On the road to Hokkaido

My good friend Jon, who is clearly superhuman, was until 3 weeks ago working at Valeo on the desk in front of me. He is now between jobs taking a sabbatical and, since he can’t stay idle too long, has started a great journey from Saitama to Hokkaido… on a bicycle.

He will be twittering his trip all along the way via his iPhone. I’ll be following him all the way from my desk.

Shimane beach report

Simply beautiful… The weather was incredible, even with +50 SPF sun cream carefully spead by my girlfriend all over my body, I managed to catch a few sunburns. The beach was very quiet, just a couple dozen people enjoying the sea. For a comparison, I would say the place looks like a beach on the Mediterranean sea, but with pristine water. More photos on my flickr page.

Aiko in the room

Our hotel was once more almost perfect, a great find from my girlfriend. The room was a mix of modern and traditional designs, and the bath on the balcony was overviewing the forest. The only downside was that the futons were a little thin. This ryokan also gets my seal of approval and I encourage any of you to stay there if you’re ever in the neighborhood: 樋口旅館 in 有福温泉.

Little beach trip before Obon

Next trip of the summer will be 2 days in the Shimane prefecture, enjoying the beach on the Sea of Japan and a nice ryokan in an onsen town. Once again, the schedule will be very tight: I’ll leave Tokyo Monday evening, meet my girlfriend as she leaves from work and spend the night in Hiroshima. Then we’ll take a 2 hour bus ride on Tuesday morning through the 中国山地 to the other side of the island on the 日本海.

overview of the trip

There we’ll enjoy a nice day at the beach. My girlfriend has been there a couple of times and assures me the beaches are beautiful. Since 島根県 is the second least populated prefecture of Japan, I hope overcrowding will not be a problem.

the room we booked with its bath

We’ll then spend a night in a very nice ryokan, once again with a 露天風呂 in the room before heading back to Hiroshima where I’ll take the plane back to Tokyo and my dull job…

Touring the ponds of hell

The second day of my trip to Beppu was spent on the 地獄巡り, literally touring the hells. What they call hells are 8 remarkable hotsprings around the city, spouting 99°C water and throwing huge plumes of steam in the air.

Some of them have cobalt blue water, another called 血の池地獄 is as red as a pool of blood, the one in the photo below is called 鬼石坊主地獄 for the bubble of boiling mud that resemble the shaved heads of earth demons.

oni ishi bouzu jigoku

There’s also a geyser that spouts for 6 minutes every 20 minutes. They built a sort of mini-amphitheater around it so tourist can sit and wait for it to spurt out. Typically japanese…

me in front of the geyser

With all this steam everywhere, the area around the spring in noticeably hotter and more humid than the rest of the city. In this micro-climate, they planted tropical plants all around and brought in tropical animals: there is a zoo with an elephant and a hippo bathing in hotspring water, they even breed crocodiles, caymans and alligators in one of the “Hells”.

enjoying the sound of the waves

After a very sweaty visit, we went back to the hotel and I had to take one last dip in the hotel’s public bath. It was empty so I could take some photos of the place. Then we grabbed our bags and headed back home with the 新幹線.

Hotel Seikai in Beppu

I came back yesterday afternoon from Hiroshima, barely escaping the closing of the airport for cause of typhoon closing in. The trip was short, but well-packed with fun and relaxation. I will split the story of the trip in several post to keep the not so photo intensive, and I’ll start with the hotel.

As I said previously, we arrived in Beppu in the afternoon for just one night and we spent this first half-day recovering from our long-long trip. We ended up with the square bath room in the end, but everything was just as perfect as in the brochure, I was thrilled.

our bath with the  sea view

After soaking up good and taking a little nap, we headed for the hotel’s restaurant for dinner. In a Japanese 旅館, the room always come with a special Japanese style dinner that is usually the highlight of your stay (at least for the locals, I’ve kept my european habits and put more importance in the quality of the room).

the menu was tooooo long

The dinner was excellent, with more courses than I could count. It kept on coming and coming: seaweeds, sashimi, japanese beef, monstrous shellfish, 唐揚げ, etc… We had to stop the guy at one point, we were stuffed. After a good glass of a fine local 日本酒, we headed to the hotel’s bar to take our dessert facing the beach with a couple glasses of 梅酒 and Whiskey.

The next day, we had requested our breakfast at 8:30 (the checkout was at 10AM) but never woke. The reception started calling around 8:45 and we ignored them, then some guy came around 9AM to hit relentlessly on the door until I finally opened.

Hotel guy: Your breakfast is waiting.
Me: I know, were not hungry.
*slams the door back shut*

I hate when people can’t take a hint… Anyways, apart for the breakfast obsessed reception guy, Hotel Seikai in Beppu gets my seal of approval and I recommend it to you if you’re ever in the vicinity.

Short Kyushu escapade

Still jetlagged from the US, I’m already back on a plane: I just bought my tickets to Hiroshima for next week. My girlfriend has 2 days off Wednesday and Thursday so I’m taking the opportunity for a little R&R.

And since I’ve pretty much seen all there is to see around 広島, we decided to head down to 九州 for a night in an Onsen in Beppu. Just look at the map and see why this is going to be interesting…

map of my trip - will take around 6 hours

Yep, all of that traveling for one night there. Next day we’ll head back to Hiroshima see the family and on the 3rd day I’ll be heading back to Tokyo. Long distance relationships… しょうがない!

very very nice onsen hotel

At least, for all our trouble, we booked a really nice hotel with a really nice room. Check out the website, we’re getting the F-type room, hopefully with the round bathtub. 別府 is renowned as the 温泉 town, with the largest number of hotsprings in Japan and the second largest volume of hot water (behind Yellowstone, thank you Wikipedia).

I didn’t want to renew last year’s fiasco in Kinugawa so we decided to forget the budget this time. Be on the look out for some great photos next week.

Cursed business trip

I’m in Detroit Metro airport waiting or my flight back to Tokyo from my 1 week business trip to the US and I hope my troubles are over. Here’s a quick list of the problems so far:

  • In NYC on the first night, my friend got strangled by a crazy drunk jock as we were coming out of a Japanese restaurant close to his place. The jock finally let him go and went on to hit another random guy a block away. He wasn’t hurt but we had a good scare.
  • When going to Greenwich Village to buy a bag my girlfriend asked me to bring back, I got fell into the Gay Pride parade and got stuck for over an hour trying to wade through the crowd back to Broadway.
  • On the flight from NYC to Dallas, I was randomly selected for a special security check. Random is the word, it’s the second time out of 2 US flights I took since 9/11.

SSSS over and over again

  • My flight today from Dallas to Detroit was cancelled and rebooked for tomorrow 6AM. I will have to wake up around 3:30AM to leave at 4AM for the airport.
  • I was randomly selected again 30 minutes ago after checking in for my flight to Tokyo. This time the machine smelling explosives started to beep and the officer called a supervisor to recheck my bag, pat me down and ask me a bunch of questions…

Just a 13 hours flight left to go and I’ll be back home in Japan, safe from all this crazy stuff. I can’t wait!

4 days in Hiroshima

So I’m back from Hiroshima as you must have seen in the little Twitter column on the right. Had good fun with the girlfriend, here’s a quick roundup:

Friday – arrived at 4PM, saw Spiderman 3 (was kinda lame), ate Italian
Saturday – went to Iwakuni to see the 錦帯橋, nice bridge, ate yakitori and drank 日本酒 in an izakaya near 本通

kintaikyou in iwakuni

Sunday – picnic by the riverside with homemade bento from Aiko’s mother, dinner with family for Mother’s Day, ate stuffed duck neck (French food I received last week)
Monday – walked around 平和公園 and Namiki-dori all afternoon, my flight was late so I missed the last train home and had to sleep in Tokyo

Back from China

So I’m back from China and it wasn’t as bad as my colleagues led me to believe. Of course, I stayed only 5 days there and he spent 4 months. I doubt I could’ve stayed sane more than 2 weeks over there.

snozing outside the taxi

Anyways, it was cold, filthy, totally disorganized and did I mention it was cold? See this photo of the snow from the taxi bringing me to work. I thought I was going to die 4 or 5 times during this ride…

Missing the Hanami

This week, the cherry trees blossomed all over Tokyo and the Kanto plain. This weekend, and particularly tomorrow since today was rainy, everyone is preparing to put down the blue tarps under the blossoms and drink themselves stupid. However, I will be waking up at 5AM to take the plane to Changchun in Mandchuria – via Seoul – for a business trip in our Chinese plant.

take off 5:30AM from home

This is the 2nd year in a row that I miss 花見. Last time I was freezing my ass off in Czech Republic, this year I’ll be freezing in China…

Snowboard in Hokkaido

Last weekend I took the Monday off and went with 3 friends to Niseko in Hokkaido for 3 days of snowboard. Departure 8am on Saturday from Tokyo – Haneda, quick flight to Sapporo – Chitose, then 2h30 of the most excruciatingly slow bus ride I’ve ever experience. At 2pm we were geared up and on the slopes (or more exactly just next to the official slopes, between the trees).

The one and only pro to living in Saitama is that you’re closer to the mountains, specifically Kagura in 新潟県, the Japanese Alps. So we go snowboarding pretty often, a couple of friends of mine went more than 20 times this season. The conditions are pretty good, but it’s nothing compared to ニセコスキー場. It can be resumed pretty simply:

Over there, there is no snow… Only powder!

Yoitei-zan over the forests of Hirafu

We had such a blast, we didn’t even touch the groomed runs, there was so much light forest areas covered with untouched powder. Moreover, the scenery is majestic: you ski down a rather small lone mountain (1308m) in the middle of a plain across of which, 10km in front of you, a huge conical volcano rises (1898m) like mount Fuji’s little cousin.

I don’t have any good photos on the snow because I didn’t bring my camera while snowboarding, for fear of losing it like I did my sunglasses last time. I used a photo from another flickr user, double-h, so don’t congratulate me on my photography skill on this one.

Huge rice scooper

Here is my girlfriend in front of the biggest しゃもじ in the world:

bigass rice spoon on flickr

If you ever go to 宮島, you’ll see those wooden rice paddles everywhere. They are used to scoop the rice out of the rice cooker, at least before the wooden type was replaced by newer plastic, non-sticky ones.

Souvenir shops sell big lacquered and engraved versions as a goodluck charm since anything can be turned in a lucky charm here in Japan. I guess one of the store owner wanted to be very lucky so he made that giant one and displayed it in the street.