Sunday, February 26, 2012

Week 9

Picking up from where I left off on Wednesday; it turns out I didn't have much free time this past week after all.

Thursday morning was spent doing my usual beginning of the work-week routine of getting my room in order and doing the week's grocery shopping. This was followed by a busy day at work which left me pretty exhausted. Luckily there are only a few weeks of kids classes left in the semester then we get to change things up for the next school year. A fresh start should bring some renewed vigor.

Friday was my last high-school shift for this school year so I said "see you later" to all my students (as I'm really hoping that I'll get that shift again starting in April.) Friday evening was spent doing some initial spring cleaning; things like sorting out books I've already read to take into the office book exchange.

Saturday morning was another busy shift with lots of students. This was followed by an evening of rock-n-roll at a small venue in my neighborhood. Along with two friends I saw a total of five bands (3 good, 2 so-so.) The only down-side to the evening was that it was a "smoking" venue and the smoke clogged up my sinuses.

Sunday morning it was back to the grind-stone for another full day, this time at "web-school." I suppose one thing about a full schedule is that it does tend to make the day go by faster. Yesterday evening I went to one of my friends' birthday events at my favorite local watering hole. The party started off slow (even the birthday-boy was late for his own party) but in the end it was standing room only with people pouring out the door and onto the stairs up to the street. It was a good chance to see a bunch of people I hadn't seen in a while.

Looking forward: There's nothing on my schedule for this "weekend" (or this weekend) but that's bound to change as we're heading into "year-end" mode here in Japan (the academic year ends at the end of March) and there are a lot of "sayonara" parties popping up for people leaving at the end of this contract.

Oh, and I've finally added pictures to last week's post!

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Week 8

Okay, so this week got pretty busy and I didn't get a chance to make last week's update after all so this weeks update will be rather long.

Tuesday (the 7th) was my only day off that "weekend" but I ended up hanging out with friends instead of doing chores like I should have. That came back to bite me on Wednesday when I went to do laundry right before my overtime shift and all of the dryers at the laundromat were taken up so I had to leave my soggy clothes hanging in my apartment until I came home that night. That shift was fun though because I got to go back to a school I taught at three years ago and haven't been back to since. It was nice to catch up with the staff after such a long time.

Fast forward to Friday where I got lucky with an early shift in the morning which meant I was free in the evening to go see my favorite band (the 50 Kaitenz) play a store re-opening concert at the Tower Records uptown. They only ended up playing three songs (off their new album) and one encore but as it was a free concert it was well worth it (oh and I got a free autographed poster too!)  After the concert the usual group of "50" fans headed outside in search of a place to drink and chat. Unfortunately, Friday night in the uptown area, all the bars and restaurants were full and we had to make do with having "street beers" in front of a convenience store (this being much more legal in Japan than it is in the States.) After the main party broke up about half of us walked way across town to a radio station where the band was playing a show on the air. We waited outside in the blistering cold but were rewarded when the band came out we all headed to a local pub and got to spend some quality time with the members (a first for me.) Having missed the last train by a couple of hours I had to walk the two miles home and finally dropped into bed like a ton of bricks.

Saturday (the 11th): Awakening surprisingly refreshed from my short night's sleep I made my way to Shin-Osaka station where I caught the "Sakura" super-express shinkansen for Fukuoka. Fukuoka is a rather large city in the Northern part of Kyushu (Japan's main Southern island.) I arrived around noon and started off with a long walk around the center of the city. I stopped for lunch in a small restaurant called "L.A. Hamburger" and had a "hot chili dog" (which, it turns out, was not a typo as the chili was actually very spicy.) After lunch I wandered around a bit more until I came to Hakata Port Tower (Hakata being an old name for Fukuoka.) Unfortunately the tower was closed for renovation so I hopped on the subway and headed over to a rather large park I had seen on a guide map. "Ohori park" turned out to be a very large Chinese style lake with a chain of islands and bridges in the middle. The day was bright but a bit chilly, not too bad for walking though. After crossing the lake I wound up near the entrance to the remains of Fukuoka castle. I spent a while climbing over the old castle walls (no buildings remained) before moseying back to the station to catch a train to my next stop, Nagasaki. There isn't a shinkansen line to Nagasaki so I had to take a limited express instead but it got there quick enough. One thing I hadn't counted on was that Saturday being a national holiday, all the hotels were either booked up or had jacked up their rates. Luckily in the end I found a nice business hotel that not only had rooms but had actually lowered their rates for the night.

 A shrine decorated for some sort of odd festival
 One of the waterways that split the former cities of Fukuoka and Hakata (Now Fukuoka)
 Hakata Port Tower
 The lake in Ohori Park
 The ruins of Fukuoka Castle
The sign on the pillow says, "please don't smoke in bed."
Does that make this a no-smoking room?

Sunday (the 12th): I woke up fairly early and made a stop in the convenience store in the lobby of the hotel for some breakfast. I then took my food and walked across the street to the waterfront and ate while I gazed out over Nagasaki bay. My first stop of the day was Dejima. Dejima was Japan's only point of contact with the outside world for several hundred years before Matthew Perry opened Japan to the West in the mid 1800's. It was originally constructed in 1634 to hold Portuguese missionaries. This lasted a short time until the Japanese expelled all Christian missionaries in 1639.  It sat vacant until it was re-opened at a Dutch port in 1641. I was wandering around on my own when a very nice tour guide came up and started chatting with me. She ended up giving me a pretty thorough private tour which was very nice of her. From Dejima I walked around the old foreign community (which sprang up quickly after Japan re-opened itself to the world economy again in the 1800's.) After lunch I took a street car way across town to the Atomic Bomb Memorial Park. On the street car I met the tour guide from Dejima again (on her way home) and she game me some more advice on things to see in the area. After I arrived and looked around I took a while to sit and think in the memorial park (as that's what it was designed for.) I think the Nagasaki peace park felt more uplifting than the Hiroshima one but maybe that was just a side effect of the weather (Nagasaki was fine while in Hiroshima it was raining when I went.) After the memorial park I walked to the Atomic Bomb Memorial Museum and had a walk through. I ended up crying by the end (as I did in Hiroshima) but felt the Nagasaki museum had more technical information and fewer personal stories which I found more... interesting but impersonal(?) than the Hiroshima museum. My last stop was a park close to the museum marking the epicenter of the atomic blast. From there I caught a street car back to the station and then a train across the Nagasaki peninsula to the Shimabara peninsula where I was supposed to catch a ferry to Kumamoto. Unfortunately after getting off the train one station too early and walking to the next station I ended up missing the last ferry and was forced to stay overnight in Shimabara city.

 Nagasaki Harbor
 A scale model of Dejima island
 Oura Catholic Church in the foreign section of Nagasaki
 Nagasaki Peace Park
 Urakami Cathedral
 Epicenter of the Nagasaki atomic bombing
A little bigger than the previous night's room but not by much

Monday (the 13th): Getting stuck in Shimabara ended up being a small blessing in disguise as it turned out to be home to some interesting history. Unfortunately it was pouring buckets of rain which made walking around a bit less enjoyable. I did, however, make it to Shimabara castle. I normally don't like modern reconstructs of castles (like Osaka castle) but Shimabara castle (remade for the Tokyo Olympics in the '70's) did have a nice museum detailing the history of the region. Normally one can see the massive (and scarily close) Mt. Unzen from the top floor but the low rain clouds obscured all but the base of the volcano. Not having much else to see (mostly due to the rain) I headed back to the ferry port and caught a boat across a small piece of the East China Sea to Kumamoto. From Kumamoto port it was another hour on bus to the inland city center. From the bus stop at Kumamoto station I had to take a street car to get to Kumamoro castle which is at the actual center of the city. Despite continued heavy rain I made my way into the castle grounds. It was actually quite interesting to see the castle's several hundred year old drainage system handle the amount of rain that was falling. I ducked in one of the castle turrets to escape the downpour and was greeted my a very kind docent who showed me around and even let my go to the top floor of the tower (which is usually off-limits to guests.) The docent recommended seeing the turret on the opposite side of the castle, which was the original building on which the one we were standing in was re-created (quite recently.) I braved the rain once again and went off to find the other tower. I was greeted by an equally nice decent at the top of the other tower who showed me some secret rooms hidden in the ceiling. The rain let up at this point and I went to check out the central castle tower. Here I was greeted yet again by a third docent who filled me in on a great deal of the history of the castle (defending his pride after I said it was, so far, my second favorite castle after Himeji.) After quite a bit of walking around (Kumamoto castle is twice the size of Osaka castle and three times that of Himeji castle!) I wandered through a massive shopping arcade on my way back to the station. From Kumamoto station I caught the last leg of the "Sakura" super-express shinkansen down to Kagoshima in the South of Kyushu. My first stop in Kagoshima was the electronics store to buy a new eye-piece for my camera, having lost the old one in the rain. Then, because I had arrived pretty early in the evening, I found a movie theater and watched the latest animated feature and had popcorn for dinner. After the movie I found a cheap hotel near the station and crashed for the night.

 Shimabara Castle in the rain
 "Stature of Buddha entering nirvana" is what it said
 The sound of rushing water was deafening
 The main tower and walls of Kumamoto Castle in the rain
 The dual main towers of Kumamoto Castle
The largest (and most expensive by $5) room I had

Tuesday (the 14th): Most of my time in Kagoshima was spent wandering around the city. I mis-judged the distance from my hotel to the waterfront and it took quite a while to walk down (in a continuing light rain.) I was rewarded at the waterfront, however, as the low clouds that had pervaded the whole morning suddenly lifted a bit and revealed all but the top of Sakurajima (the active volcano in Kagoshima harbor.) After taking a few pictures I continued my walkabout in the city. The rain had all but let up and the 60deg. F weather felt good after walking around in the 40's for three days. When I got back to the station area I decided to ride the ferris wheel on the top floor. This seemed like a good idea until about a quarter of the way around when a squall opened up and the ferris wheel was sent rocking and swaying in the wind and rain. I've been more afraid in my life but that was not a particularly enjoyable experience. Of course by the time I got off and back to the first floor the rain had stopped again. Having some, but not a lot, of time before I had to head to the airport to catch my plane home I decided to take a cheap one hour bus tour of the city. The bus went by many of the interesting sites and even had audio commentary in Japanese and English. Back at the station's bus circle I got on the airport shuttle to Kagoshima airport (about an hour North of the city.) I was very early for my flight and the airline kindly offered to bump me up to the next flight which cut down on my sitting around time and even got me back in Osaka in time for dinner. A friend wanted to hang out that evening and I agreed, so long as it was at my place. I had the mental energy to make conversation but walking across town at that point might have killed me. Needless to say it was nice to sleep in my own bed.

 The remains of historic gun battery near Kagoshima harbor
 Sakurajima Island (an active volcano) in Kagoshima bay
 The southern terminus of the shinkansen line.
Taken from the Kagoshima station ferris wheel moments before the heavens opened.
View from the observation deck at Kagoshima airport

A pretty  normal work week followed. I went out for all-you-can-eat Indian with some of the guys Saturday night. and Sunday night was another game night. I didn't have the biggest turnout but we ordered pizzas and had fun anyways.

Monday morning (the 20th) I attempted to wake up early and churn this blog post out (I mis-judged the time for this too) before I went in for some special training on new part of my job I'll be starting in April (teaching part-time in kindergartens.) I then had to work my usual shift in the evening.

I slept in yesterday and just as I was thinking of getting some work done a friend called and wanted to hang out before going to a movie we had agreed to see that evening. We played video games with another friend most of the afternoon before meeting another friend for the movie. The movie (Phoenix Wright) was based on a courtroom video games that's very popular both in Japan and the U.S.. I was surprised at how much courtroom vocabulary I had learned from watching the evening news (things like 'suspect', 'judge', and 'courtroom'.)

Today (Wednesday the 22nd) was spent getting my hair cut and cleaning up my apartment (with a short break for lunch at my favorite burrito place.)

Hopefully I'll be able to salvage a few minutes this week to put some pictures with this post but it's not looking good as I've got work during the day and a concert and a birthday party by night on the schedule.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Week 7

This week's post will be late as I just got back from 4 days in Kyushu and need some time to recover and sort through my photos before making a post about the trip.

Sunday, February 5, 2012

Week 6

Sheesh, and I though LAST WEEK was bad. Well, I guess like last week I got the hard part out of the way first and the rest of the week wan't that bad.

Tuesday night I met with my girlfriend and had a long conversation trying to remedy the fight which we'd had the week before. Unfortunately in the end it was decided that we couldn't rectify the base problem and broke up. After a good cry and a call to mom I called up some of the guys and headed down to the local watering hole to commiserate.

I didn't stay out too late however, as I had an overtime shift on Wednesday. It turns out I was covering a shift for a friend and had a really good time meeting new students at a school I hadn't been to before.

Thursday I got up earlier than usual and went into my company's headquarters to interview for a teaching position in one of the company's other branches. This branch sells franchises to housewives who run small schools in their homes for kids. In addition this branch sends teachers out to kindergartens and elementary schools to interact with the kids there. As I;ve been teaching kids at this company for four years now the interview was quite easy and I'll start getting additional work from this branch in April.

At Friday's shift I ended up working with another of my friends and we went out to play video games after work.

Saturday's shift was smooth and followed up with a trip to the Hard Rock Cafe Osaka for ribs. As always the ribs were expensive but well worth it. This was followed up with more of my Bond marathon.

Sunday was busy but went by fairly quickly. After work I met up with yet another of my friends and we played card games late into the evening.

Looking forward; this week I've got more overtime on Wednesday then a short work week of Thursday and Friday followed by a national holiday on Saturday. I've taken vacation days on Sunday and Monday to give myself a little 5-day "spring break" next week. The current plan is to head down to Kyushu (Japan's Southern main island) for a few days but we'll see what happens.