The recent tangents
Date: May 8th, 2008 8:17:58 pm - Subscribe
Mood: flu like



I cant actually coherently remember what I was intending to write about when I sat down, and seeing as how Ive already lost interest in talking about my Tohoku trip, I think Ill dedicate this update to the recent nightlife activities that occurred in the past couple weeks.

First off, its starting to heat up now which in a tropical climate means two things; humidity and steamed heat. Why did I let my hair grow out again? Oh yeah, because hair cuts here cost from anywhere between $30 to $100. Usually about $70 though. Its ridiculous. And hair salons, like Starbucks, are on every corner; much like their dentists offices, though Japanese teeth remain disfigured for the most part. I think it’s some sort of ‘far east’ mystery like the pachyderm militia or mystic sex positions.


Also occurring right now: A level 5 earthquake which was pretty fascinating for someone who never encounters such a thing. And, the arrival of the president of China in Japan, in Tokyo, in Waseda. I really shouldn’t have been surprised since Waseda is one of the most prestigious universities in Japan, but it was still really cool to see the guards and crowds around the building with the auditorium he was speaking at. It was interesting to walk among the Tibet protestors and the nervous police guarding the line yesterday.
China also just gave us two new pandas because the one in the Ueno Zoo, the one that Ueno is FAMOUS for died recently; the day before my class went to visit it coincidentally. I finally make it to an Asian locale and am denied access to pandas, wtf.


The party I went to a couple weeks ago actually started on my way to campus on a rainy Friday evening. I bumped into my buddies Clay and Ian on their way to a gig in some bar in Shibuya. By the guitar strapped to the already buzzed Ian, I correctly assumed that he was the one playing even though he answered a different name for the bar each time I asked. They invited me to come along and seeing as how I had a few hours before my other friend’s birthday party, I agreed.
I may have already mentioned this, but Ill say it again: Tokyo is a honeycomb. Every building tall or short has an indeterminable number of shops, bars, hair salons, offices, or apartments glued together like those Popsicle stick bombs from your childhood. This bar, the name of which still escapes me, was squeezed within in one such amalgamation. There was Kurt Kobain paraphernalia on the walls, similar music playing, and an owner/bartender with long hair, dressed as a Eugene hippy, and relatively good at English. Ian’s performance was actually quite good, and since it was in all English and the audience was mostly Japanese, his self recriminations over forgetting some of the lyrics were unnecessary. He’s a fun guy though. He’s from Ireland and every time we get together to drink we end up discussing some avenue of linguistics. This time it was an anthropologically bent argument over the efficacy of Japanese Kanji as a writing system. We settled it by sharing a pint of Asahi.

Roger’s big 21 birthday party occurred at a well known Izakaya (Japanese style bar) near campus and quickly descended the path of most birthdays experienced by international students here; everyone drank far too much, everyone made Roger drink far too much, and everyone made friends with each random Japanese person they bumped into, all of which were delighted to participate. It was great fun and I was able to meet some new people as well as solidify friendships with a few others. Roger was of course hilariously drunk by the time we left and kept handing his empty beer bottles to groups of young Japanese college youths who were waiting, like us, outside the building with the Izakaya. They found Roger’s upbeat alcoholism charming I think.

All 15 or so of us decided to go back to Mikie’s apartment to hang out and drink some more, so we all fell/descended the stairs of the nearest subway. While waiting on our chosen platform Roger loudly informed us of his current bowel movement and turned to look for a bathroom. However, he happened to turn directly into three Japanese guys who surprisingly answered in English his polite inquiry of “I need to piss! Where’s the bathroom?!” Us Americans really know how to lay on the charm. Because the three satellites to our boozy universe had proved so useful we decided to hijack them. Using clever logic we convinced them to come to Mikie’s with us. Apparently the secret to getting past the shyness inherent in Japanese males is to simply ignore it completely. We found that stating over and over “come with us” and “you’re coming with us” and then ignoring any protests worked wonders. And, it may sound shocking but they were all to happy once the initial song and dance ended.

After we made big, loud gaigin messes of ourselves in various trains we arrived at Mikie’s where I got to know one of the new additions a bit better and where we were eventually all of us thrown out due to Mikie’s paranoia over being too loud. So while some decided to take taxis home, Ryou and I thought we would walk to Ueno or something to take the first train home. The results of which were I didn’t get home til about 6 in the morning, I didn’t sleep all night, and Ryou turns out to be the president of the club on campus that I decided to join this term. Additionally, one of the other of the threesome was Vice President or something. Meeting up with them again was hilarious, and Im still getting over the shock. Small world I guess.



Wow talking about this one night took longer than I thought it would. Guess Ill leave the 60’s, 70’s, 80’s night till next time. As a parting comment, I would like to state that I have now been in Japan for about 8 months, and it feels like I just got here. Where the hell did all the time go? It feels like we’re all in a dream over here and for seniors like me the inevitable return to reality is rather intimidating. Although, job interviews are going to be so much easier from now on. I have to do uncomfortable things every day from morning till night. When simply chatting with your host family requires extra thought and usually ends with you feeling like special ed, giving a speech in a language you instinctively understand is a piece of cake.




Until next time!



Ja ne!

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Day the first
Date: Apr 19th, 2008 7:47:47 pm - Subscribe
Mood: alive for now


Ohisashiburi ne?
(been awhile hasn’t it)


I’ve decided to stop giving excuses for my absences as they are neither interesting or validating, and will instead jump straight to the fun stuff ie. My recent trip to the Tohoku (Northeastern) area of Japan.

The itinerary David and I made together, him being my solitary partner in this venture, started out haphazard and became rather nonexistent rather quickly. It all started when David approached me towards the end of our obscenely long Spring Break with the proposal that we make one last jaunt into an unexplored area of Japan before classes started up again. And, seeing as how we were both contemplating our financial situations with something less than confidence, we settled on a road trip/backpacking approach to the whole thing. We purchased a seasonal JR ‘norihoudai’ ticket which basically meant that we could ride any JR line anywhere for one set price up front for 5 days. A train buffet.
So carrying our one backpack each to Shinjuku Station on Tuesday the 1st of April at godforsaken early in the morning, we began our expedition. According to our yotei (schedule), constructed the night before from travel guides at the international library about an hour before it closed, we would travel from Shinjuku to Sendai our first day. Then Sendai to Matsushima the second day, Matsushima to Niigata to Saitama to Fukushima that night and the following morning. The third day we planned to spend in Fukushima and then return to Sendai to stay at a youth hostel for one night. The next day would be spent in at Inawashino and the mountain (Bandaisan) attraction there. From there via various trains and night trains we would spend the last day exploring Hakone.
But that was not the real story…

I don’t expect anyone to actually read and/or remember this schedule. I merely listed it as a criterion for the complete unwashed mess our actual plans became.
We boarded a train from Shinjuku, and after about 8 transfers (the ticket only allows the use of local lines so we couldn’t use any direct bullet trains or expresses) and half a days travel, we were deposited at a little nowhere town called Fujita; so close to the name of a beloved childhood anime character that I had no choice but to giggle like a nerd with David. This town was miniscule and there were only two train tracks running by it, one for going north and the other south. We inquired as to why our train would not continue north to Sendai, and the informative station attendant told us that no more trains were going there today. The why of which we couldn’t figure out. But, seeing as how it was a road trip, we merely hitched up our bags and explored the little town until the next train arrived to take us back down to Fukushima.
Within Fujita’s boundaries we encountered an adorable shrine, a proportionately incorrect community center, and a group of Junior High School youths who, after a brief exchange, told us we “Nihongo (Japanese) very much” .


Holy crap Ive had a lot of warm liquids today. Its not even noon yet. I think coffee and I need to start seeing other people. Tea is trying to revive the third wheel from degradation, which is unfortunately the cause of today’s mutual consumption frenzy.


So after arriving back at Fukushima, we decided to take a train west into the center of Northern Japan to Inawashino. Around nightfall our train stopped at another little nowhere town amidst mountains about half way to our destination. This time the cause of our arrested progress was evident, and the snow storm outside our window was a dead giveaway.
A note on the weather: At this point Tokyo was entering Spring, the cherry blossoms were blooming, and warm days were sprouting up everywhere. Traveling north during this time would probably be considered a retarded move by any native since by going north we were basically chasing winter and there were no cherry blossoms. Needless to say, Im happy I decided against packing skirts.
So due to the snow storm the entire train load of people were charter bussed courtesy of JR to Aizu-Wakamatsu, an almost equidistant to Inawashino location. At this point David and I were exhausted from travel and after consulting my guide decided to find somewhere to eat, quickly followed by the collapse at our chosen youth hostel. Our first objective was accomplished at a little mom and pop ramen place where I had the best curry ramen of my life and where David tried in vain to call the hotels on our list. Full of a thermodynamic quantity we hoped would be equivalent to the task, we set out in search of our cheap youth hostel. In the dark. In the hail. Without umbrellas.

After traversing main streets and back alleys in the relatively small town, and being still unable to locate the hostel for over an hour, we decided to cave and stay at a hotel. Luckily the hotel stay came with a free visit to the neighboring hot springs that we took advantage of immediately after sign in.

And so ended our first day of travel; concurrently with the death of our initial itinerary. From Tuesday on we made our plans on the fly. Every morning we were unsure as to where we would be sleeping that night or where we would be going next, but that’s what road trips are all about right?

I think Ill take this day by day so for the next update prepare for honor-bound mountain suicides, incredible vistas from the top of Tsuruga-Jo (Aizu-Wakamatsu’s castle), and the arrival at our destination of failure, Sendai.


Until then Ja!


-Spork

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Fireman Band Night
Date: Mar 20th, 2008 10:57:13 pm - Subscribe
Mood: In demand




The reason I've been absent for so long recently is the tragic loss of Rufus, my streamlined laptop, and the necessity of finding a replacement for him. What happened you ask? Tea got spilled on him. By me. Yay me. I wish I could say it spontaneously occurred like an act of god, but while self delusion is a prevalent hobby of the human mind, I try to place blame where blame is due. So I have a new laptop now, he's not as fast, or ruggedly handsome, or efficiently constructed but he's an industrious little guy. As such, I've named him Hephaestus. Not exactly wanted or beautiful but capable of producing beautiful things with patience. Despite the romantic sentiments of the naming process, Ill probably continue to treat him like an unwanted stepchild: mild disdain broken occasionally by periods of sympathy, followed by an irritated command to perform some menial chore.


The fireman nomikai that Maddy, Clay, David, and I went to a month or so ago has become a prelude to one of the best memories Ive constructed so far in Japan. We went to dinner at this nice chinese restaurant with a collection of firemen and their families, including Maddy's host brother, Ski-chan (5 or so years old), who obstinately refused to eat any of the food put in front of him and instead, having taken a liking to me despite my predisposed dislike of children, started to gnaw on my arm for the majority of the meal. There were colorful imprints on my arm for days. Saito-san, the fireman who's house I stayed at after the last fireman event, was there too and was thrilled with the cake I had bought for him and his family as a thank you for the care they had shown me.

The real fun came after dinner when we all went out to karaoke. It still amazes me that the majority of Japanese people here, especially Saito-san, love American music like The Beatles and The Rolling Stones and Green Day. I ended up meeting a few new firemen this time as well as chatting up the ones I recognized from the last one. The older family man fireman I met for the first time figures in the next event which occurred last night. But the only significant event of interest was when we Saito-san escorted me and another young fireman home on the train. The young fireman was adorably, horrendously shy, and had been talking to me off and on all night expending little bouts of courage. It was hilarious when Saito-san blatantly pushed him to sit next to me on the train while he protested and turned beet red. Saito-san just laughed and forced him down; he's such a good friend. For the next 10 or so minutes I suppressed the desire to pet him on the head for his charmingly inept attempts at 'kinda-flirting'. He would be silent for a second and then with a queer 'eureka!' gesture, would strike upon something else to engage me with. The truly entertaining thing about this whole sequence was that Saito-san played the loyal wing man and boasted the horribly embarrassed younger guy's virtues.
Saito-san also invited us to his band's show which we attended last night.

Apparently, about once a year all the fireman around Tokyo, or sections of Tokyo, have a party at this restaurant called Esperia. Three bands, consisting of 4 or 5 of the present firemen, played and Saito-san was the main attraction. True to form, Saito-san sang songs from Green Day and Aerosmith accompanied by another vocalist woman and his amazingly skilled band. Clay, his buddy, and I were treated like celebrities. We were even invited to the front on stage while the already buzzed coordinator of the event introduced us and chatted about Oregon for a while. That, while horribly embarrassing, was merely foreshadowing for the rest of the night.

The music was extremely loud so conversation was difficult. But this didnt discourage a whole slew of young and old Japanese firemen from sitting down next to us and fighting over who would pour us drinks or light our cigarettes or talk to us. It was a little overwhelming. After I talked to seemingly every eligible fireman between the ages of 22 to 27, we had all drunk enough to be slightly buzzed and were comfortable enough to join in with the dancing. It wasnt entirely my fault that I DID dance since every time I walked from our table to the bathroom or the bar I had to pass by the large group of young males jumping around, and there was one in an orange shirt who I swear had radar cause he would always grab me and push me to the front of the crowd.

Well far be it for me to pass up a chance to dance around with 25 year old, fit, firmen, so I usually just shrugged and started jumping around with them; joining in the occasional can-can line. The whole place was jumping at that point, even mothers, sisters, and kids of the families. Myself and another young Japanese female, whom I met mid jump and befriended after a brief conversation consisting of "its so hot!" and "Im getting tired", managed to drag her laughing 40 or something mother into the pit too.

Every time we stopped back at our table to take a breather, various firemen would sit down with us and chat us up. Saito-san also made visits on his breaks to give me a high five or say how happy he was that we came. The truely climactic point of the whole evening was when Saito-san, possessing the knowledge that Clay could play the guitar, talked to the band and next thing I know there's a tambourine in my hand, a microphone in my face, and Clay with a guitar around him telling me that we're going to play Johnny Be Good. The band kept smiling at my bewildered looks while my new girlfriend held my camera up and promised to take lots of pictures. Our young male fanclub kept yelling encouragements in front of us.

Neither Clay or I knew the words to Johnny Be Good except for the chorus so one of the vocalists popped up to assist us, while Clay played amazingly well on his guitar. I had no idea he was so good. I merely danced around with the tambourine and sang the words I knew while our fanclub went nuts.
There were more than 50 people in that restaurant, and I swear every one of them came to talk to us. The older family man from the last event introduced me to his family kept trying to get his adorably shy 12 year old son to speak english to me. I made sure to drag him into the older boys dancing so that he'll hopefully have some good memories of strange foreign girls dancing with him and feel more included with the young bucks too.

Upon leaving a few of the more consistent visitors to our table insisted on hugging me 3 times before leaving and kept shaking Clays hand repeatedly. Saito-san invited us to the after party which I attented but Clay took his visiting friend home for the night.

The after party was a calm affair with more relaxed conversation. I got to practice some pretty intense Japanese with this really nice just-married couple (the girl was so cute!). And the bassist talked to me about which band position is considered coolest in America. I answered with my own opinion that the order usually went bassist, drums, guitar, others to which the guitarist laughed, fell backwards, and questioned me further as to why.

They didnt let me pay for anything at the after party, and Saito-san made sure I got home okay like the amazing person that he is; Im so happy I got to him better. He also enthusiastically reassured us that he would let us know when the next event was.

Overall the whole night was a huge ego boost, and extremely exhausting. I cant believe Im even awake now. But the pictures are amazing, I experienced a Japanese concert-like atmosphere, and I have memories that will never lose their initial intensity.


And on that satiated note, Ill end things for today. Until next time!

Ja ne




-Spork



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Tokyo Disney Sea
Date: Feb 18th, 2008 8:31:08 pm - Subscribe
Mood: infinite


So yesterday we all went to Disney Sea, much like the Disney Land adjoining it but with a nautical theme, and I have to say that it truly was a ‘magical’ experience. I haven’t felt such a sudden infusion of nostalgia in years. Upon entering the area reveals a large wharf/dock/Vienna like bay surrounded on all sides, unobtrusively, by the various attractions. Maddy, Ayumi, Nozomi, Yuka, and myself went to the Indiana Jones ride first which was such a blast that we went on it again before leaving, then we trekked on over to the Raging Spirits ride, a roller coaster that barely deserves the name since it only features on 360 loop, resulting in a terrified Maddy and the trio of Japanese girls laughing at my excited exclamations of “mouikkai!” (one more time!) They found it amusing that I love scary rides and thought it strange that I thought the monster in Journey to the Center of the Earth ride was beautiful. It so totally was, aside from the scream-like roars it produced, it was a rainbow assortment of reds and golds, vivid green eyes, had a burnished shiny appearance, and was about 30 feet tall. What else would I call it?


We ate lunch at Ariel’s Mermaid Kingdom, which was this amazing ‘underwater’ playground. It even had a huge whale with a blinking eye housing the gift shop. We ran around the kids playground, tumbled into all the netted enclosures, and climbed all over the Prince Erik statue like good role models. The outside of the Kingdom was this amazingly elaborate shell/seaweed/jewel encrusted monstrosity that towered over you as you entered. Every section of the park was intricately detailed. Aladdin’s Palace was an actual palace allowing you to walk around in the courtyard, sit at the fountain, and browse the movie-like market place. The Tower of Terror had a nifty trick at the top of the elevator ride wherein a vista of the park was revealed to you, displaying how high you actually were before dropping you like dead weight all the way down the ‘hotel’.


The whole experience was topped off after dark with a beautifully done ‘ancient story’ acted out with entrancing music and water jets followed by the ‘fire creatures’ appearance from the firework shooting volcano and his flame throwers accompanied by heavy drums. This all took place in the center bay area and I can honestly say, despite myself, that I was completely taken in. We all enjoyed ourselves immensely.


Maddy and I were also able to practice some hard core Japanese all day with the trio. I made some new friends at the huge gift shop near the entrance before leaving. They were standing in front of the intimidating collection of Pooh Bears that swayed drunkenly when you clapped near them. These two Japanese guys that looked about my age would glance at me, smile, and provoke the Pooh Bears into another round of swiveling. Such charming behavior had me approaching a nearby display of Donald Duck hand puppets, to which one of the guys responded by inserting his hand into one and gesturing at my face saying “herro, herro”. I can honestly say that I’ve never been hit on with a hand puppet before, but I found the attempt so endearing that I reacted on my first impulse. I stuck my hand in the nearest hand puppet brought up to his face and said “konbowa” (good evening). We giggled and ‘handpuppeted’ to each other until they were distracted by the return of the third member of their party, and I slipped away to find Maddy in the throng.


Writing about this today, I find myself in a slight daze of intense exhaustion. Walking around all day in albeit nice weather is incredibly tiring. Using this excuse, I will cute this update short and end it here.



Next time: Fireman Nomikai the sequel! Ken’s birthday Nomihoudai (all you can drink)! And finally, Poker at the BC!




Ja ne


-Spork


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New Years, snow, and fireman parties
Date: Feb 5th, 2008 8:12:52 pm - Subscribe
Mood: pensive


So finals are over for us SILS students in lovely, freezing, Japan. Its been snowing on and off here in Tokyo for the last couple of days to the amazement of my okaasan, and while I hate the cold (my body refuses to retain anything resembling heat), I absolutely love the snow. The usual crew and I met up at Baba to play in it the other day. By play in it I mean we found a nice coffee shop to sip hot liquids and watch the snow outside.
Recently our group has claimed a nice out-of-the-way café called Café Rapport as our own little greaser malt shop (greased lightening rarely makes an appearance). Maddy dubbed it the Beatles Café since, in an effort to be international, they played Beatles music nonstop the first few times we visited. It has now become the BC.


After our delicious coffee at the BC we trooped to a nearby billiards hall and proceeded to suck royally at pool. What’s interesting is we all sucked in distinctly different ways; which I emphasized on the chalkboard where we tallied scores. Maddy was the Shark due to her number of victories: 0. David was Mr. Smash, later Mr. Angry Smash, due to his strategy of violent aggression; a ball actually flew off the table at one point. Ken was The Scratch King due to his astonishing ability to scratch, especially after a declaration against such action. I was The Accomplished Scratcher due to my consistent scratching while sinking desired shots. Kevin and I were paired at the end as The Incompatibles because whenever we interacted during any game we were immediately incapable of sinking any shot.


In a recent conversation with Clay and Ken, in which many philosophical questions were discussed and never answered, I brought up the impulse in us all referred to as The God Complex. For those of you who don’t know, it’s a colloquial term used to portray a person who acts so arrogantly that he or she might as well believe he or she is a god. It is also the only reason I think I would ever have children. I explained to the guys that this complex pops up sometimes when I’m at my job (I am currently tutoring a middle aged couple in English). I find myself inappropriately tempted to insert flaws into their English learning. Like, instructing them to pronounce the ‘g’ in words like reign (resulting in ‘re-gin’). It’s a method of immortality really; their speech forever marked by my teaching. I’m always successful in resisting this impulse of course, especially since the couple I teach is so nice and friendly. However, they have a bad habit of keeping me over the two-hour mark. They did it again this last weekend when I was feeling particularly exhausted, so I knocked their CD rack over in a fit of rage.


Even though it’s a tad dated at this point Ill relate what happened the week after our return from the Kyoto trip. First, the Japanese New Year. This is basically their Christmas, so they eat a lot of food, have loads of people over, and engage in smaller celebrations for the following week on specific days. The food was absolutely amazing, but I didn’t know most of the people that came on New Years day.


Following that was week of sickness which I wont go into other than to say that it sucked and its over now. Classes started back up and my life became busy as finals charged around the corner. But there was an amazing weekend where Maddy invited us to her host father’s fireman party. He and a bunch of other firemen and their families greeted us at this cool restaurant in…I forget where…far from where I live basically. The food was great, the families were super nice, and we were able to practice Japanese all night. A good time was had by all; especially when we all went to karaoke afterwards. Firemen sure can put away a lot of booze. However, when the nice 40 something Japanese fireman who spoke pretty good English and was delighted by American culture tried to get Clay and I home via a shortcut, he instead forgot that the trains stopped running earlier for his chosen line. So while Clay was able to get relatively close to his home, I was stranded far from home and looking at a taxi bill that had me seriously considering walking. But, the fireman felt terrible over his mistake, and offered to put me up for the night at his home with his family. And, since I am in Japan to experience new things and meet interesting people I agreed and reassured him that it would be fine and that I would email my okaasan to let her know I wouldn’t be home.


His house turned out to be a menagerie rivaling farms back in America. His wife, who was also his high school sweet heart (they’ve been together for over 20 years!), greeted us at the door, and while they offered me glasses of wine I took in the living room. The walls where lined and stacked with tanks of fish, snakes, lizards, mice, hamsters, and various other small furrys and long scalies. In the center of the room was their ferret cage, which didn’t smell by the way, and at one point I looked to my immediate left and their was a foot and half in diameter turtle sitting in what looked like a modified catbox.

He also had three dogs, one of which was a Burmese Mountain Dog. Seriously though look this dog up, its HUGE. His sons were upstairs with some friends playing video games, but they did come down occasionally and took the sight of a strange foreigner sitting in their living room with relative ease. I cant even describe how nice this family was to me. They set me up in one of their sons bedrooms, gave me sleeping clothes, a toothbrush, let me use their shower and toiletries, took me out to breakfast the next morning, and even drove me home. I got to practice Japanese while he practiced his English, which was really quite good. I cant wait to meet up with him again this Friday for the Fireman Nomikai (the fireman party where there is a booze buffet basically). I’m especially looking forward to the “young firemen” that he said would be coming this time.



Well my study group is trailing in now, so I should get to work. But, Ill be better about updating now that spring break has started.


Ja matta!



-Spork









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