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!

Saturday, November 04, 2006

Two Months Down, 10 More To Go

Hard to believe that two months have passed since I first left Canada and travelled to this, now not-so-foreign, country. While the language and writing is still an unbelievable mystery to me (I'm starting classes soon) the lay of the land has slowly emerged from the cultural fog and shown its true self to me, which is nice because no-one wants to be left in the dark for their entire stay here. Some things have drastically changed since first arriving here: my love of noodles, my understanding of Japanese directions and maps, the understanding of tradition and manners, the idea of putting others before oneself in all way, shape and form. Other things have stayed the same: the hatred of Japanese McDonalds (it's been a month since my last burger!), my love of sushi, the politeness of almost all Japanese people, the annoying crows that seem to have picked up an accent here, and my bitter hatred for my daily commute to work. It's all of these little things that really shape the first real exposure to a country and I think I've gotten pretty lucky so far.

The past month has been both more and less than the first month. It is true that the awe and wonder of the initial month here has tarnished ever so slightly. I see more garbage now then I used to, though the city is still the cleanest I've seen since travelling to Edmonton for the first time. I definately see a little more shy glances and odd stares, having unconsciously blocked them out to focus on marvelling at the local scenery in Sept./Oct. I've been lucky and so far haven't been accosted by any random Japanese people mocking me with broken English and inappropriate hand gestures. Maybe I exude the Canadian mentality and throw a delta wave of peaceful neutrality their way before they make the crass assumption that I am something of a hillbilly hick straight off the bayou. (hmm, I quite like that last sentence!) Who knows what it is but so far I'm still at one with the giant Buddha that is Japan.

But we are slowly drifting into the colder months. I don't say winter because it's the 4th of November here and I was still sweating in my collared shirt on my way to work. And the cold months are a difficult time to be away from familiarity. There will be no warm house to sink myself into, there will be no heater next to my duvet-covered residence bed, there will be no Tim Horton's hot chocolate to dull the chill within thy bones. Oh, Tim Horton's, how I miss you most of all! The real problem lies in the lack of central heating in Japanese homes. There is just one heater in each room and if you want more you buy space heaters and hope to Jebus that they don't ignite your futon on fire beacuse you accidentally rushed off to work and left it on. Hell, I barely remember to turn off my alarm clock! Who knows what I'll do with a silent death-bringer like that! So as I sit here typing away at this entry I question what the next 30 days will bring. Happiness? Travel? Depression? All of the above in some form or another? You'll just have to check in next time to find out. Until then, here are some more fun facts that Month #2 has brought me!

- The Japanese people have no shame. Not only in the porn industry ridiculously popular here but reading naughty anime in the middle of a crowded subway train is almost mandatory!

- Speaking of anime and manga, comics are hugely popular with everyone to the point that if you even make a mere mention of a minor made-up drawing many marvelled men and women will miraculously make much small talk about the mysteries and mise-en-scene in every miniscule, microscopic animation.

- Breakfast in Japan is abundant with pickles. Thought that was interesting...

- In Hakone, a popular tourist spot, there are black eggs that, if eaten, are said to add 7 years onto your lifespan. Of course, that's the myth. The facts about the health threats that boiling these eggs in sulphurous water to turn them black has oddly been excluded from brochures and articles.

- Giving someone the finger here is not seen as an unruly gesture. Hand gestures are nothing here. BUT! If some child forms two guns with his fingers and then combines them to form one two-fingered gun DO NOT allow them anywhere near your ass! It is a popular game for men to try and jam their fingers in or around your ass. Luckily, I avoided such fate and almost kicked the kid out of the classroom for even trying.

- For some odd reason the taxi is a popular method of travel around foreign countries for Japanese people. It is referred to often in lessons and, though expensive, is used often. Oh, also try to avoid making nice female students cry by giving them flashbacks to previous lessons in which instructors have tried to mock and yell at them!