Thursday, November 27, 2003

Happy thanksgiving everyone. I have to say, that it just isn't the same having roast tofu and eel farts for thanksgiving. I mean, don't get me wrong, eel farts are delicious and all, but turkey is better around the holidays for some reason.

I was talking with my boss on the way to a class last night (in a different town, we were driving) and i asked him if there were a lot of fires in the winter here. You see, everyone uses these big, dangerous kerosene heaters to heat their drafty houses. They're pretty cool in the summer, but likewise, pretty damn cold in the winter. They keep these heaters running, supposedly only when there are people around, but apparently every winter you'll read in the paper about old people getting burned or killed by exploding, spilling or burning heaters. This led directly into the discussion of mochi which are some sticky glutinous rice balls that are popular around newyears. Just as with the exploding heaters, many old people die every year by choking on these sticky balls of death. Tomo related it like this, "It's terrible, the old people eat them fast, they are so hungry, so they take too big bites and then... ack...ack...ghasp! It's terrible!" All the time he was giggling histerically. What a guy, i really like him. Apparently last year someone saved himself by using a vacuum cleaner to suck the mochi out of his windpipe.

Jeez, in the US old people die of heart attacks, cancer and normal things like that. Japanese old people apparently don't die unless you choke them or burn their houses down.

Tuesday, November 25, 2003

Nothing much has happened over the weekend. I guess the first cool thing was talking with some of the ol' CC crew, namely Jude, Ben and Paul who happened to be staying at my house over the weekend for the Living History Farms Race. It was great to talk to people back home. There are lots of great people here, but it just ain't the same.
Shortly after getting off the phone with those guys, I went hiking with our friends Monica and Steph. We went up to the waterfall that is in the initial pictures that jennifer has on the website. The change of seasons really makes a difference though. I, being the flatlander that i am, was totally amazed by the mountains as we drove up to the base of the waterfall hike. There is not much for snow yet, but at the higher elevations you can see where the frost line is. The trees are coated with a white frost from the passing clouds. Our waterfalls were not quite to that level but they were pretty cool nonetheless. Pictures will be arriving as soon as we develop the film. I always like roaming about in the woods here. I can't help but feel transported somewhere to Middle Earth (nerd? Hell Yes!) The gnarly tree roots, spectacular scenery and fall weather are just unmistakably linked in my brain with those 4 awesome books by the lord of Fantasy, JRR Tolkien.

Then sunday passed more or less plainly, I did some shopping for christmas presents to send back home. In the evening were the mighty Yebisko Fireworks. They're supposedly the best in the prefecture and some of the best in Japan. Jennifer and i staked out our perch and met up with some japanese people from the Japanese club that Jennifer studies with. It was frickin cold and it only got colder. This made shivering and cuddling necessary, but overall, i have to say that it was worth it. Never before have i seen such awesome fireworks. It is truly "Rocket Science". These dudes do some amazing things with pyrotechnics. THere were greater numbers, bigger sizes, different configurations and longer lasting rounds than i had ever seen before. It was great. Not only were the fireworks great, but the human spectacle was super too. There must have been 20,000 people watching the fireworks and there were consequently about 1Km of fast food stands set up in front of the main viewing area. There were also only 2 staircaises leading away from this staging ground. You can imagine the crowds. Japanese people can function just as well as sardines as humans.

Wednesday, November 19, 2003

Yesterday was a really up and down day. First off, i had to teach highschool, which straight-up sucks. Particularly the girls in the first year class. They suck. I mean, it's one thing not to understand english, but another to be an asshole. They think that they're cute, but saying "Aa-roon" and laughing hysterically when I respond is just plain stupid. I got my butt poked as well, and they were so loud that the teacher next door came in to shush them. Kind of embarassing, really.
But, then it was over, as it always is, and i busted out of there fast, came home and went for a run. Let me tell you folks, this was a good run. I went across the river towards the small mountains over there and as i was jogging up through the orchards i saw what i assumed at first to be a grandma farmer. I know it's not just me, because i've confirmed it with other people, but these women look awfully close to Ewoks when they are rummaging around in the fields. I could have sworn that i was on the planet Endor in a galaxy far, far away.
At any rate, i saw not an Ewok or an obasan, but a monkey! And as i went further on the road past the bamboo thicket, there were more monkeys, probably about 20 of them. It's not every day that you see monkeys hanging out in the forest. I'll bet that they would survive well in the Carolinas. I'm thinking that monkeys could possibly be the coolest invasive species yet. I mean, zebra mussels, purple loostrife, giant asian tree-borers, they suck compared with the awesomeness of monkeys!

As i continued on my run i also saw the coolest thing ever (maybe). There was an apple tree with all red apples, and one yellow one growing on it's branches. Sooooooo cool. So i picked it. I don't know whether or not to eat it, maybe it has super powers or something.

Anyway, i had to teach a class later yesterday so i headed off for work around 6:30 and was bookin it down the main street here and was about 2/3 of the way to work, making good time when some ass who was riding his bike down the sidewalk decided to veer out into the street for some odd reason. I hate it when people do this, and it seems like japanese people do it a lot. They take to the streets going the wrong way against traffic. Anyway, this joker comes cruising right across my path and as i try to avoid him by swerving and braking, he flips out and tries to avoid me, only he does this by cutting me totally off. We crashed.
As far as crashes go, it wasn't that bad, no major owies on me, but my front wheel is a little screwed up and i ground my knuckes off. He apologized profusely and so did I, it just seemed like the custom. And really, what can i do, i can't very well ask this guy for his bicycle insurance.
But, my lesson went fine and maybe i don't have to go to S. Korea afterall. Apparently the laws were changed so that i don't have to leave the country for a stamp. We'll just see.
Check out the new pictures link. Jennifer just posted some stuff and you can surf, albeit slowly, through our past escapades.

coolest website i've seen in a while. Maybe even better than the ones that alf put on his blog. See if you can figure it out.

Tuesday, November 18, 2003

So, I just found out that I need to go to south Korea in a couple of weeks to update my visa status. Apparently, the Japanese cannot possibly change a visa from within the country, it would be unconscionable. This is kind of cool, I've never been to korea nor have i ever been to a foreign country alone. I'm gonna have to find out where to stay, what to do and where the damn japanese embassy is. I've got to take my reciept of visa application to the embassy where they stamp it, wait a day and then turn it back to me the next day. Sound like diplomatic bullshit? Well, i suppose that i'm glad that i'm not dealing with the good ol' INS back home, but this is far from streamlined, if you ask me.
Hopefully Korea will be full of western style products, conveniently labelled, with large shoe sizes and fabulously low prices. We can hope eh? If anyone has some tips on Korea, please share them with me so i'm not just wandering the streets of Seoul destitute and lonely. I hear that Koreans are much better with English than the japanese. It would be sweet if i could get some wonderful, middle upper class Korean family to take me in for a homestay over the weekend where i would be pampered, led about the town in style and for the simple price of speaking english to their son or daughter.
Somehow i doubt that it will work out that way. I'll probably be really frustrated and confused and overwhelmed, like always. I'll just keep practicing my "Smile and Nod" routine. I think that after two months of understanding jack-squat, i'm pretty well versed with the bit.

Monday, November 17, 2003

I taught a superhero lesson last week at the girls highschool. It went pretty well. I wrote Super Hero up on the board and asked the class what that meant. Since they are all ignorant, I said that i would show them what it was all about and i went outside, put on my balaclava and a blanket as a cape and then charged back into the room to the amusement of the class. I then asked them to think of their own superhero, but i was surprised when everybody started writing about this guy, Anpanman.

Check it out, quite funny.

Sunday, November 16, 2003

I've been lazy this week. Not a step run since the race last week. My motivation just drained out of me. Additionally I didn't have that much free time that it wasn't raining. not really an excuse but for me, i really need a goal to train for. There is a marathon in the spring but i'm not sure that i'm really up for it. That's a lot of miles to run and it's one of those things, i'd rather do it well or not at all. I'm not so psyched about slogging my way through 26 miles slowly and painfully. Fast and painful is ok, but not so much the slow and painful.

I just checked the web for the results to the Iowa/Minnesota regional meet. The course has got to be short, let me tell you that. Not that i doubt that those guys are fast, but that is just ridiculous.

The race that i will really miss is the upcoming Turkey Trot or Living History Farms Race. That is a blast. Nothing better than getting muddy with the boys and girls and then eating donuts and drinking hot apple cider.

Friday, November 14, 2003

Well, this has been a long damn week. For 3 of the days i was out at work for 11 hours. GODDAM! And now it's friday and i'm psyched because i don't have to work tomorrow so i bought myself some shochu made from sweet potatoes. I expected an interesting flavor with maybe some earthy and sweet hints of potatoey goodness but what i got was fuckin moonshine. I suppose you get what you pay for and i didn't pay a lot. Damn, now i'll have to either want to really get drunk to drink this crap or figure out some way to deal with it otherwise. Maybe it will flambee good. If nothing else it will probably kill most germs and be a reasonable household cleanser.

There is snow in the mountains here folks, winter is not far off. Time for HOT SAKE!! Or maybe hot cocoa would be better since sake tends to make me drunk. Hopefully i can get myself some ski boots to fit and learn me some telemarking this winter.

Also, i just figured out that the NFLC (nagano foreign language center) will be closed for a week around newyears and i might just swing a trip to thailand. If anyone has tips on what to see there please let me know.

Wednesday, November 12, 2003

I also saw my first public ruckus in japan not caused by me directly.
I was tooling around the Gondo, an area in Nagano city which is reportedly known for its yakuza presence when i saw the cops. This was cool because i've seen police about 5 times since arriving in japan. They were talking to some tipsy looking guys when i went into this supermarket to get something to snack on. When i came back out they were gone but this drunken guy (god i hope he was drunk) in a business suit was swinging his briefcase around and yelling some stuff at the building, some people and i think maybe the pidgeons as well. Crazy bastard. I wish i knew enough japanese to get the gist of what he was saying. Probably something like, "You hairy barbarians, i find that your parents are dishonorable and you are also not as intelligent as most other people!" From what i understand the japanese don't have much for good swears. "Fu-ku" had to be imported from english.
I've gotta get a little more current with the postings, but really, it's my blog, so I'll do what i want eh?

So we ended up running our road race on Sunday. They call everything running wise a "marathon" if it's short, it's a "mini-marathon" I found this foolish because a marathon is defined as a particular distance of approximately 26.3 (?) miles. Ok, so i don't have the actual distance memorized, but it's just not possible to have a shorter version of a road race and call it a marathon. Anyway, so we lined ourselves up at the starting line after warming up for all of 5 minutes. The weather which had been balmy on saturday had just turned to shit. Wet, cold, and crappy. Jennifer, Lara, Shane and I all lined up at the start with a bunch of mostly highschool aged kids from, surprise surprise, one of Jennifer's schools. So they all gave us the eyeball, particularly to me as i was a good 8 inches taller than the next tallest competetior. Also my orange shirt, eddy merckx bicycling cap and sideburns helped me to blend in with the crowd. The gun went off and so did everybody else. I had wisely coached my fellow gaijin to avoid blasting out with the rest of the foolish crowd, but i was surprised to see some pretty fast looking highschool and post highschool aged guys at the front, blazing ahead. The race thinned out pretty quick and i established myself in the top ten, out of 40. I was beginning to pick off the highschool kids, maybe they were middleschoolers, who can tell, towards the end of the race. Everything was going as planned and then i heard this pitter patter of little feet, and knowing that i am not expecting children in the conceivable future, i understood that this must be the competetion. Sure enough with about 500 meters to go a kid, probably a good 10 pounds lighter than my already waif-like brother Asa, pulls up beside me. I let him get a stride or so ahead, but then i realize. . . there is no fucking way that this kid is going to beat me. I can tell that it's been his only goal this race to catch up to me and beat me. And really, who wouldn't want to. The mighty foreign devil stomping on little highschool dreams reared his ugly head about 100 to go and i spanked this poor little 15 year old into the dirt. It was satisfying in it's own way, i felt like an older brother again.
After the race we discovered that runners are the same everywhere, they're pretty social and a little weird. We met up with this guy who had run the 10k and he made conversation with us and his friends for about 30 minutes while they sorted the medals out. I was bronze by the way with a time of 18:15. I would like to think that i could have easily broken 18 without the mountaineering and beer swilling the previous night. Also, i didn't have my flats, a big oversight, really. At any rate, this guy and his friends love complimenting us and we try to respond back, then they picked up on the subtleties of our (read: MY) physical differences with them. They were astounded to hear of a size 13 foot actually existing and likewise marveled at my 35 inch inseam. After I got my bitchin medal, we headed off to the onsen for some nude relaxation. THings were swell.
We got into the place and decided to have a snack. Some toothless and increasingly drunken japanese sake swillers were chillin at a the next table to us. Being the uber friendly guy he is, shane somehow gets invited to drink sake with them and soon enough i'm there on the floor with them. This is cool, we are somehow able to communicate in that most universal of tongues, alchohol. They speak about as much english as we do japanese, so there was a lot of gesticulating and pointing but overall it was a nice time. I tried some of the japanese disgusting alchoholic pickled vegetable that these guys were gnoshing on. What a deal.
Then we got naked and soaked in pools of fart smelling waters that rejuvenate the skin and soul.

Overall it was an interesting day, and i haven't even mentioned the hyper-genki woman in Obuse who forced apple pie on us and told us about japanese corruption in the school system.

Sunday, November 09, 2003

We climbed mount izuna on saturday. I have, a great love of hiking, probably generated by memories of tromping around in the woods with my parents at a very early age. I always have appreciated getting out of the house and climbing up things. This is all fine and dandy in the midwest when one is unlikely to ascend anything of more than 100 meters in total eleation gain. However, there are mountains here. Tall ones, steep ones, and lots of them. I had forgotten how difficult it is to climb continuously up for 2 hours. It's tiring, and it makes your legs hurt, but not nearly as much as climbing down a mountain for an hour. Nothing will tear up your muscles like running down a mountain.
Japanese hikers or trekkers as they call them here, are almost always uber equipped. You might as well be at everest base camp as well as some of these folks are outfitted. Everybody wears good boots, gaiters a hat, has hiking poles and also bear bells. I'm not sure that there are really any bears in japan outside of Hokkaido, but everybody has the bear bells. Most folks also have the fancy-pants gore-tex jackets with the fancy pants that match. They're all polite, but all of them give us strange looks.
Unfortunately, it was kind of foggy that day, so we couldn't see mount fuji, which is supposed to be apparent on a clear day. Supposedly one can see the ocean on one side and Fuji on the other. I took a couple of probably crappy pictures of clouds and sticks and stuff, we'll just have to see how those work out.

Thursday, November 06, 2003

After walking around a lot we drank a lot, ate a little and paid a ton of yen at a fancy pants spanish "tapas" bar in Ginza. Yikes, man Yikes. I have never had back to back 5000 yen nights before. We also saw this exhibit at the tokyo international forum, a cool building, i'll post pictures later. The exhibit featured about 50 rubberized bodies of chinese people. These were real bodies, pumped full of epoxy or something and then cut up in interesting ways and displayed in a funhouse/museum setting. It was interesting, but more creepy than anything. I felt that the japanese people looking the bodies over were more like circus goers than museum onlookers. I felt as though we were in the freak show.

The next day we got up early, shook off our hangovers and attempted to see the super duper fish market in Tsukiji, on a good day the place is 54 acres of fish and thousands of people working them over. The area employs 50,000 people in the fish industry. Unfortunately it was closed.

I was a little pissed, and then it started to rain. Then we ate sushi for breakfast. This was interesting and a surprisingly good cure for a hangover. I reccomend it to anyone suffering ill effects from the night before. The place we went was awesome. There were about 10 guys in the center hacking up fish and putting them into delicate arrangement and one guy in the back chopping the heads off of the live ones that they kept in a tank. It doesn't get any fresher than that my friends. Whenever anybody walked in to the restaurant, the whole place errupted in Irishimasee which is the customary greeting to customers, something like "at your service". I ate toro for the first time, it is the fatty belly of the tuna and is by far the most tasty of the sushis. Damn good, and don't let anyone tell you otherwise.

One thing that you learn in Japan is that cooking is for wimps. I've eaten so many things that i was told had to be cooked, and look at me now, i'm still alive and i've even got the dexterity to type at 5 words per minute.

So, we went home after a day of wandering and pretending to be interested in stuff and then i came back to Nagano Station in the rain to find my bike had a puncture and some asshole had stolen my light, my new one that i had just bought a week ago. Dammit.

But, overall, tokyo was good, though i can't imagine living there.

Wednesday, November 05, 2003

Woke up late on sunday in tokyo. Then we went to Roppongi, the party central area of tokyo. We ate greasy ass burgers, paper thin style at the "Freshness Burger" We met Drunken Dave here. Drunken dave had popped some pill earlier that morning, about 3 or so and then drunk a lot more alchohol. When we met him, he began with, "How the fuck, you doin mate? Do i look fucked up to you ?" as he played with Shane's drink. We spent the better part of the next hour trying to get rid of this drunken Kiwi. He ended up following us to the movie, "Prosti" where he slouched down across the theater (reserved seats, thank god) He ended up leaving right after the show, where luckily we had the opportunity to listen to the director respond to some questions. I was at first worried about the movie, but it was really good.

damn, sleepy again
oh well, needless to say we ditched Drunken Dave and walked around a lot.

more later

Monday, November 03, 2003

I guess that since i've never been to new york, i can't directly compare with an american city of similar size, but holy shit Tokyo is huge. It's weird because there is no one place where you can say, damn, i'm in the center of a really huge city. It's more like, "how long can this go on, i thought i just saw the same intersection last block." There is just no end to the big buildings, busy streets and hordes of people. It took us about 2 hours to find our friends at the train station. Admittedly it is kind of a big train station, but it wasn't so much the size as the sheer volume of people. Probably 1000 to 2000 people move through the Shibuya intersection every minute for most of the day. Just wait until the crosswalk sign illuminates and then it's like the running of the bulls or something. Tokyo is just straight up huge and crowded.

Now he'res the time line:
Jennifer and i left on the bus about 9 in the morning and i promptly fall asleep before i can learn any japanese. Then we arrive at about 1 in the afternoon when we have to check into the hotel and meet up with our friends Lara and Shane. We arrived at the hotel and found that the japanese man who owns the place speaks perfect english and loves to practice for hours at a time on all of his english speaking guests. We then left to meet up with lara and shane at Shibuya station. Unfortunately we didn't specify an exact spot and unfortunately it took us a long damn time to figure out where to meet but fortunately we did eventually meet up with them. I'm almost sold on the cell phone idea.
Then we went to find tickets to the movies because that was supposed to be the reason to go to tokyo right, to watch films. Unfortunately the only one not sold out while we were there was called Prosti and we weren't too thrilled by the prospects. We then decided to maybe see if we could find a showing of Kill Bill so we wandered around to a theater that was showing it. Shane and I waited in line for about an hour on the staircase to get into the theater. By the end things were sweltering and we were getting pretty crabby. Anyway, the movie was ok, but they must have gone through a tanker of the fake blood during the course of it.
We later wandered around and met up with some other people and proceeded to spend a ridiulous amount of money on drinks at a bar. Truly mystifying how it all flew out of my wallet so fast. We had to catch the last train home at 12:50, which is truly an early last train time for a city that is so big and so busy all night long. At any rate we weren't satisfied with the drinking and so we searched around for a bar or izakaya or something to top off the night with but were ultimately unsuccessful.

more about sunday later