Laughter and Language Barrier

Laughter and Language Barrier

This is not a how to or what to expect rather a handful of examples of how the language barrier enriched my time in Japan.

Many a time I have stood on my own, teetering on the threshold outside a restaurant, trying to inconspicuously chuck a sidewards glance for an elusive English menu, afraid of making eye contact with the hosts in case they try to start up conversation. Only to withdraw, tail between my legs, to the convenience store. I’m not overly proud of these times but they are a reality of traveling alone to a foreign country whose main language is not your mother tongue.

If I have learnt anything over my time spent in Japan it is to put your pride and fear aside and just go for it! When you release your dependence on mutual language and step outside of your comfort zone, that is when the fun begins.

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Hello Kitty Diner Australia

Hello Kitty Diner Australia

Hello Kitty Diner Australia
The District – 438 Victoria Avenue
Chatswood, New South Wales, Australia
Open: 11:00-21:00 every day
p:  0421 820 820

I have something I need to confess to which may shock you all. As much of a Japanophile as I am, I have never really been into Hello Kitty. I know I know, I love anime, Pokemon, cute hair accessories and SOME of the kawaii fashion. But I guess, if I am honest and doing some soul searching here, I am not overly into the kawaii culture. I think the over the top kawaii looks you see flaunted by “Harajuku girls” are interesting to look at but definitely not me, also I’ve never been much into cats.

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I finally “got” Hello Kitty after visiting the Hello Kitty Diner in Chatswood. I felt like I was stepping into every little girl’s fantasy and I was taken by Hello Kitty’s unaffected self-possession with her perfectly positioned bow.

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When Japan stole my heart…

When Japan stole my heart…

Bewildered and over stimulated by bright flashing lights, indecipherable lettering and the unknown I stood at Shinjuku East Exit trying to get my bearings.

“Can I help you?” came a gentle voice. I turned to find a kind looking Japanese man with a single streak of blonde splashed like an afterthought in his hair.

“Oh, I’m just looking for Kabukicho, is it in this direction?” I asked, not wanting to commit but also wanting to find my way. “I am trying to find the Robot Restaurant, do you know of it?”

“Ah, loboto lestorant, yes, let me guide you.”

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Cherry blossom viewing, Japan on picnic mode.

Cherry blossom viewing, Japan on picnic mode.

“Line” came a calm voice in the dark, it was my Japanese messenger app calling out in my Blue Mountains bedroom. Blind my hand navigated the mess on the floor to reconnect with Japan.

My friend Shouta from Sapporo had sent me a message to tell me that the cherry blossoms were starting to bloom. Cherry blossom season brings together child through to grandparent and salaryman alike, stocked up with snacks, drinks and tarpaulins as the nation goes into picnic mode.

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Niseko Scenic Yakiniku Night Video

Niseko Scenic Yakiniku Night Video

Some people say Niseko is culturally barren, there is some weight to their words, however I have found it to be full of community spirit and local culture.

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Niseko Scenic Yakiniku Night was a good example of that, the community and tourists alike getting together to listen to Japanese  live music (or Abba) and BBQ some meat and veg outdoors while a blizzard raged.

I hope you enjoy the video!

Rusutsu Day Trip

Rusutsu ski resort is about 45 minutes drive from Niseko, it is a powderhound’s dream as it is often less crowded than Niseko and offers great tree runs to lose yourself in.

NGS – Niseko Ground Services, offers a great deal for those who are staying in Niseko and want to explore this special place.

For JPY6,700 you get return bus transport and a lift pass (which is normally JPY5,500).

My friend from two seasons ago came to Niseko recently and I jumped at the opportunity to take a day trip to Rusutsu.

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It was one of the best powder days of our lives, and that’s big for me after working two seasons in Niseko Ive had my fair share of powder days.

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We road powder and carved fresh tracks from 9am-3pm.

 

Snowy Japanese festival day

As mentioned in earlier blog posts I live in regional Japanese town Kutchan. Although I work and play in Hirafu most of the time, it is nice to explore my local community as it feels more authentically Japanese.

Kutchan has a small ski field near the station called Asahigaoka ski field. It is a mere JPY1,500 for a day pass or JPY1,000 for night riding pass.

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The weekend passed Asahigaoka ski field was holding an event called Yukitopia (yuki meaning snow) and it was so much more than what I was expecting.

The air was electric with community spirit, adorable kids were running around in puffy onesies, food stalls upon food stalls filled the air with sweet smells, it felt like a local fare at home… yet Japanese.

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One of the highlights was the sliding water trial! I kinda wish I knew about this prior to the event so I could enter… having said that one of my mates and competitors said that was no excuse, why not enter now? Good point.

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There was a treasure hunt for kids, snow slide, snow tube and snow mobile rides and performances. The freestyle snowmobiling show was a thrill, the commentary was almost as entertaining as the show. Calls like “one hando” and “big straighto air” mixed with Aerosmiths don’t want to miss a thing blaring on the speaker was an odd choice… but so Japanese, you can’t question this country.

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That evening Yoko and I took the train to Niseko Village, one of the four resort areas of Niseko. The village is small and has a regional Japanese mountain town feel to it.

One thing Japanese people know how to do is throw a party. Their festivals are amazing, everyone is so bubbly and fun and the food is always delicious!

Niseko Village was hosting a yakiniku night (like outdoor barbecue night). There were snow sculptures decorated by candles, a snow slide which was a blast and of course food and drink!!

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For JPY1,500 you get an assortment of meat and veg and then you get a barbecue. Niseko weather is variable to say the least. When we got there it was a clear night, soon enough however the wind picked up and we were barbecuing in a blizzard. Needless to say the guys who kept the wood burning had their work cut out for them.

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The price of your ticket also included access to the onsen which you can redeem later or during the night. Smart people sat in the onsen after their meal until the fireworks. We got carried away with the whole thing and completely forgot about the fireworks, leaving before they went off.

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Not that we cared, our stomachs were full, our ears were satisfied by, funnily enough, an ABBA soundtrack and we got air on the slide!

This is Japan.

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Otaru Snow Light Path – 小樽雪あかりの路

 

Otaru, a charming Japanese harbourside town in Hokkaido, turns truly magical for the Otaru Snow Light Path festival.

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Otaru exudes an almost European air with sandstone buildings and a taste for the finer things in life like delicate music boxes, glass creations and chocolates, biscuits and ice-cream

Otaru snow light path festival: until 14th Feb 17:00 – 21:00

Once a year the snow covered cobblestone paths get decorated by candles, as well as snow and ice sculptures.

This year I visited with my friend Minori-chan.

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The festival has a bit of a community feel to it, with locals BBQing potatoes and rice cake for passers-by, its a relief to stand by these BBQs as Otaru is bitter cold in the winter, in fact it was lightly snowing when we were there.

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Photo opportunities are endless, and its all for free!

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We got to Otaru slightly early giving us time to roam the streets as the light of day slowly dulled and the streets came alive.

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The former Temiya Railway site offers a maze of lights and sculptures. Follow the sounds off hooting and laughter and you wont be let down, they have constructed an ice slide which is great for kids, and big kids a like.

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Halfway through the night we treated ourselves to succulent kaisen don *sashimi rice bowls, and grilled squid with bonito flakes that danced in the heat. They weren’t using the term lightly when they donned Hokkaido the food bowl of Japan.

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With bellies full we continued to explore the canal and the streets of Otaru, getting lost in the beauty of it all.

Tsukiji Fish Market

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Tsukiji fish market is one of my favourite places to visit in Tokyo!

It is a lively bustling hive of energy, I love marvelling at the fish and I get a rush of adrenalin when dodging the mini carts who rule the inner market.

Of course I enjoy sampling things along the way, like this oyster for example.

The first time I went to Tsukiji fish market was when I spent some time on my own in Tokyo at the start of 2014.

Kimi, a friend I had made at Nui. Hostel in Asakusa took me along for the ride.

We explored the outer market, I ate oysters and drank beers for breakfast. We got a little lost on our way towards the inner market where we met these guys.

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They soon became our pseudo-parents and we found a tiny sushi restaurant where for roughly ¥3000 we ate some of the freshest sashimi, prepared right in front of us. The sashimi melted in my mouth and was full of flavour.

Just under two years later I find myself at this massive market again, sharing it with some of my Tokyo friends, Jane and Yuu!

 

One thing I am yet to witness is the tuna auction. It is a big commitment with admittance opening at 5AM and only 120 people allowed to watch per day. Most people start lining up around 3AM. Without the subway running the only way to get there is via taxi. I would recommend camping out somewhere close by if you plan to do this, and prepare your stomach for a very early fish breakfast.

It is something I want to attempt to get into next time I am in Tokyo!