Tuesday, March 28, 2006

Bacon, Mistranslation, Blisters and an Epic Worm

So, after 'getting down' in the Club Asia New Annex, we awoke bright eyed and bushy tailed for our next Tokyo adventure.

We headed out for a quick breakfast at a family restaurant, Royal Host, where I promptly encountered half of a miracle.

Let me explain, pancakes (hottokaki) are pretty rare in Japan. They can be found as overpriced desserts, but rarely as a proper breakfast. (One may recall me mentioning that not even Denny's here has pancakes on the menu.) So when I walked in and found a pancakes, bacon, eggs, and coffee meal, I figured I'd died and gone to Montana. A miracle!

unfortunately my enthusiasm was quickly dampened by the fact that these delicious looking little tan doohickies were some of the dryest most tasteless pancakes it has every been my misfortune to consume. I was at a loss. One the one hand I was overjoyed to be eating pancakes and bacon for the first time in six months. On the other hand I have eaten sawdust that required less maple syrup to be palatable.

At least the Bacon was edible. The coffee wasn't bad either.

So we get ready to pay for the bill and Zach pulls one of his infamous translation 'errors.'

Zach, having been here almost two years, and having minored in Japanese in Uni has the distinction of often being the best Japanese speaker around. Zach also has the bad habit of mis-translating an odd word or two, for his own amusement.

So he tells Matt to ask for the bill, and gives him the phrase to use. Unfortunately (it would appear) for his scheme I start giggling a bit and it comes to light that he told Matt to say "Kancho onegai shimasu" Which of course would result in Matt politely asking the waitress to stick her fingers in his bum, as middle school children so love to do. But I giggled, and made Matt suspicious. So Zach explains the proper terminology of "Kanjo onegai shimasu". Matt looks up, motions to the waitress and says... "Kancho onegai shimasu!" Which of course prompts Zach and myself to a fit of laughter and provokes a bemused/ horrified look on the waitress's face. The correct words are quickly said by Zach, and our poor waitress flees to retrieve the bill. One must feel sorry for poor Matt, but he did have the proper word explained to him.. its not entirely Zach's fault that he forgot the right one and remembered the wrong one!

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Meiji-Jingu, a shrine in the heart of Tokyo near Harajuku station.

Ok, with breakfast done we headed to our first destination, Harajuku. This is the area that crazy girls dress in crazy fashions, then sit around while gawkers and tourists snap photos. Unfortunatly for us, there were very few of these Harajuku girls to be seen, probably because of the impending St. Patricks Day Parade. Yup a St. Paddys Day Parade in Tokyo! What is the world coming to? There were hordes of people thronging the streets, and many green shirts, green socks, green wigs.. well lets just say there was lots of green. There were also a fair number of Gaijin, probably the most I've seen at one place since I left San Francisco International Airport in September.

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Bike tricks in the park adjacent to Meiji-Jingu.

We milled around for a bit, checked out a huge toy store, and walked down the street scanning for the Parade start point. We also nipped into Subway! for a quick bite of lunch. As we walked back up the boulevard we encountered the Parade. Well at least it was the people who had recently been parading, but who were now finished,and were themselves in the crowd on the sidewalk. Yup we somehow missed the entire procession. Did it happen while we were in the Toy Store? Subway? Or just on an entirely different street? Ah life's unanswered mysteries...

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The Irish are coming!

With that taken care of we headed to Zach's number one priority, the Tokyo Museum of Parasites, a place once voted Time Magazines Weirdest Museum in Asia. Considering that just Japan is home of such places as a Ramen Museum, an Advertsing Museum, an Eyeglasses museum and a Drum Museum, qualifying for the weirdest museum in ALL OF ASIA is a distinction worth taking note of. Also, it's free.

Well we follow Zach's map and start walking. We knew it was a bit of step, but it was a warm if blustry day. We walk, and walk, and walk, and walk some more. We pass rivers, temples, highways, and more. No sign of the Parasite Museum. My feet hurt, and I start heckling Zach a bit. Like any true man, he is loath to ask for directions. I'll admit to disliking that admission of weakness myself, but we had been walking a long way, and I figured we had blown right past the museum. Eventually even Zach could see that we had come too far, so we stopped in Post Office to ask directions.

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The river we crossed on our epic quest for the Parasite Museum

"Oh the museum is half an hour walk back that way, by the temple." Oh, the temple we had passed a half an hour ago? Argh! We walked back, making it in 22 minutes (Go Go Colorado bred legs and lungs.) I see a sign, and totally misread it. The sign said we should go back the way we came a bit, I thought it said go right. Oops. We walk two blocks, no museum. Asking at a Lawsons (oh the blow to masculine pride!) we tramp back the way we came, past the temple again, to the small unassuming grey building we had been searching for. The unassuming grey building we had blown by not once but TWICE!

Once inside all our cares were forgotten as we perused specimens like a dogs heart destroyed by heart worms and a turtles eyelid eaten away by God-knows-what. Supplementing the formaldehyde preserved specimens were photographs and diagrams of Parasites and their effects on their hosts. Like say a man with a penis larger than his leg. That certainly got *my* attention, I mean dang people talk about "male enlargement" but that's taking it a few million steps too far! Yeach. The centerpiece attraction was an 8.8 meter long tapeworm taken from a man who had eaten the wrong piece of trout sushi. Next to the intestinal Smaug was an 8.8 meter long rope that one could use to get a more hands on look at just how long this critter was. All I can really say is wow, and I thought the Alien was the worst thing that could live in your guts.

With that finally accomplished we pointed our tired feet towards Shinjuku and another well hidden capsule hotel.

Monday, March 27, 2006

Encapsulating St Patrick

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Now back to our story...

Last Thursday Matt headed south to Kyoto for a tour of the Kansai area. He came back up to Kanazawa late Friday afternoon, just in time for some St Patricks Day fun. Being that both Paul and Asuka had to work the next day, and Matt and I had to get up early to catch the Tokyo Bound train, Guinness fueled revelry was kept to a bare minimum. This did not prevent the students from crowning me 'King' of St. Patricks Day. I think it must have been the sexy Irish brogue I was sporting at the time. (I had been practicing to Michael Collins the night before... heh. Please stop looking at me like that! Perfectly normal... perfectly normal...)

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Anyway. So after a nice dinner of Fish and Chips and Guinness (with a few pinches for those not wearing green, sorry Matt but you had it coming), we headed to... Karaoke! As if you couldn't see that one coming. This was our largest outing of the week, and was quite rambunctious. I gave the chorus of Orange Range's Locomotion a good try, and Matt and Paul's "You've Lost that Lovin' Feelin" brought down the house. Unfortunately the best singer there, Asuka, only sang a few songs. While I of course sang tons of off key monstrosities.

So up and away the next morning, on a regular express headed far to the north before turning south for a quick Shinkansen dash into Tokyo Station. A little over four hours all total, and certainly more comfortable than an airliner. After all, what airliner has a mini-convenience store tucked away inside? Or things like leg room? *gasp* Still it was a long haul, and we were glad to get out and about and mosey around the Number One Tourist Destination of Tokyo.. The Imperial Palace. We stopped quickly to get our "been there" pictures (which didn't turn out, sigh) and then headed indoors away from the quickening drizzle.

Akibahara was the next stop, for a look at the largest electronics area in Japan. It was dark and wet, so we didn't spend a lot of time there, but I did manage to get a soft case for my new Nikon at the famously large Yodobashi Camera. Thence we pushed on to Shibuya to meet up with Zach. We were in charge of finding the accomodations for the night, Capsule World, but the map Zach had sent me printed off rather small, and was in Japanese.

This faulty and partial information overloaded my GPS (Grant Positioning System) and we wandered for quite some time. This failure was such a shock to the System that it was malfunctioning all weekend. My sense of direction is usually flawless, but Tokyo rendered me useless. Once we met up with Zach and headed back out into the trackless neon void we were in the process of walking right past Capsule World (again) when I caught a glimpse of the sign and we pulled into our cozy little safe harbor.

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Shibuya at night. This is the location of what is said to be the world's busiest crosswalk. I can vouch that it is indeed VERY busy.

Capsule hotels are great. I mean we've all heard of them, but the sterotype obscures the comfort and value of these places. I mean yes of course they are quite small, but ponder the fact that we paid 3700 yen for a place to sleep right in the middle of some of the most prime terrain in Tokyo. It came with an onsen, sauna, lockers for belongings, Radio, TV and more. This is the only way to go, well I suppose I should say that it is the only way to go as long as you are a guy. Most capsule hotels don't allow women.

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So we dropped our things and headed out to find a club. To make a long story short, we found one. I danced. It was ugly. We went back to the hotel and took a bath.
We were fully prepped for our second day in Tokyo... St Patricks Day Parade and Parasites!

Thursday, March 23, 2006

Post Mortem

Well by now poor Matt should be safely home and relaxing. He had quite the whirlwind trip, and got a lot done. He saw about as much of Japan as could be expected in a week and a half.

Three of Japan's 4 most populous cities. (Tokyo, Osaka, Nagoya.) Missing only Yokohama! He also got a whirlwind tour of Kyoto, and of course Kanazawa.

A ride on the double decker MAX Shinkansen. Because little in life is cooler than a two story train traveling in excess of 200 kilometers an hour... with a mini convinience store inside!

Eating a full traditional meal, as well as Okonomiyaki, Conveyer belt sushi, MOS Burger, Mr. Donut, and other tasty treats that have to be tracked down while in Japan. Unfortunatly he didn't get any Kobe beef. (next time gadget, next time)

He experienced (a lot of) Karaoke, and got to see Gardens, Temples, Shrines, Castles, Museums of Anime and Parasites, crazy fashions, huge department stores and more! He even got to sample a wee bit o' the communal bathing. (It is interesting to note I recall him saying there was no way I could get him either to Karaokoe or an Onsen, and I got him to both. He denies his denial.)

Of course there are disappointments. There was a lot of rain, and some snow. But then, I think any trip to Kanazawa is going to include more than its fair share of precipitation. Tokyo was warmer, but waaaaay windy. Wow. It felt like climbing a 14er!

Well there you go, the post-mortem. I'm glad he came, as I know I had a great time.It was interesting, the chance to see my own experience reflected back to me. My perceptions have changes A LOT in 6 months, but I hadn't really noticed it happening. But as we wandered Nagoya and Matt kept reacting to things that were strange and/or vastly different from Denver, they were all things that I had gotten used to months ago and saw as completly normal. Well maybe not completly normal...

I would also say that seeing Japan reflected through new eyes brought back a bit of the wonder to me. I freely admit that the last couple of months have been very difficult, and I had lost the sense of adventure and fun I had when I first arrived. The shrinks have names for all the phases of culture shock, but I don't care about that. I care about how I feel, and I was feeling pretty down! But now I feel better, more energized, more ready to get out and about again. I also feel a bit lighter in the wallet!

A brief interlude

Coming from Colorado as I do, perhaps it is no great surprise that I am utterly fascinated by geology. The Rocky Mountains are a great place to get bitten by the geology bug, and I certainly was! After taking a class in it, I was constantly pointing out where or when this or that particular rock came into being.

I bring this up for two reasons. One is a new book I picked up recently, The Earth: An Intimate History, by a British Paleontologist, Richard Fortey. Fortey looks at a wide range of sights across the globe, and explains them all in terms of Plate Tectonics and the never-ending dance of the continents. He also discusses how human history and civilization is dictated by the geology of the area. How the geology defines what will grow, the dangers of earthquake or volcanos, and impacts the climate. It is a fascinating book, and he has a talent for taking very complex ideas and making them, if not simple, then at least understandable. In a chapter I just read he discusses the discovery that there was once a vast Himalaya like mountain range, the remains of which cover our Appalachians north through Newfoundland and then the strata (rocks) reappear across the Atlantic in Scotland and then into Scandinavia. A giant mountain range torn apart by the spreading Atlantic ocean! Now that is cool. What's even cooler is that the range was created much in the same way as the Himalaya today, by the closing of an ancient Atlantic ocean.

So I read this cool book, talking about closing and opening ocean basins, and then I see this link... Africa's New Ocean Yup, a continent is splitting apart, and a new ocean forming. Its slow, but fast enough that we can take useful measurements, and see the effects of these geological forces in real-time, and not by studiying rocks that are 120 million years old. Fascinating stuff!

Wednesday, March 22, 2006

A busy mid- week

Well last week was a bit of a whirlwind. After work on Monday Matt and I headed out for some Okonomiyaki, which is one of my favorite foods, period. There is a great okonomiyaki place right behind the school, but there is no english menu, so I got to try out my mad japanese reading skills. We ordered a Kimchee okonomiayki and a tofu one. They bring the ingredients, we mix and cook. Soo tasty, despite a few mistakes on our part.

Tuesday dawned on a world under a few inches of snow. *sigh* so much for spring! Matt split for Kenroku-en again, to see how the character of the garden changed under snow. I of course worked. Tuesday night we went out for Korean Yaki-niku (grilled meat), another cook it yourself job. Between all of this cooking it yourself and the Japanese penchent for serving food raw, I wonder if Japanese cooks can actually *cook* anything! That aside the food was delicious, even when Paul lobbed charcoal chunks that had once been chicken in my direction. We had a few students with us, and had a great time. Plus the waitress was rather good looking, which is always a bonus. We even had a discount for our course meal, so all in all a good night.

Next up was Karaoke, we had intended to stay for an hour, but as I recall that spread to at least 2 hours. Maybe a bit more. Matt took to karaoke like a fish to water, and we all had a smashing good time. Karaoke is really the worlds great equalizer. Well unless you are in that percentage of people who can actually sing well, then like cream you rise to the top of the pile. Interestingly enough the people who sing the best sing the least. Me, I sing a ton, so I guess that means I sound like a tone-deaf trout. Whatever a tone-deaf trout sounds like... But that doesn't matter, what matters is we set the pattern for the rest of the trip. Matt had two more trips to Shidax in store, thats more Karaoke in one week than I'd had in two months! Wow.

Wednesday was spent regrouping and hanging out, and of course I went to work. The weather took a turn for the bluer, and it was actually a sorta warm day. The snow vanished like a Chicken burrito (chipotle style) from my plate, so Matt got a little taste of nice weather.

The next day, Thursday, he headed to Kyoto for adventures alone. Well not quite alone, he met up with somebody he knew down there (Yuko? I think that was her name) and she showed him around Kyoto a bit. He crashed in an Osaka capsule hotel, which was another taste of things to come, then came back to Kanazawa Friday afternoon. For St. Patricks Day...

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the group at Korean Yaki-niku. Matts pic. (but I think I took it...)

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The server hard at work.

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A duet. Maybe this is their rendition of "You Lost that Lovin Feelin?" They do a pretty good job of it really. I have video if anybody is interested!

Thursday, March 16, 2006

Kenroku-en in a new light

Being that Kenroku-en, that third best garden in Japan, is the prime tourist attraction in Kanazawa, I was obligated to take Matt there. I was interested in going for myself as well, to see the garden when it wasn't under two feet of snow. I was also interested in running my new camera through its paces a bit. I'll have to say I'm totally in love, and quite impressed with how well it works and the image quality. Hooray.

It was a chilly but bright day when we set off Monday morning, but by midafternoon a pretty fierce storm front came down from the North-East, with blowing snow cutting our garden visit short. Luckily, I had a fall back plan, Mr. Donut. One of the Kanazawa Mr. Donuts is spread across 3 floors, which is not something you see everyday! I mean come on, a three story donut emporium? Now that is some cool stuff.

I had to go to work after that, and I spent the rest of the day terrorizing my coworkers with my Camera. They were understanding though, which is rather generous of them! *click* flash *click*.... you get the general idea.

Here are a few of the many, many photos I took at Kenroku-en.

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Actually this one is at Oyama Shrine. Yeah, I ended up back there for the second time in a week, third time overall. But hey, its free and it *is* a pretty cool place.

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Near the entrance.

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A Shot across the lake at the famous snow tents. I imagine they will come down soon, as the snow should be about over.

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The tourist magnet lantern. It can be hard to get a photo of it unencumbered with hordes of tourists.

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Close up of the tents.

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Aha! No matter what the weather is, spring is here!! It's Here! I think...

Stay tuned for the next post, More hot Karaoke Action. Matt blows out his voice singing Metallica, Grant hogs the remote.. and more.

Tuesday, March 14, 2006

Delicious Dinner of Distinction

Sunday night we met up with Yukari and the rest of The Sakae Gang (TM) for dinner and art. First we took in the delicate beauty of Yukari's pressed flower art. She had not only dried and pressed a wide variety of beautiful and delicate flowers, but had also arranged them into art, using flowers as the medium. So to make a castle, for example, she used white and red leaves for walls and roofs. Some pieces were miniature fields of flowers, some landscapes, some just beautiful displays of floral art. It was all very cool, and certainly a new experience for me.

After that we headed next door (literally, it was in the same hotel) to a very traditional Japanese restaurant with the works, tatami flooring, sliding paper doors, a waitress in Kimono, and personalized menus! The food was amazing, both visually and gustatorially. We had 8 small courses, covering about every facet of Japanese cuisine.

We started with Haruku Tofu, a pinkish tofu with a very delicate flavor. This course aos had a lilly bulb, and a veggie translated as Bracken, but I doubt thats correct! Unfortunately I forgot to get a picture of this dish.

Next on the Menu was Shiitake Bud soup with clam and pressed kelp. It was light and flavorful, and quite tasty.
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Then we had the sashimi course, with flatfish, tuna (of course!) and small fish.

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Following that was a baked course with trout and beef with a long sliver of very hot ginger. Hmm hmm good, I do loves me that ginger!

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We then had a steamed course with bamboo shoots, cherry blossoms, Canola flowers and sticky flavored rice.

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Next up was tempura with Smelt, and flowers.

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Then we cleansed our palate with steamed white rice, pickles, and red miso with clams.

Dessert was strawberries with grapefruit with some green tea.

For drinks we got a very nice bottle of cold Sake. It was wonderful, a truly excellent vintage from Nigaata (I think.)

Well there we go, our wonderous dinner!

And here is the group.

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and the waitress.

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Oh, and today makes 6 months. Wow, how time flys. 6 months already. YIKES!

Monday, March 13, 2006

Very Old Friends

With eager anticipation to meet up with my very first visitor, I started off early Saturday morning. With missing the right bus, and getting on another that was only half right (it did go to the station, but took its sweet time getting there) I missed the 7:30 train to Nagoya by about 5 minutes. Leaving of course a whole hour to kill around the station. I walked around, checked out a few temples nearby. There was a truck driving around with a loudspeaker saying something (loudly) in Japanese. Remember, this is BEFORE 8 in the morning on Saturday. This would not stand in America. The driver would be dead before 7:15!

Once safely ensconced in the direct Shirasagi #4 to Nagoya, I curled up with Bill Bryson's book Down Under. I must say he is one hilarious travel writer. Good stuff indeed, he made the almost 3 hour train ride quite bearable. Of course I can hardly complain about that little train ride, when poor Matt had left for the Airport about the same time as I had gotten home and gone to bed the night before! Yikes.

I had a pleasent Italian lunch with my old co-worker Eiko. (I learned that I have lost my proper fork certifications, and am not qualified to use that utensel anymore. I couldn't pick up a slice of proscutto with a fork. I wished I could use chopsticks. I think I need to leave Japan. Now.)

Then it was time to head to Central Japan International Airport! The excitement was too much for me, so I fell asleep on the train for about 20 minutes! (I think that was the glass of red wine talking. Red wine at lunch, even a single glass, knocks me out.)

Matt was pretty happy to see me, had this crazy "I'm in Japan!!!!" grin on his face. I am pretty familiar with that grin myself. We went down to Sakae and found a hotel, and I showed him around the TV tower and Oasis 21. We then met up with Jared and Johanna and went to a pretty good izakaya. I had Mochi Pizza, which was a bit strange but quite good. Matt tried Yakisoba for the first time. A good time was had by all, and we parted ways before the last train.

The next day was a whirlwind tour of Nagoya. The Castle, Osu, up to the top of the TV tower, everywhere that it took me four months to see! I finally bought my camera that I've been lusting after for 6 months. (20k yen cheaper than I'd ever seen it, comparable to the Amazon price I was going to use, and came with a free tripod!)

And then it was time for Dinner, and what a dinner it was. But dinner will have to wait for another entry...

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Kanazawa station.

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Matt in front of my favorite photographic subject.

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Snazzy izakaya.

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Matt at the castle.

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An angry deer at Nagoya Castle.

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proto-elvis dance off. Japan is weird!

Thursday, March 09, 2006

Back to Oyama and other misc stuff!

Well in about 24 hours Matt jumps on a Jetliner enroute to Nagoya! (Well technically enroute to SFO and then to Nagoya.) This has me very excited. It's like Christmas, only with more Japanese food.

I watched Apollo 13 last night, but I watched it with a commentary by Jim and Marilyn Lovell. Yup the real astronaut (as played by Tom Hanks in the film) and his wife watch the movie and give us the inside scoop. What Ron Howard did well, what he messed up on, the whole ball of wax. It was really quite fascinating, especially how in a few areas Mrs. Lovell gets choked up, despite the intervening decades. I would certainly reccomend heading over to your local library and checking out Apollo 13 for another viewing. Or you can borrow my copy, if you like. :-D

How about this link to a live video game in Spain.. It sounds kind of cool to me. Like a video game, but with better graphics!

While today was a bit chill, the weather is certainly on a welcome warming trend. In some time we had free Paul and I headed to Oyama shrine to check things out. He had never been, despite it being one of the major tourist attractions in the area! Oh well, there's no accounting for taste. Luckily he did enjoy it, and it was really nice in the warm twilight glow.

We were also basking the greasy glory of the double cheeseburger and onion rings we had devoured for lunch. The meal destroyed my poor guts. I'm just not used to lots of beef fat in my diet anymore! The roast chicken I had for dinner a few weeks ago affected me much the same. Alas, I am doomed to eat Curry Katsu, Beef Bowl, and Sushi for the remainder of my life! (which is not to imply that things like Curry Katsu are at all healthy, they just lack the dripping grease you get on things like a good burger or say a slice of pizza.) *sigh*

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Monday, March 06, 2006

Adventures with Biibaa-San

Katakana is evil.

For those who don't know, in addition to Kanji Japan uses two homegrown alphabets. Hirigana for actual Japanese words, an Katakana for any non-Japanese word that needs to be written down. Now I say Katakana is evil because using it twists and deforms our beautiful English words to a mockery of their original sounds. Take the title of this post. Biibaa-San is the Katakana representation of Mr Beaver, of Narnia fame. Mr. Tumnus becomes Tamunasu-san. The four siblings are Piitaa, Suuzan, Ruushii and Edomando. You can see why we have a few pronunciation issues to work through in class.

As you can probably tell from my theme today, I finally saw that touching epic, The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe. It finally released here in Japan on Saturday. It was playing on three screens, and the show I attended was nowhere near half full. I guess it just didn't translate over, despite the extra three months of advertising.

I must say that while there were a few issues, overall I really enjoyed the movie. The kids were very well cast, and did a good job. The animals where a bit 'shrek' but still fairly credible. All in all I am eagerly anticipating further adventures in Narnia. Pre-production on Prince Caspian is already underway.

On my way to the movie, I stopped by Mos Burger. I had expected to get my usual, the Spicy Mos with Cheese. However, there was a new player in town. The Katsu Curry Burger. I love the combo of Katsu (breaded meat, usually pork sometimes chicken) and curry sauce. How could I resist Mos's take on the genre? Well of course I couldn't. It was delicous, the curry had some bite, and they even threw some chutny on top. I eagerly anticipate a repeat performance.

In less than one week my good buddy Matt will grace Japan with his presence. Hooray! I can't wait. It will be so nice to see someone from home. Plus it will be nice to get out of Kanazawa and back to Nagoya for a weekend. Then Tokyo next weekend. I needed a vacation!

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My new love, the Katsu Kare sandwich. Notice my sexy bike.

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Dusk comes to Kanazawa. Notice the three story Mr. Donut.

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More experiments with night exposures.