Monday, July 31, 2006

Summer is Here

The endless drone of cicadas. The swealtering heat. Yukata. The dull thumps of fireworks. The Japanese summer has arrived at last.

The rainy season is over, finally, and now the heat is rising steadily and the true summer months of August and September unveil themselves.

Despite the hordes of sweating salarymen in their suits, I am looking forward to an actual summer. The endless rain of July got me down a bit, and kept us all indoors far more than I would have liked. The lack of many major blog post recently has reflected that! It is hard to do many cool things when it pours rain all weekend.

Well, thats over, and now its time for parties on the beach and glorious fireworks displays. The first of those was held last saturday, to celebrate the start of summer. Well over an hour solid of amazing fireworks. I of course took along my trusty Nikon and took over 200 photos of the display. I learned a lot about framing fireworks and the timing required to get a good shot. I also learned that my tripod is kind of unstable and that I really need a wire release for my camera. I got a lot of shake, so the pictures look fine to great when they are small, but whatever you do don't enlarge them!

Friday, July 21, 2006

Weekend ride to Yuwaku Onsen

I hereby apologize for the distinct lack of photographic content lately. Honestly between the pouring rain and the damp heat, I haven't been doing much that merit's bringing along my camera. Afterall, weekend Lost Marathons do not an epic blog post make!

How cool is that name?

Well we had a three day weekend last weekend (Thanks Marine Day) and Nate and I had planned to take the time to ride up into the wilds of the Noto Peninsula, North of Kanazawa. We soon realized that our ambition outstripped our bikes, and certainly our legs. Riding some 100 or more km in three days just wasn't in the cards.

The Onsen Building

Plus, the weather forcast for the late weekend called for drenching rain, and who wants to ride and camp in that? Not I! So we set our sights a little lower, and decided to ride into the mountains to Yuwaku Onsen. Just in case you have forgotton, an onsen is a naturally fed hotsprings bath. Bathing suits need not apply. They are perhaps the most relaxing form of bathing ever invented, and most people around here are addicted. Since Nate is going home in a litte over a week now, this was his last chance at an onsen dip.

Despite the rather epic heat and humidity, we gamely set off from the Katamachi Starbucks. Going up the hill by Kenrokuen had me convinced that this was a Baaad Idea! Despite the impulse to turn around and head for the beach, or at least some air conditioning, we pressed on out of the city and into the hills.


It was great. Simply great. It was so nice to get out of the city. Obviously Kanazawa is no Tokyo, but it's still a sizable city, and the constant press of people can get tiresome. Riding along a twisty little mountain road gazing at forests and rice fields was just what the doctor ordered.

The thatched snow storage shed of Yuwaku

I must admit that with the exercise and the heat and humidity, I have never sweat so much in my life. The phrase "drenched in sweat" holds all new meaning for me now. It was cascading off my forehead into my eyes and across my glasses. It was horrid. As long as we were moving the self created breeze helped, but as soon as we stopped, for a break or photos, the full impact of the heat whalloped us over the head.


The bath itself was great, but honestly a hot bath after a hot ride is not exactly the most refreshing thing one can do. Luckily they do have the cold showers, and I found that after soaking for a while dumping a ton of icy water on my head was akin to a religious experience. It felt amazing, absolutly amazing. Like running and jumping into a mountain waterfall on a hot day in the Rockies. Only better.

Up above the onsen we found a small shrine complex. One part was a shrine to Inari, the god of the harvest. As you may remember, Inari is my favorite Shinto deity for his fox followers and the awsome lanes of torii that line the shrines. On the other side of the shrine was a small thatched building that is used for storing snow.

Nate examines the wildlife

For ages there has been a festival where in the depths of winter a large amount of snow is tucked away. Then in the summer there is another festival where the snow is brought out, though I'll admit I am unsure what it is used for now. That second festival has already happened, so by the time we got there the building was mostly empty, but there was a small layer of filthy snow in the bottom of the pit. I almost jumped in!

On our way home we detoured into a rice field and found the times square of Japanese bugs. This slope of dense vegetation was alive with insects. It was actually kind of scary. You'd see leaves shift and move and rather than say a nice fat frog, it was a nice fat cricket. Spiders almost the size of your hand, giant dragonflies and super grasshoppers.

Japan grows their insects big, and being the 10 year old boys we are, Nate and I just had to stop and check out all the activity. I fetched my zoom lense and we had a great time for 20 mintues or so, sneaking about and checking out the wildlife. We were careful never to venture too far into the shrubbery as some of those spiders looked rather mean.

Arriving back in Kanazawa after our 26 km round trip was fantastic. The airconditioning and fragrent curry of Coco Ichi Curry House lured us in for 1500 calories of katus and melted cheese on rice with curry sauce. And the exercise was negated! The heat had sapped us of all energy so we speedily abandoned our plans to ride to Uchinada Beach, and instead rode to my place to watch the greatest movie of all time, Raiders of the Lost Ark.

Tuesday, July 18, 2006

At Last

People who have visited me know that while I love Japan, I miss some of the wonderous foods that I grew accustomed to at home. While a list of what I miss eating would fill a copy of War and Peace, one of the top items is certainly Pizza.

Now let me clear up any misunderstanding. Pizza is alive and well in Japan, in fact it is an import success story. Pizza is a fixture on menu's here and there are several home grown delivery chains. But all of that obscures that sad fact that Japanese pizza is atrocious.

The reason for its success is Pizza's simple adaptability, and here, rather than those sweet little grease cups called Pepperoni you are just as likely to find squid, shrimp, corn, mayo, mochi, or any number of other odd ingredients. Even Dominoes has fallen to the dark side.. or so I had thought.

Yesterday Nate and I were in a very lazy frame of mind, and decided that rather than cook, we would order Pizza. But in Japan that does offer up a great many issues, chief of which is who is going to call and actually talk, in Japanese, on the the PHONE. Oh the horror. But before all was lost I remembered that Dominos gives a discount for carryout, so we walked on down. And there, on the menu was salvation. The American Special, tomato sasu, peporoni, and onion (katakana style). Well drop the onion (who east onion on pizza anyway?) and we had a standard, every day, honest to god.. Pepperoni Pizza. Even thinking about it now, I want to cry tears of greasy joy.

Needless to say, that wonderous large pizza and two bottles of coke and we had a fantasticlly American dinner. At last!

A Trip to the Hospital

I noticed over the past few weeks that my right ear was becoming increasingly deaf, which had me slightly worried. Eventually the fact that I could hardly hear at all had me more worried than the thought of a trip to a Japanese Hospital, so I bit the bullet and rode my bike to the Kanazawa Municipal Hospital.

I don't know about you, but I've always found Hospitals a little bit intimidating. Yeah, sure they just want to help you, I know. It's just those wide open halls, that flourscent lighting and of course the faint smell of disinfectent in the air, it all adds up to a nice intimidation factor.

So take all that, and add in a healthy dose of Kanji in all the signs and the fact that English is an endangered species. Now, I'm not saying that I expect everybody to cater to my horrible Japanese skills, but for crying out loud the Karaoke places have forms in Japanese and English, but the Hospital doesn't?!?! Don't forget the fact that none of the reception staff spoke a lick of English, not a single word. Which I find strange because aside form the dozens of conversation schools around, everybody, EVERYBODY takes several years of the subject in Middle School and High School. Heck, they didn't even say "Hello how are you? I'm fine. Thank you." and I've had 5 year olds stop me in public to say that!

Well with my rudimentary skills, a phrase book, gestures and a LOT of patience I managed to get in to see the Ear Doctor. He was a very nice man, with excellent English. He cleared out my ear and then stuck one of those mini-video cameras in to look about. I got to watch on the monitor, which I actually found pretty neat. "Hey look, thats my EAR! Coool."

He found a minor infection, nothing too worry about too much. Some antibiotic ear drops are all that are required. Of course he gave me a rundown on how/when to take them, and good thing too because when the pharmacist tried to do it she kept bursting out laughing as she realized that I couldn't understand a thing she was saying. That didn't deter her high-spirited and rather loud attempts to explain just what I needed to do. Of course its not like applying ear drops is really all *that* hard.

Tuesday, July 11, 2006

A Journey into the Heart of Darkness...

Fiona invited a group of people over to her apartment to watch the Johnny Cash biopic Walk the Line. As a fan of Mr. Phoenix and as someone who has been getting more interested in Cash's music, I jumped at the chance. Little did I know what I was in for...

Anna and I met up with Nate near my house, as he has been to Fiona's place before and so could guide us. Guide us to our doom. The three of us swung by the rental place, picked up the DVD, and then Nate called Fiona to get a quick update on directions to her place. We started off again, but fatally, in completely the wrong direction. The clarification had instead been an obfuscation. As we rode, and rode, and rode, the buildings grew fewer and the rice fields more numerous. We soon realized that we had gone wrong, and tried to head in a more correct direction, but we kept running into twisty, curvy streets and dead ends. The inadequate signage did not help our cause.

After wandering lost in the not-quite desert for not-quite 40 years, we sighted in the distance a landmark, the Nonoichi cinema. Note I said Nonoichi, and not Kanazawa, you see we had actually left Kanazawa and circled around one of the suburbs. Luckily Nonoichi isn't all that far from Fiona's so she came out to meet us and guide us in. All together it took almost two hours to make it there. It should take less than 30 minutes. Well at least it was a really beautiful ride, and we didn't get too wet when it rained on us.

As far as Walk the Line, it was a pretty good movie. The performances were excellent but what really blew us all away is the fact that neither Joaquin Phoenix nor Reese Witherspoon lip synched to the original songs, all the vocals are on the spot by the actors themselves. It is positively scary how much Joaquin sounds like Cash.

Other than that, in the misc category.. A student brought a firefly into class last week. I was particularly fascinated as I had never seen one before, as its much to dry in Colorado to support fireflies.

Thursday, July 06, 2006

The Ninja Have Left the Building

So on Sunday after I met up with Jared, Andy and Anna, we tromped through the minor misting drizzle that is Kanazawa's weather to Myoryuji, the fabled Ninja-Dera. Andy is a big fan of all things Ninja (but really, who isn't?) and so really wanted to check out the Ninja Temple.

I had been there with mom back during Golden Week, but one can go in by tour only and it was really really jammed so we skipped it. Really its one of those tourist attractions that you live right next to, it is literally only about 4 blocks from my apartment, but never go to until you have guests.

Well on a random rainy afternoon, we got in without any problems. We stashed our stuff, including cameras, unfortunatly, and joined the Japanese-language only guided tour.

The reason for Myoryuji's Ninja nickname is the plethora of secret rooms, traps and hidden escape routes. In feudal times the temple was actually outside of the city walls, and was the place of worship of the Maeda lords. There was even a carefully hidden room that would allow the lord to attend the temple without any of the public knowing he was there.

The secret rooms were all built as ways of protecting the Lord. Some were little hidden closets that samurai could crouch in, peering out into the main room and ready to leap into the action if their services were required.

There was also a hidden trap door in the floor that lead to a rather dank looking escape tunnel. Of course being Japan, if escape proved impossible then there was a special 4 tatami mat room (4 being Shi which is also death in Japanese) that was reserved an an inner sanctum for the lord to commit seppuku.

The coolest little contraption was was a sliding door that when slid one way went upstairs, when slid the other went outside. Ingenious!

Sadly, all these hidden surprises had absolutly nothing to do with Ninja, it was all just regular Samurai Secret Service types, protecting the big cheese. The Ninja-Dera name is all just a misnomer.

I must admit, that while it was an interesting tour, it was not *that* interesting. They did have handy English guidebooks that explained everything, but the fact that one had to trail around a Japanese language tour with a tour guide that took forever to explain things combined with the fact that many of the cooler things (like the deep dark dank escape passage) were off limits did lower the appeal somewhat.

Overall a solid 6/10 points. Fun, and good if you have some time to kill, but certainly not the killer thing to see while in Kanazawa.

Tuesday, July 04, 2006

My Birthday (Observed)

We had the Kanazawa combination Grants Birthday/ Independence Day BBQ Bash on Sunday. Since Tuesday is unfortunatly not a holiday here in Japan, for the first time EVER I actually have to work on my birthday.

Mo concerned that the grill is going to torch her apt.

While July 4th may be Summer in the states, here it is smack in the middle of 'The Rainy Season' which made things difficult when planing to have a big outdoor bbq. Luckily Mo offered her centrally located and largish apartment in case of rain. So we set up the grill on the balcony, opened some beers and started the flow of delicious bratwurst. Nate also donated some delicious homemade potato salad and marinated steak skewers.

The Grill, after it stopped burning

Well we did have to deal with the paint on the grill catching fire first. It blazed up in a rather impressive display of flame, but luckily didn't spread and soon died down to a more managable level. I guess thats what you get for buying a 3000 yen grill.

Overall everybody involved had a great time. Nick came down from Kaga, and Jared and Andy came all the way from Nagoya for the weekend.

Andy and Nick

After dinner we had a few fireworks, some roman candles, bottle rockets and firecrackers available at the local supermarket! That was soon followed by, of course, karaoke. Jared still does a mean TLC, and Fiona and I did a credible but still needs a bit of work version of Linkin Park's In The End.

The Scottish are coming! Andy and Mo hang out and discuss Glasgow

It was interesting being so far from Home and everything that usually defines my birthday, but I must say that it was an awsome party. It felt great to have so many of my friends hanging out and just enjoying themselves. And the Bratwurst really did taste pretty good. A big thank you for everybody who came, and an Independence Day greeting to all my friends and family, scattered throughout the globe.