Wednesday, 25 June 2014

Of Islands, Deer, and Human Kindness

My Japanese bucket-list is rapidly becoming thinner and thinner, and coupled with my similarly svelte wallet, there was really only one travel destination I had recently wanted to strike off. You probably haven't heard of Yakushima if you're anywhere but old Nippon, but I heard it calling my name.

It lies south of Kagoshima, about a two-hour drive and two-hour ferry away and is just under 30KM across.  There's only one main road around the coast, and precious few offshoots inland, mostly because the only thing that rises faster than the elevation is your pulse as you look over the edge of the good old mountain roads.

It's main tourist draws are the mountains, which harbor (among other wonders) deer, monkeys, the tallest peak in Kyushu, Mt. Miyanoura, and the oldest cedar trees in the world.

Set scene for the three burgeoning adventurers: myself, Kristin, and Alex, both fellow ALTs. After a bit of fumbling (and missing our cheap, slow ferry and settling on the fastest, most expensive one), we hiked into the mountains to see the legendary Jomonsugi, hailed as the oldest cedar in the world at 5000-7000 years old.







get away from the sprawl

Anyways, it was nice, and we survived the freezing cold nights just fine.
My bunk mates and I with the deer stirfry the man on the right had prepared and shared!
I say I was comfortable, but that was just thanks to my winter layers.

"Why is there salt on the trail?"
"So Kristin, I think that salt was ice. It's -3"

But after two nights we were freezing, and we booked it to the nearest onsen, or public bath. Kristin and Alex were booked on a departing ferry in the afternoon, and I had two days to bum about. I started talking to a local guy there, and asked him if he knew of any nice places to stay.

"OK OK! I'll drive you, I'll drive you!"

He seemed really awesome, but we had four hours to kill before K+A's ferry, so I passed him on it.

"It's OK. I'm free today. I'll pick you up at the port at one."

Let me tell you, if I ever look a gift horse in the mouth, give me a right and sound hiding.
Among his many monikers were Isamu (His real name), Sam (foreignified), Isajiro (a nickname of untranslatable origins), and Pooh-san, which stumped me until he told me that all the local kids called him that because of his undeniable resemblance to a certain honey-loving quadriped.

And more importantly, he made the next two days one of the most incredible travel experiences I've ever had. He started by confusing me, dropping me off with his friend, Nami, and then disappearing for an hour and a half to do I-still-don't know-what.
Namiko and I

Anyways, by the time he finished, I had a cheap guesthouse, two new friends, and a dinner invitation.

Over the next two days (he insisted that he take the next day off because, "I have no boss, and I like you.") I traded English conversation for dinner and drinks with friends,

 trips to two tidal onsens, a waterfall, play time with his lovely dog, Koro. He took me to see his "Yakushima mother" who gave me a couple bottles of her homemade Yakushima orange juice and even hooked me up with his friend who took my river kayaking!

What hit me, and what made it so incredibly special was that besides getting the chance to speak English, he had no debt to me, no compulsion to help. Sam just wanted to chill, to make friends, and to make sure I had an amazing time. I've lived in Japan for coming up on two years now, and I'm very familiar with people who only want to use you as a practicing board, or to up their exotic factor, but this never once felt like that.

The only vibe Isajiro ever gave off was one of hospitality, and I can't help but be grateful. Humans can be so beautiful and so genuine, and for two days one human showed another that reaching out can be a life-changing experience.

Thanks Sam!

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Monday, 7 October 2013

Sports Days, and why the little ones are the best ones.

Japan has a few school festivals, with the biggest ones being Culture Day and Sports day. Generally one is held in the fall, and one in the spring, and different schools will have them at different times.

Culture Days are alright, and kids certainly get into them, but there is nothing quite as anticipated as the Sports Day. Banners are drawn, schools are cleaned, families are invited, and heads are generally spun into a fine frenzy of fervour, at least at Junior High School, where they run track, throw things, dance, and sometimes wrestle, all for the glory of their arbitrarily chosen teams. They love it, and competition rears its sometimes ugly, but certainly motivating head. It's a serious event, and there for both fun and character building.

They have these days at Elementary School and Kindergarden as well, albeit with a little less competition involved.

These, may I say, are my absolute favourite. Some of the more legendary games are the "Push-the-ball-six-times-bigger-than-you Obstacle Course" or the one where the children sit around the baseball field with their faces completely covered and a swarm of parents have to choose a child. Winners are the ones who jackpot and end up with their own flesh and blood. As for the others, they get to laugh at someone else's Mom for choosing young Sakura when all she wanted was her Kouki.

Anyways, my favourite part is that with the younger grades the families are really involved with events. It's a great time, and I'm excited for my next one in a few weeks!

Ko-rin Sensei! Ko-rin Sensei! I see them all the time and I'm still an attraction


It seems that yes, they can get cuter.

Parents vs 6-year-olds relay

Kiddies vs. Grandparents Ball Throw!

And I made a new friend!

Saturday, 1 June 2013

Surprise, Japan

 Last August I packed my bags and boarded a flight from Ottawa-Toronto-Tokyo.
I didn't know what I was getting into. I knew I was going to Asia. I knew there would be lots of people. And fish. And recently deceased fish. And etiquette rules.
But other than that I was going in blind.
Japan just kind of came to me, or at least the opportunity did. Not to understate it, I did apply for the program (no easy feat), but Japan itself was never somewhere that lured me in and dragged me over. I was interested mostly in leaving, in new vistas and in wandering lost down streets that surprised and teased me. (Funnily enough, Bono would be happy to know that here, said streets really do have no names, making getting lost in them a whole lot easier).

But before I left for Japan, someone I know asked me to send him something, be it a picture or something more tangible, that shocked me. Japan's got a reputation.

And this:

And this:

But it's proven really hard to give him something to put his teeth into. All the time in Japan I'm surprised by things. First, I was surprised that I never see inventions like these.

Except these:

I have seen these in stores I guess. But only the slipper ones. Japanese people, even if they did like the idea of turning your child and pets into little swiffers, are pretty aware that a baby learning to crawl is tough enough, try getting it to pace out every inch of your kitchen floor. Or trying to get a cat to do anything. Uh uh.

Anyways, what I wanted to say is that it's really hard to communicate the things that make my head spin. Crowds of people standing on a dance floor bobbing their heads and not dancing because it's better to be reserved.

Whale meat used in school lunches for 700 13-15 year olds.
Bank staff staying 6 hours after close every day to count every penny in the vault.
Vending machines on every corner (but sadly, usually only selling drinks)
Convenience stores that sell everything you could every need.
People who will randomly bring you presents, just because they know you.

Or conversely:
Cab drivers driving away from your request for a ride and leaving you alone in the middle of nowhere because (I'm assuming, I didn't get the chance to ask) he's afraid of foreigners or afraid to communicate with foreigners.
Kids in cram school till 10PM, on school nights, and again on Saturday mornings.
The semi-mandatory “donations” for your “free” national TV channels. Because “it's every Japanese resident's duty.”

Some things are funny and easy to send back, like marijuana leaf decorations, air fresheners, and pencil cases that they don't know are pot, or Engrish signs, but the things that really throw me are the other ones. The ones that are so much bigger, and so much less obvious than a picture of a vending machine on a corner or twenty teenagers in a fish-bowl of a glass-windowed room, clicking their pencils and thinking about sleep, boys, girls, and how they'd rather be playing video-games at 9:30PM on a Tuesday night.


Wednesday, 1 May 2013


This weeks (month's, season's: give me a break, I'm notoriously unreliable) post is brought to you by WWOOFing (World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms). WWOOFing is like a big online dating agency that hooks up potential workers/travellers with organic or semi-organic farms that want free labour and some company. They keep your stomach full, give you a roof and a bed, and hopefully an awesome cultural experience.

I'd heard of WWOOFing last year from a couple friends in the Yukon, who'd spent 6 weeks or so farming birch syrup in the Canadian wilderness. Here in Japan, a couple friends had done it too, and talked up it's wonders.

Part of the attraction for me was that I was looking for an awesome vacation that would get along well with a  wallet that was looking to stay nestled and hidden away as much as possible. If dust could grow on it and I could still have a good Golden Week (as close Japan comes to an extended holiday, a 4-5 day weekend), then I'd be happy. So away I went.

I got to stay with the lovely Junko and Hideki Isayama, Hideki-San's father, known to me only as Otōsan, and another Canadian WWOOFer from BC who I hadn't met named Morgan. They have a farm where they grow primarily rice, but also mushrooms, potatos, lettuce, onions, carrots, ginger, and Japanese Squash among others. They really welcomed me into their home, and I got the luxury of feasting on Junko's wonderful cooking and all of their hospitality. Here's a run-down of my 5-day mini-adventure...

(L-R, from back left)
Morgan, Colin, Hideki-San
Harai-San, who dropped by (no joke) because his horoscope told him to go North-East that day, Otosan
Junko-San, and Hana-Chan, the black lab.
The Scene:

A farmhouse of undetermined age (read: old). Otōsan grew up here. More on him soon, but this is important because he's 98 years old. It's tucked into an unassuming corner of a town of about 70 000. Japanese farms, because Japan, are often hidden in residential areas. Zoning isn't as big a thing in Japan, and you'll often find rice fields tucked between apartment buildings. It is small, with a shed, and backs onto a high-school field. The sounds and sights (luckly both prevailing winds and distance saved us from the smells) of boys rugby drift in from the sidelines.

The fields: A farmer will generally have multiple fields (Hideki-San has about 12, mostly rice, but also mixed vegetable).  One is at his house, and filled with unequal parts weeds and young, upstart vegetables, with the ratio showing a hand that is ruthless with it's grass and dandelions.
Because if you're going to pose for a picture, you might as well be a tool holding a useful tool

     One is right beside the house. And will soon be sprouting rice.

     Two are tucked up on a mountainside, unplowed and looking more like grassy lots.

     The rest are unseen, but the characters assure our audience that yes, they do exist, and yes, they will   keep our stomachs full come fall.

The town: Hita City, Oita Prefecture. Up in the mountains in sparsely inhabited Oita. Home of monkeys and wild boars and even a few people. There are trees and hills and rivers, speckled by long bridges and dotted with farms and fields. Beautiful to drive through and even nicer to stop in, especially if that stop happens to be one of their famous onsen, or hot springs.

The Players:

Yours Truly: Your Hero. Ready to get his feet wet, his boots dirty and his brain filled.

Hideki Isayama: Our Hero's benefactor, host and both a staunch supplier of knowledge, support and conversation (both in English and Japanese), and opponent of organization and timeliness. As Yours Truly
would say, "He's a bundle of wonder, organic veggies and sweetness"

Junko Isayama: Hostess, Chef, fellow proprietor, and co-conspirator in keeping things a step above unravelled. Caring, kind, and a bit high-strung, but also lovely to talk to, if only in Japanese, with occasional Hideki translations)

Otōsan: Completely deaf in one ear, quiet, but not morose. 98 years old. Looks 80. Walks with a cane. Uses said cane to walk to the garden where he spends 6 hours a day tending and creating his own patch of potatoes, sweet potatoes, pumpkins, goya (bitter melon), beans and flowers. Because hey, what else are you going to do with all the energy an almost-century gives you?

Possibly the most intriguing character, informing you, through his translator and son, that he spent 13 years living in 1930s Manchuria, and two years following languishing in a Siberian work camp, digging graves in permafrost and dreaming of the day he'd go home.

The Story:

Day 1: Yours Truly arrives, meets the players, and are rushed off to what can only be described as a Japanese organic hippy collective. A building in a small town, filled with organic merchants hawking oils, jams, bread and buns, rice-waffles, coffee, tea, and clothes. There's a raised section at the back that functions as a cafe. In front of it a woman occasionally plays guitar or ukulele and sings. A man plays a Japanese flute, dressed in an old tuxedo jacket and a bowtie, apparently filling his role both as musician and comedian, although like always, Japanese comedy seems to slip right by me.

Morgan and Yours Truly relax and take in the scene, occasionally helping and more often getting in the way. Half-naked children cavort. People eat. People sing. The foreigners are gawked at. They wave and grin ridiculously back. They head home, eat a wonderful dinner and the best angel food cake seen this side of anywhere, and sleep

Day 2: Mushrooms
     7AM: Dog-Walking with the lovely Hana. Up a mountain and through a forest
     9AM (ish, with push-backs as needed: "Just a minute it's not ready." "oooh almost ready, just a minute set the table." Such things accompany every meal, and are quickly adjusted to, by me at least)
    10AM-12PM: Loitering and garden watering. Rugby player gawking. Yours Truly contemplates joining a team somewhere. He misses it.
    1PM: Delicious Japanese lunch
    2PM-5PM: Hideki-San, Morgan and Colin head to the woods. Hideki-San senses the force in Colin. Sensibly leaves the power-tools to the person least likely to hurt himself and others with it: Morgan. He drills, and Yours Truly hammers mushroom spores into the log. In a year and a half: ZAP! shiitake appears!
  6PM-10PM: Shower, procrastination, preparation, a late dinner, and bed by 10PM. Our hero collapses onto his futon, unresponsive except for labrador-retriever type twitches till the new day beckons

Day 3: Things Get Shitty

Cow-Shitty to be exact. This day progresses much like the day before, at a leisurely pace, with the biggest difference being that instead of mushroom planting, today is a day for poop-spreading. Morgan and Colin are in charge of spreading 2.8 metric tons of dirt and cow-doo onto a field that will soon be the home of rows of corn, beans, and potatoes. It's messy work, and god knows we don't smell pretty, but we're busy, and time flies almost as fast as their shovels of reformatted and well-digested corn does.

Day 4:

Rain. So no poop today. Morgan tears up a little at the lost chance to drive again in Japan (the novelty of narrow roads and his fellow drivers' unchecked blindspots has yet to wear off), but his month here is far from over, so our hero brings his consolation skills into play.

The foreigners and Hideki-San spend the day sorting rice seeds into high and low quality. It goes like this: prepare a bucket of salt-water at a certain density. The good seeds sink, the poor ones float. Separate. Dry in the sun. Use all the good seeds and the poor ones as needed.

Our stalwart champion accompanies Hideki-San to his friend's to pick up a machine. Harada-san is a craftsman. He uses traditional Japanese methods to make earthen tiles and buildings. He has a wonderful smile and an almost as wonderful beard. He says he's 52, young for a Japanese farmer. Every year he goes to Germany to work on his trade. He's cool and kind, and I think we'd be buddies if I lived less than two hours away.

In the evening the men, Colin, Morgan, Otōsan, and Hideki-san, all go to the local hot-spring, where they rejoice in the indoor/outdoor, earth's core heated pools, varying from "Oh my God" to luke-warm, to a herb soak, to a jet-pool. Everyone wears their onsen clothes, which are very similar to what you were wearing when you came out of your mother, with the possible exception of a modestly placed, extremely small towel.

Day 5: The sky is tinged with the upcoming departure of our champion, but the world and the farm wait for no man- a final day of work lies ahead.

Colin and Morgan spend another day hauling poop. Do some mountain-side exploring at lunch (that's stage-talk for getting lost and coincidentally taking in scenery). Our hero departs in the late afternoon, enjoys the beautiful two hour drive through the mountains, and in a move completely out of character for him, immediately starts writing about his experience.

Fade In: An alarm is set- school tomorrow! A head crashes onto a pillow, the world goes dark.

Friday, 1 March 2013

Matto Bakkai: The Naked Man Festival

Time to talk about my last adventure! And once again, things like to be finished and then languish for months on my computer. I'll just keep telling myself that it needed to age, or ripen, or mature, or something.

On January 19th I went to Nagasu, a small town I'd never heard of before. They were having a festival called Matto Bakkai, but which we foreigners all call, “The Naked Man Festival.” If it were a screenplay, it would play out something like this:

It's 10 a.m. on a cool winter day. The sun is shining. A group of men gathers in a Japanese dining hall.

Unremarkable Japanese Man #1: Take some sake!

Colin: (Surprised but grateful). Thank you!

Unremarkable Japanese Man #2: Take more sake!

Colin: I'm still drinking this one!



The seven foreigners are ushered into a new room. The room is slightly hazy, but the redness to their cheeks belies a warmth unsuspected in the January chill.

Head Japanese Man: Take off clothes!

Colin: Now?

HJM: Now! No socks!

They are pushed towards a new, older man with what looks like a really long roll of toilet paper, but is, deceptively, cloth. After some particular uncomfortable wrapping, all seven foreigners emerge less clothed, but now (mostly) garbed in a culturally appropriate manner and fit for any festival.



Outside a community center
In what seems to be a theme, the seven American, Canadian, and Frenchmen are once again herded away, carrying the dilapidated shreds of their dignity somewhere beneath the fundoshi that barely covers their behinds.

Said fundoshi, conveniently covering more of practically everyone else in attendance.
Colin:  I feel like everyone else knows what they're doing
Frenchmen #1: Just try not to let your feet get stomped on.
Colin: What?
Everyone else: Well you've got to try to climb on all the other naked guys' shoulders, with a piece of hay in your mouth. It's good luck!
Colin: Suddenly everything makes sense. Kind of. Sort of.

The crowd of men, approximately fifty or so, is now assembled on the temple grounds. Suddenly and without warning, elbows start to fly. And someone has climbed on top of the dog-pile! He's (apparently) lucky!

Colin (to American #1): So they just pulled that guy to the ground. When does the luck start?
American #1: ....

American #1 hears nothing, because he's manhandling (literally) his way to the top of the human mass as well.

The group continues on, pushing and moving and stomping. Buckets of water fly through the air. Because sadism.Colin get's cold. Breaks off from the group. Warms himself by a fire. Gets his picture taken with old Japanese ladies who probably are just excited to look at his butt.

Colin: I guess I've gotta go back to the mass of man that's rolling down the street.
Photo stolen from the interwebs. But looking exactly like ours did, but with maybe twice as many bodies.

Japanese Grandmother: Sumimasen, sumimasen (makes recognizable photo noises, motions Colin over)

Colin smiles, poses (PEACE), flexes his overly exposed bottom. Makes a good impression
JG : 1, 2, 3Cheeezzuuu (Cheese!)

He rejoins the ruckus, doing his best to keep the barely clothed, pushing and shoving bodies away from sharp objects and concrete walls. The blob seems to have found direction. Amidst the yelling it moves down a marked path.
Just like this. But less organized.

American #2: I'll give you a lift, climb on top
Colin: I'm lucky enough. And I care about my toes. I've got a marathon in a month...
American #2: I don't remember asking... It was more of a demand

Colin climbs up. For the first time he doesn't see any bums. Relieved he relaxes a bit. Too much. A competitor pulls his unprepared mass to the ground. That is the end of his 1.5-second reign as Matto Bakkai king.

Colin's jubilant, slightly scared face. He's trying to keep his nearest neighbour from bowling over a spectating granny. Said neighbour seems not to notice.

 The man-blob has reached the sea-shore. Everyone breaks up, dips, yells, cheers, and there is much rejoicing. Everyone ambles to the local public baths.

It's like the walk of shame. But culturally significant and appropriate.
Public Baths. Lots of naked. Lots of steam.

Colin's Toes: Hey blood! Hey warmth! Long time no see!
Blood: We've been avoiding you
Warmth: Seriously. But we've forgiven you. Stay here forever.


And thus ended the saga of Colin and the Naked Man Festival. Any questions?

Tuesday, 8 January 2013

Happy New Year's! Omedetou Gozaimasu!

First of all, here's wishing that everyone's New Year's was great. I spent mine with my fabulous host family of the first 5 days in Japan, the Muramoto family. New Year's is their Christmas here, so families generally get together and celebrate. It's nothing like ours, with little hoorah, no banging fireworks, and definitely not much by way of rocking parties.

On NYE we had dinner, just my host-parents and host-brother Yuki. Their daughter was out at a friend's place having a "Countdown Party". Mid-meal, my host mother jumps up and says something along the lines of "Heavens above, wouldn't it be great if Colin experienced a typical Japanese food?"

Now things like that generally put me on the edge of my seat a bit, mostly because it can go either way. Five minutes later you're either roiling in ecstasy with the taste of sunshine on your tongue, or your lip is curling as you stare at a far-too large and far too stinky pile of fermented soy-beans. anyways, she goes away and comes out with a bag of shrimp. Which wouldn't be a problem if they were the proper level of dead that I'm used to.... But they were most certainly still alive and twitching.

Long story short, after watching everyone else do it, I worked up the courage to a) Grab the twitching critter b) break it in half, and c) Dip it in soy sauce and gobble it down. Now raw fish isn't something I have a problem with at all, it's mostly killing it myself. But, sticking to Japan's never-dying love of freshness, I took the plunge, and while I didn't take the proffered seconds, it didn't taste badly at all!

We went to sleep at about 12:30, like the hardcore party animals we obviously are, and when we woke up in the morning we headed to the temple. They go to the biggest temple in the area, which is in my host-mother's home-town, about an hour away. You start by washing your hands (left hand first, then right), then taking a sip of water and spitting it out into a trough of sorts. Then we got in a huge line of people waiting to go into the shrine, where you throw a few coins in and pray. Japanese Shinto Buddhism has a lot of clapping, and of course a lot of bowing. Ad far as the clapping goes, I tend to do it as loudly and obnoxiously as possible, just because it's acceptable and I'll take any excuse to cause a ruckus. At the end you draw a fortune, which I've done twice in Japan, and each time I've managed to pull out the absolute best one! I'm not really one for signs, but if it's good I'll take it!

Anyways, afterwards we went to their Grandmother's house. And for the record, this woman loves me. I'm really not sure why, because our interactions have been few, and at least some of them have involved me kindly and politely informing her that "I really don't like this food." I'm sure there's at least a little dose of sadism in her, especially when she grins maniacally and offers me specialties like pickled plums, or umeboshi, and watches my face contort into uncomfortable grimaces. We've all got our vices, and seeing as she's cute as a button, it's a pill (or a fish, or something indescribably bitter) that I'm willing to swallow!
Grandma's on the far right. For a Japanese native who really can't deal with me, look beside my left shoulder. He's small and hairy and I'm definitely not his favourite.

Anyways, we got there and were greeted by cries of "Korin-chan!" from her, which was really nice. In Japan, you're almost always ____-san, which is respectful, but when you're really close to people they'll call you "______-chan." We talked about it later over dinner, and she pretty much said it was because she had adopted me into their family, which was a lovely, lovely feeling. We dined over sushi (A+), KFC (New Year's is their busiest day. No one likes to cook on New Years and fried chicken is HUGE here), minnows, which they informed me were cooking in maple syrup (C-... Although they only did it because they wanted to be nice and show me that the gift I gave them was being well used...), and best of all, a full, giant cooked crab. That was probably my favourite part. I've never really eaten crab before, and it was so scrumptious!

All my love to everyone and a Happy New Year!


Sunday, 25 November 2012

Running Wild

Today is gonna be all about running, so bear with me.

When I was a wee one (cue Timon and Pumba) I ran a bit.

And by a bit I mean when I wasn't eating bad food and drinking my soul away.

I've been in and out of it (but mostly out of it) for a long time, and have only ever ran 10KM runs before (49 minutes, when I was 18), but I decided shortly after getting here that I was going to run a marathon...

That's 42 kilometers. 42 long, long kilometers. And then I found out that there was a half marathon in Amakusa, which is an island chain famous for its scenery, it's five picturesque bridges, it's delicious mikans (nectarines) and fish, and more dubiously, for having the fastest depleting population in Japan...
(Demographically Japan is migrating out of rural areas and into cities, and being a remote island, despite all it's perks and wonders).

Ignore the finger. I blame it for taking pictures while running. Coincidentally, a good way to get weird looks from real athletes judging young tourists.
We (My friends Alys, Krista and I) registered and stayed with my wonderful friend Lauren, who lives five minutes away.
So when you register for Japanese races, you may get Japanese size T-Shirts, even if the label does say XL.
 Long story short, after ten weeks of training, on Sunday I found myself bouncing at the start line of 1100 runners on an alarmingly beautiful and warm November day in Japan.
Alys, I'd like to apologize in advance. Or kind of in advance. Or not at all really.
And I never imagined how good it would feel. I've heard of the legendary runner's high, but heeeeellllooo endorphins. 
There were old ladies and little children littering the sidewalk, cheering and clapping and “ganbadde!”-ing (Try your best!) I think they cheered harder for me A) because I'm Western, and a novelty (there's a lot of that here) but also because by the 14KM mark the sorest muscles in my body were all in my cheeks, because I couldn't stop smiling... At about that point a had to tell myself to look serious, because otherwise I'm pretty sure I would've face-cramped. And I don't even know if that's a thing, but if it is it'd be hella embarassing as a reason not to finish.

I ran it in 2:11:50, which is about 20 minutes faster than I expected... This is mostly because it was my first race and I didn't realize how much it being actual race-day would up my speed.

Afterwards, and with aching legs, I drove the normally 2.5-hour-drive home in five hours... There's only one road out of Amakusa, and almost all 2500 race participants were taking it, so it made for some pretty intense gridlock.

This is a lovely pair of Japanese citizens, who rode in the car in front of us for a long stretch of the way. Think 50 meters/minute. Anyways, I was dancing in the car and the girl started giggling. I hate being the center of attention (obviously... ;) ) so I started dancing more for her. She kept tapping and yelling at her brother beside her to look, and whenever he'd turn around I'd stop and pretend nothing was happening. This probably went on for 10 minutes, with her getting more and more frantic (and probably with their Mom watching the whole thing in rear view mirror, and probably either cursing me and all foreigners or chuckling under her breath). In the end Alys and I let the boy see too, and we ended up making faces and playing Rock, Paper, Scissors until someone rudely pulled in between us and precipitated our friendship's inevitable break-up.

Then afterwards Alys and I went to an onsen, or Japanese baths, where an older man told me my legs were the biggest things he'd ever seen ("thanks, and if I wasn't naked, I'd probably have a witty retort handy"). That being said, onsens are A) Amazing and relaxing, and B) Where I get talked to by the most strangers. 

Then, it was on to ReefBurger, an amazing little restaurants that may owe 50% of its business to foreign English teachers...

Now I'm resting up, but soon I'll start powering up again to continue my training towards my full-marathon, which is February 17th!

Wish me luck!

And on a side note, this is me with one of my favourite babies. Ridia barely ever cries, and when I sing her German lullabies she falls asleep in my arms. Cute factor x 1 000 000