Way out along the mountains overlooking the beaches of the little town of Gotsu, there are ninja lurking in the forest…


…or at least, you’ll feel like a ninja as you make your way through “Adventure Forest,” an obstacle course that is free for both children and adults to use, and provides a good workout no matter what your age. There are occasional challenges in addition to the course of 20 local mythology themed (or at least, name-inspiring) obstacles, and although there are detours for all of them, where’s the fun in that? I did them all and had a great time, but I wish I made use of some of those small muscle groups more often–they get so overlooked when you’re not climbing ropes or scaling trails of logs!












I might not be able to play, but at least I’m able to pose.

Tamatsukuri Onsen, home to the original fountain of youth of Japan, is hosting its second World Slipper Takkyu Competition in the Tamayu Gymnasium. It will be on Saturday, February 21, 2015. Sign-up is open through January 31, see the Japanese page for details.

This is table tennis as you know it, only played with slippers as opposed to rackets. It hearkens classic images of hanging out in your slippers after a dip in the baths and a fancy dinner at a ryokan (traditional Japanese inn), and spending your free time surprising your travelmates with how competitive you are when it comes to snapping plastic balls across the table (or in my case, across the room should I manage to even hit them). And, you know, you have the slippers on or in your hands instead of on your feet.

Reusing some of XiaoMan’s photos from last year–thanks, XiaoMan!

You know what I found nice about using slippers? They help when it comes to catching runaway ping pong balls. I should know, as I had to catch my fair share.

Like last year, the competition is in three categories: men’s pairs, women’s pairs, and male-female pairs, open to anyone of any age, nationality, and level of ability (or non-ability). It costs 3,000 yen per pair, or participate is free if you’re staying in the Tamatsukuri Onsen area for the trip. What’s more, if you win first place in your category, you’ll get cash back on your stay up to 30,000 yen.

All participants receive some local agricultural and seafood products, but special ones are given away by raffle. Seafood miso soup is also serves to all of the participants while they take a break between matches. Finalists can expect to be there through the afternoon (and probably change into yukata for the final matches), but for those who get some fun out of losing in the morning, there is still plenty of time to wander the scenic streets along the Tamayu river and take a dip in a daytime onsen. It makes for a light taste of a ryokan stay for those who can’t afford the full pampering treatment.

Ashiyu!

If you are really on the cheap, you could use one of the three ashiyu (free foot baths) in the area. You could do so while enjoying my beloved Ice Corotto, but seeing as it will be chilly out, I suggest the veggie soup sold at the neighboring stand. It’s light and refreshing, and there is nothing like being out in cold weather sipping a cup of nutritious and tasty soup while warming your feet at the riverside. Or boiling them, depending on which spot you chose–but that one should be obvious from all the steam.

Seeing as this is a world competition, international guests are highly encouraged to attend, whether residents or tourists passing through enjoying the Tamatsukuri area and the discounts for foreign passport holders and/or zairyu card holders that are found at tourism facilities throughout the San’in region (nudge-nudge, wink-wink, hint-hint). Personally, I highly encourage lots of people from the Western Hemisphere to attend so that I do not fail again in representing half the world.

My straight record of loses should not be surprising.

Last year was fun, but I’m sure there are Americans who could do much better!

Let’s take a trip to a ryokan in our imaginations. What do you see there? Many people might start with the charming atmosphere of the street leading up to the hotel, the owner and workers politely greeting you in kimono and then showing you to your room where you can get changed into your yukata, a comfy cotton kimono you can relax in. Your shoes are left at the entrance, and you will have slippers to use throughout the halls. A dip in the onsen might look relaxing or you might be picturing antics from numerous anime scenes, and afterward, while your body is still warmed up by the hot mineral water bath, you can chill out and drink some milk from a little glass bottle. The ryokan of course has a first-class, multi-course Japanese style meal with a focus on fresh, local products, but after dinner you’re not quite ready to curl up in your fluffy futon and go to sleep.

No, now is the time to challenge your friends to table tennis!

This classical ryokan activity is something everyone is familiar with, but I can’t say I’ve seen any of these tables set up at the ryokan I’ve been to. That said, the Tamatsukuri Onsen area is pretty much everything else you’d look for in an onsen resort area, so they got the idea to invigorate this ryokan-style sport. Just holding a big table tennis match wouldn’t do–to make it more ryokan-like, they replaced all the paddles with hotel slippers, and offered a free stay in Tamatsukuri as the top prize.

Since it’s not likely any other place on Earth is holding the same sort of competition, it automatically became the first world slipper table tennis competition. So as to represent the rest of the world, a couple fellow CIRs and I entered the competition in the mixed-gender doubles match (there were also girls-only and guys-only doubles categories). A big thank-you to them for sharing the photos!

Representing China with Liu, XiaoMan looked just as cool and as competitive as ever.

I, however, must apologize to the United States and by extension to the entire western hemisphere for having been such an embarrassing table tennis representative.

I teamed up with Kim, who was representing South Korea. We had a perfect losing record, but it was still fun!

While other people were talking about how hard it was to hold a slipper instead of a paddle, I found it didn’t make much difference for me. Perhaps I did a little better with a slipper than with a normal paddle. You could hold them anyway you want, so while some people gripped them, others just put their hands inside like a mitten. I thought they were helpful for catching runaway balls.

While I was busy chasing balls I completely missed or sending my opponents chasing after balls that were clearly out, there were many more serious competitors attacking for the bragging rights and for the big prizes. Everyone was awarded a consolation prize for of local dried seafood, as there was also free crab miso soup and rice balls (because the local crab and rice is delicious, of course) for all of the participants. Still, at events like this, you can usually expect to see at least a few people dressing up or otherwise making a show out of it with muscle shirts or, in keeping with the retro-ryokan theme, some kimono.

Since we all lost in the preliminary rounds we went out for lunch instead of sticking around, but I heard later that in the finals that afternoon, each of the participants were given yukata to wear!

Like so.

There was a lot of exposure for the event, though I’m glad I didn’t have my picture in the paper this time because I was wearing my “I am concentrating super hard and do not look like I’m having any fun at all” face even though I really was enjoying it once I got the hang of it. There was also a TV crew there for whatever question-and-answer TV show this was. I had to chase balls around the camera crew sometimes.

It seems the first world competition was a success, and everyone–including people who couldn’t make it this time–is talking about their plans for next year, everything from when to practice and who to team with, and coming up with snappy team names. Maybe with a little more practice I could be a better representative next year, but anyone is welcome to come try their hand at it next March!

On my way home one very temperate day I passed by Shirakata Tenmangu, a major shrine on the south side of Matsue. Little did I ever notice before that there was a popular skatepark across the street from the shrine! Continuing on to the north side of town, I passed through Suetsugu Park across from city hall, and discovered Matsue’s local team of slackers, “Trippin.” Slacklining is similar to tightroping, but because the nylon rope isn’t so tight you can bounce and perform a variety of tricks. This has been a worldwide competition sport for about three years now, and the dedicated Matsue slackers–a few of whom are rather advanced with their tricks–borrows elementary school gyms in cold weather and public spaces in warm weather almost every weekend.






Hmm… on second thought, a slower .gif might have been easier to look at.

Although my attempts were less than impressive, they let me try it out, and are happy to welcome anyone newcomers to the sport. If you happen to pass by, go ahead and join in! They might give you team stickers, too.



Twice a year, Japan does a nationwide traffic safety campaign. As part of the campaign in Matsue, the police bring in guests to help pass out information pamphlets and reminders to motorists. Maybe we aren’t as exciting as the Susanoo Magic basketball team that was brought in before, but we at least turn a few heads (Mikopi-kun helped with that).





We were told afterward that it was a very lucky day–the weather held out and the wind died down long enough for everything to do the roadside campaign, and there wasn’t a single traffic accident reported the whole day.

May this entry serve as a reminder to everyone, both in and outside of Japan: Obey traffic laws, don’t drive too fast, and always remember to buckle your safety belt!!