Sunday, 30 September 2007

4 Months In Japan and a Backpack

The time has gone quickly and it's hard to believe that I have been here as long as I have. It's now twice the amount of time I have been overseas previously.

No signs of homesickness yet. Japan is a cool place to live. The only thing I can really complain about is the monotony and crowding of the trains.

Instead of catching the express trains, I sometimes just stay on the all-stops to have a seat to sit on, and the timing isn't that much longer anyway.

Today was a very lazy day. It's been raining and neither of us was in the mood to go out. I watched "Superbad" last night until 3:30pm. As my eyes couldn't stay open, I called it a night and watched the rest this morning.

A very funny movie. Destined to be a classic for sure.

Later, we went to Shinjuku. I wanted to buy another bag. My old Contiki bag is starting to get a few holes and I think it needs to be retired before my iPod or something falls out.

I had seen a huge bag for 1050 yen at the Sanpei discount store, which is really, really cheap. Gf thought it was way too big, which it was, but it was cheap!

I laboured over making a decision which one to get. I settled on a nice looking backpack for 1290 yen. It was a little smaller than the other one I had in mind, but it had a few extra compartments I can use.

We crossed the road to Kinokuniya book store and I picked up a map of ALL the train lines in the Greater Tokyo area, surprisingly including little ol' Keikyu Tomioka.

It said 250 yen on the package, but when I paid for it, the cashier gave me 1 yen back. Huh?

I have a copy of Guitar Pro 5 for my Mac. I have used this program on a PC before and it's a great way to learn tabs. One of my goals here is to also become a better guitar player. Er, and maybe learn a little Japanese as well sometime.

Friday, 28 September 2007

Kawasaki

Today I was in Kawasaki.

This place is nice and would be a good place to live I think. All the mod cons and a UFO catcher arcade.

I wanted to pay my rent today, so with furikomi kado in hand I walked into the busy UFJ bank and lined up with the other Japanese before the 3pm closing time.

I thought the money transfer card would make it easier, but I still had to know which button was "bank transfer" and what to do after that so I asked for help once more.

This is the last time that I am paying rent here so I'll cross the next bridge when I get to it.

The day went well. I like this school. The staff are nice, and I had a lot of their lollies. I only had two lessons. One that I even volunteered for another teacher.

Also I pretended to be a kid for a kids class as there was only one student, making it difficult for him to play the games alone. It was quite fun.

We were to draw fruit on the whiteboard. Sometimes I would draw a triangle and a circle. The next time I drew a loaf of bread for an apple. That kind of thing.

After work I rushed to catch the next possible train and got home by 10:30pm. I made a risotto curry and veges. Another nice meal, extra strong with two blocks of curry and topped off with Parmesan cheese. Sounds good doesn't it? Mmm..

Jesse wasn't home and didn't arrive until 7am in the morning from partying hard all night. He had two hours sleep before going to work.

It was nice that I had the house all to myself for a while.

Thursday, 27 September 2007

How To Do Nothing On Your Day Off

I still haven't managed to go to bed early. I mean to go to sleep around midnight, but it's still the usual 2am or 3am crash out.

Today I didn't wake up until 1pm.

I was thinking it was 10am or so. I cleaned around the house. I vacuumed the floor. There must have been so much dirt on the floor, that walking across it in barefeet felt "sandy". Under my bed I found a lot of old teacher's posters and dust from the last tenant.

I forget to mention previously that Derek has finally left the apartment, even after living here for a month without paying, using his deposit money to cover his remaining time here.

I did a wash of my clothes and bedsheets. I think it's been over a week since I did it last and I guess it's as good a time as any to do it. I walked down to the station's bank ATM to try to pay my month's rent, but I couldn't get it to work. Damn Japanese! I'll do it tomorrow in Yokohama or Kami-Ōoka.

I mostly fixed up my virtual machine of XP on my mac. It all seems to be working now. Only the iSight driver for the webcam, but that is not a big issue.

I've been getting stuck into my Ghana and Crunky biscuits. I think UFO catching for food is a better idea than the toys, especially when I'm craving some junk food. It's like I'm hunting, bringing home the wildebeasts for dinner.

After much persistance from my brother, I have finally made my presence on Facebook. So far I have only found two classmates from school. It's interesting to see what's happening with people I haven't seen in over ten years. Oh, the years go by so quickly.

Wednesday, 26 September 2007

Don't Fight The Crunky That Be

An early start this morning. Thankfully unlike last week I remembered what day it was and got up in plenty of time to get there.

I did go for a walk around the busy streets of Yokohama after work.

A strange phenomenon of street advertising in Japan, is that they give out the advertising material in a pack of tissues. I have a new challenge, to get as many tissue packs as possible! Who cares that I have no idea what the writing says?

I walked to the places that I usually go for the soft toys I have been getting. Instead of toys, my mission was food.

I hadn't eaten anything since breakfast. In particular I spied a machine with Crunky biscuits. It was 100 yen a go so I asked the staff to make it a little easier for me to catch.

I won it after 4 tries.

At the supermarket, I saw them on special for 178 yen (normally 205 yen) a box, so I got them all for around half the going price. Gotta be happy about that eh?

I tried one biscuit already. They are a tad small but they have real Crunky chocolate, so a worthy pursuit indeed.

Pleased with myself, I caught the train home.

I went to the supermarket and bought the essentials for the week. When I got home, I made a curry with vegetables and tofu that tasted good. I made so much that I will have a little for tomorrow's day off.

I have nothing planned for tomorrow, and that's suits me just fine.

Tuesday, 25 September 2007

Jimmy Van Hendricks

This is one of the photos that I forgot to put up for the Miyajama post.

It looks like the statue is playing some cool guitar. The dude is having trouble playing a C major chord.

We got up this morning at 5am in order to catch the 6am airport shuttle bus, giving us plenty of time to make the 735am flight back to Tokyo. Haneda and Hiroshima airports both have free wifi facilities, making it great when lugging a laptop.

The flight got in just before 9am. I had to wait about 30 minutes before the next train went home towards Tomioka. I arrived home about 10:30-11am, giving me about two hours of the much needed extra sleep to be able to do my lessons in Fujisawa that same day.

I didn't need to worry. I did probably the best kids class I have done since I started. The lil guys were fully into what I was teaching them and looked like they were having fun. The rest of the day went by without a hitch.

Nice.

Monday, 24 September 2007

Ban The Bomb

We woke up at 8am, had breakfast and finally left the Green Rich Hotel at 10am.

Today we did sightseeing around Hiroshima.

First stop was the Shukkeien. It's quite beautiful, but I'm really starting to get tired of Japanese gardens. Once you see one, you pretty much have seen them all.





To top it off, I was stung quite badly on my neck/shoulder area by some kind of caterpillar that fell from a tree.

It stung badly like a bee or spider bite. I tried to flick it off but it also managed to sting my finger.

From what I have read, it is the hairs that cause the sting. The gf kept pushing it and saying "Does it hurt? ". Yes, especially when you touch it. Hmm..

SO, no more gardens for me.










We moved on to the Hiroshima (or "Carp") Castle. Up close the castle looked unremarkable. It really could have done with a nice coat of paint.

We couldn't be bothered to go inside, so we made our way to the hypocenter, where the first nuclear bomb was dropped in a civilised area.










The A-Bomb (or Genbaku) Dome was a sobering reminder of the tragedy of what happened. What is a greater tragedy, is that apart from that unfortunate event, Hiroshima isn't all that exciting. Miyajima is a much more interesting place.

On the top of the dome it looks like there was a fake crane on it. Huh?


We walked through the Peace Park, passing the Children's Peace memorial (Sadako and the thousand paper cranes), and the flame that will never be extinguished considering that won't happen until nuclear weapons are banned.


There is a poignant inscription in Japanese, "Please rest peacefully, for we will not repeat the evil".

We went to the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum. For 50 yen, this is a definite must see. Skip the 300 yen audio guide.

Unless you can't read, the audio is almost word for word what is written in english on the walls.


The information and the stories were saddening. At some points I was getting a little misty-eyed. Rest In Peace.

For a day that was said to have 10% chance of rain, the forecasters lied. We were waiting at the museum longer than we wanted to. Actually we were so hungry.










Not waiting any longer, we hobbled through the light rain to Hondori, a cool shopping arcade, for some real tasty Okonomiyaki, a japanese pancake with noodles, pork, egg, cabbage, sweet sauce and mayonaise.

I picked up a can of Shochu and lemon at a combini. I also bought a Icoca (like Suica) Blue Duck phone charm for 200 yen.






Back at the hotel we heard a very loud japanese woman moaning in the throes of ecstacy, or else faking her brains out. Whichever it was, it at least provided amusement for me for a few seconds.

We have to wake up early at about 5am tomorrow to catch our discount flight back to Kinki (no, I didn't make that up) Tokyo.

Sunday, 23 September 2007

Miyajima's Paper-eating Deer

I was meaning to get to bed earlier than midnight, but considering I normally get to bed at 2 or 3am this was pretty good for me. Only thing is, I WOKE UP at 3am and couldn't get back to sleep. I wanted to wake up at 4am in order to get to Haneda Airport at 6am. So, that gave me only 3hrs sleep. Oh no..

The plane we booked as a cheap fare was to leave at 6:50am. This is what you have to do to get this price. ANA's website is very easy to navigate and it's possible to get a cheaper ticket than a Shinkansen train.
We did a self-checkout and got a seat on the second level on the plane. I got the window seat, but any kind of view was obscured with clouds.










Getting onto the ferry is a ten minute ride over to the island where there are many tame paper-eating deer.

There's a toliet for headless men and headless with one leg women. A dead end is stating the obvious but it still didn't stop me jumping over to the path.

We were lucky to arrive at the island at low tide to be able to walk over and touch the O-Torii gate that normally is out at sea.

Also normally surrounded in water is the Itsukushima Shrine. We were fortunate enough to witness a wedding ceremony. The bride has a large headress supposedly to "hide the horns" once married life rears it's ugly head.

















Next we moved onto the Daisho-In Temple area. There are a heap of great temples here. Near the entry there is a belfry bell that can be rung. This is used to signal the beginning of worship. I wanted to ring it twice but gf said no. Maybe that wasn't such a good thing to do in the first place.

For some reason there is an Anpanman statue in front of one of the temples. This is a children's toy character. I have no idea why it's here?!









Usually the japanese wet the head or put bibs on the Jizo statues to appease the spirits of dead children lost due to miscarriage or abortion. This is for the sister I never knew.

Lastly we took the cable car, Mt Misen Ropeway to the highest point on the island where there is a great view. We had to do a tiring thirty minute walk from the final point but the view was great and there were even monkeys roaming around. Nice.

If anyone decides to take a trip to Hiroshima, I strongly suggest taking a side trip here to Miyajima. I thought it was just the famous "floating" Torii place, but this place offers so much more. Right up there on the must see list in Japan.









Friday, 21 September 2007

Kami-Ōoka

I wasn't in Yokohama today, but actually posted to go to Kami-Ōoka.

I had plenty of time, so I got some extra money for my Hiroshima trip, and updated my passbook to show all the money I have been earning and spending so far.

I got to Kami-Ōoka fairly early, so I went to look for the drug store that Jesse said had a big jar of Nescafe for about 400 yen. I found the chemist, but I wasn't sure of the price so I ended up buying it and paying 627 yen.

I managed to arrive home before 10pm. I went to the supermarket to buy a Crunky. It's been a while so I needed my fix. Absent mindedly I actually forgot to give the 100 yen to the cashier. I must have thought I was paying "credit" with my Points Card.

I made a risotto curry for dinner and reinstalled XP on my mac. It is running better and I can use USB finally. Two more sleeps till Hiroshima!

Thursday, 20 September 2007

Real Estate, Planes and Gachapin

Oh it's thursday once more so it's great to have a day off after only two days of working.

No specific plan, but the general idea was to go to Yokohama. We had in mind to check out some real estate and travel agents.

Around Yokohama wouldn't be too bad for me to live. Still close to my schools and closer to Tokyo. We were told of a one room apartment in Wadamachi for 40,000 yen. Apparently the landlord is friendly to us foreigners. At least the price is right.

Later, I checked that the station is not exactly walking distance to Yokohama, but there is a subway stop nearby.

After that we went past a few ufo catcher arcades near the Tokyu Hands department store. I tried 100 yen on a Mario that was practically in the shute but even with that given, it didn't budge so I gave up.

We walked into a travel agent, but they couldn't book a flight from Brisbane to Tokyo, only the other way around.

To save myself the hassle I have just booked the cheapest flight with Jetstar for around $800 to Osaka and I'm just going to bus it from there to Tokyo. I just wish it wasn't on New Year's Day. All the other days the price is much higher. Must be all the teachers coming back to work I think.

We walked to Minato Mirai, and on the way we went to my favourite Taito game arcade midway to going there.

I saw a Gachapin I wanted so I got them to move it for me.

This is from my seventh try. I'm not as happy as I should be. 1400 yen was required to free it from it's glass prison. I'm happy to win it. I just want to get it in less moves. Another toy to stuff in that ol' suitcase.

I sure if customs ask me to open it in Brisbane, they will get a big surprise.

Wednesday, 19 September 2007

A Close Call

Thinking it was tuesday not wednesday, I had in my mind that I didn't have to get up until midday.

Seeing that it WAS wednesday, I had to BE at work by 10:35am. I received a message at about 9:30am from the gf asking what time she wanted to meet me after work. This actually woke me up.

I had the quickest shower and breakfast and somehow I was able to catch the 10am from Tomioka to get to Yokohama on time.

Thanks gf. You saved my life.

Monday, 17 September 2007

Long-Sleeved Kimono Fire

I went and did it.

I sent the email to my housing company letting them know I will be moving out of Tomioka (aka "the sticks") on the 31st of October.

Including today, that will give them the 45 days notice and minimum 5 months and partial month (I moved in the 31st May), I am obligated to stay.

They may on a technicality say that it is only 44 days and insist that I stay an additional day maybe.

Plan A is to move in with the gf. This actually scares me a lot but it will save a lot of money for the both of us. I have never lived with a girlfriend before so it will be very interesting to see how that goes.

Plan B is to find my own place. I can still save about an extra $300 a month if I can find a single 1K apartment. Landlords are known NOT to be gaijin friendly and the combination of guarantor/2 year lease and key money puts me off this idea a lot.

Plan C is if I can't do either of the above I'll move into a gaijin house. These are basically rental houses specifically for foreigners, like a hostel but with separate private rooms. The rent would be similar to what I am giving up though.


Plan D was this park option until I read the "no camping" on this sign.

After sleeping most of the day, we went to Nakau, a japanese fast food place similar to Yoshinoya. I had some Korean BBQ beef and rice. Much better than Macca's, that's for sure.

We walked through Kagurazaka, a nice avenue of lit-up shops and restaurants near Iidabashi. This would be a nice place to live but expensive.

We went to Saryo, a sweets restaurant and had cakes, coffee and green tea.

Today we also booked the plane ticket and accomodation for next weekend in Hiroshima and Miyajima. My first trip outside Tokyo/Yokohama! Thank you Autumnal Equinox substitute holiday!

Sunday, 16 September 2007

Ark Hills Autumn Festival 2007

We went to Roppongi to see what was going on at the Ark Hills Autumn Festival 2007.

When we got there it looked to be aimed especially for kids so it was quite boring. The highlight, if you could say that, were the Ball Rockin Crew, home boys twirling and bouncing a basketball in imaginative ways. Hmm.. ok.

Next we went to Midtown again. The best thing there was going into the basement shopping centre for food samples. I even had some Australian beef. Oh I miss real chunks of meat and cheese!

We were both still hungry so we went to a busy Udon restaurant and had some real yummy Udon noodles.

From there we stopped into the Don Quixote store. I couldn't resist the exercise bronco, Rodeo Queen.

I am tempted to buy a 4 litre bottle of Green shochu for the bargain price of 2500 yen. That would be a 700ml of Vodka for that price! Look for a pic sometime in a later post.

Lastly, we walked to the nearby Tokyo Tower. This is Tokyo's answer to the Eiffel Tower. Up close it looks nothing more than a TV tower (which it is). We didn't think it would be worth the 820 yen to check out Tokyo's uninspiring skyline.