Sunday, May 29, 2005

I called my parents today to chat and what did I find? THEY WERE OUT OF TOWN...PARTYING!! They are up at the lake house of one of their friends with a few of their friends for the Memorial Day holiday. Apparently the end of the world is nigh as this behaviour is unprecedented. Except for going to visit my grandmother and travelling to view soccer games and cross country meets my parents never go ANYWHERE! Vacations have always been family vacations, and they have always been accompanied by children, willing or not. Now it seems that my folks have passed some sort of generational barrier, after twenty six odd years of child raising they are phasing into the "empty nest" phenomenon. When my younger sister Leah leaves for Macalester (yes, a third in the Dynasty) this fall Asa will be left as the sole child in my parents home. They'll either have to adopt someone, or get used to the new lifestyle. Fortunately, their neighbor Chad is a needy fellow, and can keep them feeling loved while the rest of us are away.
Anway, fear not parents! I'll be back in August to mooch again!!!

Friday, May 27, 2005

Damn, i've got like 2 more months left in this country. I must admit it's pretty sweet to think of. Finally getting to eat as many pizzas as I want, shoes that will fit, everything written in English, getting fat...getting a "real" job. It'll be good to get back.
Then of course, I'll be left to ponder, "What the hell was I doing with my life in Japan?" Hmm an interesting question. Learning Japanese? No, not really. While I can speak enough to get through random interactions in the supermarket and some day to day conversation, I can't actually say that I speak Japanese. Building job skills? Well, since I know I don't really want to teach english any more, i guess you could call it part of a "job elimination process" whereby I try everything and nix the ones I don't like. Maybe it was the joy of cultural exchange. Maybe not since I have only just begun to develop Japanese friends outside of my workplace. Ahhh yes, I know, it was to escape reality for 22 odd months. Damn, this was a perfect place, as far from reality as I could ever wish for! Japan is the place where "What you see is NOT what you get," in a big way. Don't ask me why, move here and find out for yourselves. The Japanese will love you as long as you are white and speak English! They pay well for doing so too! The only place more removed from reality would possibly be North Korea, but since North Korea pays their English teachers in beatings and brainwashing, I don't think I'll be going there.

Tuesday, May 24, 2005

So, the tokyo trip was a success. The morning was spent in the Tsukiji fish market, the largest fish market in the world, both by volume of fish sold daily and number of workers in a single market. I had been told that it was the 11th wonder of the world and well, it lived up to my expectations.
After that it was a trip to SUMO land to get tickets for the day's matches. After aquiring the tickets and checking out the amateur rounds, we went to visit Yasukuni Shrine. Had you been keeping up on your Japan/China/Korea/Taiwan politics you would know that this is the shrine dedicated to Japan's war dead. Prime Minister Koizumi has made yearly visits to the shrine in order to pay respects to the Japanese killed in foreign conflict. The problem with this is that the shrine is not only dedicated to the victims of the war, but also to a couple dozen Class-A war criminals. Why a country would think to dedicate a shrine to war criminals, I don't know.

After seeing the infamous but visually unremarkable shrine, we returned to the sumo arena for the real action. We were not able to see the Yokozuna, Asashoryu, but we saw some of the somewhat lower ranked Maegashira wrestlers pushing eachother around.

In the evening we went out to a lovely dinner at a restaurant headed by some guy from New York. I would rate the meal as one of the top five that I've ever eaten in my life. Everything was perfect. The scallops were seared to perfection. The grilled pepper crusted tuna was perfect. The beer was perfect. The creme brulee was perfect. If you're ever in Tokyo and you are looking for a romantic dinner on the water's edge and you are not worried about a $50 per person tab (but really, let's face it, if you're looking for budget travel you're not going to be in Japan in the first place) I recommend the T.Y. Harbor Brewing Co.

Oh yeah, and we got to ride the bullet train twice in a day. Sweeeeeet!
Here are some of the big dogs, I can't remember who exactly, but they're big dudes eh? My favorite is Takamisakari, a popular wrestler because of his pre-match routine which involves much face slapping and salt throwing.
Sumo at 10 in the morning, Yes, don't mind if I do! This is the Dohyo, the sacred arena where the rikishi (as the wrestlers are rightly called) push and shove eachother like overweight bighorn sheep out of the ring. Ten is too early to see the big names, like Asashoryu, Takamisakari, Kaio and don't forget Kokkai the Russian's great white hope. This is merely the amateurs getting their practice rounds in.
This guy could gut and fillet a foot long eel in about 15 seconds. I saw him do about 8 before Jennifer dragged me away. I could watch eels being gutted all day. Slice, squeeze, flip, chop, chop.. and do it all over again.
When tuna comes off the boat at approximately the size of a full grown human, what else would you cut it with than a samurai sword? The blade on that baby is about 4 feet long.
This is one of those things that you just don't see in Iowa very often, a giant tuna being cut in quarters on a bandsaw. This isn't even a big one.

Monday, May 23, 2005

I saw what has become my favorite spectator sport last saturday. Sumo. Now before you all go thinking of blubbery men charging at eachother in a small ring, let's get one thing straight, they're athletes. I respect them because they do an activity that I could never do. They're like, EXTREME!! I'll post some pictures shortly so you can see what I'm talking about.

Friday, May 20, 2005

This article has inspired me. I think that I'll protest my incarceration in business attire and show up to work in a Tee shirt and shorts. The fact that it would get me fired (a first in any of the jobs that I've held) shows you what kind of country I live in. Seriously though, neckties are more akin to nooses than necklaces.

Sunday, May 15, 2005

Shane, keeping a close eye on me. Notice the attentiveness.
Some Japanese climbers across the way. What kind of crazy sport is this?
The crew, Lara, Shane, Jennfere and I, Have become somewhat the experts on night travel here in Japan. First it was our trip to Shikoku, covered almost entirely in the hours of the night, then last Friday saw us driving down south again to one of the most beautiful places I've ever seen, namely the Yosemite of Japan, Ogawa-Yama. The name literally means "little river mountain" but the main feature you'll notice is the gigantic granite spires poking out of the mountains. This, combined with the industriousness of the Japanese rock climbing community has led to the establishment of over 600 routes, most of them out of my league, but others tantalizingly do-able. The shock of the weekend came as Jennifer and I began setting up the tent, only to discover that her sleeping bag had been left behind. OOPS! This meant two things. 1. I was an idiot for forgetting it when I walked out the door, and 2. one of us was sleeping in the car. Jennifer got that honor and had a lovely night's sleep on 4 feet of back seat.

Overall though, it was a successful weekend, and I in particular, didn't want to leave. Oh well, we'll be back, we'll be back.

Wednesday, May 11, 2005

Alf is totally correct. Asian taste in pop music is probably the worst in the world. While shopping for protein powder yesterday at various sporting goods stores, I was assailed by reject music from the US, shitty store theme music, "Sponsored by Super Sports Xebio!" and a host of unspeakable rot from crappy Japanese Karaoke stars and rejects alike. There's something about the Japanese aesthetic that loves the sappy and inane, particularly in music and on TV. I can't quite explain it, but things like the lyric, "Good love from me to you," pop up constantly amid the most un-original melodies and skill-less singing I've ever heard recorded. My only good fortune is that I don't get lyrics stuck in my head very often because they're in Japanese.

I can't wait to get back to the US to find the same thing, in a language that I fully understand.

Sunday, May 08, 2005

As I mentioned in the moustache post, we took a trip to Shikoku last week. It was a driving marathon rather than the money marathon which was our trip last year. Shikoku is a pretty rugged place and you can almost imagine that you're not in Japan when there. There's a different attitude on the other islands, one that's not quite so concerned with the social graces of Honshu. Anyway, I had a great trip, though my back is only just now forgiving me for my time spent in the car. I've posted the main events of the trip in a more or less chronological order, and I'm planning on uploading a lot more of them to an internet photo album. When you get a digital camera, the only thing that stops you from taking pictures is battery life, and we've got enough battery to last us about 200 pictures worth. Yee-haw!
Believe it or not, this is the most famous part of Shikoku. Not the bridge particularly, but the narrow straights below it. The town is Naruto and the area is a tourist attraction because of the tide, which is the 3rd most beautiful in Japan, according to our guidebook. This being the exit from the Inland Sea to the Pacific, when the tide changes water currents water flows through at up to 20kph and can create whirlpools. To me, it looked like a river, a big river.
Typhoons really tore the countryside up last year as a record 10 of them pasted the island. With typhoons you get strong winds and what's more torrents of rain soaking the moderately stable hillsides which eventually sluff off in gargantuan landslides like this one which demolished the only road from where we were, to where we were going. This necessitated a back-track of about 4 hours. Radical.
Did I mention it was hard to get around in Shikoku, here's a "highway" through the mountains. This tunnel was just a crude blast hole through the rock, yet it was listed as a major road, maybe that's because it was the only road to where we were going, and it just happened to be out.
Shikoku is a rugged country with natural beauty seemingly around every corner. Admittedly, we only went to two of the four prefectures, but that's mostly because travel was excruciatingly slow. This waterfall was carved out of the whitest rock I've seen in Japan and set in a lush green valley. A perfect picnic spot if ever there was one.
We had ourselves a merry little backpacking expedition from hell as well. It started with an easy hour and a half hike up to the weather station where we camped for the night. The next day then was this one which we spent hiking for about 9 hours and 20K. It wouldn't have been quite as bad had it not been the inagural voyage for Jennifer and my new boots. The first 10K were pretty much ok, painful but whatever, and then we began approaching deathmarch territory. The last 5K were the most painful of my life, including running races. Ouch.
I've rarely seen more spectacular sunsets than here in Japan. It may be the humididty, or the smog or whatever, maybe I just appreciate them more, but in the mountains or on the beach you are assured of some ultra-beauty once in a while. This shot was taken from our campsite on the top of the final leg of our epic day. Happily for my feet the last segment took only about 2.5 hours to hike down. At the trailhead we hitch-hiked our way back to the car, a convenient, and in Japan, safe way to travel.

One of the touristy things to do in Shikoku is to see the vine bridges over one of the river valleys. In the feudal era the local samurai clans would construct these vine bridges over river gorges and when persued, would escape across them and with a couple of swift hacks, eliminate the possibility of pursuit. I felt a little cheated as the modern version is covertly supported by cables, still pretty freaky to cross though.
Testing out the ol' rocket arm as the tide comes in. The beach was strewn with small abalone shells left by a group of nearby picnicers. What is considered endangered in the west is merely another delicacy here. It's a shame though, abalone at best tastes like nothing and has the texture of munching on someone's nose cartilage.
On kind of our last stop before the rain drove us home we stopped at some giant rocks sticking out of the sea coast in Kochi Prefecture. They were totally sweet, as in completely awesome. About 50 meters high from sea level they were made of this awesome pocketed sandstone that looked just like an alien beehive or something, the string that you see in the background was somehow strung between the two pinnacles and is a symbol of residence by some Shinto spirit. After this we parked ourselves on a beach up the coast a bit but were evetually persuaded to leave by 18 hours of straight rain. Nothing quite like camping in the rain to change a person's mind.