Saturday, December 8, 2007

The wonders of nature

A few inches of snow forced schools to close back home in Ohio this week. But here in Hiroshima, fall is just winding down. Bare trees are finally cropping up, but it's still pretty colorful.

Joe and I took a trip to Miyajima (the island with the "floating" orange torii gate) the day after Thanksgiving to see the leaves. Miyajima is supposed to be quite the sight in the autumn because of all its maple trees. Opting to take the road less traveled to the ropeway that transports visitors to the top of the Mt. Misen, we unwittingly bypassed a park filled with vibrant maple trees. We decided to continue on to the ropeway station rather than double back because the line was really long. I had my heart set on traveling to the mountain top to see the colors from up high and, of course, the wild monkeys. Unfortunately, we discovered at the peak that most of the trees higher up were still green, and the monkeys were nowhere to be seen. Apparently they were finding dinner in the forest. Damn monkeys! After a two-hour wait in line to make it back, those brilliant maples back in the park were cloaked in darkness. So it was a rather disappointing trip this time, but next year we'll get the timing right.

The day after our Miyajima trip, we headed east to Takamatsu to visit my cousin and his family over Thanksgiving weekend. My cousin's mother-in-law made us sukiyaki for Thanksgiving. It's a delicious stew that you cook right at the table in a thing that looks like a cross between a wok and a slow cooker. Joe was even brave enough to eat it true Japanese style, dipping the meat into — get ready, Mom — a cup containing a raw egg.

While we were there, we visited Ritsurin Park, a Japanese garden. Thanks to a slightly warmer climate on Shikoku island, it was still very lush and green.

My favorite part of the park was the pond teeming with koi (carp).

These suckers are huge and hungry. For a little pocket change you can buy some long, thin sticks of bread to feed the fish. You toss those pieces in and they just go crazy flopping all over each other to get to it. I bent down and held the stick to the water's surface and they all flocked to me, slimy scales gleaming, mouths gaping, desperately lunging for the bread in a chorus of sucking sounds.

It was so cool.

Our latest excursion was on Saturday with our Aussie friend Roo. We took a 90-minute bus ride to Sandankyo Gorge, which is famous for waterfalls and 130-foot high cliffs.It was sunny in Hiroshima when we left. But on the other side of some mountains, it was looking pretty gloomy. It started to drizzle as the bus dropped us off, so we each purchased umbrellas. For 500 yen, I got my own personal patch of blue sky. Best purchase I've made in a long time.

The rain grew steadily heavier during our three-hour hike to the waterfalls, until at one point we were forced to huddle under a shelter and wait for the thunder and lightening to pass. We were wet, freezing and questioning the wisdom of this little adventure. But we soldiered on. And as we approached the falls, sure enough, the sun came out!

What an incredible sight...

I was happy to finally break out my camera to capture the beauty of this place on the hike back. Most of the leaves were past their prime here but there was still plenty to see.

After returning, we discovered we'd misread the bus schedule and missed the bus by 10 minutes. So it was a two-hour wait for the next bus.

I poked around a little gift shop where this lady was selling roasted mochi. It looks like roasted marshmallow, but it's actually a sticky, dense, pounded rice ball. She brushed it with barbecue sauce before handing it to me. Not bad...but no roasted marshmallow.

Wandering through the store, I was most delighted to find this gem.

Take a closer look. Do you see there, the sticker...?

Ah yes, that's right, a little girl with four bloody bullet holes in her chest!

See, here in Japan, they don't have pansy little kids asking for an Official Red Ryder Carbine-Action Two-Hundred-Shot Range Model Air Rifle for Christmas! Ooooh, nooo, why have that when you can get the rifle meant to pierce the hearts of little children? "You'll shoot your eye out!"? Bah Humbug!

At least this one looks like an actual toy, unlike some of the other plastic guns I've seen around here. The 100 Yen store (dollar store) near my apartment sells a toy AK-47 that truly looks like the real thing.

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