I suppose, however, that an update is long overdue, so here then, are a few pictures from my recent visit to the Ichihara Zo no Kuni (“Elephant Kingdom”). Now you may recall that I trekked off to the remote countryside of Saitama prefecture just last month for some Capybara Onsen adventures. So what brings me to the remote countryside of Chiba prefecture? Well, if you guessed Capybaras, then, my friend, you would be just about right
So anyway, that’s how I found myself in a minivan rolling across the urban expanses of the greater Tokyo area with two friends, two kids and Ne-Yo music videos (don’t ask) playing on the monitor, headed over to the Saitama Children’s Animal Nature Park to check out their recently built capybara onsen. I’ll tell you what, whoever came up with the idea of building that onsen ought to have their salary doubled, because from what I can tell, that park went from being just another one of the thousands non-descript pseudo-zoos scattered across the country to being quite famous throughout Japan. I mean, I normally couldn’t give a crap about some random fake-zoo, but here I am, traipsing across the land with an entire domestic retinue in tow just to check out some gigantic bathing mice. (The fact that this time I was doing it accompanied by two children this time made me suddenly have uncomfortable visions of what my mid-40s suburban existence might end up as if I’m not careful)
Kawagoe is actually not such a famous place, and even if you find yourself hankering for a brief escape from the urban jungle that is Tokyo (but really, why would you ever want that? I love it…), there are probably better choices out there: Hakone, Yokohama, Nikko and Kamakura, just to name a few. So why did we end up going to Kawagoe? Well, for one, I’ve already been pretty much everywhere else in the area. And for two, Starbucksgirl’s (I really ought come up with a new moniker for her, since she doesn’t work at Starbucks anymore…) family runs a mochi shop, which means she likes traditional Japanese sweets. And being secretly (or not so secretly) a child inside, I happen to love candy and all things sweet (even mochi too, at this point). Guess what? Kawagoe is famous for sweets.
The problem with being Japan’s most awesome roller coaster park is that in general, Fuji-Q is expensive and crowded. So you know, that kind of sucks. The thing about that though, is this is Japan. And people like to do things according to the “seasons.” “Roller coaster season” is usually considered to be summer for some reason which means that if you’re us and just wanna ride coasters whenever you damn well feel like it, current season not withstanding, things can work out very nicely indeed. Or, to put it another way, Fuji-Q in the summer = crowded and expensive. Fuji-Q in the winter, however, = empty and cheap. (admission is discounted in the winter). Guess what season we’re currently in? Oh yeah. Buckle your seat belts.
My mind ended up turning to thoughts about my blog, life and future these days (not necessarily in that order, mind you). It’s been almost 7 years since I moved to Japan and I thought that by now I’d know what I want to do with my life. Sadly, this does not appear to be the case. I think the core issue is that I’m a fickle panda: this is a blessing in that I have many and multi-varied interests, but also a curse because I tire of things quickly. Every time I think I have found something I want to do with my life, three weeks later I decide it’s not really for me and I stop working towards it.
As the saying goes, “all good things must come to an end.” This is true in many things in life, including road trips. And in this case, and in this road trip, “the end” meant a small sleepy backwater town in Fukui prefecture on the backside of Japan that up until a couple years was famous (and I use the term lightly) for little more than fishing and making chopsticks. And believe me when I tell you that if you’re a town in Japan and all you have going for you is fishing and chopsticks, well, then you’re in trouble.
I did manage to work in a quick trip to Nikko as a sort of consolation prize, which was nice. By the time we made it to Nikko (in the first week of December), most of the Autumn leaves had already fallen, which was kind of sad. Nikko is really beautiful in the Autumn, if you can survive the jaw dropping crowds, so I kind of regret that we didn’t make it there during the prime viewing season. All was not completely lost, however. There were still a few isolated spots of colour here and there, and when we first arrived the sky was a brilliant blue and the sun was shining down from up on high, making for a perfect akibare (“clear autumn weather”) type of day. So at least we got a small dose of those oranges and reds I do love so.
If you want to know more about Amanohashidate, you can feel freeto read about it online , which is something we probably should have done ourselves instead of just rolling up at 6 AM and being like “sooo… uhh, where and umm, how do we see it?” – without even a clear idea of what exactly it was (it’s a long sand bar in a bay, by the way) let alone where to find the “entrance. ” We drove around for about 30 minutes until a kindly old man at McDonalds (hey, there aren’t a lot of food choices at 6AM in the middle of remote countryside Kyoto) who insisted on referring to Starbucks Girl as “himesama” (“Princess”) managed to point us in the correct direction.
It was gorgeous autumn weather out last Tuesday, and there are few better places to take advantage of it than the myriad of cafes lining the winding streets between Shibuya and Daikanyama. Thus my spiffy new $14 puffar vest and I headed over to see how much caffeine I could cram down my throat. I managed 8 cups of espresso in various forms over the course of 12 hours, though I stopped being able to hold the camera steady long before that….It was, in every way, a wonderful day.
But for now, something a little bit different. There are a lot of fun places to see in Tokyo (one of the reasons I like it so much) – some more familiar to Westerners than others. One of the neighborhoods that got a lot of attention back in the states a few years back (thanks to Gwen Steffani, I suppose) is Harajuku. I happen to like Harajuku quite a bit as it packs a lot of interesting stuff, but sometimes people only scratch the surface – i.e. the two main drags of Ometesando-dori and Takeshita-dori – of what it has to offer. Those places are quite nice in and of themselves and you could do worse than to spend some time (and money) walking down them. However, in my opinion, it’s the back streets of Harajuku – known as “Uraharajuku” (or “Urahara” for short) that are far more interesting than the more commonly visited Takeshita and Omotesando streets. In addition to countless hip clothing stores (a veritable paradise for a tragic fashion victim such as myself and a prime reason why I’m perpetually broke), this area also features some pretty great cafes, and is inhabited by some of the trendiest cats around, if you’re into people watching.