Friday, December 30, 2005

ready to roll

In the usual mad rush to hit the slopes, we managed to struggle onto the bus by 8:30am with a little bit of sleep and my new coffee thermos. With a lot more snow and ice on the road than expected, the bus driver seemed rather confident. The semi-comprehensible commentary was soon drowned out by iPods.

Kate and I both thought we were going to Megahira once more, as Naoko had again done all the logistics leg-work. In fact, Naoko managed to find a ripping deal covering the return bus fare, the lift pass for the day and a discount off the rental gear. It wasn't until we arrived at Osa and didn't recognise anything that resembled Megahira that we questioned, "Where the fuck are we?" Osa, of course was the reply. Oh shit! I'd emailed Sachiko earlier to say join us at Megahira for a day of snow fun! Several confusing emails later, half in Japanese and half in English, and I still had no idea what was happening... nothing unusual there.

Kate and TomokoMadoka and Naoko strapped on their own boards, I unzipped my freshly waxed telemark skis, Fumie rented skis, while everyone else hired snowboards. Kate and Tomoko rented twin clothing, somehow not your identical twins though... Fumie soon discovered that I am not a bilingual ski instructor, not bilingual, and not a ski instructor in my mother tongue either, and that demonstrating from telemark skis doesn't necessarily translate to alpine skis. Not quite a case of Lost in Translation though. A few warm up laps of the beginner run and it was time for lunch.

Tomoko ready to roll
Tomoko ready to roll,
originally uploaded by vfowler.
Sachiko met up with us in the cafeteria and we all munched down curries, rice and other Japanese fanfare. After lunch the snowboarders all became actors for my next movie. If you have a fast internet connection, check out the raw footage Osa snow day movie clips... I even tried some filming whilst skiing (slowly)! Madoka lost her phone and luckily, someone turned it in to lost property. Mat got a wet arse. Izabella joined the Ferrari F1 pit crew team. With some encouragement, we all headed to the summit for the long ride...
and that's where the carnage began!

After a hard day on the slopes, most of us retired to my rather empty apartment for some snacks and Sanyo warmth and a screening of Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom. This DVD has many languages of sub-titles but Japanese is not one of them. I now wonder what is more exciting, the movie itself or the reactions from our Japanese friends watching with us.

Thursday, December 29, 2005

where to next?

Looking local, Hiroshima otaku get a welcome home at new maid cafe situated on the map. I also plan to eat at the reputable Doma Doma restaurant soon.

Within Japan, I have:
as remainders on my tick list.

Further afield, world heristage sites have long been of personal interest. The UNESCO listing of World Heritage Sites... has some maps of places... My idea at present, is to stop over somehwere in China for ... about a month of adventurous travelling.

Monday, December 26, 2005

karaoke virgin

There are somethings that just take a bit longer than expected. Like an internet connection at a new apartment for instance. I had been a karaoke virgin until 2am on Christmas morning.

ice-cream seatsOn Christmas Eve, after finishing a really long stint of work, I began re-training my stomach in the art of larger portion consumption. Kemby's 100% beef burger is a welcome tummy filler. I met up with my great friends in the Opium bar, where we played the silly email all your friends "Merry Christmas" and see how many reply before 2am, game.

karaoke kings and queensOnce in Round One, of course Madonna had to be sung and I thought Like A Prayer would make a great song to murder. Kal managed a ripping rendition of Dolly Parton's Jolene. Maraccas and tambarines helped drown out some of the bad vocals and it was a really fun time. One more Japanese experience ticked off...

Apparently I got a lift home in a taxi...

Mrs Claws and Rude-offThen it was on. Wes and I rolled into Molly Malone's after our final lunchtime training session. Fashionably late doesn't seem to exist here. Our rather large group had all arrived and were eating within half an hour. Junko looked fabulous in her kimono. Kat looked vivacious as Mrs Claws and side-kicked by Dan, the Rude-off. The band played over a superb feast, a few of the Molly's staff sang a few Christmas carols and we migrated to Kemby's AM for a few more drinks. Merry Christmas everyone, I hope you had a great time - I did!

Thanks to everyone who turned up, your company was a true pleasure of Christmas for me. Thanks also to Mark and the staff of Molly Malone's for putting on a great evening.

Sunday, December 18, 2005

secret service

There's been an enormous dump of snow here in Hiroshima city these last few days and nights. I have no regret for buying some new gloves, a beanie and a scarf. After watching the pathetic Ocean's Twelve DVD at Kate's apartment, the homeward taxi was sliding all over the road while the driver insisted on practicing his English with me.

snow dumping down in HiroshimaIt's always interesting to see everyone's different reaction to snow and winter. A rough survey:
  • Canadians detest it.
  • English see it as just cold (which is relatively normal).
  • Americans - not sure, I can't get a straight answer out of my housemate.
  • Australians love it! Well, I do.
  • Japanese...?
Manager asked us to come in to work early for Sunday's morning shift to ensure we have no delay due to the snow. As she predicted, many students phoned in their cancellations and some arrived late for their lessons. A friend was worried the amount of snow might prevent us from going to the cinema after work.

Sayuri fanning awayThe thing I picked up from seeing the movie Memoirs of a Geisha, was that the world of geisha is art and the rest is shadows. I asked my friend what she thought of the movie and she said it made her reflect on her own life as a Japanese woman. When I asked about her past, the response was that it is secret. I've heard this before from other Japanese people too. This was hard for me to understand at first. I like to be as open and as transparent as possible. I've made mistakes, stupid ones too, embarrassed myself plenty of times and had a lot of fun in my life. I have no reason to hide anything. I'm human. The complex world of secrets and levels of sharing dependent on closeness of relationships sounds like too much hard work and trouble to me. I think I'll stop peering over shoulders to read others' phone messages though.

Now I hear that it will rain on Christmas eve. I'm still dreaming of a white Christmas...

Monday, December 12, 2005

hit the slopes

Madoka organised dinner on Saturday night at the Korean restaurant, Bokuden. Behind the hefty door, the wooden shoe lockers in the foyer area have these funky wooden plank keys. Excellent and tasty food in a great atmosphere. Kate's apartment break-in news was the conversation topic until Naoko was thanked for her help with the cops. I heard their mention of snowboarding the next day...

6am is not really a good time to wake up, especially on your only day off. However, the mere possibility of seeing snow coverage was exciting enough to open my eyes. I lugged my brand spanking new skis in their shiny ski bag over to Kate's. A quick cuppa there and we set out to Ajina. Our train sailed past the station before we'd realised and again, Naoko came to the rescue.

Snow everywhere. We hired some gear for Kate, bought lift tickets, then the fun began. Megahira is described as the home-like resort, which was kinda true as the snow mix had that wet, heavy, hard-pack feel about it much the same as in Australia.

The one major difference is that many Japanese ski resorts include hot springs, and at Megahira there is no fear as it is an onsen in which to wear your swimsuit.

After a couple of warm-up laps on the beginner slope, I should have moved on to the intermediate slope. Instead I shoved off with a bit of speed and ended up crashing into a beginner snowboarding girl. She copped a cut lip and spat a bit of blood as I apologised profusely - I am such an idiot sometimes. Two resort guys came along and we walked her down to the medical assistance. I told Naoko and Kate, who saw the whole incident anyway, and I felt like such an arsehole. I left the beginner slope and queued up for the serious slope chairlift...

The rest of the day went without trauma. After lunch, Kate set her goal of 4 runs down the beginner slope. Her confidence built throught the afternoon and of course the addictive nature kicked in. She nailed at least 6 or 7 runs before our 6 hour tickets expired. At 4,800 yen we were all grinning from a great first day on the slopes. I tried to remember my telemark technique, but it's not hard to look cool when you're the only person on tele' skis!

Naoko was very nice and drove us all the way back to Hiroshima, all in good time for the parties we had on that night. Mine was a work Christmas party (Boonenkai) at Sesoya for all our branch teachers and staff. The food continued to arrive for hours and secret Santa presents were given out to all. My Kit-Kat addiction must be rather well known - thanks secret Santa! Beer and banter carried on into the-wee-hours of the morning.
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Monday, December 05, 2005

quarantine express

Frustrated and tired of being denied use of our kitchen and living room with no end in sight, I pulled out. I am certain that apartment will soon be condemned. Last Sunday I packed out all my stuff and moved to my 3rd apartment. Wes and 2 taxis helped me get all my accumulation of stuff into the new apartment. After all the hard work of moving, we deserved a couple of beers. We bumped into the waitress on her way to work and decided to walk with her to one of my favourite pubs, The Shack. The first snow fell late that night.

Waking up on my futon, I was most excited at the sight of fresh snow dumped on the city streets below. This view from my balcony 7 floors above is busier with people and much nicer than watching the boring shinkansen silently slipping into Hiroshima station. Though I do miss the size and how well equipped the kitchen of the previous apartment was. Standard issue here is 1 fork per person, 1 knife per person, 1 teaspoon per person, etcetera. Once again I have a tatami mat floor and for the first time, a heater / air-con unit in my big bedroom. The thin fusuma (Japanese style) sliding doors separate James' and my bedroom. Kyle, my other new housemate, can relate to problems I had in the previous apartment, as he shared an apartment with the same useless housemate 6 months ago!

Now I just need to update my address details everywhere, inluding my alien registration card. Rent here is cheaper, my commute on the tram to work is paid for, and I don't have to eat out everyday. Maybe I can save money from this Japan experience after all! Then again, Christmas is on it's way and ski trips could quickly balance out the funds. I'm looking forward to going ice-skating and a hearty Christmas dinner. We have booked in for dinner and somehow rounded up nearly 30 people for a function that is not a recognised holiday.

Sunday, November 13, 2005

hangin' tough at the giant torii

hangin' tough at the giant torii
hangin' tough at the giant torii,
originally uploaded by vfowler.
Kate didn't really make it to Japanese breakfast on Sunday morning. Let's face it, what is breakfast without coffee anyway? Surprisingly, it was quite a search before we found an open cafe to get the day started.

Kyudo girls going through the motionsOn our way to the Heian Shrine, we stumbled into the Budo Centre. This particular Centre in Kyoto is the oldest martial arts exercise hall in Japan and has some of the youngest people fighting and training. A couple of teens were beating each other up in the Kyu-Butokoden building. We moved down to watch the graceful archery (Kyudo). With 2 metre long bows, you will need a Zen state of mind to master "the way of the bow". big boy versus not so big girlSeeing kids sumo is pretty funny... The bouts are quite quick and after each, many boys return to their seat and resume training (a.k.a. eating)!

Wandering around to the Heian Shrine, the incredible kimono and make-up on 7, 5, and 3 year old girls, and boys clad in formal suits is quite... outrageous? no kids, no problemPerhaps more amusing are the couples without children who arrive with their pet micro-dogs. Not in a handbag this time, but a pram! - I wonder if they prey for the health and good fortune of the dogs. By chance, we picked probably the busiest day of the year to attempt visiting this shrine. We really couldn't be bothered joining the bus loads of people queued up.

showing off in GionA little market stall selling great souvenirs near the shrine, and Autumn maple viewing in the beautiful gardens with a busker strumming at Maruyama park all make pleasant distractions. With little planned, it was easy to fill the day (and a few more) with interesting and funny things in Kyōto. With luck, you too can spot a few apprentice geisha fluttering around the cobble-stone streets of Gion. Either sponge off another photographer, or it might be worth your while to learn the phrase to ask. Elaborate kimonos, fancy hair-styles, neat accessories; these are only what they wear. Mastering all the get up is just one of many things an apprentice must accomplish to become a geisha. I dread to even contemplate walking in those shoes!

Sunday crowds streaming inWe were soon joined by the mob of people flowing into the famed Kiyomizu temple. This temple features very high on my tick list for Kyōto visits. As you can see, it is high on lots of other people's list too! Even young teens who are dressed in today's standard equipment are strolling the walkways of this grand temple complex. As Thom Gourley put it:
standard equipmentFunny how American pop culture spreads like an oil slick on the youth of the world! Of course, the Japanese have managed to add their own spice to the themes...

spiritual water falls 滝Kate had run out of time and needed to be heading for the bus. We passed the Otawa-no-taki, leaving the believers to drink and wash in the therapeutic waters and that was Kiyomizu-dera. After some confusion, being lost at the north side of the enormous Kyōto station, we end up back where we started this weekend: eating uncultured in the culture capital! The Princess Line came and went. Then Kate boarded her bus back to Hiroshima.
I went back to Kiyomizu-dera, along with a gathering crowd...
清水寺 Kiyomizu-dera instantly populated

Saturday, November 12, 2005

the Japanese breakfast 朝食

the Japanese breakfast 朝食
the Japanese breakfast 朝食,
originally uploaded by vfowler.
Options of 7:00, 7:30 and 8:00am for breakfast, you can guess which time we chose! In the end, my only problem with the Japanese breakfast served in our ryokan, is that coffee is not included. Yes, I am addicted. Not really a problem in Kyōto however as there are 100s of cafés and 1,000s of vending machines - no exaggeration there!

We made our start at Ginkaku-ji, a Zen temple situated at the north end of the Path of Philosophy, established by the 8th Muromachi Shogunate. The grounds contain a rather large raked stone garden, some Very Important Moss, and a pathway through some beaut garden/forest.

Back out on the street, we spotted the future of Japan's culture, some prospective geiko. Then, some sandwiches for lunch. Why is it that we often eat more while on holiday? Kate, what are you doing?Next, the cheap-skate's view of San-mon Gate. Just a quick taste of the gardens and architecture here at Nanzen-ji temple, (I re-visit on Monday) as we were pushing to make it to the dance show in Gion. Briefly stopping in the 7-eleven I spotted some Men's chocolate!

The last shows of the Annual Gion Odori Dances were on that day (Saturday 12th November 2005) at 1:00 and 3:30pm. It was getting close to 3:30pm when we thought we'd better catch a taxi to make it in time. In eastern Kyōto the traffic is always sluggish - I doubt the streets were designed to carry such a variety of transports, let alone simultaneously. People were walking faster alongside the cab! Just about to ditch the taxi and our driver announced we are here, at the Gion Kaikan theater.

Finale: The song of Gion-HigashiThe very last 2 tickets we bought and filed into the theater. Quite good seats in fact, but Kate and I were just 2 seats away from each other. The elaborate kimono draped around the make-up clad maiko and geiko girls, came out for 6 songs accompanied by some drums, 3 shamisen players and 3 singers. A little Japanese language up your sleeve helps, but interpretation is not overly difficult given the costumes, action, body language, colours, lighting, sets and the mood of the music... And a brief sentence written in English about each song! A fantastic performance and an easy way to enjoy some of Japan's most reverred cultural traditions.

Queue here to wish for luckA quick stop in at Yasaka Shrine, we joined the queue (always neat queues in Japan) to throw a coin, ring the bell and wish/pray for luck, health, a new lover, a bright orange Lamborghini or whatever it is you may want.

Yasaka-no-to (pagoda)Wandering around Gion we decided it was time to eat again. Following yesterday's theme of eating uncultured, tonight's fill was provided by the Ajanta Indian Restaurant. If you didn't pick up (or steal) a copy the Kyōto Visitor's Guide, it's the restaurant with the big neon India flag out the front. Some great curries before we made tracks for the hotel, exhausted. Utilising a neighbourhood vending machine, we'd stocked up on a couple of half-price beers before changing into the hazardous slippers, entering our ryokan hotel well before the 11pm curfew. The hot bath is a welcome relief to tired leg muscles. Wow, what a day!

Friday, November 11, 2005

going to Kyōto

going to Kyōto
going to Kyōto,
originally uploaded by vfowler.
Punctuality is something I've learned to expect of Japanese, but perhaps I shouldn't. Kate and I nearly had a heart attack when our bus was late last Friday morning.

Including us, a grand total of 5 passengers on the bus and in true Japanese style, the heating is cranked far beyond sitting comfortable in a T-shirt. I was about to ask the driver to turn the heat down, but thought I'd check with the other passengers if they agreed or not. I ended up telling a young female passenger that I'm hot while Kate laughed at what looked like I was trying to hit on this girl.

coffee!I'm sure we've all seen coffee vending machines before, but for the benefit of those who haven't travelled in Japan, it truly is something to be experienced rather than dreaded. How about this book vending machine in Barcelona? I'm sure the world is full of wierd and interesting vending machines. Have you experienced any recently?

Upon arrival in the cultural capital of the country, we had the most uncultured lunch that's possible: McDonald's!

the ryokan slippersA ryokan is a Japanese style hotel. A completely new experience for me, and I love the small amount of English that the reception staff come out with, like pay cash now. Those dastardly slippers you have to wear inside are constantly slipping off - I guess they're called slippers for a reason! We also get to wear a yukata (a Japanese style robe) for cruisin' around within the hotel.

Our ryokan is within the same grounds as the temples and cemetery known as Shinnyo-do. The cobble-stone lanes through the temples are frequented by taxis and Japanese tourists - it is quite strange for me to see tourists visiting their own country...

Wednesday, November 09, 2005

quick Kanji

kanji on pinkQuick Kanji - Say It in Japanese - Kids Web Japan might be designed for kids, but that's more than how I feel with my Japanese language ability. In fact I have solidly missed classes for about a month now. You know you're turning into a bad student when one of the sensei sends an email asking why you haven't been to class.

Free translation tools are out there on the internet and vary somewhat in quality - they are free though! Anyone with enough brains to be using the Firefox browser can also get the awesome Moji extension.

Best gadget I received as a gift from one of the students at work today, an old Canon 2-way electronic dictionary. Now that's what I call the freeway to learning Japanese! Thanks a million Megumi.

fun Japanese

fun JapaneseAuthor/Inventor Mike Ellis brings you Fun Japanese. He's erasing Japanese and replacing it with English words enabling anyone to speak Japanese. Berlitz, Inlingua and Scholastic, it's just a matter of time before you're out of business!

The Fun Japanese phrases below only need a simple set of directions. Say each phrase quickly and smoothly with equal emphasis on each word. The translation is found underneath. That's all there is to Fun Japanese. Folks in Tokyo, or Japanese anywhere, will be thrilled to hear you try some Fun Japanese.

Good morning (informal)

Ohio Goes Eye Muss
Good morning (more formal)

comBun Wah
Good evening (informal)

Doe Moe
OK or alright or thanks

Doe Moe Oddy Got Toe
Thank you very much



Toe Moe Dutchy

Tie Hen Joe Zoo
Super or talented

Me Zoo

Me Zoo Oh Cuda Sigh
Please bring me some water

Sue She Oh Cuda Sigh
Please bring me some raw fish



Mushy Mushy
Hello (on the phone)

Doze Oh

Need a Japanese phrase translated into Fun Japanese? Email it to the author. See it updated here tomorrow with pictures and sound bytes!

Friday, October 21, 2005

main gallery

After adventures in western Canada, and being a bit of a gear freak, one soon finds one's self on MEC's mailing list. The latest edition supports a new book tour by Bruce Kirkby, an accomplished photographer, author, wilderness guide, and mountaineer. Bruce Kirkby's galleries are very impressive and such an inspiration!

dozens of websrainbow bridge in ShukkeienSo inspiring, that I finally got myself together to return to the Shukkeien garden. I waited about 6 months to complete this post with the pictures. So please take a look, comment if you wish.

A picture tells a thousand words, so get Flippr! - flickr wallpapers for your desktop.

Tuesday, October 18, 2005

5 guys, 1 safe, no brains

Welcome to CollinwoodWelcome to Collinwood was finally available to rent from the video shop. This particular still from the movie makes me think of how a few friends and I sometimes feel about life in Hiroshima... Personal mishap seems to be a daily occurence, but between a few friends it's quite easy to have a good laugh about it all.

I went for my usual ¥1,000 yen haircut yesterday. I couldn't find my usual hairdresser anywhere in the salon - she can't possibly have the day off work, she's Japanese. So this other guy lets loose with the clippers after snorting back the biggest boogas I've ever heard in my life! Quite the opposite to my regular hairdresser, this guy could be a former boxer, almost using my head as a punching bag. As my work-mate pointed out, now I look like a marine!

In recent good news, Emilia's birthday party at Bien was a real blast. Earlier in the week I sent the RSVP for both myself and my friend. I ended up paying for her absence on the night. At $50 / head, that's a real stinger on a part-time wage! A great mix of people at her party, some new faces and some familiar, delicious food, cake and drinks. Mike later arranged a refund for those that didn't turn up, so I'll end up getting ¥4,000 back when we next catch up, Hooray!

Monday, October 17, 2005

winter forces

G3 Targa bindingsG3 Targa Telemark Binding - All Mountain is one way to spend ¥20,000 in one hit. Combine that with a set of skis and the absolute minimum of binding accessories and by the time I drank a delicious Vietnam style coffee from our favourite blue flat cafe, I'd spent the best part of my savings! I somehow get the impression that I'll probably be the only person for miles around who is telemarking (or trying at least).

As usual, the snow bound page lists a few good starting points for me. A few hours in an onsen after a day of skiing sounds pretty groovy to me. Yes, I'm getting a little excited about my first ever northern hemisphere winter.

Apparently Sapporo lays undisputed claim to the title of Japan's brewing Mecca. And I thought it was just a city to go skiing from. Given the expense of travelling within Japan, I honestly wonder if my dream of skiing on the northern island will eventuate... I quite like the idea of knocking back a cool beer after a weekend of white powder though.

Thursday, October 13, 2005

turning the web into 'sushi belts'

Let's check the stats:
  • 200+ Japan photos on flickr so far.
  • 100 posts to this blog. This is #100. Hooray!
  • 83 addresses in my Japanese mobile phone.
  • 8 postcards, 2 posters and 1 calendar from outside of Japan. Thanks for helping me decorate my room.
  • 7 books on Japan: 2 guidebooks, 3 language books, 2 novels.
  • 6 months in Japan. Wow, time flies...
  • 5 different branches I have worked at.
  • 5 or so festivals in the local area.
  • 4 games of pool a week on average, maybe...
  • 3 times to Miyajima island.
  • 3 nights a week boozing average - about to decrease with winter hibernation imminent.
  • 3 Japanese pop music albums in my iTunes library.
  • 3 mattresses under my futon, 2 pillows.
  • 2 free Japanese lessons each week (but no self study homework!)
  • 2 Kit-Kats a week on average.
  • 2 different apartments I've lived in. The company lease finished in the previous building.
  • 2 B-52's that were free of charge. Thanks Kevin.
  • 2 times I've seen the same shit movie in 2 different cinemas and rejection resulted.
  • 2 times I paid the ransom on rescuing my first bike, before it was stolen.
  • 1 cat I have palmed off responsibility for looking after.
  • 1 Japanese movie downloaded from the 'net.
  • 1 hour of non-stop table tennis.
  • 1 psycho housemate (N.B. housemate is someone you share a house with, not a room).
  • 1 restaurant experience of eating sashimi, and 1 of tempura. Yum!
  • 1 pair of unsuitable shoes for work bought. Let's go shopping all over again.
If you're not getting enough out of reading my blog, there's a BBC news article, Turning the web into 'sushi belts' that describes how you can now consume 100 times more!

Tuesday, October 11, 2005

when working robots rebel!

Join us on the roller-coaster! One thing is for sure: Life is never boring when you are working in Japan.

Working for a large organisation, it is not uncommon for part-timers and shift swaps to be fulfilled at a branch other than your regular one. At my regular branch, all the teachers had personalised their little piece of desk space with photos of loved ones and other colourful paraphernalia. This makes sense. After all, we are encouraged to personalise our lessons to the students and their needs.

Recently the big wig inspected some branches and forwarded a memo afterward, declaring we must standardise the workplaces and remove all personal aspects. Sounds a bit hypocritical to me... Perhaps our introductions at the beginning of lessons should be along the lines of, Hi, I'm #46239. What's your number?