December 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

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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