Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Back to Japan, With Grace and Drake!

Hey folks. I know you have been waiting for a while. A little over half a month actually, since the last post. Thanks for sticking around.

I have been in Japan for one year now. It was one hell of a hard year. I can't believe I did it.

Anyway, after the Ecuador trip there were a few days in California and Hawaii. However, since my photo taking finger was still injured from the Ecuador trip, few pictures of that part exist. Here is one of me and Nick kayaking.
And Nick's response to our trip.

Hawaii sure is beautiful.
So basically, I came back to Japan and staggered around for a couple of days trying to beat Jet Lag. During that time I went to a really cool festival in Takasaki with Yuri and Kentaro, but I forgot to bring my camera again. Sorry!

The big news recently, and the reason it took a month to update this blog, is that my non-Japanese friends are finally starting to visit me in Japan. The first was Grace, who came to Japan on a four day trip with her sister. We met in Shinjuku...
And ate Monja Yaki, Japan's most disgusting looking food. Emphasis on the "looking", it is actually quite scrumptious.

Grace and I were only able to hang out for a night, but I am really glad that she was able to come. She promises that next time she will come to Gunma so we can do some onsen.

Grace's trip prepared me for my first real guest, who flew in all the way from California for my birthday. Drake arrived at Narita Airport to find that I had prepared in advance for his arrival.
Would you rather be picked up at the airport in Japan by a man in a suit and white gloves, or by a white guy dressed in a 1000 yen samurai costume who attacks you with a plastic sword as you leave security? I thought Drake would like the latter.
He did. By the way, if you come to visit Japan and schedule your trip on a day that I can come to the airport I have an even better costume planned. I'm dying to do it, so please come!
After the airport stuff was all squared away Drake, Yuri, Keiko and I all went to a feudal Japan themed restaurant in Shinjuku.
Where we ate food. Food you don't eat every day.
Here is my small but fantastic birthday party.
The nabe.
Drake brought noise makers from the US. They were a source of wonderful entertainment.

Keiko may have gotten injured in this next video.

And here is Drake becoming a yet to be named superhero.
My cake!
Good birthday. After the party we had planned to go to Karaoke, but since everyone was really tired (except Yuri who is never tired, except in the morning) we decided just to go to a Manga/Internet Cafe and get some rest. Here is the inside of Cafe Seeds in Ueno, my recommendation if you are ever looking for an Internet Cafe to sleep in. Clean, friendly and around 2000 Yen for the night with free rental movies, manga and flat mats to sleep on. Showers cost 300 yen for half and hour, and towels, tooth brush, soap, razor and shampoo are all provided.
The next day we got up and went to Asakusa. Drake got his fortune told at the temple behind Kaminari-mon and ended up with the second worst luck you can get (I never get my fortune told unless things already look bad and even bad luck sounds good). We faithfully tied it in front of the temple and left it to the Buddha to work out for us.
Then we went to my favorite ice cream shop in Asakusa (the one which sells Natto Ice Cream).
They sell many odd flavors other than Natto. Drake got beer flavored ice cream. It was made from real beer and was actually alcoholic (1%).
Then we went to Akihabara. By the way, here is the ramen vending machine. Hot ramen in a can from a vending machine. The laziest Japanese food ever. You only need to pop the lid and chew.
Drake, who loves building things, was in heaven in Akihabra.
And we found some very interesting stuff.

This too.

And where else could you find a picture of Hello Kitty with the Jaws of Life?
After spending most of the day in Akihabara, we went to Ginza, and from Ginza went to Tsukiji. The fish market was closed on Sunday, but some of the sushi shops were still open. The Hawkers outside the sushi shops in Tsukiji are very aggressive, by the way. In the end we went into the restaurant with the most relaxed hawker. Good choice since the place we went to had a chef that was hilarious and wouldn't stop trying to crack jokes, even to let us eat.
When we did manage to chew in between his incessant teasing, the sushi was good.
And I tried the expensive fatty tuna. This nigiri sushi was 800 yen for one piece. Good, but not as good as the Chuo Tuna, the one that is only 400 yen a piece.
After escaping the clutches of our chef, we went back to Gunma.

The next day Yuri took a day off of work and drove Drake around the Takasaki area. After I was done with Kindergarten, I met them and we went to Okonomiyaki. Everybody made something. Drake made the Okonomiyaki. I made the Monja Yaki. And Yuri made the waitress cook the Hiroshima Yaki for us.
After Okonomiyaki Drake and I went to Pachinko, the Japanese version of a slot machine. Having now done it, I can tell you that Pachinko is not worth your time. It might be more rewarding to walk into the pachinko place and just had your money to someone that works there because at least then you could have a conversation. Needless to say, Drake and I lost and lost fast.
The next day Drake went to Tokyo, and when I got off of work we met in Shibukawa and went to Soba with Yuri. We ate at the best Soba restaurant in Shibukawa and had Wasabi Soba with real Wasabi. Incredible. Real Wasabi is very, very rare. In fact, you can't buy it at any supermarket or vegetable stand in Shibukawa. It has to be ordered from Nagano.
On Thursday a typhoon hit Gunma, so Drake and I went to Keiyaki Walk. We went to the game center and waited for Yuri. When she arrived she found a few coins laying around and put them in a "metal game" machine. The three of us played the game and ultimately won the game, hit all the jackpots and got a huge pay off. All in Namco Land tokens which have no monetary value. Much more fun than Pachinko. Drake rode Pikachu.
Then we went to Kappa Sushi.
The Typhoon dropped a ton of rain on Gunma and passed directly over Shibukawa. School got canceled the next day as a result. Here is how much the Tone river flooded. That used to be a park.
It never looks that big. But Gunma was the epicenter of the storm, and of all the provinces in Japan suffered the most damage.
We spent my surprise day off going sightseeing.
On Saturday we began to drive to Tochigi. Here is an ancient tomb which was discovered recently. Gunma appears to have had a thriving culture over 1500 years ago.
Then we went to this reconstructed Edo period village. Tried the stilts.
I was no good.

Not as good as Nikko Edo Mura, by any means, but not as broken.
The optical illusion house.
The leaning house.
Here is a fun video. I have a good camera.

After that we picked up Waka and went to Ashikaga in Tochigi. There we visited the first university in Japan, built over 1000 years ago.
Beautiful grounds.
Me doing a Kanji test.

And at lunch shortly afterwards. This picture needs explaination. Drake was taking a picture of me pretending to pour water on Yuri. In the process she bumped me and I actually did.
On the way to Eri's house in Tochigi we stopped at Joyful Honda. Now, I have always thought that Joyful Honda was a car dealership, but it turns out it is the largest sigle store that I have ever seen in my entire life. It is like a Home Depot, Costco, Target, Tokyu Hands, Pet Store, and a mall food court all stacked on top of eachother. I have never seen a store this big.
When we got to Eri's house we ate Gyoza...
And went to Karaoke.
Then set off fireworks in the parking lot of a theater.
The next morning's breakfast. We ate...
Then went to Nikko.
I am so pleased that I finally got to go to the famous part of Nikko. I have wanted to go to Toshogu Shrine for a whole year now. Sadly, the old buildings of the shrine had so much mold in them that I spent the entire time sneezing.
Here is the famous monkey sculpture.
Preaty bulidings.
One of the most photographed things in the world.
Main gate.
And the waterfall just up the hill. Lots of water since the previous day was a typhoon.
On Monday Drake went home after spending a total of 10 days in Japan. It was great. I have been feeling a little bit like I am living two lives recently: my Japan life and my US life. These two lives feel very diffrent to me. Diffrent friends, diffrent daily routine, even my personality changes in the diffrent context. The fact that I am simultaneously living both these lives has been a source of stress to me lately. Drake comming to Japan helped to tie those two lives together a little bit. There is a little bit more continuity between my lives, and it comforts me. Thank you Drake.