Thursday, August 31, 2006

Tokyo: The Return Part 1

Last Tuesday I burned the last tiny bits of my vacation time for this year and took off for Tokyo with Mo. We had no specific goals, simply relax and enjoy the big city. While at almost 500,000 people Kanazawa is no slouch, it can be nice to sample the pleasures available with a population base of about 12 million.

Often when riding JR you have about 5 to 10 minutes to make your train transfers. Usually this is more than enough time as you can actually set your watch by JR timetables, they are that accurate. Well like I said... Usually. Our train was 20 minutes late pulling into the transfer station. Our connection, with our reserved seats, had left 15 minutes before. Alas!

Luckily JR arranged for everybody to get some space on the next train, and all was fixed.

Once in Tokyo we checked into our almost luxury hotel, and set off in search of some pizza.

Paris Hilton Attacks.

The next day, while searching Shibuya for a movie house playing Superman Returns, the dreadful visige of Paris Hilton appeared over the hustle and bustle. Oh yes, apparently not only is Paris insanely popular here, but she has a new album out AND came to Tokyo to promote it. We didn't hang around to watch the spectacle, but I'll admit I was tempted to see what the fuss was about.

Roppongi Hills

We finally found a theater, Roppongi Hills was showing Superman! I was interested as I had heard of the Super-Skyscraper that is Roppongi Hills but had never been to see it. Yup, it was a big building. Really big. Wow. Superman Returns was also a bit underwhelming. It was fun, but not really fun enough to justify the 1800 yen price.

Next: Ships!

Tuesday, August 22, 2006


Well I'm off to Tokyo this morning for a few days of fun in the City. It should prove to be a relaxing trip. It will be great to simply NOT be teaching for a while. No more classes no more books no more students dirty looks! Zach has made it back to Japan after his three months of backpacking through Asia. We went to the beach and he just killed the ladies...

Tuesday, August 15, 2006


A definition of surreal: Sitting in a Japanese travel agency, in the swealtering heat of August, listening to The Beach Boys' Christmas Album. On repeat.

On the plus side we did get a good deal on Shinkansen tickets and hotels for Tokyo.

The Beach

So I think I finally figured out why Japanese beaches are so unimpressive. Between the rainy season all July, and jellyfish season starting in mid-August there is only about two weeks in which to enjoy the beach! I can now understand the tendency here to build waterparks along the waterfront!

All grousing aside, there was a bit ALT meeting down at Uchinada last Saturday. Once again thanking my lucky stars for the Sat-Sun off schedule, I snagged an invite and for the first time this summer got a chance to really hang out at the beach.

I'll admit, for a mountain man like me, for as unimpressive as the beach is, its still pretty impressive. Ok so there's giant ugly concrete blocks behind, and tons of trash before, but in the end you still have that broad swath of water and sand, and that is what matters.

I even went swimming! In the ocean! It has been at least 10 years since I last took a salty dip in the sea. It was quite nice, the water was warm after a typically roasting Kanazawa day in August.

Back from the water a ways there are several bars and restaurants with indoor and outdoor seating, showers, a skate park and a DJ! Its sad that the time window is so short, and that the beach is so far, I could see myself spending a lot of time down there otherwise. I mean heck, they even had a guy doing one of those torch dances like you might see on an actual nice beach in say Hawaii or Thailand. How cool is that? Yes I tried to get a picture of him. No I didn't have my tripod. ;-).

Well, I'm hoping that the poisonus little jellys won't have arrived next weekend, as we do have a work party scheduled for Uchinada on Sunday and I'd like to go for another dip.

Friday, August 11, 2006

A Nagoya Farewell

Last sunday I made the trek to Nagoya for Jared's farwell party. It was a very strange trip in some ways, as I suddenly found my role completely reversed.

I met Jared, and a few other people, at Melissa's goodbye party/ Johanna's welcome party back in late September last year. I'd been in Japan for about two weeks at that point. Even though Jared had only been in country for a bout a month more than I, at that point he was still the old hand, and others like Bruce or David who where there had been in Japan for years. I felt very much the newbie, out of my depth and unsure of what exactly was going on.

Andy goes Samurai

Well, almost a year later and now both Jared and Johanna have left Sakae school, though to be fair Johanna *is* still in Japan. In the group of teachers on Sunday, I was one of the 'old hands', we had one guy, Nick from Wales, who had been in Japan for a little over a month.

We actually really hit it off, and he may bring his girlfriend up to visit Kanazawa when she comes to Japan in October. I do love guests. Though I suppose I'll have to clean my apt sometime before then.

As far as the actual party goes though, the reservations were made at an Okonomiyaki restaurant located between Fushimi station and Nagoya station. This put it at about a 35 minute walk from Sakae. It was an excellent restaurant, but consider that Sakae is THE center of Nagoya dining and entertainment. Why we had to get 20 people to walk over half an hour to a restaurant is a question that was left unanswered.

The darts players, Behvin and I

After a fine meal of okonomiyaki, yakisoba, and other delicious offerings it was time to head to a bar for continued merriment. Luckily for us there was one nearby, so we didn't have to go tramping all the way BACK to Sakae! That was really a good thing, as I think many people were starting to feel the nomihodai (all you can drink).

The place we ended up at is fairly unique in Japan, if ubiquitous in the rest of the world. It was a real karaoke bar. Yes, when you sing, you sing for everybody in the place. The people at the bar hear you. The darts players hear you. The slots players hear you. Everybody! The whole thing suddenly got even more embarassing than it already was. And to be honest the whole thing was already pretty damn embarassing.

But we had a great time there, and decamped to Joy Joy for a little more Karaoke, but by that time it was really rather late, and Jared was really rather drunk so He, Autumn (another newish teacher) and I took a cab back to their neighborhood. A few short hours of sleep and then I was on my way back to Kanazawa on the Shirasagi #1, the first train, a mere 7:52 in the morning. Ugh.

Well it was a great party, and it was nice to see Jared one last time before he decamps to the states. It was also nice to meet the new Nagoya Guard, and ensure that my legacy will continue!

Also, there will soon be another Hello in the offer, Zach should be back in Japan next week. For those keeping track that was all of June and July, and most of August, a nice solid two and a half months on the road. Phew.

Wednesday, August 09, 2006

New Faces, Old Places

Last weekend kicked off with another fireworks show at the exact same time and the exact same place as the weekend before. Mo, Fiona, James and myself all met up with the first three replacement ALT's for another night of Fireworks and Thai food.

The new ALT's certainly had a slightly shell-shocked air to them, but they seem more on top of things than *I* was less than a week after arrival. In that wave we got two Americans (Chris and Amanda) and an English girl (whose name escapes me at the moment).

We walked a few kilometers down the Saigawa and found a perfect spot, much closer and less obstructed than last week. I didn't bring my camera though, I had decided I wanted to really enjoy the show and the conversation and not spend my time bent over the tripod. I don't regret that decision..much. I must admit that a shot of the Osaka bound Thunderbird Express under a sky of fireworks would have been pretty cool. Alas!

The show was actually a better display as well. Lots of very artistic explosions, including flowers, fountains, and a smiley face. And of course a grand finale that sent every dog in the prefecture running for the hills. I love fireworks.

After that we met up with Anna and one of her friends and hit up the same Thai restaurant that we went to last Saturday. I'm certainly not complaining though, its a really awsome place. The Green Curry is just as delightfully spicy and delicous as you would expect, and the Pad-Thai I had last weekend was almost as good as my sister's version.

In a fit of generosity we then took them to the coolest bar in town, Forum, a magical roof-top bar. It offers a cool respite from the heat of the summer, and amazing views of downtown Kanazawa. It also offers an aging long haired dachshund who runs around on the bar greeting customers. Any drinking establishment with the guts to stick a weiner dog on the bar gets my vote. Add in the roof and its a no brainer place to kick back and relax with a draft Asahi.

I'd like to think we rolled out the carpet o' Kanazawa hospitality. Everybody seemed happy enough, and all are plenty cool and should fit right in.

Next: A Nagoya Farewell.

Wednesday, August 02, 2006

Hello Goodbye

August is going to be a difficult month as a total of four good friends will leave Japan before the end. Included in that number is perhaps the coolest person I have met in Japan yet...

This being Nate, the insane American ALT. He has, in fact, already left and as I write this should be arriving home to be with his wife and kids. While they have a better claim on his free time than we do, the Kanazawa community mourns the loss of one heck of a drinking partner.

We hung out almost all weekend, and on Saturday ended up at the 21st Century Museum of Art where he found a T-Shirt called Hara-kiri Schoolgirls. Which is pretty much what you would expect, a bunch of schoolgirls disembowling themselves. Really it pretty much says everything about Japan that can be said, and it is so very Nate.

I went over early to help him pack Sunday, but for me to help somebody pack is really a case of the blinder leading the blind. Luckily Mo soon joined us and added her orginizational talents to the fray. Once we had things whipped mostly into shape we met up with Fiona for one last night out with the four of us. We went to a wonderful Yaki-niku place nearby and grilled up beef and pork all night long. The fat filled almost bacon like slabs of pork kept catching on fire while the beef grilled up rather nicely. The food was excellent, and the restaurant was busy and great fun, it just felt friendly, and that was a nice atmosphere to say farewell in.

Of course we weren't done there. We headed on in to Katamachi and, at my geeky insistence, went to the puri-kura photo booths! For those who have never heard of them, they are large j-pop themed photo booths where you can not only take your picture, but can modify them with clip art and text when you are done. Add a bow-tie, sunglasses, hearts, puppies, anything! It is horribly cheesy and yet can be a ton of fun.

Afterwords there was time for one last Karaoke session. All the old favorites were sung, and despite my pounding headache I had a great time. And then that was it. The End. Well, maybe not The End but more the end for now. For there will certainly be visits and vacations and lots of e-mail!

And there is the hope of the new arrivals, 3 of whom show up today. What new friends will be made? Who knows! But in the meantime...

Goodbye Nate! and Good luck.