Friday, January 19, 2007

Entry #3: Hakuba Dec. 31st - Jan. 3rd

So begins the telling of the final chapter in the triology that was my Christmas holidays. It's about damn time, is all I can say. Enough of the dilly-dallying. Let's get to the meat of this entry.

Kyoto came and went. If you read the previous entry you will know how wonderful of a trip that was. If you haven't read it stop now and get your scrolling finger working. I'll wait for you to finish and talk with those who are already caught up to date. So, how's things? Same here. Bought myself a new laptop. A flashy one! Acer, fast as all get-out, etc... I'll take some pictures and show it off like a newborn child. Oh, sorry to cut this short but everyone's all caught up. Pretty good trip, right? Well, guess what? This one is even better!

I got back from Kyoto at around 6 PM on the 30th of December, travelled home, changed my suitcase full of dirty clothes and souveniers to some less dirty clothes and warm clothes. had a drink with the roommate, showed them some pictures and slept very little. I was up at 6 AM catching the train and all night I tossed and turned worrying about missing the bus and messing up the entire remainder of the holidays. I made it to Shinjuku with plenty of time to spare, got my ticket all set, had breakfast at McDonald's (no matter where you are an Egg McMuffin still tastes heavenly after very little sleep) and jumped on the bus. Four hours later I was off in beautiful Hakuba, filled with mountains and several feet of snow! Oh, I saw snow in Kyoto but it barely stuck around to make a Canadian's wish come true. Now, I was surrounded by so much I was actually starting to be sick of its cold. Not really though. After waiting a bit at the bus stop I came to realize that I was probably at the wrong stop since Rina said she would pick me up within a couple of minutes. She called me and I made the revelation much to Rina's chagrin. She rolled around to where I foolishly got off the bus and she introduced me to her sister. Then it was off to her house.

Now, Rina's parents own a quiant B&B in the hills of Hakuba. It is beyond beautiful and they were nice enough to house me for 4 days. They even gave me my own room in the hotel! And fed me! It was fantastic. Rina showed me around, made mention of a few things we may do over the holiday and then immediately put me to work. I cut seeweed into tiny strips for the soup course of tonight's meal way better than Rina! Rina wanted to compete so I did what every guy does when challenge: beat the living pants off of her! Oh, there was no contest! Rina, if you are reading this I apologize for rubbing it in so much but even you gotta admit how bad you got beat! Hahahahaha.

Anyways, after relaxing in the lounge and a few games of chess (a couple wins and a loss, well played Rina!) dinner was served. Now, let me tell you about this first meal because I have not been fed like this since my last family meal back home. 6 courses rolled in and 6 empty plates rolled back out. Starting with a fantastic appetizer, pumpkin soup and salad the main dishes began to roll through. First came a fantastic white fish with lobster sauce and then came a SECOND main! Lamb with black truffles! Good gravy I haven't felt full since leaving home. The final topping came out in the form of homemade mint ice cream. All the while Rina and I played our on-going game of What If... for almost the entire meal. I found out many things that night with the main point being that the argument between hairy vs. smelly still rages on. After a bit more relaxing in the main room we rang in the New Year watching the different temples in Japan unfold their festivities. Around 1:30 I drifted to bed and crashed.

Day 2 brought about the promise of cross-country skiing. Now, I haven't cross-country skiied in well over 3 years and it is definately not something that came back to me like riding a bike...well, if you consider my history with bikes maybe it did! All that crashing and so forth. It was painful and tough as hell but it was fun and well worth the sights. I got some amazing pictures of Rina and I on the mountainside in our crazy get-ups and such. After a bit more skiing we came to the final descent to the bottom of the mountain. Downhill is not even close to my forte so I unsnapped the bindings and jogged/hopped down the hill. Sore beyond all belief but feeling more relaxed than I have felt in a long time we made our way back to the house and relaxed a little more. A couple games of Chairs later (like Jenga but with plastic chairs) we had the traditional New Years meal of sweet preserved fish and meat. More relaxing, more chatting, another game of chess (another sweet victory) and it was time to call it a night.

Day 3 was highlighted with a trip to Nagano and Zenkoji Temple: one of the largest temples in Japan. There were several unique features of this temple: there was this large, octagonal pillar that, if you spun it once, and by spin I mean push with all your might, you would get the same enlightenment as reading the full teachings of Buddhism; there was also an underground path in the main temple building that was pitch black but held within it a metal key that if you touched it, you were given instant access to Heaven (look out Heaven, Don found the key!!). After a fortune that stated I would be prosperous all year, we headed out and found a great noodle restaurant, did a bit of browsing at shops and headed back to the hotel. Since we were all pretty beat we once again crashed in front of the TV. Now, the rumours about Japanese TV are all 100% true! We watched some crazy variety shows, the Hakone Marathon and a wonderful show called Run For Money, in which 12 people are let loose in Shibuya and are chased by suited hunters. $3 was added to the pot every second for a full hour, which is about $10,000 (I think...can someone do the math for me?) The show finished, 1 AM came and reared its ugly head and we prepped for the journey home.

We left Rina's house the next day and drifted around downtown Hakuba visiting the Nagano Olympics Ski Jumping hill, ate some octopus balls (octopus cooked in a cheese sauce and rolled into chicken ball-like form) and hit the bus only to find out that Rina and I were to be on different buses. After 5 hours on the bus back, a finished book and several text messages about who we were stuck beside on our bus later we made it back to Shinjuku. Rina and I parted ways and I headed back home and finished my holidays at home.

And so ends the trilogy. So let it be written, so let it be known.

Thursday, January 18, 2007

Entry #2: Kyoto Dec. 28th-30th

Well, well, well...it has been a while! Almost a month since my last update...where does the time go, I ask you faithful readers who have dealt with the blogging absence? "Into thin air and passes into a realm we can never reach again, no matter how much we long for it." is a solid answer, well spoken! There are reasons for my absence: a lack of time, work bogging me down like an elephant stuck in a tar pit, exhaustion from the travelling I did over the holidays (half of which will be documented here) but that is no excuse to leave people out in the cold. So, come on in! Pull up a spot next to the fire and warm your chilled bones. You've been stuck out in the cold for far too long and it's time to throw a blanket around your shivering shoulders and tell you the tale of Part II of my Christmas vacation: Kyoto.

After the house party had wrapped, the house been cleaned and the pictures been put on display for everyone to see, I prepared myself for my first real trip since coming to Japan. How fitting then that the first trip by the most stereotypical tourist spot in Japan: Kyoto. Known for its ties to Old Japan (I believe it was once the capitol of Japan way back when but don't quote me on that) I asked around and found two others who were also interested in visiting this lovely part of the country: Dawn and Graham. Dawn is an American from Ohio, Graham (spelt differently but whatever) is a Scottish fellow. The three of us sound like a bad joke gone wrong: "So, a Canadian, an American and a Scottish person get on a bullet train..." You get the idea. So I book the tickets, make the arrangements, deliver the good news and await the 28th of December when we are to leave for Kyoto.

The 28th shows up quicker than expected and I am, fortunately, well prepared in advance. I take the trains to Tokyo Station, the metropolitan hub that holds our Shinkansen (which is Japanese for 'bullet train') and my two anxious travel companions. But alas, my two chums are absent. I call up Dawn and ask where she is. "I'm in front of the Shinkansen gate. Where are you?" I reply "I'm in front of the Shinkansen gate. Uh oh." Turns out Dawn and Graham are at the other end of Tokyo Station and have...oh...10 minutes before the train takes off with or without us. They hustle their asses over to my gate, the correct entrance, and break through the turnstile without even buying a ticket. We haul ass up the stairs, hand our tickets over, jump on the train and sail off with seconds to spare. What a way to begin things! There is never a dul moment when Don, Dawn and Graham get together!

The Shinkansen is exactly as it is imagined with the added bonus of a fantastic view of Mt. Fuji on clear days. You race through Japanese towns with the quickness and percision of a ninja. The comfort is first class all the way with enough leg room to make even the tallest of gaijin comfortable (Travis, you would be in luck). We arrive in Kyoto 2 hours later and have only the slightest difficulty finding the hotel. We get in, unpack and look out the window to see an amazing view of the city. Graham spies a five-story Pagoda that looks completely black so we make that our first stop. Realizing that I forgot to bring my laptop I start rationing pictures knowing what we're gonna be doing the next day. I still snap off a bunch there (my favourite being the stump poses and the crazy Japanese folks who took our pictures first then got in a photo themselves) and we move on to look for another place. After wandering with no idea where we are going Graham asks this lovely middleaged woman where the nearest temple is. Not only does she tell us but she leads us right to the entrance! Talk about going out of your way to help others! You hear the stories but just don't expect it to happen. Unfortunately, the place is closing soon but we still barge through, snap a couple of pictures, sneak into a closed tatami room and head out again. With the weather starting to chill us to the bone we wander around closer to the hotel, find a really interesting looking tower, hit a couple of shops, have some ramen and gyoza and head back to the hotel room where we crash and watch CNN Internation's coverage of the Saddam Hussein hanging.

The next day holds travel, travel and more travel. Luckily, hotels in Kyoto provide bus passes for 5 bucks a pop that allow all-day travel and the handiest of maps to get to as many attractions as possible. The first stop on our journey is Ginkakuji: The Silver Pavillion. Oh, and by the way, it snowed in the night so if you haven't seen the pictures already take a look at what Kyoto looks like with a blanket of the powder covering its most famous landmarks. Jealous yet? Thought so. The Silver Pavillion is just a building that was supposed to model the Golden Pavillion but never got coated in gold. Amazing gardens and pathways through and over hills make this a great beginning, no matter how bitterly cold my hands become I snap picture after picture (Personal Favourites: the group pic in front of the Silver Pavillion, Dawn on the staircase, the snow, more snow and all the other snow pictures.)

Next stop is Nijojo Castle but, for some bizarre reason, the place is closed for the holidays. Damn, there goes that attraction. Oh well, gives us more time to hit Kinkakuji: The Golden Pavillion. This place lives up to the name and is, in fact, a Japanese style house that is covered in gold leaf, as ordered by the owne back in ancient times. The area around the Golden Pavillion is majestic! Islands in a pond that is crystal blue, waterfalls around duck-filled ponds, Japanese trees blanketed in white, powdery snow and with more snow falling all the while. There are no particular favourite pictures because this place is what Japan is all about: enough beauty to fill thousands of memory cards. This is a must for anyone wanting to see Japan at its finest. The crowds do take away a little from the amazing spectacle that is the Golden Pavillion but everyone is too dumbstruck by the simplistic beauty and amazement to really concern themselves with all the tourists. Just amazing.

After a quick lunch at the coolest looking McDonald's I've ever seen we hop to Heian Shrine, a massive structure that is more hidden to the gaijin eye. While the entrance and main buildings are impressive it is the garden pathway that really must be seen to be appreciated. Miniature lakes, shubbery the likes I will never see again, stone pathways across water that look like samurai could have trained their balance and co-ordination there years prior and a bridge that will leave you speechless. The pictures started to fill up my camera here (Favourite Pictures: The three nuts on the rocks, the bridge pictures, Graham's confusion over the signs.)

Gion was the next stop on the tour; an area famous for their geisha population. Now, there are three levels of geisha in Japan 1) Geisha. The top rank. 2) Geiko. Geisha in training. 3) Maiko. Assistants to Geiko. Think the movie Memoirs of a Geisha. You had the young girl who scrubbed the floors (maiko) and assisted the bitchy, catty young woman (geiko) who ruined the kimono of the head woman of the household (geisha). It's difficult to find a geisha just out and about in Gion and I wish I could tell you that we found one but unfortuantely our luck had seemed to run out at that point. Gion, luckily enough, is a really cool marketplace with lots of sights to see, smell, taste, touch and listen to.

It was long dark by this point so the three weary travellers headed back to the ramen restaurant and chatted about the mysteries of relationships and life itself. An interesting conversation topic with people I really didn't know too too well but it was nice and really made me feel comfortable with these two. We all found out that we were in similar boats paddling our way around the ocean of life. This time we just happened to leave the ocean behind for a few days and wander the shore. We called it quits for the day but not after we ribbed Graham for his embarassing situation at Heian Shrine. Graham had been repeating the Japanese that was spoken to him for some odd reason so when he heard a nice young woman say "Ichi, ni, san" and take a picture of her family in front of the main gate, Graham thought nothing of repeating it in not the most quiet of voices. Well, turns out that while Graham may have found it ok, the young woman in the red pumps took alot of offence to it. The look she gave him chilled even the bowels of my soul. I was standing next to him and we both froze when that stare of hatred pierced our auras and drilled into our minds. Graham felt like shit for doing it but since you can't have do-overs in life he'll have to just live with ruining that nice young lady's day. It was too funny.

Day three brought about our departure day but not without visiting one last site: Kiyomizu Temple. Situated high in the hills of Kyoto, Kiyomizu has the best view of the city and the coutryside. I used the last little bit of memory card space I had left save for two pictures for the Shinkansen. We wandered there until we had to leave for the train. We arrived well early this time, bid Kyoto adieu and flew back to Yokohama. I left Dawn and Graham at Shin-Yokohama Station with pleasantries and thanks, burst through the gate and raced home to prepare for Part III of my epic trilogy: Hakuba. Stay tuned tomorrow for the thrilling conclusion.

Wednesday, December 27, 2006

Entry #1: The House Party

The following several entries are going to be individual entries that document my Christmas Vacation. You see, NOVA teachers have all received December 27th-January 4th off from work! How sweet is that?! Sure, they're a heartless corporation who overcharge poor, unsuspecting Japanese people only interested in bettering their English speaking abilities in order to function abroad, but when it comes to giving teachers a bit o' Christmas cheer they know what present we all like: no work! And this is not going to be a relaxing, sit-back-and-relax kind of vacation, oh no! It's going to be action-packed with me exhausted but well-travelled and full of stories!

This first entry concerns the very first instance of Christmas vacation: the night of December 26th. Andrew and I had a house party a while back which was said to be the shindig of the year, so we thought that with the upcoming holidays and the lack of work the next day that another house party was in order. But this time rather than section the party off to just Andrew's room and the living room we decided to open the large double doors that connect Andrew's room to my room, clear out everything and anything of value and make one large party room and one chill-out room. After a lot of work on our parts, the stage was set. The house was ready. Mother Nature was not.

Japan, and more specifically Yokohama, was hit with typoon-like rain making the walk to the house more of an adventure than a leisurely stroll uphill. Rain, wind, more rain, lightning, more rain, thunder, a helluva lot of rain and freezing cold temperatures made the idea of going to a house party seem less than appealing for many people. So the turn-out that was expected dropped drastically. Though this was not the worst thing to happen to the party, cause really, a packed house where no-one can move or dance or breath isn't really that much fun. But this was actually quite the fun little party with a whole lot of hijinx. There were dirty Santa costumes worn by both men and women, there was a ridiculously tacky Christmas zip-up adorned with reindeers and a lovely Santa hat, there were bad English hats worn by myself and Andrew's girlfriend Souri, there was drinking, there was Family Guy, there was just a lot of random craziness. For more proof, check out the pictures on the picture site. I warn you now that some are not for the faint of heart. You have been warned.

The most fun part of the house party actually came the day after the festivities. Andrew and I woke up to a +20 degree day! +20!!! In Decemeber!!! I actually had to open windows and turn on my A/C I was so warm. The sun was shining, there were very few clouds in the sky and there was no sign of work to be found on the horizon! The only thing that made the morning pretty crappy was the clean-up of the party afternath. Luckily, Andrew and I are pretty effecient and clean-up breezed by. With Danny, the other roommate, in Tokyo, Andrew and I took the day to relax, watch some Family Guy, have our traditional weekend pancake breakfast, play video games, make joke after joke about the random losers who showed up at the end of the house party and ate all of our ice cream bars. It was so relaxing that we didn't even bother making ourselves look presentable when we finally left the house to grab a Yoshinoya dinner. It was just nice to relax and shoot the shit with Andrew. For all the minor problems I've had with him the good definately outweighs the bad anyday.

So now I am packing for Part 2 of my holiday. Stay tuned around the 29th/30th for my next entry.

Merry Christmas everyone! Happy New Year! Mom, Dad, Jennifer, Grammas thank you for the gifts! Jessica, thank you for the gifts and the key ingredient: Tim Hortons. Erin, Anna, Lisa, thanks for the Christmas card! Everyone else, thanks for the email wishes. Christmas was definately a solemn experience this year, one of which I hope to never repeat on my own.

Take care!

Thursday, December 14, 2006

Two Weeks in One Entry

I've decided that since I missed updating the blog last weekend that I might as well inform you of the happenings to date in Don's Japanese Life. I do apologize for the lateness of these entries but you will understand why once you read the final word in the final sentence in the final paragraph. I also vow to continue to keep this thing up-to-date from now on. That promise will probably bend and, once in a while, break on ocassion but I will do better than the last two weeks, that's for damn sure.

What I Should Have Wrote Last Week:

"3 Months Down, 9 To Go!"

It is the anniversary of my Canadian departure and what better way to celebrate three months in Japan than a house party?! Oh, this house party was not planned based on my anniversary; to be quite honest I have no idea why this house party was planned in the first place...December 5th is not anything special...Guy Fawkes Day is already a month forgotten...nothing memorable...oh well, like the great philosopher/partyer says: "There are no bad reasons for a gathering of thine friends and well-wishers, only good ones!" Cheers to that, I say! So Andrew invited as many people over as he could: Yimin, the fellow Canadian in the group, his girlfriend Souri, Dawn the Yank, Brian from work, Emma and Alex who you will remember from my first all-nighter in Japan, a cool student from his branch, Danny the new roomie, Jeff the new roommate of Brian, Aid a fellow Brit and friend of Andrew, Alex and Emma, Sophie and Sam a couple of crazy Brits who are friends with all the other Brits. 13 people in total crammed into a house barely big enough for three! Luckily, Andrew converted his room into a relaxation area so more people could morph into multiple rooms.

The night progressed quite well with many alcohol runs made, Andrew's room was eventually converted into a rave club where the majority of the partygoers cut a little ru...tatami mat, wine was spilled all over our dingy carpet giving it the appearance of a former Soviet leader's forehead, an episode of Heroes was watched and then thoroughly talked about, many people caught the first train in the morning and many more used the restroom to expunge their bodies of alcohol. I dare you to try and figure out which ones I took part in. The answers may surprise you. 5 AM rolls around and I finally go to bed.

Wednesday - Uh oh. The tingles of pain in the throat, a sudden urge to shove Kleenex up my nose, aching muscles, sore lungs, a massive headache all showing up RIGHT BEFORE entering the theatre to watch Casino Royale! Oh man, what a time to be hit with a cold! Let me bring you up to speed: after a morning/afternoon of relaxing and cleaning the house, washing glasses and laughing at the antics/photos from last night the Brew Crew from the previous night (minus Yimin who was more under the weather than expected. Happy Birthday buddy!) decided to meet up in Sakuragicho and watch Casino Royale. I was all for it for many reasons: new movie, Cold Stone ice cream, a hang-over free morning, more TV and pancakes. Heck, I was all for it. But just as we were filing into the theatre the symptoms hit me and I start to feel worse than that time I raced Jessica's friend Eugenia to the bottom of a bottle of tequila after Thanksgiving. After the movie, which was really good, people started talking about going for a pint. Though I really wasn't opposed to the idea I knew my body was telling me "Not again, damnit!" So Danny and I grabbed the subway and headed home. I eased my aching, sick, disgusting body into bed and collapsed into a coma.

Thursday - Oh my dear Lord! Kill me now! It seems that drinking and staying up all night really downgrades your immune system to a level that mirrors a chain-link fence between the border of Mexico and the United States. And let me tell you those germs were running across the border like they were being chased by federalies armed with hand cannons and pinatas! I am a ragged bandito and will spend this day in bed, in my room, in front of my computer watching movies and, essentially, in dire straits. Easy enough summary, I think!

The Weekend of the 13th-14th

Wednesday - Talk about your lazy days! After a week of harsh illness and struggling to breath Monday brought with it the Day To End All Days! Monday held a new toy for my Nintendo DS that allows me to play video games without buying them, the An Evening With Kevin Smith 2: Evening Harder DVD in which I am visible in the audience throughout the entirity of Disc 1 (Disc 2 was filmed in London so that would've been a feat and a half!), a solid work day, nice weather and the promise of an enjoyable weekend. Wednesday rolled around and, lo and behold, I had a glorious day doing almost nothing at all. Andrew and I fiddled with our new gadgets and relaxed the majority of the day away. I watched a bunch of good movies, did a quick grocery shop, and then watched a few more. I also planned for Hakone, a trip that has been long anticipated but never achieved. So that's drift right to that, shall we!

Thursday - Woke up at 7 to get a start on the day. Hakone is well over an hour north of Yokohama so I needed to start off early to truly enjoy the breadth of today's trip. After an hour on the train I did not realize I had another quick train ride and a half-hour long bus ride to get to the heart of Hakone: Lake Ashi and Moto-Hakone. It was worth all the effort (and ridiculous costs to get there! Good Grief, the majority of my money was all travel costs!) Lake Ashi is one of the most beautiful lakes I've ever seen, the surrounding area is nothing but hills riddled with lush trees in full autumn colour scheme, the Hakone temple and water Torii Gate is amazing, and it was nice to see an even closer view of Mt. Fuji, even though cloud cover caused the peak to be shrouded from my vision. No matter. The trip was amazing and the pictures are well worth a gander.

The highlight of the trip was the shopping. A true beauty to behold is Hakone wood. The way the trees grow in this area give them this unique colour that makes the woodworking a lucrative business! I must've browsed a dozen shops that sold nothing but amazing wood creations all handmade locally. I bought myself a new phone charm that is this simple wooden square that is so intricatly designed that it just makes me relaxed whenever I look at it. The highlight was the box though. The Mystery Box, as they are advertised, are hand-crafted boxes of an amazing design, but the true appeal comes in the opening of the box. My box requires no less than 7 individual moves to open the lid. There was one for $315 that had 72 moves! You can imagine the goods that must be held in that box! Due to the costs, I could only buy myself one but you can always place an order with me for my future trip in the Spring. There are 7, 12 and 24 movement boxes. Shipping and Handling not included!

I ate in this little ramen restaurant and made a complete mess. Ramen and chopsticks do not mix! After that, I wandered the trails and streets until I realized that it was time to go. I needed to get back in time to catch the roommate so that I could attend this piano concert he was going to. So I trekked all the way back on bus, train and longer train just in time for my cell phone bettery to run out and not being able to get the directions to the concert. Shite. Oh well, I needed to head back home anyways to write this and crash. Something about that fresh mountain air that just makes me tired!

Well, I hope you enjoyed this installment. Check out the picture site for visions of Hakone and the feeling of longing and envy you will eventually become enraged with. I will talk to you all later.

Saturday, December 02, 2006

Music Makes The World Go 'Round

There's been one constant factor that has kept my sanity in check for my entirity in Japan, one element of life that goes unchanged no matter where I travel. That factor, the most important cog in the machine that is Donald William Ames, is music. Music is universal, as people have documented when travelling to foreign countries or the deepest jungles of the most tropical of locations. No matter what country, what nationality, what language you speak no-one can resist a great beat or an awesome guitar riff. It is the solidified bridge that connects all cultures, and the amount of foot traffic that bridge gets is enough to undoubtedly show how stable that crux truly is.

Music has reared its beautiful head more than usual in the past week than any of my days here. The first instance came on Tuesday: I was just leaving work as I received a message from Rina (if you don't know who Rina is do your Blogger research below) asking me what I was doing. I texted her back and told her how I had just got off work and was doing nothing. Throwing off the time constraints of text messaging, Rina called me to ask me if I was interested in coming to a concert with her in Tokyo. I asked how much and she said the greatest word in the English language (aside from "money," "food" and "plethora") "FREE." I am there! So she gets me directions to the Tokyo Dome, the gigantic stadium where the concert is being held. I get there and find out that the concert we are seeing in none other than the Piano Man himself! Billy Joel! Now, I don't know Billy's extensive catalogue of songs but I do know that if he plays "Piano Man" and "In The Middle of the Night" I will be a cappy hamper!

The stadium was packed! Rina, at one point, leaned over and said "I've never seen so many black heads of hair ever! You really know you are at a Japanese concert!" Oddly enough though the concert was very subdued. Japanese people don't go nuts or yell at the stage like all of the Canadian concerts I've been to. Not that it was bad thing: Rina got the tickets from her new boss, who just happened to be sitting next to us, so making an ass out of myself would, in turn, embarass the heck out of Rina and probably make her career with this company short and sweet. After the show was finished, Rina and I had a very nice dinner at an Italien restaurant and celebrated the free tickets with desserts and great conversation.

The second instance of music taking the forefront of my social life happened tonight, Saturday, in Hon Moku, the place where my NOVA branch is held. Andrew, my roommate and renownd drinking legend, has a bar near his school called the Honey Style. The bartender of the Honey Style is this cool American cat named John. John plays in a mellow electro band that was holding a free concert in Hon Moku. Since it is literally a 2 minute walk away for me I was definately interested in going. Unfortunately, with me being so close it meant the wait time for Andrew to show with people lengthened to a ridiculous amount. After waiting for what felt like an hour (cause it actually was an hour) Andrew and the gang showed. We walked to this dive of a bar in the middle of a residential area. We travel inside to the smallest room I have ever seen! And it was packed to the gills with Japanese rockers, music-loving young parents, the children of said parents, random punks and band members. It was a lively tin of sardines, but a tin nonetheless. I have never really experienced a small dive of a bar. I've been to Joe in Waterloo, which is a slum if I ever saw one, but it's still big enough to hold more than a handful of people, let alone a gaggle of music geese!

The first band up sounds like a Japanese Rage Against the Machine (so Lage Agrainst the Marchine. Say it aloud and you'll understand) who are actually pretty good. The guitarist was fan-freakin-tastic and made up for my lack of lyrical understanding. Oh, the lyrics could've been in English but since Lage is a lot of yelling political slogans and hatred the feedback and fuzz was ridiculous. My fillings almost rattled out of my jaw it was so freakin' loud. I sound like a crotchedy old man who can't take loud music! It's just that the room was no bigger than a common room in Stong Residence and speakers lined three of the walls. How can you not go deaf. John's band finally took the stage and the set was really good. The guy is an awesome drummer and his band is really mellow and cool. Andrew and I left halfway through since Sunday holds nothing good work-wise but it was definately worth going, that's for sure.

There you have it! Music: Life's Tie That Binds!

Thursday, November 23, 2006

Part III - November 23rd

After a night like last night, a nice, run-of-the-mill day is what I need. First on the agenda is Death Note: The Last Name, a Japanese movie about a magical notebook that, if a name is written in it, that person will die of a heart attack. If you get the urge to watch something like this ask me for the links to the anime on Youtube. It is fantastic! Of course, I was not informed that this movie had no English subtitles! So, here I am in a theatre with my friend Kat, who understands Japanese, making up my own dialogue while still understanding the basic plot. It was a fantastic movie and it'll be even better once I get the dialogue translated or begin to understand more complex Japanese phrases.

After the movie I travelled to Sakuragicho, which is still my favourite place in Japan, to do some Christmas shopping. Once I finished making my purchases I watched a street performer juggle fire and wow the crowd. What amazes me is the level of fascination and sincere interest that the Japanese people have in anything and everything. The gasps of amazement from the crowd are some that I have never heard in Canada before. It was fantastic and very enriching to know that a population still enjoys the simpler things in life.

With the shopping completed I headed back home, changed and went to Harajuku for Thanksgiving dinner with a group of 9 other people. Andrew met me at Yokohama Station and we travelled to Harajuku, met the group and hit the restaurant. I must say that it is nice to have a good, wholesome Western-style dinner in the midst of such interesting foreign locations. This meal was one to be savoured: turkey, stuffing, mashed potatoes, gravy, green beans and the most delicious chocolate cake this side of the Pacific Ocean. Unfortuatenly, Andrew ordered the cheesecake and only became aware of the peanut content after taking a bite and having his throat feel like a pin cushion. Aside from that, the night was extremely enjoyable!

So that is it for the updates. I will try to keep them more frequent in the future. But this should tide you all over for quite some time!

Part II - November 22nd

You really don't want a weekend to begin with nothing but enjoyment and satisfaction. I got lucky this weekend since Pancake Day was in fuill effect! Andrew and I have started a routine on our weekends that involvs cooking pancakes and watching Futurama. Last weekend it was sorely missed due to all of the antics at Doma Doma. This weekend was back to the same with the addition of Danny, the new roommate. Since I came here, the crazy bag man, Russle, had plagued our house with rumours and weirdness the likes that I have never seen. His room: coated in plastic bags. His attitude: enclosed and isolated. His presence: frightening in the creepy, Hannibal Lector kind of way. He left on Wednesday of last weekend and Danny, the new roommate arrived on Thursday. He has fit right in with Andrew and I, and so far no plastic bags!

After pancakes that feeling of bitterness and frustrastion crept into the weekend. Andrew and I wanted to help Danny get his phone but, due to some bad advice from NOVA, his forms needed to be redone. As anyone knows when dealing with the government and beurocratic bullshit you always want to start early. Andrew had other plans. 12 came and went...so did 1...2...finally at 3, as I was waiting for a call from Rina about what we were going to do today, Andrew dresses and decides that its time to go. "Yes sit, oh captain my captain!" Ugh. So we get there and after much waiting and time-wasting Danny's forms are royally forked. He needs to travel elsewhere and then travel all the way back. Oh, and the offices close in two hours. Good luck Danny! Hopefully you don't hold too much bitterness! I know I do! Danny takes off and I am saved by a text from Rina. Oh, glorious Angel of Mercy, remove my from the dope. I tip out of the door and head off to meet up with a normal friend.

Getting to Rina was an event in itself. Since she came to my neighbourhood last time, I thought I would go to hers this time. Seems like a fair trade-off. But the problem is that I am a complete idiot when it comes to travelling to unknown destinations. Oh, and my cell phone is dangerously low to dying! Op, scratch that...it's dead! Quick! Find a charger in the local convenience store! 10 minutes! Damn it! Alright, call Rina. I've already taken three trains, looks like I'm taking a fourth! Damn it, it's taking so long! I really need to stop listening to the roommate and stick to my own schedule! Finally, I arrived well over an hour and a half late, apologetic and bitter to the nth degree. Hopefully this fun outing with Rina will clear that up.

Lo and behold the Angel of Mercy cures my ails with the simple mention of a yakitori restaurant. Yakitori is food BBQ'd on a stick. Can't go wrong with that. Oh, and Rina is apparently starving so we go nuts on the menu ordering dish after dish. We sit and eat, chatting about all sorts of different topics, laughing our asses off at the liver Rina ordered, my utter disgust for it and the menu that labelled one of teh items as "Head Part." God knows what part of the head it was but we were not adventurous enough to try it. We just had the liver, intestines and chicken that night. Maybe next time, eh Rina?

After dinner we headed to a club called Gas Panic that is popular for having an interesting guest list, decent music and cheap alcohol. Happy hour has been extended to all night for the entire month of Novemeber. Coors Light for 4 bucks a bottle! Sweet Angel of Mercy, this is a glorious trip. That wasn't even the highlight of the night! There was this guy, a 40something business man in a wine red shirt cutting a mean rug on the dance floor to any song that was played. And not only did he know the moves he knew each song and all of the words. This man, ladies and gentlemen, is a weirdo regular. What a maniac. I said to Rina that I was going to shit myself if he broke out the Moonwalk. And wouldn't you know it, I needed a new pair of boxers only three songs later. What a night.

On the walk back, Rina and I played "Would You Rather..." with some of the more interesting questions a couple of people could come up with. I think if you really want to know a person you need to find out who they would rather sleep with (a diseased celebrity or a clean homeless person) or what they would rather do with their bodies (swim in a pool filled with pee or lick a sidewalk in the nastiest part of Tokyo). Truly a night to remember. At least there was no head part involved. I managed to catch every last train and make it to my house with no injuries to report and with a hope that the roommate isn't a moron the next day.

Stay tuned! Part III in only mere seconds!

It's Been A While... Part I - November 15th-16th

I will start off by apologizing for the lack of updates on this window to Don's Japanese Adventures. Sometimes the window stays shut with the curtains drawn tight. This isn't a bad thing, it just prevents the light from entering this world and illuminating the antics of the room within. After two long weeks without any sun it is definately time to throw back the drapes and really illuminate the stories I have to tell. As you can see, the room is a bit cluttered: crazy bag men, souveniers from Enoshima and Kamakura, late nights and all-nighters, enough empty beer bottles to make any liver cringe in terror, and a plethora of other little things that have made up this journey to date. Time to fill the room a little bit more.

The weekend of the 15th/16th came and went with some interesting events transpiring over the course of two days and nights. Wednesday was pay day. Sweet Japanese currency filled the bank accounts of teachers in dire need of funds. My roommate included in that bunch. What he suggested was celebrating this newfound cash flow by pissing away a bunch of it on beer and food. Needless to say I was gung-ho! We travelled to a local bar/restaurant called Doma Doma (you maye remember Doma Doma from a previous entry that involved fishy potatoes, copious amounts of beer and the gentle palette of vomit). 'This time would be different' I swore to myself. Luckily, my word is solid gold with me.

About a dozen people filled the large table and immediately picked up the menus, mouths salivating with anticipation and want to blow what little amounts of cash NOVA has provided us on this glorious day. Pints all 'round miraculously appeared before our ever-hungry eyes and all was once again well with NOVA's staff. Then, the evilness began. Andrew and Brian ordered a nasty little spirit called Sho-Chu. Take vodka, mix it with green tea and then serve it to everyone in the vacinity. Of course, some people mix drinks differently. Andrew and Brian are men who enjoy strong drinks that taste like liquid death. I barely finished mine and quickly switched back to beer.

Then the food arrived with a very special surprise: Russian Roulette balls. A tray of six innocent-looking balls, that look like chicken balls from any Chinese restaurant, hold two entirely different substances. Five contain a lovely cheese and gravy delight that taste upon the palette like penguins on a frozen pond. One contains an amount of Tabassco Sauce that could give a herd of elephants heart attacks and gastro-intestinal problems. Does one take the risk considering the 1 in 6 chance of suffering a fate worse than death? You bet your ass one does! On this night there were enough people to warrent two trays to be ordered. There were 6 gathered around our tray and we all chose one. I delicately pluck mine from the tray, examine the exterior with the precision of a diamond salesman, shrug, exclaim "What the hell..." and pop it into my mouth.

The thing that makes bad news worse is when it comes when you don't expect it. "1 in 6 chance! Those are good odds!" Words of a fool. The heat builds as I continue to chew this wretched piece of hell. Why am I still eating it? I swallow and suffer the consequences! Fire lights up the spots behind my eyes as I struggle to find a drink. I grasp the nearest glass and guzzle it. "DAMN YOU SHO-CHU!!" Now I'm on fire and drowning in a devilish alcohol! What a fate! Fortuanately, my roommate Andrew suffered through the same pain as me, so I guess misery really does love company. The pain subsides and I drift back into consciousness. The night continues and the party does not end until 1 AM when I decide that sleep is important and that I've done all the damage I can do in one night. I get Andrew keys, head back up the cursed hill to the Fortress of Solitude (as the apartment has so named by Andrew and I) and hit the sack.

Before I finish up this evening synopsis, I must tell you, my loyal readers, about the girl in the shorts. As the guys were all sitting at the far side of the table discussing random shit a girl from the table next to us got up to go to the bathroom. Normally, this wouldn't catch an entire table's focus, but this night was different. This girl was wearing what would later be dubbed "Khaki Panties." The shorts were no bigger than a pair of underwear! The entire table stopped and just collectively fell loose in the jaw area. ow, I know fashoin is a bit extreme here in Japan, but to actually witness shorts of that magnitude is like witnessing the opening of the Ark of the Convenant! It changes your whole perception and causes reactions like this one: when retelling this story to a female friend, she was quoted as saying "I'm glad you like it when girls have no respect for themselves" Simply priceless.

The next day holds nothing of real importance: laziness, laundry and grocery shopping. My excitement on Thursday was buying Christmas presents for family and friends, which is fun and all but still mundane enough to be enjoyable. Stay tuned for the next installment: Part II November 21st-22nd.

Thursday, November 09, 2006

My Trip To Enoshima OR My Weekend: Part Two

Thursday rolled around with the promise of nice weather and a fantastic trip ahead of me! The small island town of Enoshima has been heralded by my friend Mia as a great little location that not too many people know of. Heeding her advice, I decided to make it my next travel destination. I was definately not disappointed!

I started the trip off by finding a really great temple. As usual, I take a ton of pictures of the temple itself, but then I found the path. The path led me up to the top of a hill with this massive domed structure. I take a picture of the dome, turn and come face-to-face with Mt. Fuji. Now, I've been in Landmark Tower, on the top of high hills and in clearings, yet I have never seen Mt. Fuji. Today was the breaking of that tradition. This massive amount of rock and stone loomed in the distance like a great sumo wrestler poised to attack its foe with unsurmountable power and brute strength. I am breathless and elated! Finally! The thing that I've been waiting two months to see! Now I am just itching for next year to roll around so I can tackle the great beast myself. With that, I walk around the dome and come upon the main reason I am here: the ocean! Having lived in the geographical middle of Canada I have never seen the ocean for my own eyes. The trip over was the first time I saw the ocean but now I was going to get upclose and personal. I practically ran down the path to get to my destination. Look out ocean, here I come!

I hit the beach and, once again, am awestruck. The biggest body of water at my fingertips. Waves crashing around the wharfs and piers, surfers and sailboats in seemless harmony with the perfect blue horizon, the darkly-coloured sands of the beach lay out in front of me, the wind picking up the hawks and making them bend to its will. Simply breathtaking. I see this large island in the distance connected to the mainland by a long bridge. I decide to take a look and see if there is anything of interest there. Pfft, "anything of interest." I'm in freakin' Japan! The garbage cans are points of interest! Anyways, I wander up the island and see a massive torii gate surrounded by crowds of people. I head to the populated path and find myself at a dead end. But this is one dead end you want to find. I've made it down to sea level but instead of beach there are rocks. Tons of rocks that the waves crash, spraying mist and foam everywhere! Not taking the advice of the chain across the stairs leading down to the rocks, I hop the forbidding signs and proceed to sit on the rocks watching the ocean crash around me. It's moments like these I am glad I came to Japan in the first place. Several pictures later, I head back up to the path, take a quick trip into the hillside and head back to the beginning of my journey.

I feel the pangs of hunger kick in and decide to push my luck and get a suitable dinner rather than a Yoshinoya meal. Yoshinoya is like the Japanese McDonald's except they serve large portions of delicious food, as opposed to greased-up death packages that are unbelievably tasty! I find a place called CoCo's and venture inside. I find a reasonably-priced restuarant and have a meal fit for a king! My God, the food here is unbelievable! Having stuffed my craw I headed back to the train filled with souveniers, pictures and mushrooms. I would have to say that Enoshima is my favourite place to date. Though Kamakura was fantastic it was just too big to take in a single day. Enoshima is small and easy to do in a day. Fantastic! What a weekend!

My Weekend: Day One

This has been one busy weekend! So busy, in fact, that it requires two seperate entries just to cover the entire thing! Who knew one person could pack so much into two days? Maybe that's why I'm so good at Tetris: my ability to put pieces perfectly together to make it all work seems to come in handy when planning a day trip or packing four rooms worth of stuff into one Dodge Caravan. So, here is what I did on Wednesday, the first day of my weekend.

I had made plans to meet up with Rina on Wednesday. Rina is a friend of Heidi, one of my bestest good friends from my antics and shenanigans at York. Rina had lived in Vancouver for 10 years and met Heidi during high school. Fastforward 10 years and you get Heidi telling Don to contact Rina since she just recently moved back to Japan. Luckily, I got placed only 30 minutes away from Rina so we decided to meet a month ago. Since it had been so long since we last got together I thought another meeting was needed. So on Wednesday Rina came to Yokohama to visit. We wandered around downtown Yokohama, checked out the ridiculous clothing stores in the Vivre mall, looked at a miniature Japanese IKEA and talked about blood types. Random, I know, but fun nonetheless. Then we moved to Sakuragicho, my favourite place in Yokohama. We headed to the malls around Landmark Tower and that's when we came across the LEGO store. Now, I've been there before but never in a capacity as this day. Rina and I leapt at the LEGO building table like rabid dogs on a pound of flesh. LEGOs flew left, right and centre, barely avoiding the bright, shining eyes of innocent children who have had their playtime cut short by a crazy-eyed white man and his small but fiery Japanese friend.

40 minutes later we had completed our masterpieces: a LEGO Cairo complete with pyramids and a killer treefort. Realizing how much time we had just spent in that store we left with our shining LEGO monuments as souveniers for those left in our wake. After that we checked out some very cool plant store, where I bought my first plant. It's not a large plant but I do have to grow it from seeds and not just maintain an already living plant. I have named him Chuck the Plant (if anyone gets that reference I will be utterly amazed) and will keep all of my avid readers updated on his progress. From there Rina and I drifted to the ground floor and found Cold Stone Creameries. I had been craving this Food of the Gods for quite some time, so it was nice to relax and chat over a frozen piece of Heaven. Rina got the Island Life mixture (minus the mango) and I got the now-classic Cheescake Fantasy. My, what a treat that was!

After a bit more wandering and a lot of stories about creepy peep-hole removers and bag-loving roommates we decided to call it a day. The end to a very pleasant and relaxing day. Next time Rina, I'll come back to Tokyo and you can show me some of your haunts! And we'll hit up a gelato place next time, as well! The photos from the LEGO store fiasco are up so take a look while picturing Don and Rina ravaging the LEGO table away from little Japanese children. We must've crushed so many hearts that day......oh well! I got to build a sweet-ass pyramid!

Side Story: I don't think I've told many of you about my creepy roommate. In my apartment there are two roommates: Andrew and Russ. Andrew is the cool Brit who showed me around from Day 1. Russ is the creepy American whose room is filled with plastic bags. I shit you not! Plastic bags a-plenty! We looked in the belly of the beast two days ago and saw that Russ' futon is in the centre of the room and is surrounded by an ocean of plastic bags! We needed to see if there was a giant crucifix on the wall (there were rumours...) Finding none Andrew and I pulled our heads out of the room and realized that we had just burnt the image of Hell into our minds for all eternity.

Well, Russ is leaving on the 17th of November. He's been in Japan for over 5 years so he felt that it was nice to leave. And what a legacy he has left! Not to mention a mountain of plastic that would make any avenue on garbage day look like a joke! Andrew and I are elated that he is leaving because now we don't have to worry about coming home to Russ standing at the front door with an axe and a pile of bags to catch our falling body parts. But at the same time we are scared that the bags will be left behind. Russ is going to be doing a bit of last-minute travelling before leaving, which means that he doesn't have a lot of time left to clean up. I feel bad for the poor sap moving into that room considering the crap that is in there but, at the same time, I fear to tread in there not knowing what the hell I may find. Here's to hoping the bags leave us soon!