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.

Sunday, August 12, 2012

Week 33

It's been so nice to have just a weekend off... and I have another week and a half of vacation left!

So, Thursday's shift was agonizingly slow. Fitting for the last ounce of work before a long vacation. After work I changed in to my Yukata (cotton Kimono), stopped at the convenience store for some beer, and went over to my friend-who-just-moved's house. A bunch of people came and we all partied into the early evening. I headed out a bit early to came home and crash. Eight straight days of work takes a lot out of you.

Friday I got up and had a leisurely morning doing laundry and playing video games. I went to my favorite burrito place for lunch and followed that up with a few hours of karaoke. On the way home I stopped in a convenience store to buy an event ticket for the Studio Ghibli Museum in Tokyo for my up-coming September vacation. In the evening I went to play Magic: the Gathering at an official event in Nipponbashi. I lost four of five games but still had a good time playing versus Japanese players for a change. I stopped at Hoka-Hoka (a take-out place) on the way home, watched Jackie Brown, and played some more video games before going to bed. Before I fell asleep I realized that my apartment had been so cold at night this summer as the AC was set to 24c not 26c. I slept a lot better with the warmer temperature and the knowledge that my power bill will be slightly less.

Saturday I got up and lounged around again in the morning. Mid-day I headed out to a Lego exhibition in town now called "Pieces for Peace." The main part of the exhibition consisted of various UNSCO world heritage sites made out of Lego. The secondary part was a section where you got a 16x16 plate, a near-limitless supply of ( all off-white) Lego pieces, and 45 minutes to build whatever you wanted. As the sub-theme of the exhibit was "water capital" I built a small segment of canal with a bridge over it (to the oohs and aahs of the surrounding participants. Ego = boosted.) The completed plates were placed in a corner of the exhibit hall to make a 'city' comprised of everyone's individual ideas. In the evening I went to see the new "Total Recall" movie. I thought it was a pretty good film. Not quite a remake of the first movie but it paid homage to it at points.

Sunday was mostly spent at home. I ordered pizza for lunch and managed to not have to put pants on until just before the delivery guy arrived. In the afternoon I took my plastic bottle collection back to the store (there's no deposit, but the grocery store has a large recycling bin.) While out and about I bought a ticket to the Tokyo Game Show (also in September.) This ticket will fulfill a long-time dream of going to this event. I came home and turned the AC back to cold to fight off the mid-afternoon heat. In the evening I made spaghetti for dinner and watched old Simpsons episodes. Once dinner had settled I set out for the Osaka City Sports Center Pool. It was only after I got in the water and did half a lap that I realized that I haven't been swimming in two years and that I'm really out of shape. After and hour of gradually remembering how to swim I got out, toweled off, and stopped in the basement ice-arena to watch a few minutes of the local pee-wee hockey league.

This morning I was woken up at 5:45 by a loud thunderstorm right outside my window. Not being able to get right back to sleep I played video games for a while, finally slept for a bit, and then got up for real. As I like to do on Monday mornings, I called the 'rents to see how things are back home.

This afternoon I'm getting together with a number of friends to play Magic: the Gathering at one friend's house. It should be a blast.

Tomorrow morning I leave for Gifu (a prefecture in the center of Japan.) I plans on spending three or four days up in the mountains to escape the hustle-bustle and heat of Osaka. There are a number of castles to see there, as well as a traditional festival which involves dancing all night until sunrise. If all goes to plan I should have some pictures and an interesting update next week.

Monday, August 6, 2012

Week 32

Life, in the form of work, seemed to keep getting in the way of writing this week. Perhaps it's time to push my update day back a few days as Mondays no longer seem that viable anymore. Anyways, where's this week's update:

I did end up seeing Spiderman last Wednesday. A friend decided to come along at the last minute which was nice. It was a pretty good movie, for a reboot. Fans of the Spiderman comics may enjoy the subtlety between the reboot and the original movie but the un-initiated may find it to be largely the same movie with a different bad guy.

Thursday I lounged around in the morning before heading into a busy shift in the evening. I got the offer to work an early Friday shift and pounced on it.

Friday's unexpectedly early shift was an easy shift too. Although it was nice to get work out of the way early in the day, I had no major plans for the evening. 

Saturday was the last day of kids classes before summer vacation (and the last day of work for a lot of other teachers.) It was a pretty hectic day too and I came home and crashed out afterwords. Unfortunately I napped through the start of the fireworks show I was planning on going to. Oh well, I've missed that show the last three years too. I'll have to try again next summer.

Sunday's morning web shift wasn't too busy, which was nice. Even better, one of my colleagues was on the same wavelength I was and proposed Sushi for dinner and and evening of gaming. A second co-worker joined us and the three of us had a good time.

Monday was the first of my "three" days of overtime before my vacation started. The morning web shift was earlier than usual for me but allowed me time to relax in the evening and think about what to do on my Tuesday off. Just as I was starting to get some ideas I got a call from work asking me to do one more day of overtime… on Tuesday. The combination of extra money and my personal inability to say "no" to my employer meant I was in for another six hours of work before I could truly relax for the summer.

On the bright side, Tuesday's shift was a night shift which meant I had the morning to run some errands (and forget to write this post.) After  nice lunch at Burger King I dragged myself back into work for  long, full, night of classes.

I got off work Tuesday at 11:05 and had to be back in the office by 10:05 the next morning which meant I barely had time to get home and fall into bed before I had to be up and getting ready for work. to blow off steam after work on Wednesday I went over to a friends house and we went out to dinner together.

This morning I have to go into work one last time before I'm free for the summer. All this overtime seemed like a good idea last onto when I signed up for it. I'm sure it'll seem nice next pay-day too but at the moment I really don't want to go into the office for the eighth day in a row. Of course the "Mr. Brightside" in me knows that a friend who just moved is having a house-warming party after work which should be fun. That and summer vacation is a mere six hours of work away.

This weekend is looking to be pretty "boring" as I plan to relax and save the last of my pennies from this paycheck to add to the pay-day on Monday and go to Gifu for a real vacation next week!