Wednesday, 18 August 2010

Hachijojima and Disneyland!

Hey people!

So, it's been a long time since I wrote, and I apologise. It's currently summer holidays (or "vacation" as I have taken to saying. Being around people from all over the world really makes you aware of your own dialect, and also makes you unwittingly pick up American words very quickly) - and we Interac employees get five weeks off! This is more than any other person in Japan, including other English teachers. JET employees have to go in through the summer, even though there are no classes, which sounds wonderfully boring, while private language teachers still work right through, with perhaps a week to 10 days off at most. So, everybody hates me for the crazy amount of free time I have.

So, how am I spending this time? Well, for the first week, I spent every day sleeping until around 3pm and then staying out until 4 or 5am. Classy, I know, but when your friends work until 8pm (at, for example, AEON) and it's 35 degrees outside (with 99% humidity) it's easier to adjust my sleeping pattern to this. When the heat is at its highest point, I can only spend a few minutes outside without ducking into the nearest air-conditioned shop or cafe. If I do wake up, I will hide in my apartment or Starbucks, so I figured I might as well sleep through the heat!

After doing this for a while, I had to readjust my sleeping patterns for my awesome trip (with Jenny and Saba) to... Hachijojima! Where is that, I hear you cry? Well, it is a small island - you can see for yourself! It took 45 minutes to fly from Tokyo (Haneda) airport... barely had the seatbelt sign switched off, we ordered green tea... it arrived and we were landing again.

Hachijo-jima is where prisoners were originally transported from Japan (like their Australia). The island is full of walls made up of very round stones which the prisoners had to transport - one stone entitled them to one rice ball. These rocks look very heavy, too! It is also the island where Battle Royale (Japanese school-kid gorefest) was filmed.

When we arrived, we were greeted by our host for the duration of our five-day stay, Keiko-san. We were to stay at her home, otherwise known as Galaxy Guest House. As well as being the cheapest place to stay on the island (by a mile!), the experience was probably much more interesting than staying at a hotel.

Keiko-san lives with her two cats in a beautiful open-plan house, the likes of which I had never seen in Japan. The house is partly up one of the two mountains that make up the majority of the island, down a bumpy jungle track which would try even the toughest of tyres. The deck overlooks the sea, and at night time gives way to beautiful clear views of the milky way and a million stars, from which I spied five shooting stars on the first night. She picked us up from the airport and drove us to the rent-a-car place. That evening, she offered to drive us to a nearby restaurant so that we could drink, and stayed with us and chatted while we tried Hawaii-inspired cocktails and food.

We spent five wonderful days exploring the island in our rental car, and eating. Our first evening was spent in an outdoor onsen overlooking the sea, where we could watch the sunset amidst the naked old ladies, our skin turning a strange yellow colour from whatever was in the water, hungry mosquitoes coming to dance on our skin. Picturesque. To be honest, most of the holiday felt as if we were passing time until we could justify eating again. It's a small island, which you can drive around in about an hour, maybe two. With only a limited number of restaurants, of course we had to try as many as possible! As well as traditional Japanese food, you can find a lot of Western food, including a French restaurant with a lovely set menu. Keiko-san provided us with a map of the island, on which she had noted all her recommended eating places.

I bought a snorkelling mask and spent a lot of time disappearing, while Saba and Jenny stayed in safer waters. Japan is all about containing the fun, so you were only "allowed" to swim in certain marked off areas, separated from the main sea with rocks and flags. To be fair, I felt how strong the waves actually were, and it was probably for the best, as I'm not a strong swimmer, and I didn't feel as safe as I did the last time I snorkelled (my ex, who was also a lifeguard once, had been with me every time until now). Sokodo Bay had the best sea life - coral reefs, loads of fish, and I saw a puffer fish and an eel while snorkelling alone. I did get my feet cut up on rocks, though, as some of the coral was quite close to the surface - and once, when Saba was with me, we tried to get to shore by some steps. What we didn't realise was that the floor was covered in slippery rocks, very close to the surface, making swimming and walking equally difficult. Strong waves were crashing against the steps as we tried to get to shore, pulling us back and forth, and my feet kept slipping between rocks while the rest of me was pulled back by waves... ouch! Bleeding feet... not fun.

On the last day I paid for a snorkelling trip, which turned out to be a 4500 yen return to the same spot. For my money, though, I got to rent full equipment (wet suit, fins, mask and snorkel) - including a mask that didn't leak or steam up! I couldn't say it was worth the money, as I could have gone there for free, but this time I saw a turtle, so I was very happy. Admittedly, it was only for about three seconds, before it disappeared behind some rocks, never to be seen again!

It is a beautiful little island, although its possibilities were exhausted after five days. We swam, we snorkelled, we found waterfalls and glow-in-the-dark mushrooms (for which the island is famous), visited the history museum and traditional house, and ate a lot. It is a tropical island, meaning that it rains a lot more than it does on the mainland. However, be warned, the sand is black as it is a volcanic island, so if you had images of white sand beaches it is not the place for you. Otherwise, a lot of the restaurants and bars seem to model themselves on Hawaii, so expect to hear Hawaiian music and experience "island rules" driving. The pace of life here is much more relaxed than mainland Japan, in fact I think a common thing to say to one another here is something along the lines of "take it easy". Keiko-san kept commenting on how active and crazy we were, when we pretty much did nothing!

One of the walls, made by the rocks carried by prisoners on the island.

A traditional Hachijo house.

"The best shaved ice in the world"!

Hachijo-Kojima, I think (or small Hachijo island)... home to only goats, now.

Waterfall goodness!

...Gecko! These friendly little fellows can be found all over the island, including in the toilet. I nearly had a heart attack a couple of times when going for a midnight toilet visit, as one dropped from the ceiling onto the floor in front of me, and another time appeared from the toilet roll holder! Cute, though....

If you would like to know how to get to Hachijojima, you can fly with ANA airlines - or you can take a ferry, which takes ten hours! As for where to stay, I of course recommend Keiko-san's Galaxy Guest House - - for 4000 yen a night, it is a beautiful experience. However, if you prefer hotels, there are plenty on the island. More info on or !

So, after five relaxing days on Hachijojima, we flew back to Tokyo. The bustle of the world's busiest city was certainly a shock to the system, and sleeping in a capsule hotel after having a big house to ourselves was quite a change! If you are wondering what it feels like to sleep in a capsule, it isn't that bad. Perhaps ours were bigger than the usual, but there is room to sit up inside, as well as a TV and radio for you to play with. It feels quite safe, like being in a coccoon. I realise that this may not sound quite as appealing to claustrophobics. Also, the free lockers are pretty tiny (although I managed to shove my bag into mine) and the showers are onsen-style, communal ones. This is weird at first, but trust me, once you've been naked with your friends in a big, hot bath a few times, it's nothing.

We spent the evening with some other ALTs from training, at an izakaya and then at karaoke. It was an expensive, but fun, night. The next day we went to Disneyland!

Well, what can I say? It's Disneyland! I haven't been to the ones in the USA, but I went to EuroDisney in Paris when I was 11 and again when I was 14, and it's pretty similar, although with more "lands". Main Street USA is, instead, the World Bazaar (or "shop ville" as I think of it), and then we have Adventureland, Westernland, Critter Country (which has one ride as far as I remember, Splash Mountain - based on an old, racist and now banned and impossible to find Disney film called Zip-a-dee-doo-dah, from which that one song still remains), Fantasyland, ToonTown and Futureland. Some rides have queues of 2 hours, so even if you get there from start to finish, you can't expect to experience too many rides. Saying that, some good rides like It's a Small World and Star Tours only have 10-20 minute lines, but all the really popular ones (Space Mountain, Big Thunder Mountain, Splash Mountain... perhaps any ride with "mountain" in the title) require a long wait. By 10am all the fast pass tickets had sold out, somehow.

Some pictures from the night-time parade! Once we actually found a spot away from shouting guards who wouldn't let us stand still anywhere during the parades...

We got back to the hotel around 11pm... and then, I went out again, because a friend who has moved from Hamamatsu was in Tokyo with his friend and they wanted to do karaoke. I was there until 5am, before waking up at 8am to see Spencer for the last time before he went back to the States. Tired!! But fun! Now I have a week and a half left to chill out, and corrupt the new Interac trainees, who are staying 5 minutes from my apartment...!

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