September 29, 2008

Baseball Update

Back home, the Yanks are out of the playoffs for the first time in 13 years. While being in Japan hasn't made us lose interest in New York sports, the mediocrity of this baseball season didn't exactly have us rushing off to check the box scores everyday.

And we have really gotten into Japan League baseball, particularly of the Hanshin Tigers. Being friends with some of the players and their families has helped, as has their generosity with their tickets! The Tigers are a very likeable bunch too - steadfast RBI guy and longtime Tiger Kanemoto, quintessential lead-off man Akahoshi, young slugging first baseman Arai, slick fielding double-play combination Toritani and Hirano, and a stud bullpen. It also helps that Koshien is an amazing place to watch a ballgame, and their fans are among the loudest and the most devoted you will find anywhere.
This season, the Tigers got off to an amazingly hot start. Keyed by excellent starting pitching and relief work, and a great 1 through 5 in the lineup (including the Arai/Kanemoto 3-4 hole combination), it looked like they were going to run away and hide. In July they were up on the rival Giants by 13 games. But since the Olympics, Hanshin has slumped badly. Arai hurt his back and disappeared, the pitching softened, and amazingly last week, the Giants swept the Tigers in a three game series and drew even in the standings. Now, with just the rain-out make-up games left, the Tigers and Giants are in a dogfight for the Central League Pennant. Of late, the Tigers are back to playing better ball.

Today Arai finally returned, and in the bottom of the 8th led of with a single. Kanemoto followed with a home run, and it felt like the beginning of the season again. So, down the stretch we come...

September 28, 2008

Its Officially Fall in Japan

It was a hot hot summer here, but, right on cue with the Autumn Equinox (one of those random off days from work!), it is now fall (aki).

This week the weather completely changed over to that awesome cool sunny fall weather (akibare). There is a hint of color in the leaves on the trees, and it is safe to wear long-sleeved outerwear and jeans again! Woo hoo!

Many say that autumn is the nicest season here. Spring cherry blossom viewing's fall counterpart is called kouyou (fall foliage), and is focused on the many brilliant red maple (momiji) trees. (If we can squeeze it in, a trip back to Miyajima and its Momijidani Park might be in order.)

And Then There Were Four (Kasdan's Left In Japan)

Today, Mike's parents and sister headed back to New Jersey. We had a really great week together, and it was special just to show the family what our lives are like here.

Although they probably would have been content just to hang out with Jacob and Lauren and spend some good family time together, we did a good bit of touring around in Kobe, Osaka, Kyoto (twice), and they even took a solo day-trip to Hiroshima and Miyajima.

Here are some pictures from our second trip to Kyoto on Saturday (a truly gorgeous day). This time we went to the western part of Kyoto and the Gion district starting with the Heian Shrine, and working our way through parks and temples and shrines until hopping a bus back to Kyoto Station. It was a great day. We even managed to catch an impromptu wedding ceremony at Yasaka shrine.

And here is one of the more interesting non-temple sights of the day:

We capped it all off with a great dinner out and a big night of karaoke last night!

We are looking forward to any future guests who want to visit us!

September 23, 2008

More Adventures With Family

Mike took off on Monday, and, with Tuesday being a Japanese holiday (Fall Equinox), we strung together a four day weekend. On Monday, with the kids in school, we took a day trip to the Arashiyama area of Kyoto, a favorite spot of ours. We checked out Tenryuji Temple and its peaceful gardens.

Afterwards, we walked through the bamboo forrest to Nonomiya Shrine, and wandered though the many cute shops of this town, sampling tskemono (pickled vegetables) and senbe (rice crackers) and sweet pototo delicacies.

We even made it back in time for some of us to catch the end of Jacob's soccer practice!
On Tuesday, we took a day trip into Kobe, and took the Shin Kobe Ropeway up to the Nunobiki Herb Garden. It was a beautiful day, and this was a perfect spot to enjoy it.

After that we wandered around Kitano, had lunch at a great shabu shabu restaurant near Sannomiya, took a peak at the nearby Ikuta Shrine, and did a quick shop at Tokyu Hands and some other boutiques. After picking up the kids, there was coloring time with Lauren and baseball with Jacob.

It was a really full day!

September 22, 2008

More Kasdans Come To Japan!

So, we are a bit behind in the blog this week. We have been busy being out and about with Mike's parents, Abe and Marcia, and his sister Lisa. They arrived in Japan to visit us on Friday. Our first family visitors, since Ilena's brother Matt visited us in late March. Lisa is staying with us and Mike's parents at a nearby hotel.

It is fun to try and share with our loved ones the many places, tastes, and experiences that we have enjoyed in Japan. We are doing our best. It is also fun just to hang out and spend some day-to-day time together.

Although there was no big storm, it was a dreary day weather-wise on Sunday and Saturday was a deal-with-the-jetlag and relax kind of day. On Saturday, we took Lisa to Kobe and walked (and ate our way through) the Motomachi area, aka Chinatown. Check out this guy hauling a recently departed fish and bag of eels to the restaurant across the street!

Afterwards, we walked down to Meriken Park and Harborland, where Lisa checked out the Kobe Bay, the shopping scene, and we all played some video games.

On Sunday, we scrapped our original plan to head to Kyoto and instead headed into Osaka to the aquarium. We saw an amazing octopus at the aquarium that day, and the next night, Lisa helped us to prepare some octopus sashimi of our own:

On Saturday night, we all enjoyed our favorite Yakitori restaurant, Masaya in Ashiya, and our favorite local bar - Shot Bat Mars Venus, which had a great live jazz band that evening.

All in all, a great first couple of days with our company!

September 20, 2008

Typhoon Tyshmoon

Yeah. So, it was a beautiful afternoon yesterday and another sunny day today. Guess it was a false alarm for the Kansai region and it hit further south.

Our guests - Mike's parents and sister, Lisa - arrived safe and sound, and we are excited to show them around!

September 18, 2008

The Impending Typhoon Sinlaku

Well, it looks like we may shortly be getting our first taste of natural disaster-order weather.

Typhoon Sinlaku, which lingered over and did much damage to Taiwan is now about to hit mainland Japan. We have no idea what to expect - if its just going to be a wet couple of days or much more. We are hoping it passes quickly through.

The weather here has been absolutely beautiful the past month, even starting to cool and feel like Fall. But today had that eerie pre-storm feeling, and they made announcements in our building to clear the balconies.

The timing couldn't be worse, as Mike's parents and sister are presently on their flights over the visit us, and are supposed to arrive tomorrow.

September 15, 2008

Rokko San Pioneering Climbing Course

On Sunday we went for a "local" adventure up in Mount Rokko (Rokko-san). There are lots of neat things to do up in Mount Rokko, including botanical gardens, an animal pasture, a mountain-top golf course, as well as lots of hiking. It is nice and cool up there in the woods, and there are great views of Rokko Island, Port Island, and Kobe.

Access is pretty interesting too, as their are several ropeway cable cars and a true "cable car" (i.e, a funicular) that go up to various different points on Mount Rokko and its next-door neighbor Mount Maya. Since we are car-less, it did take us 3 buses and a cable-car to get to where we were headed, but it was pretty easy and the ride was pretty fun.
Today our destination was Mount Rokko Field and Athletics, which took us back to the days of "pioneering" at sleep-away camp when we were kids. It is an area on the side of a mountain, in the woods, that has a set of forty climbing obstacles made of wood, ropes, and netting. We went with another family, and we all had an awesome time climbing the course.

Jacob raced ahead with his friends; we caught up with him only at the end. Lauren was determined and agile; she did an awesome job too! As you can probably tell, it was fun (and quite the work-out) for the whole family.

September 13, 2008

Danjiri Matsuri in Kishiwada

On Saturday we experienced a totally unique and very cool matsuri in a town south of Osaka called Kishiwada. Danjiri Matsuri was described in Kansai Time Out magazine (our trusty reference for finding interesting weekend adventures) as "a feverish race along Kishiwada's narrow alley streets and shopping arcades where the danjiri floats pivot dangerous 90-degree corners at full speed . . . As the floats are moving, spectators can also enjoy the acrobatic feats of the men who ride atop these great contraptions. In the evening, the scene will be highlighted by the glow of red lanterns." This sounded too good to pass up. And it did not disappoint. (See the videos below.)

Danjiri Matsuri has its roots in a celebration of the harvest. Three hundred years ago, the feudal lord of Kishiwada ordered the erection of the original danjiri, huge festival floats carved of wood, to thank the harvest god. Today, it is all about the danjiri. The massive ornately handcarved floats, which each stand 4 meters high and weight about 4 tons are pulled by means of rope by 1000's of people (ranging from kids to adult), all dressed in happi coats. It is actually considered to be one of the more dangerous matsuri due to the fact that these floats are whipped around corners by a large number of drunk people at pretty high speeds...But we like to live dangerously . . . .

Oh and everyone wears those awesome traditional split-toe shoes too! Love these. (We did not purchase a pair, but were tempted!)

Soon after we arrived, we went to the Information Center, where the people working there (who spoke excellent English), were all too happy to dress us up in our own happi coats and free souvenir rope headbands, give us some fans, and snap some pictures for us.

Before we arrived, it had been unclear to us when the actual parade took place. As it turns out, the 35 danjiri are in a continuous loop around the town all day. Each ward of the city has its own danjiri, and it gets pretty competitive and enthusiastic. The floats are hauled to the beating of drums, flute-playing, chimes, and the chanting of the rope-pullers.

The most exciting part to watch is the yari-mawashi (corner turning), which takes place at breakneck speeds, as the danjiri skid around the street corners to the beat of drums and much shouting. It is a great honor to be the drummer, and especially the one guy who gets to dance on top (who we hear are the carpenters). We saw these guys tearing around the corner right after arriving.

And there was a lot more where that came from. Here are a couple more videos that should give you a good feel for what it was like, including some of our favorite top-of-the-danjiri dancers:

They seemed to be chanting So-Da So-Da, which we understand is a sort of spiritual focus-type mantra. It is important to focus when you are hauling these gigantic floats around.

In between the day and nighttime part of the festival, we also got a chance to check out the floats more closely when they park the danjiri to outfit them with lanterns (and change the worn down wooden tires). The carvings on the danjiri are incredibly detailed.

Aside from the rampaging danjiri, you had your standard (wonderful) matsuri carnival atmosphere including a huge array of kids games and toys (impossible to resist), great and varied food, and much drinking (though not by us). As you walk down the main drag with all the street vendors, periodically, whistles blow and the police set up ropes and shout for everyone to make way for the coming danjiri.
In between the day and night time festivities, we got off our feet and had some dinner from the food vendors. Matsuri food is awesome - throughout the day we enjoyed yakitori, squid, little cakes shaped like Anpanman, fresh chilled fruit on sticks, and of course snow cones and cotton candy.
At night, after an hour break to rest (and keep drinking), the danjiri are adorned with red chochin (lanterns) and the energy level is taken down a notch.

At night, some passing groups even asked Jacob and Lauren if they wanted to help pull. (Usually the tiny kids go in the front, followed by the bigger guys.) They got shy and decided not to help out this time. After watching some of the night floats ease on by, we packed it in and headed home. It was a great day, and we were happy we got to stick around into the night.