Tuesday, August 26, 2008

8/27/08 Back In Japanland

I made it back to Ashikaga unscathed late last night, and I am back at work this morning. What a trooper I am.

My 3 weekish long moment spent in the US was most excellent, short but very sweet. I enjoyed a bit of time with lots of friends and family. I did a bit of domestic traveling as well, setting foot in 6 different states.

One little memory that stands out is hanging out with some college buddies in Wisconsin at my friend Zeke's house. We actually woke up before noon on a weekend, so we figured it would be fun to go to a garage sale. In the Wisconsin area they are frequently called rummage sales, which we like to joke about.

My friend Seago has a fancy smart phone with GPS, which takes out most of the hard work involved in garage sales. We simply mapped out an address and followed the little blue dot. He hit a few mostly uneventful sales until we came across a big one, an estate sale. It feels horrible to admit, but I love estate sales. The stuff for sale is usually cooler, older, and cheaper than at a normal garage. Seago got a nice reel to reel player that folds up into its own little carrying case for 2 dollars. We later sat and listened to recordings taken from American Bandstand. There was enough thin brown tape in this little metal reel to wrap around a house once or twice, and we only had one spool, which meant a big messy pile of magnetic tape was left on the floor after listening. I snagged a betamax player for free, which contained part of The Parent Trap taped from TV. The best part were the old school commercials. One was Bill Cosby gibbering about his Jell-O Pudding Pops, straight out of the way things used to be.

We got to walk around this house and search for treasures as we wished. As we followed a nice lady through her deceased relative's house, I spotted a smallish movie film canister sitting on a washer or dryer. Already on the lookout for media to feed to Seago's machine, I took a closer look. The label was handwritten in German and was dated 1944. The only word that I could understand was Dresden, the name of a German city I only recognize because of the thorough bombing it received in World War II. I brought the subject up several times with the woman during my rummaging but she insisted that it wasn't for sale. What a find! I love estate sales. Does that make me a bad guy?

My poor laptop went inoperable during my time home, leaving me unable to put together anything here about the million things that I have been doing (tear). All of my pictures are still trapped on my digital camera. It's the worst! Hopefully it will be taken care of soon. Until then, I am forced to appeal to your imaginations with mispelled words instead of colorful photographs (unthinkable, I know).

Saturday, August 09, 2008

8/9/08 Sweet Home Springfield

I've been stateside for a couple days now, and I am really happy to be back. I've been taking pleasure in eating favorite foods of mine that I've been missing, and seeing family and friends. I still have a few action packed days of Japan to write about, so I will mix those in with present day US stuff. Busy busy. Enjoy!

Monday, August 04, 2008

8/10/08 First Time to Kobe

On Sunday Yohei, Marcus, and I went to Kobe. I just met Marcus, but Yohei is an old friend of mine. I met him in 2004 at school in Kyoto. I hadn't seen him in a couple years, so this was a good catchup time.

Somehow a visit to Kobe had thus far eluded me despite living so close to it for half a year. I wouldn't be able to sleep at night if I went to Kobe without trying Kobe beef. Yohei advised me that eating it for lunch would probably be a lot cheaper than eating it for dinner, so the three of us hit a steak joint not long after getting off the train.

Steak World store front.

The name of the place is Steak World written out in katakana. Not the classiest sounding place I ever saw, but I figured that a place called Steak World couldn't possibly disappoint me in the beef department. An added bonus was that it was the sort of place where you can see the cook at work on a little grill at every table.

Steak master at work.

Our man deftly wielded his various tools and cooked us up some delicious steaks. The meat was small to American standards, but I was there for the experience, not for a bag of leftovers.

The meat on the left is normal (Marcus balked at the Kobe style meat, and opted for a more usual piece instead). The meat on the right was evenly divided between Yohei and myself. The fat was chopped up and thrown into a little salad that we all shared.

This lunch set cost me around 30 dollars. I imagine this is the last time I'll be eating Kobe beef. One interesting addition were these little dried slices of garlic that were cooked next to the meat. They were really good. I could have snacked on them like potato chips.

When Japan was persuaded (by Americans with cannons) to open its ports to foreign trade in 1854, Kobe was one of the early port cities made available. A physical reminder of those days are the barbarian houses, or ijinkan. Important foreigner traders and other big timers of the day had houses built in their homeland's style. The result are some opulent western houses high up on a hill.

This was one of the nicer looking houses. It was built in 1903 as the residence of American Consul-General Hunter Sharp.

The three us walked around the area, but the houses' admission was a bit pricier than seemed reasonable, so we admired them from the outside. A few of the houses still looked original, but a few looked as if they had been recently thrown together just for tourism. The area had a bit of a theme parky feel to it that I didn't appreciate. We could see the sea from the hill that we were up on. We marched towards it while taking in some Kobe sights.

Marcus and Yohei taking a breather. Some of Kobe and a hint of the sea can be seen in the distance.

I thought that this little building was kinda cool. You see, the Japanese police system is set up a bit differently. Even in Ashikaga, there are several little stations all over town, rather than one or two behemoth police stations. I suppose that provides an advantage in trying to cover a city. You can read a little bit about the system here. Anyway, this is the coolest one I've yet seen. Very classy.

Next we made a visit to Kobe's Chinatown. Sure, I've been to several Chinatowns before, but this one had its own unique style. China through the eyes of the Japanese, I suppose. A food that seemed to be everywhere was nikuman, a fluffy pastry that usually has some sort of meat in the center. Its one of those “Chinese” foods which you doubt anyone in China has ever eaten, but the one I had was good anyway. I found these peanut and sesame bars that were ridiculously cheap. They were like 12 for a dollar and they were delicious. Once I got home, though, I realized that the expiration date on them was only like a week away. Sneaky Chinatownians! I'll get them for this.

The three of us standing in front of one of the main Chinatown entrances.

Moving on... When we reached the port area we saw a little festival thing going on. It was nice that some cold things were being sold, because the weather was pretty brutal. We were walking the whole town in some sweat standing still in the shade sort of weather. It wasn't anything some shaved ice couldn't fix, though. The port is home to a little memorial to the Great Hanshin Earthquake of 1995. A portion of the dock area has been left untouched since the disaster hit. It's pretty chewed up.

Here's a bit of the earthquaked dock. Notice how the lamppost is all crooked.

I spent my last day with the university crew in Kyoto. I picked up a pretty slick looking yukata at a department store. I am currently still in need of some of the little wooded flip flops though... no one seems to have my size. My friends and I spent some time strolling about town, eventually settling on a little pool hall. Its too bad that we live so far apart, they are good guys. At the end of the day I grabbed another shinkansen, but not back up north. Oh no, I was going south. More south in Japan than I have ever ventured before.... Hiroshima!

Nacchan, Yohei, and Sawa seeing me off at the train station.

Saturday, August 02, 2008

8/3/08 Friends in Osaka

There was one week left of classes after climbing Mt. Fuji. I was a bit sore at school. Going up and down stairs in particular was something I wanted to avoid. The weekend of the 19th of July was the start of almost a week of traveling across Japan. The original purpose of my trip was to visit some of my friends from my days in Kyoto at Ritsumeikan University. The area around Kyoto is nice because there are several cities fairly close together. This enabled me to do enjoy Osaka, Kyoto, and Kobe all in the space of a couple of days. On Tuesday, then, Tung was starting a little trip of his own to Hiroshima. Already being halfway there, I met him for more hardcore tourism.

Beginning in Osaka, I spent some quality time with old friends, getting caught up on everyone's news. We didn't have much of a plan, so we just chatted while strolling though a few shopping districts. I am holding off on doing anymore shopping until I go home (this WEDNESDAY!!). In the US, the sizes are bigger and the prices are smaller, both of which are very good things.

We had just left a mall when we noticed that a crowd had formed, watching something out of view. Curiously approaching, we found what everyone was gawking at. In some major cities, you can find musicians playing on street corners, practicing while earning a few donations. Well this was a bit like that, but instead of a group of musicians it was a couple of antisocial looking men. And instead of playing instruments, they were playing Dance Dance Revolution. These guys weren't even looking at the game's screen half the time!

Master of his art.

After the first guy another... this gentleman was double funny because he was so freakin big, yet he was dancing away, and sort of like a little girl. I was surprised at the spectacle and at the amount of people that had stopped to watch. Only in Japan. At one point a woman from the arcade came out to tell us all to leave, because the crowd had grown large enough that it was blocking traffic.

Afterwards we ate a nice dinner, and this one was a first for me. A group of us went to Kushiya Monogatari, a sort of deep fry it yourself place. Its offering, kushikatsu, is best described as fried meat on a stick. For a set amount of time(Japanese buffets always have a time limit, I think it was 90 min. this instance) we could choose from a multitude of vegetables, meats, seafood, and a few other randoms-all impaled on sticks. There was a salad bar and dessert and other things to round out the meal. The smell of fried delicious filled the air.

Dip in liquid stuff, dip in crunchies, drop in oil, and repeat, say Marcus.

One of my favorites is deep fried slices of Japanese pumpkin, or kabocha.

"Hey, maybe I do know how to cook!"

We stayed the night at a friends place in Osaka. It was a nice time to chat. Next up: Kobe!