Of Turtles, Sea Captains and Those Who Do Battle

So its been a long time since my last post. My apologies. School has started again and its gogogo time, at least in regards to studying. Managed to snag a friend’s apartment that they were moving out of so I’ve got a perfect place that is close to school and I’ve been hitting the books with wreckless abandon. But that isn’t what I’m hear to talk about today. First, I thought I would share some experiences I’ve had in Japan since I got back, more specifically, strange experiences that I’m not sure I would see in the USA, but then again, who knows. The first happened a few weeks ago. I was leaving my apartment to go to school on a bright sunny day, when I noticed one of my neighbors was outside near his doorway, viciously scrubbing away at something. I wasn’t entirely sure what it was and for some reason curiosity got the better of me so I stopped to look. To my amazement, he was sitting on his haunches, scrubbing a turtle. Yes, a turtle. A live one. Now the question is, is the turtle a pet, or perhaps dinner?
The next odd thing happened last night. I visited an Izakaya (Japanese style bar/eatery) with Asako and Etsuko to get some tasty grubbins after the night’s dancing. The place we picked had a slightly seafood oriented theme and I noticed the restaurant’s mascot seemed to be a very hairy Japanese guy in a sailor suit, which I thought was funny. So we ordered, ate our food and drank our drinks when suddenly, said captain appeared in the flesh, and right next to our table. He had a ridiculous grin on his face and asked us how we were doing and gave his thanks for coming to his restaurant. He then said, (in english) “Where you are come from? Oh America? Great, its great place. Please have good time tonight, you are with two beautiful girl, have good time.” And he walked off. I wish I had my camera.
The other story is less exciting but somewhat funny. On my 2nd day in my apartment I was walking home when I heard what sounded like people engaged in battle. More specifically it sounded more like people screaming with rage and murdering eachother. I looked all around me to find out where the noise was coming from and quickly realized what it was. Put simply, I am located right next to a huge highschool, and in the afternoon, the Kendo Club (Japanese Sword Fighting) meets to practice, train and beat the crap out of eachother. OnceI realized what it was I thought it was quite funny.
Today’s Song: Shining Over You – Hyde

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A Late Christmas Post

Late Merry Christmas and New Year to all!
So Ember came out to Japan for about 12 days and if I told you I wasn’t excited about that fact, my nose would be so large I’d put Pinnochio to shame. Anyway, we had a great time. For Christmas we went to the huge temple in Asakusa, which is called Sensoji I think. Then Roppongi Hills, a brand new highrise building/skyscraper thing that has a multitude of shops but best of all, a tremendous view that is 360 degrees and lets you see absolutely all of Tokyo from about 50+ stories up. It really is quite amazing. For New Years we went down to Yokohama China Town where we were really late for a big Swing dance. After that we walked around China Town to see Chinese Gangsters setting off illegal fireworks and I bought a nikuman the size of my head. Nikuman = those Humbow bread roll filled with meat thingies. Anyway, between those two things there were some dances, and probably best of all, a trip to Disneyland and the even more spectacular Disney Sea. We had a lot of fun and I can’t wait till she comes back.

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Onsen

Lets talk about Onsen.
First off, an Onsen is a Japanese hot spring. I have heard many things about these so called hot springs and their regenerative properties but before a month ago I had never visited one. In my case I can really only describe the Onsen experience as a transcendent one, something that goes beyond mortal words or description and is so wonderful, I wonder if Onsen were meant for this world. Before I get to the Onsen though, I’ll talk about the trip leading up to it. So we all gathered on a Saturday, funny thing is, we all gathered at about 10PM. There was Chieko, our driver, Hiroko, Luke, Keith, Etsuko and yours truly. We had a boat load of snacks and even more uncooked beef, chicken and pork along with some tasty vegetables to accompany the small barbecue that we had hijacked from Chieko’s grandparen’ts house. After driving for about an hour and a half on empty Tokyo streets and the freeway, we entered an ellensburghish like area, if such a place can be so low as to be described in relation to eburgh, and looked for a place to make camp. Our decided location; a parking lot. We couldn’t have picked a better place as it happened to be the parking lot of a nearby park which also had restrooms. So at about 1am we set up the barbecue, cooked up some tasty vittles and ate and drank our fill. It was a lot of fun and the slight absurdity of a whole bunch of japanese and americans huddled around a small barbecue with only the car lights illuminating our cooking proccesses was wonderful.
After packing up we headed to the mountains were the nebulous Onsen were hiding, took another 2 hours or so to reach them. At this point a lot of us are feeling exhausted as it is now about 3:30 am and most of us are running on a lack of sleep. Chieko then tells us that we have about 2 hours before the Onsen she likes opens up, so she says we’ll go check out another one for a little while to kill time then we’ll go to the REAL onsen. I find this idea odd but go along with it. Its cold outside but I’m ready for some hot natural spring water so we trek along a beautiful river where the leaves of the nearby trees are all orange and bright, its very pretty despite the early morning dimness. We hop over a small gate stopping foot traffic from walking across a long bridge, the old people infront of us did it so if old people do it, you can do it too. 😛 Anyway, we made our way through the trees along a trail and I’m thinking, this is crazy. But we finally arrive and its quite a magical place. The onsen is a small pool, built with stones as a base and around the sides like a miniature swimming pool in a peanut shape. A small waterfall is flowing on the other side of it that feeds into the river that is more or less below us, a small shack to our left is an area for people to get changed. So, we threw off our clothes, covered ourselves up with towels and hopped in, the water was spectacular. Of course it was hot and the cold air around us seemed to amplify it, but there was something else about the water that I really can only describe as rejuvenating. I got into the Onsen tired, and left feeling refreshed and very awake. After about 30 minutes in the pool, which I thought was too short, Chieko urged us out so we could go to the next one. After making our way through the mountains via car again, we stopped at a small hotel-ish looking building located more or less on a cliffside overlooking what was probably the same river we saw earlier, but this time it is at a higher elevation and there are a series of small waterfalls running through it. The combination of the falls and the nearby trees shedding their orange leaves was very pretty.
We grabbed our stuff and walked down a long flight of stairs along the cliffside and came at least to the next Onsen, a large pool on a small ledge of the cliff, overlooking the river. Above that by about 20 feet was another small ledge and another onsen but it was covered and for women only. Below the first main pool was another pool covered by a series of rocks forming a kind of cave, and slightly above that another onsen in the open air. The main pool we first saw was occupied by two men, one of which had a ver large and ornate tattoo on his back. The man at the hotel-ish looking building told us to be careful as there was a man he saw with a large tatoo and he was concerned it was a yakuza. Well this was confirmed when we saw him as the tatoo was large, orgnate and covered the entirety of the man’s back and shoulders, common for this type of thug. So we went to the lowest pool and sat for awhile, but it wasn’t too warm so we moved up to the next which was also relatively cool. Finally we moved to the main pool and the water was fantastic. The perfect warm/hot temperature you could sit and be content in all day while the air above cools you off and the hot water warms you up. Mr. Yakuza was very friendly and asked us where we were from and said our japanese was very good. All in all it was pretty funny. We stayed at the Onsen for two hours, just sitting, talking and hanging out. It was a place I can only describe as magical and really almost too surreal for words.  I hope I can return to it again sometime.
Today’s Song: 3 Libras – Perfect Circle

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An International Dislike

So in my studies here in Japan, I’ve come to an amazing conclusion.
School kinda sucks no matter where you are. 😛 Let me rephrase that, crappy classes exist no matter what school you are at. The majority of my classes are interesting and I feel that I am learning something which is a welcome change from some of the lame time wasting sessions they call classes at UW. However, there is one class that I find aggravating beyond belief, and it is called Modern Japanese History. Maybe its the Professor’s fault for being too vague and obscure in what he wants from us but I am starting to get annoyed at the lack of direction. Meh.
So I’ve decided that in my time here I have been speaking too much English. Unfortunately I see little chance to rectify the problem as everyone at Sophia speaks English and all my friends there are good ol fashioned Americans. But I find myself naturally slipping into English too much even with my Japanese friends, so I have decided to try and speak Japanese exclusively with my Japanese friends and use English only when it is absolutely necessary, but even then I’d rather just not use it, thats why I came here right?
The Christmas is coming up and I am finding it weird that I won’t be home to feast on clam chowder and enjoy the usually gargantuan tree we get. Oh well, Ember is coming and I am really excited to show her all the things here. I think we’ll go to Roppongi on Christmas to see the lights, I hear its really amazing.
More thoughts later.
Night,
Me.
Today’s Song: Orestes – Perfect Circle

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Family and Belated Birthday Update

Greetings all. It is currently 1:21 AM, and I am at Keith’s place enjoying his recently connected high speed internet. Took him more than a month to get it, poor guy.
Anyway, family consists of Mom, Dad, two brothers and a baby sister.
Mom = Tomoko
Dad  = Hiro
6 year old = Ryota
3 year old = Shyota
Baby        = Yumi-chan

They are a very nice family but very busy all the time. Despite the tough transition face it is nice to live with a Japanese family to see the stereotype, “all Japanese parents spoil their children” play out in a real life setting. I think I can honestly say that Japanese children, if the ones I live with are any indication of how all other Japanese children are treated, are indeed spoiled, though maybe not quite in the same way we associate with the word spoiled. When I think of the word spoiled I think of material things, in that if I want a new toy I’ll get it with enough whining. However, when it comes to things like food, I have less control over what is eaten despite how much whining I might do. This is the opposite in my family as Ryota, being the oldest of all the children, almost always gets what he wants in regards to food or other things hard to describe in a general category. For example; Mom always asks him what he wants for breakfast, and he usually gets whatever he wants. If he doesn’t get what he wants, complaining starts, and mom gives in rather quickly. The next part of describing his spoiled-ness is the way in which he eats. In the case of Tamago-yaki (Fried egg over a bowl of rice) Ryota always insists that mom separate the yolk from the white and put it on his rice. If it hasn’t been done before hand he complains and whines in a very high pitched obnoxious voice and usually it is then taken care of. Surprisingly enough the other day he complained and started his usual fit of whining when Mom said do it yourself and we reached a new level of almost ear piercing whines and complains. I almost fixed the egg myself as my eardrums were sure to bleed within the next 2 minutes. I see I have written a lot about kids and spoiled ones in my house, so I’ll move on. Any wanted clarification will be graciously given if so desired.
Moving on to my 21st birthday. First off, let me say that no one cares about a 21st birthday in Japan. 20 is the big year here, called Hatachi. It is the official time that one is considered an adult and entitled to all the legal responsibilities and priviliges therein. So, I was forced to explain to my Japanese friends that this was one of the most important birthdays I would remember and thus it had to be like I was turning 20 instead of 21. So we all ate at a Shabu-Shabu restaurant that was all you can eat and drink. Shabu-Shabu is a style of Japanese cooking where you are given giant slabs of uncooked beef that you place infront of a pot of bowling water sitting in front of you to cook it. You can also order vegetables like onions and carrots to go with the beef. It was a great time at the restaurant and I definitely ate and drank my fill. After this we all made our way to the downstairs which was a very large arcade. One of hundreds in Tokyo. We were there for about an hour, playing games, joking and taking a lot of pictures. James and I made a point to play Dance Dance Revolution and I am sure I looked like a complete fool. After that we all made our way to a bar to finish off the evening as Asako and Etsuko joined the party late and hadn’t eaten anything yet. After about an hour’s time there, I headed on over to Keith’s to crash for the rest of the night as my homestay house was too far away to catch the last train leaving Tokyo in time. So in a nutshell thats my birthday experience and it was a lot of fun. I’ll definitely remember it for a long time as I can remember all the smiling faces on all my friends that were there. Good times.
Today’s Song:
Deftones – Digital Bath

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