angus and the world travel blog

September 26th - November 2nd

After my triumphant return from New Zealand, the next month or so passed by without any major events. That's not to say fun wasn't had, just that there were no major trips or festivals to write about.

A lot of my free time was spent participating in various sports, namely, tennis, futsol-soccer, and swimming. As well as a lot of mid week sports we participated in the first ever 'Saga Super Sports Sunday' tournament. It was a tournament organized by Nick, Mark (another kiwi) and myself. Each team was comprised of at least six members, two of which had to be girls. Once everyone was assembled we took the gloves off and went at it, hammer and tong, in a tri-factor of sports; soccer, ultimate Frisbee and touch rugby. There was, as one would expect, a load of pre-tournament trash talk thrown about, I'll even put my hand up and say I was guilty of quite a bit, ...but then I was supremely confident in our team. We rolled under the name of 'Guerilla Warfare' and definitely had the best uniforms. A number of us had camo-face paint to accompany our camo visors, white t-shirts and, the ever compulsory, wrist sweat band (it's a sports tournament after all!). Our team started strong, going undefeated in soccer, we took a knock in the ultimate with a loss, but found our feet well and truly when the sport turned to touch rugby and took the debut title. At the end of the day though, no matter how much trash talk had been dished out, sports was definitely the winner and everyone had such a good time we're going to try and get a winter event off the ground.

Oh, and while I remember, mid-way through the tournament a bit of excitement ensued when we were treated to some quite literal "fireworks". A trial of smoke across the way turned from white to gray to thick black in a manner on minutes. We quickly became interested at this point and scrambled for a better view, putting the sports games on hold. It didn't take long to realize a house was going up in flames as we could see flames licking the sky about 20ft high! Seeing this a bunch of us raced across the sports field, and down the road to really get a front row seat of the spectacle. Upon arrival we witnessed a house well in the process of being destroyed and unfortunately unsaveable, but at the same time threatening to spit flames onto the nearby houses (much like NZ, all house here are made of wood). While it may sound rude us being there, I should assure you there were plenty of Japanese onlookers also taking a gander. They all had their cell phones out taking cheeky photos, so I took that as my cue to get my camera out (what can I say?... I've never seen a house go up before!). I'm happy to report that no one was injured, as it turned out the owners were away at the time. The fire brigade dominated proceedings, and were quick to get things under control, and prevented any spread of destruction.

Now, while we have been rather active over the past month, we have also made sure to save plenty of time for relaxing, and we have really started to get amongst the many wonderful hot springs on offer in our beautiful district. Along with Nick and Matt, a top guy from England living in a neighboring town, Karen and I have hit up a number of different onsens and I am now becoming some what of an onsen connoisseur. One "grand" onsen we tried delighted us when we found out it was actually a roof garden onsen at the top of a 9-story hotel. The hotel was "blinging" and the onsen no different. It was definitley the most deluxe onsen I have yet tried, and I'm not sure anything could quite top it for sheer "flashiness".

One special memory I have was after just having had a sauna, sitting in the cold tub looking out over the town below, lit up by lights at 9pm. It was really beautiful and gave me one of those moments when your heart kinda stops and you think "wow, I'm really living life in Japan right now aren't I?!...I'll think back on this when I'm in my sixties...probably even tell my kids about it one day..." Of course, there is a good chance this "heart stopping" feeling was purely induced by the cold, cold water after the ever so hot sauna!

Well aware that winter is flying towards us at a scary pace, Karen, myself, and a number of our friends, have started to make asserted efforts to set up routine events in the hope that we don't all hibernate come the freezing, blustery nights. Tan has got "Monday night movie night" up and running which is a great way for us to all catch up at the start of each week and break it up just that little bit more.

However, while the midweeks of winter can become hibernation affairs, if last year is anything to go by, the weekends get a bit more raucous with more drinking and carnage. In preparation of this Matt held a birthday party at his place that well and truly warrants the "carnage" label. Punch, drinking games, packed rooms full of people... it was the first "party" party that Karen and I have been to in Japan that felt like a flat-party from back home, awesome!

On our down time of living the high life of sex, drugs and rock'n'roll Karen and I passed one memorable evening with a "janken" competition. Janken is the Japanese version of rock, paper, scissors. We had a best of 100 matches and it finished 50-50 (I know!), which pushed it to an enthralling overtime in which Karen really came to play to took convincingly. She is now Janken Master until the next night of boredom takes over us.

Oh, I just thought of a cool day trip Karen and I went on. We hoped in the Beast and rode the expressway into Nagasaki-ken to a mountain town called Unzen. Unzen is at the base of an active volcano, Mount Unzen, and number of other mountains that offer some great hiking. Unzen is somewhat like Rotorua in NZ with a strong smell of sulphur overpowering everything else. The town had a very touristy feel to it, but in a nice way, and was littered with steam coming out of the sectioned off hot pools, mud pools and even coming up from drains and across the footpaths and roads. We took the car to the bottom of a cable car 10kms out of town and set off on our hike to the summit of the designated trail.

Mount Unzen itself is sectioned off and 'off-bounds' to the public due to its dangerous nature. In 1792 the collapse of one of its lava domes led to a tsunami being triggered that killed 15,000 people, Japan's worst volcanic disaster. More recently, 1991, an eruption killed 43 people, including three volcanologists. So, with all that in mind, once at the summit, I nervously stood over the rope and moved closer to the danger zone for a better picture location. The way I saw it, I'm faster than superman ... on crack... An eruption was not something that worried me terribly.

On the way down I had a mini-blow out and sent us down a path we hadn't actually come up. However, it all worked out for the best as instead of scaling a peak only to descend on the other side, we cut straight down and through a valley. It was very pretty and gave us a great opportunity to have a lazy Sunday run. We spent the next couple of hours walking around the town below and checking out their bubbling natural hot pools that were definitely not fit for bathing.

The one major festival I was looking forward to writing about was a blow out this year. 'Ton-ten-ton' is one of the three big "fighting festivals" in Japan. It attracts people from all over Japan to the pretty small town of Imari, where Karen works, to watch two teams parade the streets with massive chariot type things, each weighing 500kgs. When they meet they start up a drum, yell at each other and eventually clash and try to push over the other teams chariot. It's a great spectacle to watch and made all the more appealing by the certain level of danger that surrounds it. Drunk guys heaving everything they have into trying to topple another team's 500kg wooden chariot is a cause of some 30 plus, hospital required, injuries every year. There are also rumours of a guy who died a year or two back, the story changes depending who you talk to. However, this year took a very sad turn when the rumours turned to fact, and a young student, just 17 years old, died after he suffered major head injuries with the chariot falling on him. He was rushed to hospital but died on the way. We didn't know this until we had already arrived in Imari and were wondering the streets. As one might expect, the main event, the final battle on the side of a large river that doesn't end until both teams fall in and have to rescue their chariot from the water, was cancelled.

Now, not wanting to finish on a downer I will briefly talk about Halloween. I spent the afternoon of Halloween judging a junior high speech competition that was feircly contested by students and their ALTs from our local area. There were shocked faces when the winner was announced for the oldest kids, but I stand by our decision, and anyway who doesn't love a bit of controversy!

After the judging we had barely enough time to get home and put together Halloween costume's before racing to Rumi-chans. I went as a sort of injured army guy and am pretty confident I looked a tad scary...even if it wasn't typical "Halloween" scary and was more along the lines of "psycho killer" scary. We went trick-or-treating with a load of kids, taking them to a petrol station, pharmacy, and about four homes, all of which were places Rumi had previously arranged. After trick-or-treating we had a couple of piƱata's, then a kids ghost story, before finally moving inside for a yummy home cooked dinner.

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