Sunday, May 3, 2009

An up-what? No. Yeah? Yeah. An Update. Really.

"One word" that's what every post starts with. There, the hard part's over. Right, on with chronological events!

Let's see, the last update I gave was back in that dark time when I lacked internet for those couple of weeks. Everything back then's kind of hazy. I think I may have even bought a newspaper somewhere in there... and read it... for the news (shocking, I know.) Actually I've been reading the Sunday edition of the Daily Yomururi since the contract started. I have a "free talk" class sunday mornings and it helps to have something to talk about OTHER than where I'm from and what Japanese foods I like.

My second contract is in full swing now. The first two weeks were just the standard lessons, no group or kids classes. Three weeks ago kids classes started for me (no group classes this year.) I've got 4 super classes and 2 that need some work (i.e. "Demon Teacher Mike, Enforcer of Rules" to come down like rain in a typhoon.) All my schools are really nice, and fairly close (shortest is a 5 minute walk, longest is 35 minutes away, as compared to last year's twice a week 50 minute train rides.) The staff and students are all really nice (and no one seems to have an un-explained hatred for me this year (yeah, one staff did last year, long story.)) I have a full schedule (5 days a week) now too, up from the 2 scheduled days I had at the beginning of last month. Things are looking good!

Mid last month the Dads came for a visit, which was great. It's always nice to see familiar faces from back home, many times more so when it's family, and live and in person too! An this time I wasn't stuck in bed with pneumonia. Sadly I did have to work most of the days they were here but there were a few days where we went adventuring together. I think they had a good time, but I'm sure they have their own stories (most probably involving me walking them ragged and trying to feed them eel.)

The day after the Dads went home I decided to go check out Banpaku-koen, the large park constructed on the site of Expo '70. It was really quite nice and had a lot of greenery (for Japan.) There are several large multi-use fields, flower gardens, and a big wooded area with streams and waterfalls. The other thing near Banpaku-koen is Expoland, a now closed theme-park famous for roller-coater malfunctions that killed several people (and people wonder why I don't like roller-coasters.)
The tower of the sun, one of Osaka's signature places.
Trees line the original entry way to Expo '70.
I... guess they saw something I didn't...

Starting last Tuesday I've had a whole week off for the "Golden Week" holiday season. G.W. is a series of national holidays that happen in quick succession which make for a kind of "spring break" for the entire country. Anything the least bit touristy normally is packed this entire week, as travel seems to be the thing to do.

As for me I've been taking it easy. I know I didn't do much on my last vacation, but that was a forced doing nothing, this time it's a self-decided arse sitting I'm doing. I did, however head out to Spark's old neighborhood in Shiga to see a ninja village on Friday. For not knowing what to expect, I guess it was pretty cool. Someone I was with described it as Japanese-redneck, and I wouldn't disagree.. it was in banjo country... or is that shamisen country? Anyways we had a good time and even completed a ninja training course which included wall climbing, ledge walking, tree scaling, and water walking. I barely made it up the wall, did okay on the ledge, fell off the tree, and shortly after putting on the ninja-floaty-shoes fell butt first into a large pool of skummy ninja-water... it was a wet train ride home to say the least.
Ninja Skill #1, Trick the enemy into thingking you're actually a ninja.
Ninja Skill #2, Throwing stars (harder than they look, that's 1 for 10 I hit at all.)
Ninja Skill #3, Make scaling a 2 meter wall look difficult.
Ninja Skill #4, Don't fall off 1 foot high ledges.
Ninja Skill #5, ...I don't know I failed at #5.
Ninja Skill #6, The set-up.
(Taking care because the guy behind me just fell in.)
Ninja Skill #6 The impact.
(See, I even rolled up my pant legs to keep them dry.)
Ninja Skill #6 The aftermath.
(Not pictured, how wet my drawers were for the next two hours.)

Keeping with my plans of not having plans, I've only got one more event on the docket for vacation. Tuesday I'll be going on a photo-scavenger-hunt through Nara and Kyoto. Should be interesting.

Alright, I think those were the big events from last month. I'm sure I'm leaving something(s) out but my brain hasn't been in work mode for the last 5 days. Here's to me learning from my procrastination and blogging as I go instead of letting stuff pile up and then forgetting things. Until next time:

Jaa Mata Ne.

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

I broke down and put my pictures on a thumb drive and hopped over to the local net-cafe. This not-having-internet thing is driving me up a wall. Anyways, here are the pictures that go with the last post:
Caution: Piggies!
Happiness is a warm pig.
Stairway to heaven or stairway from hell?
1. Okay, a little rain.
2. Hmm, a lot or rain.
3. Umm, let's find a hill.
4. Yeah, let's find a boat.
5. How well ca you tread water, ahaa haa haa.
Cat, what cat?
Actual zoom from the pervious picture.
Den-den town police marching band.
"Maid cafe" maids marching.
Yeah, Spider-man AND Ronald McDonald, you bet I'm taking a picture.
Pictures of people taking pictures.
. . .
All my worldly belongings... a car... a new room.

Cafe time's up. Will fix blaring spelling error/typos later.

Jaa Mata Ne.

Tuesday, March 31, 2009

March Madness

Let's see... it was two weeks ago now that I decided to take the train to Okamoto (in Eastern Kobe) in search of a temple with a beautiful pagoda (visible, at the top of a mountain, from the train.) On my way up the mountain I stopped on a bridge over a small stream to photograph a flowering tree in a nearby park. As I bent to retrieve my camera from it's bag I noticed some trash thrown in the stream. Upon further inspection it wasn't trash at all but Inoshishi (Japan's native wild boar!) Four big (the size of a large dog) dead boar, assumedly washed down from the mountains in the last rain... or so it seemed until one of them swatted a fly with it ear! Apparently these scruffy brown pigs were just relaxing in the noon-day shade of the river-bed. I'm glad I was up on a bridge, the tusks on the male pig reassured me that I really wouldn't want to meet one face to face in a dark alley.

Continuing my climb I happened upon a nice rest shack half way up the mountain. After pausing for breath I attempted to continue up the mountain to no avail. Turns out I was on the wrong path, and would need to go around the mountain to get to the pagoda. Seeing the circum-navigation of the mountain too much of a bother I decided to wander down the Sumiyoshi river instead. The weather was beautiful that Tuesday and aside from not seeing the pagoda up close and personally, I had a very nice hike.

Wednesday I had to go in for more kids class training (covering all the "new, start of the year, class stuff." But because I'm entitled to two days off a week I got Sunday off instead... Which was fortuitous because one of my co-workers was having a fare-well party Sunday afternoon. The party's location was a house with a great view up on the mountain North of my Kobe apartment. I hiked up just in time to watch the rain roll in across Kobe (a cool scene, when seen from the dry indoors.)

Ah, almost forgot, Friday was a national holiday and, by chance, the first sitting in Osaka for an art project that involves taking formal portraits of English teachers in Japan. Having heard of the project through facebook (yes, yes, I social network online) I eagerly signed up. I've now gotten half of two of my life's goals accomplished: Having my portrait painted (photographed isn't bad) and having my words recorded for posterity (there was an interview involved too, though the final project won't include names.)

Since I was in Osaka anyways, I wandered over to Den-den town (Osaka's nerd/computer district) for the annual Den-den town parade. Gosh was THAT a trip. Many, many people dressed up in all sorts of costumes posing up and down a kilometer of closed-off main street while many others took pictures (yours truly included.) Perhaps the best part was seeing a lot of my Kobe co-workers walking around taking pictures too. ...maybe I'll have my costume shipped over for next year, Hmmm...

Anyone who's known me for a time can guess that, yes, I was packed to move long before last Tuesday rolled around. I got up early (if you call 8am early) and walked over to the local Nissan Rent-a-car (which is great, the Japanese for rent-a-car is rentaakaa) and picked up my cloud blue Nissan March. It was a tight fit, but I did manage to squeeze into the driver's seat fairly comfortably. I then (Very Carefully) drove back to the Kobe apartment where my roommate Mr. B. helped my pack all my worldly possessions, like so many clowns, into the folded down back seat of a tiny sub-compact car.

We managed to be on the road, carefully navigating our way to the Hanshin Expressway by 9:30. With a grand mix us google maps, in-dash navigation, raw skill, and luck we were in front of my new apartment in Osaka in an hour. After a tiny snag, in which my landlord dropped the wrong key off at the rental agency and had to come re-key my lock, Mr. B. and I hauled my junk up (on the elevator, thank goodness) to the 7th floor. We finished up with plenty of time before the guy from the gas company was scheduled to come turn my hot water on (between 1pm and 3pm*) so we stashed the car in a local parking lot (again being Very Careful) and went out for lunch. On the way back I bought a new futon at the local grocery/dry goods store (more or less, Japanese Meijers.) and returned home just in time for the gas man to ring (right at 1pm, gotta love Japanese timing.) Once I had running hot water we went and rescued the car from the parking lot, somehow Mr. B. figured out how to pay the machine, and headed back to Kobe. After dropping off the car (waaay to easy) we walked back to the apartment where I gave it the once-over and headed back to Osaka by train.

*Some time the previous week I astonished myself with being able to call both the Gas and Electric companies and set up bother services in Japanese. Go me!

Wednesday I again got up early (again 'early" in a day-off sense) and headed Back to Kobe to do a final clean of my room and, as per my rental agreement, the kitchen. My room proved simple, 40 minutes with a vacuum, some paper towel, and some windex. The kitchen on the other hand... Four hours of scrubbing with soap and water got it mostly clean... but really, it could have use another two, easy.

Thursday began a long week of "goodbye"s and "see you around"s. Most of the week was spent traveling, as last contract's shifts were set up assuming that I was living in Kobe. The worst culprit was Himeji which took an hour and a half (and which I later found out was over 100km [100.5 km to be exact] which means I could have taken the Shinkansen and gotten reimbursed.) Fortunately my trip to Himeji wasn't just for work, as there was an end of the school year party afterwords. Yesterday (Monday) was both the last day of the old contract for me and also my last kids class of the school year. I got cookies and a thank you note from my students, which made all the effort I put in this year worth it.

I spent most of today running around changing my address with all the places I couldn't get to in the last week. I also bought a dresser and found the local laundromat. (What an exciting life I live.) I think this evening I'll head out and try to find some free wireless so I can post this, and maybe check out the night life around Namba.

Thursday I start my second contract year. I've got a mostly full schedule with only one day left "floating" meaning I have to call in in the morning and they'll send me somewhere. Besides getting my contract renewed, I also got my visa extended for another year this month (yay!)

March had been a superbly eventful month for me. I do apologize for not blogging as I went, especially up to a week ago, when I had internet... Yes, not internet at the new place yet, but the installation guy is coming on the 14th. Until then I'll be sort of under the radar, with only my iPhone to check e-mails on.

Okay, was that everything? Probably not... oh well.

Jaa Mata Ne.

P.s. Pictures to come when I can find a steady net connection.

Friday, March 6, 2009

Just a quick update this week even though there's been some excitement to be had. Last Friday at work I took off my glasses at work to clean them and they snapped in half in my hands. Luckily I've watched enough MacGuyver to know that anything can be fixed with masking tape and paperclips. And though I re-enforced my franken-glasses with picture wire when I got home, I still went to the glasses store on Saturday and ordered a new pair.

Yesterday I received my visa renewal documents for next year which I turned into the immigration bureau today (fingers crossed for getting approved for a three year visa.) Also in employment news: today I received my contract for next year. Included with my contract is a primary schedule which suggests that I'll be keeping my Tuesday/Wednesday days off as well as teaching more kids classes.
Oh, my, who IS that handsome devil?

Jaa Mata Ne.

Friday, February 27, 2009


Okay, just a brief post this week with a few pictures I took with the 'ole iPhone while walking around. Some things aren't worth pulling the SLR (big camera) out of the bag for, but still warrant a picture.
An Osaka based curry place.
Mediocre restaurant with a name that wouldn't fly back home.
Found under a bridge in Osaka.
This is a great example of whatever it is.
McDonalds menu.
We'll smile for free... but you have to ask us to do it?
The Umeda Sky Building skydeck.
Even if the love is gone... you never get over the handrail.
Somewhere in Osaka's back alleys.
Most. Evil-looking. Pig. Ever.
Again, somewhere in Osaka.
The cat is sitting just beyond the dog's reach.

In housing news: I lost the first apartment I found because of some hassle with the paperwork , some error in data entry, or some other (probably benign) reason. This house hunt has taught me much about the difference between conversational fluency in a language and TRUE fluency... and I have a long way to go towards the latter. Anyways I went back on Tuesday and found another apartment. It's more or less in the same "neighborhood" but is on the other side of the main street. Looks like I'll almost certainly be living in Daikokucho starting from late march.
Picture A of the new building.
Picture B.

There's a park kitty-corner and two supermarkets within 4 blocks. It's 5 minutes walk from the closest station and only 15 minutes from the downtown Namba area. I've got my fingers crossed for this one to work out.

That's it for this week. Until next time:

Jaa Mata Ne.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

When the land is unstable it's time to get on a boat.

It has been brought to my attention that I've neglected my blog for nearly three weeks again. Both work and home life have been pretty busy which doesn't leave a lot of time for adventuring, photographing, or writing. As I think I've mentioned before (golly, I hope I've mentioned this before...) I've been thinking of moving to Osaka for the next "contract year" (starting in April.) I've been doing a lot of internet research along with reading some good old-fashioned maps and doing a bit of leg work. One of the places my search took me was a neighborhood called Bentencho which is home to the Osaka's transportation museum (sponsored by JR [Japan Rail]) which is oddly biased to rail transit (Hmmm...) The plan for last "weekend" was to take a break from my search and visit Mt. Koya (Japan's holy mountain, mentioned in previous posts.) Unfortunately the trip was canceled at the last minute as the snow we wanted to see turned out to be a cold rain instead.

Last Friday and Saturday saw temperatures in the 60's (F) for the first time this year. The warm weather was short lived as it flurried snow on Monday.

I think that brings us up to the interesting part: the last three days.

Tuesday morning I woke up somewhat early and walked downtown to get a much needed haircut. Afterwords I rode the train into Osaka without really having a destination in mind. In Umeda (all train lines lead to Umeda) I switched to the subway and headed south. Staring at the map I decided to ride one stop past where I usually get off, just to see what was there. Coming out of the subway station I immediately came across an apartment rental office. I decided to have lunch before going into the office. After lunch I thought I'd walk around the neighborhood to see what was what. In my wandering I came across a "Mini-mini" real estate office. I'd tried to use the "Mini-mini" website but was beaten back by a ridiculous amount of Kanji. Taking a deep breath I entered the office and was warmly welcomed.

To make a long/boring story short I was shown a few apartments on paper, chose two buildings that looked good, then was taken by car (though both were walking distance) to see said apartments. In the end I put a deposit down on a nice 1K apartment in Nanbanaka, close to the Namba (one of the two hearts of Osaka) and only ten blocks from my company's headquarters. I ended up picking the smaller of the two apartments (even though they were the same cost/month [$100 cheaper than I'm paying now]) because it has location, location, location. I'll be moving between the 24th and 31st of March.

Yesterday I was jostled awake by a 3. something earthquake at 7am. I had been thinking that I might like to get up early so as to take pictures of the Giant Buddha of Hyogo with proper lighting (it faces East so the sun gets in the picture if you go in the afternoon.) So I took this as an opportunity to get some adventuring done. I started my tour in the port/harbor district where the temple with the Buddha is and eventually wandering over near Meriken park and Harborland. Since the weather was nice and I had the time, I took a harbor cruise (something I've been meaning to do since I moved to Kobe.) It was a quick 45 minutes and I took a Lot of pictures (mostly of ships in the harbor, and mostly off-kilter as the boat was rocking.) Here are some of the pictures I took:
The Giant Buddha of Hyogo, bathed in mid-morning light.
The draw-bridge in Harborland (in an unusual "down" state.)
Kobe Port Tower from a slightly different angle (from the deck of the boat.)
Kobe as seen from the harbor.

And that, more or less, brings us up to now. I'm taking today (Thursday) off (using a personal day) to create an artificial "three day weekend" in the middle of the long holiday-less period between winter vacation and the beginning of the new contract year. The Japanese holiday calender really has me spoiled.

Until next time:
Jaa Mata Ne.

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Adventure fulfilled

I'm a week behind again, but oh well. Wednesday last week I decided to give the Umeda Sky Building's Sky Deck another shot. With a great turn about of luck they were open! It wasn't the clearest day, but I got some nice pictures anyways.

When I finished at the Sky Building I decided to walk over to Osaka Castle (a kilometer or two.) The weather was in the mid 50s and it was a great day for a walking tour of North Osaka followed by a walk around the Osaka Castle grounds.

After Osaka Castle, I went across the street to the Osaka City History Museum. While it had a nice layout (you start on the 10th floor and continue down to the 6th - chronologically) but it was a little light on content and had mediocre English language support (as compared to the Edo-Tokyo History Museum in Tokyo.)

On my way out of the museum (which happens to be connected to the "NHK Osaka" TV studios) I got to see part of a live variety show being "taped". Kind of a fun end to a fun day.

The Sky Deck at the top of the Umeda Sky Building.
The "central ring" in the center of the Sky Deck.
Looking across the Yodo river to Juso (North of Osaka.)
Hankyu trains cross the Yodo river.
"This apartment as easy access to the freeway"
The main tower of Osaka Castle seen over a forest of plum trees.
Osaka Castle tower with time capsule in the foreground.
Tree trimmers repel down the outer castle wall, clearing brush as they go.

That about does it for last week. Today was a rest day so we'll have to see what excitement I can find tomorrow. Any-which-way, until next time:

Jaa Mata Ne.