Thursday, February 25, 2010

Amazing Race Parody #2: Challenges in Mainland Japan

Based on our latest trip to Nagano and geocache adventure, we made another Amazing Race Parody. Enjoy!

Disclaimer: No monkeys were harmed in the filming of this video.

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Snow Monkeys!

In no way can I do justice writing about the snow monkey adventure we had last weekend. It really defies words, but with photos and descriptions, I'll try...

I mentioned before this trip was a planes, trains, and automobile adventure.

Here's how it went: We flew from Okinawa to Toyko, embarked on a super fast bullet train from Tokyo to Nagano, spent the night there and enjoyed the luminary festival, and then woke the next morning to catch a bus into the mountains.

From the bus stop, we then WALKED another 2 km into the Jigokudani Monkey Park. We had beautiful sunny weather that morning, and the hike through the snowy narrow mountain path was magical.
Once we entered the park, monkeys were everywhere.

Planning the trip, I had envisioned seeing five or six monkeys scamper by quickly. I thought we'd have to scramble to take photos and video before they ran off into the woods. But we encountered probably 100 monkeys leisurely roving about the site. According to locals, about 200 macaques live in this park.

The main attraction were the monkeys that sit in the hot springs to warm themselves.
Are you wondering if the monkeys get cold afterwards? The answer is no. We learned that macaques, unlike humans, do not have sweat glands that cool them off.
There were also plenty of chances to see monkeys frolicking in the snow.
Sun salutation...
The baby monkeys were about the cutest things ever, little puffy fur balls that hopped around. This baby kept trying to climb the cable and kept sliding down unsuccessfully. Everybody who witnessed the cuteness couldn't help but ooh and ah over this one.
Mama and baby warming up in the sun
More to come about the monkey adventure including our up close and personal overnight stay with the monkeys at a ryokan (traditional inn) and our strange dinner there.

Friday, February 19, 2010

Travel Writing

Interested in reading a travel article I recently published on Boots N All Travel Site? I would appreciate any feedback you have...

The topic of the article is somewhat ironic considering that now I am actually a tour guide. I wrote this article after I visited China last year and before I became a guide myself.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Nagano Surprises

Has this travel experience ever happened to you?

... You are on a trip somewhere and decide to wander without much expectation. Maybe you're in transit and haven't reached your destination. Or it's the end of your trip and you're wiped out. In any case, you don't have any goal in mind except to get a meal and a good night's sleep. Then before you know it, you find yourself pulled into the most random amazing community event.

It happened to us last weekend when we stopped off in Nagano. We were on our way to viewing the snow monkeys the next day and had no plans for the evening except to find a cozy restaurant for dinner.

Filling our empty stomachs was our only objective until we noticed these enticing lights lining the road.
Following the lantern path, we stumbled onto Zenkoji Temple, where there happened to be a luminary celebration festival. Zenkoji Temple is a Buddhist temple and one of the last remaining pilgrimage sites in Japan.

Not to do things half-way, Nagano residents adorned the mountain village streets with an array of luminaries to brighten up this chilly winter night.

Lamppost luminaries
Hundreds of lanterns with intricate paper carvings inside
It must have taken hours for someone to sit and create this detailed piece...
A special treat were the kaleidoscope shapes and colors projected onto the side of a temple
For 500 yen (about $5 US), we bought a luminary and wrote our goodwill message to Nagano to place in the long line of luminaries on the street.
So, what started off as a simple outing turned into a special night filled with twinkling lights, a feeling of connectedness, and a reminder of the wonderful unexpected aspects of travel. Perfect for a Valentine's Weekend.
Have you ever unexpectedly stumbled onto a community event while traveling?

Stay tuned for snow monkeys in the next post- Coming soon!

Friday, February 12, 2010

Monkey See, Monkey Do

For as long as I can remember, I have been fascinated with monkeys. (See other monkey posts here and here)

This weekend, we're lucky to be visiting a special part of Japan where a unique group of macaque live and exhibit remarkable behavior.

We're going to Jigokudani Yaenkoen Monkey Park near Nagano to observe snow monkeys.

These particular monkeys native to Japan sit in hot springs to warm up in the winter time, wash their food before eating it, and even roll snowballs for recreation. Needless to say, I am very excited for this unique opportunity.

Our trip to the monkey park is a bit of a planes, trains, automobile, and even walking odyssey. I'll report the whole itinerary when we get back in case you'd like to visit there someday.

Incidentally, the traditional inn we're staying at is located within the park and we have to walk, belongings and all, for about 40 minutes through a snowy mountain path to reach it. The reward is that we're about as close as we can get to observing the behavior of the wild monkeys, maybe even sharing the same hot spring if we're so inclined. I'm not kidding.

Check back in a few days for a full report...

Sunday, February 7, 2010

If a whale were to attack me today...

I may have mentioned a while back that I started a part-time job as a tour guide.

This past weekend, I went on a whale watching tour. From January to March in Okinawa, you can view humpback whales spray water, flip their tails, and roll around...

So, how did it go?

You know that first scene of the movie Saving Private Ryan? It's the scene where the soldiers are about to land on the shores of Normandy on D-Day and they are all sitting in the boats approaching their demise looking miserable and throwing up all over the place?

Yeah, that was sort of what the tour was like... huge swells, the boat rocking back and forth like a seesaw, people moaning, and children screaming, "I want to go home!"

But we did see whales and when I wasn't about to gag, they were certainly exciting to watch.

My favorite quotation of the day from a young kid- "If a whale were to attack me today, I would have to spend the rest of my life killing them."

Wow, did he really think the whales were going to leap up near the boat and snatch people off?

Aren't other people just so fascinating? Have you heard anything funny lately?

Thursday, February 4, 2010

You Have to See This...

We filmed this up close and personal (sort of) video of whale sharks and mantas at the Churaumi Aquarium in Okinawa...

I don't know about you, but all this talk of global warming and rising sea levels sort of makes me think about my place in the food chain.

Read more information about the fabulous Churaumi Aquarium here.

Monday, February 1, 2010

Best in Show: The Competitive Sport Of...


Ikebana is a traditional Japanese art enduring for hundreds of years. And just like Trekkies, Dog Show Trainers, or any fringe group that takes their hobby or craft extremely seriously, so do Ikebana flower artists. In fact, there's a whole spiritual philosophy behind it.
That's why I should have known better about entering an Ikebana Flower Show in Japan.

If I'm completely honest, there were signs all last week among the other participants in my class that should have clued me in to the importance of it. BUT I chocked up all their anxiety about preparing for the show to- I don't know- Japanese over the top perfectionism (which they tend to exhibit)
THEM: "Have you chosen your flowers yet?"
ME: "Uh no, I thought I'd just buy whatever is on sale."

THEM: "What vase are you going to use?"
ME: "I'll just use the same training vase I started with."

THEM: "What arrangement are you going to do?"
ME: "Uh..."

I just didn't think it was THAT big of a deal. Come on, they're just flowers!

Well, now I wish I had heeded the warnings, because I ended up feeling ASHAMED.

First off, I was wholly unprepared during the set up. I never even considered how I would get water into my vase. Everyone else brought little brooms and clean up supplies, plenty of newspaper to cover their work surface, and even flower food!
I think some of the other Ikebana ladies must have felt sorry for me because they pitched in and lent me all the supplies I needed.

They also tried to give me encouragement too when they saw my final product by saying things like, "Nice Colors."

(which incidentally is about the same as saying "nice font" about someone's research paper)

I even walked away for a moment and upon returning, I saw my Ikebana sensei hovering over my flowers, adjusting things, bending branches, and adding greenery until it looked a little better.

That's when the shame hit me.

At that moment, I realized the Ikebana show was not really about me or the other participants. It was about reflecting well on our Ikebana teacher, and I never even considered that.

In case you're are wondering... no, none of the pictures are my flowers. I cannot reveal my arrangement online since it looked like a weed wacker got to it. Seriously, it was the ugliest one in there.

Have you ever participated in something thinking it was no big deal and then found yourself in over your head?


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