Monday, October 31, 2005

Beware: Cute Ninja Ahead

Back a few weeks ago in Nagano, before the hike, Zach and I hit up the Togakushi Ninja Village. Togakushi was one of the main training centers for Ninja, as it was high in the mountains, and far from the centers of power. Anybody who felt like wiping the clan off the map had a long difficult road to travel, and would be hard pressed to keep their passage a secret from their quarry. Also, the high(ish) altitude made for stronger spies. I qualify that because its still far below Colorado standards. Anyway, Togakushi has traded on their Ninja past with a couple attractions that bill themselves as Ninja Villages. Basically a really cool obstacle course. Rope bridges, shiruken throwing, walls to climb, a really big playground for those who are 10 and those who THINK they are 10. <--- me. There is also the Ninja house, with trap doors, false walls, secret passages. You know, really cool stuff. In one house they had a room on its side, which was disorientating to say the least. All and all it was a blast, and more than worth the price of admission.

Take that!

the cute little ninja mascot

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Friday, October 28, 2005

A pleasent seaside resort

Last weekend I decided it was time to get a good dose of beachfront property. Really the closesest thing to a nice 'resort town' near Nagoya is Gamagori. Now its very much an industrial shipping/ fishing port town. Now that is not in a quaint New England way. It's in the Japanese grey concrete sort of way. That said, I had a great time anyway. Takashima is a small island just off the coast, and not only is there a bridge out to it, but there is a very nice little shrine built into the dense green canopy. I did see a small fishing boat come into dock, named the Akagi. I got a bit of a laugh at that. (Akagi was the name of one of the Aircraft Carriers that launched the attack on Pearl Harbor. It was sunk at Midway) There are also several onsen (hot springs) and an amusement park. I had intended to go to an onsen and soak a bit, but just didn't make it. The amusement park is a 20 min bus ride, away from the JR station, so I didn't even bother. It might be fun, but it looks kind of pointless, part of the huge amusement park craze that hit Japan before the bubble burst. So even though all I really did in Gamagori was walk around and check out the water, that was enough for an old landlubber like me. Just watching the waves on the rocks can be incredibly soothing, and thats really what I needed. Kind of still do! Maybe I'll go back this weekend and try and scope out an onsen this time...

Tuesday, October 25, 2005

A busy Weekend Pt 2: Fish and Ferris Wheels

Sorry about the long wait between part 1 and part two. It has been a rather lazy week for me. I'll do better next time!

Nagoyako is a bit of a day trip mecca for Nagoya. Its got the Aquarium, a (very) small amusement park, an Italian village, and an Antarctic expedition ship/ museum. Lots of fun stuff in a small area. Since it was already 3 by the time we arrived, we really only had time for the Aquarium. Walking in the first thing you see is a couple big windows looking into the dolphin tanks. They have several different kinds of dolphin, and each tank opens out to the large stadium tank where they have acrobatic ocean mammal shows. The right-most tank was the only opened up but we didn't think much of it, just enjoyed looking at the pretty dolphins. Until the resident Orca shot in and just nailed one of the dolphins who didn't (or couldn't) get out of the way fast enough. It was a jaw dropping sight. I have long been fascinated by Killer Whales, but have never seen one up close, or if I have it was a loooooooong time ago. It was a stunningly beautiful creature, and moved in an almost effortless fashion. It was sleek and very speedy for its size.

The rest of the aquarium was in another building, and was organized along the route that the Antarctic expedition took from Japan to Australia to Antarctica. They had Tuna, Octopus and Rays in the Japanese local creatures area. There were of course tons of great tanks. They had an open tide pool, a huge tropical tank, and a tank filled with a few dozen baby sea turtles. So cute! The last display was penguins, which are such amazingly cool birds. All in all the aquarium certainly was worth the 2000 yen to get in. We next nipped over to the local food court for some tacos. Sadly they proved disapointing, but at least I got some rootbeer!

Across the street was the amusement park, with a huge ferris wheel. It was all lit up and quite beautiful in the dusk sky. We went for it, and got to see the last blush of sunset from the top. On the way down there was a fireworks display right nearby. It's too bad I wasn't at the top for that! From there it was back to Sakae for a few beers and an early night.

Tuesday, October 18, 2005

A very busy weekend Pt 1 Demons and Cats

Another weekend, free time to see the sights and have fun. I met Jared and Johanna at Osu as there was a big festival going on there. As I now know, big festivals in Nagoya means 'prepare for huge crowds.' The people were overwhelming, and there was a monkey show at one end that had a guy on a loudspeaker and he got really annoying really quickly. But before we left we saw some interesting things. One was a dance/ story that was frankly rather creepy. As far as I can make out, the plot involved a death demon and the hero sent to kill him. The same man, with his face painted bone white, played both the hero and the demon. He would drop his demon red constume and pick up a sword. Swing it around a bit then swoop over and become the demon again. All this time there are a few cat demons, or something like that, hanging out and cheering on their pick to win. I'm not really sure what side they were on actually. Eventually the hero managed to kill the demon, and one of the musicians came out and cut off his head! They took this little paper-mache head and paraded it around. Until one of them dropped it near the demon, and the demon began to stir... Like I said, it was very intense and very cool. Rather complicated plot too. The demon, with his face painted white and a red rose in his teeth reminded me of something out of a voodoo ritual.
By then it was getting to be lunch time. While all the Okonomiyak and Yakitori booths looked tasty, we had passed a 'Hawaiian' place called Locoburger on the way down the street, and I decided to hit them up. It was a pretty good burger, big patty with cabbage, an egg, cheese, bacon and onions. I'm not sure what qualified all that as Hawaiian, but it was good nonetheless. By that point we were pretty sick of the crowd, and so decided to head out from Osu and go to the port, Nagoyako, and see the Aquarium.

To Be Continued...

The Demon

The Hero

The Burger!

Monday, October 17, 2005

Student Stories

The things my students say, intentionally or not, are too painfully hilarious to not pass on. Yesterday I was doing a lesson on talking about travel plans. We had an activity where you picked a card with a famous landmark on it, then said what your plans were when visiting that city. The other person had to guess what city it was you were in. So she picks the last card, looks at it long and hard, then turns it my way and says,
"Is this the uhhhh uhhhh effel tower or Tokyo Tower?"
I reply, "I'm pretty sure that is the Eiffel Tower yes."
"Ok, I plan to go to the Eiffel Tower!"
" Yup, your in Paris aren't you..."

While I hate to add more fuel to the cliched fire of L R confusion, it happens so much and in such crazy ways I just can't help it. Indeed when a woman asked what I had for lunch and I said "Fried Rice" and she came right back with, "Fry lice?" it was very hard not to fall out of my chair laughing. Luckily I managed to get her pronouncing it correctly so if she ever orders in America she won't get a meal of crispy bugs. I had another student, a man this time, who just couldn't get a handle on the meaning of the world Folks. I kept saying it is simply slang for parents, but he just couldn't see it. Finally he said, "So Folks means parents... like the folks you eat with?" yikes.

If you ever wonder about our news media and Hollywood affecting people, rest assured, it does. I was talking with one of my younger students, just chatting, and asked her why she was studying English so hard. She said she wanted to travel abroad, maybe even live in an English speaking country for a while. I aksed which ones and she came back with Australia New Zealand and Canada. Being from the states I say something like " what about the US?" and she says, honest to God, "No I can't move the the US, I'll be shot!" I countered by noting that I had never in fact been shot, and didn't even know anybody who had and she looked at me in total disbelief. Yikes. Thank you nightly news. Thank you Bruckheimer. Ah yes the life of an English teacher, fighting bad pronunciation and cultural sterotypes!

Sunday, October 16, 2005

Engrish is the best

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Engrish is the English that appears on Japanese signs and shirts. It is meant for local consumption, and is meantmore to look 'cool' than to actually mean something. Since they rarely go over this local English with a good editor, some really crazy stuff shows up. I think the general hilarity of the results pretty much says more than I can!

Wednesday, October 12, 2005

I love Google Earth!

So Google Earth has updated their images with some nice high resolution pics of Nagoya, and even a few of Okazaki, which before was just a green blur. So here it is, my immediate neighborhood. You can see the train station, Atsuta Shrine, the local park, a ditch/river, and the Nagoya Expressway. Pretty amazing stuff really. The picture is still not quite as good as one can find for New York, or even Denver, but its a step in the right direction for sure.

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Monday, October 10, 2005

A revelation

For the past three and a half weeks I have been on a quest. A quest for the ultimate taste sensation. A quest for... real Mexican food. This is harder to find than you might think, but finally, finally, I have discovered it. Still not quite perfect, but the tex-mex Enchiladas I had for Dinner came pretty damn close. Really the only thing that was 'off' was the heat. They could have used a bit more spice. But who cares, it was Enchiladas and Beans and Spanish Rice and Guacamole and Corn Chips and... and it was wonderful! Jared had Tacos, and they looked pretty darn tasty too. After Dinner we moseyed around the neighborhood and found the coolest concentration of things to do ever. A bowling ally and Karoke. With a combo Mr Donut and Mos Burger on the first floor. You are set for a full 24 hours there! (so of course to up the spice in my life I had to have a spicy MOS cheeseburger to top off my Enchiladas. Heh I rode and walked all around today, I burned the calories!


Today it rained pretty solid all day, and our party of three for the Aquarium fell apart so instead I went to Osu. Back in the day major temples would attract lots of pilgrams. There needed to be plenty of shops and pubs and hotels for the pilgrams, which translates today to really cool shopping arcades near many temples. Osu is the temple district of Nagoya, so in addition to having a snazzy temple, there is a huge shopping arcade with just about anything you could want to buy. I needed a few things, notably a headset/mic so I can chat online to people, and I knew the electronics town area of Osu would have what I needed. It was pretty amazing. Hordes of people, and shops everywhere. I found all I need, and some things I didn't need. I also made it a priority to buy a bike today. (and I did, I'll post before and after pics later in the week.) Not alot of really exciting things, but fun nonetheless and the exploration is important both for me and anybody who cares to visit me. Now I can show people where to find the best western wear in Nagoya! And point out the cool Anime and game stores. And lets not forget our favorite things to wear... Engrish!

The Neigborhood

Today I decided to take it easy. Relax, enjoy myself, just mosey around. No deadlines. No hardcore sightseeing. Just hanging out, scoping out the neighborhood and Not Working. ;-)

I rode the rustocycle (my hand me down bike) south a ways, and was drawn to the noise coming down from a side street. Sure enough there was a local shrine festival, with their very own dragon! This was very cool to see as the group went on by. Even the kids got in on the action with their very own float. I wish I knew what the occasion was. I also rode to Atsuta Shrine, which is one of the more important Shinto shrines in Japan. It is a major place to be for New Years, which means for me... Stay Away at all costs! I've heard they even close down the streets around the shrine, yikes! It was a beautiful day, cooling off a bit but not quite fall, not yet.

Riding the rustocycle all around town did convince me to buy a new and real bike asap. Its just too small for me and too... wobbly. So maybe tomorrow I'll walk down to the bike shop and pick up a new set of wheels. I picked up two great Engrish Shirts. Ill post a pic later, but one says, "Another Boring Story No One, Enthused." You just can't make it up.

Friday, October 07, 2005


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Today I passed the three week mark. This is now the longest continuous time I have been outside the United States. It is even the longest continusou amount of time I have been outside of Denver! In that mere three weeks I have...

Eaten fried Chicken Cartiladge
Grilled Pig Tongue
Squid Sushi

I have not eaten

Raw Octopus and Wasabi.
(In my defense, if somebody handed you a bowl of grey snot and said it tasted great, would YOU eat it?)

I have been to 4 parties
met approx. 150 new people, of whom I remember about 50 names.

climbed one mountain
visted one ninja village

bought 3 books
400 Q-tips
1 box frosted flakes
47 train and subway tickets
and 1 uber cool cell phone

If that is three weeks, imagine what the next 49 weeks hold in store!

Tuesday, October 04, 2005

"I want to see mountains again.."

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Well I am enjoying myself I will certainly admit to missing a few things from Colorado. I miss Chipotle the most, followed by Fritz the Terror Schnoodle (TM), then my family (*evil grin*) and THEN nature and the Rocky Mountains. Luckily for me, my good buddy Zach lives in Nagano, which just happens to be surrounded by mountains, and he lets me visit him, sometimes.. While they are not exactly up to the standards of the good ole Rockies, these peaks are a lot nicer to look at than Nagoya's undending cityscape. We took a city bus up to Tokakushi, training ground of Ninja in times past. (but that is fodder for a different entry.) We picked a nice looking trail that went up. It was a pretty big change from what I am used to. No rocks for one thing. Well ok, maybe a few rocks, but mostly slick steep mud. It had rained earlier in the day, and the trail was still a bit on the damp side. Undaunted we pressed upwards for a couple of hours. We didnt actually make it all the way to the top, but we found a nice subpeak with amazing views of the mountains and Nagano city. We had to turn around or risk missing the last bus. It would have been a looong walk back to town. It was great fun, and despite the physical exertion, I really felt recharged by the glimpse nature and sublime vistas. Now back to the daily grind! Oh and if someone can identify which film I quoted (stole from) for the title, you get... a virtual cookie.