Monday, September 21, 2009

Niijima Sept 18-20

We arrived via high speed Ferry to Niijima on Friday right before a (then unknown to us) Typhoon. Our friends living in Kyoto, graciously arranged for us to stay at a local bed and breakfast near the beach. We could write a whole post about the owners of the B&B including details on chain-smoking, bickering, generosity and home-made sushi that would have been worth a fortune that could be served at any Michelin-rated restaurant....but we'll stop here in telling you that it was all that and more...

Niijima is a funny, exotic and wonderful place. As we were visiting off-season, we mostly had the place to ourselves. We counted all of 5 white people on the whole Island. Niijima is a favorite vacation destination for ppl living in Tokyo and we are told it is incredibly busy during the summer season because of its proximity to Tokyo (less than 3 hours away) and its rich history...

The best way to describe Niijima is that is a place that really makes you feel like you are in some sort of Indiana Jones movie...

It is not only beautiful...but full of great things like tons of fresh fish (making for incredible food) and a slow languid pace of life (not to mention a strange and slightly bizarre surf-culture complete with marijuana-leafed souvenirs and Bob Marley posters). And one of the best one is in hurry is Niijima.

We spent our weekend riding bikes back and forth across the Island, swimming, trying to communicate with the owners of the B&B and quite frankly feeling the raw beauty of this place that was so close to an urban center yet felt so foreign and exotic to us.

Native blooms

The coast line with a slight outline of the public onsen (hotsprings) where we spent a fair amount of our time...

Better shot of the onsen...

More beach. There were kilometers upon kilometers of various colored sand, we swam on one of the beaches, the water was salty and warm and the surf was fun and strong. The rest of the time we spent simply gazing at the waves...and no, it never got repetitive....

As the weekend went on, we noticed with only slight worry that the weather network (which was all Japanese) seemed to be announcing some bad weather off the coast of Tokyo.

It was pretty rainy and windy (which sucked for biking) but as we did not understand Japanese, it was difficult for us to figure out that it might actually mean something bad, especially in terms of our return. We figured out that it *might* mean something when we finally understood (though diagrams) that all flights and boats on Saturday were canceled (we were intending on leaving on the Sunday ferry)! With a bit of confusion, much beer and alot of pointing and drawing and even a phone call to a bilingual relative in Toyko, we finally were able to exchange our boat tickets for a direct flight to Tokyo as we were told that this was likely our only chance to get off the Island. We took it.....

About two hours before we left...we decided to make one last trip to the beach, the surfing beach. Erik was riding his bike ahead when all of a sudden he heard a gigantic crash and some screaming. The rusty metal clip which held the basket over the front wheel of Natalie's bike snapped (does this REALLY surprise you?), causing the basket to get jammed into the wheel...and causing Natalie to go head over feet over the bike. See results below...

Yes those are actual tears (the damage to Natalie's face actually got much worse than it appeared after the swelling set in, more pictures later) but she took it in stride and decided to enjoy her last couple of hours on the Niijima. It was, after all, rather hard to not feel better when you got to recuperate in a place that looked like this.

Next stop Kyoto!

Love to everyone
Natalie & Erik

Tokyo (a stopover) Sept 17-18

Our flight on Japan Airlines (JAL) was everything you might imagine a 13 hour flight to be. Exhausting, boring, interesting, fun, strange and long. JAL was a pretty good option however...imagine a cross between British Airways elegance and WestJet value. The food was good (not great), the seats were reasonable (not comfortable) and the service was polite (not friendly).

Arriving at Tokyo airport could be the subject of a whole separate post...but we are lazy, so it wont! Imagine more people than you have ever seen (none of which look even remotely like you) and signs everywhere (none of which you understand) and much noise. And then, imagine yourself having to navigate trains and buses after having been awake for 24 hours. Welcome to Japan....insanity! It is actually now about a week later and when we both discussed the evening (prior to this post), we found it hard to remember much...except for the confusion.

We stayed our first night at a ryokan (a traditional Japanese Bed and Breakfast). A ryokan generally differs from a B&B in a few key ways. Usually, breakfast AND supper are included, some sort of view is usually provided (we overlooked a small zen garden) and the bedding is traditional futon which is laid out on a tatami floor. The reception was however warm (see sign below)

Our ryokan was located Asakusa (a historical part of Tokyo) and offered and traditional Edo-styled meal (which had more food than what 4 people could properly eat!)

Later that evening we walked (ok, more like ROLLED) around some quiet alleys nearby to see what we might find...It was mostly quiet...but graceful and beautiful.

At this point, our stop in Tokyo was meant to be temporary...but it was hard to not get excited about returning....

One of many temples we stumbled across....literally about 5 minutes walk from our ryokan (not exactly akin to anything in downtown Fredericton)

The next morning, bright and early, we hit the Tokyo Fish Market.

This market runs 5 days a week and plays host to an INCREDIBLE amount of commerce. On any given day, hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of fish are won at auction or bought outright. The auction section of the market is an actual tourist attraction where you can watch (from a roped-off area) local buyers carefully inspect single fish or large lots of fish. Some (like the tuna shown) are worth THOUSANDS of dollars.

Part of what is difficult, in any city, is actually getting a *feel* for the city without becoming an annoying (and obtrusive) tourist. We usually strive to find a happy medium....however this fish market was difficult....because as much as we wanted to SEE what was going on....we absolutely wanted to avoid annoying (or getting in the way) of business.

As we were heading out still in hand, we caught one of the fish vendors fueling up his mini-cart at a local gas station....and he posed, spontaneously...and suddenly, most of our worries evaporated.

Given the incredible quantities of fresh fish, it goes without saying that breakfast that morning was the freshest bowl of sushi that either of us will no doubt EVER was the perfect way to end our (brief) stay in Tokyo before catching a ferry for our first real destination, Niijima.