A Travellerspoint blog

Entering the Country of Udon

Day 9/10 - Takamatsu

sunny 15 °C

Day 1: Temple 79, 82, 81, 80

Today was probably the hardest day so far, probably even harder than the first day. Temple 79 was not very hard to get to... until we had to go up to temples 81 and 82. We were walking up the steep hills with our bikes under the scorching sun until we stopped to ask a old man for directions. He said going to 81 and 82 would be a 5-hour hike, so it would be best if we left our bikes, climb up to the temples, and come back down to retrieve it.

The man asked us why we decided to do this pilgrimage. We replied that this was for the experience after seeing Meagan's host mother doing it via tour bus. He smiled and said he asked many foreigners the same question, but none of them had a reason to do it. He told us that the pilgrimage will build and mold our character through all the obstacles we face and the people we meet. How much would this pilgrimage change my views of the world?

Assuming it would take 5 hours for the old man, we thought us youngsters would take less time. We were so wrong, (or do I mean wong?) The hill led to a flight of stairs. We walked up the stairs. Just when we thought we finished, there was another flight, and another, and another, and another... it felt like forever. Step after step, I felt like I was dragging 1000 pounds of weight in each leg. But we finally made it to the half point (which actually turned out to NOT be the half way point...) where two kind henros invited us to sit with them. We stayed and ate our apples and oranges before going up some more.

After going up all these stairs, we had to walk another 3.5k uphill to reach to temple 82. We took a break at the oden shop, where we ate fishcakes, eggs, and yukon. We also bought ice cream and shared while we hiked to temple 81. That was another 5k up and down the mountain. As we ate our melting icecream we bumped into another foreign henro from Berkley. We wished eachother luck and continued our seperate ways. By the time we got to temple 81, we were already tired and wanted to get out of there as soon as possible.

It was already 3:30 and with only an hour and half left until 5:00, we tried to get down the mountain ASAP to get the stamp from temple 80. We started walking faster, which soon became pure running up and down the mountain. I shouted the entire way, determined to get to the next temple. We finally got down the mountain with 35 minutes to get to temple 80. And yet again, we managed to get to temple 80 at 4:50 and sucessfully got the stamp. Sweating and panting, one of the monks in the temple offered us chocolate as o-settai.

We took a mini break outside as the closed temple, watching the monks drive home after work. It was time to head over to Takamatsu, where we would stay with Yoshi-san's family. Oh, just another 10k bike ride to the Tokushima station after spending 5 hours in the mountain. No biggie.

At Yoshi-san's place, we met his wonderful wife, Aya-san, and their two adorable children. Yoshi-san drove us to an onsen. It was my first time, so it was definately an interesting experience. Everyone was bare naked. The young ones, the old ones, the babies, errbody was nakie! And you have to clean yourself very well in the shower to get into the onsen, which is like a very fancy hot tub, and long hair must be tied up. It felt very weird, but nonetheless, it was very relaxing and warm. Why don't they have these in America?

Afterwards, we went back to Yoshi-san's house and had delicious dinner with the family. Saba sushi, salad, vegetable, yakitori, and rice. Before bed, I finally used some of Michel's muscle pain patches, which made me feel like an old granny. It had a slight cool and burning sensation, but when I took it off the next morning, it felt good. Sankyuuuu, Mitchel for the muscle patches!

Day 2: Temple 83, 84, 85, 86

For breakfast, Yoshi-san took us to a self-serving udon place. Basically, they give you a bowl of udon noodles, you pick the desired toppings, and finally pour in the soup. It was an interesting experience because you get to customize your own udon bowl, sit down with a whole bunch of strangers, and slurp your noodles as loud as you want. In America, if you slurp your noodles loudly, it's considered rude. But in Japan, slurping your noodle brings out the true taste, so you'll be missing out if you don't slurp. Basically - everyone slurps their noodles; if you don't, then you're weird. Yoshi-san complimented on how fast we ate our udon (despite us finishing our small size well after he finished his large). He said other foreigners he's hosted were a lot slower.

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With a full belly, Yoshi-san drove us to temple 83, then to the train station, where we took the train/bus to temple 84. Yoshi-san and his family picked us up at the bus stop and drove us to another udon place for lunch. This time, we had a family-sized udon, which is a very large tub filled with udon noodles. I've never seen so much udon in my entire life. Takamatsu is definately the palace of udon.

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Yoshi-san offered to drive us to temple 83 and 84 since it was up the mountain. Afterwards, we went to Aya-san's boss's summer house to prepare a Nabe dinner (he asked her to prepare dinner for some special guests from France that were filming a documentary on the pilgrimage, so we just tagged along for a grand dinner). I learned the Nabe takes so much time to prepare, but definately a worthy dinner. We went to the onsen before dinnertime, but this time, it costed 800 yen per person! So expensive... our wallets took a big hit.

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When the boss and guests came, we started dinner. So much delicious food! Sashimi, snails, curry chicken, sweet potatoes, pasta salad, nabe, and of course, udon (all paid for by the boss but made by Yoshi-san and Aya-san). I've never had so much udon in my entire life. 3 times a day. I think I've had enough of Takamatsu's famous udon.

Afterwards, we went back to Yoshi-san's apartment, where he helped us with the bus routes and accomodations. While Meagan and Yoshi-san was planning, Aya-san and I prepared tomorrow's lunch. Aya-san taught me how to make onigiri! She also prepared tea and gave us sausages for the trip.

We are very lucky to be able to stay with Yoshi-san and his family these past two nights. They have been so kind and always willing to help us! He took us to so many cool places in Japan - from self-serving udon restaurants to relaxing onsens. They helped us so much in directions and places to stay during the pilgrimage. We really don't think we can finish this without their help.

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KEY NOTES
1) Never eat udon 3 times a day (even if it tastes so damn good!)
2) Self serving udon places are the best! And they are so cheap! About 200-400 yen per person!
3) Public bathhouses are great, but be prepared to get naked in front of everyone.
4) No matter how much you complain, it won't change anything. So it'll probably be better if you just shut up and finish it.
5) Hard work pays off.

Posted by thewongway 03:02 Archived in Japan Tagged takamatsu Comments (2)

Henros Encounters Yanki

Day 8 - Marugame

sunny 12 °C

Temple 70, 71, 72, 73, 74, 75, 76, 77, 78

We had a quick breakfast with Jack - burnt toast and honey. I also finally tried vegemite - very salty and thick texture. Afterwards Jack biked with us to Kanonji and we started our temple hopping there. We got lost (again), and had to ask a solar panel store for directions. The people in there were very kind and even gave us a bag of various snacks (chocolate chip cookies, chocolate, and crackers).

Of course, we got lost many times and met many wonderful people along the way. Today, there were many hills to climb. When is there a day without any steep slopes? The funny thing was when we went to each temple, we would bump into the same taxi man who gave us directions to the temples. When we were in temple 76, a man asked us if he could take a picture of us because it was unusual to see a couple of young girls doing the ohenro. I guess we are pretty well known - two young girls wearing tights riding "mama chari," which are bikes with baskets in the front. Not very suitable for long distance travelling, but perfect for old grannies and students to use. [/u]

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We managed to arrive at temple 78 ten minutes before it closed and headed over to Muragami station to meet our next couch surfer, Mitchel. Again, we got lost in the way, but a VERY genki Japanese man offered to help us... and he only spoke in English! We tried speaking Japanese to him, but he refused to speak in his native tongue and replied only in English. What a funny man.

When we arrived at the station, we still had time to kill, so we parked our bikes and starting exploring the different stores around the city. We passed through some "yanki-wannabes" - high school boys who think they're the coolest and toughest. They made loud noises with their motorcycles. We went into the 100 yen store (equivilent to the Daiso store in the US), and shopped for candles, incense, gloves for our hands, and other supplies for our pilgrimage.

We finally met up with our host, Michel, and his friend, John. Michel and John were both from the JET program and teaches English to middle students. Michel is from Canada and John is from Florida. We went to a small udon place for dinner near the station. Meagan and I got a donburi and udon set for 760 yen and was PLENTY to fill both of us up. Afterwards, we went back to Michel's house and settled down for the night.

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We talked about yakuza (Japanese gangs) around this city. Apparently they run most of the bars and the pachinko places. You would know you're in the yakuza terrirory if there are nice cars parked in one area with license plate numbers like "11-11" or "88-88," and a big sign of their family name in front of their house. We also talked about the JET program, which seems so awesome because they pay for your expenses to teach in Japan! How cool is that?! I might want to do that after I graduate, but it might interfere with medical school.

We would like to thank Michel and Saiyuri for letting us stay at their place. Your maple cookies and brownies were delicious! We also made good use of the two sleeping bags you gave us! You guys are awesome!

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Key Notes:
1) There are many faces of Japan - the cutesy side and the dangerous side.
2) JET program is the thing to do if you want to live in Japan without any worries
3) There are cheap, good food in Japan.

Posted by thewongway 06:44 Archived in Japan Tagged marugame Comments (0)

Blasting Disney Songs in The Rural

Day 8: Kinonji

sunny 11 °C

NOTE: Since my sister is planning a lot of the trip, she will not have time to write on this blog. Thus, I will trip recorder and include her inputs about this trip!

Temple 65, 66, 67, 68, 69

We repacked our stuff and finished our way up to temple 65. We still had a ways to go. Thank goodness we didn't actually hike up all the way there at night! We finally got the stamp, returned to our bikes, and left our tent for the next possible pilgrims to use because we didn't know how to fold it back to its original size. On our way to getting the stamps, an elder man (ojiisan) came up to us and asked us if we were doing the ohenro. Then he gave us two of his osame-fuda (nameslips). Our nameslips were white, meaning we've only done this 1-4 times. However, his nameslips were gold, meaning he has done this pilgrimage for 100+ times! I thought going through 1/4 of this was already hard. Doing this over 100 times is just beyond anything I can ever do! We humbly accepted the osettai, which are gifts given to henros from the locals, and placed it in our envelopes.

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We headed to the next temple in Kinonji. The biking today wasn't as bad as the first day. We biked 19 km to Kanonji, where we went to temple 66. We decided to take the rope way up there because the temple was way up the mountain and we weren't up for another hike. However, to get up to the rope way, we had to park our bikes in the edge of the road and walk about up about 2k. To motivate ourselves, we sang Disney songs from my iPod. When we finally reached to the rope way station, we found a store that sold dango. We bought a stick of it and ate it along the way. It tasted like warm, chewy mochi with sweet hoisin sauce! We went up the mountains, which was surprisingly cold - 7 degrees C and there was still snow on the ground!

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Afterwards, we were able to finish up to temples 68/69 (which were right next to each other). We met up with our couchsurfing host, Jack. He is from New Zealand and is currently staying in Japan through the JET program. We rode our bikes back to his place. Since we haven't showered for the past two days, the first thing we did was take a shower and wash all our clothes in his washing machine/dryer. My sister and I shared a tatami room and slept on futons. Jack also took us to the supermarket to do some grocery shopping, which was about 5 minutes by bike. We bought some fruit and bread for the next couple of days. When we returned, Jack made rice and I cooked a vegetable dish to go with it. (Yes, I know how to cook and nobody got sick from my food. And our host said it tasted good!) We watched a couple of comedy videos, talked about Australian vocabulary and slang, and hit the sack.

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Australian vocabulary
capsickem - bell peppers
fair dankom - aye okay
jumper - sweater
cheers - thanks
biscuits - cookies
mate - friend
cool bananas - cool beans
chips - fries

CHEERS, JACK!

Posted by thewongway 09:01 Archived in Japan Tagged kinonji Comments (0)

Feelin' Like a Hobo... I Mean Henro

Day 7 - Going from Matsuyama to Shikokuchuo

sunny 11 °C

Temples 62, 63, 65 (attempt)

First day of actually biking from Matsuyama to Shikokuchuo to temple 65 (Sankakuji). We started out trip early at 6:30, biking through the national road 11 to all the temples. We passed by various cities, almost got crashed into too many cars, fell down multiple times, and survived on two granola bars, an onigiri, and a couple slices of white bread from the convinient stores. We even walked through a freakin' tunnel (which I thought was pretty cool). This is how two henros roll, you know?

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We also realized that our hands and faces were sunburnt, so we had to buy sunscreen at the convinient store. Our hands were actually swollen from the sun. We got to the city by 3:00ish, hoping we would make it to the temple in time. But we never realized that the city was big... and the temple was up the mountain. ALL THE WAY UP. We got to the mountain by 6:00ish, so getting the stamp wasn't an option for that day. But we thought if we got up to the temple before sun down, we would be able to find a place to stay outside the temple. So we decided to trek ALL our stuff up the mountain when the sun was setting, thinking the temple would be closeby. We were 5k away from the temple... 3 miles wasn't that bad right? WRONG. We forgot that it was 5k up steep slopes.

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It got dark before we even reached to the temple. We were pushing our bikes and stuff with up along very steep slopes. It was dark and the temperature was dropping fast. The slopes just got steeper and steeper until the point where we just left our bikes out in the middle of the mountains. We carried our backpacks up, not knowing how far we had to go up. We were cold, tired, and fearing that we would just die in the middle of the mountains. We eventually gave up going up because we didn't know how long it will even take to get up to the temple. Giving up in going up to the temple, we decided to use our pop-up tent and air mattress in the middle of nowhere. Just when we thought things couldn't go any worse, the pump for our air matress didn't work, so we had to blow air to the whole mattress ourselves. We slept on a half blown air matress, kept ourselves warm with two emergency bankets, a military blanket, and couple packages of hot packs. We woke up multiple times from the cold, but managed to survive by morning. Rough night.

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Key Notes:
Never bike for 12 hours straight! (6:30 am - 6:30 pm)
Emergency blankets actually work... a bit
Walking through a tunnel is cool, but super scary... we thought we were going to die.

Posted by thewongway 06:51 Archived in Japan Comments (1)

Pilgrims Move to Matsuyama

Day 3-6 (Matsuyama)

all seasons in one day 11 °C

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Meagan

3/24 (Sat)
Despite the night bus from Tokyo being late, we arrived in Matsuyama safely. It’s been 6 years since I’ve been to this city where I spent a year as a high school student; I don’t recognize the city much (yet). I gave my host sister Mami a big hug when she came to pick us put. Stepping into the genkan felt like returning home. We got driven to temple 58, 57, 56, 54, 55, and almost made it to 59. It started snowing in the mountains all of a sudden, which surprised everyone, including okaasan (host mom) and oneesan (host big sister). Oneesan wanted to drive us to all the close by temples, especially the ones high in the mountains, so we got a nice running start  Finished the day eating sushi at a conveyer belt sushi (kaitenzushi) place, where I end up leaving my wallet (something I didn’t even realize until the following night).

3/25 (Sun)
We got driven to temple 44, 45, 46, 47, 48, 49 (YES!) and got home in time for okaasan to get dinner ready. We are having Nabe today, with my host brother Masaya oniisan and his wife Naomi-neesan and the kids (Sae-chan, Kai-kun, Nao-kun, Chihiro-chan) coming over for dinner. Only 2 of the 4 kids were born when I was here, so it was fun meeting and re-meeting everyone. I brought Mariners keychains for the kids, which Chihiro-chan (1 1/2) enjoyed chewing on. It was really fun playing with the kids and seeing everyone again. I really feel like I’m returning home and it felt like the last 6 years didn’t happen and I was still the exchange student/daughter. A very good feeling.

3/26 (Mon)
Our first official day of doing the ohenro mairi on our own. I didn’t sleep very well because I was too worried about my lost wallet. Okasan, Melissa and I ended up going to the police station in Gintengai to file a report (embarrassing but interesting experience). Sitting in the room filled with posters of wanted Japanese criminals while speaking keigo (polite Japanese) with the policeman and drawing pictures to answer his questions that I don’t know how to answer with words. Soon after, we called the kaitenzushi, and (OMG) it was there all along (thank god).
With that big stone lifted, my heart and mood felt a lot lighter. After renting 2 bikes, we started our journey. Thanks to the maps oneesan printed out the night before, going to temple 52 was not too bad. We asked for directions from a lot of people on the way, and people were really kind, especially when they realize we came all the way from Seattle to do the omairi. After visiting temple 53, I tried to get us back to my high school (Matsuyama Central) asap because I was going to meet my old classmate Michiko there. Of course we ended up getting lost and was late. Using my minimal navigation skills, the map-print-outs, and whatever memory I have left of the city from 6 years ago, we finally got to a store close to the school. That was as far as my memory would take me and I ended up calling Michiko to meet us at the store. I greeted my old friend with a huge hug, not aware of my surprise. Out pops 3 other of my classmates: Nacchan, Sasabo, Matsu! I was overjoyed! It’s been 6 years since I’ve seen these guys. Melissa and I ended up following their cars on our bikes to the school (lol).
Going to our homeroom, sitting at our assigned seats, talking about old memories and teachers, it was like going back to 6 years ago. Entering the teachers’ office was just as scary as it was back then, even though none of us are students anymore. For old time’s sake, we went to eat the Jumbo Parfait (huge icecream sundae). Something I remembered finishing with four people, we failed to finish today with six.
We had to rush home for dinner, so our good byes were quick. I’ll hang out with Nacchan, Sasabo and Matsu when I return to Matsuyama after the omairi, and I’ll meet up with Michiko in Osaka and Kyoto after that.
After much research with oneesan about directions/maps/roads/places to sleep, I think we’ll be as ready as we can with tomorrow (official day).

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Melissa

3/24/12[/b]
7:40 AM
Currently on the bus right now heading to Matsuyama. We’ve been on the bus since 8 PM last night. Right now, we are at a restroom break and I was able to use their famous 'western toilets' for the very first time! These toilets are special because they have a variety of buttons for you to make your stop at the toilet as easy as possible. The seat is heated, there are buttons that sprays your bottom when you finish, and blow dries it after washing, and a flushing sound to cover up the noise you make while you're doing the #1 or 2. I know - fancy, right? My favorite part is the heated toilet seat. I think it's the greatest invention ever. When it is unbearably cold outside, the last thing you want is for your bottom to touch the cold surface of the toilet.

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10:30 PM
Right now, we are at Meagan's host family's house. We will be staying at her house for a couple of days. Her host mom has also done the pilgrimage, so she was able to help us on the temples around Matsuyama. When we got to her house, we immediately started the pilgrimage! However, we made a stop at the ramen shop! I finally got to eat real ramen from Japan - success!

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Afterwards, we drove to temple 51, where we bought our supplies for the henro. So the basic rules of temple. Wash your hands and rinse your mouth with the temple water. Ring the bell to let the kami-sama that you have entered. Light the candle in one side. Use your lit candle to light your incense. Place 1 yen and your wishing paper. Make your wish. Repeat the candle lighting and wish making on the other side of the temple. We went to 5 temples (51, 58, 57, 56, and 54) on the first day before the temples closed at 5 p.m.

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We went to the Shinanami Kaido, the bridge that links Imabari from Hiroshima. It was very beautiful and reminded me of the Golden Gate Bridge, but it was too cold to stay long. We got a couple of warm drinks from the vending machines (Jidohambaiki). Afterwards, we drove to the conveyer-belt sushi (similar to Sushiland, but a MUCH tastier version). Everything was more fresh and cheap. Afterwards, we went to the supermarket to buy some groceries for tomorrow's dinner - Nabe!

3/25/12
It was time for the next couple of temples. This time, Meagan's host mom and sister drove us to the next 7 temples (44-50). We started early at 9 am and ended at 5 pm. The first two was high up in altitude, so it was snowing! I heard that when the cherry blossoms bloom, the entire mountain turns pink from the sakura trees! But the sakura have not bloomed yet because it's been unusually cold in Matsuyama. We stopped at a convenient store (benri) for lunch. It's amazing because they will heat the food you buy at the store for you! Meagan got an onigiri, host-mom got a salad, host-sister got a bento, and I got a chanko, which is a warm broth with vegetable and meatballs. After eating our lunch in the car while watching the snow fall, we headed back to Matsuyama to do a few more temples before the temples close. Each temple had many statues of different gods and important shinto/buddhist figures. The one below represents the god that takes care of the babies that did not make it. Each small statue represents the death of baby.

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Afterwards, we stopped by the supermarket to buy grocery for tomorrow's dinner (okonomiyaki) and additional ingredients for the Nabe. We went back to prep for the dinner and waited for Meagan's host-brother's family to come. Nabe is similar to a hot pot, where different vegetables and meat are put into the pot to boil and cook. The ingredients consist of Konbu broth, cabbage, leeks, white fish, shitake mushroom, enoki mushroom, tofu, and sliced pork. It was a nice, warm dinner in a chilly night with the family. After that, the broth from the Nabe was mixed with rice to make congee. Host-mom mixed together the Nabe broth, dashi stock, rice, mirin, soy sauce, bonito, eggs, and leeks, and simmered it until everything was combined together. It was delicious!

Meagan's host brother's family had four kids and they were all so cute! After dinner, I watched Poke'mon and played around with them, while the adults were chatting while drinking green tea. Tonight was a very tiring, but extremely fun day/night!

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3/26/12
We headed to the police station because my sister lost the wallet that held the money and bank cards. It was still early in the morning, so many of the stores were not open, but everything was just so different and interesting. It reminded me of the typical Japanese animations I've watched when I was in America. The depiction of the alley ways and narrow streets were exactly the same. We arrived at the police station and to the police office that we've lost a wallet. He asked a few basic questions and made us fill a couple of paperwork. As my sister and host-mom were filling out the paperwork, I observed the things around the police station. The police officers wore bullet proof vest for their morning runs, which I thought was interesting. What were the chances of being shot in a place that is safer than the any city in America? I tried to read a couple of wanted posters, but I eventually gave up because there were too many kanjis I didn't understand. We headed to a coffee place to wait until the bike shop opened. I've noticed that a lot of areas allowed smoking. Even at a normal coffee shop, smoking is allowed. Thus, another moment where I inhaled a years worth of second-hand smoke.

Host-mom called the super market and the conveyer belt sushi place, where the wallet may have been lost. Luckily, we found our wallet! My forgetful sister left it at the sushi restaurant. Thank goodness that it was found or else, we would definitely be the 'binbo no henro' ("poor pilgrims"). After the good news, we walked to the bike shop to rent our bikes, and headed out to the two temples on our own!
While in a bike, I've noticed many awesome things that I've never noticed when I was host-sister's car. Everyone - no matter if you are old, young, girl, guy - bikes. It's absolutely normal for bikers to be on the side walk and they are treated exactly the same as pedestrians. The bikes are the types where you ride for leisure. The roads are much narrower, so pedestrians, bikers, and drivers must work even harder to 'coexist' together. Everyone is such a good driver and bikers because of the narrow roads, I'm afraid that I will be the one that would cause an accident. However, I managed to be unscathed the first day, so it must be a success, right?

While we were searching for the first temple of the day, a very kind man came to us and asked us if we were Henro. He not only helped us with the directions, but he offered us drinks from the vending machine! We thanked him for the two cans of Calpis and headed to the first temple. There were a couple of people who wished us luck along the way and one of the temple also gave us a couple of oranges. People in Japan are so kind.

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Afterwards, my sister met up with her old high school friends. We went to my sister's old high school in Matsuyama. I was finally able to pass through the rice patties and farm land that my sister had always said! It was definitely an interesting 'rural' experience. Peaceful, relaxing, and refreshing. We left our bikes and everything at the bike racks in the high school since no body steals things in the school. So interesting because if I left my bag in the library, it would've been gone within 5 minutes! Why can't America be like that?

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We went inside her old classroom and visit her PE/health teacher. It was an interesting feeling to be in a Japanese high school. It looked exactly like the ones in dramas! Afterwards, we biked to Justco to eat the famous 'Jumbo Parfaits'. It was large, VERY LARGE. The waitress even put sparklers on the top and lit it! 6 people, 1 Jumbo Parfait, but only half finished. We went to take my second purikura! Definitely newer and better than the one really old purikura in Seattle Gameworks.

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We went back home and host-mom was making okonomiyaki, which people refer it as a 'Japanese pizza.' It's a cabbage, meat, egg, and flour mixture that is cooked in a hot plate like a pancake. Then it is smothered in okonomiyaki sauce, bonito flakes, aoi seaweed, and mayonnaise. The ingredients are different depending in the area of Japan, but those are the base ingredients for okonomiyaki. As always, host-mom's food was very delicious! Afterwards, we started packing up for tomorrows very long trip.

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However, I am currently watching Mocomichi cook! Apparently, he does a morning cooking show called "Moco's Kitchen."
Tomorrow, we will have to wake up extra early and travel to our next temple. We will be leaving Matsuyama and starting our way around the island! Wish us luck!

Posted by thewongway 14:11 Archived in Japan Tagged matsuyama Comments (2)

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