Well, as I mentioned in the previous, very brief post, I am now in Japan and staying with Manabu. It is nice here. The weather is better than Korea, I understand what people are saying (about 70% of the time as opposed to my 5% comprehension rate for Korean), and I know where I am. So far I have been taking it easy in Japan. I kind of have to. I need to rest up because my job starts on Wednesday and I still have not completely gotten over my jet lag (thanks to not being able to sleep very well in Korea). I really want to be well rested for my job. I figure I will not have time to relax for the first month. Living here is going to be difficult, but it will be easier if I work very hard in the first month to be good at my job and to make friends outside of work. This may be the last post with pictures for some time as well, due to the fact that I haven't yet figured out how I am going to manage getting internet service.
Speaking of pictures, we should get back to Korea, where I was in the middle of having dinner with Sung Eun.
I gained a little weight around the midsection in Korea, and here is why. My friends were always treating me to lunch and dinner. However, this made me feel guilty, so I insisted that I treat them to ice cream so that I could feel less like a leech. As a result, I ended up eating ice cream with almost every meal. In case you are wondering, this is not ice cream, but a Korean form of shaved ice called "Bing Soo". It ranges in flavor from delicious to...not delicious. This one, from Baskin Robins, had tomatoes. Tomatoes are not good in Bing Soo.
This is Sung Eun leaving on the bus. Kind of sad because I don't yet know when the next time I will see my Korean friends is. When they come to Japan this year, I hope...
So, that night I spent my last night in the hostel, which was not very restful because, once again, it was hot. Lynn had said she wanted to take me to the airport, but because she was working all night, I was only able to get a hold of her 20 minutes before I planned on leaving. She decided that she wanted to take me to the airport anyway, even though she had been working all night. Once again, she paid for everything, which puts me even further into debt to her. I definitely don't deserve all of the kindness that she has shown me. I'll do my best to make it up to her in the future, if she'll let me.
Anyway, I ended up needing to pay the overweight baggage fee at Incheon airport, which left me with about 1000 won, or roughly a dollar. The plane flight was made short by the fact that I randomly started talking to my two Japanese neighbors on the plane
(I've been randomly talking to people a lot, actually). Arrived in Narita, got through immigration with out a hitch, got my bags (total weight 70 kilograms!) and began my trek to Harajuku station. Here are my bags at Harajuku station.
Manabu picked me up at the station, and we took a taxi to his apartment (which is nice!). Then we immediately went off to the Azabu Juban Matsuri. The only time I have seen more people than I saw at the Azabu Juban Matsuri was when Deigo and I went to Halloween in the Castro. This time wasn't as scary, even though more people were drinking. I tried to get a picture to show you how crowded it was, but none of them turned out. Since Japanese people tend to have black hair, my camera kept over exposing the photos, which turned out blurry. We did see this. Cooked whole fish!
And I tried some.
I also ate squid on a stick.
The Matsuri was interesting. Lots of food stalls, lots of games, bon dancing, talent shows, and lots of people. Here is something that caught my eye as a little strange. This is a game that we passed on the street. Take a good close look at the prizes, especially the top row.
Manabu and I returned from the Matsuri and did laundry. While we were waiting for it to be done, we played Jenga. I won.
The next day I set off early to meet Akira, an American who lives in Gunma, who was interested in having me as a roommate. Getting from Tokyo to Shibukawa is not easy, as I discovered. It takes about 2 hours and 20 minutes if you take the train that stops at every station, but only 1 hour and 30 minutes if you take express trains and shell out an extra ￥２０００ for the Shinkansen (bullet train). Actually, I got on the wrong train one time, asked a girl on the train where I should get off, and disembark 5 minutes later having made a friend (I guess). I arrived 20 minutes late. I met with Akira, and he seemed like a good guy. Also, the price of the room, fact that there was no deposit and was in a good location were all pluses. But when I stepped into the house I could smell the mold. Since living around mold makes my life hellish, I decided I had to pass on the offer (which means, yes, I will, in fact, be very broke this year). Akira also gave me a little bit of a tour around Shibukawa "city". My first impression? Shibukawa reminds me a lot of Minden, NV. Close to a lot of really great natural wonders and resorts, but as a town not terribly convenient. Looks like I'll be spending a lot of time studying and working this year. This picture makes it look deceptively dense.
Akira and I parted ways, and I waited for a little while until Keiko, my local Gunma connection, showed up. As you can see, being back in Japan has been really good for her. She looked healthy and her energy level was higher. She is forcing me to speak almost entirely in Japanese to her, which I really appreciate. She showed up in her car, a cute little Mazda, and I realized for the first time that Keiko really enjoys driving. Maybe I should have asked her to drive for me in California.
Well, we drove around Shibukawa for a little while looking for a restaurant. We stopped at the local convenience store and asked, and discovered that there aren't any. So we drove to Maebashi, the capital of Gunma prefecture and its largest city. Maebashi was much more happening than Shibukawa. Driving around Maebashi we discovered that there was a festival in front of the "Kencho", the gigantic center of government. This is me posing with the mascot of Gunma, the horse.
And this is the "Kencho", a 32 floor monster of a building that houses the government offices for Gunma prefecture. How a prefecture with 2 million people can afford such a gigantic and elegant building, I'd love to know.
This is looking up towards Shibukawa (after the third bend in the river) from the observation deck of the Kencho...
From the second best bathroom in the world.
The Maebashi Matsuri was really small. Maybe only 1,500 people showed up. Food was good, but too expensive and not enough of it. So Keiko and I went to "Joyful", a "Family restaurant". Basically, think IHOP, but in Japan and cheaper.
Joyful sure was cheap, and it was fun just to be with Keiko. See how I can keep things positive! So, last on our make-it-up-as-we-go tour, Keiko and I went to the University of Gunma and she made me a poster that basically says "I'm new in town, speak English and am looking for friends". She has very nice handwriting, so I am expecting to hear from a lot of men.
On the train ride back, I saw an old man reading an English language newspaper, and what started out as a request to read it when he was done turned into a 2 hour conversation about English education with a man who had clearly taught himself by reading the newspaper every day and no other method. His vocabulary was at a university level, but his pronunciation was that of a true beginner.
Today I met with Yuichi, and we went cell phone shopping. So many options, and I don't know anything about any of them. Buying a cell phone is going to be a real learning experience. But so is everything when you don't understand 30% of what is going on. But that is why I'm here, after all.