Friday, April 30, 2010

Kobe beef

To celebrate our six year anniversary Yasu and I went all out and had Kobe beef for lunch! Actually, it was our first meal of the day (we didn’t want to spoil our appetites) so it was breakfast and it was the most expensive breakfast we ever had. But it was delicious!
We chose two different kinds of steak, sirloin and fillet. They were cooked medium rare right in front of us on a teppanyaki. Both steaks were absolutely scrumptious but my favorite was the fillet, so soft and tender. I ate very slowly because I wanted to taste every little bit of really expensive steak for as long as I could. In the end my steak was cold yet still yummy. The soup, salad, bread, grilled vegetables, garlic rice, dessert and coffee were really good too. And I learned that wasabi on steak is not a bad idea at all.

Six years of kisses

Six years ago today Yasu and I shared our first kiss and since then we’ve shared many, many more!
Happy anniversary, my love! I love you more than you can comprehend, and I’ll never get tired of kissing you!

Monday, April 19, 2010

Throwing balls

Yasu and I had never been bowling together. We’ve tried to, like about a year ago in Amagasaki where we told to wait an hour for our turn. When the hour was finally up, they told us to wait one more hour, even though only half of the lanes were in use. Fed up we left, our bowling urge unsatisfied. Today we tried to go bowling again, in Osaka this time and we got a lane immediately! We found ourselves some fancy velcro bowling shoes and colorful bowling balls and we were off to bowl the afternoon away.
Of course, I’ve bowled several times before in the Netherlands. So I already knew I suck at it, but most of the time I played people who also weren’t great at bowling, so I had a fair chance of winning. But Yasu is a true bowling star, in my opinion at least. He really seems to know what he’s doing, actually aims and frequently throws strikes and spares. Of course it was impossible to even try to beat him, and he easily won all three games.
I used to just throw the ball, swinging it way to far to the left and simply hope it would hit something instead of end up in the gutter again. But today my bowling champion taught me how to actually aim and throw properly and my gutter balls transformed into the occasional spare and even four strikes! It’s much more fun when you’re actually trying to do it properly instead of just getting rid of the ball expecting it to hit nothing. I want to go bowling again!

Sunday, April 18, 2010

How penguins are born

Even though I’ve never been busier with non-creative matters and I had not planned on creating anything this weekend, something happened in the eleventh monkey factory. I just felt an overwhelming urge to sew after not having touched a needle for two full weeks. I couldn’t and didn’t want to stop myself. I put my never ending non-creative business on hold and made these:

And I took pictures along the way to show you my work process, from sketch to softie.

It always starts with sketching a design. I look at a lot of pictures of the real animal and determine the most important features to include in my design, so that it can be easily recognized. Then, I cut out the shapes that make up my design and transfer them onto cardboard.

I have to imagine how I’ll sew everything together to determine which shapes need to be cut out. Each shape usually represents a different color of felt that I’m planning to use. Once I have all my cardboard shapes I hold them over felt and cut around them.

I spend a considerable amount of time choosing different colors of felt, buttons and thread to make different versions. Once I’m happy with the color combinations and I’ve cut out all the felt shapes, the fun can begin! I sew everything together, trying to remember to add an eleventh monkey label and loop for the cellphone strap.

Before I close the softie, I stuff it with lots of polyester filling. I use pointy things to stuff the more difficult areas like the wings in this case. I like my softies really fat so lots of polyfill is used. Then, finally I sew it closed, hide the knot, add the cellphone strap and spread the filling around evenly. And that’s how penguins are born!

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Dejima

Dejima was a man made fan-shaped island in the bay of Nagasaki. During Japan’s two centuries of isolation, the Dutch were the only foreigners allowed to do business with Japan, and Dejima was a Dutch trading post during that time. Dejima was constructed in 1636 and disappeared (by reclaiming the land around it) in the beginning of the 20th century. 
The City of Nagasaki has been trying to restore Dejima since 1951, by buying back privately-owned land, building authentic replicas of former structures and they even plan to dig canals around Dejima to turn it back into an island. It’s an interesting place with lots of references to the Netherlands, Dutch trades, Dutch culture and customs and of course many Dutch flags. I’m on Dutch overload this weekend!

Nagasaki

They have trams in Nagasaki!
They’re like a mixture between trains and buses, and they are fun!

Monday, April 12, 2010

More Huis ten Bosch fun

Besides feeling at home in the faux Dutch streets of Huis ten Bosch, there were a lot of other enjoyable things in the theme park. Like lots of cute plush animals on sale, and of course my favorite was the big Nijntje with a Dutch flag in her hands. Seems Yasu made had more fun with the Tuly twins, girls in Dutch national dress and tulips for heads.
Wooden shoes, like tulips quintessentially Dutch, could be found all over the park as well. We had a hard time finding a pair of clogs that fit.
Food in the park hasn’t been that great, except for that steak-burger of course, and unfortunately was all food was non-Dutch. They did sell Dutch cheese everywhere, way too expensive for me, but the free samples were the best! I kept returning for more! Haven’t had cheese that great for a long time.
We also enjoyed posing for funny pictures and the stormy weather.
We also enjoyed several paid attractions, which were free for us with our passports. The best ones were the mirror maze (it wasn’t mazy enough though) and the Grand Odyssey. In the Grand Odyssey they made us all movie stars! We all got a high resolution digital full-face scan (the machine malfunctioned twice on me, not embarrassing at all...), our faces were instantly digitized and then edited into the animated space movie. It was really fun to see ourselves ‘perform’ in a movie (even though I looked a little drunk), and my Japanese was awesome!
Last night we enjoyed a fireworks show in the center of the park. It was short, but timed to music which always makes it more impressive.
All in all, we had a great time at this park. I would recommend it to other Dutchies in Japan, just to feel like you’re back home. But I’d probably tell non-Dutchies to spend their money and time on Disney Sea instead.

Steak-burger

Tonight we’ve definitely had the best meal we’re going to have during this trip! A steak-burger (a Nagasaki specialty, apparently) at a cafe connected to our hotel. It was the only dinner item on their menu and it was amazing! Much better than those famous Sasebo burgers we ate earlier today.
It looks just like a burger, but as you probably already guessed the burger is actually a steak. There was a lot on the burger which made it hard to eat, but the steak was the juiciest and most tender steak I’ve ever eaten. I wish we had discovered this place earlier because the other meals we’ve had here were pretty disappointing. Oh well, at least we had it once!

The house of Nijntje

Everyone knows Miffy. But not everyone knows she’s Dutch or that her real name is Nijntje. Nijntje is like a nickname for little rabbit, so the name is very fitting, but I guess it’s too hard for non-Dutchies to pronounce so when she’s abroad they call her Miffy.
Nijntje is immensely popular here in Japan, and of course even more so in Huis ten Bosch. They’ve got a whole house dedicated to her. I like Nijntje and her friends, because the drawings are so simple yet brilliantly obvious. And Nijntje is Dutch, like me :).

Bears in a Dutch castle

In a reproduction of Nijenrode Castle we found the Teddy Bear Kingdom.
It’s basically several floors of teddy bears in different costumes, but it’s not as cool as it sounds. Most of the bears were dusty and dirty and the lighting was dark and depressing. The best bears were on the outside
The funhouse mirrors we found somewhere inside were the best part of the bear exhibition, but had nothing to do with bears. Oh well, we had fun.
It’s a good thing we got a very cheap passport for all attractions in Huis ten Bosch from the travel agency. Because most of them just aren’t worth the admission fee they charge.

Sasebo burger

Sasebo is famous for its burgers, so naturally Yasu wanted to have a Sasebo burger for lunch. And I’m always up for Western food, especially when it comes with fries and mayonnaise.
We had a regular burger and a steak burger, and they were good, but not exceptional. I wonder why these burgers are so famous. And they’re very proud of their burger, as was demonstrated by the huge replica in Sasebo train statin.

Kujuku islands

We went on a one-hour cruise on the Pearl Queen through the Kujukushima area. This area has the highest concentration of islands in Japan, and there are about 208 islands scattered across this area near Sasebo port. Countless round black rafts were also scattered around the area, they were hosting the pearl oysters used in the cultivation of pearls. The men in little boats seen near the rafts were probably harvesting the pearls.
Unfortunately, it was raining and overcast which made everything look a little sad and dreary. I’m sure the area would have been much more impressive and beautiful on a sunny day. But at least it’s always fun to go on a boat ride.

Hotel Amsterdam

We’re staying at Hotel Amsterdam right in the middle of the Huis ten Bosch theme park. On the outside the hotel looks like a street of Amsterdam houses on the inside it looks like an expensive European hotel.
Our 409 room is huge, I’ve haven’t measured it exactly, but I estimate that my Osaka apartment fits in here at least 3 times! We have two beds, two sinks, a bathroom with a tub, a second washroom with a special make-up area, a separate restroom, a huge closet, a mini-living room with a couch, a desk area and a really nice view of a Dutch town square. And in the morning we get to enjoy a buffet breakfast with both Western and Japanese breakfast options.
Also a bellboy (actually bellgirl) escorted us and our luggage upstairs, explained all the features of our room and she didn’t wait for a tip because we’re in Japan (where people don’t tip). What a wonderful temporary home!

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Domtoren

In Utrecht one can find the Domtoren, and in this theme park’s Utrecht one can find a replica of the Domtoren. We went all the way up to enjoy a nice panoramic view of the park.
The park is pretty big and there’s also a large area of private homes which are all built in the Dutch style. I wonder who can afford to live there. It was fun to see everything from above but seeing the rooftops of all the buildings did remind me this was all fake and just a stage set to make you believe you’re in the Netherlands.

Paleis Huis ten Bosch

The replica of the Queen’s residence in the Netherlands is what gave this theme park its name. So it’s one of the first things we checked out today. The front garden is filled with blooming tulips and even though the back garden lacks those colorful tulips it was still very interesting, especially those cool shrub tunnels lining the outside of the garden.
Inside the palace we discovered a 19 meter-high original mural by Dutch artist Rob Scholte. The theme is ‘anti-war and peace’ and it depicts a boy’s dream adventure. It is very impressive and you won’t find that in the original palace. We spent a really long time admiring the art on the walls around us.
The outside looks pretty much like the real palace, but Im sure the inside looks nothing like the real thing. I didn’t discover Queen Beatrix’s bedroom or DVD collection anywhere. All we saw were museum artifacts, which weren’t nearly as interesting as the things we could have discovered in the Queen’s fridge of bathroom cabinet.

Huis ten Bosch

We had to get up very early today because our flight to Nagasaki was at 7:10 a.m.! But the good thing about it was that the day was just starting when we arrived in Nagasaki. We took a ferry from the airport right into the Dutch theme park. And it really felt like the boat drove us from Japan to the Netherlands in less than an hour, amazing and weird at the same time.
The buildings look all really authentic, apparently they imported the bricks and other materials from the Netherlands to make it all look like that, and it’s pretty impressive. Walking through some streets I really feel like I am back home, maybe just around the corner from my parent’s house. And some parts of the park are partial reproductions of some big cities and really make me like I’m in Amsterdam or Utrecht.
Everything looks Dutch, but of course nobody speaks Dutch. Everything is in English and Japanese, except for some of the signs and street signs that are in Dutch. And I was really hoping to find some Dutch food or snacks in the restaurants, but alas they mainly sell Japanese food, or really overpriced Italian and French food. They do sell real Gouda cheese in the souvenir shops though!

Monday, April 05, 2010

Salsa

Yasu and I have been taking salsa lessons since February at a dance studio in Osaka. We’re not very good at it but we enjoy it, especially the salsa parties where we can just practice salsa all night. But like I blogged before, in April things change and sadly the new studio’s schedule has no more salsa classes on Sunday or Monday. But today we had one lucky last salsa lesson. It was lucky because it was a private lesson the teacher (Chizu) arranged for us so that we could use up our last lesson tickets. Isn’t that nice of her? The lesson was the best lesson we’d had thus far and we learned a lot. We also took some pictures of salsa patterns that we can’t do at all, but that looked interesting on camera.
Another thing that changed in April is that one of male teachers (Masafumi) and his crazy funny wife (Hitomi) are moving to Tokyo. Masafumi is an awesome salsa dancer and when I danced with him I almost believed I could salsa too, but basically he’s just an amazing leader and I just followed. Masafumi and Hitomi were the salsa party people and without them the future of salsa parties is uncertain as well :(. We met them one last time at the office tonight, I’m going to miss them but I wish them all the best in Tokyo. I’m also going to miss the salsa lessons, and I’m thankful for our private lesson today.

Cherry blossoms

It’s cherry blossom season in Japan again and people are going out for big cherry blossom viewing parties (hanami) everywhere. Today, Yasu and I had our own little picnic on a bench under the cherry blossoms (sakura) near the Japan mint in Osaka.
Usually, people gather in groups and eat, drink, chat and play games on a big blue tarp under the cherry trees. It’s a very popular activity and it gets really crowded. So many people reserve spots under the trees, by spreading a blue tarp and a sign with their name, as early as they can, some even the night before.
Most of the ‘reservations’ were made by companies and their most junior employees are usually sent to guard the spot until everyone else arrives to party at night. Some companies were going all out, preparing barbecues and lights, and we even saw Japanese style tables and seat cushions for more than 30 people. Amazing.

Sunday, April 04, 2010

A trip to the Netherlands in Japan

The postman just delivered a package from HIS travel agency because we’re going on a little trip next week! We’re going to a theme park called Huis ten Bosch near Nagasaki. The theme of the park is the Netherlands! And they say it’s a town where the culture and natural environment of the Netherlands come alive. And we're staying in Hotel Amsterdam.
I’ve known about this park for a long time but never felt compelled to go there, but Yasu has been dying for me to visit it. He says “It’s a mini-Netherlands in Japan, you are Dutch. You have to see it!” And now it’s kind of now or never... Besides the park has just had a renewal opening so it should be better than ever (heard it used to be a bit of a deserted and dead theme park). Well, I’m excited!