then.

Japanese food does tend to polarise people. Some people squirm and some people are completely addicted to it. I’m closer to the latter, and from the range of food available in Sydney (or Shidonii in Japanese), I know it’s more than just sushi. There are fab noodles in broth, Japanese adaptations of international dishes like schnitzel, curry, and battered food, and then the endless rows of vending machines selling every type of beverage imaginable. But in the end, the most memorable Japanese food moment did involve sushi.

On the first night of the tour, Darron, our very amusing leader, told us on a previous trip a girl had ordered a ‘dancing prawn sushi’, dancing because it was still twitching. Well, we ended up having a dancing prawn moment of our own when we had a sushi breakfast in Tokyo.

Let's go fishing!

Let’s go fishing!

A beheading

A beheading.



The finished product

The finished product.

It's still twitching!

It’s still twitching!


Oh… my… God! (let’s add a few more ‘!’ in there) !!!!!!!

The Socceroos not only won against Japan but they won it empathically! Ok, they did take their time (6 minutes to the final hooter is cutting it a bit fine) but they did finish off in style.

The lead-up to victory shaped up like a Shakespearean tragedy.

Scene 1: The tragedy.

Japan scores through controversial means

OMG, we was robbed! Mark Schwarzer was impeded but the goal still stood. Aus 0 – Japan 1. What followed was a long, long hour of grinding but unproductive play.

Scene 2: The triumph.

The camp celebrates Tim Cahills goal

Timmy Cahill comes to the rescue! He rolled out a tickler and everyone misses. Aus 1 – Japan 1.

Then 2 minutes later, the Weetbix Kid kicks an absolute scorcher into the top left corner and suddenly we’re in the lead! Aus 2 – Japan 1.

Scene 3: The ecstasy!

John Aloisi puts the icing on the cake

Johnny Aloisi finishes off with a fine drive. Aus 3 – Japan 1. It’s all over… until next week.

Psst, Mr. Hottie came out unscathed too. Tops!