…is there any other kind? Phase one of this year’s winter was a marathon of Christmas/New Year’s hospitality where we tested the limits of how many guests our little Japanese apartment can handle, at once and in succession, and how much mulled wine said guests could consume. This was followed closely by phase two, a tour guide relay as we attempted to show our Canadian visitors as much of our region of Japan as possible, utilizing each day to its fullest.
Phase one is technically over but doesn’t feel like it can really end until Recycle Day this Thursday when we clear nearly half our kitchen floor of the accumulated bottles from the aforementioned mulled wine. Phase two is still in session but is on a brief hiatus until next weekend as we’ve sent our visitors off to Tokyo and Kyoto for the duration of our work week, with naught but a rough train schedule, a list of food-related kanji, and maps scribbled with notes. Worst case scenario they just end up at Disneyland!
Phase One highlights:
While a constant succession of ravenous guests did end up requiring a fair amount of work and money, I would do it again in a heartbeat. I really enjoyed having our apartment constantly full of people over the Christmas season, and I think it helped everyone deal with being away from home for Christmas (some of them for the first time). I also greatly enjoyed talking to everyone’s friends/relatives who were (un)lucky enough to skype in during the festivities. Experiencing non-North American Christmas things was fun too, such as the meat and cheese platter (Australia), the Christmas cake (Japan), and Christmas pudding (UK); the last of which was nothing like what I know as pudding, which was confusing, but did involve being set on fire, which was awesome. Here are a few Christmas-time snapshots:
Phase Two highlights: Just as the Christmas rush was subsiding, we headed to the airport to pick up our friends Nate & Maja from Canada, for a 3 1/2 week visit to Japan. They were pretty easy to please, since their main requests included: see a castle, buy Ghibli souvenirs, and eat meat on a stick. We took them around our neighbourhood and city first, then to Nagoya, Nara, Hiroshima, Miyajima, Himeji and finally Iga.
While we’ve been to most of these places before, it’s always fun returning to your favourite places to share them with people who are seeing them for the first time and find out what new surprises they have to offer. We went to Nara, usually a peaceful place, on January 2nd, and it was transformed into a crazy festive environment, absolutely packed with New Year’s crowds going to pray at the shrines and temples for the coming year.
Hiroshima, sombering as its main attraction is, is nonetheless a beautiful and inspiring city, one of my favourite places to visit. We were lucky enough to be there on the last day of their winter illumination, so we got to see lots of pretty lights, even as it snowed lightly all around! Just a ferry ride away from Hiroshima, Miyajima is beautiful, even in winter, and we got to see the famous floating torii gate actually surrounded by water (last time the tide was out). We also discovered deep-fried momiji manju, the most brilliant thing I’ve eaten in recent times.
On the way home from Hiroshima we stopped for the afternoon in Himeji to see Japan’s most famous (and perpetually under reconstruction) castle. It was still cool to see, despite not being able to see the main keep, but in hindsight we probably shouldn’t have stopped there as we had a nightmare of post-new year’s traffic ahead of us. Nothing a few daring detours and a mountain pass of uncertain doom couldn’t solve though.
Iga is probably my favourite place to take visitors, and it did not disappoint, as after the ninja museum and demonstration we happened upon a ninja secret code calligraphy event in Ueno Castle. We then spent an hour and a half with The Ninja Tea Shop Guy, a.k.a. The Most Interesting Man In Japan. One of the things Nate & Maja liked about Iga is how genuinely friendly and welcoming everyone was towards us, which is not something you necessarily experience so much in other tourist areas. The Tea Shop Guy surprising me from behind by donning a costume and pointing a long-barrel gun at my head purely for their entertainment probably didn’t hurt, either.
It sure is hard to go back to work after all that. It’s not over yet though: next weekend we’ll be visiting Takayama, Shirakawago, and possibly Ise with Nate & Maja, followed by one of Japan’s most epic winter illuminations at Nabana no Sato on their last weekend in Japan. Bye for now, Happy New Year, everyone!
p.s. I’ve just added a new post that includes an interactive map about our phase two travels, check it out: