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.