Fuji-Q Highland 富士急ハイランド

Last weekend along with couple friends  l headed up to Fuji-Q Highland 富士急ハイランド for some roller-coaster enjoy.

https://www.fujiq.jp/en/attraction/

Situated at the base of Mount Fuji, Fuji Q is Japan’s premier roller coaster theme park sporting several of the world’s most intense rides. The park boasts dozens of rides and attractions but there are four coasters which the park is round for, several having held Guinness world records at their release, each delivering a unique costing experience.

Fujiyama @ Fuji-Q Highland

Fujiyama 高飛車 : 79 metres tall, 130 km/h, it was once the world’s tallest roller coaster. I fondly named it the rough bang out ❤


Dodonpa ドドンパ: 52 metres tall, 172 km/h, it was once the world’s fastest roller coaster but still has the worlds highest acceleration from 0 mph to its maximum speed, 172 km/h, in 1.8 seconds! Reaching up to 2.7 G’s, it’s pretty much like being shot from a giant cannon!


Eejanaika ええじゃないか: 76 metres tall, 126 km/h, is only the second “4th Dimension roller coaster” ever built, it is the roller coaster with the most inversions in the world and can rotate 360 degrees forward or backward in a controlled spin.

Takabisha 高飛車: The steepest coaster in the world, it contains a 121° freefall, as well as seven major twists over 1000 metres of track, and a drop of 43 metres. This ride is a total troll going insanely fast then suddenly pausing for before the drop!

Here is a cool POV video of a dude riding Takabisha!

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Since Kobe is a long way away from Mt Fuji the way we managed to make it there and back in a single weekend was to take a night bus there and back. Ridding in a long haul bus in Japan is a fairly horrible experience, primarily since every 2 hours they typically park at a rest stop for anywhere from 30-60 minutes for some reason. To add salt to the wound during this time, all the lights on the bus are turned on, seriouslyyyyyyyyyy ಠ_ಠ

That said our tickets were only about 12000円 including admission to the park, so with a some good company, a beer or 2 and some stupid next level selfies the trip wasn’t so bad.

In addition to the awesome roller-coasters, Fuji Q also has the worlds largest haunted house the Super Scary Labyrinth of Fear 戰慄迷宮. Set in a haunted hospital the walkthrough totals 900m in length and takes an average of 45 minutes to complete.

Inside the haunted hospital are dozens of rooms and containing actors dressed as zombies, as one makes their way through one creepy room to another the actors will pop out from behind and attempt to scare you.image

Although rationally in your mind you know its all fake and despite the manly front I put up, I can honestly say there were a couple moments where zombies popped out that gave me a fright. This place is seriously creepy, I can imagine if you ever went through on your own the experience would be that much more terrifying.

Now having been a huge Neon Genesis Evangelion 新世紀エヴァンゲリオン fan since the original aired, I was incredibly excited to visit Evangelion World. It is a walk through exhibit containing life sized 3D models and has numerous fun photo opportunities where visitors can insert themselves into iconic scenes from the anime.

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Kobe JET Leavers Video 2014

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It’s that time of year where our old JET’s are leaving our community to make way for the new arrivals coming in August.

Annually we hold a large event to farewell our friends prior to their departure and this year I was on the leavers party organizing committee. We decided upon a venue in Harborland called Cafe Fish, a wedding reception that could hold the 100 or so guests of the evening.

The party is always an emotional event, this year in particular it is with a heavy heart we are saying our farewells to many of the great pillars of our community. Although we encountered a few hiccups along the way, more or less I would consider the event a great success.

A tradition alongside the party is the screening of a farewell video during the midway point of the event, I took it upon myself to make the video this year. It was a labour of love taking months of effort accumulating over 1000 photos and editing them together. I am very proud of the results, and it was with great relief to see it well received on the evening.

Without further a due, please enjoy the 2014 Kobe JET Leavers Video.

If you’re interested the leavers videos from 2012 can be found HERE and and 2013 HERE 🙂

Enjoy

There and back again – Cycling across the Shimanami Kaidō 広島県しまなみ海道

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Last weekend a couple friends and myself headed down to Onomichi 尾道市 in Hiroshima Prefecture to do some serious cycling over the long weekend across the Shimanami Kaidō 広島県しまなみ海道 (an expressway located in the Seto Inland Sea).

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Also known as The Nishiseto Expressway 西瀬戸自動車道, The Shimanami Kaidō is made up of the longest series of interconnecting suspension bridges in the world, connecting the city of Onomichi尾道市 to Imabari 今治市. The series of bridges represent the only connection between Shikoku and Honshu that is traversable via bike (or on foot if that’s your thing), and since they were erected only 15 years ago they are in very good condition with many small roads purpose built for cyclists.

We headed down via a long string of JR trains (in an attempt to cut costs by avoiding the Shinkansen) on the Friday evening having reserved a room in a very cheap (and dodgy) for both the Friday and Saturday nights. Saturday morning we got up bright and early, geared up and walked a short distance to our nearest bicycles rental station to pick up our the bikes we had reserved for the day.

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There is a very convenient bicycle rental system that has been set up for those wishing to undertake just such a trip as we were embarking on, across each of the 6 islands as well as on the mainland over a dozen pit stops have been set up where bikes can either be rented or returned. There is quite a wide array of bikes on offer to hire including those for children, electric bikes and even tandems! For the modest fee of 500円 one can rent a standard bike for the day, children and students are 300円 and the electrical ones can only be hired for 4 hours (as that’s how long the batteries will last I presume) for 800円.

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But Daniel you ask “Isn’t the one and only skill you will ever admit to possessing, that you are a beast on two wheels? So why would you hire a dodgy rental bike?”. Well concerned citizen you see the thing is as much as I love both my bicycles, and consider them an extension of my own body when we fuse each and every day. Unfortunately taking such machines on trains in Japan is nothing short of a headache (one would need to disassemble the wheels and carry them in a ‘bike bag’) and Kobe is a long way away from Onomichi! In short its simply not worth it over 500円, although it did feel like cheating………

In addition to the nominal fee a 1000円 deposit is required to be paid which will be returned on the condition that the bike is returned to the same station in which it was rented from before 6pm (5pm in Imabari) the day in which it was rented.

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Anyhow I am just going to throw this out there as a warning to anyone who might be reading this with plans to undertake the trip, if all the members of your party have not decided the route they will take or if there is any chance of you splitting up, I would recommend asking for separate invoices for each bike rather than combining them. I will get into it later but half our group dropped off our bikes in Onomichi (where we would be entitled to a refund of the deposit), the other half in Imabari (where they chose to forfeit it) and it took us a good half an hour of arguing with the employees since they tried to cheat us out of our money thinking we were ignorant gaijin (not to worry we had secret weapons and prevailed). If you are looking for details regarding the hiring of bikes follow the link here.

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Shimanami Kaidō has a great range of places to see and thing to do along the way if that so takes your fancy, I however was in it heart and soul for the cycling. For the more touristy things check out the link here where you can find out a little more.

When undertaking a cycling adventure such as this with a group as large as 8 people, its is not at all uncommon that separate groups will form based upon the skill level of each rider. Whilst a couple of us were making great time, there were those who being beginner cyclists lagged behind and it wasn’t long before the constant stopping and waiting became frustrating for those who wish to push ahead.

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I wouldn’t say I am anything close to a pro cyclist but I am definitely what you may call a great ‘cycling enthusiast’, always looking (often to my own demise) to push my body to the limit. For such ambitions however the Shimanami Kaidō is a less than ideal route, being in general very flat, scenic and leisurely.

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I would think that most intermediate cyclist could easily do the 70km it comprises of in a day with little more than a little bit of a sore buttocks to show for it. To my loyal readers you may recall my last big cycling trip last year in which I undertook the ‘Awaji 150’ from my home in Kobe, that route was a good 168km in total and there is a great deal of elevation along the cycling route around the island of Awaji, by comparison Shimanami Kaidō is child’s play.

That said we were not as nearly as prepared for this trip as the last (since we left much later in the morning on less than amazing bikes), because of this I was hesitant to attempt cycling all the way to Imabari and then returning in the same day but still wanted to do more than the 76km the one way trip comprised of. Instead half of our group cycled all the way to the 50km pit stop at Oshima before and turning back headed towards Onomichi, whilst the girls cycled all the way to Imabari.

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Quite comically in retrospect (but perhaps not so much at the time) they became stranded on the other side unable to find a bus, ultimately resorting to hitchhiking back to Onomichi that night, their sign says 美女3尾道 (3 beautiful women, headed towards Onomichi) which apparently a convenience store attendant wrote for them on a piece of cardboard!

Another reason why cycling back to our starting point seemed a little more attractive was one can save a little bit of money and a long bus trip doing so, the bus back along the bridges takes 90 minutes and costs the quite steep price of 2200円 for the trip, here is a link to the schedule if you find it useful in addition there is also the 1000円 deposit that is refundable for the bicycles return.

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I must add that there are some small fees for traversing each of the bridges with little collection terminals set up at the beginning of each bridge, although they are quite cheap (adding up to only 500円 for the entire way) you must have the change to pay for them so a pocket full of 50円 coins may prove useful, the list of bridge tolls can be found here. The final fee one encounters along the way is the 110円 for the ferry connecting Onomichi to the first island Mukaishima.

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I am certainly very keen to return to do the trip once again in the future as it really is an amazing ride, one of the things I found really amazing about the entire route was this magical blue line! At times you find yourself passing forks in the road and traversing winding roads through little towns but matter where you are ridding getting lost is something pretty difficult to achieve. One has to simply look down and check if there is a blue line painted alongside the regular road markings, if so you’re on the right track, if not turn around the way you came and find out just where that blue line turned off into!

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Being very very familiar with the perils of becoming lost and frustrated when cycling unknown roads this feature of the trip is a lifesaver.

In addition there are markers every KM you ride telling you just how far you till your destination, finally when exiting each of the bridges there are large blue signs pointing the directions to head if you would like to explore the sights that particular island has to offer (in both Japanese and English)!

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By 7pm on the Saturday night we had all reunited at our ever so dodgy hotel and set out in search of an izakaya for some well deserved drinks, but as we were all quite weary we took it pretty easy.

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Before heading back to Kobe on Sunday however we decided to explore a little of the town of Onomichi since it really is quite a quaint and charming corner of Japan.

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Characterized by a plethora of outstretching narrow laneways and staircases along the文学のこみち(Path of Literature) which head up to千光寺 Senkōji Temple and the adjoining千光寺公園 Senkōji Park in which brilliant views of Onomichi can be seen.

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If hiking isn’t your thing (would not recommend the walk is beautiful) another way to reach the temple is via the Senkoji Ropeway which runs from 9AM-5:15PM, 270円 one way /430円 return.

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When I reached the summit I kind of nostalgia washed over me, which was really odd since this was my first time visiting Onomichi, Suddenly a thought came into my mind ‘huh this city really looks like an aweful like the setting of one of my favorite anime I had watched years prior called かみちゅ! Kamichu! A super cute anime very similar to something Studio Ghibli might make about a middle school girl who suddenly discovers that, overnight, she has become a kami 神(literally a Shinto god). I gave it a quick Google and seems I was right on the money, the series was indeed set in Onomichi over in the Spring of 1983 and many of the temples and landmarks featured in the anime are real locations and faithfully depicted.

kamichuTo anyone who likes a little slice of life anime, I couldn’t recommend it enough; in my opinion it bares a strong similarity to Sen to Chihiro no Kamikakushi 千と千尋の神隠し (Spirited Away) so if you liked that go for it!!2014-03-26 10.45.01

Our trip back to Kobe turned out to be very long and uneventful, instead of paying the 20,000円 or so that the Shinkansen新幹線(Bullet Train) would usually cost for the return journey we instead managed to find a string of 6 local trains on the JR line that got us back in around 4 hours (and cost us only 4650円 return), my time isn’t worth that much that I am above spending a Sunday train hopping with my buddies so for me it was time well spent ^^

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On that note I’ma go give Kamichu a re-watch for nostalgias sake.

-Dan (and here is a kancho for good luck)

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Hadaka Matsuri 裸祭り (The Naked Man Festival)

Last weekend I headed down to Okayama 岡山 along with a couple buddies to participate in Saidaiji Temples annual Hadaka Matsuri 裸祭り. This has been an event I have long wanted to participate in, so it was certainly a check off my Japan bucket list.

Every year in the second weekend of February 9,000 or so men take part in the celebrations which in English are usually translated to the ‘Naked Man Festival’!

A brief summary of the festival would entail that a plethora of men annually head to the temple in the middle of winter.
At which they run laps of the temple grounds in teams of four wearing little more than a fundoshi 褌 (Japanese loincloth) and tabi 足袋 (traditional Japanese socks).
During each lap the participants jump into a waist deep fountain where their bodies are purified by the water.
After several hours of seemingly aforementioned insanity participants gather onto the temples stage, where they proceed to fight to obtain one of the lucky sticks that are thrown out of the upper floors by the temples priests.

It is believed that the man who successful makes it out of the chaos with a lucky stick, will be endowed with and entire year of good fortune!

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That’s the basics of it, but I’ll get into exactly what went down first hand.

Getting up early Saturday morning we departed Sannomiya 三宮 the center of Kobe on a 3 hour bus down to Okayama 岡山 where the festival is held.
To those who know anything of Japanese folklore, Okayama prefecture will ring familiar as the location of the immensely well know story Momotaro (Peach Boy).
The story holds a special place in my heart, as shortly after arriving in Japan, I played the main character Momotaro in a play at the Kobe Board of Education. Showcasing the feeble amount of Japanese I learnt during a week of intensive Japanese classes. To many ALTs it is also very familiar as a chapter featuring the story in English is contained within our students 6th grade textbooks.

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Anyhow us Naked Man lads striked a pose in front of the Momotaro statue at Okayama station prior to the event.

One thing about the festival is that tattoos are absolutely forbidden, an attempted discouraging the heavy yakuza presence that has plagued previous years festivals with violence and unnecessary injuries.
Having had a sizable back piece done a few years ago, I invested a great deal of thought into how to exactly circumvent the temples ruling on the issue.
I had considered covering it with large bandage, sticky kairo and even spray paint! However a few hours before the festival I reached an epiphany, electrical tap! Although I am quite confident it’s short of amazing for your skin it worked a charm for me , never did it begin to peal despite what I put my body through. Better yet no one said a word about the large patch on my back, although I wasn’t as if I was the only one in such a position.

Anyhow onto the meat of the tale, after a day of loitering around the city we boarded a bus alongside a couple dozen other ALTs from all over Japan, which transported us to Saidaiji Temple.
On route the manliness aboard said bus was tangible as bottles of whiskey, tequila, vodka and sakè flowed freely up and down the aisles.

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Our leader a representative from AJET fired up the boys, explaining in detail what exactly was going to go down that evening. Comradely bonds were forged between us through manly chanting, filthy exchanges and the consumption of grand quantities of liquor. By the time we arrived the windows to the bus were fogged over and sprits were high!

We marched as a great gaggle of gaijin to the temple grounds, nearing the entrance we sighted the stall selling our required outfits the fundoshi 褌 and tabi 足袋 costing us 2000円. After purchasing said ‘outfits’ we entered a large adjacent tent where we handed over another 1000円 to have a couple elderly volunteers ‘dress us’
Inside we were motioned to strip naked and queue alongside the other similarly butt naked guys. Reaching the front of the queue an old man unrolled my fundoshi material told me to hold the top of it under my chin as he strapped it around my waist ‘extremely’ tightly!
I’m not going to go into the mechanics of exactly what happens when that amount of pressure is exerted against ones manly parts, but use your imagination, thank god it was already cold.

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The boys after our first lap around the temple.

After the dressing (if you can call it that) was done with we took to the streets! From the moment I stepped outside the relative warmth of the tent and felt the chill of the cold night make it’s way across my skin a sudden yet brief panic came over me……. you know the feeling, the fuck fuck fuck what have I got myself into kind.
Luckily it was short lived as I grasped the shoulders of my almost but not quite naked comrades. We ran from the tent in teams of four, arm in arm, ribs pushed up against one another’s in an attempt to salvage any scrap of warmth we could from our buddies.

We ran through streets towards the temple grounds, flanked by thousands and thousands of onlookers separated by a long chain of uniformed police presence. Camera crews and photographers ran alongside us trying to capture every moment, putting forth a plethora of questions. However my mind was ironclad focused on the task at hand, one foot in front of the other.
As each team runs, one guy in each foursome chants わっしょい (wasshoi) which is then echoed by a reply wasshoi by the other 3, the chant I guess might be equivalent to something like Heave, Ho! in English.

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After a few minutes of running we come to the fountain, we hesitate, but are swept by the momentum of the group and the anticipation of the eager crowds. I waiver, I regret, but ultimately I clench! The waist deep freezing water hits me like a ton of bricks, my body stops accepting my commands for a moment, the cold takes me, yet I 頑張れ!

Look I guess cold is relative depending upon where in the world you hail from, I myself came from the down under and not even a particularly warm part of it at that. However that said running around in my underpants dripping wet on a night a degree or two above freezing, certainly left me colder than I had ever found myself in my life prior to that point.

We run from the fountain to the empty stage, my body no on autopilot. We stop for a moment and turn around, this is the first time I look out at the spectators and fully appreciate the true scale of the event. Eyes are all on us as the night is still young and there are few teams out running.
In lieu of returning to our team tent to try and claim a few moments out of the cold we then make what I now consider a poor decision in hindsight.
A YOLO moment takes hold of us (in the most un-ironic of ways) screaming もう一度 (one more time) we charge once more towards the purification fountain.
After the first plunge my feet had begun to feel like pieces of dead meat attached to my body, the second time in a span of a few minutes allowed this sensation to creep up towards my thighs.
Needless to say by this point instinct had taken hold of me, little time was spared in deciding it was indeed time to return to our tent.

Upon entering I was disheartened to realize there was one tiny stove burning to warm the hundreds of participants sharing the tent for the night. Luckily however it was not long before a large group of those crowding around the one small source of warmth decided to charge out once again into the chilly night air towards the fountain.

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As mentioned earlier, our fundoshi are not something we can simply remove and re-adorn, so if you need to take a slash once in the get up it’s game over. And so we switched over to consuming straight liquor to keep spirits high and bellies warm, perhaps not the most amazing choice of beverage for a chilly winter night tuning a makeshift marathon but it got the job done.
These efforts combine with the somewhat dangerous (in hindsight) practice of pushing my numb feet directly into the metal of the burning stove, slowly allowed me to reclaim my previously frozen flesh.

Now I guess towards the later hours of the evening the proceedings became a little fuzzy. However after the grand scramble for the lucky sticks the festival ended quite abruptly and I was left feeling a little disappointed at the anticlimax of it all. I soon found myself once again donning my heavy jacket and downing a midnight bowl of udon from a roadside vendor, before boarding our bus back to Okayama station.

Of course with such a large festival being held in what is realistically quite the modest sized city, accommodation was more or less impossible to secure. I tried hotels, mangakiss and even love hotels finding little more than no-vacancy sign at every turn. Eventually we resolved to spend the night in the only warm place we could find, a 24hour McDonalds, an experience I will surely never recommend.

Anyhow the morning eventually rolled around and we got our 7:15 am bus back to Kobe. All in all Hadaka Matsuri made for one hell of a weekend, one I’m fairly sure I will be keen to repeat next year!

Wasshoi Wasshoi!

-Dan

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Natsuyasumi 夏休み The Happiest Time Of The Year!

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Last Monday marked the beginning of natsuyasumi 夏休み (summer vacation) here in Japan, however compared to what those back home might think of it to mean, summer vacation in Kobe is a whole different kettle of fish!

It’s a well established fact that generally compared to their western counterparts, the Japanese like to work A LOT! Most people work huge amounts of unpaid overtime (teachers especially) every week without a peep of complaint, as that just how the world turns in the Japanese corner of it!
As a Kobe JET we have no obligation to work past our contracted hours, I rarely stay back unless I have more work than I can manage to complete during the day and so I am usually the first one out of the office at 4:15pm.

Now what does this have to do with summer vacation, to quote the words of my mate Matt whilst reflecting on summer in Japan:
It’s called natsuyasumi 夏休み yet both teachers and students must still go to school. I wonder what part exactly is yasumi 休み (vacation).

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That said I ain’t complaining, even though we have to come into school everyday it’s a pretty sweet deal. I spend my mornings training with my students, popping in and out of the various clubs checking out what they up to. The vibe this time of year is amazing, life is heaps chill, no classes, no obligation. Having planned all my classes for the foreseeable future I literally have nothing to do but enjoy life and do whatever takes my fancy.

I know my OTE is a busy woman and this time if year I do my best to help her out with creating materials and correcting stuff that aren’t really my job since I like to keep busy. However even after doing all of that I still find myself with a plethora of time on my hands. Now post lunchtime all the kids have usually gone home, what would I recommend to fellow ALTs to do in this time when you feel like you have nothing to do.

I personally work on myself, read, run, learn, study, write, relax. Natsuyasumi is a great time to reflect on improving yourself mentally and physically. The club activity training the students do is intense, no wonder they are all so skinny! Participating alongside them has done wonders for my relationships with my students, sure my Japanese still isn’t fantastic but when you have just run 5km alongside someone, sometimes that’s all the communication you need to solidify companionship.

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Also a word of advice, buy one of these for school, it will change your life!

Now outside of work this is a very exiting time of year for JETs, we have just said our goodbyes to the leavers and in the next 2 weeks the new kids will be arriving! In Kobe over the summer we have job training and run a week long summer school!

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In addition to all this we also have quite a bit of tokkyu 特休 (summer leave) which are extra free days off that we can use any time during the summer break.
I will be spending mine in a couple weeks time, heading down to Okinawa to get some relaxing, exploring and summer fun in with a couple of my good friends!

Last weekend I headed up to this little inaka town called Takeno with the krew, we hired a car since it was about 3 hours north of Kobe, around HERE

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Got some camping, BBQing, swimming and bonfire action in! My mate Pete and I took a heap of stupid photos along the way XD

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There is a certain magic and electricity on the air this time if year, life is good, the future is bright, THIS MOMENT, THIS TIME is exactly what I live about Japan and my life here as a Kobe JET!

tl;dr Summer in Japan is bangin’!

Ice Breakers Review

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Based upon my love of the Mintia mints I decided to branch out to an almost identical competing brand Ice Breakers.
Although similarly shaped and packaged the novelty Ice Breakers bring to the table is that rather being cool and minty as the name might imply they are in fact sour!
So far I have only come across 5 flavours, all if which I’m quite fond of, lets take a look at each!

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Ice Breakers – Sour Lemon

These would be what I consider to the the flagship flavor of the brand, slightly sour and fizzy they bring the lemon candy taste to the table right off the bat! A lot bolder than most of its Mintia counterparts, the only criticisms i have for the Sour Lemon flavour is that it breaks apart and dissolves quite rapidly and can get a little sickly if you choose to consume too many.
On a final note it leaves the mouth with an almost minty cool chill.
4/5

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Ice Breakers – Sour Blood Orange

Next up is Sour Blood Orange, although they feel remarkably similar as the Sour Lemon flavour when you pop one in your mouth and dissolve just as fast I feel they lack the kick of their cousins. The overall feeling I get from them is disappointment and a since of deflation, perhaps ultimate deliciousness is just too much to ask of an orange flavored candy……..
3.75/5

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Ice Breakers – Sour Green Apple
Ok we’re seeing a trend here with extremely similar tasting flavours, these ones at least have a slight green tint to the particles in them so I can tell them apart…… That said its not that their not delicious, only that they taste 90% the same as the lemon flavour.
Honestly though although its not appleish in the least they have this certain tanginess to them that is a little bit amazing. Definitely have won a place in my heart as an amazing sour candy!
4.25/5

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Ice Breakers – Sour Grape

Last but not least we have the Sour Grape flavour, these taste quite similar to the grape Minita just with an awesome sour fizziness to them! That said these really bring the sour to the table, not in a puckering way but at least it’s a lot more prominent that in the other Ice Breakers varieties.
Again the only way I can tell them apart from the others if I mix them up is by the purplish colouring that indicates the grape flavouring, still awesome!!
4.25/5

Wizard Pug!!

Wizard Pug!!

Meet Wizard Pug!! My new mascot I am slapping all over every worksheet that I have been making at my JHS as of late (^。^)