Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Hiroshima (Part 2)...

The girls at Hiroshima Castle

Okonomiyaki & beer... perfect combo!
Although there is a lot of history in Hiroshima, it also has delicious food!  We got okonomiyaki (pronounced O-Ko-no-MEE-ake).  It's a layered Japanese-style pancake made differently in each region of Japan.  There are so many different variations to this dish, it's reflected in it's name; "okonomi" means "to one's liking".  The dish is available all over Japan, but it is most popular in the west, particularly in Hiroshima and Osaka.  (guess Osaka will be my next trip)  Mine went a little like this... pancake layer, soba (buck-wheat) noodles, pork/shrimp/corn/garlic/cabbage mixed together, egg, okonomiyaki sauce, and finally topped off with green onions.  Trust me, I was a little skeptical at first, but it was surprisingly good!  I was a little too scared to try the squid, but I probably should have since it was so fresh.  Oh well, guess I need to make another trip back.  We enjoyed our okonomiyaki and beer picnic style sitting along the river listening to our own private concert.  There were some local Japanese teenagers on the other side playing the guitar and singing "Stand By Me" (yes - in English).  Kinda cool!

You can either make it yourself on your "skillet table" or
the chef willmake it for you.  Since it was my first time, we opted for
the chef to make it.  He's putting fresh slices of pork on it.

Locals rocking out to "Stand By Me"
Seafood pasta (fresh shrimp, clams, squid and scallops)
in white wine sauce... DELICIOUS!
For dinner we found this amazing little Italian cafe, Ristorante Mario, overlooking the Peace Park.  The owner was from Naples and the food was definitely authentic.  Probably the best Italian food I've had since I've been over in Japan!  The service even reminded me of Italy... slow and paced out so you can enjoy wine and company.  So that's exactly what we did; ate, drank and talked for a few hours!  (we definitely closed the place down)  Or as Kayla says, "we nurse our patients, not our drinks"!  I would recommend this restaurant to anyone who visits Hiroshima!

Standing in front of Ristorante Mario... the best
restaurant EVER!

I love this picture!  I have some mad skills taking jumping pics  :)
Hiroshima Castle in the background at night.

Monday, June 20, 2011

Peace in Hiroshima... (Part 1)

Amanda, Kayla Horton, Christina Collazo, and I ventured down to meet up with Christina Chirico in Hiroshima for the weekend. It's about a 4 hour bullet train ride south-west from Tokyo to Hiroshima in the Chugoku Region.  Visiting this city was definitely more of a history lesson than anything.  I would recommend the trip to anyone visiting Japan!  It was an erie feeling walking around in a beautiful city full of open parks, rivers and monuments and knowing the destruction and devastation this city has gone through.
In front of the Aioi Bridge and the A-bomb Dome.

When the first atomic bomb, named the "Little Boy" was dropped over Hiroshima by the Enola Gay on August 6, 1945, at 8:15am, the city became known worldwide for this unenviable distinction.  The destructive power of the bomb was tremendous and obliterated near everything within a two kilometer radius, including an estimated 80,000 people.  About 69% of the buildings were destroyed and 7% were severely damaged.  The A-bomb Dome is what remains of the former Prefectural Industrial Promotion Hall, left exactly how it lay immediately after the bomb.  Right next to the Dome is the T-shaped Aioi Bridge, which was the aiming point for the atomic bomb.
Cranes representing prayers for peace for a 2yo Japanese girl, Sadako Sasaki,
who later developed leukemia from the radiation and died and the
age of 12.  In a hope for peace on Earth, she folded a thousand
origami paper cranes before her death.
"This is our cry.  This is our Prayer.  Peace on Earth."
People visiting from all over the world
fold a thousand paper cranes and turn them
into masterpieces displayed in the park.
After the war, great efforts were taken to rebuild the city.  Predictions that the city would be uninhabitable proved false.  Britain over took the city shortly after for a little bit, so there is a European influence on some of the buildings and parks that were rebuilt, including the widest streets in a larger city in Japan.  Destroyed monuments of Hiroshima's historical heritage, like Hiroshima Castle and Shukkeien Garden, were reconstructed.  In the center of the city a large park was built and given a name that would reflect the aspirations of the re-born city:  Peace Memorial Park.

The Cenotaph with the names of the victims in a tomb.
There is a reflection pond right behind it with an eternal
flame for hope burning in the middle of the pond.
Hiroshima's Peace Memorial Park is one of the most prominent features of the city.  Before the bomb, the park was the political and commercial heart of the city.  Now it's a beautiful, open park with the Peace Museum and other monuments/memorials.  Between the Museum and the A-Bomb Dome is the Cenotaph for the A-Bomb Victims. The Cenotaph is an arched tomb for those who died because of the bomb, either because of the initial blast or exposure to radiation. Below the arch is a stone chest holding a register of these names, of which there are over 220,000.

A monument where "time stood still" at 8:15am on
August 6, 1945.
Amanda, Christina, Kayla, Christina, and I in front of the A-bomb Dome.
The A-bomb Dome at night.  There is a gate surrounding it
to preserve the building in the exact way it laid after the bomb.

This memorial was "Peace" written in every language!
Reflection pond in the middle of the Peace Park.
Hopefully, by now you can see the overwhelming
theme taking over the city... PEACE!  Thousands
of origami paper cranes from all over the world!

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Fuji Oshino Kogen Trail Race 21K

Fuji Oshino Kogen Trail Race
What was I thinking when I signed up to run 14 miles in the mountains???  I have no idea!  But... after all is said and done, I'm very glad I did and it was a rare experience!
The mountain side we ran through

Kim Gerber and I headed up to Oshino, Japan, a little village surrounding Mt Fuji and it's several lakes.  We took a bus up there and was dropped off at the race site which was in the middle of nowhere.  Just mountains and little Japanese shacks surrounding us.  After checking in and checking out the race expo (it's exactly the same as race expos in the States), we walked to our hotel, which was supposed to be a 5 minute walk.  Not quite!  We quickly learned we were in rural Japan, where most signs are in kanji, including hotel signs.  Oh yea, and did I mention, it was hard enough to tell the difference between the guest houses (hotels) and the regular houses.  Needless to say, we finally walked into a house we figured might be our hotel and these two sweet little ladies greeted us, sat us into the tatami room, and brought us coffee and snacks; still not confirming we were at the right place or not.  I guess there was a little something called "a major language barrier" there!
Rice-patties in Japan countryside

Once we finally figured out we were in the right place, we went out back to walk around for a bit before it was time for dinner.  We stumbled upon the quaint little town of Oshino Hakkai, Japan, that was just out the back door of our guest house.  It is known for it's eight ponds surrounding Mt Fuji (yes, this different from the 5 lakes).  The town was extremely cute and had little food stands that we had to try sweet potato and egg fries at.  They weren't what we were expecting, but good none the less!  After walking around for a while, we headed back to the guest house to have dinner.  It turned out that everyone staying there were running the race the next morning.  We all enjoyed the homemade dinner by the two Japanese owners, sitting at communal tables on tatami mats.  What a unique pre-race experience!  Oh, and did I mention, the dinner was a huge spread of Japanese food of shrimp tempura, soba noodles, salad, a pork stir-fry kind of thing that cooked over our own flame, tofu, rice and Japanese soup.  Delicious!

Kim and I at the start line
RACE DAY!  Perfect running weather on a crisp Sunday morning!  The course was awesome but a lot more elevation changes than I was expecting.  It included some parts where we had to use ropes to either go up or down and some where we had to stop and wait to go single-file because it was so steep.  After the 14 miles of running/hiking, my whole body was sore, but it was completely worth it for the views!  We had some amazing views of Mt. Fuji and the town of Oshino on one side and Lake Yamanakako on the other side.  The pictures don't do it justice!

Usually after races, the runners are given healthy energy packed food and water or beer.  But, here, we were given a bag of soba noodles (fresh buck-wheat noodles) and soup.  Kinda weird, but an interesting experience.  So who's up for the run next year with me???
Behind our guesthouse

Kim and I exploring the little mountain town

I love this picture... a farmer with tractor out in his field!

The owners of the guesthouse making homemade
shrimp tempura and the stone stir-fry dish
awesome spread of homemade food!

How cool to enjoy a pre-race dinner with a bunch of
Japanese runners sitting on tatami mats!
race-expo... looks the same as in the States
I'll give you one guess...
pre or post race???
Kim and I having to stop and wait to go single file up
the steep incline ahead
Are you kidding me!!  We have to go up that!?!?
Not sure if you can see the people at the top,
but we had to climb up and over a ton of steep rocks!
And we weren't even at the top yet!!!  ahhh!
Kim making her way down part of the course
Amazing view of Lake Yamanakako from the top.
Too bad the visibility wasn't the best.
The last few miles of the race was through the countryside
I didn't sign up for stairs!
WE FINISHED!!!  14 miles of running and hiking later!