Sunday, April 25, 2010

Yokocho! Concert report #2 TOKYO!!

The truth is: I remember really little about this concert!

We were sitting first row! Less than a meter from the stage! It was amazing! Needless to say Yoko was great. I have to admit thought, he was not as great as when we say him in Osaka. He seemed worried and bottered by something. Enough that he messed up in the lyrics or in the dances a few times. He was sweating a lot too. During the MC, it became clear that something was on his mind. That's when he started messing arround with the audience... saying... I have some guest for the MC... or not... maybe it's kanjani8... sorry I'm just lying!!... it went on for a good 5 minutes. The crowd became very restless. That's when the whole group walked on stage. The crowd went wild!!! We went wild. They did the MC with Yoko. Ryo and Ohkura were standing right in front of us. Ryo came closer and said hi to us. Then the whole group sang Hitotsu no uta. I was amazed. I could not believe our luck!!! Turns out in the whole tour, that was the only time the whole group showed up. That also explained why Yoko seemed so nervous. 

Towards the end of the show, Yoko threw 4 sign boards. Marie and Ani caught one. Ani gave it to Marie. (it is now framed in her bedroom)

Saturday, April 17, 2010

好きやねん 温泉 と カラオケ

After 7 very long days, and since the rain was still in the forecast, we decided on taking a day off!! That means, we spent the day at the nearby Onsen!

I love onsen! Like you would not believe it! I love them! I love them! I love them all! It makes my skin so soft. It makes my body NOT hurt! I love it!

So at the onsen, I met a couple of really lovely ladies. One of which, an old lady, fallowed me around for half the day! She was so happy to *find a canadian in Osaka*. She kept asking me if I was single since she had a son about my age.... lol

She presented me to all the ladies in attendance. As good Osaka women, they lived up to the Obachan name as they were all very noisy and nosy! So all afternoon we chatted in Japanese about Osaka, Canada... and food!!! (That's why I love Osaka...) They kept asking me where in Japan the food was the best... I made them really happy when I said Osaka!

They also were asking me lots of questions about our dear-canadian-beautiful-figure skater Joannie Rochette! They kept saying how amazing she was! How great she was for having competed even after her mother had passes away.

So that's how my day went... in the evening, we spent all night watching different TV show. We watched Space Shower ranking (NYC was first!! lol) then we watched VS. Arashi which is always so funny.
The next day, the rain was still pouring down! But lucky us, we didn't get any snow like Saitama and Gunma did! So we went a few station down the street and headed to Shidax for 8 hours of Karaoke!!!!! Here during the day, you can buy free time Karaoke. That means it is a set price and you stay how long you want. So we sang for 6 hours straight before we had to start singing the same songs again. All this without the romanji lyrics!! I have to say, we really came along a long way since our first time 3 years ago.
We ended the night by working on our concert Uchiwa for Yoko's concert in Tokyo next week!!! First row baby!!!

Yoshitsune's Foot step part 3 and Nagoya

And we were back in Osaka! The plan for today was to go to Kanazawa but since rain was on the forecast there, we decided instead to go to Nagoya. But first we were to stop at Fukushima station in Osaka to quickly see another Yoshitsune mark stone. The famous place where Yoshitsune said: "Nothing good can come from thinking of retreat before you even start. We shall fight just with oars at the stern of the boat."

So we set off and fallowed the direction according to what I had found out about the place. Now, I shall make a brief pause here to explain that unlike the rest of the world, Japan has a really different way to number houses. First you have the city. Osaka. Then the neighborhood: in this case Fukushima. Then you have the Chome... here 2 *which is the numerical subdivision of the neighborhood but which does not always fallow a numerical order in its placement.* Then you have another number which equals to the block in the chome. Here 2 as well. Then you have another number which would be the house number within the block, here 4. So the only information I had went as fallowed: Osaka, Fuhushima-ku, 2-2-4.

So  we got to the place I had marked on the map only to find out it was the wrong Chome!!! So we asked some construction workers and after looking it up on their GPS, pointed us in the right direction. Once we found the right Chome, we thought it would be easy to find the block, but no... we wondered around for about half and hour and had to ask a few people for direction. At the same moment, we magically happened to walk right by it!!! So we took a few pictures and that was it!

We then stopped by a small shop and had an Okonomiyaki top celebrate our victory!! We ordered a Kimchi Okonomiyaki! It was good but not as good as the ones we had had so far in Osaka.

Then we hoped on the Shinkansen and headed for Nagoya! We got there in about 1 hour and realized the weather was a LOT colder than in Osaka! So we stopped by Uniqlo to buy some warmer cloths. We also went to very big Daiso and ended up spending almost all afternoon shopping. Then we headed to the castle. We walked for about 1 hour, fallowing the map they gave us at the station, and NEVER found the damn castle!!!! We must have been really close by at one point because we could see tour bus, but with little time left before our train back home, we had to turn around and go back to the station! Overall Nagoya is Blah...... Just another big city... but very very very American. No charm. Expensive. And not for me.

Shimonoseki: Yoshitsune's Foot step part 2

The next morning, we once more got up early and headed to Shimonoseki on my Yoshitsune's foot step Odyssey. We had plan the outing well and the was no reason for which we should fail. Well...
We got to Shimonoseki is less than 30 minutes on the Shinkansen. Once at the station, we found the information booth and proceeded to ask direction. The over zealous clerk was so happy to see tourist that they started marking ALL attraction in the area. We had to explain to them that we were only here for a few hours (not a few weeks) and that we were only interested in Dan no ura. The disappointment on his face.... Anyway, he directed us toward a bus as it turned out we were still a good 30 minutes away from the historical point. A transit employed took care of us as we navigated through the city and the different bus change.

That's where the adventure began!! As we sat on the bus, we realized Marie and I had no change to pay for the fare. We only had a 10000 yen bill and a 5000 yen bill!!! The fare was about 260 yen each! we started panicking. We kept trying to explain that the transit employee but he kept saying "no problem, no problem". he obviously was not understand us!! So we showed him the bills and he understood!!! But to our rescue came and old old old lady!!! She had heard our conversation and assured us she had change for our 5000 yen bill! Thank's god for her!!! She really saved us!!!


The next day, after resting well at the Hostel, we took an early train out for Kumamoto. About 2 hours south of Hakata, half-way to Kagoshima. Kumamoto was the reason for our trip in Kyushu. Like most places we visited on our many stay to Japan, we came about that place while watching Japanese TV. This castle was featured in 47 live the documentary. Ever since we had thought about going there. But being so far off the way, it had never been an option until today.

Kumamoto is one of the biggest castle in Japan. Unfortunalty, it was almost completly destroyed by an angry samourai who set it on fire in the late 1800s. In the 1960s, it was reconstructed according to the few pictures pre-fire state.

The castle itself is beautiful and I have to say, it was well worth the trip. Of all the castle in Japan, this one offers the most building to visit and possibly the biggest ground space. The inside of the main tower is a museum about the history of the castle but also about all the other castles in Japan.
As you first enter, you also see walls covered with name plates. Those name plates are the one of the people who donated money for the reconstruction of the different building of the castle.

It took Marie and I about 3 hours to visit the castle and its surrounding. Of which, 1 hour was spent trying to locate on the name plates, Murayama Ryuhei and Murakami Shingo. We did find Maruyama's plate but had to give up on finding Hina's. But as we recall, even in the documentary they had trouble locating Hina's plate.
Overall, we had a great day in Kumamoto. It's too bad the weather was rainy and gray, it prevented me from taking beautiful pictures.
(On the picture, my finger is pointing at Maruyama's plate but you can hardly see it since it was so high over head.)

Miyajima and Hiroshima

I am very unsure what to write here. Overall our day in Hiroshima and Miyajima ended up exactly like my trip there last year!! Stuck under the pouring rain.

We left Osaka early in the morning. Jumped on the Shinkansen and headed for Hiroshima. From there we transferred to Miyajima and arrived around 10 am under a heavy rain. I am sure Miyajima is a beautiful and magical place but somehow I am starting to have a very bitter feeling about that place. Whenever I think of Miyajima, I think of cold freezing rain, wet feet, wet pants, wet everything.

Even thought it was raining, the place was crowded with tour group. We walked around a bit, saw the majors site, took the money shots and went in a little restaurant for the famous Oyster Okonomiyaki, Hiroshima style.

By then, the island was almost covered by a thick fog. We took the ferry boat and went back to Hiroshima. There, still under the rain, we made our way tot the Castle, played around with the costumes, walked to the Peace Garden, took a few pictures.

Since we were tired of walking under the rain, we spent the rest of the day under the covered shopping street, did some Purikura, bought Flip Flop, and ate an Okonomiyaki in the special Okonomiyaki building.

Overall, Hiroshima does not score really high with me. The city itself is ok, it is worth visiting the Peace Park but that is about it. The Okonomiyaki are not anywhere near as good as the ones in Osaka.

But since Hiroshima is on the way to Kyushu, and since Marie had never been here, I thought it was important to stop by.
After our day soaking in the rain, we jumped back on the Shinkansen and continued our trip towards our main goal: Kumamoto!

We reached Hakata (Fukuoka), found our staying place Khaosan Hakata (a great hostel that I would recommend to anyone visiting the area).


In hope of beating the tourist rush madness, we hoped early on a train and headed for Nara. We were expecting another Kyoto type of day with it's share of frustration.

Just as we thought, as early as 9 am, the place was already crowded with tourists. From the station, we fallowed the flow of people and walked straight towards the Daibustu. We passed a few temples and a 5 story pagodas. We stopped to take a few pictures with the deers. Pet some of them. Then reached the giant boudha (daibustsu).

The entrance fee was 500 yen but it was well worth it. I know there are a few daibustsu in Japan but it was my first time seeing any of them. It is very impressive. We made our way around the temple and found a fundraiser activity where for 1000 yen you could write a message on a tile that would then be used to renovate the roof of the temple. We thought it was a cool idea so we did one and wrote a little message from our Plastre Langlois family.  We took many pictures and kept on walking around the town to visit a few more temples.

In all, it was a 3 hours walk through nice scenery. As the day went on, as the tour bus arrived, it started getting overly crowded but by then we were done. Getting there early proved to be a great decision!
In the afternoon, Marie went for a haircut as I roamed around arcade games. We finished our day in Nara with a Purikura and a good tonkatsu meal.

In all it was a nice day, well worth the trip.

Friday, April 9, 2010

Himeji out! Kobe in!

Today was our little outing to Himeji and Kobe.

We left early on the Shinkansen from Shin-Osaka and started with a little visit to the famous authentic castle of Himeji. From the outside, the castle was stunning. Especially with the cherry blossom surrounding it. But that's as far as we got. The crowd! Oh the crowd! It was just too much for me. Waiting in line to visit the inside of the castle meant not going to Kobe... that was out of the question so we left. Instead we made our way to some old covered shopping street and did some purikura.

After having lunch, we jumped back on the train and made our way to Nada station. From there we headed to the Kobe Oji Zoo to see PANDAS!!!! I had never seen a panda before so this was going to be exciting. Well turns out it was and made us forget all about our failed trip to Himeji. We spent a few hours roaming the zoo and headed to Sanomiya station to go up the Kobe city hall tower and enjoy the view from there.

That concluded our trip to Kobe and Himeji.
I should add, on a comic note, at the zoo, they had squirrels on display, in cages!!! Marie and I thought it was hilarious!!!!

Yoshitsune's Foot steps Part 1

I didn't mean it but I started my tracking down of Yoshitsune by the beginning of the story. But let's look back at yesterday's near disaster first.

Kyoto! Kyoto! Kyoto! As some of you might remember from my previous trip, this city always failed to impress me. It just doesn't do it for me. I will refer to it as the Disney land of temples. Just like the Vatican, it leaves you with a bad taste in your mouth. Oh! Sure it is beautiful. Full of historical site, cherry blossom, culture... but FAKE! FAKE! FAKE! Well, I shouldn't be too harsh here, definitively not as fake as Vegas.  Fake on a different level! Here, they sell you history! They don't allow you to appreciate it. They sell it to you, with a day pass, a lucky charm and an omiyage. Sure there is nothing wrong with that. So does the rest of Japan. But here to make the matter worst, try doing it while fraying your way amongst thousand of dumb tourists!! There you got it. A nightmare.

So that's how our day started. In the over zealous crowd of history-go-getter. We made our way to Nanzen-ji. Grand, beautiful... no different than the other 100 temples and shrines. We walked along the canal and enjoyed the Cherry Blossoms. Had a little Hanami of our own by the art gallery. By then I had enough. Time for me to head out of town. Somewhere far, somewhere still meaningful... Marie headed to the Gold temple (Which I had already visited on my first trip there). I jumped on the train to Mt. Kurama.


It took me about 30 minutes to reach Kurama station. From there I started an 1 hour hike up the mountain. It is hard to describe the hiking trail. There wasn't much to it except beautiful tall trees, bamboo and cherry blossoms. Along the path, many shrines or stone markers. The main temple, not the biggest, not the richest, not the most beautiful one of Japan. But from it front steps, you could enjoy one hell of a view over the surrounding area!!


The reason I wanted to go that far, was not only to get away from the tourists (did I forget to mention, that on my way there a saw but a handful of them) but to visit the site where Ushiwakamaru (Yoshitsune) grew up. That temple was the one where he was sent as a toddler to study.


At the main gate, after paying your 200 yen, you are given a map that marks all the important places along the path, including the water stream Yoshitsune drank from, the stone where he marked his height and the field where he learned his swordmanship skills.

After wondering for 2 hours around that holy site, I went back to Kyoto and met with my sister at Gojobashi (once more ignored by the tourists) where stands a stone scene of Yoshitsune and Benkei's mythical fight.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

O is for ONSEN!

What to do on a gray, rainy cold day...

The onsen my dear!!

You can never go wrong with a day at the onsen. And best of all turns out there is a really nice one just a 10 minutes walk away from where we are staying! Well it is not a traditional Onsen, more like a public bath but it has all the fun stuff including the slat scrub and the electrify water bath. We spent all morning there and in the afternoon watched random japanese TV.
Now on another note, today we are starting our 7 days mini-trip project called Yoshitsune's footstep! First stop is Kyoto and Fushimi Inari. Tomorrow will be Hiroshima and Miyajima.

Visiting the Emperors

Yesterday was a day off.

Well it was suppose to be. But with the weather hitting 25 degree and the sun shinning, we decided to go for a stroll around the neighborhood. We had notice a few mounts and parks near by and thought we should check it out.

Turns out the mount are not park but actual burial mount in a key shape with moat, dating back to 4th century! They are known as the Mozu Necropolis with the biggest Tumilis being right next to our house: Nintokuryo Tumulus. These Tumulis, or emperor burial ground are the third biggest Emperor burial structure after the Kufu Pyramid and the Imperial Tomb of the first emperor of China.
Unfortunately there is really nothing to see.

But just across from the mound, there is a park in which lays a beautiful Japanese garden *200 yen* to visit. We spent an hour there walking around the beautiful setting. It reminded us a lot of the Kanazawa garden.

After walking all around the moat garded mound we ended up in downtown Sakai city. There we went up the Sakai city hall. On the 21 first floor you can enjoy a 360 degree view of the area. From the top, you get to see the Key-shaped burial mound but also Osaka.
We grabbed lunch, did a little shopping and found the biggest Daiso Mart I had ever seen!! Probably about double the one from Harajuku!! As we were shopping, a weirdo started fallowing me around. A creepy foreigners. After loosing him, we walked around some more and made our way home.
We did our laundry, watched TV and planned the next few days.

For those interested in visiting the burial ground, you can take the Nankai subway line from Tennonji and get off at Mikunikaoka station *which also serves the JR line*. Or you can get off at Sakai-Higashi station to go up the city hall building or to grab a walking map from the tourist information center.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

When in Osaka: EAT and UFO

How to describe yesterday... I am very unsure. It seemed like only 3 things happened yesterday. We walked, we ate, we took pictures. Yes that would sum it up roundly. Where to start..
We meet with our friend at Tennoji station and walked to the Shinsekai entertainment district. There in order to provide the best information for the Osaka Food Guide, we decided to try as many local food as possible. So we started...

Takoyaki 1 11:00 am
As soon as we made our way on the main street leading to the Tsutenkaku tower, we located our first Takoyaki stand of the day. Chingyi went ahead and bought 6 pieces that we shared amongst the 4 of us. They were... well good. Not the greatest but good enough. As we were eating, we saw some pictures on the wall and realized this was the Takoyaki location featured in K8 Puzzle's documentary. We took a bunch of pictures with some random Japanese girls who were obviously as excited as we were.

Then we kept on walking toward the toward. Just a few meters after departing our first Takoyaki stand, we spotted our second location.

Tokoyaki 2 11:20 am
Marie went a head and bought a 6 pieces. The takoyaki was dry, salty and not very tasty. After a big disappointment we finally reach the tower.

We went up, played a few UFO machine, visited Billiken, took way to many pictures and came back down. That's where we spotted our 3rd Takoyaki location of the day *and one of my favorite spot from my previous trip*.


Takoyaki 3 12:15 am
I went a head and bought the 6 pieces which we shared. Delicious. Simply delicious!! You can never go wrong at that stand!!!
We walked around the neighborhood some more then headed off to the longest covered shopping street (in the world??).  Tenjinbashi. We walked the whole street and manage to find a sushi location to have lunch at.


Sushi (First meal??) 2:00 pm
It was a bit pricy and really not that good. Not a place I will go back or worth mentionning.
On the shopping street we manage to find some great deals such a knee sock for 50 yen and purses for 100 yen!!

Snack 1 2:30 pm
Since Kansai terebi is not to far from the shopping street we stopped by, walked around the Children's Plaza and headed back to Namba. 
We stopped at many amusement center and played UFO catcher. It was my first time ever!! EVER! I was reluctant at first but it seemed so easy. So I went a head and tried and won an octopus phone strap on my first try!! All four of us played and came out with a few items. My sister even won me the stuff cat phone strap I really wanted!!! We did a Purikura and headed off to a Idol Shop. That's where we met more Japanese Girls and bought a few key chains. We also stopped and ate some Sakura flavored hot cakes.


Snack 2 6:00 pm

We then went and tried the "WORLD BEST EGG TARTS". The line was long... the tart was pricy. BUT!!! They were by far the best one I have ever had!!!

Dinner Kushikatsu (or not) 8:00 pm
Since we had not had dinner, We then decided to go try Kushikatsu at Daruma restaurant which is suppose to be the best in town. We started with a small order... tried it... payed and walked out... Not worth mentioning!!! So dinner was a bust... we walked some more in the shinsaibashi shopping district. Took loads of pictures. Found a very nice temple. Lit some incent. Then played more UFO.
We ended the night saying goodbye to our friends which were going back to Tokyo and went back to our guesthouse. On the way, I bought some Nissan UFO noodles for dinner.

Dinner take 2 11:00 pm
We watched TV, Koichi Domoto and Murakami Shingo were on, and called it a night.
Now Today we are taking a day off and planning our Hanami sight seeing trip to Kyoto. We will also plan our trip to Hiroshima, Hakata and Kumamoto.

Billiken and Me

From Wikipedia:
The Billiken was a charm doll created by an American art teacher and illustrator, Ms. Florence Pretz of St. Louis, Missouri, who is said to have seen the mysterious figure in a dream. 

In 1908 she patented the Billiken who was elf-like with pointed ears, a mischievous smile, and a tuft of hair on his pointed head. His arms were short and he was generally sitting with his legs stretched out in front of him. One point on Billiken luck: To buy a Billiken gives the purchaser luck, but to have one given to you is better luck.

To know more about Billiken, the God of things as they ought to be, visit this link.

As we strolled around Tenoji I could not refrain myself from taking a picture with every Billiken I could see.

Tori no Kizoku Izakaya

This Izakaya chaine is owned by Ohkura Tadayoshi's family. A Japanese idol from the band Kanjani8. There are many location across Japan, with most of them in Osaka *their home town*. This Izakaya is very similar to most Izakaya in Japan. There can be a very long wait depending on the days you are going. Everything on the menu is 280 yen *including alcohol drinks* and I have to say over all for an Izakaya, the food is delicious. For my first visit, I went to the Shinsaibashi location right next to the Daimaru, in Osaka. But the location on Dotonbori is a lot easier to get too. *You can see it from the bridge Ebisubashi*.

Deep fried camember!
Although they did not speak English or have an English menu, all the items are listed with a picture so it is easy to order. Note to Kanjani8's fan, they also sell a cell phone strap with the logo of the Izakaya: a chicken with feet shape like a mugendai.

This Izakaya specializes in Yakitori but the best item on the menu is  their deep fry Camembert cheese! I also enjoyed the soups there really much.

Monday, April 5, 2010

Hanami, Yokocho, Izakaya

When in Osaka: eat, have fun and eat again! And that's what we did yesterday!!!

We started our day with a bento box and a little Hanami party of our own. For those who do not know what a Hanami is: Spring is the season for the cherry blossom, so all over Japan, people organize party where they sit underneath the cherry blossom, eat, drink and party all day. Think of it as a tail gate party before the Superbowl.

So we went to Osaka Castle (and so did the whole population of Osaka it seems) and found a tiny place that was not already occupied and ate our bento box.
After eating, we made our way to the Osaka Jo hall to watch Yoko's Solo Con *I already posted below, the concert report*. We had a great time.

After watching, we took a stroll to the Osaka Castle and NHK TV. The Castle was as splendid as usual and in front of NHK we found a Daibutsu! We took a few pictures and left for Shinsaibashi to go eat at Tacchon's family owned Izakaya. We had lots of delicous food including a deep fried Camembert that was delicious. *You can find below a post about the restaurant*.

After eating we walked the street of Shinsaibashi, did a purikura and ended up in front of Glico Man.

Concert Report: Yoko's Solo Con! Osaka

Wonderboy! Where to start! This marks Yoko's third solo concert since his debut. You can never go wrong with watching a Kanjani8 concert or Solo concert in Osaka. The city goes into a frenzy for their hometown boys. Everywhere you go, there are signs of their presence (music being played in EVERY store, messages of good luck left at the temples, long lines to see Billiken)

This weekend was no different. We had gone the day before to buy our concert goods so we wouldn't have to carry them with us into the venue. The goods were a hit. On the day of the concert, after having a quick Hanami, we decked our self out with Tiger hats *the theme of the concert* and headed to the Osaka Jo Hall. Our seats were 16th row right over looking the stage. Not the best seats in the house but not the worst either. We were lucky enough to be close to the main stage!

The concert itself was amazing! Yoko looked great and had Veteran, Shadow West and other Kansai juniors as his back up dancers. His did many of Kanjani8's greatest hits (Kyu Jo Show, Musekinin Hero, Zukkoke, Kawaita no hana, Ichibyo Kiss, It's my soul). He also performed many of his own solo's or unit song including Wonderboy and Kicyu twice). He had no guest for the MC but had video messages from all the members. He also poke fun at everyone of them and attempted singing one of their solo. His interpretation of Yasu was hilarious as he tried to sing high pitch. But the best moment was without any doubts his Babun Attack in full outfit performance!  I don't think I had ever laughed so hard in my life!

We also got to watch an Eito Ranger Skit!! With a new version of the song! "Ah, Ah blacku ranger..." The skit was performed with Veteran as they did their own version of Momotarou!

During the MC, he talked about the new TV show and how him, Maru and Ohkura went filming on a boat. How Maru just would not stop throwing up...

The show ended with Onigishi as we learned that his mother was in attendance for today's concert. Yoko finished the song in tears and so did half the audience.

We were treated to 3 encores (which is one more than the other concert) probably because of his family in attendance. The last encore, after coming back 3 times was Zukkoke Otokomichi... again. Except he did not really sing and let the crowed do all the singing.

Overall the show greatly exceeded my expectation. But best of all! The day before the show we received our Tokyo tickets (We balloted many times for the concert and luckily hit twice). The Tokyo venue only sits 5000 people so there are no bad seats but since it is a theater and not an arena, there will be only one main stage. Well, anyway, we received our tickets and we will be sitting FIRST ROW!!!!!! On the far left.  This is truly amazing!!!

One of many messages left by fan at Billiken in Osaka.