Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Orientation Trip: Day One

We made it!  We have officially become JTW students by finishing with our orientation trip to various amazing places around Fukuoka.  The group was taken on a bus for a two day sightseeing and orientation trip into the mountains.  I assure you, it was quite the adventure! 

I found two curious things about Japanese tour buses that I wish to share with you.  One: there are handy fold out seats down the entire middle row so you get a bunch of extra seats for the riders!  Two: they have the same horribly tacky seat covers that every tour bus in the universe has.  Is there some seat cover distributor that sells this fabric to every tour bus company on the planet?  Seriously. Orientation Trip 001

Now, our adventure begins.  There were several stops along the trip at local shops, including this steamed bun stall.  Since I am being a stingy student I was trying to watch my money and did not sample these snacks, but they did smell delicious!  The items on the far left somewhat resemble hot dogs….I am unsure if I want to attempt them.  I ate something similar in China, and well, let’s just say it was not my favourite.  I’ll update you if I become brave enough to sample them.

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We spent most of our traveling hours in the country side, and for this Canadian lady that comes from the land of flat farmland, it was breathtaking!  Surrounded by mountains and rice fields, traditional Japanese farms and homes…what more could a girl ask for?

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Please pardon the window reflection, had to be fast to catch some of these…

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Our first stop was at Ryumon Falls, where we enjoyed a pleasant nature walk to the waterfall, and then lunch made my some lovely Japanese ladies. 

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The waterfall… Orientation Trip 016

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We then headed back to have lunch nearby.  There were a couple small omiyage (souvenir) shops outside the restaurant. Orientation Trip 023

As we were dining on the tatami floor, we were asked to remove shoes. Orientation Trip 027

Our dining tables.

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The meal…my favourite was the spicy pickled squash salad (top right).

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The next stop on our journey was Kokonoe Yume Ootsuribashi.  This gigantic suspension bridge is known to carry the yume (dreams) of the people of Kokonoe town.  It is a walking bridge that is 390 meters long, and 173 meters above the Naruko-gawa Gorge (777 meters above sea level).

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I managed to walk about half way out onto the bridge to get a nice shot of the gorge below, but then due to the heavy swaying I chickened out and headed back to safe ground.  I was told it is about a 15 minute walk across the bridge.  Scary!

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While waiting for my other classmates to finish being brave, I stumbled upon this very dapper fellow whom I couldn’t resist taking a photo of.  He came over and chatted with me for a while, telling me of his friends that live in Toronto and Las Vegas.  So far, being Canadian has been a positive thing in Japan and makes for good conversation.  /thumbs up

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We then loaded back onto the bus for the final trek to our destination: The Kuju Training Center for National Universities.  As you can see, the girls (far outnumbering the boys) were housed almost entirely in the same room, sleeping on futons we so nicely positioned on the floor.  I was a suck and used an extra comforter to make my bed somewhat softer.  I am unsure if I will perfect the Japanese sleeping-on-a-futon-on-the-floor skill by the time I leave.  I will keep trying though.

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This training center was also the home of an onsen (hot spring).  We were able to view the water outside, so I grabbed a few photos but they don’t really give you the full picture of how incredible this was.  There was billowing steam rising from the mountain side, and you could hear the water boiling and bubbling all around.  Oh, and yes, there was that unforgettable sulfur smell….mmmmm rotting eggs.  Delightful.  

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I tried to capture an image of the naturally boiling water, but it was difficult to get one that turned out well.  Even more impressive was the sound of the boiling water all around us.

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After this, we ventured inside to take part in the orientation portion of the trip, followed by dinner.  Of course, a dinner photo.  

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The best part was the pasta salad, which included long macaroni, cucumber, carrots, and apple slices!  Considering the price of apples in Japan, I feel special it was included in our dinner.

After dinner the group took on the gym for some games and exercise.  Basketball, volleyball, ping pong, badminton, and dance club.  Very fun! Orientation Trip 069

After we worked up a good sweat it was time for the onsen.  For those who may not know, onsen is a traditional form of group bathing in the hot springs that is taken quite seriously in Japan.  There are many rules to be followed, such as: showering beforehand, as you may not enter dirty or with makeup, not washing yourself in the onsen as it is to be kept pure and free of contaminants, you must enter completely naked (no swimsuits, folks), and finally, people with tattoos are not allowed to enter.  Well, this threw in a potential curve ball for me, but I was given the OK since we were in a location that is somewhat more lenient, and was told that, well, I’m a foreigner and can sort of get away with a few things from time to time if I don’t make a fuss.  Although, I was also told that I may not be able to take part at more strict locations, but time will tell if this will be a problem. 

And now for a couple extra photos, things I couldn’t resist including.

The first being the toilet slippers.  Once entering the facility, we were to wear slippers or socks around the entire place.  To ensure cleanliness, there were also designated toilet slippers that you changed into when using the washrooms.  Why is there a bride and groom on them, you ask?  Well, I certainly have no idea…but cute nonetheless.Orientation Trip 070

And my favourite snack of the trip…panda flavoured Pocky.  Just kidding, it was cookies and cream.  But I wonder what panda flavoured Pocky would taste like….ew.  The selection of cute things in Japan is indescribable.

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This concludes day one of our adventure.  Yet to come in Day Two, an interesting breakfast, more breathtaking scenery, a brief stop at a mountain, a fantastic lunch, silliness with friends, and a castle.  I will post Day Two in the coming days.

In other news, classes started today.  My life may become busier, but I will continue to update you as often as possible!  I also purchased a bike today (and managed to survive my first ride home from school in the rain) so I will now have better ease in exploring the area.  Hopefully this will mean more silly stories and photos for you.

Until then, take care everyone! 


PS: I now have more mosquito bites than I have had in my entire 28 years, so if anyone knows the trick to not being eaten alive while sleeping, please share in the comments!  At this point, I am pretty sure the local mosquito community is trying to slowly suck out all my blood until I can’t walk anymore…or so it seems anyway.  /tear

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