Archive for September, 2003

Hashima Pool

I went swimming! There is a poool not too far (20 minutes by bike) from my dormitory. This pool is way out in the country-side, though. It was obvious I was the only foreigner to walk through those doors in a long time, if ever, because as soon as the receptionist saw me, she panicked in terror. I just looked in her general direction and she was already looking for someone who could speak more English than she could. Funny. =) The facilities are pretty much the same as you would expect in Canada, except for one difference. The 25m pool is a constant depth, it does not vary at all, from one end to the other. It is a bit above waist level, I guess. So you can stop and stand up in the middle of doing lengths, no matter where you are! heheh.

The etiquette used when people swim is a bit different, though. The lanes are smaller, so a group of 4 people in one lane will pretty much occupy it. Not only that, but the 4 people will seemingly spend most of their time standing at one end talking!… or just standing. I think it’s common for a family or a group of friends to come to pool together and use one whole lane. Precious space. I don’t think anyone would ever pass another. I know I felt awkward even thinking about it… the pool is only 25m though, so it’s not that big of a deal.

It was very cheap (400yen), and I think I can manage going there a couple times a week. I felt very good, afterward.

Japanese Bar-B-Q

A coworker was nice enough to invite us to a Japanese-style BBQ with her, her boyfriend, and her boyfriend’s friend. We had to be ready by 11am. I was a COMPLETE idiot and actually ate a healthy breakfast of choco flakes and banana slices, earlier that morning – I had no idea what was ahead of me. First, John, Ben, and I are picked up by Uji and her boyfriend (in a BMW, no less). We drive to Shirley’s ultra-inaka (but still cool) apartment and pick her up.

Now, BMW’s are nice cars, especially ones equiped with a full GPS unit like this on had, but they are not meant to have 4 people in the back seat. We arrive at Uji’s house 20 minutes later, and get out of the car. John: “I think my bones are misplaced.” Yeah, he was sitting next to me – I didn’t have much problem, but I guess John doesn’t quite have the same build as me and he just kind of folded where I wasn’t affected. 😀 Sorry, John. ^_^

The other guy arrived the biggest frigging truck I’ve ever seen before… with a huge extended cab. I took a couple pictures of it, I think. =) It seated us all comfortably (total seating of 7 people, I think). Off to the grocery store! While I was meandering back and forth poking fish-things and other squishy substances, everyone else was going CRAZY buying food! So much beef, pork, weiners, fish, prawns, vegetables… crazy, I say!

It took maybe 1/2 hour more to get to the BBQ destination at the base of a mountain. It was really nice. We dug out a little hole, put some rocks around it (to balance the tray on), and started the fire… eventually. We did more of the standard fare: drinking/eating/socializing/cooking. And there’s not ONE thing wrong with that! It was dark before we decided we had to roll ourselves out from that site, and back into the massive truck.

Back to Uji’s house! This, of course, made Uji very nervous: she had not prepared for visitors! No, really: she was horrified. We had to buy more drinks, so she was dropped off and said, “take your time,” in a commanding but polite way. =) We got back just as Uji had just finished, judging by her relieved look on her face. We still had yaki soba (fried Japanese noodles) to eat. But, not just yet… we were all pretty stuffed with the day-long feast, thus far. Fish eggs. I can’t believe how many friggin fish eggs I ate, that day. Or, should I say, fish FULL of fish eggs. Anyways, it was all good.

We had lots more fun continuing to snack and drink, of course. We had a great selection of drinks, including BMW wine! Yeah, Uji’s boyfriend is a BMW salesman… so I saw more BMW that day than any other day in my life. BMW calendars. BMW wine. BMW insulated bags. The food, just like the rest of the day, was awesome. I really want to get my own electric frying pan or something, so as I can cook my own stuff. The only problem would be the smell in my room… but I think I could leave the window open most of the time… until winter, that is.

We got back around 1am, I think. I was thinking I wouldn’t need to eat for a whole week.

First day of Japanese class in Gifu city

Class is every Tuesday and Friday, from 6:30 to 8:30 in Gifu city.

I don’t see any way around this: we were all unprepared. This class is HARD and is gonna demand some major attention! Which means.. less time for whatever else it is I do. Damn. But, if I can endure this horrible new pain that I’ve incurred upon myself, my Japanese language level *will* increase ten-fold. The text book has zero English in it. Not even any roman characters. All hiragana/katakana and kanji (my most feared enemy). I think I may have to translate the chapter sections so as I know at least what I’m looking at. The teachers are very nice, and speak no English. The class is an interesting variety including 3 Canadian Sanyo interns (Alex, Ben, and myself), some Americans, a South Korean, a Philipino, a Brazilian, and others. I can honestly say I probably have the worst skill level there. That’s okay. I will overcome and conquer. I will, right? Right?

Definitely gonna have to “practice” karaoke in a personal booth, at some point, so’s we’re not so ear-bleeding-bad.

After the “slap in the face,” (more like a punch in the gut and kick in the crotch) we went to an izakaya for dinner. Dinner was good. I think I already mentioned it, but I really like izakayas! Lots of variety for food and very social. Then we went to a pub where Ben proceeded to sing bad karaoke. It costs 100 yen to punish the other inhabitants of the bar with your choice or audio torture. They have a HUGE database of songs! Anyways, I bought Ben a shot of tequila for his courage, (I had not had nearly enough to drink to partake much more than clap and sing along away from the mic), played a couple games of darts with Alex, and finally had a pino-colada in Japan!

I definitely cannot do that every night we’re in Gifu, or I’ll have no money for… food… and … stuff.

Banana milkshakes and cards

As a perfect prelude to our long weekend, Alex, John, Ben, and I made banana milkshakes and played cards. It also happened to be the perfect way to use up the bananas I had bought but would not be able to finish! ^_^ We just had to buy the milk and ice cream, which we could get from the local konbini. We played a game called, “oh shit,” and it’s very fun and very appropriately named. However, I say, next time we do the milkshake thing, we obtain some rum.

Ben was even able to obtain a covert video with his camera of the heavy card action!

NOTE: Have I mentioned how cheap alcohol is, in Japan? Unless you order a drink at a restaurant or pub, of course. The best example would have to be these awesome killer-hard sake you can get in a tiny tetra-pak – it looks like a small juice box, and it’s cute, so it makes you think this is a kids drink… but don’t let that fool you! It packs a 14.5% punch. One of these little buggers (200ml) will only set you back 100yen ($1.20 CDN). Of course, it’s most probably the worst sake you’ll ever taste – very raw.

Takoyaki party at Shirley’s

Now that we (Shirley, Ben, and myself) had takoyaki makers, we wanted to use them!

Takoyaki are fried octopus cakes that Osaka is very well known for.

Since we had so much fun doing the takoyaki party thing at Briar’s, we planned to do the same thing in the good ‘ol countryside! It ended up being at Shirley’s apartment, so we could invite more people than we had originally planned for one of our dorm rooms. Everyone that ended up coming: Shirley, Ben, John, Alex, Suzuki-san (Ben’s coworker), myself, and eventually, Chris (from Tokyo!)

We bought lots of stuff – this was gonna be awesome takoyaki! We even bought shrimp, so that we could try ebi-takoyaki, “ebiyaki?” This night was enjoyable enough that I even did my speech about it. (I had to do a speech to my department at work – so I talked about making takoyaki). We ate lots of takoyaki and snacks we could put in the toaster oven, drank, and watched movies (Austin Powers 2) all night. It was tonnes of fun, and we’ll be sure to do it again! Even if Shirley’s futon now smells like takoyaki…. 😀

Staff party at Megumi

I really, really, REALLY wish I understood Japanese!

It would have made this evening so much more enjoyable. I went to a Japanese restaurant with my department (6 coworkers and myself) and we drank and ate all night. Oh wait, THEY talked, I just stared blankly and kept eating. Okay, this is not entirely true: my supervisor was the main source of conversation, as he had just come back from a business trip to Beijing, so he would pause and translate what he just said to me, every now and then. And my advisor, whom I *know* speaks pretty good English, would ask me questions in Japanese! That’s okay, they were usually simple enough for me to get the idea. Of course, I would answer in English. ^_^

The food was really good. There were a lot of small dishes, and the menu had Korean and Chinese sections! I love Korean food, so when asked what I wanted, I ordered a kimchi dish. And it was delicious! The meal started off with everyone getting a complementary dish that consisted of a raw egg in some sort of clear liquid. I had my doubts, but I watched everyone else mix up the egg and liquid with their chopsticks and slurp it up, so I did the same. Surprisingly, it was quite good! For drinks, everyone (except my advisor, who was the designated driver) started off with a round of beer. I must have been drinking my beer a little slowly, so they started ordering sake, which they know I like. I got to try very nice sake that I’ve never had before! Kubota Sake from Niigata. It was SO smooth! Very good. Other dishes included some sushi and sashimi, tako (octopus) parts in a spicy sauce, edamame (green soybeans), skewered meat and vegetables that were deep fried (“like yakitori” was the best name I got) to dip in miso sauce (bean paste), korokke (croquettes), and lots of other stuff I can’t remember. Oh, and the coolest thing, I got to eat deep fried *fugu*! Simpsons reference: “Don’t worry, map to hospital on back of menu!” I got to eat blow fish! heheh. It was strange, and there were many bones: at first, it seemed like it tasted like chicken but had the texture of fish. Fugu-licious.

The bill, for 7 people, ended up being 22,870 yen. Everyone paid 3000 each. Not bad. Not really sure what happened to remaining… got an email the next day saying the manager took care of it… or something. O.o

Ninjas, Waterslides, and Meat

A weekend involving ninjas, drinking, and waterslides absolutely *must* be good…. I’m sitting in bed, hoping I can do a quick recap of the weekend, without falling asleep.

Saturday

I take turns with Ben, doubling to the Hozumi station, and pay 100yen to park my bike for a night. From there, we take the train for a few hours and head to Iga in Mie prefecture. It is evident that Iga is known as a birthplace of “the ninja” when you see manhole covers with cartoon ninjas on them. We met Patrick and Paul, and went to the Iga Ninja museum. After having been to Eiga Mura (which was absolutely horrible) we would have liked almost anything. The price: 700yen. You are welcomed by a couple pink female ninjas, and shown many of the tricks in a mock ninja house. Some of those tricks were pretty cool, like a shelf that you could swing down and then it became secret stairs up to the secret top floor! After being shown a bunch of tricks in the ninja house, we walk through the “museum” area, looking at stuff behind glass and reading descriptions. This was even really cool, cuz we all liked ninjas. Who doesn’t!? ^_^

We made sure to catch the last live demonstration that day, for only 200yen!! It was even accompanied by a cheesy soundtrack on speakers that couldn’t support the volume! I wish I had made videos of the demonstration – I will have to get what Ben took. There was the main ninja dude, who demonstrated a bunch of weapons, and there was another guy who came in for the simulation battles… using real weapons! The last battle was done really well! After the demonstration, we went up to get our picture taken with the main guy, and then Patrick asked if he had nun-chucks – to this, he runs behind a wall, and comes back holding two sickles attached to each other with a chain! Cool! Ben tried to hold them, but he quickly took them away from Ben and demonstrated that they were very sharp by shaving a piece of wood off a nearby post with little effort. Everyone else had left, at this point, and he gave us a private demonstration of this new toy! Private ninja demonstrations kick serious ass.

Leaving the ninja museum, I had spotted some shuriken that finally were not rubber! Throwing stars! Every aspiring ninja needs a good set of throwing stars, so I bought 8 – which promptly drained money I wasn’t expecting on spending. We were happy, but happiness only lasts so long on an empty stomach, so we went to an izakaya (Japanese style bar) for food and drink. After that, we were truly happy. Ice cream followed, and then some more drinking, and then looking for a hotel to stay at (that we could afford), and then even more drinking. Yes, we were very happy by the end of the night. To top it all off, we got our own Japanese style bath – so relaxing!

So much for a “quick recap!” I fell asleep after writing “Hozumi” in the first sentence… =/ Why am I so tired, recently? ….

Sunday

We pried ourselves out of bed, because we had to be out of there by 10am -unless we wanted to pay for another night. We went to another museum, and did a lot of walking: looking for waterfalls. We didn’t find any waterfalls, but we happened upon a Brazilian restaurant where we ordered PIZZA! Really good pizza! This restaurant was the first time in Japan I’ve ever encountered someone trying to push religion on people. He came up to us, after having visited the table next to us, and spoke Japanese while waving around “words of the Bible.” After realizing we were all hopeless, he wished us all luck and shook our hands. Umm.. yah. The Brahma beer was actually quite good, too – and I don’t like beer! I got papaya juice, and man was it good! We had no more time to look for waterfalls, so we said our goodbyes and parted on our seperate ways: Ben and I back to the country-side we call home.

Monday (a holiday)

As far as Ben and I were aware of, Mayu and Mami were going to take us to the local swimming pool (still a good 20 minute bikeride from our dormitory). However, after we had been driving for a long time, and with what the girls had been talking about, it appeared as if we were going to Nagashima Spaland! SUGOI! And Mami had discount tickets, so everyone only had to pay 1000yen (usually 3000yen) for tonnes of waterslide-fun! Since this was mine and Ben’s 2nd time here, we knew which slides to go on, and which not to waste our time with… but we were also with a couple girls who weren’t so eager to go on all the slides. We didn’t want to make anyone feel left out, but we wanted to have fun… taihen. When we had come before, for Patrick’s birthday, we had also gone on the rollercoasters. Recently, the Steel Dragon (the massive rollercoaster that holds 4 guiness world records), had an accident – so we were really lucky we got to go on it – it was not running, anymore. We were also very lucky the girls took us to the waterslides that day, because it was the last day of the season.

The enjoyable day melted into evening, as Ben and I both bought takoyaki makers, and we all went for yakiniku. Yakiniku is when you order meat and you cook it on a grill in the middle of the table. It’s awesome! However, I think Mayu was feeling a little crazy, and ordered a HEAPING CRAPLOAD OF MEAT!! We were already full by the time we still had 4 full plates of raw meat mocking us. That night, we eventually defeated the meat, but in the end, it was the meat that won. I don’t want to see another piece of meat for at least a week.

so much.. meat….

New Camera

Today, the wonderful Shirley brought my new camera to work!

YES! Finally! It got delivered to her apartment, and I gave her the cash to pay for it. I get to play with it once I get home… and I will play with it, don’t doubt that for a second. A bunch of us may be going to a Ninja-town/museum on the long weekend! What an awesome way for me to try out my new baby – pictures of Ninjas! =)

I still can’t decide if I’m willing to spend the money to go to Tokyo for the Tokyo Gameshow. I’d like to go, but… it seems so expensive *just* for that show. Hundreds of dollars in transportation (I’d be taking shinkansen, this time) and less than $20 for the tickets for one day.

And Nintendo’s not even going to be there….

Kyoto, Awesomely-Bad Eiga Mura, Kobe

I told myself that instead of wasting precious personal time writing journal entries, I’d do it at work when I needed to keep myself awake. Now, is one of those times. I’ve tried desperately to stay awake and do something, but I’m SO tired, and my head just keeps leaning forward for un-natural lengths of time… it’d be impossible for coworkers not to notice. It’s much better to appear busy, working or not, than to appear sleeping. *sigh*

This last weekend was great. So relaxing. Tanoshikatta. Shirley, Ben, and I headed over to Kyoto to visit Briar. We went to an extremely tacky movie-theme park called “Eiga Mura” (“Movie Land”). It was so bad that it was actually amusing – but I’m never in a million years going back. There was a HORRIBLE “special effects pond,” similar to the Universal Studios Jaws display, where a plastic dragon rises from the water with mist abound (you can see the nozzles) and turns its mechanical head spraying mist. Woooh… scary. Then there’s the trees that needed oil… oh man, so bad. Pictures simply won’t do it justice. We also saw a live samurai performance which was embarrassingly entertaining. But, I especially liked the robot ninja that “scrolled” between buildings, and then back again – backwards! Oh, and the crappy movie from the eighties with vibrating seats that made absollutely no sense. We could be heard laughing out loud when we were suppose to be having a “thrilling” ride of our lives.

Anyways, after that “interesting” experience, we went back to Briar’s dormitory – she was kind enough to host all of us, that night! However, as in most dormitories, visitors are not allowed to stay overnight – we had to sneak inside. Briar had bought this Takoyaki (octopus cake) maker for 1000yen, and that was our plan for dinner. We had bought the ingredients earlier that day, and we were excited to get to try homemade takoyaki. What’s even better, we added CHEESE! I haven’t had much cheese since coming to Japan, and it was very welcome. These were the best damn takoyaki I’ve ever had! Conclusion: I will search for one of these 1000yen specials. We must’ve ate nearly 20 cakes each! It’s similar to eating fondue – it takes a while, and everyone’s talking while doing it. Very social, very delicious, very fun. After indulging ourselves, we talked for a long time, and finally went to sleep.

The next day…

…Briar made pancakes for us! Thanks!! After sneaking back out of Briar’s dorm – we were very lucky – we went to Kobe and met Patrick. We all couldn’t help but think of Vancouver when in Kobe: it is situated between the mountains and the ocean; a very beautiful city. Kobe is known for some of the best beef in the world. The fat and the meat are very evenly distributed, creating a marble-like effect. We did not have any Kobe beef, we did not have time, or money (very expensive). But, we did go to the water-front where there was a flea-market, of sorts. Most of that stuff had probably fallen off a truck, but we bought some anyways. It was also the largest collection of cool Japanese hippies I had ever seen. =) Each setup consisted of the proprietor (hippie) sitting on the grass in front of his/her odd collection (whatever they could “get a hold of”), awaiting foreigners like us to spot a bargain. I bought a beanie baby (reaper) for 100yen, and a Sublime shirt for 300 yen. I was tempted by the “Smokemon” shirt, but Pat grabbed that so quickly.

We continued to walk along the waterfront (where I purchased a small bag for 980yen), passing a small amusement park, a couple restaurants, and a massive cathedral. Next, we strolled to Chinatown for dinner – the cleanest Chinatown I have ever seen! It was difficult to find a a place to eat that wasn’t packed. Eventually, we gave up and just asked one of the guys who was handing out pamphlets for a restaurant where that place was. He led us to a small place where we were led upstairs to a circular table. A circular table!! Not a Japanese thing. Dinner was… nothing to write about (so why am I?), but it was very cheap.

By that time, the Gifu people had to head back – we still had to double Shirley back to her apartment from Ogaki and then ride back to our dormitory. We headed for the train, which took a few hours before arriving in Ogaki, and that was that. A very nice weekend. Thank you, Briar, for hosting!

Buddy down the River… and Beer

It’s 12:30pm, I just got back from lunch. Soon, the bell will sound, the lights will turn back on, and the “Sanyo song” will play…. *sigh*

Last weekend was really cool. Ben and I took our newly purchased inflatable dingy down the Nagara gawa from Gifu city… well… half way, anyways. The plan was to take the train to Gifu, carrying our raft, walk to the river, inflate our boat, get in the river, and ride it all the way back to Anpachi in time to catch the Beer Matsuri (a festival for the Sanyo Dormitory residents)! Well, after a couple hours in the river, we realized that there was no way we were going to make it back in time for the festival. Unacceptable! So, we got out *maybe* half way, after 3 hours, and looked for the nearest train station – we were very far away from any train station! =( The ride itself was very fun, though.

When we first got in was the most exciting, there were actual rapids, and we were genuinely frightened! Well, okay, Ben was – I had to hold his hand. There was fast and slow parts… some parts were just SO slow, though.. about the speed of walking. When approaching rapids, you only noticed if you looked at the ground passing beneath you: very fast! And then you panic as you realize you have to paddle accross the river to avoid a dangerous part that is approaching fast! Oh man, all the rapids were so fun! Adding to the fear-factor was when we realized there was a hole in the boat! 😮 It was under the water, and the boat is translucent, so you can actually watch the bubbles slipping across the underside of the boat. After we noticed this, the person in the front (Ben, from then on), was on hole duty. The poor little boat (which we later called, “Buddy” – due to the Budweiser logos plastered everywhere) could barely hold us. When we were setting off, we put our bags in, and our bags alone pretty much filled up the boat. It was definitely a cozy ride. We saw at least 20 jet skiis on our way – apparently a popular pass-time among Japanese! I guess the size is convenient. I’d love to get a chance to try one!

We ended up being escorted by 2 girls, (who Ben had invited to the Beer Matsuri) from one of the train stations back to the dormitory. They even gave us a bag of Doritos! For foreign food like that, you have to go to Nagoya. Actually, the car ride back to the dormitory had a few peaks of excitement that rivaled those from the rapids, earlier that day. At one point, we stopped in the middle of a crazy intersection, because it was unknown if we were allowed to go.. o.O Anyways, we got back safe enough to drink free beer, have a good time, play bingo (MANY prizes), eat (a little – there was hardly anything left), and even win “door prizes”! Because we were late, John (the good kid that he is) filled out our names for the resident lottery. There was maybe 15 prizes to be won, and the crazy thing is: every name John filled out WON! What are the friggin odds?! Ben got a blender, I got a rice cooker, and John got a foot massager! If I make any bets or anything like that, I’m getting John to have a lucky hand in it! Lance, another intern here, said he saw similar rice cookers for over 10000yen! That’s like, a $120 rice cooker! It’s really nice… I just need some rice (and maybe some other stuff) to test it out.

After the festival was over, Ben, Alex, and I went to the konbini to get some food – we hardly ate anything. We got some instant noodles, a couple fireworks, and some ice cream. We went back to my room, ate the instant noddles and then went to the roof to light off a few fireworks. Good times.

That was last Saturday. On Sunday, I ended up spending a lot of money without even leaving the dormitory – now that’s talent! John helped me make a couple large online purchases: the Canon IXY 400 digital camera, an extra battery, and an SD->CF adapter that allows me to use SD memory in the CF memory camera. All together, with shipping and such, that was 55000yen. I still haven’t received it yet. It is being shipped to Shirley’s apartment, and I gave her money to pay for it upon arrival. I also got Lance to pick up a 256MB SD flash memory card (10000yen), that I can use in both my phone and my new camera (via the adapter); and I even have an SD drive on my laptop! Standards are great, when they’re adhered to… *cough* Sony *cough* Microsoft *cough* And, finally, a PS2 controller (2700yen) that Alex may eventually buy off me. Now we can play 2player Soul-Calibur 2! And it’s pretty fun, I assure you. =) I’m still so tempted to get a Gamecube and SmashBros… Jesse, you still got that extra copy laying around? ^_^ If only I could read Japanese….

Well, back to work, I suppose.