Monday, December 31, 2012

An end and a beginning.

Alright, here it is:

  I'm ending the weekly updates and moving to more of a once-a-month schedule. There are several reasons for this change. First is my schedule. I've been putting a lot of overtime in on Monday mornings which is when I'm at my most creative. I then find it hard to make time later in the week to write. Secondly, my weekly routine has really settled down. Especially in relation to work, I'm just writing the same thing week after week. Even my days off settled into a fairly steady rotation the last few months. Thirdly, I'd like to spend this creative time working on other projects. I've had a few things on the back-burner for a while and would like to move them forward this year.

  I'd like to thank all my regular readers for their continued support and occasional feedback. I will be continuing this blog but on a much more relaxed schedule than before. Hopefully this will allow me to focus my writing on bigger events and encourage me to post more of my pictures too.

  Again, thanks for reading,

Week 53

Tuesday the 25th (more commonly known as Christmas) I woke up early-ish and unwrapped a few presents I brought back from America when I went home for Thanksgiving. I had a super ralaxing day that involved no leaving the house ans only putting pants on to answer the door then the pizza guy came to deliver lunch. the the late evening I called home to wish everyone a Merry Christmas (gotta love time-zones and holidays.)

Wednesday morning I Skyped with a few more family members. In the middle of one such call work phoned me asking of I could come in and cover for another teacher who was supposed to do overtime but called in sick. I begrudgingly accepted and went into work for four houes on the second day of my vacation. On the way home I did some retail therapy in Nipponbashi (my favorite shopping district.) By the time I made it home I had gotten another call from work asking me to cover for the same teacher the next day too. I said if they called EVERY other teacher first and they all said "no" I'd come in. Just my luck I got the call a few hours later and my vacation was shortened another day.

The worst part of the extra work on Thursday is that I had to set an alarm in the morning which was the ONE thing I didn't want to do over vacation. The shift wasn't that hard but I was pretty ticked off all morning and more than once mumbled the line from Kevin Smith's Clerks, "I'm not even supposed to BE here today." More retail therapy was needed on the way home. As a sign of things looking up a belated Christmas present was waiting in the mail for me when I got home. After unwrapping second Christmas I started to get my apartment organized and ready for it's New Years cleaning (a tradition here in Japan.)

I finally got to enjoy my second non-working vacation day on Friday. After sleeping in I went back to Nipponbashi one more time to look for a new pair of headphones to go with the new computer case I'd put together the previous week. In the afternoon I did a big load of laundry (at the laundromat as it was too cold to use the washer on my balcony) and did te week's grocery shopping. In the evening I made spaghetti and watched TV late into the night.

Saturday morning was slow but I met two of my good friends for lunch at the local curry shop. They just got back from their honey-moon in the Philippines and regaled my with tails of their trip. We went back to their place after lunch and played video games all afternoon. In the evening my friends wife made a very delicious dinner for all of us.

I was wide awake a bit earlier than I would have liked on Sunday but was well rested so I rolled with it. It was rainy outside and would be all day. I caught up on an old movie I'd been wanting to watch in the morning and went out for lunch and a haircut in the afternoon. I played video games with the same friend from the day before but online this time. We ended up playing for almost twelve hours with nothing but a short dinner break.

Today (December 31st, 2012) I slept in a good amount. For the first time in over a month I had a chance to make my Monday morning to Sunday night phone calls home. I headed out mid-day to take some pictures around town. It was quite chilly out but very clear and sunny. I stopped for lunch at the Hard Rock Cafe uptown. Coming out after lunch it had clouded over just a bit and started snowing gently. It was really beautiful as I rode around a bit more. I came home n the afternoon and took a nap. A while ago a friend called to make plans for this evening (we're going with the traditional watch TV, play card games, and go wo a shrine after mid-night.)

I think this will be the first on-time post in almost a month. Sorry for the continued delays but more about that in the next post. Happy New Year!

Week 52

Tuesday the 18th I had my last kindergarten visit for the year. Things went smoothly as usual. I came home and changed quickly before going out to the usual Tuesday afternoon video game session down South. In the evening a friend of a friend came around and the lot of us went out for dinner at a local pub. After dinner I went to another friend's house for even more video games.

Wednesday I awoke with clogged sinuses from the cold I'd have been able to shake if I had a real day off to rest or go to the clinic and get some drugs. In the morning I started transferring the guts of my computer from the old case to the new one I bought the previous week. I lost track of time and ended up making a dash for the train up town for date number three with my new lady-friend. This time we went to see "the Hobbit" which turned out to be pretty good. In the evening I returned home and finished putting my computer back together and gave it a test run to make sure it didn't catch on fire.

I woke up well rested on Thursday and did my usual routine of lunch at Subway before work. The staff has more-or-less memorized my order by now so it's a pretty easy option. Work was very easy as I had no students in my adult classes and just taught three classes on kids all day. Back at home I headed to bed early to try and get another good night's rest.

Fortunately I slept very well again and even slept in a bit as I had a later than usual start on Friday. The late start also meant that I could go to my favorite burrito place for lunch. Between lunch and work I updated last week's blog and got that posted online. I went to substitute for another teacher in the afternoon. His classes were interesting and kids class kids were nice. This was the last day of Christmas lessons and I was a bit relieved to not have to hear kids call stockings "socks" until next year.

Saturday was the last official day of work before the winter vacation and all kids classes were on break already so I only had to teach two adult classes all day. The rest of the time I got to draw the New Years greeting on the neon-paint black-board in the front of the school. I also had my picture taken a number of times to be plastered on the school's home page. In the evening I went to meet the girlfriend in Umeda. This time we went to see the new "One Piece" movie (a pirate themed 'anime' that is super popular here in Japan.) After the movie we walked over to a British pub I know but it was too crowded and we left after one drink. On the way back to the station I made a formal request to officially go out together and she said "Yes."This, of  course, made my week.

I signed up to do overtime on Sunday and Monday morning, the first two days of my winter vacation. Both shifts were fairly busy and I really earned my extra pay. Sunday night I went back to the burrito place with some co-workers and did some last-minute Christmas shopping too.

After Monday's shift I rode the train out to Kyoto to have dinner with my girlfriend and some of her friends. It was a little awkward on a number of levels: First, it was a joshi-kai (an all girls party), second, it was a singles party to which we were invited to before we hooked up. All in all a good time was had by all. We had an all-you-can-drink set-menu meal at an Italian restaurant in Gion. I spoke mostly in English and knew I was getting a bit tipsy when everyone stopped, stared at me, and exclaimed, "oh, you DO speak Japanese." My girlfriend lives in Kyoto so we said goodbye at the station and the rest of the party caught a train back to Osaka together.

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Week 51

Tuesday (the 11th) I went early in the morning to do the first of my kindergarten "special assignments". This particular kindergarten in the deep South of Osaka wanted me to dress as Santa and give out gifts to six classes of kids (from four to six years old.) Amazingly, the costume they provided was large enough and the kids really bought my act. In each class I said hello, passed out the gifts, there was a short Q&A (Where do you live [Santa]? What's your favorite color/food? Where are your reindeer?), followed by a song from the kids to Santa. It turned out to be a really good time for everyone involved. Oh, and I didn't catch on until almost the end but the kindergarten was run by a Buddhist temple. In the later afternoon, after I'd napped of the excitement of the morning, I rearranged my room once again. As usual this kicked up all sorts of dust and set off my allergies.

Wednesday I spent the morning getting ready for a second date with the woman from the previous week. This time we went out for lunch at a fairly nice restaurant before going bowling and singing karaoke at an entertainment complex uptown. The evening was capped off with a ride on one of the city's Ferris wheels. Back at home I made dinner for myself and set to cleaning out an old computer I received from one friend so that I could pass it on to another friend.

Thursday was a textbook day; wake up, browse the internet, shower, get dressed, take the train uptown, stop at Subway for lunch, finish the commute to the office, teach all my usual classes, commute back home, stop at the grocery store and do the week's shopping, go home and watch TV until bedtime.

I was very surprised and happy Friday morning as one of my long-lost students finally came back to school (just in time for the last lesson of the calendar year.) He had lost a lot of weight and muscle (so I barely recognized him until he spoke.) He took it easy and only did half of the usual class time but did well in that half. Unfortunately my afternoon student didn't show but that meant I got to play games with the other students again. In the evening i couldn't be bothered to cook so the 'ole speed dial to Domines was activated and dinner appeared on my doorstep 30 minutes later.

For the first time in a while I woke up felling like a million dollars Saturday morning. Once I got a chance to sleep in for a few consecutive days my body decided to heal itself. Sadly the feeling didn't last too long as the workday's stress got me coughing by the end again. A friend came over in the evening to play games and chat which was a nice way to unwind.

Sunday's shift was quite busy again but respite was on the horizon as a group of new trainees was in the office learning the ropes. After coming home and making dinner in the evening the friend who wanted the hand-me-down computer came over to pick it up.

Monday I was back in the up-before-sunrise game/ this time I had to head north, through the heart of the city, at rush hour which was a "joy'". Fortunately this, my second and final "special assignment" went just as well as the first one. The costume wasn't as complete (the pants were 47 sizes too small) but I think I made a convincing Santa's helper. There were only three classes this time and no presents so it was an interesting change-up to the last kindergarten. I stopped at the computer store on the way home and picked up a new computer case I've been wanting for a while before napping in the afternoon and heading off to work in the evening.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Week 50

  Finally! Here's the write up of my trip home for Thanksgiving (as well as the following week's events.) Or as I like to call it; "4 out of 5 breakfasts at home with bacon."

Tuesday November 20th:
  I slept in a bit in the morning before finishing most of my packing for my trip home. In the afternoon I got a call from a friend inviting me over for dinner. We had a delicious Nabe (hot pot) with chicken, pork, fish, and lots of vegetables. I left fairly early in the evening so I could get a good Night's sleep before the next day's adventure.

Wednesday November 21st:
  Eager to get going I woke up before my alarm, showered and made my final preparations for leaving. As my bag was quite heavy I walked out to the main road and took a taxi to Nankai Namba station where I caught the 9:00 rapid express train bound for the airport. I was checked in and through security a full hour before my flight boarded. On my first leg from Osaka to Seoul I changed seats twice to allow two different couples to sit together. Korean Air has a really nice in-flight entertainment system and I got to see "The Watch" with Ben Stiller (long before it comes out in Japanese theaters.) In Seoul I had a four hour layover. To kill time I had an overly-spicy plate of cashew chicken in the food court and played video games on my 3DS. When my flight finally boarded I ended up in a middle-row aisle seat but luckily the middle seat wasn't occupied. The flight was a bit bumpy but un-eventful. Sadly economy-class seats aren't designed with a 6'4" body in mind so sleeping was next-to impossible. Instead I watched "Ted" on the in-flight system and some of the TV shows I had brought along on my iPad. A little over twelve hours after take-off I landed in Detroit at 6:00pm local time. I breezed through immigration and customs and met my parents and one of my aunts outside the gate. In tradition we stopped at my all-time-favorite Mexican restaurant on the way home. After struggling to stay awake and chat for a while I headed up to bed and crashed out for the night.

Thursday November 22nd (Thanksgiving Day):
  Amazingly I was able to get up at 8:00 in the morning, in time to have a deliciously prepared plate of crispy bacon and toast (made from home-baked bread.) My energy didn't last too long, however, as about 11:00 I needed to lie own for a nap. Waking up refreshed once again after noon, family started to arrive for Thanksgiving dinner. Family from all over gathered together and even those that couldn't make it called to say hello. Dinner was turkey, three kinds of stuffing, green bean casserole, and gravy. Pumpkin and pecan pies made up dessert. Sated with so much delicious food everyone chatted into the evening. After everyone filed out I crashed out around 10:15pm.

Friday November 23rd (Black Friday):
  I managed to sleep until almost 7am and relaxed in bed for a bit longer besides. Breakfast, once again, was a full plate of delicious bacon and toast. In the lasts morning I headed out with my father to go shopping. Thinking to avoid the big malls we started at a shoe store near, but not in a mall. Finding things weren't too busy we ventured into the department stores next. By the end of the trip we had the system of dad waits in line while I shop down pat. We stopped at my favorite pizza place for lunch before heading home where I laid down for yet another nap. In the late afternoon I checked my e-mail and Facebook to make sure the rest of the world was still there. I took an hour later and sorted through some of my old stuff still packed away in the attic. My mother and one set of aunts and uncles came around for a dinner of beef stew with fluffy dumplings. The conversation lasted into the night again and sleep came easily once my head touched the pillow.

Saturday November 24th:
  I woke up exceptionally early with a certain still-jet-laggy grogginess. I lounged around in bed, trying in vain to get a few more minutes of sleep that wouldn't come. When I did get out of bed packed my bags again and rode from my father's house in the city out to my mother's house. The first order of business was a run to the local coffee shop for breakfast. This was followed by some quality time sorting out more attic-stuff. Late in the morning the two cats my mother started keeping since I was home last finally made an appearance. We had lunch at the theater while seeing the new James Bond movies "Skyfall". I managed to stay awake through the movie but needed another nap afterwords. In the evening my dads came for dinner and brought spaghetti (with my father's special spaghetti sauce.) Later I watched "the Vampire Lestat" on TV and tried to stay awake again. I managed to make it most of the way to the end but was in bed by 10:30.

Sunday November 25th:
  Once again I woke up extremely early but stayed in bed, trying to eek out a few more minutes of sleep. As a nice surprise when I did get up, I found it had snowed lightly overnight. Braving the slush we went out for breakfast with a few old family friends and I was once again able to have bacon with breakfast. In the afternoon we drove out to The Henry Ford museum to see an exhibit of famous buildings remade with Lego. In addition to the exhibit we had a good time walking around the museum and stopped for hotdogs at the museum's cafe. On the Was home we stopped at several stores in a fruitless search for a box of Twinkies I could take back with me as a souvenir. Back at the house I laid down for yet another nap. In the evening we dined on left-overs from the weekend and watched some 'quality' American TV (Fox's Sunday night line-up.) Around 10:00 I went up to my room to pack once more and was asleep by 10:30.

Monday November 26th and Tuesday November 27th:
  Even earlier the the previous two days I was awake before dawn. After making some final preparations for travel I spent a few minutes catching up with the American music scene but watch ing VH1's morning line-up. About 8:30 we left the house and picked up my father on the way to the airport. As is tradition on the way out we stopped at the airport hotel for breakfast and I got one last plate of bacon. ( For those curious: They serve Canadian-style bacon in Japan so I had to get my fill of American-style while I was home.)After breakfast In waved goodbye to the parents and went through security. I had an hour before my flight again and filled the time perusing the gift-shops in the terminal building. I had an exit-row seat on the trip back and so was a little ore comfortable (thought I still couldn't sleep.) I watched "Tower Heist" and "Get Smart" on the entertainment system and a few more TV shows on my iPad. I had a two hour layover in Seoul but was pretty sacked and just waited by the gate and watched some more TV. I ended up with a window seat for the flight from Seoul to Osaka and watched the lights of Korea, the boats in the Japan sea, and mainland town on mainland Japan pass under us while listening to music. My plane arrived in Osaka at 8:40pm local time. I was though immigration and customs within a half an hour and soon on a bus headed for my part of town. After a taxi ride from the bus depot to my apartment I arrived at 10:25p.m. After dropping my bags off I made a quick run to the convenience store for a late-night snack. A friend I hadn't seen in a while came over and chatted for awhile and I didn't get to bed until almost 2am.

Wednesday November 28th:
  I was awakened around 1pm by a phone call my sleep-deprived brain was sure was my employer wondering why I wasn't at work. Fortunately it turned out to be a fellow teacher calling to confirm plans for a lesson later in the week. Although shocked awake I lounged around in bed a while longer before getting up and having "breakfast". I spent most of the day watching TV and unpacking my bags. In the evening some friends came over to play "Cards Against Humanity", a new game I picked up while I was in the States. Everyone went home fairly early but I ended up staying awake until almost 1am.

Thursday November 29th:
  Luckily I set an alarm (I don't usually on Thursdays) and was up and out to work on time. Work wasn't too hard and made for a good first day back after vacation. After grocery shopping on the way home I took it easy in the evening again and fell asleep about 1am.

Friday November 30th:
  At my Friday high-school shift I finally had a student to teach in the morning. It wasn't one of my usual kids, but it was a nice change of pace. The afternoon's activity was playing "the Game of Life" in Japanese. When I got home in the evening I worked through a long list of things to do that had built up over the past week. After I was done I finally managed to wrestle myself into bed at the usual hour of midnight.

Saturday December 1st:
  Work, as usual, was early and went by fairly quickly. In the evening I went out with a friend to a bar where they were holding a MoVember/No-shave-November mustache contest. When the time came to get up on stage I was shyly dragged up but ended up winning first place (a bottle of champagne.) I stopped for ramen on the way home and was asleep at the usual hour once again.

Sunday December 2nd:
  I grudgingly woke up to the sound of my alarm. Work was terribly busy but, again, went by quickly. In the evening I got yet more work done around the house.

Monday December 3rd:
  I had to get up extra early to teach a kindergarten shift. As usual it was a chore to get up and out but was fun once I got there. In December we get to teach about Christmas, which all the kids love which makes it easier to teach. I had planned to take a nap in-between my shifts but I ended up working on my computer instead. The evening's shift was busy but a number of teachers, myself included, had a break at the end so we could chat which was a nice end to the night.

Tuesday December 4th:
  I slept in a little in the morning and met one friend to play video games in the afternoon. Half of the usual Tuesday group was out of town so I went to a different house (a change of scenery, I suppose.) for the first time in a while we went out for sushi for dinner. In the evening another, mutual, friend called and invited us out to the local watering hole for drinks. He and his wife are moving back to Canada soon so it was nice to have one more drink with them.

Wednesday December 5th:
  I was up at a reasonable hour and spent the morning putsing around the house and getting ready. At noon I went out for the first time in almost a year on what might be called "a date". We went to a nice vegetarian restaurant for lunch, walked around a bit, and saw "Skyfall" (again for me, the first time for her.) If things go well more details may follow in future posts. In the evening I met the same friends from the night before at the same Korean barbecue place where we celebrated completing our training for our current job almost five years before. After dinner we went back to the friend who's leaving's apartment and raided his bookshelves and pantry for things he didn't want to take back with him (I got some good English and Japanese texts as well as a 5 liter bottle of cheap rum.)

Thursday December 6th:
  I had a restless night of sleep due to a blustery wind-storm in the night. In addition I woke up with the start of a cold nestled in the back of my throat. Fortunately my shift was an easy one again and I didn't have to work myself too hard. As usual I stopped to groceries on e way home before watching TV and eventually falling asleep.

Friday December 7th:
  I woke up this morning feeling the cold from the day before advance another step. I did't feel awful yet, but I knew it was just a matter of time. My morning student didn't come again and I finally had the time and energy to sit down and type most of this post out.

Saturday December 8th:
  Not feeling in spectacular health I managed to drag myself to work, coughing all the way. things went by fairly smoothly though there was a perspective student looking on on my most rowdy bunch of kids. It was one of those lessons where you want to go out and say "it's not usually like this, my classes usually run a lot smoother." In the evening my friend, who I spent the week saying goodbye to called my up at the last minute and offered me his old computer. It was too heavy to ship home and he didn't want to throw it on the curb.Not being one to pass up a free computer, I accepted and wen to pick it up. Later in the evening the same friend threw one last big farewell party at one of the local Irish pubs. I felt obligated to go (and I had a terrific time) but left a bit early to try and get some rest.

Sunday December 9th:
  Sunday's shift was long and hard with all of my classes full of challenging students. I could feel my cold ramping up towards it pinnacle but was helpless to do anything about it. I went home and crashed out in the evening.

Monday December 10th:
  I had to be up at the crack of dawn to take a train way down south to a kindergarten where it turns out I was supposed to play Santa Claus. They had a costume all prepared (which actually fit!) and big bags of presents with the kids names on them. I handed out gifts to 6 classes of roughly 20 kids each in about 2 hours. It was exhausting but fun and really rewarding to see the kids smile. I came home in the afternoon and crashed out again before my evening shift. Finally on the evening shift I caught a break (literally 2 to 3 breaks in my schedule) and could relax a bit.

Monday, December 3, 2012

Week 49

So, yeah, no update this week either. Super-long post coming next week.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Week 48

Alright, let's face it - Jet lag and a return-to-work-after-vacation schedule aren't ging to allow me time to write up last week's events. I'll try my hardest to post between shifts on Monday.

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Week 47

Work this week was sorted up a bit with two days of classes in a new building at one of my regular schools. The new space itself is not only clean and bright but the change of scenery also brings fresh outlook to the way I teach (especially my long-term students who I see every week.)

My Friday high-school students continue to no show up for class. I do my best not to take it personally as these kids have a history of being shut-ins and for that reason especially I hope, each wee, that they come back to class.

After work Friday, Saturday, and Sunday this week I played online games with some friends, one of whom is moving back to Canada soon. I suppose, as these games are online, we could still play after he moves but even the Internet age hasn't been able to totally wipe out time (zone) differences.

Saturday, on the way home from work, I stopped at the theater downtown to get one of the last remaining tickets for the opening-day showing of the animated feature: Evangelion 3.0: You can (not) redo. This is the third in a tetrarch of films (the first two of which I saw on opening day in Japan as well.) One of the latest shows I've seen in Japan, the movie started at 11:10p.m.. I was a bit tired the next dy but it was totally worth it. These films use cutting-edge digital animation techniques to provide two hours of eye-candy consistently mixed with an fantastic soundtrack.

Looking forward I've got to start packing for my (short) trip back to the States on Wednesday. Before then I have yet another kindergarten class to teach tomorrow morning (Tuesday the 20th). Once that shift is over I'll have a full week off work and five awesome days back in the 'ole hometown to spend with family. I'm really looking forward to this week.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Week 46

Last Tuesday I lounged around most of the morning before going out mid-day to buy some things for the evening's festivities. As usual I rode my bike down to my friend's house in the South of Osaka. We played games all afternoon but stopped around five o'clock to make preparations for dinner. A little later on a few more friends came over and we all enjoyed an early mini-Thanksgiving feast. The highlight of the meal was a juicy turkey (from Costco) but also featured hand made mashed potatoes and stuffing as well as pumpkin pie for dessert. In the true Thanksgiving spirit everyone sat around in food-comas watching TV afterwords.

Wednesday (the 7th) I slept in for the first time in a while. I think the cooler weather makes my bed that much more inviting to my unconscious mind. I hit up my favorite burrito place for lunch and did some shopping in the afternoon. In the evening some friends came over for pizza and games.

Thursday I slept in again and almost missed a chat secession I had planned with a friend back home. Work wasn't too bad. The school I work at on Thursdays and Saturdays was about to move (last Sunday the 11th) so I helped get things organized for that.

The previous few Fridays trend of my students not showing up continued this week. The game of the week with the other students was Monopoly which was a blast from the past. As my allergies were acting up all day I stopped for more allergy medicine and a 4-pack of tissues on the way home. After the allergy medicine kicked in I was too lazy to make dinner and ordered pizza for the second time that week.

Saturday was also a fairly easy work day and also involved final preparations for the school's impending move (across a plaza, right next to the station.) A fiend called and wanted to go out for dinner in the evening and we ended up playing online games most of the night.

Sunday's Web school shift was particularly busy, as has been the norm lately. I stopped at the eyeglass shop on the way home to get my new glasses adjusted (they were a little off and making my eyes tired.)

Monday I had to get up early yet again to do another Kindergarten class. After getting take-out for lunch I came home and crashed out for a few hours before going to work in the evening.

Yesterday (Tuesday the 13th) I slept in again and messed around the house in the morning before heading South for my weekly gaming session (sadly, with less turkey this time.)

This morning my apartment was cool enough that I didn't want to get out of bed. When I did manage to rouse myself I got dressed and went out shopping. I spent most of the day downtown riding my bike around. I came home in the afternoon to do laundry and write this post. My Wednesday night gaming friends will be over soon.

I get to see the new school for the first time tomorrow which is exciting. I hope this work week goes by fast as next week I'll be headed back to the States for a real Thanksgiving with my family.

Sunday, November 4, 2012

Week 45

It certainly helps my will to write when I don't have to get up at 7am on a Monday morning, travel 50 minutes, and dance in front of 30~60 kindergarten students. I suppose it also helps knowing this this will be one of the shortest posts ever.

As expected yesterday (Sunday) was a fairly normal day at work. I stopped for curry on the way home and proceeded to relax in front of my TV all evening.

Sadly today is not a "Happy Monday" (Japanese-English term for a three day weekend) but I think I can find the energy to do one more 6-hour shift this evening before my "weekend" starts.

Saturday, November 3, 2012

Week 44

It seems that my kindergarten shifts on Mondays really mess with my writing schedule and I just can't seem to find time elsewhere in the week to write. Hmmm...

Anyways, last Wednesday (Oct. 24) the I hung around the house most of the day. I tried to have lunch at my favorite burrito place but they were closed for a much needed vacation (it's a family run place) so I hit up Burger King instead. In the evening I tried a new online game with some friends, though try as I might I just couldn't figure it out.

Thursday morning I headed to a place out in the boonies of North Osaka called Murano to help with a Halloween party for another alternative high-school (associated with the one I teach at on Fridays.) I put on my "Vash the Stampede" cos-play costume and the kids really liked it. The students (around 10 kids) made lunch for everyone and a good time was had by all. Luckily the high-school was in the neck of the woods I teach at on Thursdays anyways so it was easy to get to work in the afternoon. Unfortunately I had a cough and runny nose all through work but managed, somehow, to be my usual peppy self. I skipped that week's grocery shopping and went home and collapsed into bed.

Friday's usual high-school shift went by quickly as my usual students didn't show up again and I played games with the other kids all day. After work I went into the shopping arcade near work and ordered a new pair of glasses. In the evening a friend from Tokyo came into town so a few of the locals got together for drinks at the local watering hole.

Saturday's (Oct. 27) shift at work went much better than expected. It varies from class to class but the Halloween special event lesson can be a bit stressful on the teachers. Fortunately everything went well an all the kids had a good time. After work I tried the new online game with my friends again. I did a little better this time but still found it a challenge. Instead of joining the usual Halloween shenanigans in town this year I stayed home and watched a movie instead.

Last Sunday was fairly easy from start to finish. I had a few breaks at work. I bought a new plastic model on the way home. Watched a thunder storm roll in from my balcony. Made dinner for myself. Watched Ghostbusters and then went to bed.

Monday I had my second and final kindergarten Halloween lesson in the morning. Again the kids really liked my costume and had a good time. I stopped for lunch at a take out place and had a nice long nap before my eve ing shift started.

Tuesday I had to get up at an unreasonable hour (for a "day off" anyways) to go into my company HQ for training. After 3 hours of learning about things that won't take effect for another 5 months I stopped at home to change before heading down to my friend's house for our weekly video game session.

Luckily I could sleep in a bit on Wednesday (Oct. 31). Late in the morning I went to pick up my new glasses and get some lunch. Next, I stopped mt Krispy Kreme to get a dozen Halloween theme doughnuts to take to my high-school's Halloween party. I used my Luigi costume this time and it was a big hit. The highlight of the party was carving real, North American, orange mini-pumpkins. The students were remarkably good at making some amazing faces. In the evening the usual set of friends came over to my place to hang out.

Thursday I did one last day of Halloween lessons at work. In the evening I came home and shaved to participate in a "Mowvember" event/beard growing competition.

This past Friday was almost the same as the previous one at work. My students didn't show so I got to hang out with the other students all day. this was the first day I wore my new glasses most of the day and as usual they took some getting used to. I stopped at my favorite barber shop on the may home and hot my hair trimmed back to match my new bald face.

Today (Saturday, October 3rd) was Culture Day here in Japan so I had the day off. This is the first Saturday I didn't have to work in a vary long time. I lounged around the house all morning before heading out mid-day. I hadn't been to the Tennoji zoo in a while so I decided to take my camera and head down there today. It was pretty busy but not too crowded. After stopping at a home-center on the way home I spent the next few hour cleaning my apartment. I stopped and made dinner before writing this post which is the last thing on a long to-do list I had written for today.

Back to work tomorrow and Monday (Monday's blog post will no-doubt be a bit short.) Next Tuesday I'm going to have a mini-Thanksgiving with my video-game-playing friends in addition to our usual gaming session, which should be fun. Aside from that I'm looking forward to traveling back to the States for an all-too-short trip for actual Thanksgiving later in the month.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Week 43

Last Tuesday I started my day early with yet another Kindergarden lesson. As usual the Kindergarten was out in the middle of nowhere so it took me a while to get back into town even after my lesson was finished. When I did arrive back in civilization I headed over to the high-school I teach at where on of the teachers very kindly offered to help adjust the size of my Halloween costume. I ordered the largest Luigi (from Mario Brothers) costume I could find on Amazon only to have it arrive and be too short. This kicked off a multi-week mission to find someone with a sewing machine so I didn't have to do all the alteration by hand. Costume all sorted out I ran home, changed out of my work clothes and rode my bike down South to play games with my friends again. We took a break from playing at some point and went out to a nice izakaya (Japanese pub) for dinner. We played well into the night and I ended up riding home well after midnight.

Wednesday saw rain all day, torrential at times. Mid-day I ventured out to Nipponbashi to do some shopping and had lunch at Osho (a Japanese version of a Chinese restaurant.) I watched TV and relaxed through the afternoon. In the evening some friends came over yet again for Wednesday nigh Magic: the Gathering.

After sleeping in a bit Thursday morning I played some more Magic with a friend who recently moved back to the States ove Skype. Work, in the afternoon, went normally. I met my friend's wife (who just moven into the neighborhood) in the grocery store on the way home, which was nice. I then came home and crashed in front of the TV in the evening.

Friday morning's high-school shift was remarkably work-free as none o my regular students came to class. This left me with a lot of time to play games with the other students in the lobby. I stopped by Nipponbashi again on the way home and ran into a staff member from one of the schools I used to work at who remembered my face. I couldn't be bothered to make dinner so I got Dominoes pizza for dinner.

Saturday's shift was another normal one. No news is good news in this line of work as unless something really horrible happens it's a pretty relaxed job. I started to feel a sore throat coming on in the evening so I laid low at home again.

Sunday's "web" shift was a bit rough with 12 out of 12 lessons being booked and everyone showing up on time. In addition my throat was scratchy all day. It didn't hurt, per say, but was kind of annoying. After stopping at my favorite curry shop for dinner on the way home I took it east in the evening yet again.

Monday this week I had my forst Kindergarten Halloween lesson. The kids loved my Luigi costume and it was instantly recognizable. Between shifts I came home, had lunch, and did some laundry. The evening shift was blessedly easy with quite a few breaks in my schedule.

Yesterday (Tuesday the 23rd) I played video games at home all day. After the constant rain on the morning let up I  finished my laundry in the afternoon. I somehow managed to not leave the house until 10pm when a friend invited my down to the local watering hole to have drinks with a few people.

Despite my best efforts all week to rest up it seems that I've woken up this morning with "common cold" symptoms. I figure it's got a lot to do with the changing of the season as the day-time highs here have dropped 10degC in the last week. Looks like I'll be spending one more day resting up at home. Hopefully I'll feel better tomorrow as I've got a Halloween party to attend in the morning at a teacher-friend's-friend's high school.

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Week 42

Last Monday afternoon I went out to the Akinai Festival which was held near Osaka castle. As advertised there were festival foods from all over Japan. Most of the selection was 'meat on a stick', fried foods, or seafood. The highlight for me was onion-flavored ice-cream from Awaji island. It really tasted like eating onions which was both awful and amazing. There were also musical performances on a stage at one end of the park. Dancers of all ages did both traditional and modern dances. There was also a parade of mascots characters from all the places represented. The weather was partly sunny and just on the edge of hot which made sitting in the shade feel wonderful.

Tuesday I met up with the set of friends I've been playing video games with the last few weeks and we churned out another few hours of play time.

Wednesday morning I changed over my summer and winter wardrobe. Some contractors were changing out a pump in my building which meant no water from 9-5 so I decided to spend the day out on the town. I started by tracking down the items needed to adjust my halloween costume to fit me. I then stopped at my favorite burrito place for lunch. Later, killed some time singing karaoke before stopping at the home-center to get some household cleaning supplies. In the evening, after my water was back on I did some fall cleaning and mucked out my bathroom.

Thursday was yet another surprisingly light day at work. Not that I'm one to complain about not having to work hard.

Friday's high-school shift was a little odd in that none of my regular students showed up so I ended up sitting in the lobby and playing games with other students all day.

Saturday was busy as usual durning the day. In the evening I joined some friends as they played pachinko for the first time. For those not familiar: pachinko is an "entertainment" because gambling is illegal in Japan. You basically play pinball and when you score it activates a slot-machine wheel which gives the chance to win more pin-balls. Those more skilled than I can make the machine pay our more balls which can be exchanged for vouchers... which can be taken around to another "shop" in back of the pachinko parlor and traded for money... which basically makes it a form of gambling. Also, pachinko parlors are generally offensive to the senses; they're smoky, overly-lit, and the machines make a cacophony of sound which makes normal conversation impossible. I like to go about one a year and drop 1,000 yen just to remind me why I don't go more often.

Sunday after work I hustled home, changed, and headed down to Nagai (in the South part of Osaka) for a friend's birthday party. Around 12 people came out for Yaki-niku (Korean barbecue.) The restaurant did all-you-can-eat and all-you-can-drink for 2 hours at about $40 a head. I'm not sure they made and profit odd of our table as 4 Americans, 3 Australians, 2 Canadians, 1 Korean, and 2 Japanese people can eat a lot of meet and drink a lot of beer. Also, we're not sure why, but the restaurant gave us an extra hour for free, which was nice of them. The party went on uptown after dinner but I chose to come home and crash as I've got work to do at home before going into work this afternoon.

Sunday, October 7, 2012

Week 41

Last Tuesday I had a blast playing video games at a friend's house. One of the highlights of the day being some fur-therapy with my friend's Shiba dog (classic Japanese dog breed.) In the evening a small number of friends and I met up at our old, tiny, watering hole for drinks. The night almost ended in tears as a friendly game of Uno turned sour when no one could remember what the exact rules were and battles over house rules flared. All in all a good time was had by all, however.

As planned, I did get out for a bike ride on Wednesday though my destination was the Hard Rock Cafe where I'm pretty sure the potato skins I had with lunch counter-balanced any exercise I did all day. In the evening some friends came over for what we're now calling Wednesday-night Magic (:the Gathering.)

The work week wasn't really worth writing home about. I went to work, came home, made dinner, watched TV, and went to bed. Wash, rinse, repeat. No big events this week.

Today, on the other hand, is "Health and Sports Day" or a "Happy Monday" or "Yet Another Day Off". For some odd reason I'm up at 7am writing this and will probably go back to bed when I'm done. Later in the day I'm going to meet some friends at the "Akinai Festival", uptown. The Akinai Festival is where street food vendors from all over Japan come to Osaka and set up shop for one weekend. It's like the Japanese version of Detroit's "Arts, Beats, and Eats." At least that's how it's been explained to me... should be fun to find out.

Sunday, September 30, 2012

Week 40

Sorry for the wait but, finally, here's the write-up of my trip to Tokyo last week (in addition to this week's update):

Day 1 (Tuesday the 18th):

I awoke early and, after making sure my apartment was in order, made my way to Shin-Osaka station, the closest Shinkansen stop. After breakfast at McD's I made my way through the hustle and bustle of the station to get my one-way ticket to Tokyo. The rie itself has become somewhat routine, though this time I was able to see the bottom of Mt. Fuji as we zoomed past. I arrived in Shin-Yokohama around 11:00 and transfered to a local time to get down to Kamakura, home of the Great Buddha of Kamakura. I stopped at an Italian place near Kamakura station for lunch before transferring to an even smaller train line that took me within reasonable walking distance of the famous statue. The Great Buddha had the usual smattering of people from around Japan and the world and was pretty much the way I remembered it five years ago. After a quick stop in the gift shop and some ice cream I hopped back on the same small train line and headed to Enoshima. Enoshima is a near-peninsula that sticks out into the Pacific and is technically part of my old-town Fujisawa. I hadn't originally planned to walk across the island but just as the train pulled up the weather cleared from the overcast sky that had prevailed and I took it as a sign. It was fun to see the far (ocean-facing) side of the island again but the hike was a lot more taxing than I remembered. After my hike I took the local line the rest of the way to it's terminus; Fujisawa station. I lived in Fujisawa city back when I worked for Nova five years ago. I've been wanting to go see the old neighborhood for a while now. Walking around, things were more or less as I left them. I found the bar I went to on my first night, the 7-11 where I used to get midnight-snacks (the stass still remembered me), and even my old apartment building. Sated that my memory had not failed me and, in-fact, amazed at how much I remembered I hopped yet another train up into the main part of Tokyo. At some point during the day an old friend had contacted me and wanted to meet in Shibuya around 7:30. As I arrived in the area early I killed time by squaring away my accommodations and window-shopping a bit. After meeting my friend by the famous Hackiko Statue we took the loop-line train to Shinjuku where we haggled with the street promoters until we got a good deal on dinner and drinks. After dinner we had one more "street beer" in a small park and chatted untile the rats and roaches exerted their dominance in the area. I make my way back to my capsule-hotel, took a nice hot bath in the group bath area, and went soundly to sleep.

Day 2 (Wednesday the 19th):

Cursing my early alarm as I woke up, I got dressed and made my way down the street to the local Krispy Kreme. Belly full of doughnuts I made my way far across town to Mitaka where the Studio Ghibli Museum is located. I arrived a little early of my scheduled entry time of 10:00 and had to wait unter a tent to avoid a light rain that had been falling all morning. I'd seen the museum seven years before when I was living in Tokyo for study abroad. There wasn't anything too new but it's the sort of place that doen't get old or boring no matter how many time you see it. Around noon I departed for Nakano, an area known as "Little Akihabara" for it's selection of nerdy retro-toy shops. After walking around Nakano I headed over to the real Akihabara (nerd central) and walked around with the friend from the day before for a few hours. It took  lot of will-power to no buy anything that I'd have to drag around for the next three days of my trip. After dinner at a ramen shop my friend departed and I headed back to Shibuya where I caught the late show of "Biohazard 5" (Resident Evil 5 in America.) I enjoyed the fact that one of the main fight scenes was filmed a few hundred feet from the theater I was sitting in. After the movie let out I went back to my hotel where I sat in a massage chair in the "relaxation room" and charged my various electronics (including my phone which had died earlier in the day.)

Day 3 (Thursday the 20th):

There's a nice "family restaurant" (think American Denny's) across the street from the hotel where I had  some very dry pancakes for breakfast. I the proceeded to get lost looking for the subway station I needed. through some great (lack-of) urban planning it turned out to be on te third floor of a department store building, above two other subway stations and two main railway lines. I arrived in Asakusa around 10:00 and decided to walk to Tokyo Skytree from the station. It turned out to be a bit further away than it looked and the long walks of the past two days were starting to take their toll on my legs. Even though I arrived somewhat early there was already a 40 minute wait to buy tickets to go up to the observation deck. Fortunately there's a nice video presentation about the history of Tokyo that plays on giant monitors places along the line as you wait. The view was nice but the late summer haze over the city made it hard to make out some famous landmarks. Learning my lesson on the walk over, I took the train back to Asakusa. From Asakusa I found a river cruise that went to Odaiba. I had planned to do Odaiba the next day but I'd wanted to do a Tokyo river cruise for a long time. the cruise took a little over an hour and gave a nice, different, perspective on the city. I always say the best way to see a city is from it's waterways. On Odaiba I wasted no time in hunting down the "Tokyo Legoland Discovery Center". While not the biggest facility ever it really wet my appetite for seeing the real Legoland one day. Highlights of the center included huge bins on Legos that you could build anything with and a "Master Builder" classroom where they taught you how to make various things out of Lego (I took that class where we made a mini container ship.) Around dusk I begrudgingly left Legoland to seek out the 1:1 scale Gundam statue which I heard had been re-constructed on the island. Sure enough, in front of one of the other malls, there it stood. This was my third time seeing the statue (in a third location, none the less) but it was still impressive. There happened to be an Octoberfest event happening nearby si I had an over-priced beer and pretzel for dinner. After dark I stuck around for a while and tried to get some night shots of the city but grew frustrated that I didn't bring my tri-pod with me. Back at the hotel I did a load of laundry in the coin-machines, took a bath, and watched TV before going to sleep.

Day 4 (Friday the 21st):

The day began indecisively as I realized that I had under-budgeted my trip. I wasn't hurting for money but was a bit mad at myself for not planning my finances better. In the end I decided to keep things as cheap as I could and to revisit some more of my old favorite places. My first stop was Shimotakaido where I lived during university. Unlike Fujisawa, Shimotakaido had changed quite a bit since I lived there seven years ago. It's still a residential district but a lot of the shops have since turned over and there were a fre new buildings around. My next stop was the Tokyo Metropolitan Government Building. Someplace I seem to go every time I go to Toyko it does offer the best free view of the city. For a change this time I went up te North tower which faces the suburbs and not the city-center. The overcast weather prevented the sight of some of the far-off landmarks but all-in-all the view wan't too bad. In the afternoon I stopped at a karaoke box for a few hour of practice before a late lunch at a Burger King in Shinjuku. While I was walking around Shunjuku later I got trapped in a bookstore by a torrential rain. After almost 45 minutes waiting for the wall of water to let up the sun came out and I decided to walk back to Shibuya. At this point in my trip my legs were almost past hurting and I made the two mile hike trying really hard not to think of how bad my feet hurt. Back in Shibuya I figured I could rest in a movie theater and baught tickets to Ruroni Kenshin (a live-action samurai movie based on a comic book.) Refreshed after the movie I met some more old friends I hadn't seen in a while by the Hachiko statue and we went out for dinner and drinks. As I had an early day the next day I made it an "early night", left the continuing party, and headed back to the hotel around 2am.

Day 5 (Saturday the 22nd):

I slept through my plan to catch the first train out to Chiba but managed to get up at a reasonably early hour to catch a fairly packed train out to the Tokyo Game Show. The Tokyo Game Show is Japan's foremost video game event and most large video game companies have exhibits touting their latest games there. I arrived about an hour before the doors opened and was behind an un-imaginable number of people in line to get in. The convention center was maybe 3/4 of a mile around and the line snaked all the way plus a bit more. For me, who had been on my feet for the previous four days, the stop-and-go motion of the line once the doors opened was killer. Amazingly thirty minutes after the event started the near-mile-long line had been mostly processed and I was inside marveling at all the wonders. Some of my favorite big companies like Capcom are putting out a number of new games this years it it was greta to be one of the first people to see how they'll work. At the far end of the convention center there was a food-court with and odd mix of Japanese and "Western" foods. I settled on Yakisoba and two 'hurricane-potatoes' (spiral-cut deep-fried whole potatoes.) In the afternoon I was luck enough to catch a presentation by Hideo Kojima (one of my favorite video game directors.) towards the end of the day I could barely stand so I called it quits and made my way back to Tokyo station where I caught a Shinkansen back to Osaka. I slept quite soundly most of the trip back.

The following Sunday and Monday were blessedly light at work and were interspersed by relaxing at home and playing video games with friends over the internet.

Tuesday evening I met up with a number of friends and went out for another night of karaoke. i didn't stay out 'til dawn this time, which was a good choice.

Wednesday evening I had friends over to play the card game Magic:the Gathering making my weekend play out almost the same ad it did two weeks prior.

Work on Thursday this week was easier than usual and I had some free time to get some of my classes organized  which was nice.

Friday I finally went back to my high school after nearly two months off. One of my students seems to have gone back to being a shut-in while another finally decided to come to class. There are also some new students about and it was good to see everyone again.

Saturday's work schedule was also strangely light this week. That game me time to work of a project for the school I teach at, writing up my trip to Tokyo in simple English for students to read. On the way home I tried to go to the Hard Rock Cafe for dinner but a private party had rented out the whole restaurant so I was turned away at the door with an apology and a $5 off coupon.

In contrast to the rest of the work-week, Sundays's schedule was a bit rough. Perhaps all the students were taking English classes online to avoid going out in the typhoon which roared across Japan. My phone rand during my last lesson and my landlord left a voicemail asking permission to look in my apartment. Needless to say I hustled home at a decently quick pace. It turns out that my neighbor's ceiling developed a leak which, luckily, didn't reach over into my apartment which was blessedly dry. I tried to order pizza for dinner but typhoons evidently make pizza places as busy as English schools and the usual 15 minute delivery took an hour and a half.

Tomorrow I've got plans to go over to a friend's house in the afternoon and meet up with other friends for drinks in the evening. Perhaps Wednesday I'll get a chance to get out and enjoy the lovely autumn weather that finally arrived the Saturday before last. (Like clockwork, on the Autumnal-Equinox, the temperature dropped 5 degrees and the humidity vanished from the air.)

Sunday, September 23, 2012

Week 39

There's a lot of content, so this one's gonna take a bit to write. Written content will be included with next week's post.

Day 1:
 The Great Buddha of Kamakura

The Japanese coast seen from Enoshima

Old watering-hole

Old apartment building in Fujisawa

Day 2:
The courtyard at the Studio Ghibli Museum

The bright signs of Akihabara

Day 3:
Tokyo Skytree

Asakusa as seen from Tokyo Skytree

Futuristic looking tour-boat

Legoland Tokyo

Rainbow Bridge in Lego

Tokyo Tower in Lego

The Tokyo Metropolitan Government Building in Lego

My third time seeing the 1:1 scale Gundam

Rainbow Bridge and Tokyo Tower at night

Day 4:
My old apartment in Shimotakaido

Day 5:
The sign outside the Tokyo Game Show venue

A fraction of the line to get into the Tokyo Game Show

A crowd surround a display at the Tokyo Game Show

Hideo Kojima (director of the Metal Gear series) introduces this year's line-up at Tokyo Game Show

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Week 38

Okay, I guess i need to back the blog-train up a bit and cover most of the last two weeks. Hmmm, where did I leave off? Oh, yeah:

Friday the 7th... I had an excruciatingly long substitute day doing busy work. When there's nothing else to do teachers are often tasked with making flyers to be passed out in fron of the train station by cutting A3 paper down to A6 size. It's a bit tedious at best and mind-numbing when done for six straight hours.

Saturday I woke up at 5am so I could call a friend in Arizona who had a pod cast. Needless to say, even after going back to bed before work, I was a bit tired all day.

Sunday came and went without much fanfare.

Monday morning I had to be up at the crack of dawn to teach a kindergarten class. It was at a school I've been to before but with new students. Things went pretty well. As usual I went came home and napped before going to work in the evening.

Tuesday I went to Universal Studios Japan for the second time this year. I went with a different friend this time, to see a special exhibit. One of the video games I was playing a lot earlier in the year is called Monster Hunter and involves hunting dragons. The USJ exhibit had two life-sized dragons as well as a room where you could play the game with a bunch of other people. The weather was about perfect for walking around the park too. And, oddly, we got interviewed for an Indonesian news show (things like "Why'd you come today?" and "What's your favorite attraction?")

Wednesday I did housework in the morning and played card games with friends in the evening.

Thursday was a fairly typical work day thought I came home in the evening and beat the current video game I've been playing.

Friday, for my last "sub-day" for a while, I got sent out to another one of my old schools. Again I had to do a lot of busy work but this time I got to talk with a number of my students from last year, which was fun.

Saturday I was supposed to go to a concert down the street from my apartment after work but kids classes earlier in the day had me so wiped that I came home and crashed into bed instead.

Yesterday (Sunday the 16th), after work, I went out to a farewell event put on by one of my co-workers. He's a musician and decided to have a concert for his going away party. It was a lot of fun and  one of those events where anyone who is anyone was there.

Today is "Respect for the Aged Day" here in Japan so I have the day off. Actually, I have the next six days off. I leave for Tokyo tomorrow morning and will spend 5 days mostly checking out new things this trip. I have tickets for the Tokyo Game Show, Studio Ghibli Museum, Tokyo Sky-Tree, and Lego-Land Tokyo. All that plus catching up with old friends should keep me pretty busy.

Sunday, September 9, 2012

Week 37

I think I need to face the music that a full post just isn't getting written this week. I should have time on Monday to write a proper double-length post detailing all my adventures since the last update.

Sunday, September 2, 2012

Week 36

Well, time flies when you're having fun and deadlines race past.

Last Wednesday's Zoo/Concert adventure turned out to be more excitement than I had bargained for. Things started off normal enough as I stopped by the convenience store to pay my $100 summer electric bill. (It's usually around $30 when I'm not running my AC.) I then had a ice walk over to my favorite burrito place under an overcast sky which was keeping the day from getting too hot. A quick train ride after that and I was at the Oji Zoo in Kobe. This is a pretty nice zoo by Japanese standards but is still pretty depressing compared to, say, the Detroit zoo. Highlights included a (sleeping) panda, two polar bears who were not amused by the heat, and a very photogenic hippo. Realizing it was getting close to the start time for the concert I was attending I raced over to the Harborland Mall. I picked up a new game-pad at my favorite electronics shop and stopped in the food court for some (really bad) K.F.C.. At this point I needed to get across town quickly so I caught a cab to the venue. I arrived just in time and met one of my friends at the entrance. As we were standing around waiting for the show to start I made the gut-wrenching realization that my phone had slipped out of my pocket during the cab ride. Thankfully the fiend I was with had the bright Idead to use her phone to call mine. After many tried the first act came on stage (Soonji from Kyoto) and I tried my hardest to enjoy them. During the first intermission I called myself again this time getting through to a police officer who had my phone. The cabbie had turned it into the station just down the block from the live-house. Disaster everted I could enjoy the last two acts (Crying Nut from Korea and The 50 Kaitenz from Osaka.) After the show a Japanese friend came with me to the station and helped negotiate the paperwork I had to sign to get my phone back. One that was finished we went out for a celebratory bowl of ramen before catching the last train home.

Thursday, as usual, was nothing to write home about,

Friday I had yet another sub-shift at a school I used to work at. Again, the staff were really happy to see me.

The plan Saturday was to go see a movie with friends after work but things fell through as everyone and their mother was at the theater (it being a Saturday and the first of the month, or 1/2 off day.) We could have gotten tickets in the very first row but decided it would be better to wait and see the movie another day.

After work on Sunday I worked on planning my kindergarten classes for Monday. I was glad for the training session at the end of summer vacation as I used some of the techniques we reviewed then.

Monday morning I was up at the crack of dawn and out the door at half past. On top of this being a new school for me (gotta make a good first impression) it was a new lesson I've never taught as well as a "parent's day" where the kids parents are encouraged to come watch what I do. Needless to say I was a little nervous. In the end, however, things worked out for the best and I taught some good classes. My evening web classes were all full and it was a particularly long shift after which I went straight home and collapsed into bed.

I didn't leave the house at all on Tuesday and only managed to put on pants when the pizza delivery guy arrived with my lunch.  It was a gloriously relaxing day.

Wednesday afternoon I met up with a nice girl with is looking for a language exchange partner. I'm not sure if things will work out but it was nice to meet someone new. In the evening a number of friend came over and we played Magic: the Gathering. A friend who left Japan a year and a half ago was back in town so we revived our "Torikizoku" (local chain-pub) night. We had a great turnout and it was a good chance to chat with a bunch of people.

Thursday was busy at work and I couldn't be bothered to write anything in the evening so here I am, Friday morning making this week's post.

Sunday, August 26, 2012

Week 35

As suspected; last Tuesday I ended up lounging around the house most of the day, getting things tidied-up and ready to go back to work. I did go out for dinner at a British Pub in a mall downtown for dinner. The fish-and-chips were good, the beer was cold, and the windows overlooked the construction site of the (soon to be) tallest building in Japan.

Wednesday I had to get up fairly early to go into headquarters for some additional kindergarten training. A number of people I hadn't seen since the spring were there and it was nice to have a chance to chat with them for a while (and it made going into the office on my last day of vacation worth it.) In the evening I went out for "shabu-shabu" (a type of "soup" involving very thinly cut meats) with two of my best friends. The three of us went out for shabu-shabu when visiting Tokyo three years ago. It was good then and we've been saying we should go again ever since, but just didn't get around to it.

My first full day back at work, Thursday, went as well as could be expected. The kids in my classes on Thursday are all naturally very well behaved which makes all the difference.

Since my high-school kids will still be on break for another few weeks I had a "sub(stitute)-day" on Friday. I got sent back to a school I taught at when I lived in Kobe. The staff were all really happy to see me again and this, too, was a fairly easy shift.

Saturday's shift was a mad-house as usual but was over quick enough, I suppose. A few things happened Saturday evening: A new game called "Guld Wars 2" was released for the PC. A number of my friends and I were all excited for this new role-playing game. After getting home and playing for a while I headed down to the river-side where a co-worker was having a fare-well party. I didn't intend to stay that long but there was good company to be had and I ended up going home after midnight.

Sunday and Monday's shifts were broken up by playing the new game almost non-stop the night in-between.

Today was yet another lazy Tuesday. I went out mid-day to get a haircut and some lunch and that was pretty much it.

Tomorrow I've got plans to go to a zoo near Kobe and see some pandas in the afternoon and attend a concert (two of my favorite bands!) in the evening. Hopefully the weather is nice for my trek.

Monday, August 20, 2012

Week 34

A pretty great week this week. A very fun summer vacation this year.

Last Monday, as planned, a number of people gathered at a friend's house where we all played "Magic: the Gathering" all afternoon. We went out for dinner together at a fun, chain, curry shop that adds squid ink to their curry to make it turn black.

Tuesday I was up at the crack of dawn so I could get to Gifu (prefecture) by mid-afternoon. My early-rising was all for naught, however, as when I arrived at Shin-Osaka station to board the rapid-service train I found that all trains going in the direction of Gifu had been canceled due to heavy rain earlier in the morning. This sometimes happens and I waited around for about an hour to see if service would restart before giving up and going home. At home I took a nap and another look at my travel plans. Shortly after noon I looked at the JR (Japan Rail) website and saw that service to the East had been restored. I made up my mind to give it another try that day. When I once again arrived at Shin-Osaka station I found out that the local trains were running but all rapid-service ones were still canceled. This meant that a three hour ride on a slightly busy train became a four hour ride on a packed train with no hope of getting a seat. It turned out not to be so bad though. After Kyoto a lot of people got off and a seat did open up. In Maibara (in Shiga prefecture, next to Kyoto) I changed trains from JR West to JR East and rode the rest o the way into Gifu city. I arrived around 5:30 and headed to Gifu City 43, the tallest building in Gifu, located next to the station. There's a nice, free, observation deck on the top floor that offers a great view of Gifu city, the Japan Alps to the North, and even Nagoya city in neighboring Aichi prefecture to the South. After waiting around and snapping some sunset photos I found my way to a Tex-Mex restaurant I had read about online. The food was pretty good but a little expensive considering they used un-flavored Doritos for chips and "Old El-Paso" seasoning and shells for the tacos. After dinner I did a little wandering around, looking for a hotel. The Comfort Inn by the station was out of single rooms, so I found a business hotel instead which turned out to have the largest "single" room I've ever seen in Japan. It was still  little early when I settled in so I popped down to a convenience store for a beer and watched TV for a while.

 The residential section of Gifu city.
Gifu city at night.

I slept in Wednesday morning for the first time in a long time. After spending the night in a gloriously air-conditioned hotel room my camera lens fogged up the instant I stepped outside. After letting my camera and myself get used to the humidity I started walking North to the Gifu castle area. It didn't look that far the previous night from the Gifu City Tower but in the rapidly increasing morning heat and humidity the two mile walk ended up taking a lot out of me (mostly water, which I sweated out in extreme amounts.) Now, some of the shops were closed for the summer holidays, but the one thing I noticed during my walk is how many empty store-fronts there were. It really seemed like a ghost-town. Finally I arrived at the Great Buddha of Gifu. I'm not sure when I became a fan of Great Buddhas but I couldn't pass up the opportunity to see this one. It's much smaller than the Great Buddha of Nara and even a little smaller than the one in Kamakura but is still pretty impressive. I relaxed in the shade of the hall for a while before heading across the street to the foot of the mountain where the castle was. Quite impressively the castle was built at the top of the mountain which is most easily accessed by cable car these days. After the cable-car ride one must hike the last 200 meters up to the summit on foot along old foot-paths. The castle itself is a reproduction made of concrete with a museum on the first three floors. The forth floor observation deck offers both a beautiful panorama of Gifu city and surrounding mountains as well as a cool breeze which made it the most comfortable place in Gifu that day. After taking a large number of photos I reversed my path back down to the foot of the mountain. At this point the sun came out from behind the spotty clouds that had prevailed in the morning and made the day unbearably hot. I chose not to walk back to the station and caught the next bus I saw. After lunch in the station I walked around the shopping arcade in front of the station. I was a little weirded out to find every single shop closed. Again, I'm not sure if it's a summer thing or if the area is slated for demolition or something. Hopping on the train my next stop was Hikone city back in Shiga prefecture. It was late afternoon and I was tired when I arrived so I grabbed a cab over to Hikone Castle. I was glad I did as I arrived about an hour before closing time and had just enough time to snap some pictures. I tried to climb to the top of the main tower but the combination of the heat inside the tower and the long line to climb up a near vertical stairway put me off the idea. As I was leaving an afternoon storm poured down a cooling rain. Realizing from the ride over that the station wasn't that far away I decided to walk back. Next, I hopped on the train to Nagahama (also in Shiga.) I found a room for the night at "Yes Nagahama", a reasonably priced business hotel. After putting my things in my room I took my camera and walked around a bit before actually settling in for the night.

 The Great Buddha of Gifu (front view)
 The Great Buddha of Gifu (side view)
 Gifu castle sits atop Mt. Kinka.
 A nicely landscaped garden at the foot of the mountain.
 A squirrel petting zoo. This is what happens when you have no large native squirrel population.
 Gifu Castle.
 The Nagara river which flows through Gifu city.
 The foothills of the Japan Alps.
 Nagoya as seen from Gifu Castle.
 Hikone Castle.
 View of Lake Biwa from Hikone Castle.
Hiko-nyan, Hikone's mascot.

Thursday morning I woke up fairly early and lounged around the hotel room for a bit - as most of the day's attractions didn't open until after 10 o'clock. When I finally did get on the road I noticed that it was one of those days where it was boiling in the sun but cool in the shade. My first stop was to investigate taking the ferry to Chikubu island located out in lake Biwa. Unfortunately it was a bit more pricy than I was expecting so I went on to point number two, Nagahama castle. This castle too was a replica made of concrete (as opposed to Himeji castle which is made from wood and plaster.) And here too the observation deck was blessedly cooled by a breeze, this time off the lake. After taking the requisite load of photos, the next stop was the Kaiyodo figure museum in the down-town area. Kaiyodo is a famous Japanese model and figure maker. The museum was fun and had some really rare figures on display. The gift shop was a blast and I couldn't help but buy a figure that I'd been searching for for  long time. After lunch at a ramen shop near 'new' Nagahama station I checked out the Old Nagahama Station Museum. Evidently housed in the oldest standing station building in Japan, this museum had a few small displays about Japan's rail history. Having done most of what there was to do in Nagahama I hopped on a train back to Osaka. Here I lucked out - getting a seat on a rapid train going right to Shin-Osaka station. Back home I took a nap, unpacked, and sorted photos.

 Nagahama Castle.

The Lake Biwa shore seen from Nagahama Castle.

Friday was mostly spent recuperating and avoiding the heat by staying indoors. I did go out in the evening to play "Friday Night Magic" in Nipponbashi again. I did a little better this week.

Saturday afternoon's big event was a terrible thunderstorm that laster over an hour dumping so much rain that I could barely see the building across the street. After things had cleared up in the evening I went with a group of friends for dinner and to see the new Avengers movie (which was just released here in Japan.)

Sunday morning I cleaned my apartment before a few people came over in the afternoon for a games day. A lot of people were otherwise busy so it was a fairly light showing but we still had fun and played a lot of games (including a new one one of the guys brought over.)

Monday I got up and did my Monday morning routine and started writing this post. I got a bit distracted mid-afternoon and ended up watching TV and playing video games all afternoon. It was a pretty great summer-vacation day.

Today (Tuesday) I figured that I should probably finish up this post before it get's too far behind. As this is my last full day of vacation (I have training for two hours tomorrow) I'm thinking hard of what to do with it. I might go to the castle or the zoo... ut will likely end up lounging around again.