Saturday, July 28, 2007

Summer at Last?

If there is one weather change between Denver and Kanazawa that drives me crazy, it is the rainy season. While Kanazawa has more than its fair share of precipitation anyway, between mid June and late July the rainy season brings even moisture than usual.

Actually, this year hasn't been as bad as last year. I recall a period where it rained nonstop for over 5 days, almost causing some flooding. While we didn't have any truly torrential downpours, it has certainly been gray and humid enough to keep me indoors much of the time.

That helps explain a distinct drought in my blog update schedule, I simply haven't been up to much of anything lately. The earthquake scotched a quick trip to Tokyo, and aside from another birthday party and a few couchsurfers, I have led a pretty boring life.

Luckily, the sun started coming out this week, even if just for a bit, and everything is picking up for August. Uchinada beach my be no Phuket, but it is better than no beach at all!

Saturday, July 21, 2007

Japanese TV and other interesting tales

Japanese TV is... interesting. The sheer profusion of crazy game shows and the willingness of people to be subjected to extremes of pain and suffering make for very entertaining viewing.

This particular clip features a human tetris game, and if you fail, watchout!

This one is even more painful. Say the tongue twister correctly and all is well. Mess up and get a mousetrap like smack to the groin. Ouch!

Perhaps the best of the bunch, this famous feature from the same show as above furnishes contestants with hilarious situations, and then requires that they refrain from laughing. So much as a giggle and you get smacked across the rear, hard!

Some may remember Jared, who pops up in this video advocating a new and improved handshake. May we all find happyness and luck with the...SLIDING HAMMER!

Friday, July 20, 2007

Kamakura in a new light

I had fun with this picture, swapping in a new sky and tweaking the colors. It doesn't quite look real, but it does look undeniably cool.

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Kamakura Part 2

So, I've been in Japan almost two years now. I've seen a lot of temples. Temples in Kyoto, Koya-san, Nagoya, Kanazawa and more. In one respect, there is only so many ways to make a temple distinct, and after a while they all rather blend together. That said, there is still something profoundly enjoyable about temple hopping. At least, I think there is.

It's a damn good thing I think so, as Kamakura is about as full of temples as any other city I've seen. Luckily for me, most of them were really nice, with big beautiful gardens and majestic wooden buildings. Of course, they still kind of all ran together in my mind, but I still remember having a fantastic time, once it stopped raining.

After a snack of sweet potato ice cream, we rented bikes to make our temple hopping easier. While you'd think this was a fantastic idea, it turned out a little less so. For one, the main drag was so packed with pedestrians that our bicycles conveyed almost no speed advantage. For another, the massive hills that dot the city made me cry tears of pain and suffering as we labored our one speed POS- 9000 bikes up the severe slopes.

Often enough we opted to just walk up, and sometimes down, the forbiddingly incanted inclines. However, navigating the pleasantly wooded lanes and byways provided a very engaging and fun day. No stress, no recriminations, just wandering up and down and around the town, viewing temples, sweating up the hills, and blowing by startled pedestrians on the down slopes!

I did have one goal that day, to see the Zeniarai Benten Shrine. For one, I wanted to get a little Shinto equal time in all the Buddhist temple viewing, and for another, it sounded pretty interesting. It took us a lot of biking up and down hills to find it though, as the map wasn't terribly useful, and I'll admit even with my excellent sense of directions, I got turned around a few times. Oops. If we hadn't found it by the last draining hill climb, I'm sure Sachiko would have tried to box me about the head with her umbrella. If she had the energy. It really was quite the ride, and the afternoon had been turning rather sticky.

The shrine itself was worth all the sweating and wandering it took to find it. We had to walk down a long tunnel through the rock to a delightful little open area surrounded by high ridges. After offering a sacrifice of incense you enter a little grotto and wash your money in the sacred spring. Then, after you spend the money it will be returned to you double. Unfortunately for myself, I only had about 237 yen in my pocket. Next time I'll bring a whole barrel of 500 yen coins!

While there was going to be some sort of festival later on, we both decided that it was high time to beat feet back to Tokyo and get some dinner. The long days hard walking and biking had taken quite the toll on us! All in all, it really was a fantastic weekend in a fantastic little city.

Thursday, July 12, 2007

Kamakura Part 1

To celebrate my Birthday, and get out of Tokyo for a while, Sachiko and I decided to go to Kamakura, a very pleasant seaside resort town about one hour south of Tokyo. I couldn't take the night bus because of timing issues, so I 'had to' ride the Shinkansen for the first time in almost a year. I love the shink. Though the Hakutaka limited express from Kanazawa to the transfer station was a bit trying. It was an early train (7:09) and most people wanted to sleep, well except for this one 70+ old lady who was literally bouncing off the walls like a caffeinated squirrel. It was like she was 5!

Kamakura itself was glorious. Nestled between a pair of ridges, with a third smaller set of hills bisecting the town, the whole area is drenched in green. It is a very nice contrast the Blade Runner aesthetic of Shinjuku. We spent the first day kicking back on the beach, its still the rainy season, so it was a little cool for beach going, but not too bad. Certainly, the water was a lot warmer than it is off the coast of Mendocino county! We saw a lot of sea life, tiny clams, a crab, a jelly fish, some fish in the water, and even some worms living on a plank that had washed a shore.

After a delicious, and huge, dinner of Yaki-niku we meandered down the beach at night, a pleasant cap to a fantastic day. The next day dawned... dark and stormy. Perhaps not stormy, but it was certainly raining. Despite the rain, we had a great time checking out Hase-dera, a famous Kamakura temple with a huge statue of Kannon, Buddhist deity of mercy. The gardens surrounding the temple were amazing, some of the best I've seen. Waterfalls, caves, ponds, paths, bamboo, everything you could want in a Japanese garden.

Even tadpoles who are half frog, or is it frogs who are half tadpole? I had never seen this intermediate stage before, so I thought that was pretty neat.

The next stop was the Daibutsu, a giant Buddha statue built in 1252 during the Kamakura Shogunate, a brief period when Kamakura was a major political and military force in Japan. This smaller statue was inspired by the truly massive statue in Nara and is a mere 13.35 meters tall, compared with the Todai-ji statue at 16 meters. The Kamakura Daibutsu used to be indoors, in a grand hall similar to the one in Nara, but in 1495 a tsunami swept away the hall, leaving the 93 ton bronze statue unharmed!

Next: Kamakura Part 2.. After lunch! ;-)

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Well it's My Birthday Too Yeah!

Wednesday, July Fourth Two-Thousand and Seven dawned bright and... Wait, no this is Kanazawa! It dawned cloudy and rainy, a travesty to Fourth of July parties all over the prefecture. We had hoped and intended to go to the beer garden, on a rooftop downtown, but it poured rain ALL day, making that a chilly and impractical selection.

So instead it was off for Shabu Shabu and Sukiyaki. I do so love this food. Being that it was a weeknight, they gave us the nomihodai (all you can drink) course for two hours for 200 yen. Yup, thats one dollar and fifty cents, all the beer/ wine/ chu hai/ and sake you can drink for two hours. Wow. The beef was excellent, and the company fantastic.

I got some pretty cool presents, ranging from a photo wheel (shown here, note the concentration on my face) to fireworks, to some whiskey. Yikes! The restaurant even threw in some free cake. Travis and Dan threw in some punches, 26 to be exact. That hurt!

After leaving the Shabu Shabu place, we strolled down Katamachi to take cover under the blue bridge and light off some fireworks.

A good time was had by all, even with the rain. I was touched that everybody made it out on a weeknight, and we had a great time.

Wednesday, July 04, 2007

Another Year Older and Deeper in Debt...

Life is what happens when you are making other plans. -John Lennon

Yeah, it is a rather cliché quote, but it does accurately sum up my situation. Birthdays are usually a time to reflect on the year before, a day we can really mark the passing of time. As I sit and ponder, I realize that Everything Has Changed, Again.

Now obviously, on July 4th 2006 I expected and embraced changed. After all, the year before I had elected to move all the way across the world to Japan. I KNEW that my life would be altered in ways I couldn't even comprehend.

But, this year, I'm still in the same country, the same city, and even the same job. Yet everything else has changed. Out of three coworkers, two are new, I have a new apartment, a new girlfriend, and a raft of new friends. In fact, since Liz has to work late, there will be NO overlap between the attendance at last years party and this years. In one year, almost everybody left.

I'm not getting all emo though, just, pondering. Pondering my past, and my future.

Happy Independence Day everybody!

Monday, July 02, 2007


A few weekends ago I was off to Tokyo again. This time accompanied by Mike, who had a couple friends he wanted to see, and a few clubs to visit. The first day we just bummed around Tokyo a bit, wandered Ueno, ate some delicious Korean food and generally just hung out.

Sunday we headed to Yokohama, the second largest city in Japan (popuation 3.6 million), and a powerhouse port town. Yokohama is also home to the Landmark Tower, the tallest building in Japan, and home to one of the fastest elevators in the world.

We decided to visit the Landmark Tower first, as that was closer to the train station. The elevator was indeed so fast, that your ears pop on the way up! The views from the top are spectacular, but would have been more so if the air was a bit clearer. We could barely see the towers of Tokyo, a mere 18 kilometers away.

Looking straight down was more like seeing the world from a low flying airplane or satellite than a building!

Notice, a 45 minute wait for Cold Stone Creamery. Now I like ice cream just as much as the next man, probably even more, and even I could never justify 45 MINUTES! for Ice Cream!?!?! I'm sure its delicious but seriously. At least the Wendy's next door was considerably less busy, and pretty tasty in its own right.

I managed to get Sachiko to pose with this cute Hard Rock Cafe bear.

Our next stop was China Town, the largest of several in Japan (prominent others in Nagasaki and Kobe). The sights and smells of Chinese cooking enveloped us, and we rather regretted our rash decision to indulge in chili cheese fries at Wendy's.

For a light dinner we stopped by Yamashita park and demolished cheese and crackers and a bottle of New Zealand red wine. The park was glorious, if a little bit chill, for June.

Michael then went back to Tokyo to see a friend, so Sachiko and I went to the Amusement Park to ride the Ferris Wheel. The views of Yokohama at night from the top were spectacular.

And that was it. We caught the train back to Shinjuku, and I hopped on the night bus back to Kanazawa, another fantastic weekend was over.

Sunday, July 01, 2007

Food Food Glorious Food

That picture proves that I am going to culinary hell. I used chopsticks to cook taco meat. Talk about culture clash. The tacos were pretty good though.

Pepsi just released a new drink, Pepsi Ice Cucumber. Yeah, cucumber flavor. Actually, the mix isn't as atrocious as might be expected. I rather liked it, but certainly haven't been in a rush to drink a second one...

I had the most awesome potato chips today. Wasabeef. Wasabi Beef flavored Potato Chips. Wow wow wow. Its like heaven on a chip. Better living through chemistry!