Friday, December 30, 2005

My FairyTale Honeymoon



My FairyTale Honeymoon


My FairyTale Husband

Wednesday, December 28, 2005

Disneyland

Friday, December 23, 2005

so much to catch up on

It's winter break, and I'm busier than ever. I've been to Disneyland, ridden the roller coasters with screaming girls (I love you Laila) and been to a live Japanese rock bar. (utterly bizarre). Hatim bought a Play Station 2, and my current goal is to improve my fighting skills until I can kick his @$$. Hannukah starts tomorrow, and Daniel has told me that I can light candles with him in his room, although to be honest, I never lit them back home and I don't really care much about doing it here in Japan.

I am currently trying to book my flights to Hokkaido, because the train takes ELEVEN hours and costs more, while simultaneously chatting with Richie on our faux honeymoon. Everyone around seems to have the Christmas bug, although everyone is remembering to wish me a Happy Hanukah either in person or on their blogs (yay!). Coffee @ Excelsior feels weird without Lukas - not to mention having to buy my own coffee always sucks, but I'm sure he's having fun back home. His Hanukkah present was a roaring success. He actually described is as one of the best gifts he's ever gotten, so yay me!!

On my 3rd attempt, I made it to Kaihimmakuhari, (the outlet malls) and finally bought Claudia's birthday present. Now if I can just figure out where to find Natasya's gift before I leave for Hokkaido, I think I'll be on track. There are so many people and so many birthdays, but I figure it's worth it. Both because I love getting people gifts that make them smile, and then when my birthday comes around, I get to be on the recieving end!!

When I have more time, I'll upload some of the Disneyland pictures, but for now, Dad, this is for you.



69 stories up, in the Yokohama Landmark Tower

Tuesday, December 20, 2005

Can you say ouch?

Today, I got hit by a car. No, I am not exaggerating, and yes, I will explain. On my way home from school today, I was riding solo, a somewhat rare occurrence. With plenty of time before I had to meet Daniel for the ride to tonight’s Christmas party, I was taking my time, riding carefully and patiently on the sidewalk versus my usual reckless weaving in and out of traffic to bypass annoying pedestrians. In fact, as I approached an uncontrolled intersection, I even slowed down long enough to make eye contact with the woman stopped and waiting to turn into the intersection. Since she saw me, and I did my sort of head nod/bow thing, I figured it was safe to ride past. I was wrong. Before my bike had time to pass her car, the woman must have eased her foot off the break and her car nudged forward just enough to knock my rear tire and send me sprawling to the ground before I realized what had happened. I was floored, both figuratively, and literally. Shaken, and not really sure what to do, I stood up, surprised to find I wasn’t hurt, and picked up my bike to inspect it. The basket was distorted, but it was otherwise unharmed, and I was prepared to hop back on and ride home, but the woman was rushing towards me from her parked car in a panic. She was appropriately concerned that I might have been hurt, and she wanted to make sure that I was okay. Speaking to me in Japanese, of course, she checked to make sure I was alright. She insisted I show her my leg, which was scraped up and down from sliding along the ground. She tried to straighten out my bike basket, and seemed frustrated that it wouldn’t regain its shape. Giving me her business/name card, she wrote down my information, and made sure that it would be alright if she called me tomorrow to make sure I was okay, because I kept insisting I was daijoubu. The people around that had witnessed the accident seemed concerned until I nodded and waved them off. The woman that had hit me seemed reluctant to let me leave, and while I was trying to convince her in my broken Japanese that I was alright, I could hear my phone ringing. Shaken, and not thinking clearly, I answered the call, surprised to hear Lukas on the other end. For some unexplainable reason, he wanted my advice on choosing between various towel brands during his shopping excursion to Chiba. He still hadn’t gotten his Christmas present for the party and thought I could enlighten him as to which was the better choice between Yves St. Laurent and some other brand that I’ve never heard of. I tried to explain to him that I couldn’t understand what he was asking me, and since I’d just been hit by a car, I needed to go. I’m sure I was incomprehensible, but at least the phone call seemed to be enough to convince the woman who had hit me to finally say goodbye and let me ride home, although not before insisting that it was alright for her to call me tomorrow afternoon so that she could verify that I was in fact, okay.

It’s now hours later, and my right leg has been throbbing somewhat painfully for nearly the whole evening. It’s nothing serious, but the scraped area along my knee is sore from rubbing against the inside of my pant leg, and my skin is getting all bruised around the scrape. Also, I think my muscles and ankle are slightly strained from the crash, although again, not seriously injured. I have no problems walking, or climbing the stairs to my room (I’ve gotten so used to the 4 flights of stairs, it seems surprising to me how aware I was of them tonight after getting home from the party.), but I’m still not sure how I will feel in the morning. I’m planning on taking a few Tylenol and heading to sleep, hopefully to wake up refreshed and with a colourful knee to show off to everyone when I tell them about my run-in with the car.

Package from Home

It’s surprising the range of emotions a package from home can bring on. Even more surprising when I knew the package was coming, and what it would entail – mainly a list of odds and ends that I specifically requested. And yet, despite all of my preconceptions, the notice in my mail box this morning (letting me know my package was in the office), was a catalyst to the emotional roller coaster that I’ve traversed throughout the day.
To begin with, Stephen put together 6 CDs from my ever-expanding collection. He had a list to follow, which I’d emailed to him, and he managed to find almost everything I had been missing (sigh, the Tragically Hip never made it) which brought on feelings of nostalgia. For example, when I put Alicia Keys into the computer to import the songs into I-tunes, it brought back memories of dinner parties in my condo back home, laughing and sharing stories with Lauren, Heather and Patrice. Or, Matchbox 20 (the First and only GOOD album), and it being the first birthday present from Stephen I can remember, and therefore a milestone in our relationship. And the other disks each have their own memories attached, whether good or bad, and all reminded me of the quality of my friendships back home, and therefore makes me question the false closeness between myself and the other people living in this dormitory. This isn’t to say that I am not developing friendships with people here, or that I don’t enjoy spending time with the other exchange students, but rather, that living in such close quarters lends itself to a false notion of friendship. It is easy to delude myself into thinking that because of the amount of time I spend with these people, there is a measure of value to that time, but the truth is, we are living together (and therefore to a certain extent) spending time together out of convenience rather than mutual interest or friendship.

Along with the CDs and my animated Clerks DVDs (woohoo), Dad included a letter from home, which included updates about Brandy, info about our Hawaii vacation, and some info about the upcoming holiday. (Hanukah, surprisingly, begins on the 25th this year, and will most likely be void of presents seeing as I’m in a foreign country.) Dad didn’t want me to be left empty handed I guess, and gave me instructions to access my gift in Japan. It was extremely thoughtful, both the gift and knowing that he’s thought about it so far in advance, but at the same time, again reminded me of the distance between myself and the people I care about back home. Everyone here is talking about Christmas-whether discussing vacation plans, or traditions back home, but Hanukah is usually forgotten, or worse, unknown. Lukas, although I’m not sure if it was out of friendship or in the hopes of getting 8 presents) has been joking around with me saying he’ll be celebrating Hanukah this year, but of course, it’s not the same. Not even remotely. Somehow, I had convinced myself that in Japan I wouldn’t have Christmas shoved down my throat like back home, but it is. The stores are all plastered with Christmas decorations, they play Christmas carols on the radio and even in class we have to answer stupid questions about plans for Christmas break. It’s as though the world puts on these ‘ignorant’ glasses for a month every year, forgetting that Christmas is a CHRISTIAN/CATHOLIC holiday, and that surprise surprise, NOT EVERYONE observes it, either as a religious or festive holiday. In fact, the people that try to act hoighty and suggest that it’s NOT a religious holiday, but instead a winter holiday, are usually the ones that upset me the most, because they just don’t GET it. Christmas, was, is and always will be based on the notion of Jesus Christ. Despite the secular traditions that have been adopted across the globe, they still exist at Christmas time, and refer directly to a religious icon both in name a spirit. GAH, I could vent about Christmas for pages if I thought there was a chance I wasn’t going to end up debating this in my comments. But irregardless, the letter from home reminded me that while at home, there is a support group of family and friends that understand how I feel and can usually help buffer some of the hated Christmas paraphernalia, here in Japan, it is full front and center、and completely blown out of proportion, as is truly the Japanese style.

Monday, December 19, 2005

Thursday, December 15, 2005

Inage Sunset




A beautiful sunset in the background with power lines running across it in the foreground; classic Japan.

Wednesday, December 14, 2005

Hawaii, 2006

Well, for those of you who are out of the loop, I am spending March break in Hawaii!! Dad has booked my flights (Feb. 28 - March 11), a hotel room (at the Renaissance Hotel) and a 10 day cruise on the Pride of America.

I can't wait.

And, as if that's not incredible enough, before Hawaii, I am going to Hokkaido for 4 days over winter break!! January 2nd to the 6th, Claudia and I will be heading up north for a visit to 'super snowy' Sapporo, where I will get to visit Lora and see the wintery wonderland that is Hokkaido.

Monday, December 12, 2005

holy shit batman

It's snowing!!

Sunday, December 11, 2005

December 11th, 2005

My First Japanese Home Visit

When I woke up this morning, I was shocked to see the clock say 10:45, and I glanced at my ringing keitai with dread. It was Eugenie calling, to see where I was and if she should wait for me to walk to the station. I quickly told her I was running late (quite the understatement) and that I would meet her there. I quickly jumped out of bed, practically spun through my morning routine like a tornado, and was out the door at exactly 11 o'clock, only 5 minutes later than I should have been. I remembered, as I was locking the door, that I still had Hatim's speakers in my room* and I rushed back in, unplugged them, and made my way downstairs juggling the two speakers, speaker wires, my house keys, the present for my home visit family, and breakfast (a mandarin, like usual).

By the time I made it to the train station, I was 10 minutes late, and I felt awful, but the home visit wife was there waiting, and she quickly recognized me as the gaijin that she was meeting. Eugenie and the woman had been standing next to each other waiting for me without realizing that they were also there to meet each other. The three of us quickly introduced ourselves and turned to leave the station from the opposite side. The woman was friendly, and chatted with us as we walked the 2 minutes to her home. We offered to carry her parcels, but she refused, claiming that she was fine, despite her age (60) and the evident weight of the bags.


When we reached her home, her husband (65) was inside waiting for us. Together, they invited us into their sitting room, where we were given cushions to rest on when we sat (in my dreaded) saiza style. The couple sat across from us, sans cushions I might add, and we talked about Australia and Canada, both of which the couple had visited. Their son (31) arrived soon afterwards with his two daughters, 4 and 7.
The children were shy to begin with, but as the day progressed, they warmed up to us and by the end were practically inseperable. Together, we ate lunch with the couple had prepared. They made pizza, and because I had written of my cheese issues on my application form, they made me my own platter of Yakisoba. It was DELICIOUS! There was also cake, and homemade sushi, and bottomless tea which they continued to serve us all day long.

Conversation lasted all day, ranging from discussing places we've been and things we've seen in Japan, to what we hoped to see and do while we were here. When I mentioned that I was looking forward to trying Japanese Calligraphy, I had no idea that Obaachan (as the children called their grandmother) would run to the other room and pull out her calligraphy set. We got to practice Shodou with the children, who's handwriting was nicer than my own. Obaachan had an incredible flourish that made her calligraphy beautiful, and I felt ashamed to give her my inadequate page that I had drawn thanking her for having us.

After Shodou, we had the children teach us some origami, to which I in turn taught them the one and only piece of Origami that I knew. Did you ever, as a child, make the paper game that began with someone else choosing a color (or a number) and ended with them having to perform some random action? Check it out here, the Cootie Catcher!

The kids had a blast, and after making up things for them to do, such as sing a song or act like a monkey, they had fun getting us to play in turn. We ended up playing with the children for such a long time, that their dad took a nap, their grandparents cooked dinner, and we stayed for Nabe a Japanese style hot-pot with delicious noodles, vegetables and various types of seafood all simmered in a soup, served with rice and more homemade sushi. It was delicious, and when we left, the family invited us to visit again.

I had so much fun, I hope I actually get the chance to see them again. With all of the pictures I took, I will be choose one to send them as a new years post card, and Eugenie & I will write a formal thank you later this week during Home Room.

___________________________________________________

* - last night, Lukas came up to my room and we watched 0:34 (creep), The Life Aquatic, and after he cooked yummy chicken, we stayed up talking until around 5 am, thus the late wake-up. Because we wanted to watch the movies on my laptop, we borrowed Hatim's speakers to increase the sound quality. But, because I knew I would be out all day, I didn't want Hatim to have to suffer without his speakers all day! (he said after the fact, that he wouldn't have minded, because he's just that kind of guy, but when I got home and saw his projector running, I was glad I'd dropped them off before I left.)

Thursday, December 08, 2005

December 8, 2005

Because of my brainstorm for Richie’s birthday present, I decided to head to Makuhari today between classes to look for a nice picture frame. Also, I wanted to buy a new pair of shoes, and I remembered Daniel mentioning outlet stores in Makuhari that offered ‘American’ sizes. With this in mind, Claudia, Pu and I left campus, determined to enjoy our shopping experience.

Unfortunately, other than the name of the train station, I had no idea where the outlet malls were, and worse, no idea how to find them. For this reason, when we left the train station in Makuhari, we ended up in a pharmacy asking for directions. The pharmacist was extremely kind and helpful, explaining that we needed to walk to the bus station and take the bus to the outlet area. Following her advice, we found the bus station, and enjoyed our ride to the shopping center.

Once there, we found a bakery where we had a late breakfast/early lunch, and then hit the shopping arcade. I managed to find one pair of shoes at the Adidas store, and put them on hold while we searched the rest of the mall. I went back and bought them, wishing they had my size in so many other pairs, but comforted in the fact that I can always go back. I like the shoes, and actually wore them home. Also, I bought myself a new scarf (it’s soooo warm and cozy) and figured out what I’m getting for Claudia’s birthday present at the end of the month. Claudia and Pu also each found something to buy, and all in all it was a very successful shopping trip.

If only the trip home had been too. Because we had taken the bus from Makuhari station to the outlet malls, we found ourselves on a train line that did not connect with any of the stations we were familiar with. Instead of taking the bus back where we came from, I thought I could navigate us through the maze that is the Japanese rail system and get us back to school on time for Economics (during 4th period). I had the route figured out, and we could have gotten back smoothly, except for the tiny fact that the train we needed to catch from Kaihin-Makuhari station doesn’t run between 11am and 4pm. Because of this, we had to transfer about 5 times at various stations, and didn’t make it back to the University until nearly 4 when class was ending.

Our one shining moment on the long trip home, was my first Japanese IKEA sighting!! Yes, they have Ikea in Japan! It is in Nishi-Funabashi (for those of you with good memories, this is the same place that Lalaport mall and mine & Dad’s fateful movie outing took place) and I am now consumed with the desire to go shopping at Ikea. I am dying to find out if there are items unique to Japan, or if the same things I can find in Canada are available here. I have no room in my dorm room for any major furniture, or even anything vaguely resembling furniture, but perhaps just being in Ikea will be enough. I can always buy art or a plant just to say I bought something in Ikea-Japan.

Wednesday, December 07, 2005

December 7, 2005

Today was a day full of misunderstandings and confusion, mainly because of language barriers. The day started out normally enough, I had class during 2nd period (I LOVE Wednesdays) and afterwards, a planned lunch date with Natasya in the cafeteria. She saved me a seat because the cafeteria fills up so quickly during lunch time, and we enjoyed the time to catch up and share notes about our weekends and what has been going on. She was eating some sort of Kimchi-don (a Korean pickled cabbage on rice with chicken) that looked really good – I’ll have to try it one of these days.

After lunch, we walked back to the CIRE where I sat and waited for over an HOUR to get online and check my email. She went back to her lab, where I imagine she was able to get online immediately, but then again, she needs it to prepare for her Master’s entrance exam, so, 仕方がない (shikataganai – meh, what can you do).

As 2:30 approached, I rounded up everyone that had signed up along with me, and we headed back towards the cafeteria, where we were going to get to try on Kimonos! When we found the right room (on the 3rd floor that nobody knew was there), we were invited into a Tatami room (a room lined with Tatami mats, in which you must take off your shoes before entering, and should sit in Saiza [kneeling on your knees with your feet tucked under] style). Around us were a throng of Japanese women, and lying neatly on the Tatami mats in front of one exquisite one hung as a demonstration, were various Kimonos. We soon learned that despite the fact that 12 of us had signed up, our hosts for the afternoon had only brought 5 Kimonos with them – one bridal Kimono, 2 ‘regular’ Kimonos, and 2 men’s Kimonos. In order to decide who would get to wear them, they had us play ジャン,ケン、ポン (rock, paper, scissors).

Katya, a girl from Russia won the bridal Kimono. Ruth (Canada) and Eugenie (Australia) won the other two women’s Kimonos, and the men’s Kimonos went to Evan (USA) and Michael (Germany). The rest of us, especially me, were NOT impressed. In fact, I spent at least 10 minutes afterwards sulking against the far wall, not very excited to watch as Katya was slowly dressed (somewhat like being wrapped) in the bridal Kimono.

After an hour of watching the 5 lucky winners being dressed and photographed in every imaginable (and I suppose traditional) pose, the women decided that there was enough time to offer the rest of us a chance to dress up. Shocked, and pleasantly surprised, Suvi (Finland), Sack (Australia), Richie (Hungary) and myself quickly jumped at the chance. The boys began with trying to fit their feet into the たび (tabi – unique socks designed to accommodate Japanese sandals). As they were being dressed in their under robes and Hakami, I was ushered off by the women to begin my own transformation. I wish I’d known in advance what type of procession this would be, but I will do my best to describe it for those of you who haven’t been through the ordeal.

First, as two very short Japanese women held a Kimono open behind me, I was told to undress in the corner of what now felt like a very large and public room. I hesitated for only a second as the women chattered at me in Japanese and I feared they might try to help me. A third woman then held the under robe (somewhat like a thin cotton house robe) for me to put my arms through, and the 3 women quickly wrapped and tied it around me before I had time to realize what they were doing. Unfortunately, because I’m somewhat larger than the average Japanese woman, the robe did not accommodate my desire for modesty, and I had to keep my back to the room as my dressing progressed, and I missed seeing what everyone else was doing.

After the under robe was on and secured, the women began wrapping my chest with what felt like long giant ribbons. The material felt somewhat like linen and is meant to flatten everything under the Kimono, but again, because of my size, the women had difficulty finding enough (or perhaps just long enough) ‘ribbons’ to properly wrap me. It took them nearly 10 minutes of searching to wrap me, at which point I felt suspiciously aware of my chest size. After this, the fun part finally began: the Kimono. Originally, I was given the Kimono that Eugenie had on before, but because of the style, it did not fit around my newly wrapped torso. Instead, Suvi and I switched Kimonos, which I was extremely happy about, wanting the red one anyways, and the three women that were helping me instructed me when to lift my arms, when to put them down, when to kneel and when to stand up straight. Throughout these directions, they had assorted strings and clips that they were assembling, and by the time they were through, I must have had at least 30 knots holding the Kimono together.

The best part of the day was my Obi. The Obi is the intricate belt that accompanies a Kimono, and in my case, I was too tall for the standard ‘knot’ that the women knew. This meant that the professional Kimono lady (who was mainly taking care of Katya and more likely, the bridal Kimono) came over and tied a complicated bow with my Obi. They women kept oohing and aahing, admiring it throughout the rest of the hour as I posed for my share of pictures.

The pictures by this point were being taken quickly and the women were anxious to get us out of our Kimono so that they could pack up and go home. I managed to get a picture taken with Richie before undressing, which doubled as proof to our ‘wedding’, and his birthday present. Let me explain – ever since we had signed up for the Kimono event, Richie has been insistent that I be his wife for the pictures. It has become a sort of private joke, talking about each other as fiancés, and other such playfulness. In fact, his birthday present, as I decided on Wednesday, is a picture frame. Inside, on one side, is the picture of us in our Kimonos. The other half is a message written out in Japanese that translates as, “To the first man I ever agreed to marry, may your next bride be as beautiful!”

Anyways, that’s the story of my first Kimono experience. I would happily wear one again, although perhaps at a professional Kimono shop where there are more choices in terms of size & colour. Also, it might be nice to try it in a private dressing area versus getting changed in a large open room, which, by the following photo of Sack, you can see was less than private.

Sunday, December 04, 2005

December 4th, 2005

Happy Birthday Stephanie!!


Unfortunately, Stephanie spent the weekend of her birthday in her room, sick, and wasn't much in the mood for celebrating. On Sunday, while I spent the afternoon at Excelsior with Lukas, I waited to hear if she still wanted to get together for dinner. She finally emailed me around 5:30 and I scrambled to email everyone who's address I had on my keitai to invite everyone to Saizoriya for 7 o'clock. As I was overwhelmed with email responses and questions about the dinner plans, I remembered that I had to run home to pick up her present & cake. Because I met up with Anthony, Kai and Claudia there, and we had to wait for Lukas to head to his room and change. While we waited, Hatim joined the queue and Madoka came around looking for Andrew. By the time we all made it to Saty (where Stephanie, Desy, Natasya and Andrew were waiting), we were almost a 1/2 hour late. Because I brought cake, I didn't feel too bad.

Dinner was fun, although because Stephanie was still feeling nauseous, she didn't eat and Lukas & Hatim shared her food. While we were eating, she went to the pharmacy to find some medication for her nausea. Becaues the pharmacist had so many questions, she came back and asked Andrew to help her. They came back laughing, and Stephanie barely able to catch her breath long enough to explain.

The pharmacist had understood that she was feeling nauseaus, but rather than simply suggesting a medication, she was asking Stephanie the following questions, which Andrew had to translate for her:


  • How long have you been feeling nauseas?

  • When was your last period?

  • Is your period late?

And eventually, the woman suggested that Stephanie try a pregnancy test before she take any medication to help with her 'sickness'!! As you can see, Stephanie's reaction says it all:

~ ~ ~


After dinner, we had cake in the Saty Food Court. Stephanie cut the cake with the back of a plastic fork, and we enjoyed the chocolatey goodness. (I picked well!). Afterwards, we went back to the dorms and watched Mallrats in Hatim's room. Stephanie had never seen it before, and I hadn't seen it in almost 2 months.

Afterwards, Lukas, Natasya and I went for a late night walk through Inage. I'd never been there before, so Lukas and Natasya led the way, although I kept asking to go in various directions. We ended up in a playground, that had 2 swings. After drying the swings off with my gloves, Lukas & I sat down while Natasya took pictures of the deserted playground. I had Lukas show me constellations, and I can now actually recognize both Orion and the Big Dipper. Woohoo!

Friday, December 2nd, 2005

Because of the length of this post, and the number of pictures I want to include, I am instead adding the direct links to my photo albums. Enjoy, and don't look at the fish market pictures on a full stomach ;)

Midterm Exam
As I already posted, I wrote my first midterm here on Friday morning. After studying for it all week, I still felt less than prepared, but was pleasantly surprised to find out that 3/4 of the exam was in multiple choice format, and the remaining sections included a listening section which was WAY easier than expected, and a written section that involved regurgitating a dialogue that I’d written and memorized for a homework assignment earlier in the month.

I was the 2nd person finished the exam, and left the room after about 40 minutes. For those of you that remember, I often finished early back home also – the pressure of time limits usually gets me processing faster, and I still look over my answers before handing it in. I wandered up to the computer lab, added some torrents to Hatim’s download queue and waited for Kai & Claudia to finish up.

From the exam, we went to our newly discovered 2nd floor cafeteria, where the portions are bigger and the food tastier than the 2 we usually frequent on ground level. Unfortunately, lunch isn’t served until 11, so we had to wait and chat for a half hour until we could eat. We compared notes about our exam and figured out which mistakes we each made where. Lunch was good, although slightly rushed because we wanted to get home and wake Lukas up for our day trip.

Day Trip: Part 1
After we did so, through a combination of emails and throwing stones at his window, we sat on the star between the dorm buildings with Katchan (who was studying Kanji, yay) and waited for Lukas. He kept us waiting for nearly an hour as he first researched our route for the day, and then tried to convince Hatim to join us. Hatim was too tired and stayed home, which Lukas only sulked about for an hour.

Train Ride = Kanji Lesson

After a preliminary visit to Excelsior and a Grande Caramel Latte, we were on our way to Hakone. The train ride began with an hour long commute from Inage to 小田原 odawara. When I pulled out my book to start reading, Lukas pouted and made a remark about it. (which, for the record, I deserve because I do that to him everytime he pulls out his IPod!) To be fair, I put my book away and instead, he taught me Kanji for the hour, as Claudia and Kai looked on. His methods differ from Andrews, and instead of focussing on similar sounds, he wants me to learn Kanji that look similar (share one common part called a radical). My hour long Kanji lesson included a quiz, in which I had to remember the on and kun readings of the various characters, as well as their general meanings. He's a tough teacher, but one I really want to impress.

Our Kanji lesson was not without it's humour. To begin with, I learned the character 建(たれ.る) which means to build or to erect. Then I learned 健(けん) which means healthy, but consists of the first kanji, to erect, and a radical which means man. Thus, when a man is erect, he is healthy. And surprise, surprise, I haven't forgotten the kanji since!

When we arrived at the train station where we needed to transfer from the JR line to the private train, we decided to try and scam our way through the ticket gate. Originally, because I had paid for my entrance to the train on my Suica (pass card), I thought I could swipe it on my way out and Lukas could squeeze through the gate behind me before it closed. Unfortunately, as we tried to rush through, my card's balance wasn't high enough, and laughing, we had to detour over to the fare adjustment machine and fix the card. Because Lukas got there first, he put his own card in and added money. Instead of following his example, I saved 2000 Yen and got through the gate behind him. A free trip on the JR, thanks Lukas!

箱根 Hakone ::: Hakone/Koyo Photos

Our train ride from Inage to Hakone, via Odawara, covered 126 km and took approximately an hour and a half. It shouldn’t be much of a surprise then that we were anxious to stretch our legs and find something to eat. Unfortunately, to do so, we had to exit Hakoneyumoto station and re-pay to get back in. Lukas found a sandwich with crust (extremely rare in Japan – the bread they sell in the supermarket actually has the crust removed) which he devoured while the rest of us looked on. Not sure how far we were going, we boarded the ‘scary’ mountain train [so named due to it’s 2 car total, extremely wobbly support system, and otherwise shoddy appearance] and admired the view of the Koyo as we slowly made our way up the mountain.

About 1/3 of the way up the mountain, we made a rash decision to get off of the train, and try to take advantage of the last precious moments of sunlight. (Throughout our travelling time, we watched despairingly as the sun slowly sank behind the mountains, knowing that we'd left too late for Koyo viewing.) After snapping a few pictures from the train stop, we began our hiking climb up the mountain. Passing a combination of civilization and natural growth, the path led us past a waterfall, a stream, scenic views of the Koyo, and the always important gas station.

At one point, after it had gotten dark, we found a cross roads. Instead of continuing on, Lukas ran up first one side of the mountain, where he 'discovered' an orange shrine, and then the other, where he found a residential neighborhood. (do homes on the side of a mountain count as a residential neighborhood? I digress.. ) While he was exploring the latter, Kai, Claudia and myself headed up to the orange shrine, where we discovered it was actually an Onsen (hot springs) resort.

The gift shop was an experience, ranging between the over priced souvenirs, home-made pastries, and numerous free samples. We took advantage of the warmth and the posh public washrooms, and slowly worked our way back outside. We thought, briefly, about maybe staying the night, but without even stopping to inquire about prices, we knew it was WAY out of our price range. Instead, we went back to the shrine that served as a sort of entrance to the resort, and explored the leaf-covered path to it's side. This was where we found our haven.

Not only did the path provide us with a setting for our numerous Koyo photos, but it also included a foot-bath type wading pool, which was steaming in the night air. Across from the structure that we could only assume was meant for shoe storage, was a beer vending machine - practically an oasis for the Europeans I was travelling with. The night progressed to the three of them soaking their feet over a can of beer, as I watched, amused, from the sidelines. Maybe under other circumstances I would have gone for a dip but I was worried that the steaming hot water would make me sleepier than I already was.

After nearly an hour in the steaming water, L, K and C got out and dried their feet off. We caught a bus back down the mountain and a train headed towards Yokohama. Lukas and I contemplated finding a place to stay in Yokohama, and returning to the mountain in the morning to see the Koyo during daylight, and possible a view of Fuji-san, but the plan was quickly forgotten as a night in Yokohama and Tokyo loomed ahead.

横浜 Yokohama ::: Yokohama Photos

I'm still not sure why, but it's always been a dream to go to Yokohama, and after the beautiful mountain side in Hakone, I was hyper and excited to finally arrive at the Japanese port city. Walking through the station area felt similar to walking around any other major station that I've been to, but at the same time, there was a new feeling in the atmosphere. I quickly realized what it was as we crossed a bridge over a section of the Ocean run-off, and remembered that we were at the ocean. Unlike Kujukuri or Odaiba, which are the 2 genuine beaches that I've seen so far in Japan, Yokohama is a bustling urban center and ocean front, combined. (yay!) Not sure where to start, we caught the subway to Minatomirai where we enjoyed a nice quiet dinner at the gourmet 'food court' of the Landmark Tower. The food court consisted of actual restaurants, not eateries, whose menus tended to be a bit extravagant. We found a Korean restaurant that was somewhat affordable, and enjoyed tasting each other's meals, and for everyone else, an actual pitcher of actually dark beer.

After our meal, we walked through the tower's garden court (basically like a shopping mall) where Lukas sighted a poster featuring an Austrian company, that seemed to make his night. We wanted to go to the top of the tower, but it was already closed, and instead, we rode the moving walkway (nothing fancier than the moving sidewalks at the airports back home) back to the station. We could see that the ferris wheel and roller coaster in the distance were not running, so after one final look back at Yokohama, we caught the train destined for Tokyo, and the next leg of our adventure.

Mad Dash for Tokyo

Our return trip to Tokyo began with the plan to work our way to Odaiba, where we could relax at the Onsen and sleep through the night before making our way to Harajuku for the next day's field trip. Unforunately, karma was not on our side, as we first had to wait 10 minutes for the Yamanote train, which was late, and then had to get smushed together on the train, that was ridiculously over-packed as it was the last train of the night. At Shimbashi, where we were meant to transfer from the Yamanote to another line, Lukas dashed through the station to catch the escalator, and was stopped short by a little Japanese man in uniform who informed us that we had missed the last train, and that the station was closed. Ticked off, he checked with a nearby taxi driver, but the ride to Odaiba from Shimbashi would have cost us over 1000 yen each (10$+) and we were not game. Checking the train schedule back inside the main terminal, our choices were limited as to where we could ride before the trains were all stopped for the night, and instead, we decided as a group to walk from Shimbashi to Roppongi. We didn't know at the time, but this was over a 5 kilometer walk!!

Walk to Roppongi ::: Roppongi Photos

The walk began simply enough - Lukas found our general direction on his keitai's GPS system, and we stopped at a combenie to pick up some noshes for the road. What we didn't count on, or at least what I hadn't experienced yet, was that on walks with Claudia that cover long distance, she gets easily distracted by 'unusual' sights, and wanders off in various directions, or worse, stops altogether to stare at something she finds fascinating. Our walk therefore involved many stops and turns that were not on the GPS route, but as a reward, we got to visit what we now fondly call, the Stair Shrine. The shrine began with a steep 86 stair climb to the front gate, where a sign describing the historical importance of the site and the significance of the stairs, was posted in front of the shrine's lakeside. We each split up, taking photos and contemplating life, in the picturesque landmark. We also couldn't help but notice the view of the Tokyo Tower, which we hadn't realized was nearby. We headed there next, following the trip down the back stairs, that were much less steep, and which led us to the back of the shrine and facing the general direction of the tower.

Because I've been to the tower before, and posted pictures, I'll skip a description now. Check back in September if you're curious.

After the tower, and a second trip to a combenie, we found our way to Roppongi where I finally had my first glimpse at the night life that is Richie's home away from home. Unforunately, my first impressions were not as gleaming as one might expect; the area was crowded with foreigners, most of whom were drunk and rowdy, unlike other areas of Tokyo, even on a Friday night. Wandering around, we had difficulty findind a place where we could sit and relax until the trains began running the next morning, and we therefore ended up in a cafe called the Cafe de Paris.

Besides the pictures that you must see to believe this, the cafe located just off the main drag featured 1880s European décor, 1920s dishes and to top off the strangeness of the cafe, Sean paul on the stereo as we walked through the door. Our time spent at the Cafe de Paris (approximately 2:30 - 6 am) was uneventful. After we each sipped a coffee, Lukas and Kai each took a Japanese style nap. (sitting in place), Claudia read my Doraemon comic, and I reviewed/studied my Kanji. (yes, I actually studied Kanji on a Friday night in Roppongi!).

築地市場 Tsukijishijou fish market ::: Tsukijishijou Photos

原宿 Harajuku ::: Harajuku Photos

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Return Trip Home

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Thursday, December 01, 2005

Success!

I just finished writing my first midterm here in Japan, and it was WAY easier than I'd expected (and than the midterms back home!). I of course don't expect to do well, seeing as I never do on Japanese exams, but at least I don't feel like a complete moron right now. I ever think I did half decently on the listening section!!

Yay me. *happy dance*

The rest of today will hopefully be spent travelling to Yokohama and visiting a national park nearby to see the 赤葉 koyo (autumn leaves) that Japan is famous for. We're a little late, but hopefully we'll still be able to enjoy the autumn aura. I can't wait! Check in soon for photos.