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.