The End

August 18, 2006

As I write this, the final post in this short-lived blog (documenting a short-lived trip), it’s been almost two months since my return to Canada. I think about Japan a lot. You’re probably wondering: why did I leave, why did I come back? Let’s just say that I made what I absolutely thought was the right decision at the time, and leave it at that.

After I had made the decision, booked the flight, called Nova, and generally passed the line of no return, I was left with a couple more days to spend in Japan. What to do? Having spent the previous two weeks assuming I had a whole year there, I knew there was a whole lot that I should be doing, interesting stuff I could be seeing, but I didn’t really know what. I sort of figured I’d have time to figure that all out. Well, not any more! I briefly contemplated catching the bullet train and going to Tokyo, spending a couple of days there. But no, Tokyo is a huge, vibrant city, and I’d be doing it a disservice attempting to see it all in less than a day.

I was talking to one of the two guys I lived with (both really nice guys, by the way), and he suggested that I go see the Minoh Waterfall. It’s a bit of a walk (he rode his bike up there, apparently) but, he insisted, it is worth it. It’s a really pleasant, scenic walk and the waterfall itself is impressive. Now I’m thinking, hey, I live in Ontario, I’ve seen Niagara Falls, you really think some dinky little Japanese waterfall is going to impress me? The whole thing sounded like a bust, and I was ready to tell my roommate that no, I have no interest in this, what else do ya got? But then, casually, he mentioned that there are monkeys there. Lots of them. He even showed me a picture he snapped of a monkey as proof. My interest was piqued. But then came the clincher: apparently, if you give one of the monkeys a 500 yen coin, he’ll take it to a vending machine and buy himself a drink!

Well, suffice it to say, I went. The next day, as per my roommate’s instructions, I took a couple of trains and found myself at the at the beginning of a very long hike:


That’s 2.6 kilometres to the waterfall, mostly uphill. But the monkeys, I kept telling myself! The monkeys! I started to prepare for the hike and then realized that I hadn’t eaten lunch. Since I doubted there’d be anywhere to eat on the way there (actually there was), I went to the only restaurant I could find: a crappy looking noodle house that, at least, fulfilled my requirement of having wax replicas of the food in the window (you know, so I’d actually be able to order). I sat down and was promptly served what had to be one of the worst meals I ate in Japan. It was the standard bowl of noodles, but instead of sliced pork on top there was some kind of ham that looked and tasted suspiciously like it came out of a package that said “Oscar Meyer” on it (or whatever the Japanese equivalent of Oscar Meyer might be). Plus the broth was so salty it hurt my throat, and it had a funny taste. I elected not to take a picture of the food or the restaurant, and moved on.

I started to walk down the path, and one of the first things I saw was this:


Now I was starting to get excited. How many monkeys would I see? Would they be friendly? I’d heard that you shouldn’t make eye contact with them, because that apparently makes them attack. That worried me a bit, but still! Monkeys! In the wild! I wondered what hilarious thing they might be doing when I finally saw them, and moved on.

Here’s a few pictures I snapped while walking. As you can see, it really is a scenic walk:

Then I saw this sign:

I have no idea what all those words are, but I got the gist of it: monkeys are afoot! Though I must say, I had been walking for a while and was starting to get concerned that I hadn’t seen any yet. They must, I thought, be up ahead. I pressed on.

At this point I reached some kind of temple, and saw that a humongous group of kids had just finished looking at it and were walking down the path right in front of me. Since I didn’t particularly feel like walking all the way to the waterfall behind a huge group of raucous Japanese schoolchildren, I decided to meander at the temple.


I actually snapped this picture a bit late, it doesn’t really capture the insane amount of kids that were in that group. There must have been over a hundred of them. So I hung around the temple and, of course, took some photos.

After that I resumed my trek. I was starting to get tired. Well, I must almost be there, I thought. Then I saw this sign:


1.2 kilometres to go! Jeez. But… the monkeys. I hadn’t seen them yet, but I had no reason to think that I wouldn’t. My roommate! Those pictures! And all the signs! Come on! Suddenly I saw a group of people congregating by a fence, all staring intently at something down below. I started getting excited. This is it! They must be looking at hilarious, rowdy monkeys. I went over there, and saw that they were looking at… some kind of bird. A heron? I dunno. Here’s a blurry picture:


I was getting closer and closer to the waterfall, and it was starting to become pretty clear that I wasn’t going to see any monkeys. Then, as if to rub it in, another sign.


I’m not even sure what this one is supposed to mean. It’s a picture of an avalanche of some sort, with a monkey pointing ominously at the falling rocks. Did the monkey somehow cause the avalanche? Is it trying to warn you? I don’t get it.

Then I saw it off in the distance. The waterfall. And still no monkeys. Damn.


Here’s a store selling monkey memorabilia. What a crock.


Here’s the thing itself, the waterfall.


And here’s a video of it, and the surrounding area.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=U_KffcD5oIc

The picture and video don’t really do it justice; it actually is quite impressive. Just don’t compare it to Niagara Falls.


I admired the waterfall for a few minutes, then it was time to head back. As long as the walk there was, the walk back seemed even longer. I was tired, monkeyless, and I just wanted to go home and lie down. A guy on one of those motorized scooters zipped by me, and I found myself silently cursing him. He’s on one of those, and here I am using my legs like a sucker! Then I saw the best sign yet, the final kick in the pants from the Minoh Waterfall:


Stressing, apparently, not to feed bananas to the monkeys. I didn’t even have the chance! Where were those damn monkeys? The waterfall did seem especially crowded. Maybe all the people scared them off. Who knows. All I know is that I got gypped.

The next day was my last full day in Japan. I had been wanting to see the Osaka Castle, and I decided that this was an appropriate enough way to spend my last few hours in Japan. I headed down there and promptly got lost (surprise surprise).

I don’t remember how I got so lost but I do remember that I walked in the absolute wrong direction for well over an hour, and that I was walking, already exhausted (I was also still tired from the previous day’s Minoh hike), back to the subway station in defeat when I finally saw it off in the distance. Far, far, far off in the distance. Look at this picture, if you don’t believe me. This is a pretty massive building, and it is but a speck in the distance:


But this was my last day in Japan, and I was determined to do something good, so I headed in the direction of the tiny speck.

Let’s skip past the part where I trudge wearily to the castle, getting more and more tired and praying for a quick death that wouldn’t come, and go straight to… the castle! Woo?

It was an impressive enough looking building, but the whole thing was a bit of a letdown. The inside was just a less-than-impressive and very small museum, filled with what, from what I could tell, were mostly reproductions. The best part was probably the top, which had a pretty impressive view of the surrounding city.

I also bought this from one of the stores surrounding the castle:


That’s Coke Citra, and it was surprisingly good. It was sort of like Coke Lime, but with a much stronger citrus flavour. It was basically like a combination between Coke and 7-Up. It was good.

And that was pretty much that. It was still reasonably early in the day, and I thought about doing something else; perhaps going back to Namba or Umeda. But my aching legs vetoed that plan, insisting that I go home and relax. Okay fine, legs. Way to ruin my last day in Japan.

At two weeks, the Japan odyssey was a lot shorter than I thought it would be. But even in those brief couple of weeks, Japan made an indelible impression on me, and I can say without hesitation that I will be back. But Michael, I can hear you saying. Michael, if you liked Japan so much, why did you come back? And to that I say: shaddap, you! But seriously, I now find myself with the opportunity to go to film school, which is something that I’ve always wanted, so I guess everything happens for a reason.

Before I go, I’ll leave you with another bizarre entry for the “only in Japan” file: a candy bar with a poem on it (and one that has absolutely nothing to do with candy, at that):


In case you can’t read that, it says:

Beautiful things are timeless.
Women throughout history have never ceased
to yearn for beauty.

And that pretty much wraps it up.

The Penultimate Post

June 10, 2006

Well, I'm back in Canada. Yep, the Japan Odyssey is over. More on that in the next, last, post. I wrote this after my fourth day in Japan:

Today was a day full of setbacks, and some really good eating. And that’s all that really counts, isn’t it? As long as the food is good, nothing else really matters. It was a Sunday, and my last day to wander around aimlessly, Monday being my first day of work. I decided to head back to Namba with two primary goals:

1) To see the Sony Tower, as I’ve heard this is an interesting place to check out, chock full of gizmos, doo-dads and gadgets.

2) To see Amerika Mura, or America Town, another must-see area, supposedly.

Before we get started, I’d like to submit the following for entry into the “only in Japan” file: “Mother Garden,” a store whose sole purpose seems to be to sell clothes for dogs.

First thing I set out to do was goal number one, Sony Tower. Easier said than done. I have a little map of the Namba area provided by Nova, with a bunch of interesting places to see marked down. Much like the other map, there’s very few road names. So attempting to find the tower was a confusing process of trying to find my way via random landmarks, as well as trying to match up my map with the many maps placed around the city.

In my confused wanderings, I passed a movie theatre, and something caught my eye:

They’re playing Memories of Tomorrow, a movie starring Ken Watanabe as a businessman who finds out he has Alzheimer’s. I’ve been wanting to see this since I first heard about it a few months ago. Do I really need to mention the cruel irony of being mere steps away from a theatre playing it, and still not being able to see it? Frustrating.

I started walking away from the movie theatre but then stopped dead in my tracks. Coming from some restaurant in the distance I breathed in the most enchanting smell to ever waft its way into my nose. You know in the cartoons when Yogi Bear smells a pie cooling in a window and finds himself floating towards it? That was me with that smell, which as it turns out was coming from this place:

This was a noodle place, and the ordering was conveniently done via vending machine.

As you can see, their vast and varied menu consists entirely of “noodle in soup” and “noodle in soup with extra pork.” I chose noodle in soup, and was presented with a ticket…

…which I brought into the restaurant. Moments later I had my bowl of noodle in soup, and I was ready to eat. Here’s a very blurry picture of the place:

You can’t really tell from the picture, but the tables are all on raised platforms, and what you do (or at least what I saw other people doing) is take off your shoes, and then sit at the table with your legs crossed. So I did that. Here’s my meal:

It doesn’t look like much, but it was quite delicious. It was basically like one of those instant noodle dealies, only about a million times better. Plus there were pieces of pork in there, which were definitely the highlight. They had some kind of seasoning on them and they were outrageously good (they were also what was producing that heavenly smell). I’ll order extra next time. I should probably note here that I am really glad I learned how to use chopsticks back in Toronto, because it seems like everywhere you go here, chopsticks are your only option. After I finished the noodles and the pork I wasn’t sure what to do with the broth; no spoons were provided. I kinda figured it was okay to just bring the bowl to your mouth and drink out of it, but I waited until I saw someone else do it. I didn’t want to horrify the whole restaurant with my oafish Canadian manners.

I wandered around some more after that, and after a lot of walking and wandering and backtracking, I finally found it! Success!

But wait… What’s this?

Closed! That’s right. The whole freaking building was closed. So it was a long (long long) walk for nothing. Oh well, at least I ate those delicious noodles.

Next it was off to Amerika Mura, which I actually managed to find quite easily, and which wasn’t all that far from the (closed) Sony Building. This wasn’t quite as impressive as I was led to believe. It was basically just a little area with a bunch of American-inspired clothing shops and such. It was clearly a hangout for the local youth, as I don’t think I’ve seen that many young people concentrated in one area since I got here. The only thing here I deemed photo-worthy was this weird looking McDonalds.

I also bought a candy bar in this area, called “Choco Bar.”

I wasn’t sure what to expect with this, but I was pleasantly surprised. The bar itself sort of resembled an Oh Henry, but the inside was primarily cookie pieces. There were also some peanuts and raisins, but the cookies were definitely the dominant flavour. The whole thing was held together by chocolate, which is sort of unusual, since North American candy bars are generally held together by something chewy, like caramel or nougat. I enjoyed it.

Next, I passed by that restaurant with the giant crab you may recall seeing a picture of a couple of posts back. This time there was a guy outside selling grilled crab legs. I saw Anthony Bourdain eat these on his show, so obviously I couldn’t pass them up. Here’s the guy grilling them:

And here’s the crab legs themselves:

Best crab legs ever. I’m not kidding. I’ve never had crab that tasted so good. I never even knew crab could taste that good. They just had a really robust, grilled flavour, and the meat itself was so soft and moist. Five hundred yen seems a bit pricey for the little amount of meat I was able to scrape out of these things, but it was still worth it. Again: best crab legs ever.

After this it was time for dessert. I went to a department store, always a reliable source of good food, and I found this place:

They seemed to only sell green tea soft ice cream, and they seemed to be doing pretty well (it was empty when I snapped this photo, but there was a line a few minutes before). I figured it looked interesting, so I gave it a try.

Well, they can’t all be winners and this certainly wasn’t one. I think it may be an acquired taste. For one thing, it could barely be classified as soft ice cream, as it was pretty thick and closer in consistency to regular ice cream. Whatever, that’s not a problem. But then there was the taste. It was barely sweetened at all, and it just had a really strong tea taste. I don’t mind the taste of tea, but here it just seemed bizarre (I’ve had green tea ice cream before, and it was way sweeter). I ate about half and then threw the rest out.

Since I didn’t finish that cone, I figured it didn’t count as dessert, so I set out to find something else. I came across this place and thought it looked interesting:

Basically what they sell are pieces of deep-fried sweet potato, tossed in some kind of caramelized sugar. Here’s what I got:

I wasn’t expecting too much out of these — I was more curious than anything else — but wow! Just wow! These things completely knocked me out, they were so good. The outside is covered in caramelized sugar, which is crispy and delicious and perfect. The potato on the inside is soft and fluffy and almost like cake. The combination of the crispy sugar and the fried potato was pure awesomeness. It’s definitely one of the best things I’ve eaten here so far. I’m going to dream about those potatoes for as long as I live.

And so, I ended the day on a high note, and went home. I’ll again leave you with a couple of pieces of mangled English I’ve run across. The first is just confusing:

I’ve read it several times, and I’m still at a loss. What does it mean? It’s almost poetic in its confusion. The second one actually made me laugh out loud:

“Let’s keep things friendly for our own good.” Is that a threat? What happens if we don’t keep things friendly?

Here’s a few random photos.

And finally, here’s a video I took of a guy outside a department store ranting really angrily about… something. I dunno. He’s really passionate about it, whatever it is.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5ZquCtF_zFY

Day Two

June 1, 2006

Okay, I'm finally here in my real apartment, and I have a reliable internet connection. So without further ado, day two:

On my second day here, a Friday, I knew that the first thing I had to do was go to the city office and register for my Alien Card. This is basically a card that all foreigners in Japan need to get. You need it to sign up for a bank account, or get a cell phone, basically you just need it. The office was closed on the weekends, and I needed it before my first day of training on Monday, so today had to be the day.

To take the subway to where I needed to be, a transfer was involved. I got to the first station and suddenly got very confused, and a little lost. I couldn’t really figure out where I needed to go. So I was standing there, looking at my little map, looking lost I guess, and this Japanese guy walked up to me and asked “Do you need help?” Now this guy didn’t work for the subway or anything like that, he was just a random Japanese guy who wanted to help. If you were looking lost in a subway station in North America, the best you could hope for is a hobo asking you for change. So that was nice.

After being helped by the friendly Japanese guy, I managed to find the subway I was supposed to take and get to where I needed to be. This is where things went south. Now the first thing I want to emphasize here is that this was NOT MY FAULT. I know, I’m not exactly Magellan, and I’ll pretty much get lost anywhere I go, but this time… the blame? Not on me. I had a map from Nova, describing how to get from the subway station to the city office. It was just a straight path from the station to the office; no turns, pretty simple. Now the map had absolutely no labels for street names, nothing to really tell you where you are other than a few significant landmarks. The most obvious one was a McDonalds, which the map indicated was about a sixth of the way to the office. So after about ten minutes I hit the McDonalds, and I’m thinking “wow This place is really far ” but I kept trekking on. After about forty minutes the street finally ended, and no city office. Now I’m starting to panic. I remembered seeing a cop directing traffic a few minutes back, and I decided to find him to see if he could give me directions.

As a credit to Nova, they at least did one thing right: on the top corner of the map, the address for the city office is written in Japanese. I pointed to it, and hoped the officer would realize I needed directions. He did, but unfortunately he didn’t speak any English. He tried his best to help me but he just ended up confusing me more. I wandered around a bit, found a guy standing at a bus stop and asked him (or pointed to the map, to be more accurate). He didn’t seem to know, but at that point a bus pulled up, and he asked the driver. The driver knew how to get there, and even better, was going to pass by it with his bus. So I hopped on and a few minutes later, I was finally there. At this point I noticed that there was a McDonalds across the street, but I thought nothing of it and I went in to take care of business. When I came back out it suddenly dawned on me: that was the same McDonalds I passed by at the beginning of the wild goose chase. And that’s the story of how I got completely screwed by Nova. Hopefully this isn’t a harbinger of things to come.

After that fiasco I thought it might be nice to explore a different area of Osaka, so I went to Umeda. It was raining, which kind of put a damper on things, but I wanted to at least eat something and walk around a bit. The first place I saw after walking out from the subway station was this gigantic department store:

 

It’s hard to really get a sense of scale from this picture but trust me when I say the place was HUGE. It advertised a “restaurant zone” on the eighth floor, which sounded pretty good to me.

I went up there and was disappointed to find that, while the place was quite enormous, it was all classy looking sit-down restaurants. Defeated, I left that store and walked around looking for a placed to eat. Shortly thereafter I found this place:

There was a picture of some pretty decent looking noodles posted near the door, and I wanted to go in, but I wasn’t sure what to do. It’s tough not speaking a word of the language of the country you’re in. I loitered around the entrance, and the lady inside waved me in. From this point it was easy; I pointed to what I wanted on the menu (there were pictures), and a few minutes later the waiter brought it along with the bill. Here’s a picture. Excuse the blurriness, I’m still trying to figure out how to take decent pictures with this camera:

That’s noodles, a bowl of plain rice, and some kind of soup. It was mostly just broth, but it was really good. That fried thing on top of the noodles was…. something. I don’t know, I think it might have been a really soft cheese, but I could be way off on that one. It was good, anyhow. The whole meal was quite tasty, actually, and all for an even 500 yen (about five bucks). Good stuff.

Next, I went to the first store I could find to buy an umbrella. I went in to a convenience store, and as well as the umbrella I found this:

Kit Kat Fruit Parfait, perhaps the oddest flavour of Kit Kat I’ve ever tried. The chocolate part was white chocolate with a very strong banana flavour, and the stuff between the wafers was some kind of berry. I was a bit disgusted by it at first, but after a few bites it won me over. I’d get it again.

Then after walking around some more, I found it. One of the greatest places I’ve been to so far. Remember in the other post I was talking about the food area in the lower floor of a department store? Well I found another one, except this was like double the size, and way better. It was awesome. It was really just an overwhelming amount of food. If there’s a heaven, I think it’s something like that place. In fact, even if there is a heaven, Jesus would be looking down like “Man, I’ve gotta get in on that place ” and then God would be like “Oh you know it, J ” and then they’d both high-five.

Here’s a guy in the sushi area cutting into a giant fish:

Here’s a few more pictures, though they really don’t do the place justice:

I would have taken more photos, but shortly after snapping that last one I was accosted by an enormous Japanese guy who informed me, “No pictures! Just shopping!” I mean, he was nice about it, because I don’t think it’s possible for a Japanese person to be impolite, but still, I was a bit stymied. Anyway, without taking at least thirty or so pictures, it would be impossible to convey how gigantic and how wonderful that place was.

That was pretty much the end of that day. I’ll leave you with a few pictures I took while wandering around.

Osaka: Day One

May 27, 2006

Okay, I think I'm going to be able to stay connected long enough to post this. This is an account of my first full day here.

On my first real day here I decided it was probably a good idea to go check out the city, so I hopped on the subway and went to Namba, a process which was surprisingly painless (other than the hour or so I spent wandering around the Namba subway station, trying to figure out the best way to exit to get to the city… okay I guess it wasn't entirely painless). The first thing I noticed walking around the city is how different it all is. That seems obvious, but it really does hit you when you’re walking around that it’s a completely different culture.

The other thing I noticed is that much of the shopping areas in the city are sort of indoor/outdoor type of dealies. By which I mean they’re outside and on roads, but they’re covered by a roof of some sort, and cars for the most part aren’t allowed to drive on them. They’re sort of like that area in Vegas, if you’ve ever been there. Here’s a picture of one of the many areas like that. You’ll notice it looks pretty empty. I took this picture pretty early in the morning. By late afternoon all these areas were so crowded you could barely walk.

It was probably around ten at this point (which was a mistake – most stores here seem to open at eleven). It was definitely too early to eat anything, so I just wandered around for a bit. Here’s some random pictures I took:

Here’s a slightly odd picture. Take a look at the billboard in the middle of the picture. Is it just me, or is that kid flipping the bird (and so happy about it, too!). The Flickr image is kinda small, so you've gotta squint. But it's there.

Here’s a theatre playing nothing but the Da Vinci Code. It was just a bit past ten when I snapped this picture and there was already a fairly large line for the 11:00 shows.

Take a look at this Wendy’s menu. Looks pretty normal at first…

…But wait. What’s this? A shrimp burger. I made a mental note to try this at some point and moved on.

At this point I was getting pretty parched, so I decided it was time to get a beverage from one of the many, many, many vending machines. An odd thing about these vending machines: despite their abundance, I have yet to encounter a single machine selling food. It’s all drinks, and occasionally cigarettes. Do the Japanese not snack? Curious. Anyway, I decided to go with Bubble Man Grape, mostly because I liked the snazzy astronaut on the can.

This was actually surprisingly decent. It basically tasted like carbonated Kool-aid. It was better than it sounds, though. It probably helped that I was really thirsty. I wandered around some more, and then I saw it: a vendor selling Takoyaki, or octopus balls.

I’ve been hearing that these things are an Osaka speciality, so I knew I had to try them. I approached the guy at the stand, and he immediately said all this stuff in Japanese, none of which I understood. I looked at him blankly, and at that point he realized I couldn’t understand anything he said (I really should learn to say “I don’t speak your damn language, so stop with the gibberish,” or something a bit more polite to that effect). So he just said “Six?” and I repeated “six!” and we were in business. I got my six balls and the whole thing ended up costing the equivalent of three or four bucks.

Now, before you get too excited, these are, disappointingly, not the actual balls of an octopus. They’re a piece of octopus, covered in some kind of dough, and cooked in molds:

They’re also covered in some kind of sauce and garnished with fish shavings. Maybe my expectations were too high, but I was a bit disappointed by these. The dough itself was a bit soggy; it probably would have been better if it were crispier. They were fine, I guess, but nothing I’d particularly want to eat again. Maybe at some point I’ll try to find out where the best place to get these are, and try them again. I mean, you can find these everywhere, so there must be something to them.

To wash down the balls, and while still impressed with how good that Bubble Man Grape was, I decided to get another grape soda.

The first thing you’ll notice is that the packaging obviously pales next to good old Bubble Man Grape. Aside from that the drink itself tasted pretty similar, but it seemed worse somehow. Maybe it was just the absence of the funky astronaut. I don’t know.

Next I went to an internet café, where I wrote that post you may or may not remember. As I was paying, I realized I had to go to the bathroom to take care of some business. The cashier said something in English, so I just assumed he could speak it, and I asked where the bathroom was. He looked all confused and repeated “bath…room?” So I just made a washing motion with my hands and he pointed me in the right direction. And that’s where it happened. An incident which I’m sure will go down as the single worst thing that will happen to me in this crazy country. I present to you… The WORST TOILET EVER.

The first thing I noticed when I sat down was that the seat was warmed, which I’m not sure I like too much. There was a control panel for the toilet on the wall next to me, but obviously all the buttons and knobs were in Japanese. I saw one knob, and I just sort of assumed it was to turn down the temperature. So I dialed it back a bit, and then suddenly I heard this mechanical buzzing noise coming from under me. The next thing I knew a powerful stream of concentrated water was shooting up you-know-where. I almost yelled out in surprise. I quickly got up but the damn thing kept shooting out water, almost to the ceiling it was so powerful, so I had to cover it up with my hands. Finally a few seconds later it turned off on its own. Who would like that?? Who wants water shooting up there? It was awful! I’ve never felt so violated in my life. I think that toilet smoked a cigarette after it was done with me.

I walked around a bit and tried to recover from the toilet incident, and then decided it was probably a good time to finish the lunch I started when I got those octopus balls. I headed to a department store (I can’t remember the name of it) and went to the basement. As far as I can tell, if you go to the lowest floor of most department stores here, there’s a big area where they just serve food. So I walked around down there for a bit, and finally settled on some sushi.

This was actually a bit disconcerting at first; I thought it was tuna, but I guess it was ground tuna or something because it was really soft and squishy. It actually wasn’t bad once I got used to it. To accompany the sushi, I got some apple juice. As you can see, the packaging almost rivals Bubble Man Grape in terms of snazziness.

I walked around some more, but I was really starting to get tired. It was probably three or four at this point, and I had been walking all day. I guess I’m just not used to this amount of walking, because my legs and feet really couldn’t take it anymore. So I decided it was probably time to find a subway and head home. But before I could do that, right in the middle of the city was this little garden/temple area. So I walked around there a bit and snapped a few pictures. It was actually a pretty good place to sit down and relax a bit.

At this point my camera’s battery ran dry, but I was pretty much done taking pictures. I sat around for a while on the benches you can see in the first picture there, then I found a subway and went home.

Here’s a few more random pictures I took throughout the day while walking around:

And finally, a fairly perplexing bit of mangled English I found outside a barbershop.

Wow, formatting, uploading and posting all these pictures took an absolutely ridiculous amount of time. I think you can expect less photos in future posts. Maybe I'll just post a few and put a link to my Flickr account or something. Jeez. Plus, all the pictures don't seem to want to center properly. That's it. I give up. Posting this entry has officially become the most frustrating, harrowing experience of my life. Expect a much more plain blog from now on, otherwise I think I'll end up punching a hole through the wall.

The Arrival

May 26, 2006

I just managed to connect to a very spotty wireless connection in my apartment, so I think I'll try to post this while I've got a chance.  I wrote this the first day I got here.  You can expect a couple more posts soon if this connection holds up.

Well, I got here in one piece.  The day, however, was bookended by two terrible, terrible events (particularly the second one — you'll see).  I'll start with the first one and, naturally, end with the last.

So I got to the airport, and after checking in and dropping off my luggage and all that stuff, I went to go wait at my gate.  See, the ticket said gate 151, so that's where I waited.  Do you see where this is going?  So it was around 8:25, and I had been waiting there for a while.  An I'm thinking, this is odd, because the flight is supposed to leave at 8:30.  But I was sure I was in the right place; the ticket said so!  Plus, I was like the only non-Asian in that little area, so I thought it must be right.  Well then I hear my name over the loudspeaker, which I was sure couldn't be a good thing.  I went to the desk, told them what was going on, and was promptly informed that I missed my flight.

"What do you mean I missed my flight??"

At that point she called some number, told them what was happening, and then told me the real gate and said, "you can still make it, but run!  Run!"  So I made a mad dash to the real gate and was greeted by a surly stewardess who seemed quite put off by my lateness (I think it was ten minutes past the departure time at this point).  She muttered something under her breath, but the only thing I caught was "ten thousand dollars."  What's ten thousand dollars?  Did I somehow cost the airline that much by delaying the plane?  I guess I'll never know, because I wasn't about to ask her to repeat it.

The flight itself was pretty uneventful.  The in-flight movie was King Kong (which I would occasionally look up at and watch for a few minutes at a time), and no food was served.  The second flight (the ten hour one) was a bit more interesting, as I was sitting with some other Nova people.  The in-flight movies were Tristan and Isolde, Tootsie, and Aeon Flux.  I watched none of them.  Lunch was some mediocre chicken, some rice with a weird, chewy texture, potato salad, some smoked salmon and vanilla ice cream for dessert.  The whole thing was about what you'd expect from a frozen dinner.  Dinner was more of that chewy rice and a bowl of fruit for dessert.  I spent most of the flight reading the Last Juror (which is not bad at all, so far) and occasionally making small talk with the girl next to me.  Plus I was sitting next to the emergency exit, which meant I had enough leg-room to stretch out all the way, which really helped make the flight bearable.

Then we got to the Osaka Airport, and one bus ride and another subway ride later, I was at my apartment (with the help of a really nice Nova guy who guided my all the way from the bus station to my apartment).  The apartment is tiny but fine; it's not dirty and it has air conditioning, which is all that really matters.  I'm only here for eight days, so even if it was a dump it wouldn't really make a difference.  I'll post some pictures tomorrow once I get my camera cable from my luggage.

But here's where the second disaster happened.  I got settled into my apartment at around 7:00, and I decided to explore the area a bit to pick up some food and maybe some water too.  So I started exploring the area (which is CRAZY, by the way — it's like being on another planet, everything's so different).  And I was trying to remember landmarks so I could get back to my apartment (I couldn't use road names for obvious reasons).  But by the time I got back to the area where my apartment is, it was all dark, and everything looked different.  Plus the whole area is all these tiny interconnecting roads with all these weird little shops that ALL LOOK THE SAME. I'm not kidding.  So I ended up wandering around for almost an HOUR trying to find the damn apartment.  By the end there I was so frustrated I was just about ready to explode, and I was this close to going back to the main road and trying to find a hotel.  Five minutes longer and I probably would have done it.  Plus the food I got ended up being crappy.  I'll post a picture and go into more detail later.

Hopefully tomorrow will go a bit better.

I`m here!

May 25, 2006

I'm sitting here in an internet cafe in downtown Osaka. This is going to be a short one. I arrived here yesterday. Last night I wrote a pretty long post on my laptop about the flight and all that wackiness, but I wasn't able to find a wireless signal I could connect to for more than five seconds. Plus today I`ve been walking around the craziness that is downtown Osaka, and I`ve been taking a bunch of pictures. So you can expect another post about that, hopefully soon. Here`s something to whet your appetite for those two posts: yesterday I got terribly, terribly lost, and today I ate octopus balls.

Two weeks… Two weeks… Two weeks

May 11, 2006

Well, I just picked up my Visa, so this seems as good a time as any to start this thing. For those of you just tuning in, I'm going to Japan in a couple of weeks. For a year. To teach for these guys. As you might imagine, I'm getting a bit nervous (putting it mildly).

I'm going to be living in Osaka. I was hoping for Tokyo, so that's a bit disappointing. But then again, I just read this in a guidebook I recently purchased, which makes me feel a tad better:

"Osaka is famous for its food and its citizens are known to the rest of Japan as Kuidaore, or those who will eat to physical and financial ruin."

Sounds like my kind of place.

Anyhoo, I'm leaving on the 23rd, so you can expect some more updates soon after that (assuming, of course, that I have access to the internet).


Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.