Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Hiking on Mount Tachibana

Ena and I went for a hike to Mount Tachibana today. I've been wanting to climb that mountain for a long time, we can actually see it from our kitchen window and I spend a few seconds looking at it every morning while I prepare my coffee, as you can see it in the background here:
This is another view of the mountain a bit closer up:
It looks deceptively close from our kitchen but in fact it is several kilometres away and the trail head, it turns out, is on the opposite side from us. I made the mistake of just heading out on our bikes in the general direction of the mountain (its a pretty easy to see landmark) and hoping we would easily get there. It ended up taking us a couple of hours lost on country roads and directions from a quarelling young man and his mother whose property we accidentally trespassed on during our search before we finally got there.

It was worth it though. At the base of the mountain were some fields of orange trees and a stand selling oranges:
After walking through the orange trees we entered the mountain trail proper. It was really beautiful, albeit steep:

The forest on the mountain was really nice and there were a lot of quite old trees:

The top of the mountain was actually the site of a castle dating from the 14th century, but there is nothing but a couple of rocks here and there (if it wasn't for the signs you wouldn't know you were on the site of a former castle).

The views from the top of the mountain were fantastic, in one direction was the spit of land leading out to Shikanoshima island:
In another direction was the city (our place is in there somewhere):

In the opposite direction is Shingu and the beaches along the ocean:

Monday, April 27, 2009

Japanese retro video games: the cheapest hobby in Japan

Over the past few months I've somehow gotten into the hobby of collecting old video games. Next to cars and other home electronics, video games are probably Japan's most famous export and you can find shops selling them all over the place here.

The last time I lived in Japan I didn't buy many games. In fact I've never spent much money on games in my adult life, though my parents used to buy them for me when I was a kid and I certainly played them a lot.

The last time I lived in Japan the only games that were for sale were basically expensive new games for whatever the latest system was. Second hand stores in Japan up until recently were almost non-existent and people would usually just throw old things away rather than selling them. That has changed in recent years with the combined effects of economic malaise creating a market for cheaper used goods that still had life in them and a greater awareness of the environmental benefits of not throwing perfectly good things into the trash.

Old video games are one of the things that these new second-hand shops tend to get a lot of and there are a number of them near our place. A few months ago, as I mentioned in an earlier post, I purchased a Famicom at one of these shops for 1250 yen. The Famicom was Nintendo's first video game system. It was released in Japan in 1983 and looks like this:
The Nintendo Entertainment System that was released in North America in 1985 has basically the same guts as the Famicom, but it looks completely different. I like the look of the Famicom better, its got some color to it unlike the NES which is basically just a grey box.

Because the famicom games are so cheap it is actually less expensive to buy them than to rent a movie, so they have become a fun way for Ena and I to spend a rainy evening. Ena had a Famicom when she was a kid, so its been kind of fun finding all the games that she used to play when she was little.

One of the second hand shops nearby has been selling packages of 5 games for 200 yen (about $2 Canadian), so I've taken to dropping buy and seing what they had. I picked up two of the packages today and these are the games I got:

This is one of the other things I like about these games: the cartidges just look cool. They are colorful and the cartoon-artwork on the front looks kind of neat. The NES games, which are all gray, look pretty drab in comparison. These games just scream out "you must have us" whenever I walk through the aisles of the shop.

In today's lot I got Super Mario Brothers. This is what the Japanese version of that game looks like:

The games are fairly simple, which appeals to me much more than more recent games that are way too complicated and time-consuming. This is what the graphics for "Popeye" look like:
Very simple, but colorful and aesthetically pleasing. Incidentally Popeye was the first Nintendo game ever made for a home console.

I've also got a Super Famicom, which is the Japanese version of the Super Nintendo. I paid 980 yen for it (about $10). Its a newer system than the Famicom so the games are more sophisticated, but its grey and doesn't look quite as cool as the Famicom:

This is what a 200 yen pack of Super Famicom games looks like. I think its a real shame that they introduced this standardized grey cartridge for the Super Famicom, the games just look way less fun and interesting than the older Famicom ones:

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Hawks Game!

Ena and I went with some of our friends from the Kaikan to see a baseball game at the Fukuoka Dome. The Hawks were playing the Rakuten Eagles. This is a picture of Ena with some of our friends outside the stadium doing some souvenir shopping:
The game was a lot of fun, but unfortunately the Hawks ended up losing 4-0. We had a great time though, it was everyone else's first time to see a live baseball game (they all come from countries where baseball is not a major sport). These are some pictures of us in the stands:

After the game we went out to dinner at a nabe restaurant in Hakata:

Monday, April 20, 2009

Birthday Party

Two of my classmates, Wang Jin and Yu Jin (above), had birthdays falling on almost the same day so we held a birthday party for them yesterday. The party was at our friends Connie and Joel's place, which is just 2 floors above us. Amazingly we got close to 30 people into their apartment (which is just as small as ours). Mostly it was people from my program. Ena made some great meatballs and bought the birthday cakes at a local bakery. She and our friend Tai Ching spent most of the day shopping and preparing for the party while I was at school. We had a pretty good time.

My friend Lan from Thailand brought his 4 year old son Ishi to the party, he is a good kid. He is hitting me in the head with an ice cream bar in this photo:

These are some more party photos:

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Hiking in Shikanoshima

Ena and I went hiking on Shikanoshima Island today. The weather was great, 25 and sunny. I've been to Shikanoshima several times as detailed elsewhere in this blog but this was the first time to explore the mountains. We followed a little road that took us past some really fantastic scenery:
Wysteria grows wild all over the island and the purple flowers were in full bloom and looked great.

We followed some side trails into the woods to find a little shrine that was dedicated to the memory of the victory over the Mongols in 1281. During that invasion the Mongols actually landed on Shikanoshima and probably did all sorts of bad stuff to the locals. The island is littered with little shrines commemorating various things related to the Mongol invasion. This is us on one of the side trails looking for one of them:

We got back on the main route, which turned into a pretty cobble stoned lane winding into the woods:
One problem with hiking in the mountains in Japan is that invariably some dirtbag has ditched a bunch of garbage in the woods. This time we passed a pretty big piece of junk, a car that had been abandoned for quite some time:

When we got to the top of one of the mountains in the middle of the island the views were spectacular. This is the view of the spit of land that connects Shikanoshima to the mainland (ie the way we came!):
This is the view over Hakata Bay, Nokonoshima island is on the left:
There was a viewing platform that we took some pictures of each other at:

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Genkai Nada

We went on a bike trip with about a dozen of my classmates to Genkai Nada, a beach about 40 minutes (by bike) from our place on Sunday. It was sunny and about 25 degrees, perfect beach weather.

There is a long sandy strip that runs for several kilometres along the shore. This is the open sea that faces Korea. This is a couple of group photos:
There was also a rocky part that runs in front of some cliffs. Its kind of neat to climb around and look at the tidal pools, etc. The tide was in today and there was a very odd pink color to the water near the shore, probably from some sort of algae. It wasn't there the last time we visited (when the tide was out). You can see a bit of it in the background of these pictures:
Ena posing in front of the cliffs:

Saturday, April 11, 2009

Our old friend Meisha from Australia and her boyfriend dropped by Fukuoka yesterday on their way to Okinawa. It was our first time seeing her in almost 8 years so it was cool to see her again, she worked at AEON in Himeji with us way back when Ena and I first met.

We took them to have ramen at a yatai downtown on the riverside. Yatai are these food stalls that get set up at night and sell all sorts of food and alcohol to people who sit on stools. They get packed and are a lot of fun, but are a bit expensive so we hadn't been to one yet. In the rest of Japan, yatai are usually only seen during festivals but in Fukuoka they are a regular year-round part of the scenery.

The guy running the yatai we ate at took our group photo:
This is the ramen and beer we had:
A few more group photos: