Spring vacation - Sumo, sushi and capsules!

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May 21st 2013
Published: May 21st 2013
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3 week trip

Tokyo > Osaka > Kobe > Kyoto > Tsuruga > Kanazawa > Hikone > Tokyo

Bring the noiseBring the noiseBring the noise

Samurai warriors v me! Ya they had better back down before someone gets hurt.

Spring Break and Beyond!

Since I last wrote, I was lucky enough to have 3 of my friends from back home come to visit. We decided that the spring vacation (Spring break Woooo!) was the best time to visit, as the winter snow would be mostly melted, and summer’s vicious heat is far off.

The first day we all met up, was St. Patrick’s Day in Tokyo. My good friend Kevin had literally just arrived with a supply drop from my mom (goofy green hats, Irish inflatable hammers etc) before we had to pull a legger (run as fast as possible) to get to the parade. There was plenty of Irish snacks, tea, t-shirts and letters from other friends back home too…Thanks everybody!

The parade was massively bigger than what I expected, and is actually the largest Irish parade in Asia. It attracts more than 1,500 participants and 50,000 visitors. It is very easy to get involved, and through one of my friends I managed to get us all into the actual parade! What a laugh! For the whole day I happily hammered unsuspecting peoples heads with my inflatable Irish hammer! Not many knew why a man with a green hat was hitting them, but what better way to introduce the Irish governments tendency to smack unexpected citizens with new taxes!

All kinds of groups take part, such as the American Army’s brassband, tin whistlers, cheerleaders, samurai sword fighters etc. It’s a great feeling to see the love of one country for your own one, even though it’s nearly 10,000 kilometres away. I was lucky enough too to get a picture with the samurai sword group whose performance you can watch here ⇒
. Afterwards we went for a mandatory drinking sesh in the hobgoblin pub! We met up with many of my fellow Irish JET teachers here and it was a great ould shindig.

It was good craic giving my buddies, Conor, Kevin and Lucy, an intro to Japanese culture in Tokyo, too. I brought them to their first temple in Tokyo, and got them to try Japanese cuisine. Also, they were happy to learn about Japan’s relaxed nature when it comes to drinking on the streets. One of my favorite memories with them in Tokyo was hanging around outside Senso-ji, a temple in Asakusa, and just people watching with our walk and talk bevarages! It’s the little things in life ey!

The Japan Experience

I was keen to show my buddies around my neck of the woods, and give them an idea of what it’s like living here. No trip to Japan is complete without an all-nighter drinking and karaoke session! The second night that my friends stayed in my apartment (a place not big enough to swing a cat) a big group of my friends met up for an epic 4-5 hour karaoke session. Some of my fellow JETs came down from their city for the party and ended up staying in my place too, so my apartment, which is literally one room, slept 7 of us for the night! It was a belter of a night with epic renditions of the Irish favorites like ‘With or Without You’ and ‘Zombie’.

In Osaka I wanted them to see what it was like to stay in a capsule hotel. These space-ship/coffin like capsules are a really strange experience, I think, and you also get the added benefit of butt-nakedness in the big bathing room in the bottom floor of the hotel. Two culture shocks for the price of one! It's strange that your 2m long x 1m high x 1m wide capsule also has a TV with free porn. A bit disturbing when you know your friends are likely ‘surfing’ the channels in neighbouring capsules, and especially disturbing when one of them is Conor!


We went to see sumo wrestling our first day in Osaka. Unfortunately, we were completely nackered from our previous nights epic karaoke performance to enjoy it properly, but it was still cool to see these giant men battling it out. One of my favorite things about sumo was the way the combatants try to psych each other before the big clash, which normally lasts a few short seconds.

After some ceremonial salt throwing and thigh slapping, they can start the clash straight away, but normally they will crouch and look like they are ready to go, before disengaging for another bit of good old salt throwing. It must be really annoying if you are ready for the clash and your opponent just decides it’s too early to go yet! They have a four-minute timer for such disengagements before they must clash, and most of them use the full four minutes! A battle of minds as well as muscle!

Temples and Castles

One of the main reasons I fell in love with Japan is the immense amount of culture that just oozes out of every city. And no trip to Japan is complete without visiting some of the fantastic temples and castles that lie dotted about the place, much to the delight of my not so enthusiastic sightseeing friend Conor. The imposing fortifications of Osaka castle, and the beautiful surrounds of Kiyomizu Temple in Kyoto are two of my favorite spots for sightseeing in Japan. Lucky for Conor the sakura cherry blossoms were in full bloom too! Conor is not keen on flowers, and the happy Japanese snapping pictures of them every chance they got made him despair “Why do they have to take pictures of every single bloody flower!!” . There there Con, they’ll only be in bloom for 10 of the days you’ll be here lol!


We had a few days to relax in my apartment and do a little bit of trekking too. Japan is incredibly well set up for trekking, as the Japanese don’t do anything by half measure. There are well-worn hiking trails in every prefecture, and some stunning scenery awaits to be seen from rugged peaks.

We went to one of my local mountains, nicknamed Wakasa-Fuji for it’s resemblance to Japan’s most famous mountain. It’s a slightly more comfortable trek though, and has impressive views of the Japanese sea and countryside. Being Irish of course we had to lug our flag up there too to claim another mountain in Éire’s name! Ironically when climbing up we met 2 Japanese trekkers, who wanted to take a picture with us all...wait for it…under some cherry blossom! Truly made Conor’s day haha!

Afterwards, we went to my friends Keiko’s (sounds kind of like ‘Cake-o’ and she has a cake shop lol) house to make some sushi. We were quite surprised to learn from our host that Wakasa is one of the many areas in Japan that claims to be the origin of sushi making. Wakasa bay used to be a hugely important fishing area and the fish used to be salted and wrapped to preserve
Sushi timeSushi timeSushi time

Keiko, Conor, Gráinne and Kevin
it! So, we made sushi in, possibly, the home of sushi! Keiko was delighted that her Irish contingent made the sushi and cleaned up afterwards (Without having to be asked to lol). The mammies would have been proud!


After some more time spent chilling in Fukui we made our way up a little north to the beautiful city of Kanazawa, which is known as little Kyoto due to it’s beautiful temples and gardens! I had visited here in the winter and was stunned by the simple beauty of Kenroku-en, one of Japan’s most famous gardens. Gorgeous golden colored yukizuri, which are ropes that support the branches of trees with heavy snowfall, contrast beautifully with the snow hugging the ground and donning the stone lanterns like little fluffy hats!

I brought my friends to a cool temple known as the ‘Ninja Temple’ owing to its trap-doors and many hidden passageways. One of my favorite simple tricks/traps here looks like nothing more than a simple stairs from the outside, but the vertical parts of the stairs are made of rice paper. From a secret chamber under the stairs, one could see the feet of
Kenroku-en Kenroku-en Kenroku-en

A beautiful garden in Kanazawa! This photo was taken during the winter!
the enemy approaching through the rice paper without being seen oneself (as your in the dark), and do violence upon said feet with spears or other pointy things. The rest of the stairs being solid, it was possible to retreat from this attack position without the enemy being able to pursue. Awesome!


Alas, all good things must come to an end, and my friend’s 3 weeks here was over too soon. One of my friends from back home, Kirsty, had sent me a letter hand delivered to me by Kevin in Tokyo. In it she mentioned how much of a lucky bastard I was that not one…not two…but three of my friends were coming from half a world away to visit me. Indeed she was right!

My best memory of their trip is of coming home on the last subway train on St. Patrick’s Day. My friends had had a long day, still fighting off jetlag, and on the train ride home Conor and Lucy had passed out either side of me on my shoulder. I sat there happily, watching the stations fly passed, thinking and reminiscing.

10 months ago when I first arrived in Japan, a Japanese student at an English summer camp asked me what I was good at. After thinking about it for a while I shrugged and said ‘Making friends?’ wondering if it counted as a skill. As I watched those stations go passed I now realized what my answer to that student should have been; Not “Making friends”, but “Keeping great ones” .

Sayonara and slán go fóill mo chairdí!

Additional photos below
Photos: 38, Displayed: 28


Animatronic T-RexAnimatronic T-Rex
Animatronic T-Rex

Fukui happens to have the worlds 3rd largest dinosaur museum!
Kanazawa CastleKanazawa Castle
Kanazawa Castle

The castle was destroyed, but this is a cool turret on part of a reconstructed wall.
Samurai CatSamurai Cat
Samurai Cat

Dressed up like Hikone's Hikonyan (Hikone cat)
Lucy with her new fansLucy with her new fans
Lucy with her new fans

Lucy's first visit to a temple, and also her first fortune, which she needed some help translating

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