Sunday, December 25, 2011

Week 52

Well, here it is, the last post of 2011.

Last week kicked off with two days of overtime on Tuesday and Wednesday. The extra money will be nice next month but doing "the Christmas kids lesson" umpteen times last week was a little trying.

I had a nice break Friday for the Emperor's Birthday. My girlfriend and I decided to take a short road trip over to Awaji-shima (an island on the other side of Osaka bay.) In order to make the most of our day we set out at 8:00am for the two hour drive to the south side of the island. The trip there was uneventful once we figured out the car-navi software was out of date and unreliable. It got us lost in Osaka trying to get on the express way. In South Awaji city we boarded a boat to go see the famous Naruto whirlpools. My girlfriend did some research beforehand and we arrived just as the tides were changing and the whirlpools were spinning at their maximum. By chance I brought some popcorn as a snack and my girlfriend ended up having more fun feeding the seagulls than seeing the whirlpools. (She hates pidgeons but loves seagulls, go figure.) After an hour cruise we got back in the car and drove to Naruto island (technically in Tokushima, while Awaji is technically in Hyogo prefecture.) We stopped for a lunch of tai (sea bream) on rice and walked around the island a bit. Later we got back in the car and drove back to Awaji. For the next little while we drove around and stopped at a small fish market to buy some souvenirs (including onion dressing, as Awaji onions are somewhat famous.)  This was followed by another drive around before finding one of Awaji's seven major temples. After the temple we made our way to a local hotspring and relaxed our bodies from the day's long drive. It was hard to get back in the car after the comfort of a hot bath and even harder to stay awake and make conversation in a second language all the way home. My girlfriend was kind enough to drop me off at my house before taking her brother's car back to her parent's house.

Saturday was a "buffer day" which meant no kids classes but a full compliment of adult students. I rewarded myself after work by stopping at my favorite burrito place on the way home.

Yesterday (Sunday, Christmas) I woke up and opened presents from home (which had arrived over the course of December, slowly filling the space under my imaginary Christmas tree.) I then proceeded to sit infront of the heater and do nothing but watch movies all day. In the evening my girlfriend stopped by on the way home from her parent's house and we exchanged presents. She hand-knit my a wonderful 2 meter long scarf (I got her a new laptop to replace her old broken computer.) We ate "Christmas parfaits" while watching old Japanese cartoons together. She took an early cab home as she had to work today.

I'd say that bout does it for this year but really there's another week left. Oh well, I'll just add that stuff to next week's post. See you in 2012.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Week 51

A really fun week last week. I went on a trip, I had a party, and I played some games with friends.

Last Tuesday I woke up at a reasonable hour, moseyed over to the station area, and had some breakfast before meeting a friend and hopping on an express train  to Nagoya. Two hours later we disembarked and walked across the street from Nagoya station to the Midland Square building (the tallest in Nagoya) and took a walk around the observation deck. Having had our fill of heights we took the subway over to Nagoya's big shopping district (Sakae). We were a little baffled by the station sign at out destination as it read; "Exits 1-12 this way, Exits 2~11 that way." Evidently their sign maker didn't get that a dash does not act as a slash ("/"). After puzzling our way out of the labyrinth of tunnels we bee-lined it to a really tasty Mexican restaurant (that we'd both been to before.) After a filling lunch we shopped around for the rest of the afternoon. In the evening we had a few "street beers" while waiting for the venue to open. When it did open we met some more friends inside and waited for our favorite band to take the stage. I guess I really have become a bit of a groupie if I'm hopping on trains and heading 100miles just to see "The 50 Kaitenz" play. The band played a pretty good set and turned the stage over to another band (Kinoko Hotel) that were pretty good too. After the show our little group of friends all went out for the customary post-show meal. Once thoroughly fed and watered some of the friends we'd met through the band drove us out to their house on the outskirts of town and let us crash on their floor.

Wednesday morning everyone got a lazy start and eventually we all piled back in the car to take one of our friends back to the station so she could get to work that afternoon. The rest of us (who all had the day off) continued on to see Nagoya castle. The castle was more-or-less as I saw it the last time but it was nice to go through with other people this time. While we were climbing the main tower there was a decently sized earthquake a few prefectures over that shook things up. There were some none-too-silent thanks rased that we were in a reconstructed castle (not the original structure.) All castled out we returned to the Mexican place again for lunch (no, it's not that mind-blowingly good, but it's hard to get a good taco in Osaka [burritos are another story however]) Sated, we headed for the station and trained back to Osaka.

Saturday after work I stuck around for the school Christmas party. It was a fairly standard party: eat, drink, talk, play bingo and exchange "secret Santa" gifts, catch the last train home.

Last (Sunday) night some of the guys came over and we played board games all evening. It's been a while since we've gotten together and I think everyone had a good time.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Week 50

It's hard to believe that this year's almost over. Time sure flies when you're having fun.

Okay, two weeks ago Tuesday I had a relaxing laundry/cleaning day followed by a relaxing evening at home with my girlfriend, the TV, and a pizza. Wednesday I took a long bike ride around Osaka and got most of my Christmas shopping done as well.

After most of a regular work week passed I had a nice break in my routine last Sunday, going out to one of my Japanese friends' houses for a dinner party. This particular circle of friends is really into local Japanese rock and it's been a while since I've seen everyone so it was nice to catch up.

Last Monday I was up and out of the house fairly early to go buy my girlfriend's Christmas present. (There's almost no chance she's reading this but just in-case that's all I'm going to say for now.) After shopping I dropped my purchase(s) at home and headed to work (completely forgetting about updating the blog.) At work I found out my long-time private student was taking his last lesson with me. Preparing his classes was always a lot of work but ultimately rewarding. I'll miss having class with him.

Last Tuesday I met some friends for lunch at a ramen shop in the North of town. This shop's specialty is a 1.5 kilo bowl of ramen with a garlic soup and topped with bean-sprouts and beef strips. If you finish it (at all, no time limit) you get to have your picture taken in a samurai helmet and be posted on the wall. If you fail you still get your picture taken but with a peasant wig and a fake arrow through the head. Needless to say I ended up having a light dinner with my girlfriend that evening and she kept her distance saying that I smelled like kimchi.

Last Wednesday was split between playing videogames and working of projects around the house. It's finally gotten cold here in Osaka with high temperatures in the 10's (50f-60f [yes, not so "Michigan" cold, but pretty "Japan" cold]). Long bike rides were out of the questions but I did end up making several short trips out. After a trip to the 100yen store I was able to complete my proto-type bowler hat-bag clip design. Now to patent it and make my millions.

Saturday after work I met my girlfriend and one of her friends afterwork and we had a "maki-zushi" (think California roll type sushi) at the friend's house. It was a really good time and the home-made sushi was quite delicious. Walking back to the station afterwords we noticed a lot of people staring up into the sky and realized that the lunar eclipse was happening.

Last night was supposed to be another "game-night" but since no-one showed up I put in some more work on my girlfriend's Christmas present (it was fine as it was, but is a lot nicer now, with some elbow grease put into it.)

From here on out the end of the year's gonna be pretty busy. I'm headed to Nagoya tomorrow to see my favorite band play. I've got another "school party" this Saturday. I'm pulling two days of overtime on my "weekend" next week ten we're into the holiday season. No rest for the wicked and all that.

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Week 49

Well as you've plainly seen I've missed my first full week this year. Gosh, I almost made it all the way without skipping. Oh, well. Just a few more posts this year then I can try again next year. (One of my New Years resolutions last year was to make a post a week for an entire year.) Expect my usual update on Monday to include news from the past two weeks.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Week 48

More excitement this past week, mostly due to the public holiday last Wednesday.

Last Tuesday I went with some friends up to Minou in the North part of Osaka to see some "fall colors". We had a nice light hike up to a big waterfall with a few thousand older people who all had the same idea we did that it "wouldn't be busy on a weekday". On the way back into town we stopped off at one of the big bookstores that has a nice selection of English language books. Instead of buying the two new hardcovers they had that I wanted to read I took note and went home and downloaded them from Amazon. So much for "e-stores don't hurt retail sales". In the evening my girlfriend came over and we made yakisoba (a delicious fried noodle dish.)

The next day my girlfriend and I met up at the station in the late morning and took the shuttle bus out to Ikea. After a few hours of wandering around, inevitably picking up a few things, and getting some hotdogs we took the shuttle bus back. On the bus we checked movie times and after getting off we scurried across town to make it to the afternoon showing of "Money Ball" with Brad Pitt. Not a bad flick, Brad Pitt for her, baseball for me. After the movie we went out for Thai and a place I've been wanting to try for a while now. We then found a cafe and chatted for a while before parting ways.

Thursday I met a friend for lunch at the Hard Rock Cafe. We planned on getting the Thanksgiving turkey special but upon arrival I recall that I tried the same thing last year and it was just as outlandishly expensive as it was this year, so we got burgers instead.

The work week went well with nothing too exciting to report.

Saturday night I went to a friend's birthday party. It was a butler/maid themed party and lots of people (yours truly included) dressed up. I got to see a bunch of people I haven't seen in a while which was nice. I think everyone had a good time too.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Week 47

Not a whole heck of a lot to write home about this week. Not a lot of students taking classes again ment a lot of down time at work (and my high school kids didn't show again) so I got s lot of reading done. I was supposed to go to a concert Saturday night but what I thought was the start of a cold (turned out to be my allergies) sapped my strength in such a was that I wasn't able to go rock-out.

Looking to Wednesday ("Labor-Thanksgiving Day" here in Japan) I've got plans to go with my girlfriend  to Universal Studios Japan here in Osaka. Even though it's really close and I've lived here for two and a half years it occurred to me that I've never been. So that should be fun.

A slightly early "Happy Thanksgiving" to all my readers out there. Thanks for reading!

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Week 46

Oops. Another late post this week. I got side-tracked on Monday and totally forgot about it on Tuesday. Oh well, better late than never.

Last Tuesday wasn't too exciting as it was a laundry/clean the house/get a haircut day. I did get to see my girlfriend in the evening though. She got off work early (actually 'on time' as she thought she'd have to do overtime.) We ordered a pizza and watched TV.

Wednesday I got up at a reasonable hour and met up with some friends in Kobe to see the "Kobe Biennial." The Biennial is a huge art show with exhibits all over Kobe (that happens every two years.)  I missed the last one out of apathy but since other people wanted to go this year I tagged along and played tour guide. As always seems to happen when I show people around Kobe we ended up walking forever. Some of the exhibits were in the dank under-the-track shopping arcade I really like, so that was fun. Mid-day we stopped at my favorite all-you-can-eat Brazilian barbecue place for lunch. In previous years some exhibits were created using old shipping containers but as they couldn't get the containers this year they converted some unused retail space in one of the malls into rooms the size of the crates (pretty creative I though.)

It was a light week at work. I had several classes with no students at my regular school this week and my two usual high school students were absent as well (giving me copious amounts of free time on Friday.) Sunday and Monday were busy at web-school but they've been that way recently as we lost some staff that haven't been replaced yet.

Sunday night I had some people over for a game night. I recently picked up a bi-lingual copy of Monopoly so we played that. I had forgotten that 90% of Monopoly is house rules and that everyone has their own set. It worked out fine in the end (I say that mostly because I won.)

Yesterday I wasted most of the day playing video games until my girlfriend came over for date night. We tried to go to our usual Okanomiyaki restaurant only to find that they were closed for some un-known reason. Last night being quite chilly we settled on the 'cafeteria' style restaurant across the street instead.

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Week 45

A pretty good week last week. Mostly owing to the three day weekend.

Last Tuesday I was a bit lazy (other than meeting my girlfriend for dinner, nothing got done) but I got up off my couch on Wednesday and went for a bike tour of Asuka (the location of the oldest "empire"in Japan) with some friends. We left Osaka at 10:30 for the hour and a half train ride to the middle-of-nowhere Nara. Arriving at the tiny station I went to prepare my camera and realized that the battery door had fallen off at home. I suppose I enjoyed "the moment" more, but there were a lot of missed photo opportunities. After the inevitable map mis-read, wrong turn, and cycle up and down the same mountain twice we got on track and saw all the more famous of the hundreds of tombs and monuments scattered around. Worthy of note is that, as happened when I rented a bike in Ise, my back breaks didn't fwork all day. This made the hilly terrain particularly fun to navigate. Around 4:30 we headed back to the bike rental shop and hopped on a train back to Osaka stopping in Tennoji to get some KFC for dinner.

Thursday was "Culture Day" and I had originally planned to something culturally relevant but as my girlfriend was still recovering from a bad cold we decided to stay in and catch up on videos instead (I like to think it was celebrating a part of American culture.) We met for lunch, hit up the video store, and stopped by the 100yen store for snacks. We ended up seeing "No Strings Attached" with Ashton Kutcher (a date movie at best), "The Mechanic" with Jason Statham (pure action, but her pick), and "Skyline" (a terribly written sci-fi piece.)

All this was followed by a nice short work-week this week. After my shift today it's already the weekend again. Nothing too exciting on the docket (it being a "laundry weekend" and all) but if the weather's nice I may go out for another bike ride (around Osaka this time, on my bike who's breaks work.)

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Week 44

Another slow news week from Japan.

I spent some time last Wednesday preparing for this week's Halloween lessons at school. I dressed up for all the kids' lessons this week as I do every year. After shopping around, I didn't find anything new (at a reasonable price) so I ended up re-using last year's samurai outfit. The kids had a good time with the lessons and even the parents had a chuckle (mostly at the real Japanese-style wooden shoes that made me 4" taller and my samurai top-knot wig which made me another 2" taller)

I missed out on date night last week as my girlfriend came down with some sort of horrible plague (in her words) (looked like the flu to me.) In leu of going out I stopped by her place and dropped off a bag of Ley's (her favorite chips) and a bottle of water.

I'm looking forward to another three day weekend this week as Thursday is yet another national holiday. I'm not sure what I (hopefully we) will do for "Culture Day" but I'm sure one can find something refined and cultured somewhere in Osaka.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Week 43

This week just breezed by. No huge events; but a few, small, fun things.

First, I chickened out last Wednesday and didn't end up going to the police. I figure that: if whoever it is actually cuts my chain and "steals" (or moves) my bike I'll get the authorities involved. Anything less is probably not worth the time/effort it would end up taking trying to communicate what was going on. Also, as mentioned last week there's a video camera in the bike parking area so I have little fear that any perpetrator would go un-punished. (It's also just a $60 bike and I don't feel like buying a new chain that would be more expensive than the bike.)

Instead, on Wednesday afternoon I went out Halloween-costume shopping in Nipponbashi (the nerdy section of Osaka) with a friend. It was a fun chance to check out some of the costume shops there (places I usually ignore in favor of the game stores.) We didn't find anything that 1) would fit me or 2) was reasonably prices for "just Halloween". But it was nice to window-shop.

Thursday, Friday, and Saturday whizzed by in a flurry of normal work. Saturday after work I had to attend a "school Halloween party" at my usual school. Despite "having to" go it turned out to be pretty fun. Some schools force you to "make the rounds" and you end up doing unpaid overtime 'teaching' but not this time. It was a fairly relaxed event and I think everyone had a good time. I dressed up in my "cos-play" (Japanese anime character costume) and though everyone liked it, no one knew who the character was.

Yesterday was another busy day teaching over the internet. We've recently lost two teachers at that school and everyone else ends up having to shoulder their work load (here during the busiest time of the year.) As a reward afterword (and just because I wanted a good burger) I went to Burger King with some friends after work.

Yesterday I also received a very nice letter from one of my regular students (' moms) saying that the student didn't really want to study English at first but, after taking my classes he really started to enjoy it. He recently went to Australia on vacation and had a chance to put our lessons into practice which he really appreciated it. Included with the letter were some koala clips (the small furry kind you see around) and a keychain. It was a small gesture on his part but put the biggest smile on my face all day.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Week 42

Wow, I just can't seem to keep on schedule recently. I don't even have the excuse of being too busy or having too much to write about.

Again last "weekend" (Tue/Wed) I did next to nothing all weekend except hang out with friends and play videogames (not as bad as it sounds, at least I was "playing socially".)

My workweek seemed to stretch on forever this week with Monday (my "Friday") feeling particularly long as we were very busy. I think what made the time go even slower was that I didn't have a date night in the middle (usually Sat/Sun) to break it up, instead I saw my girlfriend yesterday (Tuesday) instead. (I also kinda though we were fighting all week, but as it turns out, yet again, it was all in my imagination.)

You may remember back in August (see the August 8 post) I was having some "issues" with someone in my apartment complex moving my bike. Well, until yesterday a simple bike chain fixed that problem. Now someone has taken a pair of wire cutters to the chain (cutting the plastic but leaving the steel core.) Moving my bike is annoying, damaging my chain is another story. There's a not-too-hidden camera in the bike parking area so today I have to call my landlord, get the video and go to the police. This should be an... interesting experience. One I'll do me best to update on on time next week.

Monday, October 10, 2011

Week 41

Another slightly delayed post today (but no where near as delayed as the post from two weeks ago.) I didn't have time to write this morning as I was out the door at the crack of dawn to go hiking but more on that later. Let's start where I left off last week...

Monday went by in a flash and led into a Tuesday/Wednesday "weekend" where I did next to nothing but play video games with friends and go out at night.

Another short work week this week and, as one might expect, it went by quickly.

Saturday night I went to see a few local bands play uptown with a friend for his birthday. It was a pretty good show with a mediocre band opening and one I"ve seen before for the second act that really rocked.

Yesterday evening I met up with my girlfriend and we made cheese-curry-nabe and vegged out to Japanese TV.

As mentioned earlier, I was out of the house by 8:00 this morning and headed to the "48 waterfalls of Akameguchi" in Mie prefecture with my girlfriend. Today's national holiday was "sports day" so we figured getting some exercise would be a good thing. After an hour and a half train ride we got off in the middle of nowhere and waited 40 minutes for a bus to take us to the base of the falls. From the base it was about a two hour hike up through a valley with sheer rock walls, following a many waterfall-ed river, to get to the end of the trail. When we couldn't go any further we stopped and ate the lunch boxes we bought in the village below before we headed back down. As is often the case, the hike back took only about 1/3 of the time it took going out. Both coming and going we had almost perfect hiking weather. It was sunny but cool and shady under the trees on the mountain. Back at the trail head we caught the bus back to the station and then hopped on a train back to Osaka (and managed to not get seats, having to stand for another hour and a half after walking 5 miles up and now hill. Excruciating.)

Back to a regular work week with nothing on the docket yet this week so we"ll just have to wait and see what opportunities present themselves.

Sunday, October 2, 2011

Week 40

Ach, I was doing so well with updating weekly too, then to go and skip twice (almost three times) in a month! Oh well, back on track. Let's see where did I leave off...

Tuesday (the 20th), in addition to packing for my trip to Tokyo, I fit in some time to play video games with one of my friends. And, in what would be come a theme for the next few days, I went to bed fairly early.

I decided quite a while ago that I'd try to go to Tokyo Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday of "Silver Week" this year. That in mind I'd been keeping a close eye on typhoon 15 which was scheduled to make land-fall right along my travel route on Wednesday. Fortunately the weather held long enough in the morning that I could get to the station without getting too wet. I rode the subway up to Shin-Osaka station, bought some souvenirs, and caught the 8:27 Nozomi Shinkansen bound for Tokyo. It was exciting riding a high-speed train through the heart of a typhoon. The train goes so fast the windows don't get wet and you can see the wall of water falling outside. I arrived at Tokyo station at 11:03 just as they were announcing that all Shinkansen services had been halted due to heavy rain. At this point the local trains were still running and it wasn't raining too hard in Tokyo to I made my way over to my old university to meet with some of my old professors (the main goal of this trip.) I met the one professor that I'd been e-mailing and we had a nice long chat over a delicious sushi lunch. Unfortunately afternoon classes were canceled (due to bad weather) so none of the other teachers came in. I also missed out on a chance to meet my two kohai (juniors) from W.M.U. as students were all told to go home early. I would have stayed and talked more but the university building itself closed down early with rumors that the local trains would stop running soon. Not wanting to get stuck too far from my hotel I made a dash over to Shibuya and checked in at my favorite capsule hotel. At this point it was still only 3 in the afternoon and, not wanting to roam too far I walked around Shibuya in the pouring down rain looking for something to do. I quickly settled on singing karaoke for a few hours (as it was both cheap and got me out of the rain for a few hours.) After singing I headed over to the local Burger King and had dinner. Shortly after dinner the rain let up and I wandered around a bit more. It was still reall windy and there were a lot of trees down along the main street including one that crushed the back half of a taxi. There were several crews of guys with chainsaws working quickly to clear the streets. Shortly before 8:00 I returned to my hotel, had a leisurely bath in the big Japanese-style bath there, and spent some time in a massage chair in the "relaxation room" planning the next day's adventure before turning in for the night at 10:30.

Thursday morning I got a reasonably early start and kicked my day off with some delicious Krispy Kreme doughnuts. Having ingested my fat and sugar allotment for the year I started to walk from Shibuya to Shinjuku (about 2 miles.) Along the way I stopped at the Meiji-jingu shrine and paid my respects. In Shinjuku I went to the top of the Tokyo Metro Govt. Building (one of my favorite places in Japan) and surveyed the Tokyo landcape. The post-typhoon calm had set in at the weather was almost perfect (except for Mt. Fuji which was hidden by it's quintessential cloud formation.) While I was taking pictures I was approached by no less than four people wanting to practice their English and ask where I was from (I don't get that too much in Osaka, it was kinda fun.) Departing from Shinjuku I took the cross-town train over to Akihabara (my favorite place in Japan.) In an amazing show of self restraint I managed not to buy anything and was satisfied to window shop before stopping for a late lunch at McD's. After lunch I walked up to Ueno Park (about a mile away.) In Ueno I decided that I'd never been to the Ueno Zoo (one of Japan's most famous) and went in. The Ueno Zoo's really proud that they have two pandas and let you know it. There are panda flags, posters, toys, marketing everywhere. Overall it's a fairly nice zoo (for an innercity zoo) and, although it has less animals, looks a lot nicer than the Tennoji Zoo here in Osaka. While I was touring the zoo it started to rain again and with the zoo closing at 4:00 I ducked into another karaoke place and waited for the rain to stop. It got to be a bit late and with the rain showing no signs of stopping I decided to walk the last leg of my excursion huddled under my umbrella. I walked from Ueno to Asakusa (another mile or so.) In Asakusa I snapped some pictures of the famous big lantern there before having a quick dinner at McD's (I'm not proud, but it's cheap and easy.) Finally I took the Ginza subway line from one end (Asakusa) to the other (Shibuya) and checked back into my hotel. Repeating the previous night's routine I again was in bed by 10:30 again. I was dog tired and although I only walked about 4 miles between destinations, I walked countless more around those places and my feet were killing me.

Originally I had planned to go see my old apartments in Shimotakaido (university) and Fujisawa (Nova) before heading back to Osaka but I changed my mind Thursday night and decided to check out Yokohama instead. There's a really convenient train line that goes from Shibuya directly to Yokohama and ends in China-town so that's where I started my day on Friday. I walked from China-town, along the waterfront, to Landmark Tower (another of my favorite places.) I arrived 5 minutes before they opened and got to ride the first elevator of the day to the top. As with the previous day the weather was fantastic (except, again, for Mt. Fuji.) Satisfied with what I'd seen in the Tokyo area I made my way back to Osaka arriving home around 3:30. I spent the rest of the evening recuperating.

The next work week was a short but busy one. After three days back it was Tuesday again before I knew it. I spent Tuesday doing chores and getting my hair cut. Wednesday I helped a friend move from up-ton into my neighborhood which was fun.

This past week's work week was normal length (5 days) but was nicely broken up with a date on Friday night (Mmmm Hawaiian burgers) and going to see my favorite band play on Saturday night. It was the band's last show of a tour so we had a big after party outside the venue which was a lot of fun. Last (Sunday) night I hosed another "game night" at my apartment which I think everyone enjoyed. Oh, aslo, last Friday was the first time I saw my high school students since before August so it was great to catch up with them and play some of the games I brought back from the States over the summer with them.

Phew, that's a lot of catching up. Anyways, looking foreword, there's nothing on the schedule for this "weekend" but next Monday I have another day off (hurray for three-day weekends in the fall!) so I may try to make plans with my girlfriend next weekend. Here's to hoping I remember to update next week.

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Week 39

Lots of excitement this past week.

[This week's post forthcoming... really]
[Okay, maybe not really. It seems it'll be rolled into next week's post which isn't all bad as this has been a "take it slow" week.]

Monday, September 19, 2011

Week 38

Whoops, this week almost got away from me too. Not that there's even all that much to report but more so that I met with my girlfriend last night (when I prepare early posts) and again today (when I usually write most of my posts.)

Last Tuesday and Wednesday (my "weekend") I laid low to conserve money and energy for this week in-which I have a "5-day weekend". The short Thursday through Sunday work week went fairly fast for me which was nice.

For the start of my mini-vacation, I met my girlfriend last night and we went out to a neighborhood place for some Okanomiyaki after which we sat and talked for a long while. Today we headed out to Kobe together. We first stopped in China Town for some truly terrible buffet style chinese food before going to Meraken Park where we sat and watched the boats come into the harbor and talked for many more hours. After some frozen yogurt in the mall next door we made our way slowly back to the station (window shopping in Center-Gai [a big shopping arcade] on the way.)

On the way home I realized I hadn't prepared a post for this week or written one this morning and had also forgotten to take my weekly picture!

Tomorrow (Tuesday) I'm going to lay low again and pack for three days in Tokyo (Wednesday through Friday.) I'm mainly going up to see my old university teachers and do some sightseeing... and maybe visiting Akihabara while I'm in the neighborhood. I've made a lunch appointment with one of my teachers Wednesday at noon so I hope the incoming typhoon doesn't screw up the train schedule and make me late.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Week 37

Alright, it's been a busy few weeks. Two weeks ago on Wednesday I went to an amusement park with some friends. We went to Hirakata Park in the North-East of Osaka. As small parks go it was pretty nice (though didn't hold a torch to the mega-parks in the states.) We all got passes that allowed us unlimited rides on all the rides (otherwise they were pay-per-ride) as well as admittance to the waterpark section. We had almost perfect weather, almost hot with a bit of cloud cover to make it feel nice. In the morning and early afternoon we rode the rides (I skipped the roller coaters as usual.) After a break for lunch (at the in-park McD's) we headed over to the waterpark and had some fun there until early evening. As the waterpark closed earlier than the rest of the park we had some time to re-ride some of the rides from earlier before heading out. The day was capped off by dinner at a sushi-go-round place.

Thursday through Sunday Typhoon #12 made it's way across Southern Honshu and generally made a mess of things. It was predicted that it would hit Osaka directly early Saturday so all ECC classes were canceled for the morning and kids and group classes were canceled all day. Fortunately the typhoon impacted further West and all we were left with was a little drizzle on Saturday (and an easy half day of work.) In fact it rained a lot more on Friday and Sunday than it did on Saturday.

Saturday night's plans were also dampened by the typhoon as my girlfriend slipped in a puddle on Friday night and banged up her already injured knees again. So instead of going out for dinner we ordered in a pizza and watched TV.

By this past Tuesday the weather had cleared up and we had great driving weather as I and seven friends piled into a van and drove to Takamatsu in Shikoku to watch one of our favorite bands perform. We left Osaka around 10 in the morning and drove over Awaji island and half way across Northern Shikoku to get to our destination, arriving in the early afternoon. The first thing we "had to do" was get some "Takamatsu Udon" (udon being a thick type of Japanese noodle.) I'm normally not a huge udon fan (I like the stuff well enough) but the stuff in Takamatsu really was the best I've ever had. After our first lunch we found the venue and parked the car. We killed time before the show by heading to another udon place to have a second lunch (and the udon was just as good round two.) The show started around 7. As usual "The 50 Kaitenz" rocked hard. Really they rocked harder than usual playing for a full two hours and going through the best of their catalogue. After the show we made our way back across the inland sea to Osaka.

For an unknown reason I was up fairly early on Wednesday which let me get some housework done before a friend called in the afternoon looking for som help apartment hunting in my neighborhood. It wasn't really what I had planed for the day but turned out to be fun. We went out for dinner at a mediocre Chinese buffet place afterwords with a few other people.

Nothing too interesting about the work week this week, just back to business as usual.

Last Saturday I headed down to my girlfriend's hometown in the South of Osaka and saw a cool local festival with her family (well, her mom and nephews.) This festival involved carrying huge elaborately decorated wooden "floats" down a street and up a set of stairs to a shrine. Sounds simple until you realize these floats are about 20 feet by 20 feet at the base and over 15 feet tall. They're carried by a crew of over 50 people and require even more support staff to make sure they don't crash into the crowd (which they do anyways.) After watching one full round of float carrying my girlfriend's brother came and picked us up and we all went out for sushi-go-round. (I tried to pay for dinner but I thought my girlfriends mom was going to take my arm off to get the bill so I relented.)

This week's looking pretty quiet by design as the week after I've got a "5 day weekend" with plans to hang out with my girlfriend and head up to Tokyo for a few days of R&R.

I've really gotta stick to the weekly updates. Two weeks id too much (especially when stuff's going on.)

Sunday, September 4, 2011

Week 36

This week seems to have gotten away from me. I got distracted on Monday, was out of town on Tuesday, had to help a friend on Wednesday, and yesterday and today I've got work. Looks like I'll have to do a double-length post next Monday.

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Week 35

A bit of a rough week adjusting back to work this week but a challenge of my own choosing.

I decided to do a couple of days of overtime instead of taking my usual days off this week. It helps out the company and will provide a bit of extra cash next month for a planned trip up to Tokyo.

After said overtime, my normal work week start turned into the mid-point of ten straight days of work. Fortunately today is the last day of that long stretch and I'll get some much deserved R&R tomorrow and Wednesday.

This week's date night with my girlfriend was spoiled a bit by a torrential rainstorm that canceled the candle light-up event at Osaka castle we planned on going to. Instead we searched out a restaurant that we'd seen on TV a few months prior that served hamburgs (hamburgers without the buns) made from Kobe Beef. It was surprisingly reasonable and incredibly delicious.

A bunch of people are going to a local amusement park on Wednesday which should be fun and give me a chance to relax and recover beforehand on Tuesday. Then it's back to the grind on Thursday. Thank goodness the next vacation period is less than a month away.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Week 34

This week whizzed by but also seemed exceedingly long. I was sad to have to leave one home but it feels good to be back to the other home.

After finishing last week's update mom and I headed down to Eastern Market in search of a giant Toblarone for my girlfriend. Unfortunately it seems that Eastern Market is closed on Mondays. Fortunately, however, (after a few stops at some thrift shops downtown) the elusive candy bar was found in a neighborhood grocery store near mom's house. Lunch that day was Taco Bell, dinner, Buddy's Pizza, thus crossing the last two restaurants I wanted to visit while home off my list. In the evening I met up with some old friends one more time.

Tuesday had an early start to a very long "day". After checking in at the airport I had breakfast with mom and dad before saying fare-well and heading through security. Two hours wait by the gate, an hour flight, two hours by the gate, a twelve hour flight, two hours by the gate, an hour flight is how the rest of my "day" went. I decided to upgrade the long section of the trip to "economy plus" for an extra 5" of leg room (which was nice) and as a bomus, seemed to get upgraded to business class for the last flight into Osaka. The middle section was bumpy the whole way (the captain hardly ever turned off the fasten-seatbelt sign) and we had to fly around a thunderstorm on the way to Osaka (though that was cool to watch.) Safely in Osaka my girlfriend met me at the baggage claim. It gets a little fuzzy after that. I think dinner was involved. I do know that I crashed had when I got back to my apartment and slept late into the next day.

Thursday my girlfriend took the day off work so we went together to Costco in Amagasaki (between Kobe and Osaka) and I signed up for a member ship. There were an amazing numer of people in the store for a weekday buy we managed to wander around for most of the afternoon. In the evening we went out for sushi at the local sushi-go-round place.

Friday I had one last day off before going back to work and took the opportunity to clean my apartment, do laundry, and get my hair cut. In the evening a bunch of my friends came over and we played some of the board games I had brought back from the States.

Saturday was my first day back at work and wasn't too bad. After managing to stay awake all through the work day I had some long awaited curry for dinner. After dinner I caught up on a bunch of the stuff I "Tivo-ed" while I was gone.

Sunday, as with Friday and Saturday, I was up at the crack of dawn and ended up with a few hour to kill before my early shift at work (so watched more TV.) In the evening I had some friends over again and we played some more of the games we hadn't gotten to play earlier in the week.

Again, while it's sad to leave home, it's nice to be home.

Monday, August 15, 2011

Week 33

It's hard to believe that another week has sped by. I guess time flies when you're having fun and I have really enjoyed my vacation here in Detroit. That being said I've also been a bit homesick for Osaka, in particular, missing my girlfriend (though thank goodness for Skype.) Anyways, with today as my last full day before I go back, I'll probably be too busy to think about all that.

After finishing my update last week I cleaned up and walked downtown to watch the new "Planet of the Apes" movie (not bad for five bucks) after which I stopped off and saw my old boss at the city parking garage. I met up with one old friend in the late afternoon who dropped me off at home just in time to meet two more friends from a long time ago. It was nice to see everyone after all these years and to know that everyone's doing alright for themselves.

Tuesday, I managed to sleep in a bit. When I did finally rise I joined my mother for a long day of outings. Our retail adventures took us from thrift shops to Best Buy to Toys 'R' Us and finally to a little local hobby store with a great board game selection. Mid-afternoon we both had dental appointments. At mine I found out that I needed a bit of additional dental work done (which mucked up my plans later in the week, but more on that later.) After dinner at one of my favorite burrito places I napped and watched TV for the rest of the evening.

Probably due to the previous day's napping I was wide awake before seven on Wednesday. I had scheduled a Skype session with my girlfriend at eight and surfed the internet until it was time. We had a nice hour long conversation which eased some of my homesickness. After that, donuts were the breakfast of the day, followed by some light shopping and a trip to AAA to renew my international driver's license. In the afternoon my father drove out and we went to get the last of the 'big ticket' items on my shopping list (shoes!) This was followed by dinner at a great pizza place on the East side.

Thursday was yet another early one, but this time it was good, as I wanted to get across the state early in the day. I borrowed mom's car, picked up a friend in Ann Arbor, and headed off to my old college town of Kalamazoo. Our first stop was the local comic book shop where we saw the first of a series of people who I hadn't seen since I left four years earlier. After lunch at at mediocre Japanese restaurant we went and picked up another friend from his apartment, stopped by 'The Discount Den' party store to say "hi" to my old boss, and headed back to the comic shop. We played games at the comic shop until yet another friend got off work and we all adjourned to his apartment. There we played more games and ate pizza long into the night. That friend was also kind enough to let me and my friend from Ann Arbor crash at his place for the night. Again, it was to see how people were doing, all these years later.

Friday morning we had to hustle back across the state early in the morning so I could make the noon dental appointment I had made earlier in the week (the original plan calling for two days in Kalamazoo.) Fortunately traffic was good and I arrived with time to spare. Getting fillings is always fun and this time I needed one on each side of my mouth so most of my face was numb for the rest of the day. In the late afternoon (actually most of the antithetic had worn off by this point) I went to see a matinee of "30 minutes or less". It feels good to have seen three movies in the past two weeks while paying less than the cost of a single movie back in Japan.

Saturday morning I went to the Detroit Zoo with my mother. Detroit has a really nice, large zoo that puts the Osaka (Tennoji) Zoo to shame. In the evening I had dinner with the dads again (a delicious turkey breast with all of my favorite sides) before watching a summer storm roll in and wash off the heat of the day.

Yesterday's big adventure was going out to the mall for just a bit more shopping. Most of the rest of the day was spent absorbing as much American culture as I could, parked in front of the TV. Even more culture was absorbed (as well as copious ammounts of grease) at the local White Castle at dinner.

Finally, with today being my last full day before returning to Japan, I should probably start thinking about packing... oh, and maybe buying a few souvenirs too.

Monday, August 8, 2011

Week 32

This post brought to you live from the land of the free and the home of the brave, the good ole' USA. This week not only being summer vacation but being back in America there was a lot of excitement.

But not to get ahead of myself, there was some drama last Monday, the day before I left for the States. My apartment has a tiny bike-parking area which I (and other tenants) pay $15.00 a month to use. To this point there haven't been any problems. However, after lunch last Monday I parked my bike, went upstairs and prepared for work, and when I came out again someone had moved by bike to the park across the street. "Odd," I thought, moved it back, and went to work. When I got home from work my bike was gone again, this time it wasn't in the park either. I looked around for a bit before giving up and going to bed. I had a plane to catch the next day after all. I got up early Tuesday morning and went around the neighborhood two more times before deciding that I should probably file a police report. On my way into my building to get my bike registration I saw the cleaning guy and asked if he had seen my bike. Surprisingly he led me to the fire-escape where my bike was hiding. I'm not really sure who's got a problem with my bike being where it's been for the last two years but I stashed my bike in my apartment while I'm out of the country... I'll deal with that drama when I get back.

My travel back to Michigan was fairly uneventful. I did arrive at Osaka's Itami (city) airport 20 minutes before the international check-in gate opened and had to wait around a bit. Also, when transferring at Narita I got through security just as the last boarding call was made for my flight to Chicago, resulting in a mad dash across the airport. In Chicago, however, customs and immigration was a breeze and I had time to stop and get some fries and a shake from the airport McD's before my plane boarded. In Detroit I met my parents by the luggage carousel and we hopped in the car and headed to my favorite Mexican restaurant for what may have been the most delicious burrito ever.

Being dog tired from the 36 hour day Tuesday, I managed to sleep in until nine in the morning on Wednesday. After getting (real!) bagels for breakfast I came home and napped for a bit. This was followed by a trip to Sears to restock my wardrobe which in turn was followed by another nap. In the evening my mother and I headed down to Comerica Park to watch the Tigers play the Rangers. In addition to having great sears down close to the infield the Tigers even managed to win.

Thursday I was wide awake at six. I killed some time watching cable before getting dressed and heading to Dunkin' Donuts for breakfast. After donuts I headed over to Costco to pick up some much needed bulk provisions (my American deodorant ran out a month ago and I was on my last razor blade.) In the afternoon I went to A&W for 25cent coney dogs (on sale because one of the Tigers' players got a home run the night before.) Back at the house I fulled the ole' bike's tires with air and rode over to the local theater to watch "Captain America". I was blown away by the cheap matinee price, paying only a quarter of what I usually pay in Osaka. I cycled home just in time to meet my dads for dinner.

Friday I intentionally got up at six so I could join my mom in driving out to Ann Arbor. After dropping mom off at a conference I took the car and headed into town. I was there pretty early so took some time to take some photos before spending a fruitless hour searching for a payphone to call the friend I was supposed to meet. In the end I found a Starbucks and used their wifi to Facebook message my friend and let him know where I was. After meeting up we checked out a bunch of the cool shops in downtown Ann Arbor before stopping for lunch and a nice pizza place. We had to part ways in the afternoon as I went to pick up my mother. Most of the rest of the day was spent napping and watching TV at home, with a short break to have dinner (Mmm, baked salmon.)

Saturday I was unintentionally up really early again (this time at five!) After playing with my Lego collection for a few hours, waiting for my mother to get up, we drove over the boarder to Canada. I took a bunch of pictures along the waterfront (Detroit looks really good from Canada) before we went to the Caesar's Palace Windsor for lunch. Tired from the morning's activities (and blowing $20 at the casino) we returned home and I took yet another nap. In the evening my father came and got my and took me down to his house for the weekend. Saturday night's dinner was my father's awesome spaghetti sauce with salad, fresh baked bread, and garden-fresh green beans. To top things off we drove out to my favorite ice-cream parlor for dessert.

Sunday morning I managed, once again, to sleep in a bit. This was followed by a lazy morning reading the New York Times and eating blueberry pancakes. Mid-afternoon my father took me out to the suit store in town and I ordered 3 new pairs of dress pants (to replace the three that I've totally worn out since I was last home.) In the evening my Aunt, Uncle, and Cousin came over for ribs and we had a nice time visiting with them. Late in the evening the dads drove me back out to mom's house where I watched some TV before going to bed.

For whatever reason I was wide awake at four this morning and could not get back to sleep. I once again dove into my Legos for a while before checking my e-mail, Skyping my girlfriend, and writing this post.

I'm scheduled to meet a few friends that I haven't seen since high-school today, so that should be fun. Also, later in the week I might take a road trip over to my old university to meet some other friends. It seems like this week might just be as exciting as last.

Sunday, July 31, 2011

Week 31

I'm currently surrounded by half-packed bags in preparation for my imminent trip back to the States. I leave at 2:30pm tomorrow from Osaka, travel for 19 hours, and arrive at 7:30pm the same day in Detroit. I'm quite excited at the prospect of being home for the first time in over 18 months but (as usual) I'm not really looking forward to the aforementioned 19 hour flight (or the fact that I have to make said flight again to get back to Japan.)

I spent the day last Tuesday doing laundry and cleaning my apartment. I got a free ticket from a friend and went off to see one of my favorite local bands in the evening. The venue was really nice and the band rocked hard as they usually do. A good time was had by all.

Wednesday was spent souvenir shopping as well as getting my weekly karaoke practice in.

Thursday, Friday, and Saturday were special shifts at work; regular classes were canceled for a week and we all did demo lessons for perspective new students in the fall. All-in-all it was a pretty easy week to have right before vacation.

Saturday night I met up with my girlfriend who made my favorite "taco-rice" and watched some movies with me. I'm going to miss her terribly for the next two weeks but luckily in this age of technology she's really just a click of the mouse away.

Yesterday after work I went with some co-workers to an exhibit of some videogame concept art done by one of our favorite artists. It was a small collection, but was free and had some nice pieces on display. This was followed up by dinner at yet another new mexican restaurant. This latest place was a bit pricy but had some interesting things on the menu (like mole).

Look forward to next week's update coming to you straight from America!

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Week 30

So, I left off last week thinking I was going bowling with my girlfriend's family but plans changed once more after I uploaded my post and we ended up going to the Osaka Aquarium instead. In retrospect going to the Aquarium on the "Ocean Day" holiday was a bit silly as it was super busy/crowded. In the end I think everyone had a good time though. My girlfriend's nephews (3 and 6) are really energetic and had fun looking at all the fish. My girlfriend's mother is also pretty energetic and spent most of the day chasing down the kids. Ater seeing all that was to be seen inside we sat outside (most of the day's rain had passed at that point) and ate a boxed lunch my girlfriend had prepared. Late in the afternoon my girlfriend's brother came in his van and took the kids and my girlfriend's mother home. Back at my apartment my girlfriend and I talked for a long time about various things and were having a good time until, right before she went home, I... caused some drama again, which took some time to resolve making it a very late night for both of us. (Lesson learned: don't ask questions about the future out of the blue and without context.)

Tuesday last week I walked around the electronics district with one of my co-workers who was shopping for a new lens for his camera and wanted my advice. Once we had found what he was looking for we adjourned to a karaoke box for a few hours of singing. Later, after ramen for dinner, we hit up a cool "video-game bar" which is home to a bunch of classic video game consoles, all free for customer use.

Wednesday was a relax/rejuvenate day and ended with a spectacular after-the-typhoon sunset which I watched from my balcony while sipping tea and reading a good book on my iPad.

Thursday before work I headed over to Osaka's latest fast food joint: Burger King. The Osaka outlet is just as good as any of the one's in Tokyo but not quite as good as the one's back in the states (that might just be nostalgia talking though.) The two main differences between Japanese Burger King and it's American cousin are 1.) the fries, the one's in America are crunchier and more flavorful 2.) In America you can get a shake with your meal, in Japan you can get a Heineken. All-in-all it's nice to have another alternative to McD's around.

Friday I went out for dinner with my girlfriend for the first time in a while. We went to a "hamburg" restaurant that essentially served hamburgers without the buns. Afterwards we did some light shopping and had a drink at my girlfriend's favorite bar before parting ways.

Saturday after work I wandered around the city were my Saturday school is killing time before the school party that was scheduled for that evening. But my wasting time turned out to be just that as only a few students showed up for the party. We still had a good time and I got to know a little more about my supervisor on Saturdays, which was nice.

Yesterday I came home from work and watched the week's recorded TV shows until bed time. Oh, right before bed there was a magnitude 4 quake in Miyagi Prefecture (maybe, 100 miles away) which made my building jump and shake. Never a dull moment in the land of the shaking sun.

Nothing too big scheduled for this week. Partly because I sent all my spare money home this month and partly because I've still gotta start packing. I can't believe there's only 8 days before I'm back in the States.

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Week 29

I didn't think I'd have time to update at my usual time this week but I get a message at the crack of dawn from my girlfriend noting that the incoming typhoon has started dropping rain early than anticipated and that our plans to go to the park with her family needed to be altered. While I'm waiting her decision as to what we're doing instead, I might as well get this out of the way.

Quite a busy week last week or at least a busy "weekend."

Last Tuesday, while out for lunch, I stopped by the cell-phone shop and upgraded my iPhone. My old one's battery was dying and I've wanted a new one for a while now. As with all new technology I spent most of the rest of the afternoon getting it updated and in working order. In the evening I headed off to the baseball park to watch a game with some friends from work. This was a different group than the one I went with last year and not quite as... experienced as the other group. First, the last person to arrive was the one holding the tickets, and she showed up late. Next, it was already the top of the second by the time we found out seats... in the away section. You could feel the eyes digging in as we, dressed up in our Hanshin Tigers clothes, sat among the Tokyo Giants fans. Oh, and the Tigers were down by one too. Fortunately after the third inning we spotted an un-occupied section of seats in the home section and moved over. The game was much more fun after that and the Tigers ended up winning two to one.

Wednesday I slacked off all morning and worked on 'tagging' old photos after lunch. In the evening I headed to the Dotonbori canal to watch the Dotonbori River Parade. The parade was supposed to go from 6:30 to 9:00 but started half an hour late and ended thirty minutes early. The short time the actual parade happened was pretty cool however. The first two boats were rowed by a team of older guys and a team of younger guys. The following "floats" were all motor driven barges with people from various companies partying onboard. I think the last float had a famous hip-hop star on it, as the crowd went wild, but I'm not really sure who this guy was.

I was awakened Thursday morning by the ominous sound of fire engines... a lot of them. I looked out my window to see the neighboring block surrounded by firefighters. (I suppose fortunately) I couldn't see and smoke or sign of fire however. Being that I was already up I decided to start my day. I went out later to buy some new video games that were just released as well as a new album by my favorite Japanese band. On the way home I did my weekly grocery shop.

It was a short work week this week (as today is Ocean Day, a national holiday) and it felt pretty short.

As my girlfriend was at her parents' house all weekend again Saturday night I went alone to see the latest Studio Ghibli movie. I really enjoyed this new piece, though I'm not sure if it would have the international appeal as "Spirited Away" or "Howl's Moving Castle". It's a more 'realistic' (non-magic) story about a girl in Shouwa-era (50's/60's) Japan who has lost her father. As with most other Ghibli movies it's a coming-of-age movie at heart. I really enjoyed it but, then, I think Studio Ghibli can do no wrong.

Yesterday (Sunday) was spent eagerly awaiting today's activities... and I've just received word that plans for today have changed to going to a bowling/sports center called Round One down near my girlfriend's hometown. I suppose I should shower, shave, and make myself presentable.

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Week 28

Despite being a terribly hot week here in Osaka I still managed to have some fun while not getting sun-burned.

Last Tuesday I woke up with the desire to go out exploring and the idea that I hadn't yet been to Kyoto's Eiga-mura (Movie-village). I got to JR Kyoto station with relative ease and decided to walk across town to the small street-car terminus that led the rest of the way to Eiga-mura. In the "it seemed like a good idea at the time" category, I underestimated the unrelenting force of the sun bearing down on me and by the time I arrived outside my destination I had no energy left to go inside (also the entry fee of 3,000yen was a bit steep). Instead I turned around and took the closest train back to Osaka. I disembarked at Osaka Station and took a look around the newly opened Osaka Station Plaza. The 'North building' is really nice and includes several roof-top gardens with spectacular views of the North side of Osaka. I also stopped by Osaka's newest Krispy-Kreme doughnut shop in the basement but in the grand tradition of such new shops in Osaka there was an hour wait to get in so I grabbed a bagel at the empty shop across the way instead.

Wednesday was a laundry/clean the house day but as I got all my chores done before noon I went and practiced karaoke for a few hours in the afternoon before coming home and watching movies the rest of the day. My electric bill is gonna be pretty high from all the AC I'm using this month, but it's worth it. (I've also discovered that my apartment is a heat-trap that is routinely 3-5 degrees C above the outside temperature.)

The work week went pretty well with a day of rain cooling things down on Thursday. I received my first 'observation' of the year yesterday and got generally good feedback. It's always nice to hear, "You're doing a good job, keep it up."

In a rare alignment of calendars I got to see my girlfriend twice this week. Friday we met up, ordered a pizza, and watched an old Studio Ghibli movie. Saturday we went over to two of our friends' apartment for dinner. My girlfriend, one of our friends, and I recently celebrated our birthdays. In addition the two friends recently go married, so we had a general celebratory dinner party. The food was outstanding with spare-ribs in a soy-sauce based sauce and some sort of mushroom and pasta-gratin. Much merriment was had by all.

Looking forward this week: I may-or-may-not go see a baseball game tomorrow depending on if a friend can get an extra ticket. A new Studio Ghibli movie comes out this weekend (which I'm excited for.) And next Monday is the first national holiday in almost two months and will be a much needed respit from my terribly hard-driving schedule.

Sunday, July 3, 2011

week 27

Lots of excitement this week with a big birthday and a big test.

Although I celebrated my birthday with my girlfriend last Saturday, I had another party on Tuesday (my actual birthday) with all my friends. The fun started at the local watering-hole. A good time was had by all. Around midnight some of the party had to catch the last train and those remaining decided that it was about time for karaoke. Karaoke lasted until 5:30am when the karaoke place closed. The "evening" was capped off with a delicious breakfast at McDonalds.

After a few hours of sleep the rest of Wednesday (and the rest of my free time for the week) was spent in a run-up review for the Japanese Language Proficiency Exam wich I took yesterday. I had only a vague idea of what the test would look like going in and was happily surprised that, although the time given for each section wasn't that long, there also weren't that many questions in each section. The three sections covered Vocabulary (30 minutes for 35 questions) Grammar/Reading (70 minutes for 39 questions) and Listening (40 minutes for 27 questions). I was also happy to learn that I hadn't forgotten all my standardized test taking skills from my school days. It turns out that some of my friends were also taking this test so we all went out and celebrated our perceived success afterwords. ("Perceived" in that a 52% is considered passing... but we won't get results until September.)

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Week 26

This past week saw a heat waves, a big game, a flea market, and a birthday party.

Beginning some time last week, summer arrived here in Osaka. With temperatures already soaring over 90 and the humidity somewhere in the 'ridiculous' range it's clear that this summer won't be a particularly comfortable one. I had forgotten since last year that my room is a heat trap and is often 10 degrees warmer than the outside temperature. I was going to try using just a rotating fan for a while but I've already given up and turned on the AC for the year.

Just as the heat was building I had friends over last Tuesday to play Dungeons and Dragons. The game was fun but with four bodies in my tiny room, even my AC couldn't keep up and we were all drenched in sweat by the end.

Last Wednesday I went to Shitennoji temple (down the street in Tennoji.) I had heard from one of my co-workers that there was a flea-market there every month on the 21st and 22nd. I was expecting one or two stalls with some used clothes but it turns out there were many many shops spread out over the entire temple compound selling everything from watches to used umbrellas to plants and more. I wan't looking for anything particular this time but now that I kind of know what's there I may go back in the future if I need something.

The work week went by pretty quickly this week although many teachers are really feeling the "cool-biz" initiative that my company's participating in. "Cool-biz" more-or-less says that we don't need to wear suit jackets or ties but that all thermostats have to be set above 28c (about 82f.) You may think, "If you're sitting inside, 28's not so bad." But I hasten to remind you that I also have to teach kids (sometimes singing and dancing) in said 28 degree heat. I'm already ready to trade my no-tie wearing for cooler classrooms and it's only the first week of summer.

I met with my girlfriend on Friday night and we had a long talk about where our relationship is and where it's going (good places on both counts!) We met again on Saturday to celebrate my birthday (which is actually tomorrow.) My girlfriend made me "Taco-Rice"; an Okimawan dish that combines the innards of tacos and white rice. She also brought a delicious dark chocolate cake. Earlier in the week I took delivery of my birthday present, a wonderful, big, Philodendron plant for my balcony.

As noted above, tomorrow I turn 30 (yikes!) To celebrate I've invited a bunch of people to my favorite local watering hole. It should be a good time. Additionally this week I'm in cram mode for the JLPT (Japanese proficiency test) which is next Sunday. I'm feeling pretty well prepared but you can never get enough study before a big test.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Week 25

After a long hiatus I finally had a bit of an adventure this week.

Tuesday morning I woke up early, washed up, finished packing, and ran off to the station to meet a friend. The "weekend's" destination? Ise and Nagoya. We boarded the 9:30 express for Ise City then sat back and relaxed for the hour and a half trip.

In Ise we first visited the "Outer Shrine" of The Ise Grand Shrine. The outer shrine wasn't much to look at (in-fact the main shrine is so sacred that commoner's are only allowed to view a small portion of the roof over high walls.) Aside from the main shrine there are several secondary shrines built in the same style which give you an idea of how the main one actually looks. The outer shrine wasn't that big and had an "every other Japanese shrine" feel about it. Being a little let down by the first shrine we stopped for lunch at a tiny ramen shop which turned out to be really good and improved our spirits. After lunch we rented bikes from the local tourism office and rode the 2 miles to the "Inner Shrine". The inner shrine is much larger than the outer and includes a famous wooden bridge at it's entry way. Even though the buildings of the two shrines look the same, the inner shrine is much more expansive and has a nicer landscape. After seeing the inner shrine we wandered down a touristy shopping street nearby. We were able to find a shop that served a local micro-brew (a rarity in Japan) and rested our feet while enjoying a beer and looking out over a beautiful river. Realizing we had half an hour to return the bikes before the office closed we peddled hard to get back to the station area. Making it back with time to spare we next headed off to see the Meoto-iwa (famous wedded-rocks.) As many guide books suggest the stones at Meoto-iwa are smaller in person than photos suggest (though they are still sizable.) Satisfied that we'd done what was to be done in Ise we boarded a train for Nagoya.

We caught the 7:00 train from Ise which pulled into Nagoya some time after 8:30. During my last trip to Nagoya I had found a taco shop that I really wanted to try out again so we started walking in that direction. The shop was much farther away that I remember (though I did eventually find it by memory.) We arrived outside the shop at 8:59 to see a sign on the door that said "Hours: 11:00am to 9:00pm." Heartbroken though we were, I also remembered a "American diner" style restaurant around the corner which was both open and quite delicious. After dinner we made the long (and painful, at this point) hike back to the station where I knew there was a nice capsule hotel. After checking in and getting all ready for the pool-sized hot baths one of the staff noticed that my friend had a tattoo of Astro-boy on his arm and kicked us out of the hotel (their policy on NO-TATTOOS evidently being very strict.) We took our refunded money and our sore feet and went down the street to a business hotel which cost the same though had a tiny shower instead of a nice bath area.

In the morning we woke up and had doughnuts for breakfast before killing time waiting for the local electronics store to open so my friend could buy batteries for his camera. Batteried in hand we boarded a train for Inuyama, 20 minutes north of Nagoya. In Inuyama we switch to a bus which took another 20 minutes to take us to Meiji-mura. Meiji-mura is a collection of Meiji-era buildings saved from destruction, moved, and restored in a scenic location next to a beautiful lake. The area of the park is massive and even moving at a good pace and skipping one or two buildings we barely saw everything in 4+ hours of waling around. Highlights include the Francis Xavier cathedral, Natsume Souseki's house, several early Japanese (Christian) churches, and the piece de resistance: Frank Lloyd Wright's Imperial Hotel Lobby. Really, the whole trip was an excuse to see hotel lobby which was every bit as wonderful as I had hoped it would be. Having duly satisfied the architecture nerd in both me and my friend we headed back to Nagoya before heading home.

Back in Nagoya while switching train lines; we left the station, grabbed a taxi, and headed to the taco shop again. This time we found it open and went in to enjoy some tasty tacos. Satisfied with our meal we hopped back in a taxi, got back to the station, and rode home to Osaka. In the 36 hours our trip took we walked an incredible distance and saw a lot of cool stuff. All it all it was a fun time.

Back in Osaka it was back to work as usual this week. The work week as brightened a bit by having dinner with my girlfriend on Saturday (which was great after two weeks of not seeing each other.)

No big plans for this week, we'll just have to wait and see what happens...

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Week 24

Still recovering from the pervious week's cold, I didn't push myself too hard this week. Just a little exploring, a little gaming, and a lot of work.

Last Tuesday I got a long overdue case of wanderlust and took my bike out for a winding ride around the city. Wednesday was the first game in a new Dungeons and Dragons game with some co-workers, which took most of the day to play.

Thursday through Sunday (and today too) were just work. Not even a date this weekend, as my girlfriend was at her parents' house all weekend. (Though I did get most of a plastic model put together, something I haven't done in ages.)

I'll almost certainly have tales to tell next week as I'm preparing to head to Ise and Nagoya tomorrow to see the Ise Grand Shrine (one of Japan's most famous/important shrines) and Meiji Mura (home to a collection of historic Japanese buildings (think "the Henry Ford", Detroiters.))

Saturday, June 4, 2011

Week 23

This was not exactly the super-fun-get-out-and-do-something week I had pictured last week. A wicked spring cold spoiled all my not-really-formed plans. Aside from Tuesday (and the weekend, but that's a different story) I didn't even leave the house except to eat/get groceries and go to work (yeah, I wan't really sick enough to skip work, just sick enough to make a light work week miserable.)

Tuesday I was still felling pretty good so I met my girlfriend and we went out for Italian. On the way home she wanted to stop by the cell-phone shop and see how much a new iPhone cost. Upon finding out that there were no start-up costs and the monthly bill wasn't much more than what she was paying before, we spent the next hour signing paper after paper before she finally received her new phone. (She spent most of the next week overcoming the learning curve and figuring out how to use said new phone.)

Wednesday I started to feel miserable so I took it as easy as possible and caught up on work around the house.

This week at work there was a big systems change at work so, while we didn't have any students, we still had to report in and sit around the office for six hours. Fortunately the monotony was broken up by going in to HQ for training on Thursday and cleaning the office on Saturday.

My high-school class was unaffected by the system change and had classes normal. During lunch I received a message from my girlfriend: "I"ve been hit by a car." To which I responded: "Again!?" (She had been hit last year as well.) Long story short: She was riding at night and got hit by a taxi. She's banged and bruised but more or less alright. I went over to her place Saturday and Sunday after work to bring her dinner (and her favorite chocolate and flowers, for maximum brownie points.)

Here's to hoping this week goes better for everyone involved.

Sunday, May 29, 2011

Week 22

A fairly unsurprising week this week. Nose to the grindstone and all that.

I did have a little fun last Tuesday when, after going out to my favorite burrito place for lunch, I took a four hour bike ride around the city. The weather was spectacular, nice and sunny but not overly hot yet. I got lots of pictures and the first sunburn of the year. Tuesday night my girlfriend came over and we had pizza as a make-up date for the upcoming weekend (when she was going to her parents'.)

Wednesday I did some early window shopping in Den-den town (the electronics district) before coming home in the afternoon, doing laundry, and cleaning up my apartment.

Thursday through Sunday kind of blurred together, without a date night or my high school class to break up the week (my high school kids were out on a field trip.) One interesting point, I suppose, was that we did get a lot of rain dumped on us yesterday by an incoming typhoon which has now more-or-less broken up and left us with an overly cloudy/windy Monday morning.

I know things have been slow the past few weeks but I think June is shaping up to be a bit more exciting... at least I hope it is anyways.

**Also, I'm told I have a few readers out there. Please feel free to use the comment section to leave and comments/questions/suggestions you have. Oh, and thanks for reading.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Week 21

Most of the past week was a blur in anticipation of celebrating my girlfriend's birthday on Sunday night.

I seem to remember that last Tuesday I stopped by the local game store (the ONE that stocks "foreign" games.) I've had a copy of "Apples to Apples" and "Fluxx" for a while now and while they're both fun games but I've been wanting to expand my collection. I finally broke down and bought "Once Upon a Time", "Lunch Money", and "Aquarius" this week. This of course led to a games night that evening, which was a lot of fun. *Everything with quotes in this paragraph is the name of a different card game.

Wednesday was spent rolling D&D characters for a new campaign that a friend of mine is starting in June. A bunch of us got together in the early afternoon to discuss the game and roll some dice. It's really fun to get together and be nerdy with other nerdy people one in a while. Once the work of character creation was done we went and got ramen, drank, and played card games until 2am.

After a couple of days of work, Saturday night, I met up with some friends at a concert venue down the street. My favorite Osaka based band opened, followed by a weird all female psychedelic-rock-revival band, and closed out by an okay-band-made-awesome that had the drummer from my all-time-favorite Japanese band. (za 50 kaitenz, kinoko hotel, and the piizu)

Finally after much preparation and "discussion" I met my girlfriend after work on Sunday and we went out to celebrate her birthday. I chose a sushi restaurant that my friend had recommended. I would normally not have tried this place, as it's one of those restaurants where they don't put prices on the menu (yeah, intimidating.) All-in-all dinner was amazing. I'd been told that "good" sushi was totally different from the 100yen sushi-go-round stuff but I was unprepared for how much better it was. In the end dinner ended up being much more reasonable than I had anticipated (a good thing for my monthly budget.) Dinner was so reasonable that we splurged on a taxi back home where I presented an order made cake I had had made as well as a small box of Legos I wrapped up. (The girlfiend was impressed/happy. Yay!)

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Week 20

This past week came in with a bang, had a whimpering mid-section, and had awesome finish.

While last Sunday (May 8) was my Japanaversery I ended up going out and celebrating last Monday instead. 3 of the 4 remaining people from my training group (myself included) went out to our favorite bar after work and ended up stating until the sun came up (the latest I've been out in quite a while.) Luckily Tuesday was a rainy day-off so it didn't matter that I slept in until the mid-afternoon or that I ordered pizza for dinner so I didn't have to leave the house all day.

Wednesday was similar to Tuesday in raininess but I did manage to get out of the house. A bunch of friends and I went uptown, first to a batting cage, then to play ping-pong at an entertainment center, and finally to do a couple hours of karaoke. Although it sounds like we did a lot, it was still a surprisingly lazy (and cheap) day.

Nothing too special about the work week this week. Went out for sushi with my girlfriend on Saturday.

Yesterday (Sunday) on the way into work on my bike, I happened to see a sign saying "Mexican Food/Bar" out of the corner of my eye. I talked some of my co-workers into joining me there for dinner (a ridiculously simple task.) It turned out to be a bit pricy but incredibly good. With this place and the new burrito place across town I think Osaka is experiencing an Mexican food "boom"... and not a minute too soon.