Sunday, February 27, 2011

Week 9

Another packed one this past week. I was busy looking at factories, looking at art, looking at apartments, singing karaoke, and looking at apartments again.

Last Wednesday the usual group got together for a tour of the Osaka Mint. All Japanese coins for the past 140 years have come from this mint (paper money is produced in Tokyo.) The tour started off with a 15 minute video overview of the history and facilities. This was followed by a walking tour of part of the grounds (home to 127 varieties of Japanese cherry tree) and the factory floor (where huge machines have all but fully automated and perfected the coin minting process.) After the tour portion we were left to wander about the mint museum where we could see examples of ancient Japanese coinage as well as examples of fine crafted medals (think Olympics and the Medal of Honor.) Once again this week's tour was free but did require at least 10 days prior notice as well as a working knowledge of Japanese to book the tour (you've got to fax them a bunch of information.)

After the usual Wednesday night out with the guys I managed to drag myself out of bed Thursday morning and joined two friends in going down to Sakai (South Osaka) to see an exhibit celebrating the 150th birthday of Alphonse Mucha (Czech Art Nouveau artist.) Evidently Sakai is somewhat famous for it's collection of Mucha works as a businessman named Doi amassed a large collection some years ago. This was a nice chance to see a wider range of Mucha's work, as the last exhibit I saw was all Art Nouveau and only included a few of his posters. The Sakai City Museum itself is quite nice and is situated next to the largest Kofun (key-hole tomb) in Japan (which I wanted to see but didn't want to travel all that way for the sole purpose of seeing it.)

After my last Friday high-school shift this year (I've been teaching at an ECC sponsored high-school for the last two years) I joined one of my co-workers and set out apartment searching. What once seemed like a good idea (moving into a bigger place with an actual kitchen in a nicer neighborhood) quickly disolved as any apartment approaching ideal was super expensive. We did eventually find 3 apartments which were "okay" and set an appointment for Monday morning to go look at them.

Saturday night I went out for dinner with my girlfriend and her roommate. Her roommate's really nice (and I think I made a good impression... I hope.) After dinner we all went to sing karaoke at a really swank but oddly cheap place (Karaoke 808(?) in Shinsaibashi.)

Sunday the girlfriend and I celebrated 1 month since I asked her out by going to Namba Parks (a big open-air mall in the city) for dinner. We had a nice meal of Okanomiyaki (wiki it, I can't explain) followed by ice-cream on the top level of the mall (which is a big park.) It was a nice evening and, though we were wearing coats, it wasn't uncomfortable to sit outside and watch the city.

Monday morning I met with my co-worker again and set out to look at the apartments we saw on paper the previous Friday. Unfortunately one place had already been taken and the remaining two were is a so-so neighborhood (and only one was in a good building with an okay floor plan.) I'm currently thinking long and hard as to wether I should move or stay in my current place (which isn't too bad... really...)

It's now Tuesday morning (March 1st) and it's shaping up to be a busy day. The biggest thing on my to do list: sign up for the JLPT (Japanese Language Proficiency Test.) That and laundry, cause ya' know laundry won't do itself.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Week 8

Taking my own advice from last week's post I took it easy this week. After another overtime shift on Tuesday I successfully did absolutely nothing on Wednesday before heading in for a full work week starting on Thursday.

Sorry for the short post today, but there just wasn't all that much adventure of drama this past week. Do look forward to next week though; I've got a tour of the Osaka Mint, bowling, an art exhibition, and a big karaoke party on the docket.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Week 7

Just when I though things were calming down a bit, I had another busy week this week. Overtime, museums, snow, concerts, weekend trips. I think I need a break after all the time off I had this week.

Things kicked off this week when I accepted an overtime shift last Tuesday (on overtime days we typically go teach someone else's class if, say, they're on vacation.) To make a long, shop-talk filled story short; materials were not prepared and I had to improvise right off the bat. Luckily I'm pretty easy-going and everything turned out okay in the end.

Wednesday I went with a friend (the same one who joined me at the earthquake museum the week before) to see the Modern Transportation Museum here in Osaka. The M.T.M. isn't much to write home about but for 400 yen it's worth a look. Being partially sponsored by JR (Japan Rail) there'a a heavy bias towards trains over other froms of transportation and I suppose it's great if trains are your thing.

Thursday I had to (ungh) work. On the bright side I went out afterwords (my shift ended at 11:05) and chilled with friends in my favorite watering hole until 3am.

Friday (the National Foundation Day holiday) was greeted groggily until I looked outside and saw a beautiful blanket of snow covering the city. I threw on some warm clothes, grabbed my camera, and ran out the door. I ended up walking around my neighborhood and up to Namba Parks (a big mall with a park on top.) I was the last person to climb the slippery snow-covered stairs before security cordoned everything off as a safety precaution. I spent the afternoon relaxing and anticipating the concert that evening. The Band this time was "The King Brothers" and it was in the same location as the last concert I went to (though the venue had been re-painted/branded in the short time since January.) The band was pretty awesome, played a long set, and even played two encores.

The original plan for Saturday/Sunday called for driving to Awaji Island and spending the night in a Japanese style inn. Unfortunately, with Friday's snow it was unclear how easy it would be to get around on the island. In a fantastic bit of last-minute planning my girlfriend and I decided to take the train to Kyoto instead. We left late in the morning and made it to Kinkakuji (the Golden Pavilion) shortly after one. Contrary to weather forecasts it was only partly cloudy with only about 5 minutes of sleety-snow mid-afternoon. After Kinkakuji we walked down the street to Ryuuanji (home to Japan's most famous rock-garden.) By the time we got on a bus bound for Kyoto station the clouds had cleared and it even got a little warm out. We arrived at our hotel (just around the corner from Kyoto station) at about 4pm. I thought we were a bit early but it was nice to have a chance to use the hotel's spacious Japanese-style bath before dinner. Dinner was, in true Japanese-inn style, served in our room. The chanko-nabe (the type of Japanese stew often eaten by sumo-wrestlers) served was quite delicious and very filling. After dinner we relaxed and watched TV. Sunday morning we slept in and lazily took another dip in the Japanese-style bath before packing up and heading out. The first stop on day two was Touji (home to Japan's most famous 5-story pagoda.) followed by the site of the Rashoumon (see the Kurasawa movie of the same title.) There's nothing left of the old gate, but there is a stone marker designating the place where it once stood as the South entrance to the old capitol. After lunch we walked along the Kamo river up to the Sanjo shopping area. Here we strolled around for a while before taking the subway back to Kyoto station. We ended our stay in Kyoto with a nice view of the city from the top of the station. A great end to a great trip.

Sunday, February 6, 2011

Week 6

This week's "Wednesday Adventure" saw the smallest turnout in a long while with only one other person coming along in the morning, one more joining in the afternoon, and a forth only coming for dinner.

In the morning the two of us headed over to the Kobe waterfront and visited "The Great Hanshin-Awaji Earthquake Memorial". The route through the memorial starts on the forth floor with two movies; one showing re-creations of the destruction the 1995 earthquake caused and the other showing actual photos and film from that time with narration by a girl who lived through it. The second film had a lot of impact and was quite sad. The experience continues on the third floor with exhibits of items from the earthquake, more photos, and some text with statistics about the earthquake. There was also a large repository of personal recounts of the earthquake. This floor also had a guide who had okay English and guided us around. The second floor had some information about earthquakes in Japan and some small "experiments" you could do to learn more about them. All in all it was a nice memorial but not as instructional as the "disaster preparedness center" I visited in Tokyo a few years back.

After lunch we took the train down the waterfront a bit to the Nada ward of Kobe, which is famous for it's Sake breweries, and met our third tour-mate. Nada is a fairly large area so we tried our best to pick a good route to see as many breweries as possible. Unfortunately a combination of poor Japanese map making and the penchant of Japanese places to be closed on random weekdays foiled two of our prospects. The first brewery we stopped at (which we ended up asking a local for directions to) was the Takinokoi Kuramoto Club which turned out to be closed anyways. The second place we found on the map (Izumi Yunosuke Shoten) turned out to be someone's back yard, inhabited by a xenophobic old lady and a very barky dog. Third time was the charm as we located the Kobe Shu-shin-kan Brewery where, though we missed the day's 1 tour, we were treated to a nice video (in English) about Sake production followed by a sampling of a large variety of Sake. The staff here were really friendly and helpful and, even without the tour, it was a nice experience. Our last stop was the Hakatsuru Sake Brewery Museum (which I had previously visited a few years ago.) This place had a really nice museum which explains both the traditional and modern Sake brewing processes. Unfortunately the staff were a bit cool towards us which soured the experience a bit.

After a long afternoon of walking around we headed back into Osaka, to Dotonbori where we met up with another friend for dinner. We went to the Osaka outlet of "Chinese Cafe Eight" which I visited last year in Tokyo. As with the Tokyo version this shop had some... interesting decorations. In a final bit of odd luck for the day it turns out that we showed up on the evening of Chinese New Years and every table was booked. Fortunately the staff took pity on us and sat us at a table which had a later reservation, under the condition that we had a measly three hours to eat. As with the Tokyo vestion, this place also had great food at a reasonable price.

Rounding out the week I was fortunate enough to get two dates in with my lovely lady this week, including one at my favorite (literally) underground bar.

This next week has the "National Foundation Day" holiday on Friday which I'm combining with two of my paid holidays to get a nice REAL 3 day WEEKEND! I'll report back next week on how that goes...