I love to laugh

Had a variety of songs stuck in my head over this last weekend, when I visited several friends in Shimabara.  The main one, however, was “We Love to Laugh,” from Mary Poppins.  A song which annoys many but which just makes me feel all warm and fuzzy inside and prone to laughing.  A most excellent weekend, overall.

I went to Shimabara for several reasons, the main of which to see friends, climb a mountain (…), and visit an onsen for the first time.  I (sort-of) accomplished all of these goals and had a rockin’, if exhausting, time doing it.  As always, it was nice to get off the island, but I felt particularly good getting back on Iki.  Leaving always seems to make me appreciate its quaint gentleness more than usual.

The first night I arrived Sabrina, my good friend from the first Newcomers Conference, and my new friend Tom went to eat dinner.  I tried raw horse.  No, I’m not kidding.  According to wikipedia, basashi became common because in the late 1800s, during the Satsuma Rebellion (a good time when the no-longer-Samurai Samurai were protesting the advent of westernization in Japan), the rebels attempted to Katsumoto-jo seige.  Because food and firewood was low, they started to eat horse meat.  Now it is considered a delicacy in many parts of Japan, and very popular around Katsumoto.  (Katsumoto, by the by, is a different prefecture from that which both Iki and Shimbara reside, but Shimabara is very close to Katsumoto.)

As Sabrina noted, it tasted a bit like bacon.

Ordered a great deal of reishuu (my favorite Japanese drink), and ended up having a silly old time of it.  But a good time.

Sabrina hides behind some magazine to try to escape Kats wandering camera!

Sabrina hides behind some magazine to try to escape Kats wandering camera!

Tom looked at me like this a lot over the weekend... mostly because I can raise my eyebrows way better than he can.  Hah!

Tom looked at me like this a lot over the weekend... mostly because I can raise my eyebrows way better than he can. Hah!

The next day, exceedingly tired, I nonetheless managed to drag my feet to one of the nearby mountains for the planned climb.  I’d hoped that the foliage would be brilliant golds and crimsons, but the higher altitude meant that those trees which turn colors had already mostly molted.  (Hah… trees… molting… that’s just silly.)  Still, it was an absolutely gorgeous drive up and I was rewarded with several amazing views of misty islands across the water, smoke rising up from the still active volcano, and what seemed like thousands of steps (but was probably only 100.  It did not compete with Emeishan in any way.) 

It was also not as cold that day, which was nice, too.  I’d expected to be all decked out in long johns and like, eighteen pairs of socks, but instead made do with one warm pair and my sweatshirt.  Good luck all around.

Ze yet active volcano.

Ze yet active volcano.

Despite no fall foliage, the mountain still provided b-e-a-utiful vistas.

Despite no fall foliage, the mountain still provided b-e-a-utiful vistas.

This is also when I taught Sabrina when and when not to use a flash.

This is also when I taught Sabrina when and when not to use a flash.

My attempt at being artsy.  Did it work?

My attempt at being artsy. Did it work?

And what did I learn from this whole “climbing mountain” experience?  Oh yes.  I am out of shape.  Well, kind-of.  I’m healthy.  But I have no endurance to speak of whatsoever.  Not a very effective way to continue my hiking addiction.  Still, it was probably a blessing that I couldn’t go very far as the sun went down not soon after I said “Hey kids, I’m pooped, lets go back,” and climbing down the very, very steep steps would have been as safe as playing with a big package of dynamite and matches.

I think I might go back some time in the future.  Spring might be a good time, though when I’ll have time with all my plans I have no idea…

I absolutely loved how mysterious this looked, dark and foreboding with an arc of trees overhead, ready to enclose you in their prickly embrace.

I absolutely loved how mysterious this looked, dark and foreboding with an arc of trees overhead, ready to enclose you in their prickly embrace.

So after our aborted attempt to crest the mountain, we drove down the winding roads (props to Sabrina for her excellent, if slightly frightening, driving skillz) back to Unzen, a town full of onsen.  Onsen, for those who don’t know, are Japanese hot springs.  Hot springs are considered very healthy, full of excellent healing minerals, and can also magically make you lose weight–according to many of the women who frequent them.  It was my first time going and though I was told not the most excellent of onsen, still a great experience. 

It also helps me along my way on that long forgotten list…

5.Relax in the Unzen onsen, which was recommended over the Beppu onsen, but I might just go to both.  I have this feeling I’m going to love onsen.

Just noticed that I’ve done a few more things which I’d forgotten to note.  I will also be getting more done over Winter break when I plan on visiting Kumamoto–and Aso-san!  SPECTACULAR SNOW-COVERED VOLCANOES!  YES!

…anyway.

Some of the activity inside the town of Unzen.

Some of the activity inside the town of Unzen.

Went back to Shimabara, watched the first thirty minutes of Hot Fuzz, and crashed.

The next day, much better rested, we did some tourist activities through Shimabara itself.  Shimabara is a lovely town, small farms with a small, tree-covered mountain, traditional architecture, and actual combinis (convenience stores)!  Even with water viewable in the distance, though not quite as often as I see water on Iki.  Then again, Shimabara is a bit… bigger… than Iki.  In any case, Shimabara is most well known for its castle, Shimabara-jo, so we visited that, though did not go inside.  Also checked out a “foot spa,” i.e. an onsen for my feet (very hot!!!).  And we travelled through “Samurai Street,” where several homes from the Samurai families who have lived in Shimabara for centuries were restored for the benefit of “dur?” westerners like me. 

Anyone birdwatchers out there know this type of bird?  Very good camo against the rocks, though.

Anyone birdwatchers out there know this type of bird? Very good camo against the rocks, though.

Rachel and Patrick, two of our intrepid companions from the Sasebo area, relaxing at the foot spa.

Rachel and Patrick, two of our intrepid companions from the Sasebo area, relaxing at the foot spa.

Shimabara-jo is very purdyful.

Shimabara-jo is very purdyful.

And, of course, I had to challenge the local demon.  I seem to remember something about a giant who could not be defeated… or something (probably some white guy, bastards) and then another person ate a whole bunch of somen?  I think I’m getting myths mixed up.  Regardless, there were a number of excellent statues in the park, and being the person I am, I had to become as ridiculous as possible regarding them. 

Hey, he was sexy.

I think its the teeth that pulled my heartstrings towards L-O-V-E.

I think its the teeth that pulled my heartstrings towards L-O-V-E.

At the end of the day, we returned back, watched Dr. Horrible (squeeeeeee!), played Munchkin (I “won” the first game, crashed into flaming flames of flaming doom for the second one), and then squealed my way out the door to sing karaoke.

The end!  Any questions?  Anyone else do something interesting last weekend?   Looking forward to Thanksgiving?  I know I am!

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