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Japan Part 7: The Past is a Foreign Country

Kyoto is Japan’s historic capital, a UNESCO heritage site which contains temples and businesses which are hundreds upon hundreds of years old. It was thus with some surprise that I discovered that almost every trace that I had lived here only 3 years earlier had already disappeared.

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Japan Part 6: Baseball

So much more fun than going to a Jays game. The fans are crazy, there’s continuous singing and music and lots and lots of balloons. Oh, and they’re totally cool with outside food (and even give you cups for your bottled drinks).

Japan Part 5: Aoi Matsuri

There are three big festivals (or matsuri) in Kyoto: Gion, Jidai and Aoi. I never saw the Aoi matsuri when I lived here because after seeing the Gion and Jidai ones I learned that it was all the same thing over and over again and so not worth the crowds. However as we were here and the Aoi matsuri was on, it felt like a waste not to attend.

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The crowds were terrible though.

Japan Part 4: Otagi Nembutsu-ji

This is a temple in Kyoto that has lots of stone statues of the buddha’s disciples. As you can see the statues are a bit out of the ordinary. Way back when I’d seen an ad for the place on a train but never got around to actually seeing it. This was my chance.

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After visiting the temple I went for a short hike in the rain along a nearby river. It was really nice, but after seeing warning signs for bears and snakes I became aware of the face that if anything did happen to me, with no phone and not having told anyone where I was, things wouldn’t be looking so good. The hike wasn’t so enjoyable after that.

Japan Part 3: Tokyo

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  • I already knew that sumo was amazing, but seeing it live took it to the next level. Truly the sport of kings.
  • The sushi at Tsukiji market is very good, but it would help to have some reference point besides 100 yen kaiten-sushi.
  • Capsule hotels are great and probably the best option for someone travelling on their own (for bigger groups use a love hotel).
  • The egg-shaped building previously seen in Barcelona and London is here as well. Something is up.
  • Tokyo looks better at night.

Japan Part 2: Shin and Akane’s Wedding

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Shin and Akane’s wedding was the official reason for coming to Japan and the reason we had to leave Winnipeg so quickly. It was easily the best wedding I’ve been to – the food was amazing, the program wasn’t too long and it was dominated by their friends so it was fairly entertaining to boot.

Japan Part 1: Planes, Trains and Automobiles

I’m back-dating stuff because it’s taken me so long to get in front of a computer and don’t want to lose chronology.

Because my mom was going to be in town for graduation we figured it would make the most sense if her flight was at the same time as ours so that we could all go to the airport together and no one would have to wait by themselves for too long. So when she was getting her tickets my mom called me up to find out what time our flight was. I told her it was around 8am so she should book her return for the same time. Unfortunately I was thinking about the time for a different flight and ours actually left around 10:30 – in other words we had a bit of a wait ahead of us.

Even getting to the airport was a hassle. Because there were three of us with two suitcases each, a normal taxi wasn’t going to do it, we needed a van. So the previous night I called around and reserved a taxi for the next morning. Come the appointed time and we rush to the hotel lobby to check out and the taxi wasn’t there. We wait a few minutes, still no taxi. I call the company and they say they have my reservation and that the cab is running a bit late. We wait some more. Finally the cab pulls up a good 15 minutes late and we make our way to the biggest line I have ever seen at the Winnipeg airport. We begin to panic as my mom’s flight is supposed to leave fairly soon, but I see on the departures board that the flight is running late and that we have time. So we wait patiently, not worrying about a thing until we get to the counter where the counter-person lets us know that the flight is boarding and that we need to rush my mom to that plane ASAP. Cue frenzied rushing through the airport and a painfully slow trip through airline security resulting in me waiting outside the gate wondering if my mom made it on to the plane or not. After a few minutes without any pages over the intercom or calls to my cell phone I figured she got on OK and made my way back to Tomoko so that we could start waiting for our flight.

Because the tickets together were $800 cheaper with Northwest we decided to go with them. Sadly their flight to Kansai airport was booked solid so we had to fly out to Nagoya instead and then take the bullet train to Kyoto. But before that could happen we had to change airplanes a few times. First we flew on a tiny Canadair jet to Minneapolis. Then we waited in the airport for a few hours, doing some shopping and killing time (and checking out some very impressive vending machines – iPods, PSPs, digital cameras) before getting on our plane to Tokyo. The flight was alright and I spent most of it talking to the person seated next to me – a marine who was making his way to Okinawa for his first assignment. He knew nothing about Japan or the language beyond what his Lonely Planet guide told him and had no one waiting for him in Japan, he was just expected to report for duty in two days time at his new base. When I first heard this I thought it was pretty harsh, but the dude is a marine so he should be able to handle himself. Once we arrived in Tokyo we waited around for a bit and then got on our final flight – a short hop to Nagoya.

When I left Japan I didn’t surrender my alien registration (gaijin) card because it meant filling out paper work, and as I was going out on a return ticket they had no reason to expect I wasn’t coming back. So on this trip I was slightly apprehensive that my previous laziness might cause me some problems at immigration this time around. Thankfully there were no questions about previous stays, or anything else, and I was safely in Japan.

After some misadventures with the airport ATMs we got some cash, bought our bullet train tickets and 40 minutes later were in Kyoto where Shin was waiting to pick us up. Our 20 hour trip was over and we could move on to the business of preparing for Shin and Akane’s wedding.

Instant Noodles of the World Part Two – Six Fortune Tom Yam Instant Soup Noodle

Opening myself up to comments over my instant noodle consumption here is a review of the one I ate today.

Picture will be placed here later.

The first thing that impressed me about the noodles was the price. I’m pretty sure they cost something in the neighbourhood of 50 cents, which is pretty damn cheap. Opening it up I find that it has noodles (the wheat kind), a soup packet and a chili oil packet.

The soup is pretty hot. Definitely hotter than yesterday’s. It also has less sweetness and maybe more sour to it. There is no hint of coconut milk in it (real or otherwise). Still, it is a pretty good tasting soup, and would be a good option if you find Thai food to be too sweet.

The noodles scared me. They were the thin wheat noodles that I don’t like. The package states that they are air dried instead of fried, and maybe that’s the difference because as I ate them their texture didn’t bother me.

Soup: 7/10 – A bit of a simpler soup, which while done well would do better as a hot and sour soup instead of a Tom Yam soup. I expect a bit more from a Tom Yam soup.

Noodles: 7/10 – While they were the thin wheat noodles, they were done well.

Overall: 7/10

It’s worth keeping in mind that these noodles cost 1/2 to 2/3 as much as yesterday’s. If I were really broke then I’d prefer these ones for sure, as it is Tomoko can afford the extra 40 cents so I’d take yesterday’s instead.

Instant Noodle’s of the World Part One: Good Bean Vermicelli – Tomyum Kung Flavour

Yesterday at Sun Wah Tomoko and I went a little overboard in the instant noodle section. After unpacking everything at home we resolved to make notes of the noodle’s we got so that we’d know which ones were worth getting again so today I tried my first one.

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First looking at the package we can learn many things:

  1. These noodles are made with Japanese technology so are obviously a high quality product
  2. If the name says the product is good, it must be good
  3. They are certified halal by the Islamic community of Ho Chi Minh City (one great thing about SE Asia is that if something can be certified halal it will be, makes things so much easier)
  4. Judging from all the languages, this fine product is enjoyed in many countries

Opening it up I am amazed by the number of different packets inside: noodles, soup powder, soup paste, chili oil and dried vegetables (including mini dried shrimp). But following the directions I just empty everything into my bowl, add hot water and wait. Three minutes later it is ready to be eaten.

Before continuing, a word on Tomyum flavour instant noodles. The Tomyum noodle is based on the Thai soup of the same name. The soup is spicy, sour and slightly sweet (from whatever they have in place of coconut milk). Not everyone likes the taste (Tomoko doesn’t) but I do. In Japan there was a brand of Tomyum noodles that I loved which used regular instant noodle noodles. The one I bought yesterday used bean vermicelli, aka glass noodles.

The soup itself isn’t very strong coloured (the one in Japan was a colourful mix of white and red). Picking up some of the noodles in my chopsticks (instant noodles taste better with chopsticks, and are easier to eat too) I don’t see a lot of the soup on the noodles, but I’m hoping that what I can’t see I can still taste. I’m right, the noodles have a good amount of the soup flavour on them. The soup is a good balance of spicy, sour and sweet. Not as spicy as the one I liked in Japan, but that’s a good thing.

That being said, I’m not a huge fan of the noodles themselves – they’re a bit too chewy, but that has more to do with the type of noodle than anything else. Plus they’re straight, and I prefer the wavy shape used by instant wheat noodles. While I’d prefer wheat instant noodle noodles, these ones were still much better than the ones used by Mama brand instant noodles which while being wheat noodles, are too thin and have a strange mouth feel.

I’d give the soup a 9 out of 10. Tomyum is a difficult flavour to make instant noodles out of and these guys did a great job.
For the noodles they get a 7 out of 10. While I would have preferred standard wheat noodles, the bean vermicelli makes a fun change, and definitely isn’t out of place in the dish as a whole.

So the final verdict is an 8 out of 10. A very good instant noodle product that could easily join Shin Ramen as the choice “can’t be bothered to make anything” component of a well-balanced diet.

Honeymoon Special – Part 7: Pamplona

Previously: Madrid

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Because we were already in Spain while it was going on, I decided that we had to go see the Running of the Bulls.
Long story short, Pamplona smelled like a washroom in a dodgy club and Tomoko and I really wanted a bull to injure someone.

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With the show over by 10am, people get ready to binge drink through another day.

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And with that we leave Pamplona behind and make our to Barcelona.

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