Monday, April 13, 2015


Shanghai -- the city of the future! It has the largest population in China (take that, Beijing!) within a small amount of space, thus making the squished together high rise apartments necessary. It reminded me of a scene from Fifth Element (yes, I know it's modeled after New York... sue me).

Not a very good illustration of the architecture, but check out the smog! 

The Terracotta Warriors in Xi'an

Leaving Beijing behind us, we traveled onward to Xi'an to see the famous terracotta warriors. How they came to be is quite interesting -- The Emperor Qin Shi Huang finds out about a sorceress, Zi Yuan, who knows the secret of immortality. He sends General Ming Guo to bring her, but those two fall in love. The sorceress casts a spell on the Emperor in Sanskrit, but when he discovers the love affair between her and General Ming, he stabs her in anger. The sorceress knows better, and transforms his army into the Terracotta Army.

Okay, so maybe that was the plot of The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor.

The Great Wall and Ming Tombs

Day three of Beijing was a trip to the Mutianyu section of the Great Wall of China, the portion that served as the barrier to the north against those evil "minorities" (as our tour guides liked to call them) and also one of the best preserved and older (originally mid-6th century) sections. A fun fact is that you can get down using a toboggan, though our guide said it was closed due to an untimely death. There were also various warnings because apparently people literally die here.

On to the artistic photographic attempts of yours truly. 


So I know this blog is entitled, "Kelli in Japan", but for the next three entries you may as well add a subtitle that says, "Except For the Bit About China and Oh Yeah the Other Post About Korea" or perhaps something less clunky. Knowing you are mostly my relatives and friends, you are contractually obligated to enjoy my verbose description of my venture into the land of communism.  Heed the great words of Chairman Mao to his successor, relax and think to yourself, "With you in charge, I'm at ease."

My mom and I took a guided tour through three cities (Beijing, Xi'an, and Shanghai), and although it was probably not necessary we enjoyed having a sponsored, actual Chinese tour guide. She took us to only the most reputable and government sponsored tea houses and silk factories. It also helped having a native Mandarin speaker, but I am proud to say I now know how to say hello ("ni hao") and thank you.

To make this a little less long, I'll divide up the blog entries by city -- so enjoy your internet guided tour through Beijing!

Monday, December 29, 2014

Hachioji Ginkgo Festival

Whoa! I have not updated this thing since the search for the Rabbit Island in August. I apologize and in a plea for forgiveness I present to you a very small blog post for your bathroom reading pleasure.

I actually don't think I ever posted about The cherry blossoms in the spring, but the Japanese love that time of year -- a perfect excuse to come up with seasonal Starbucks lattes, drink lots of alcohol under the guise of viewing the cherry blossoms (called "hanami"), and possibly writing haikus if you're into that sort of thing.

This post is actually about the fall version of hanami, called "koyo". It's when tons of people travel all over to take pictures of the colorful foliage in the fall. Some places further away are thought to be better than others, but I chose to go more local and in November I ended up going to the Hachioji Ginkgo Festival. In this part of Tokyo the streets are lined with ginkgo trees that shed beautiful golden leaves ALL OVER THE PLACE. If it weren't for the thousands of people trampling them it'd be a pretty awesome ground covering goldness extravaganza. 

On to my photos!

Sunday, August 31, 2014

Okunoshima (大久野島)

I don't know if any of you have read Watership Down by Richard Adams (like I have, *sniff sniff*), but it's a great novel about a bunch of anthropomorphized rabbits who escape their home (which is in the process of being destroyed by mankind, how rude) to a new home. People, I've found that place and its name is Okunoshima -- if you want to get real literal it's Usagi Jima, or "Rabbit Island."

Please see the below videos as proof:

Yes, you just witnessed a woman caught in the middle of a dangerous stampede of cuteness and a man being engulfed by rabbits. Yes. Just let that sink in there for a moment. It's okay, I'll give you some time.

You back? Okay. I hope you can understand my immediate desire to visit an island where I could potentially be covered head to toe in rabbits. I'm not sure why I had become so obsessed with being overrun with rabbits since I've never really had a particular fondness for them, but mine is not to question why. To quote a passage from Watership Down:
"A thing can be true and still be desperate folly, Hazel."
Okunoshima is a small island located just north of Hiroshima, and despite its penchant for housing hundreds of adorable rabbits it actually has quite a dark history. You see, it used to be where the Japanese stored and produced chemical weapons (primarily mustard gas) during World War II. To hide its presence, Japanese officials wiped its existence off all Japanese maps and the people who worked there (mostly Korean forced laborers) often died due to exposure to the toxic fumes and harsh working conditions. The remnants of those buildings can still be seen today, but in popular Japanese fashion they've managed to downplay that part and up-play the rabbits!

How did so many feral rabbits get on this island, you ask? Two main theories abound:

1) They were released when the lab was destroyed after the war
2) They were released by visiting Japanese school children (why they would have bunnies to bring to a remote island, I'm not sure)

You're also not allowed to bring cats, dogs or even cars onto the island... the rabbits must survive! Choosing to focus on the positive of the Island, I made my way down to Tadanoumi Station from Tokyo, as images of thousands of rabbits attacking me with cuddles filled my mind. Never mind Tularemia ("Rabbit Fever"), I wanted to literally be overcome with rabbit love! Okay, maybe not literally. More of the figuratively kind.

Once at the station, I made a right to Tadanoumi Port and purchased one round trip ticket for approximately 620 yen. You can find the ferry schedule at this website: Ferry Schedule

A short fifteen minute ferry was all that was between me and my beloveds.

I made it to the port, took a picture of the sign...

... and hopped (ha, I crack myself up) on a free shuttle to the one and only hotel on the island. At the front desk I was able to purchase some rabbit food for 100 yen (I had neglected to bring carrots) and I made my way. It was rather late in the day and hot, so I thought maybe the relative apathy of those few rabbits I saw was due to that. Still hopeful and optimistic (ah, naiveté), I made my way along the trail.

I did run into quite a few rabbit warrens but they were mostly limited to five rabbits at a time. They were not particularly interested in my rabbit food but they also wouldn't say no to it. However, the rabbit stampede I had dreamed of never came to reality... I later read that winter was the best time to come because they're a little hungrier and less fed. Ah well.

I will use this time to start a new blogging idea of mine: the GoPro montage video. I know I'm behind the curve (cue the horrified gasps of 14 year old girls everywhere), and this video is literally and figuratively shaky at best, but you'll take what I give you and like it, damn it!

Yeah, clearly not the song I gave credit to in the video... I guess YouTube doesn't like it when you use copyrighted songs. They gave me a list of pre-approved songs and I chose from the list. I guess that'll do, Pig, that'll do.

 There were indecipherable signs about what to do with the rabbits. I guess they're not allowed to become vagabonds or smoke. Seems quite right if you ask me.

I found the mutant albino one!

I thought I'd get artsy fartsy and capture the juxtaposition of the rabbit with the old, abandoned poison gas factory but I think I missed that class.

Without the rabbit this time.

 Moments before the thing tore off my hand.

The abandoned, overrun poison gas storage facilities reminded me a lot of Iwo Jima. It's quite interesting to me how something so significant in Japan's history is essentially hidden.

What blog post about rabbits could be complete without the famous scene from Monty Python?! NONE. None post!!

To get there from Tokyo:
1) Take the Shinkansen to Fukuyama, then switch to the Shinkansen to Mihara Station
2) From Mihara Station, jump on the local to Tadanoumi Station
3) Take an immediate right and follow the road until you see a bridge, take a right on the road prior to the bridge. You'll see the Tadanoumi Port building. From there purchase a 620 yen ticket (blue button) for a round trip.

Give yourself about five hours transit time.

Sunday, August 24, 2014

Climbing Mt Fuji

To climb Mt Fuji... apparently one of those things that someone who lives in Japan just has to do. Me? I'm not much of a mountaineer/hiker, unless you count a strange fascination with Mt Everest as a criteria. Perhaps not. Regardless, I had to mark it off my Japan list now since I would not be able to climb it again -- officially, the climbing season for Mt Fuji is during the summer months because otherwise you're dealing with life threatening gale force winds and plummeting temperatures.

Mt Fuji is Japan's highest mountain, weighing in at 12,389 feet (for comparison, Mt Everest is 29,029 feet) and has vast cultural importance in Japanese art. Up until now, my experience with Fuji included all of the following:

1) Admiring from afar
2) Admiring it in art or cute Fuji-san cookies
3) Flying over it in a Growler
4) Flying next to it in a helicopter

The short 15 minute flight, if that, to get to the summit may have colored my view on the ease a bit. As far as I know, I don't possess the power of flight so that meant I would have to join the common folk and climb that thing.

I've heard that Mt Fuji "isn't that bad", but I suspect that this is stated by people who wear American flag print boxers (fact -- I've seen them) or a lady I saw wearing work slacks and a fashion scarf. Others, more worldly in the way of climbing, alerted me to the fact that I should probably wear actual hiking boots and maybe buy those trekking poles. Internet sleuthing also alerted me to the fact that things cost at least four times more in the Mt Fuji universe than they do in the regular Tokyo universe (100 yen coffee now costs 400 yen).

Seeing as I owned nothing related to climbing (refer to my first paragraph), I promptly purchased two trekking poles, a pair of expensive hiking boots, canned oxygen, a weird Japanese jelly drink, a sun hat (I saw a lot of people in clinic who had massive sunburns) and rented a few sherpas.

Traditionally, you are supposed to climb Mt Fuji overnight to witness the sunrise (please google for lots of awesome photos), but since I was alone I figured climbing during the day was acceptable.

Thus prepared, I parked at Fuji-hokuroku parking lot, hitched a bus, and started my journey to the summit along one of Fuji's four most popular trails, the Yoshida Trail. The bus actually helps you cheat a little since I was promptly taken to the 5th station, where I posed for this photo. My passive expression makes it seem like this was the "after" photo.

Despite owning a DSLR, I decided I didn't want to take on the burden so I used my iPhone for about three total pics. Don't worry, I'll ruthlessly steal from other people's photos to give you an idea of the suffering I endured or I'll just describe it in cliche agony for your own reading pleasure.

The first portion of the hike is incredibly easy... imagine a lovely stroll through the neighborhood with your significant other after a particularly filling dinner of pesto and red wine. Within twenty minutes I made it to sixth station. Piece of cake, I thought to myself, allowing only a brief moment of doubt as I looked up and saw the endless switchback trails to the top obscured in clouds. No matter.

The route between the sixth and seventh station was a bit harder. Now I was dealing with a likely 30 percent incline in not-so-solid footing of volcanic rock. However, my trekking poles did me well and I passed by everyone with ease. The landscape was becoming more volcanic with each step -- the green forest was slowly transforming into a uni-colored vision of gray rocks.

I made it to the seventh station by about an hour, impressed with my speed and thinking rather arrogantly that I would probably summit by three hours if I was slow (there are nine total stations). For those not in the know, the average summit time is about six hours -- it's approximately 6km. I'm too lazy to convert that into miles.

After the seventh station I realized a sad fact: the rock climbing portion had begun. Though I was not required to utilize my non-existent belaying skills, I was required to crawl my way up a path randomly decided amidst the hardened volcanic lava from years past. Maybe it was getting a little harder, I thought. I looked upward to see a rather depressing amount of switchbacks still leading into a layer of clouds. Ughhh, I groaned silently.

Around the eighth station I used my portable oxygen bottles. Though I think the altitude sickness I experienced was mild at best, I mostly wanted the oxygen to gain some of my breath back. The effort it took to walk about ten steps seemed to raise my heart rate up to about 180 beats per minute. Oh how I wish I had a portable SpO2 monitor!

The picture below is some weird sign that makes it seem like you've climbed to the summit, but a quick look upward reminds you that no... you've only yet begun your journey. Sucker. My forced smile is evidence.

Eventually I made it to the 8.5 station. Why is it the 8.5 station? My only guess is that it's used to demoralize you because you're told it's only 900 meters left to the top... but this is a magical 900 meters that somehow quadruples to a 3600 meters. I was also beginning to get slowed down by tour group hikers, and as I began to imitate a hunched over 90 year old Japanese woman by walking approximately one step per 30 seconds, I thought hard about quitting. The loud boom of thunder next to me from a gathering storm further turned my mind against me. The only problem was that I had nowhere to go except up. Literally. The way back down was treacherous. It recalled memories of an Officer and a Gentleman.

So I took it one step at a time and eventually I made it to the summit in about 3 hours and 45 minutes!

Just as I was sitting down to enjoy some pretzels, a cloud of snow, wind and pain was wrought upon us. My fingers were already going numb so I made the way back down as quickly as I possibly could. I wanted to go to the "real" tallest point, but the pain of the wind, sleet and limited visibility was too much.

An interesting note about the way down... it was literally just as one would imagine climbing up Olympus Mons on Mars would be. The redness, the volcanic stones, the pain and torture of just wanting to get home... all things that remind me of Mars (not that I've been there). To clarify, the way down is different from the way up.

I made it back down, with a total trip time of a little under 6 hours. Granted, I did not purchase the tourist gimmick of the hiking stick to get stamped at each station and because the weather was bad at the top I literally could not see anything (also, losing my fingers to frostbite wasn't an acceptable outcome), so these things may have contributed. Otherwise, as the old saying goes, "He who climbs Mt Fuji once is a wise man, he who climbs twice is a fool."