2011 - Vikingess Voyages

Saturday, December 24, 2011

A Japanese Christmas

9:57:00 AM
Christmas is not really celebrated in the same way as we do in Western countries, which actually isn't that strange considering most Japanese either consider themselves Buddhist, Shintoists or both. However, a lot of Japanese people has adopted Christmas as a non-religious event, and made it into their own. For instance, a lot of Japanese think that Kentucky Fried Chicken is a typical Christmas dinner, and recent years it has become so popular that you might have to reserve in advance if you want to secure some KFC for Christmas.. Further, a lot of families also celebrate with a spongecake with whipped cream and decorated with strawberries. I really had a hard time understanding how a cake could be the main dish on a Japanese Christmas menu, but apparently the white cream and the red strawberries make the cake look christmassy to Japanese people..(?)

Another thing that is totally different, is that Christmas is regarded as a day to be spent with your boyfriend/girlfriend. Actually, I find the Japanese New Year to be a lot more similar to Western Christmas, since this day is more of a family day.
For instance, for Christmas last year me and my boyfriend went to a restaurant and had omurice (in simple terms an omelette with rice in it) before we went to see the film Norwegian Wood based on the book with the same name by Haruki Murakami. In other words, totally different from any of my previous Christmases I've ever had!
Purikura from my Christmas celebration 2010. 
After the movie we also took purikura, which is Japanese photo stickers you can decorate after the pictures have been shot. The funny thing is that the photo booths also gives the pictures some extra effects, such as making your hair look lighter and your eyes look bigger. Even though it makes us look a bit strange I have to say that I really love this picture, it is just so funny..

And now it is time for my second Christmas in Japan. This time Christmas is on a Saturday, which means that unlike last year I don't have to go to school!! Lucky.. Normally you can't expect to get the day off when it's Christmas if you are a student (and especially not at Ritsumeikan!)

Also, it seems that I'll be having a Christmas date this year too:). And the best way to spend Christmas, is to spend it with somebody you care about. I'm sure this Christmas will be great too!
Of course I miss my family though. I hope all of you are having a delightful holiday!

Merry Christmas everybody!

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Trip to Osaka: The German Christmas market

7:32:00 PM
We are getting close to Christmas, and at the same time it is also getting colder and colder these days.
Since I'm from Norway I guess I am supposed to be used to cold weather, but to be honest I have never really been a fan of low temperatures.
The truth is that even though it is not really not that cold when you are outside in Japan, the Japanese houses are a different case. My apartment, for instance, gets so cold I sometimes wear a jacket when I'm inside. But than again, I found the low temperatures being a good reason to invite some friends on a trip to Spa World, which is a huge sentou and pool-complex in Osaka I have written about it before on this page. I really do love Spa World, and spending the day here again was just as fun as ever. 100% relaxation! Probably my forth or fifth time visiting, and if they continue their 1000-yen campaign in January I will come back then.

For this time, however, I have decided to concentrate upon our activities in the evening; on our way home from Spa World we also did a detour visiting the German Christmas market. This market is held annually in Umeda at the Shin Umeda City Wonder square, which is partly situated underneath the Umeda Sky Building. 
"Welcome to the Christmas market"!
The market is held every year in Osaka, and even though Japan is not a Christian country is certainly is popular not only among the tourists, but also among the Japanese people. The Japanese likes festivals and fun, and in addition to Christmas they also has adopted American traditions such as Valentines day and Halloween, at least to a certain extent. Parts of the Western Christmas tradition really seems appealing to the Japanese, and it came as no surprise to me that the place was totally crammed with people wanting to get a taste of a close-to-European Christmas.
The German Christmas market has among other attractions a big merry-go-round.
Kids riding the merry-go-round
A huge Christmas tree underneath the Umeda Sky Building
They do have a lot of Christmassy attractions: A big merry-go-round, a small train for the kids to ride, artists singing Christmas songs and a stable where you can see baby Jesus in his crib surrounded by the Wise Men. And not to mention all the stuff you can buy, most of it being terribly overpriced. A piece of gingerbread cookie costs for instance 600 yen, and if you want a small cup of the German glühwein (a type of mulled wine) it would cost you 900 yen.
You can get your hands on German Glühwein at the Christmas market. It is however not particularly cheap..
In one of the small houses you can see the staff making gingerbread cookies!
A cute Christmas house
The cookies are adorable, but their prices are not.. One cookie costs 600 yen..
One of the Christmas cookie shops
Many of the people selling candies and other Christmas items are Westerners. However, even though it is supposed to be a German Christmas market that does not mean that the vendors are German. My friends Stephan, who is German, said to one of the staff selling German food that they had a really nice shop in German, but he was totally ignored my the vendor. Oh well, I guess it might be hard to come by enough authentic Germans who wants to work at the Christmas market in Japan..?

A guy selling German beer
Kids ready for a trip with the Spanish train "El paso" in the German Christmas market..
The Christmas tree is situated directly under the Umeda Sky Building
Baby Jesus in his crib
In Japan it is usual to leave money at the shrines; it is supposed to bring luck. I suppose that is why they have thrown money at baby Jesus?! Haha..
Neon-light Christmas
Small houses being sold at the Christmas market
Some more Christmas souvenirs that probably will make great gifts
Group picture time!
This is probably more or less the closest thing you can come to a European Christmas setting while in Japan, and personally I do think the market was very pretty. However, beware that it is somehow over commercialized, and that you might prefer actually making your own gingerbread cookie rather than buying it here. Anyway, the Christmas market is open every day until the 25th of December, so you still do have the chance to go there and hopefully feel a little bit of the Christmas spirit.!

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Friday, December 16, 2011

The Norwegian Embassy writing about Fuku Musume

3:06:00 PM

5 of the girls chosen as Fuku Musume 2011
I just got a message from the Norwegian Embassy informing me that they have written an article about the Fuku Musume-election on their web-page. Unfortunately it is only available in Japanese, but for those who still are interested you can find the article here.

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Monday, December 12, 2011

SKP Day Trip to Hieizan

12:31:00 AM
Though I'm not in Ritsumeikan's Study in Kyoto Program any longer I still am lucky enough to get invitations to some of the events they are holding for the exchange students! This weekend it was time for a trip to the top of one of the mountains surrounding Kyoto; Mt. Hiei (比叡山). My home town in Norway, Bergen, is well-known for being surrounded by its seven mountains, and it is quite normal that people from time to time climbs them too. But since I came to Kyoto, however, I never had climbed to the top of a single mountain (though I did some trekking in Bolivia).. In other words, it was about time for some mountain-climbing!..
Chris points the route of the day

Saturday morning I met up with the other participating SKP-studients and -buddies, and we went together to the east side of Kyoto by bus. After a short pause by the Philosopher's Road where Chris explained to us the route of the day we left the paved roads and started climbing up the mountain. We were really lucky with the weather; it had been raining for a couple of days but fortunately the Saturday morning sky was clear and blue. 
On the way up to Hieizan you pass a couple of smaller shrines
A sign that has almost been consumed by a tree
A torii in the middle of the forest
A Japanese guy enjoying the view of Kyoto
There were also quite a lot of Japanese people walking in the mountains, and it seems like a popular route also for joggers..!
It did not take us more than two-three hours or so to reach the top of Hieizan. And it was not really that hard a climb either, but that might be because my last mountain trip was a 3-day long trekking trip through the mountains in Bolivia.. Anyway, only a few parts of the path are steep; most of it is relatively flat.
Group picture more or less at the top of the mountain.
Some previous Japanese visitors had left wooden plates with messages in one of the trees.
At the top of Hieizan there used to be a ski resort. Now the once so nice resort is quite dilapidated, since no one has used the buildings for years. 
Snowy trees at the top of Hieizan
Nice view!
Japanese stone sculptures
Hieizan also has a temple area called Enryaku-ji (延暦寺), which dates back to the earlier years of the Heian period. There are a lot of temples in this area, but we only stopped by a couple of them on the way to the funicular going down from on the other side of the mountain. Anyway, here are some of the pictures I snapped on the way:
The ordination hall, called Kaidan-in (戒壇院)
Close-up of the entrance to the ordination hall.
The Amida Hall (阿弥陀堂)
A small dragon fountain in the temple area
A map of the Enryaku-ji temple area. As you can see there are quite a lot of interesting buildings here. 
We walked through the temple area to the other side of Hieizan, where Japans longest funicular line takes you down from Enryaku-ji to the base of the Shiga side of the mountain. This funicular is known as the Sakamoto (坂本) Cable, or as the Hieizan Railway Line (比叡山鉄道線). The ride down costs 840 yen, and once you are down you can either walk for about 20 minutes or take a bus to get to the nearest JR station (Hiei Sakamoto Station). From there it is both quite fast and easy to get to Kyoto Station; it costs 320 yen and takes about 15 minutes.
In other words; wether you want to climb up the mountain or not, you still have the chance to take the trip up to take a look at the temple area of Enryaku-ji without getting sweaty, and either way I'm sure it will make a nice day trip.
View from Hieizan towards lake Biwako
The funicular of the Sakamoto-line 
福, the sign for "luck".

Monday, December 5, 2011

第60回福娘発表会 The Daihyou Fuku Musume-Election

4:01:00 PM
The 4 girls appointed Daihyo Fuku Musume, including me, lined up in the front row.
Yesterday was the first big day for me as a Fuku Musume, as it was time for the shooting of the TV show where they do a presentation of the fifty elected Fuku Musume girls.
As I wrote in a previous post, every year they select a certain number of girls to work as shrine maidens in the Toka Ebisu festival in January, and I was lucky enough to become one of them. For this year there had apparently been as many as 2984 girls applying, and being one of the 50 Fuku Musume girls is of course considered a high honor.

But still, the competition did not just end there.
Among the fifty elected girls only four of us would get the greatest honour of becoming Fuku Musume Representatives, or Daihyou Fuku Musume (代表福娘). This would be done through another election process where a panel of judges were going to choose four of us based on a short self appeal. With a big audience and TV Osaka's cameras filming the whole thing you can bet it was nerve-racking..
The day itself was quite long, we had a rehearsal where we went through the practical stuff before the actual TV shootings, so there was of course a lot of waiting.
The Japanese girls all showed up in their kimonos, and all of them were really pretty. You could tell that they had put a lot of work into the hairstyling! Us foreigners participants, on the other hand, showed up in our normal clothing.. Although we were getting dressed up by some of the assistants later it felt somewhat 中途半端 standing there next to the pretty Japanese girls. Personally I don't have much experience when it comes to kimonos yet, so I was pretty happy that they had assistants working on dressing up us foreigners. I guarantee that I could never have put that kimono on by myself and made it look nice ><.

The TV-shooting was quite alright. Every one of the girls had an estimated 15 seconds to give a self appeal, and some followed up by showing some of their talents. The whole setting actually somehow reminded me of the TV-show American Idol, with the judges ready to make fun of you if you screwed up. I was so nervous that I messed up my self-appeal a bit too.. Still, the judges must have liked what I said, because I was elected one of the four Daihyou Fuku Musume! My self-appeal sounds a bit strange when translated into English, but basically what I said was that even though I come from a cold country I have a warm heart, and that I would work hard to bring warm luck to the Japanese people.
I'm not sure if I would have voted for me if I had been one of the judges though, I think some of the other girls had really funny and good self-appeals. To be honest I did not even consider it likely that I would be one of the chosen girls. But then again, our title (Fuku Musume) does indicate that we are lucky girls, so it seems that I had a lot of luck this particular day!!

Though the election is over, the real work is yet to be done. In January all of the Fuku Musume are going to work together in the Toka Ebisu festival, where we are going to sell lucky charms. As one of the Fukku Musume leaders I guess that makes me much more visible, and I am aware that by some Japanese it is not regarded as a good thing that they let foreigners become Fuku Musume. Which is quite understandable, as it is a highly traditional Japanese role. But I do believe that most people are able to see beyond the fact that we are not natives, and appreciate the diversity this gives the festival. After all, we elected foreigners just have to do our best to be good representatives for our countries, and at the same time try not to pay attention to the negative attention we also might get exposed to.

Anyway, I wasn't sure whether or not I should write about this yet, since the Fuku Musume TV-show is not going to be aired until the 29th of December. But since it seems the press already have written about it in a couple of posts, I guess that means it should be fine for me to write about it too.

Edit: The Norwegian Embassy also wrote about the selection here, and I've also got a video showing some of the self-appeals from the contest:

Recommended Hotels in Osaka

Osaka Marriott Miyako Hotel
Osaka Marriott Miyako Hotel
Superhotel Lohas Honmachi
Superhotel Lohas Honmachi
Khaosan World Namba
Khaosan World Namba
The St. Regis Osaka Hotel
The St. Regis Osaka Hotel

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Sunday, December 4, 2011

Monday, November 28, 2011

十日戎:I'm gonna be a Fuku Musume(福娘)!

12:50:00 AM
Today I went to Osaka for an interview in the Imamiya Ebisu shrine regarding the upcoming Toka Ebisu festival that is going to be held in January. 

The interview was for a role as one of the so-called Fuku Musume (福娘), or what one could translate to something like the Daughters of Luck. We are going to be shrine maidens at a famous festival called Toka Ebisu, which is taking place in the Imamiya Ebisu shrine in Osaka in January. Here we will be selling lucky charms to people who wants their businesses to thrive. 
Each year there are apparently more than 3000 girls applying, so the competition is tough. That is to say, of the 50 girls who are chosen to become Fuku Musume 10 of the girls are foreigners. And since the number of foreigners applying is way below the number of Japanese applicants we gaijin do have a big advantage here.

Anyway, out of the foreign girls who was chosen to be a Fuku Musume, one of them was me!

Which means I will have some pretty busy weekends from now!
There is going to be various arrangements before the festival in January, like for instance a TV interview this upcoming Sunday. So I've decided to keep this first blog-post short, and come back with more information and pictures later.
Stay in tuned;)!
Me in the official Fuku Musume-kimono for January 2012

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Thursday, November 24, 2011

8 Months After the Tohoku Earthquake: Trip to Ishinomaki

12:55:00 AM

As you probably already know, in March 2011 Japan was hit not only by one of the most powerful earthquakes in history but also an enormous tsunami. More than 20,000 people lost their lives, not to mention all the damages and all the people still without homes. 
The areas around Sendai (to the north of Tokyo) were among the places hardest hit by the tsunami, and many of the nearby villages were completely destroyed.

The media has mostly gone quiet when it comes to the people in Tohoku, but their need for help is definately still there. This weekend I took the trip to Ishinomaki-shi right outside Sendai city to take a look at the situation there, to do some volunteer work and to gather information for my thesis paper.

It was quite a strange experience to actually go up there and see what it looks like for myself.
I was quite lucky; my adviser at Ristumeikan had introduced me to Izuhara-San who has been volunteering in the Sendai area twice before and was planning to go volunteering again. We decided to go together, and since he already had been there before he also had some contacts willing to help us getting around. His friend, Sannou-san, did us the favor of showing us around in Ishinomaki, which is one of the areas where the damages were the biggest. And trust me, there is still a long way to go when it comes to the recovery of the area..
Kadowaki Elementary School (門脇小学校): Gasoline from cars carried by the tsunami caused curtains and trees to catch fire. Today the school looks like a ghost town.
Kadowaki Elementary School seen through a broken widow
Flowers and teddybears
Though there has been done a lot of cleaning, and the place doesn't smell in the way it apparently did in the months after the earthquake, it was still a shocking experience to see the villages totally viped out, the destroyed and burnt-out school buildings, or the flowers remainding you that it was not only buildings that got destroyed..
Items left by the tsunami
Still, the locals are working together to make progress, even when it is just small steps. A couple of months after the tsunami, the people of Ishinomaki experienced another flooding. This time it was a typhoon, and people who finally had had their houses dried from the water caused by the tsunami had to go through the frustration of water-filled houses once again.. As a consequence, a lot of volunteer groups are now cleaning the grounds and drains to make sure that the water will flow easier back to the sea if another typhoon were to occur.
Volunteers cleaning up the areas in Ishinomaki
Still after all these months you can still see the traces of the natures forces; it was both frightening and amazing to see how the big wave had left traces in places you would never believe a wave could ever reach.
Even though Japan is being known as fast to handle situations like these, there is no doubt that the traces of the tsunami will be hard to wipe away anytime soon.
A big can by the road side
A road that disappears into the ocean

Tanigawa Elementary School
The road to Tanigawa Elementary School (谷川小学校) is totally destroyed
Tanigawa Elementary School is on a cliff high up over the sea. Still, the tsunami managed to reach the building and leave it in ruins.
Trees sticking out of windows in the second floor.
Luckily at least this story had a happy ending: Apparently all the children of this school managed to escape.

It's Not Just Mud
I had contacted Jamie, the leader of the volunteering group It's Not Just Mud, before going to Sendai, and he had agreed to participate in my interviews for my master degree thesis. So after our trip around Ishinomaki me, izuhara-San and Sannou-San decided to go to the volunteer groups location to do the interviews. We really felt welcome when we came there; one of the first thing they asked us about was if we had a place to sleep. Which we actually hadn't got already, so we gladly accepted their offer of spending the night at their base.
After a trip to the local sentou (bath house) we went back there, and I got the chance to spend most of the evening doing interviews. I think that all of them really helped me with interesting insight that I'm sure will come in handy when I write my report. I'm really thankful!!

The group consists of both foreigners from all over the world, and also some Japanese people, both locals and from other cities. I was impressed to see their engagement; some of them even commuted to Sendai every weekend from Tokyo to help out, even though they were working full-time during the week.
I can promise you that you'll make some good friends for life if you spend some time volunteering here; the bond in the group seems to be strong. Besides, It's Not Just Mud already has the facilities and equipment needed ready, so if you want to help them out by volunteering there really isn't a lot you need to worry about.

Some of the members of the volunteer group It's Not Just Mud.
Currently the group is stationed in a couple of the houses that are still standing after the tsunami.
Although I thought it would be terribly cold in Sendai, it is actually not as cold as it has been in Kyoto lately. This might be because the volunteer group had done a great job insolating the house they are staying at, so it did not feel as cold as it does in Kyoto.
For those who wants to volunteer, the group already have the necessary equipment available.
The group is doing a lot of different work in the community. In the start they concentrated on cleaning out houses filled with mud from the tsunami and taking down destroyed houses, but these projects are mostly finished by now. There are still a lot of things that have to be done, and right now they are working on projects to do the daily life easier for the survivors of the earthquake.

Okawa Elementary School
As you all know there are a lot of tragic stories that can be told about the earthquake and the following tsunami. One of the schools with the biggest losses was Ogawa elementary school. Seeing this school was probably one of the things that made the biggest impression on me. The school is situated quite far from the sea, and I'm pretty sure nobody ever though that a tsunami would pose a threat to the school or its pupils. There is a mountain behind the school, but the distance is long, and it must have been hard to escape. 70 of the 108 children lost their lives, and one is still missing. Almost all of the teachers that were in school that day lost their lives too.
津波到達点: A sign that marks how high the tsunami hit the land.
Okawa Elementary School seen from the highest place the tsunami reached.

We also visited a school where they have been collecting items found in the area that still haven't been picked up by anybody. Here a big hall was filled up with everything from photographies to purses and books. Worst was it to see the typical red rucksacks used by Japanese school kids, all lined up.
I wonder if their owners will ever return to pick them up..

Further we stopped by a local community hall, where we got to take a look at a bus left by the tsunami on the top of the roof. If it weren't for the damages one could almost believe that it had been parked there..
A bus that had been swept away by the tsunami on top of the local community house,
View from inside the community house
Lastly I want to show you guys a picture of an Eon-mall in Ishinomaki. Even though it does not look like it is something out of the ordinary, this place was filmed when the tsunami came washing away the cars at the parking lot, and the video has been broadcasted all over the world. I have posted the youtube-video underneath so you can see how it looked like when the tsunami came.
The area around the Eon-mall has recovered from the tsunami.

As you can see, there has been improvements. Actually we did get to see a lot that had become better during the last eight months. But still I think it is necessary that we do not forget about the people in the Tohoku area just because the media does not write a lot about it anymore.
Ishinomaki has been deemed safe in terms of radiation, and I do recommend anybody who has got the chance to take the trip to the area to volunteer.

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About Me

Adventures ofAnette

A modern day shield-maiden who loves to explore the unbeaten paths of the world. From her base in Tokyo, Anette takes on both rural and urban challenges, and goes by the motto "No challenge too big, no adventure too small"!
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