Beautiful/Fighting Float Festivals

May has been a fun month for festivals this year!

After having been cancelled due to COVID in both 2020 and 2021, everyone was very excited to welcome back the Mikurumayama and Kenkayama festivals this year. The first one was semi-cancelled due to rain (they brought out the floats for us to look at but couldn’t do the full parade), but the other one was held in full and the energy was through the roof.

I’ll start with the Mikurumayama Festival, which is held in downtown Takaoka, about 15 minutes from my apartment.

You can read about the Mikurumayama in a little bit of detail here and here, but the gist is that the first of these carts/floats was a gift from the founder/lord of Takaoka City to his townspeople about 400 years ago. Now, the main event of the festival is a parade of 7 such floats (one for each of the neighborhoods or districts of the city), each with a distinct golden figure on top.

Pictured above is the float with a rooster on top. The butterfly is the topper for a different float, but it hadn’t been placed atop the cart yet yet ( I guess, it’s too heavy to stay up there year-round). You can also see me standing in front of the bottom bit of one of the floats. The wheels are as tall as I am and decorated beautifully with gold leaf.

This past weekend was Kenkayama. It also features people-powered carts as the main event, but instead of focusing on the beauty, they actually charge down the street and ram them into each other. Each time, they do a bit of a skit where the “leaders” of each cart talk to each other and decide whether they have resolved their differences or if they need to go a few more rounds of fighting. Usually they continue in sets of 5 collisions, or they just say “one more!”

Eventually, the leaders walk (carefully) across the battering rams of their respective carts and shake hands, signifying the conclusion of the match and, I don’t know, world peace.

It’s also in Takaoka City, but in an area called Fushiki rather than downtown. I couldn’t find a good link with English information, but here‘s an ok one.

I realize I’m not going to get an Travel Blogger jobs with those photos, but it’s the best I could do. I took some videos, which you may have seen on my Instagram, but I can’t post them on this blog unless I upgrade to premium.

If you’re interested and have a bit of time on your hands, you can skip through this video of the festival a few years ago. You can see the leader having a conversation about going ONE MORE ROUND at about 29:20, and you can see them make up at about 29:50.

It’s so much fun to be there, and you can feel the ground shake when the carts collide. There’s also a hint of danger, as there have been injuries and a fatality or two during this festival in the past.

I had some yummy festival food (karaage and fried cheese at the first one, and fried soy sauce seaweed potatoes and yakisoba at the second), and I also got a few souvenirs (hand towels patterned with illustrations of the floats, a sweat band, a mask, and some stickers that the vendor threw in for free).

It was so much fun! I’m glad that things are finally starting to be un-cancelled, and I look forward to experiencing a bunch of new things this year.

Bring May Flowers

Sorry for the gap. I took about a month off from blogging. No reason but laziness, I suppose. I’ve been doing more of the same, which is to say that I’ve been looking at GORGEOUS flowers, eating DELICIOUS food, studying Japanese and reading for book club.

Let’s do the flowers first because I simply CAN’T WAIT to show them to you.

If we go in chronological order, we will actually be starting with April flowers. About 3 weeks ago, I went to see cherry blossoms around Toyama City and Kansui Park. If you follow me on Instagram, you’ve seen some of these already.

Those are so lovely, aren’t they? It’s no wonder Japan is so famous for them.

This was the first year that I’ve been here that they allowed hanami, so I went to three. One was in Toyama at noon, one was in Kojo Park before work, and one was in Kojo Park at midnight. They call it yozakura when you view the sakura at night. I definitely prefer to see them by sunlight, but it’s nice to do both, since you don’t have to choose.

I stuck with water for the pre-work party, but there was a good bit of amazake and one or two chuuhai consumed at the others. I very much recommend it.

Next, I give you the Tonami Tulip Fair photo dump.

It’s called the tulip fair, but they snuck a few other kinds of flowers in there. I love love love the wisteria (fuji…ah, that restaurant name + logo makes sense now)! Yes, the star and heart shapes are also made of flowers. I climbed a 76-stair tower to get that view.

I know I’ve been posting about 80% flowers recently…and that trend is likely to continue. The tulips have mostly started to wither away at this point, but we still have roses (bara) and hydrangeas (ajisai) to look forward to this summer. I should be able to get good pics of the hydrangeas by the tennis courts at Taikoyama Land at the end of the month, and I plan to visit the best rose garden in the prefecture for my birthday in early June.

Outside of flower-viewing, I’ve been going to restaurants and bars again recently. It feels good to re-enter the nightlife scene, albeit a bit later than some of my American friends and family.

That’s a Coke float at the American Oldies themed bar, Lollipop Lips. It’s close to my apartment, which is convenient, but it’s far from downtown. Usually, we hop around two or three locations on a Saturday night, but if we make the trek out here, it’s a commitment to just the one place. Best cause scenario would be going to some place downtown and hitting Lollipop Lips on the way home, but unfortunately it closes earlier than the other shops.

Next, these are food pics from the Okinawan restaurant near the station.

Left to right, that’s taco rice (as good as it sounds), Spam musubi (better than it sounds), and some kind of veggie tempura. I ordered it from the chef’s recommendation menu, so it’s probably seasonal.

Speaking of seasonal:

Firefly squid, or hotaruika, is a regional specialty that can be eaten in late spring. Pictured here is a popular serving style, boiled with sumiso, which is a sauce made from miso, vinegar, and sugar. It tastes like honey mustard to me. I’ve also had this squid raw, but I prefer boiled to sashimi.

I don’t know what the fish is, but it was from the seasonal menu. Red snapper or yellowtail, perhaps? This serving style of salty, crispy whole grilled fish (yakizakana) has become my favorite way to eat fish since coming here. I still enjoy fresh sushi, but there’s something incredibly satisfying about picking bones clean.

Last are the two most recent regional Frappuccino flavors at Starbucks in Japan. The one with yellow toppings (which, by the way, tasted like candy-coated cheerios) is banana na banana, and the one with multi-colored toppings (basically M&Ms) is chocobanana na banana. The names are quite a mouthful in a bad way, but the drinks themselves deserve more than a mouthful. The plain banana one was sweet but tempered by sour baby banana puree. The chocolate version was indulgent and delicious.

Unfortunately, I think they’ve already moved onto a new flavor (strawberry?), so I might have to try to recreate the banana frap in my blender. How hard can it be?

I think that’s all for now.

This weekend, I’m getting my COVID-19 booster, so I should have time to do another post while I’m in bed with the fever. I’m hoping to cover the Mikurumayama Festival, omiyage culture, and leftover food pics.

Then, sometime in the near future, I want to talk about all the English in advertising here (why?). And finally, in honor of Japan maybe opening its borders to tourists next month, I want to layout a detailed itinerary of what I would force my friends/family to do if they ever came to Toyama prefecture.

Look forward to it 🙂

Kusabi Sumiyaki

I always eat amazing food in Takaoka, but it’s usually from a set number of places. If I want fresh sushi, I go to Sushi Kuine; if I want delicious okonomiyaki or yakisoba, I go to Ruru; if I want craft beer, I go to Hop Tap Shop; if I want yakitori, I go to Jinkuro…and so on.

Last month, I was excited to see that a new restaurant had opened up SUPER close to my apartment. This in itself is significant because I live south of the station, and most of the good restaurants/bars/cafes, and especially the ones that are open late, are north of the station (the downtown area).

The place is called Kusabi Sumiyaki. Sumi (炭) is charcoal, so sumiyaki (炭焼き) refers to cooking with charcoal. I was expecting it to be a kind of Japanese barbecue shop, where I would overeat beef tongue and have to cook my own meal. This was not the case!

We walked into a very stylish little building. There was a private room upstairs, and the owner (who was also the sole chef) sent food up via a rope and pulley dumbwaiter. It sounds a little silly, but the contraption fit beautifully in the shop, which was all exposed beams and carefully crafted to appear rugged (while also being incredibly elegant).

The counter was decorated with a beautiful array of fruits and vegetables, and the menu was hand-written and announced that everything was “fresh today” and “organic” — not a word you hear very often in the countryside of Toyama Prefecture.

I was a little overwhelmed by the all-Japanese menu, and the owner could sense it. He came over and, in broken English plus hand gestures, explained to me a majority of the dishes. When I still seemed unsure, he offered to plan a course meal for me and Kazu, with his best recommendations. He asked if there were any dietary restrictions he needed to accommodate (this is common in the U.S., but pretty rare here in Takaoka) and set to work on one of the best meals that I’ve had since coming to Japan.

We were lucky that the restaurant wasn’t too busy on the night we went. The owner/chef chatted with us as he worked. He said he used to work as a dancer (yes, he showed off a few moves) and then as a bartender, but his true passion is cooking. He said he’s been working nonstop since last year, setting up his organic farm and getting the right licenses to open up shop. He said since opening on March 10th, he has been going to the farm and/or the market every morning, and he’s reworks the menu every afternoon to make sure he has and can showcase the freshest ingredients.

He brought the dishes one by one and told us a bit about each one as he did. The starter was a salad made with lettuce picked this morning from a local farm, with a nutty Caesar dressing that his friend makes. Next was an avocado, onion and salmon dip served with crackers. Kazu is allergic to ikura, so the owner put the fish eggs on the side for me.

He said he doesn’t want to do too much seafood at his shop because we’re so close to Toyama Bay and EVERYWHERE you go, you see fresh fish…but that, well, the fish IS fresh, so sometimes he can’t help but add it to the menu.

Next was fried sweet potato with a bit of salt on the side for dipping, followed by a “caprese salad” with mozzarella, strawberries and prosciutto. The potatoes were creamy on the inside and perfectly crisp on the outside. The “salad” was a surprise, and refreshingly light. About it, the chef said only “simple is best.”

After that, we were served an “omelet” which was in fact a soufflé. It had spinach and bacon and was cooked perfectly. Shortly afterwards, the final course arrived. It was a lovely pork tenderloin served with salt and mustard, on a bed of kale.

The owner asked if we had ever eaten kale before. I almost laughed at the question, since kale is a staple around where I grew up in East Cobb, but Kazu answered that, in fact, he had not.

He asked if we wanted dessert, but I was way too full and had to regretfully decline.

However, we ended up chatting and drinking for a while, during which time the master gifted us some vegetable chips which I devoured alongside my gin as if I had not been ready to burst just a half-hour before.

Next to the gourmet veggie chips, you can see two different kinds of sake (I don’t remember where the one with the orange label is from, but the white label is from Kyoto) and craft gin. From the picture, it’s hard to tell, but those sake cups were not small -the bottles were just really big.

All things considered, it was well worth the $98 price tag.

I hope you enjoyed my restaurant review lol.

In other news, my coworker and I are starting a podcast! It will be called Bilingual Bunpo. We have recorded a single episode, but we’re not live yet. I’ll keep you updated so that you can give it a listen (and a review!) once it’s out.

Thanks for reading, and I’ll have a new post for you next week.

Happy spring!

More Flowers

I know I just did a sakura photo dump two weeks ago, but these are CURRENT photos of peach and/or plum blossoms that I took two days ago. Sunday was the nicest day of 2022 so far, warm and sunny, so I stayed out allllll dayyyyy. I had been planning to go sing karaoke, but I couldn’t waste such nice weather, and then by the time the sun went down, I was too tired to do anything but go home.

And then a few more non-flower pics:

That’s a lantern that seems to be sponsored by a tobacco company, a picture of me in a New Realm Brewing Company cap (Kazu said I look like my mother), and the great Buddha of Takaoka.

Other than that, this weekend was spent eating delicious food, as usual (tempura, fried chicken, grilled scallops, crab salad, and more sushi), writing spring greeting cards, studying Japanese, watching Netflix, and playing more Pokemon Legends: Arceus.

It was the last night of one of our favorite barista/bartenders (she’s moving to a different prefecture soon), so we visited her cafe/bar one last time on Saturday night.

I’m looking forward to another couple of walks, since the cherry blossoms should start to bloom either next week or the weekend after that!

Some Stuff I Did Recently

First let’s get the food and drinks out of the way.

The red is a bar downtown with a German name where the bartender always follows the same pattern – he starts out pretty quiet, then he drinks a shot or two of iichiko on the rocks, and by the end of the night, he’s talking more than any of the guests and doesn’t let you get a word in, even to ask for the check.

The more well-lit place is more like a restaurant/cafe that happens to be open late and has a massive selection of nihonshuu (sake). I’m trying to become more familiar with sake, but (similar to my attempts at getting to know more about wine) I have mostly been drinking a lot and learning nothing. Still fun, though!

Last is the most recent picture, from Monday this week. It’s from a cute cafe that does a different tea blend everyday. When I went, it was a relaxing lavender tea. I also got a slice of white chocolate matcha gateau. It was near the station, so it was a perfect place to pass time waiting for my train.

It was the first time on a train in a while, since my company is still requesting that we avoid “unnecessary” travel. I figured a 12-minute journey to go pickup a tennis racket in Kosugi was reasonable. I got a used Head racket for about $20, so I’m pretty pleased.

Kosugi station has some cute stuff on the walls, so I snapped a pic or two as well. It’s a little cheesy, but they’ve painted an image of a train and put photos of real Toyama locations in the windows.

I believe the one on the left is Shinminato, and the one on the right must be the sun rising over Tateyama.

After my adventures on Sunday, I wanted a more relaxing Sunday with less walking, so I went to see the new (new ish) Batman movie. Nothing says “stationary” like a film with a 2-hour-55-minute run time. My ass was in that chair for a solid 3 hours and 10 minutes, including previews.

After that, I did a little shopping (sakura stationery…it’s pretty cute), got my weekly dose of sushi (the cheap place this time), and headed home to start reading my first novel in Japanese. Wish me luck!

Spring and Sakura

As some of you may know, cherry blossoms are very much A Thing in Japan. From the end of winter to early spring, you can find pink EVERYTHING as sakura season begins. In fact, the famous flowers won’t bloom but for 1-2 weeks in the beginning of April, but you can enjoy sakura-flavored treats and sakura-themed goods for a solid 3 months.

I’m sure there will be more to come, and I should save this post for later…but here we are.

The snacks and postcards are from this year, but the sakura themselves are from last year. It’s still a little chilly for them now.

You’re seeing sakura koshianman, which are like steamed buns with sakura filling, a convenience store roll cake, a bagel with sakura filling and a dried (maybe pickled?) flower on top, and a Starbucks latte (actually just a regular soy milk latte, but the cup is appropriate for this post) and sakura donut.

The postcards are self-explanatory, but I wanted to point out the one with a dog and a large dessert. That’s sakura mochi, which I think is probably the most popular sakura sweet around here. It’s a cherry blossom flavored rice cake with sweet red bean paste inside, wrapped with a cherry blossom leaf. The rice cake is very sweet, while the leaf is salty/sour and compliments it perfectly.

Finally, the last pictures are from spring in Takaoka last year. It’s bittersweet to see them, since I won’t be able to share them with any American friends and family, even for my third spring in Japan. At least I can share them via the internet!

I’m hoping that the park will be open for hanami (cherry blossom viewing party) this year. For the past two years, they haven’t permitted people to gather in large groups at the park, but usually it’s common to have a picnic under the cherry blossoms, with dango and sake.

In other news, I’ve started the next book for my book club. It’s The Changeling by Victor Lavalle. I haven’t read enough to give an opinion on it.

I thought about going to see the Batman movie today, but I decided against it after seeing that the run-time is 2 hours and 55 minutes. Best save that one for a rainy day. Instead, I took a long walk in the park to see plum blossoms, visited a new coffee shop (the place where I bought the sakura bagel), and got sushi.

Those are the ハナミズキ (known in America as flowering dogwoods) I see everyday on my way to work. They always bloom before the cherry blossoms.

An interesting tidbit about dogwoods in Japan:

In 1915, 40 dogwood saplings were donated by the U.S. to Japan in the 1912-15 exchange of flowers between Tokyo and Washington, D.C. While the cherry blossom trees survived the ensuing sour relations of these two countries and are the main feature of the National Cherry Blossom Festival, all dogwood trees in Tokyo died except the one that had been planted in an agriculture high school. In 2012, the United States sent 3,000 dogwood saplings to Japan to commemorate the 100-year anniversary of the Washington, D.C., cherry trees given as a gift to the U.S. by Japan in 1912.

Cornus floridaWikipedia.

That’s all for now! More next week.

Takaoka Textures

I don’t fancy myself much of a photographer, but I was thinking about how nice some of the designs around Takaoka are, and I thought it would be nice to show off a few of them (very few lol). It’s an old city, and some of the buildings are a little worse for wear, but there are some nice walkways and tile designs here and there.

Here’s what you see on the walls of Takaoka Station and walking down Suehiro Street:

The sea and mountains in the etching with the cars in the background is a view from Amaharashi beach with the Tateyama mountain range in the distance. It’s probably the most famous view in Takaoka City, and I recommend giving it a quick Google image search.

The red rectangle is on the ground in the underground walkway that I take on the way home from work every night. It points the way to Kojo Park, the big Buddha statue, the traditional streets of Yamachou and Kanayamachi, and a few other landmarks.

The flower design with five petals is the emblem of the Maeda clan and can be found all over the city. There are also two Takaoka tourism mascots, and one of them is a cartoon version of Maeda Toshinaga. You can see him on this vending machine, holding a fan and wearing a very tall hat:

This is a new design for a lot of the Takaoka vending machines, as of 2022. The art is of the local Mikurumayama Festival and the big Buddha statue. The red background is the side of the vending machine, and I’m not really sure who all those characters are.

It’s snowing again today, so I guess it’s still winter, but I’m planning a lot of pink pictures for when spring finally arrives. The cherry blossom imagery around here gets pretty intense.

That’s all for now 🙂

Iox Arosa

Like I said in last week’s post, I went skiing over the weekend!

We went by car (big thank you to my coworker, Yui), and it took a little under an hour. I can’t believe there’s a ski resort so close to where I’ve lived for 2 and a half years, and I only just now went skiing. And at the end of the season, so we don’t have time to go again!

It was my first time, so I hadn’t been sure what to expect.

I had to ask my friends and coworkers what I needed to buy and what I could rent. I ended up purchasing a Uniqlo Heat-Tech (this is not a sponsored post) undershirt and tights, waterproof gloves, thick knee-high socks, and a cheap pair of pink goggles with UV protection. I was able to rent a set of skis and ski boots and outerwear for less than $100, which I thought was pretty good for a full day of winter sports. We were out there from about 10:30 to 4:30!

As anyone who has gone skiing or snowboarding already knows, the first time is not the most graceful. I went in knowing this, and I was pleasantly surprised by my ability to get on and off the lift without faceplanting. In fact, I was pleasantly surprised by the entire first hour and a half.

We started, as most first-timers do, on the bunny slope. Despite my ski instructor (aka my friend and coworker, Austin — thanks for being so patient, buddy) making me “learn how to fall” immediately after clipping into the skis, I did not have to make use of the skill for the entire 10-ish times down beginner’s alley.

This is where the hubris settled in.

My ski group consisted of 4 people. Austin, who coached me through the first couple hours and is quite experienced; Wendy, who has been doing winter sports since she came to Japan about 4 years ago; Yui, who tricked me by saying “it’s only my second time snowboarding” but has in fact been skiing since she was a child; and me.

After the first hour, I was thinking that skiing isn’t, in fact, as hard as it’s cracked up to be. I was maneuvering on the lift better than half of my companions (I found out later that it’s much easier for skiers than for snowboarders…and I was the only skier in our group), and I was staying upright better than Yui.

So naturally, when the others suggested that we take the gondola up to the top of the mountain, I thought it was fine.

Somewhere along the way, I dropped a glove. Having not fallen for the first hour and a half, I thought this was also fine.

In fact, neither of those things was fine.

I noticed from the first drop that things were different up there at the top. The first descent was steep, and I picked up a lot of speed immediately. But the slope was facing in toward the mountain, so even if I couldn’t stop myself, I could see where my body would end up planted in the snow. I handled it, if I do say so myself, very well.

That was the last bit I handled well.

Never underestimate the power of the mind. Even though I was actually capable of making turns (it was still a green trail, so nothing too steep), there’s something truly terrifying about seeing the cliff edge that you will be sailing off of if you happen to fail. With that primal fear creeping in, I ended up rolling and sliding down the mountain like I was riding the tallest and coldest slip ‘n’ slide.

I tried to take it standing up, I really did, but whenever I got within 20 feet of the weak plastic fencing, my brain said dive! so I dove, straight down into powder snow. It didn’t hurt (much), but my ungloved hand was not having the best time as I dug all 10 fingers into the ice in an attempt to keep myself from snowballing.

I lost a ski (or both skis) approximately 17 times. Luckily, one of my crew was always there to help me set it right. Once, I lost a ski stick a few meters behind me and had to climb back for it. It wasn’t even on a steep incline, but I still imagined I was an ice climber for a minute or two as I stabbed my remaining pole into the ice and dragged my body across the ice, inch by inch. Very exciting. Very good for the upper arms.

The worst bit was where Austin remarked calmly, “looks like we missed the turn to stay on the green trail.”

It was only a blue, which apparently is the most popular type of trail, but it felt impossible. Looking down from the top of that next slope, I truly considered giving up and becoming a mountain woman. I could work the gondola. It would be fine.

But I pizza’d my way across, tumbling when I picked up too much speed, and crawling when I lost my will to rise again. I’m glad we went on a Monday, because there were so few people out and about. I can’t imagine how much of a disturbance I would’ve been if it had been crowded. As it was, there was plenty of space for the other riders to navigate around me as I lay single-gloved, catching my breath, ski gear sprawled across the snow.

I have a new appreciation for and understanding of the switchbacks on mountain roads. I lost count of how many times I went back and forth on that last hill, trying to avoid another wipeout.

Needless to say, when we finally made it back down to the bunny slope 45 minutes later, the relief was palpable. Even the slight annoyance of the two who had been waiting for almost half an hour —

“I called you twice…”

“I was a little busy!”

–was not enough to bring down my mood. The simple joy of being on flat terrain. The peace and safety of unfrozen ground. I lay still on the floor there for a solid ten minutes.

And then…I went up and did it again!

Yeah, despite everything, it was a lot of fun. 10/10, would recommend.

The second time around was not better. At all. It might’ve been worse, since I new it was scary from the get-go instead of waiting until I saw the first steep drop-off to be frightened for my life. Also, I missed the turn for the green trail again. It was good practice, I guess??

Anyway, now for the moment you’ve been waiting for; here are the pictures! None of me wiping out, unfortunately.

Yes, that’s a beer vending machine. No, you don’t need to scan your ID.

This was a late post, since I was too exhausted to make it after we got home on Monday evening, and I didn’t get around to it until today. I’ll still post this weekend, though, since I want to keep up my once week goal.

In addition to writing that post, I’m looking forward to a delicious dinner on Saturday night, another book club meeting on Sunday morning, and a few hours of playing Nintendo Switch (really enjoying Pokemon Legends: Arceus).

Can’t wait!

P.S. I did end up finding my glove! It was at the information desk.

P.S.S. Out of all of you who read my last blog post, only a single one of you commented your guess for the English translation of taimu izu manē (Thanks for playing, Tita Baby!). The answer is time is money. It’s, uh, already in English, just spelled differently.

A Quick Hello

I forgot to make a post this past weekend, but I promised myself a post a week, so I’ll just throw a quick update here.

Pictured above is my Valentine’s Day breakfast, featuring a taste test between two different instant drip brews from Starbucks. Next is my Valentine’s Day dinner, which consisted of spaghetti with meat sauce (yes the sauce was from a can, but I added extra meat and other seasonings), smoked salmon and cream cheese and capers on Ritz crackers, and garlic bread. The drink is a sweet strawberry wine from Hokkaido.

Next is a picture from Paper Mario: Origami King, which I am currently playing through in Japanese. It’s not easy, but I’m sure it’s good practice. The last line in the screenshot above says たいむ・いず・まねー, which can be written in romaji as taimu izu manē. Any guesses as to what that means?

The last two pictures are today’s lunch (bacon-wrapped asparagus) and the Valentine’s Day chocolate I’ve been slowly working through.

In other news, I’ve been staying in a lot recently because of the snow. That means I get plenty of time to read (I finished this month’s book club pick, The Dispossessed) and study and watch the Olympics on YouTube (since I didn’t watch it at all during the two weeks that people were actually competing). All the while, I’ve been enjoying delicious baked goods and bloody marys (thanks for the care package, Aunt Sherry and Uncle Manny).

Next week should bring a more exciting post, as my plan is to go skiing on Monday. Wish me luck!

Happy Valentine’s Day!

I had been looking forward to Valentine’s Day for a long time…not because of the actual holiday, but because I had a day off on 2/11. I think it’s Japan’s birthday or something. I asked all my students why it was a public holiday, and only one of them could answer. It’s possible that it was a language thing because they didn’t know how to say “foundation,” but I don’t think so.

Anyway, because I had a day off, I took the opportunity to go to a new cafe…twice!

This place just opened in December, and you can have a latte while looking at one of Takaoka’s biggest attractions – the giant Buddha statue. He is known as maybe the third largest buddha statue in Japan (the ones in Nara and Kamakura are well-established as the top 2, but there’s some discrepancy after that) and certainly the most handsome (or so I’ve heard…take a look at his face and ‘stache and make your own judgment).

The first time, I went with my coworker Austin and my friend Brandon. The second time, with both of my coworkers (Austin and Yui) and our friend Sora. The second time was yesterday, and we were allowed special access to the VIP room on the 2nd floor to thank us for being repeat customers. (Sometimes it helps to be a foreigner in Japan…memorable faces.)

The first picture is actually Italian Tomato Cafe, where I had a slice of chocolate banana pie for lunch on Thursday. Ignore that, and let’s get back to Amida.

You can see the adorable face of Buddha in the milk foam of my latte. I also had a little white chocolate pudding cake inspired by the shape of Buddha’s head and halo. It was really delicious, and you can see the raspberry filling in a later picture. It was so rich that I almost couldn’t finish it…but we sat chatting for over two hours, so I made it happen.

The bottom left picture is the view from the second floor of the cafe, and the remaining pictures are me and my coworkers killing time while we waited for Sora (she wasn’t late; we were just early).

Other than that, I spent some time at a few local restaurants, including an izakaya where I had the chef’s choice assortment of sashimi and a yakitori place where I had a bunch of grilled chicken and veggies on sticks. I sang karaoke for 2 hours yesterday and then came home and wrote 3 more letters.

Today, I’ll be playing Paper Mario all day and then cooking spaghetti and eating a bunch of chocolate at night.

Life’s pretty good!