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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The Mochi Diaries: Chapter 14 – Haru Yatsuhashi 春八つ橋

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Bringing you yet another yatsuhashi instalment of The Mochi Diaries, this is Chapter 14: Haru Yatsuhashi 春八つ橋.

The Mochi Diaries are now a monthly feature in the ‘Hyogo Times’, you can find this article published on their website HEREPhoto 2013-04-16 午前7 25 42

Although the sakura have come and gone, spring is certainly in the air and all over Japan at the moment (my hayfever can attest to that) and so during a recent trip to Osaka I decided to pick up a box of the spring themed variety of yatsuhashi (speciality mochi of Kyoto, see chapter 2). The box contained two separate and unique sakura flavoured variations alongside the more traditional cinnamon and matcha flavours.

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Sakura Mochi Fuumi Yatsuhashi – 桜餅風味八つ橋 (cherry blossom yatsuhashi)

Now these guys are basically a yatsuhashi themed take on ‘sakura mochi’, a popular spring time sweet. Pink in colour and containing a sweet red bean filling, sakura mochi come wrapped in an edible salted sakura leaf. Being quite a fan of said seasonal mochi offerings (they come with my highest recommendation) how were the yatsuhashi going to stack up in comparison?? Unfortunately I’m going to have to admit not particularly well. Aesthetically they are quite attractive, the usual yatsuhashi fair, less than opaque mochi with a pale pink sakura flavoured centre peeking through. The taste, however, was less than amazing. Although remaining faithful to the delicate texture that makes yatsuhashi what it is, I really found the ‘sakura’ aspect to be much too subtle and entirely underwhelming. If anything the entire time I was eating them I felt like I was chewing a slightly sweetened pillow that by all rights should have been amazing! A nice yet insufficient addition was the inclusion of a couple of sakuradzuke 桜漬け (pickled cherry blossoms) which added a nice, salty contrast. Regardless, next spring I’ll pass.

2/5

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Sakura Koshian 桜こしあん(cherry blossom with sweet red bean paste)

 

As opposed to the sakura centre of the version above, these ones instead had a sakura inspired mochi coating around a more or less kosher red bean filling. Once again though, I found the sakura to be too underwhelming, leaving them more or less indistinguishable from their cinnamon counterparts. They were rather pretty (again) from a purely aesthetic viewpoint, sporting an appealing pale pink colouring which was rather fitting for the season. At the end of the day however, I was far from impressed. I had thought it was pretty hard to screw up the winning formula that makes yatsuhashi what it is, apparently I was mistaken. That aside, they are still perfectly edible, I just personally wouldn’t be giving these ones in particular as an omiyage to anyone I really liked!All said and done, I still ate them all hungrily, but in the future I’ll stick with the ever-reliable cinnamon variety.

Italian Mintia イタリアンミンティア Reviews

For the spring season of 2013 Mintia released two Italian inspired flavors. Being quite the advocate of anything Mintia I purchased both the moment I saw them.
In terms of packaging both feature their respective fruit flavors depicted in the style of stained glass, which I presume is a play on the windows which commonly ordain gothic cathedrals.

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Mintia – Italian Lemon
ミンティア – イタリアンレモン

This flavor I find reminiscent of the lemon Ice Breaker equivalent, however where their competitors punch a tasty sour kick these seem to fizzle in comparison. That said, although I find the taste to be a little underwhelming for my liking, they are still not bad at all.
I also am quite fond of the packaging as well as the lemon yellow color of the candy themselves.
Perhaps I just purchased then for the novelty of a new mintia flavor as I typically do but I think they are worth a couple repeat purchases before they are phased out.
A subtle lemony offering from mintia this spring. 3.5/5

If you were interested in what the writing on the packaging says it as follows:

100%レモン果汁入りアロマビーズ + レモンフレーバーチップ配合
Includes a combination of aroma beads containing 100% lemon juice + lemon flavored chips.

The little red box says
シチリア産レモン果汁配合
Blended with Sicilian lemon juice

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Mintia – Italian Grape
ミンティア – イタリアングレープ

Grape flavor is not something particularly groundbreaking for mintia and I have already sampled 2 other grape offerings from them. The packaging on these guys however seemed to be a little preachy as to how authentic and fruit filled these are. Honestly I think they might be compensating a little, that said they are not at all bad. The white colored candy are filled with tiny little specks that aparwntly are a mix of grape ‘chips’ and ‘grape juice aroma beads’. Much like the lemon ones I was left wishing for a slightly more pronounced upfront flavor, however in comparison to the regular grape mintia I think these come out on top. For a tasty ‘allegedly’ Cabernet Italian grape experience they get my recommendation! 4/5

Again the translation for the grape flavors packaging:

100%カベルネ果汁入りアロマビーズ + グレプフレーバーチップ配合
Includes a combination of aroma beads containing 100% cabernet grape juice + grape flavored chips.

The little red box on this one says
イタリア産カベルネ果汁配合
Blended with Italian cabernet grape juice

The Mochi Diaries: Chapter 13 – Mitsuringo 蜜りんご (Honey Apple) Namayatsuhashi 生八つ橋

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Welcome to Chapter 13 of ‘The Mochi Diaries’ (餅の日記), in this post I shall be introducing Mitsuringo 蜜りんご (Honey Apple) namayatsuhashi 生八つ橋!

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It’s almost as if I never run out of yatsuhashi to review, there are just so many varieties and I how I love them so ( ^ω^ )
So every time I head up to Kyoto I always end up coming home with a box! Last year I took a to trip to Arashiyama 嵐山 a rather pretty district of western Kyoto for a day of momijigari 紅葉狩り(Autumn leaves viewing) with some friends. On the way home I picked up this box of Honeyapple yatsuhashi as I had yet to give the flavour a try.

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A note in regards to the packaging, breaking away from the norm the box was squarish with 2 layers of yatsuhashi as opposed to the usual long rectangular box, not that that stopped me opening the second packet soon as I finished the first one however (≧∇≦)

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Now these look more or less identical to the Kuri yatsuhashi 栗八つ橋 (chestnut) that I reviewed a couple weeks ago here.
That said the filling was radically different from any yatsuhashi I have ever tried before, I would consider these Japanese inspired mochi rather than anything traditional to say the least. Most Japanese sweets tend to go easy on the sweetness front most of the time, these however were very sweet and appley, the taste was quite reminiscent of apple pie filling, whilst maintaining the regular yatsuhashi texture and all in all incredibly delicious to the point where I ate the entire box in one sitting!!

058_1200x800They make for a tasty Aki 秋 (Autumn) treat and im’a give them 4.25/5.

Want to read more Mochi Diaries Posts?

Mochi Diaries: Chapter 12 – Ichigo Daifuku苺大福

<———– Last

 The Mochi Diaries: Chapter 14 – Haru Yatsuhashi 春八つ橋

Next ———>

Mintia Tokyo Skytree Limited Edition

During my visit to Tokyo Skytree a while back I was delighted to spot these limited edition Skytree Mintia flavours on offer in the gift shop as I’m quite the advocate of all things Mintia!
I purchased each if the 3 flavours on offer, Peach, Green Tea Mint and Grape. Oddly as opposed to the regular packaging, all 3 had their names boldly written in English with a small furigana translation underneath. I suppose this is to cater to the large amount of foreign tourists that would be visiting the tower.
The peach and green tea mint flavours are new and although there is regular grape flavored Mintia I was interested to see how the Skytree variation would compare.

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Mintia – Peach
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Ok seriously these thing are fucking amazing!! In fact it pains me to know that I can’t obtain any more of them without returning to Tokyo!! Honestly from the moment you pop one in your mouth it feels like you have just taken a bite of a tasty ripe peach! I can not sing these things high enough praise, my only complaint is that compared to other Mintia I felt these dissolved a lot faster. Perfect!!!!
5/5

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Mintia – Green Tea Mint
グリーンティーミント

From the moment I opened these I was impressed simply by by their colour, giving me very authentic matcha 抹茶 (powdered Japanese green tea) vibe from the get go.
Much more subtle in flavour than the peach ones and mildly minty, being a huge matcha fan it’s hard to disappoint with such a flavour. That said I usually shy away from anything minty but these really hit the spot, if more mints tasted like this I’d be sure to invest in them more often!!
Tasty, minty with hints of matcha, a winner in my books.
4/5

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Mintia – Grape
ぶどう

Honestly save for being a slight shade of yellow as opposed the white of the regular grape flavoured Mintia, I really could not discern any notable difference between the two which I tried one after the other. Perhaps the Skytree variant tasted a tad more authentic grapey and less artificial but that could have just been my imagination. Regardless I thoroughly enjoyed the originals and these just as much so. 4/5

All in all I get the feeling that the Skytree Mintia flavours are a higher quality than the regular kind. Although slightly more expensive (131円) they are well worth the price, I only regret I didn’t purchase more!!!!

Taiikusai 体育祭 (Sports Festival) 2012

A couple weeks ago my base Junior high school and 2 Elementary schools had their annual sports festivals. At shougakko 小学校 (elementary school) it is referred to as an Undoukai 運動会 and at chuugakko 中学校 (Junior high school) it’s a Taiikusai 体育祭.

I was lucky enough to attend both….. well in truth at least at the JHS level I had no say in the matter as it is part of my job.

Unlike their western equivalents the sports festivals in Japan are taken nothing short of absolutely seriously.
The event is typically run on a Saturday, with the day off being passed over to the following Monday.
Leading up to the even students have many classes dedicated to training, creating banners and rehearsing intricate marches for the day.
In fact classes are typically set aside the day before the Taiikusai to run a full rehearsal of the schedule.

Like most things in Japan, everyone is equal and participation is mandatory.
Lets just say they really drive home the team spirit at these things.
In JHS students are divided up into teams based upon their grade level and class, each set upon their most artistic classmates the task of creating an elaborate banner.
The following are a couple of my favourites (^∇^)

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In ES the entire student body is broken into 2 large teams each student either being assigned Shirogumi 白組 (White Team) or Akagumi 紅組 (Red Team) accordingly who will face off against each other in comedic sports battles throughout the day.

Being the avid amateur photographer that I am an awful lot I photos were taken throughout the day, unfortunately I can’t freely post students faces to the interwebs without permissions so forgive my crude ‘editing’ to keep them anonymous.

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A couple photos from the opening ceremony

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Raising of the Japanese flag

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Morning warm-ups

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3-legged Race

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Weight lifting endurance

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Me running in the relay race against my students!

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Giant skipping rope

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Half time Ouendan 応援団 (Japanese Cheer Squad)

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Half time suisougakudan 吹奏楽団 (Brass Band)

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Track and Field Club 陸上部

In the afternoon the students paraded around the oval donned in their respective clubs uniforms.

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Kendo Club 剣道部

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Girls Tennis Club 女子テニス部

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Table Tennis Club 卓球部 (poor kids the only member)

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Basketball Club バスケットボール部

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Boys Tennis Club 男子テニス部

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Baseball Club 野球部

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The whole lot marching

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Club Uniform Baton Race (kendo club has a 100m head start to compensate the weight of running in full bogu, track and field starts 100m behind as they their club specializes in sprinting.)

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Students vs PTA (Parent Teachers Association) Tug-of-war

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Kumitaiso 組体操

Here are a couple photos from one of my shougakko’s 小学校 (elementary school) Undoukai 運動会, rather than being centered around individual competition, the focus is more on teamwork with the kids playing dozens of crazy games. Also instead of being segregated by year level and class the entire team is split into 2 huge teams Akagumi 紅組 (Red Team) and Shirogumi 白組 (White Team).

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Giant Ball Race

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In addition to the events the students also put on acrobatic type shows for the spectators that they practice for many weeks preceding the event.

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The 5-6grade students annually do a kumitaiso 組体操 (coordinated group gymnastics) performance in which teams form pyramids or other shapes.

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For the finale the kids form a 4 story pyramid, was freakin crazy and chotto dangerous…..

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WINNING!!

Mintia ミンティア Reviews Part 2

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So there shall be a part 2 (and probably a part 3) to my Mintia ミンティア reviews, mostly as I’m completely addicted and there just seems to be a plethora of obscure flavours available if you keep an eye out for them!

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Mintia – Relax Shower

Honestly I’m really unsure as to what this flavour is supposed to be, they are certainly one of the mint based varieties of Mintia however the flavour is weak up forgettable.
Lets just say if Relax Shower was a going to a Mintia Hollywood party it would be the one to arrive after all the coke had been finished and their was already a dead stripper floating in the pool. Oddly enough it’s vaguely spicy at times but not in a good way.
To its credit the name Relax Shower did amuse the Daniel. Still Fail.
2/5

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Mintia – Miracle Cherry
ミラクルチェリ

Now these I had high hopes for based on the fact it has miracle in the title and the shininess of the packaging, donning holographic stickers, sparkles and the promise of rekindling the joyful memories of ones childhood.
Unfortunately the mints themselves tasted like something more akin to the cherry candies that kids tend not to like as they taste like something akin to cough syrup.
Also as a side note some of them have little Sakura shapes imprinted into them but for some reason oddly not all….
That said their not horrible, just kind of a meh and deflated weak artificial cherry taste. Whats worse their kinda gritty to the point it feels like your eating flour at times, needless to say they certainly don’t live up to their implied promises of unicorns and rainbows, leaving my childhood vigor unkindled.
3/5

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Mintia – Honey Ginger

I love EVERYTHING about the Honey Ginger Mintia! I truly believe these could possibly be my favourite, which makes me a little sad seeing as they are quite hard to come by!!
Anyhow to begin with the packing itself is a pleasant opaque mustard colour matching the feel of the flavour.
This is one Mintia that dominates in an area where most others fell short, it has the perfect balance of a subtle sweet honey flavour whilst occasionally a secondary ginger note finds its way through. Hardly seeming like a mint at all the experience is more akin to eating candy, and so I find myself vacuuming these delicious honey treats up!!!
If you come across these bad boys BUY BUY BUY!!!!
(Daniel hopes a Mintia marketing manager will come across this post and send him a crate of these)
4.75/5

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Mintia – Dry Hard

Now these fiery little balls of pain have got to be if not the strongest mints I’v ever tried then at least strongest Mintia flavour.
They also have this written on the front of the pack
カフェイン・カフセル配合
which translates to caffeine formulation, so the kick they give you is not just the insane amount if mint but also a Caffeine one also, just how many mg each brings to the table I can not tell you as it is not written on either the pack or the website. I often put a couple different flavored Mintia in my desk at work and chuck one of these in as a minty Russian roulette of sorts……. Yeah I get bored.
3.5/5

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Mintia – Cassis Orange
カシスオレンジ

Cassis Orange is one of the more pleasing Minta flavours, very sweet and addictive not entirely unlike the Aqua Sparkle ones and so often find myself devouring one after another!
Underneath the name on the front it reads オレンジ果汁+オレンジアロアビース配合
apparently this means blended orange juice and orange aroma beads were used in the ingredients.

The pills themselves have a nice pink colour fitting to the flavour, however although I enjoy them thoroughly and will certainly buy them again they are still nothing to write home about.
Just as a side note Cassis is the French word for black-current which the Japanese adopted, I only mention this as it was months before I worked what the hell cassis berry were myself XD
4/5

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Mintia – Lemon Ginger
レモンジンジャー

Unfortunately unlike its other Ginger cousin Honey Ginger these do not pack anywhere near the same punch.
I found the ginger to be all but a frail aftertaste and the body to be nothing more than a weak lemony taste.
Although not entirely unpleasant these wouldn’t even make it into my Top 10 Mintia flavours.
2.5/5