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!