Sunday, January 27, 2013

Jumbo Rocks

Fred and I hadn't been up to Joshua Tree in a while (and Fred had not met Jessica's beau) so we decided there was no time like the present to take the two hour trip north.  
We absolutely lucked out with the weather, considering it was January.  
We camped at Jumbo Rocks; there is plenty of privacy and you can hike in any direction from the campground (unless you are Jessica and still recovering from a broken leg, of course).  

On a random hill we stumbled across some petroglyphs.  

Jacob made chile rellenos for dinner.  

The next day we parted ways in the early afternoon so we could do another hike before heading back home.  Once again we decided not to take a set trail but to wander.  
Joshua Tree National Park is so unique.  We spent much of the time not just wandering but wondering... why is it we don't spend more time here?

"There is nothing so American as our national parks... the fundamental idea behind the parks... is that  the country belongs to the people, that it is in the process of making for the enrichment of the lives of all of us."  
-Franklin Roosevelt

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

January sun

I hadn't planned on going to the beach today but when I saw on the news that it was going to be 70+ I couldn't resist. From Japan up until now we have been sunless. I had a ton of reading to do, so what better place to study than the beach?!

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Minakami show shoe and snowboard

Our view from the hotel.
We were picked up by Forest and Water, fitted for shoes at the company store and then driven about 30 minutes up the mountain to snow shoe.  It was a beautiful day.

A tree with moss.

We had two English speaking guides (Yohei and Okapi) that were so kind, helpful, and fun.  They made a table out of snow when it was time to eat lunch.  Okapi made lunch, udon soup with veggies (my favorite!).

We hiked up to Oyu cave that has hiyoju (ice formations that form like stalagmites).  

The way up was fun but the way down was even better.  They brought plastic sleds that looked like shovels and we slid down the mountain.  

(This is the caption on Yohei's blog under our picture.)  

We finished an hour and a half earlier than other people who do the tour so we had plenty of time to go snowboarding.  They took us back to the shop, then drove us to the post office to get cash, and then took us to the ski resort and helped us buy tickets, rent gear, and worked out how we would get back to the hotel.  All of this for NO TIP.  
Japan is amazing.  

Since we couldn't tip we offered to take some of the guys out for dinner and drinks (but mostly drinks).  I think we said 'kampai!!' at least 20 times that night.
It was the perfect way to say goodbye to Japan, in a Japanese bar with our Japanese guides.  
What an amazing trip.  

Monday, January 7, 2013

Kawagoe, Tokyo

Megumu took the day off and took us on a trip down memory lane to the part of town where she went to high school, Kawagoe.  Behind Mu and the girls is the swimming pool that Megumu swam in regularly for four years.  

Kawagoe is famous for the old wooden buildings that used to be used to brew sake, and for the bell tower built 400 years ago that continues to ring three times daily.

Watching filled pastries be made.  
I got one with sweet potato (which Kawagoe is famous for), the other choice is red bean paste of which I have never been a big fan.  

Sweet potato soft serve ice cream!

The old bell tower behind us.  

This is a pickle shop.  The barrels are from a time (not that long ago) when they used to sell the pickled items straight out of the barrels (before they were prepackaged).  

After our goodbyes to Megumu and the girls we headed off to Minakami, our last stop before leaving Japan.  I miss Mu and the girls already.  Rika told us in English about four times that we need to come back and visit soon.  Her whole family said we need to come back, and we intend to sooner than later.

We stayed at Oyado Matsubaya in Minakami (just a five minute walk down the road from the train station).  The hotel was okay and they spoke absolutely no English but the food was unbelievable.  The spread in front of us does not include my portion.   

This may look gross but since it was served to be I had to at least try it.  Surprisingly enough I ate the whole thing (omit the skin, bones, tails, eyes... okay, well I ate the meat that i could).  It was good!  

Sunday, January 6, 2013

Takaosan and Fujisan

Megumu picked us from the train station near her house.  Luckily she waited for us because we missed one of the trains (long story short but I thought I lost Fred at a train station).  
Aki, Megumu's younger sister, came home to hang out with us.  And Rika and Tamoka have gotten so big since I last saw them 7 years ago.  (Way too much time has gone by.)
We played BINGO and Megumu's mom, Kaoru, fed us snack after snack.  

The family made reservations at a tofu restaurant in Tokorazawa.  The food was delicious, and it felt like it never stopped coming.  By the time this dish came (rice with salmon eggs) I could hardly eat any even though it was so good.

Tea plants across the street from Megumus.  
The next day after an elaborate Japanese breakfast made by Kaoru (Japanese omelet is my favorite!) we went to Takaosan.  Takaosan is located in metropolitan Tokyo, and so is usually quite popular with tourists.

Mu and Aki planning our trip to Takaosan.  

 Before taking the cable car up the mountain we stopped in for lunch.  
It is amazing to me that Japanese people eat so much for how small they are.  

This cable car is the steepest in Japan.  You couldn't feel it on the way up but on the way down people were lightheartedly screaming.  It wasn't going fast but it felt like at any moment the breaks would not be able to take the weight and the cable car would turn into a not-so-fun-roller-coaster.  

More food?!  These are mitarashidanga, sweet soy flour balls.  The sauce is delicious but I could only eat one because I was too full from lunch, and breakfast.  

Fred is washing money for good luck to make more money (but then Fred put the coins in the fountain so I am not so sure about this custom).  

The big nosed red guy is a deity on this mountain.  

I love this picture.  Takayuki, in the middle, is the girls' father.  

Wafting incense smoke towards your head makes you smarter.  Fred and I were instructed to take our hats off.

At the top of Takaosan, about an hour from the cable car, is a wonderful view of Fujisan.  

It isn't just a beautiful view, the whole hike is spectacular.  Especially when you have such great company.

This is shimobashila, ice crystals that form in dirt.  How cool that there is a word for that.  

This picture was taken at the base of the mountain while the family was taste testing local goods.  Behind Fred, with the tree coming through the roof, is where we had lunch.  
Takaosan was the perfect thing for Megumu's family to take us to do, yet another beautiful place in Japan.