Saturday, March 31, 2007

Versatile Solutions for Modern Living

Well the move is over, let the unpacking begin! I found some pretty 'interesting' artifacts while I was packing, it really is amazing how much junk I can accumulate in a year. Even a tiny apartment can hold a lot of odds and ends. Once again, I seem to have collected far to many books! I guess being a reader does have its downsides.

The new apartment, as you can see, is a bit larger. The loft is smaller, and with its curtain has a very 'clubhouse' feel that I actually quite like. It provides a cubbyhole to escape the world!

There are a few things that really combine to make me happy about the new place. For one, it came prewired and ready to go for broadband access. That is just too cool to me, use your TV (standard with the apt) to sign up, plug the cable into your computer and you are good to go. Also, my shower has... water pressure. As in, almost painful water pressure. God I love it. Oh, and there is a heater in the shower. People in the states may not understand, but in your average Japanese apartment there is a heater in the main room, and thats it. The kitchen, bathroom etc are all unheated. This can lead to rather unpleasant showers in the winter. But not anymore, there is a fantastically powerful heater built into the ceiling.

While the new apartment is better in many ways, I admit to feeling a pang of sadness when I stood in my empty old apartment. The year and three months I spent there represents the longest I have lived in one place since I moved out of my parents house. It is also the first place that was really MINE. It wasn't Jason's House, Sean Marie's House, Mom and Dad's House, it was Grant's House. I was surprised at how keenly I felt the loss, especially given how much I complained about the size!

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Moving (Again!)

The company that owns my current shoe box sold it to another housing company, who is refurbishing all the apartments and raising the rent. So, with a mere 6 months to go on my planned 2 year stint, I get to move around Japan for a second time. Luckily, instead of moving across the country I'm only shifting down the street a bit. Still a pain in the neck, but it could be, and has been, much worse. Sadly for my many loyal readers, this means that updates could be spotty for the next few weeks, until I get internet at the new place. That could be in days, it could be in a month or more! I have a few interesting things I hope to post soon, and of course my trip to Thailand/ Vietnam is coming up in about a month! Stay tuned.

Sunday, March 25, 2007

Hokuriku Earthquake

As picked up by the seismographs of the USGS. The great Ishikawa Earthquake of 2007 hit us at 9:42 AM this morning, and clocked in at an impressive 6.2 Magnitude. Travis and I went out with a few people last night, and were sound asleep when the apartment started to shake rather violently. We were woken up, and I have to admit it was a little freaky. The apartment was shaking for a good 30 seconds, and I could hear some of the rampant clutter in my place shaking loose and falling. While it is a pretty efficient alarm, it is not the way you want to wake up on a Sunday morning! The aftershocks conspired to keep us all awake, though I'll admit I tried to go back to sleep. Luckily I'm safe, but it was a little disconcerting to have people in Nagoya, which is way on the other side of Japan from Kanazawa, texting me to see if I was ok. After the main shock, I leaned over and mentioned to Travis that we had just been bemoaning Kanazawa's lack of earthquakes! According to the BBC, there is a Tsunami warning issued for Ishikawa, but no reports of damage or casualties yet.

Friday, March 23, 2007

The Bright Lights of Sakae: The Sequel

Almost everything worth doing in Nagoya, especially at night, is in Sakae. I had two goals of my own this night, taking some pictures of Oasis 21 and the TV Tower with my beautiful Nikon, and eating some tebasaki (awesome teriyaki chicken wings).

Being major Nagoya landmarks, the TV Tower and Oasis 21 were pretty easy to find and photograph. I didn't take too much time, as I've already got plenty of pictures of this part of Japan. A few reprises with my new, better tools were all that was required. Then a quick stop downstairs for some Jamocha Almond Fudge from Baskin Robbins. Yes they have Baskin Robbins in Japan, only here they just call it 31.

The tebasaki proved to be a little bit more difficult to obtain. As long time readers will know I frequent a Nagoya chain called Yamachan that centers around providing chicken of all types. Chicken sashimi, chicken skin, chicken cartilage, and even a few things that I might want to eat, like chicken wings. There are literally dozens of Yamachan restaurants scattered around the Sakae and Fushimi area of Nagoya. Dozens. Yet Liz and I walked for a good 30-40 minutes, circling the center of Sakae and finding NOTHING. Of course if we hadn't been looking than we would have seen about 10 of the places. *sigh*. My GPS (Grant Positioning System) has been getting wonky lately, I suppose I need to see about getting it serviced. We ended up in Kanayama, over in my old neighborhood, and finally found the cluster of three restaurants on the same corner. Why you need three all right there, I'm not quite sure, but it was great for us. Tebasaki, Takoyaki Gyoza (gyoza filling in takoyaki dough, minus the octopus) and more made the long search more than worth it. Liz was actually pretty happy to have discovered the delicious new restaurant.

Saturday, March 17, 2007

Happy St. Patrick's Day

A very happy St. Patrick's Day to everybody. We are having a big bash here, which I suppose is rather ironic as there is only (to my knowledge) 2 actual Irish people in the whole prefecture!

Friday, March 16, 2007


Rather than continue on to Nagoya, I decided to take a quick side trip to Italy. I mean, Japan is great, but Italy, now that is one awesome country!

Let me back up. I got back on the train to at Maibara, but that far down the line from Kanazawa it was standing room only. Luckily, I got to stand next to a man who'd, at 1 in the afternoon, obviously been consuming more than his fair share of Asahi Super Dry. I saw him stagger down the hall to the snack cart, buy another can, and then stagger back to his spot. Yikes.

I met up with Liz (couchsurfer) at Nagoya station, and we decided to go to the port area for some tacos and to see the aquarium. It had been over a year since I'd been to Nagoyako, so I was looking forward to the trip. The redeveloped area is kind of silly, but I have to admit they've done a pretty good job. Of course, Osaka's port area is a little better, but I won't hold that against Nagoya!

The taco's were pretty good, but I was really eager to see the aquarium. Unfortunately, like everything else in Japan, the fish closed early. Yup, 5:00 PM, Saturday evening, was closing time. Now, I know that it was February, and not exactly peak season, but honestly, 5:00?!?!? On Saturday?!?!? That just boggles my mind. So with time on our hands we walked over to the Italian village, where you could cram an entire Italian vacation into about 30 overpriced minutes. We just wandered the streets and had a good time laughing about how it was all so real, yet so fake.

A trip up the ferris wheel also helped to quell my pangs of sorrow at the shuttered aquarium. The sunset, and the panoramic view of Nagoya was amazing.

It was a pretty windy day though, and while the car was very stable, it wasn't entirely stable. There was a bit of rocking back and forth, and the noise was actually quite loud. Poor Liz wasn't very fond of heights, and the racket and movement rather unnerved her. The glorious view helped make the experience worthwhile though!

It's been said before, but I'll say it again, Nagoya is a great city to live in, with lots to do and see. But as a tourist destination, it leaves a bit to be desired. Osaka does everything Nagoya does, but better. Well except for chicken wings, Nagoya has better chicken wings!

Wednesday, March 14, 2007


As noted a few posts ago I went to Nagoya to see some old friends, most especially Johanna, who was having a farewell party. Between Kanazawa and Nagoya is Hikone, a pleasant town that happens to host one of the few remaining 'real' castles in Japan. There are only 12 of these left, and I've made it my goal to see as many as possible. Or at least more than Zach.

Hikone castle is not one of the largest, grandest, or most interesting Japanese castles. This is not to disparage this plucky little fortress, constructed in the early 1600's, but I have come to realize that there is not much to distinguish these castles.

Each burg has its own fascinating, or not so fascinating, local history, but I'll readily admit that after a year and a half the anecdotes and suits of armor are starting to run together!

Luckily for me it was a gorgeous day, cold and windy, being so close to the massive Lake Biwa, but clear and sunny. A perfect late February morning really. The winter has been quite mild, well it was mild until this week, so down in Shiga Prefecture the Ume (plum blossoms) were out in full force.

So after a quick tour of the keep and the adjacent museum, I was ready to finish the trip to Nagoya, meet up with Couchsurfer Liz, and grab some lunch!

Monday, March 12, 2007


While I was at Kenrokuen on Wednesday I was looking down at one of the shallow streams and saw what looked like small, fast moving fish. Looking closer I realized that these little shapes weren't fish at all, but the short lived shadows of snowflakes on the bottom. If a snowflake is an expression of impermanence, then what of the snowflakes shadow? The ultimate in change and renewal? Every shadow lasted for less than a second, but there was a constantly replenished supply, thousands upon thousands falling from the sky.

I bring this up because of my own thoughts about life, my life, and my place in the grand scheme of things. Obviously the major crisis is again, do I stay in Japan? Now I'm sure everybody whom I've told that I'm not staying are right now saying "What the..?!?!" I haven't reneged on my decision to return home, but that doesn't mean that its an easy decision to make. As I noted in January, against all odds Kanazawa is a home to me now. Perhaps not The Home, but it is still A Home, and as such it will be very hard to leave. Even Anna, who did not have a good work experience, had a hard time leaving, and how much harder will it be for myself?

I think the key part of my decision to leave Japan now is the built in impermanence of an English teachers life here. Small apartments, yearly contracts, an ever renewing circle of friends as people come and go, and little chance for a real career, nothing really screams "Stay!", and so most don't. The ones that do, well I can't say for sure, but I think it takes a toll. I certainly have no real ties here, so I have no real reason aside sentiment to stay. But that doesn't mean it won't be hard.

Another thing I've been pondering, is What Next. This is obviously tied in with the stay or go problem, but irregardless of that choice I have to start mapping out my future. Or maybe I don't. I think I have to stop defining my life based on other peoples experiences, but really what else do I have to base my decisions on? It would be so much easier if I could say "I want this
" and then work towards that goal, but I have absolutely no idea what I want! Not wanting to stay in Japan for a third year is a far cry from knowing where/ what I want to go/ do next.

Part of me longs to continue traveling, I have had so much fun, and learned so much about myself, and others, in my time in Japan, but part of me longs for a sense of permanence. A home I don't mind decorating. Friends who won't leave in a few months, the stuff that everybody else takes for granted. I suppose my best bet is to head home to Denver, settle in for a bit, and see if my wanderlust has abated or not.

So there you go, the questions that keep Grant up at night, among others.

Friday, March 09, 2007

Power Problems

On Wednesday I had a very interesting crisis. For various reasons ALL my coworkers were out of the building, some as far away as Tokyo, and I was all by my lonesome. Which is normally fine, even to be desired. However, as I dug into my wonderful bag of McDonalds every light in the place went out to the snap of a circuit breaker.

Oops. Now, its one thing if this happens at home when I'm surfing, with my heater, other heater, kotatsu and toaster oven going, but its another when I'm at work with the same old lights and such on as are on every day. All the more so when all the management types are at a huge meeting.

Using my cell phone as a flashlight (please don't laugh), I managed to, after turning off half the lights, get things back in a mostly working order. When the Manager that we have training with us got back from handing out flier she called the electrician. He came out and spent over three hours in the ceiling above my room, with equipment and junk spread all over my tables, generally disrupting my work flow! He thought it was a short, and things seemed to be fixed...

Till it all happened again on Thursday! Turns out the construction crew next door to us were 'borrowing' one of our outdoor outlets, and their equipment was tripping our breaker! Oops. Needless to say we were not at all pleased to discover that bit of news. The constant clanging, whirring, and thumping is bad enough!

Wednesday, March 07, 2007


Just when you thought the winter was over...

Seriously, on Sunday we had a perfect spring day, more akin to mid- May than early March. Warm, sunny, lots of flowers, really it was the kind of day that just makes you happy. We started looking at planing a Hanami Party, as the Cherry Blossoms are looking to be early this year.

Well mother nature had a bit of a surprise for us! (Well not too surprising, it was accurately forecast, though I for one could hardly believe the forecast.) I awoke this morning to a veritable blizzard of big wet fluffy snowflakes. I've actually been complaining rather mightily about the lack of snow this year, I wanted to take pictures of the snow with my Nikon, as opposed to the point and shoot I used last year.

Well I got my wish and no mistake. While the snow was just as wet and slushy as I remember, it was also just as beautiful and peaceful. Kenrokuen was (of course) pretty buys, but the snow really seems to put a damper on things, and let you enjoy the garden more at your own pace.

I made sure to get a couple of HDR exposures, but unfortunately I got some snow on my lens and didn't notice. The effect still looks kind of cool. I also made it a point to get a few good shots with the myriad of umbrellas (brollys?) that are so necessary for life here in Kanazawa. I desaturated one, but with the white snow, black trees and black and white castle, it was hardly required!

Friday, March 02, 2007

Nagoya and Hikone in HDR

While I'll have a full update on my weekend in Nagoya next week, here is a collection of HDR images I took in and around Nagoya. First up is a view of the sunset from the big Ferris Wheel in the Nagoya Port. Followed with my favorite photographic subject, the Nagoya TV Tower, and Oasis 21!

The next few are all from Hikone, a small city on Lake Biwa, near Maibara. For those who have never taken the train from Nagoya to Kanazawa, Maibara is a major JR junction about an hour from Nagoya (two hours from Kanazawa) that links the Hokuriku (My part of Japan) bound trains with the Shinkansen and the rest of JR. Maibara is notable over other stops because the train pulls in and the pulls out in the opposite direction so as soon as it stops everybody jumps up and turns their seat around. This can be very disconcerting the first time you see it happen.