Sunday, March 29, 2009

Yokohama with Angelica

We stayed in the Ashikaga area for most of last week, but on Thursday we each packed a backpack and went to the train station. Our destination this time was Yokohama.

I don't think I've posted this view from the Ashikaga train station yet, but I've seen it a million times. It's a terraced cemetery. Cremation is the norm in Japan, so they don't need a ton of space for burying.

We picked up a few snacks for our journey. Angelica thought it was funny that Seven-Eleven sells individually packaged hard-boiled eggs.

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Yokohama is situated south of Tokyo and is Japan's second largest city.

We started our exploration of the city in Minato Mirai 21, a thoroughly developed area on the coast. A cool fact is much of it is built on reclaimed land.

A shot of Landmark Tower with the Nippon-Maru docked nearby.

There are a few little patches of amusement park here and there. One unique bit was a little vehicle that could be pedaled along on an elevated track.

While the area was clean, new, and well planned, it felt a bit sterile. After taking away the malls, the restaurants, and the little amusement park, I didn't feel like there was a ton to do or to see. Time in Tokyo is probably better spent.

The not-so-imaginatively named Red Brick Warehouse is a nice break from all of the steel and concrete of the rest of the city. While it is currently filled with shops and restaurants, they are trendy and I enjoyed strolling around in them. No McDonald's here.

We had a spring strawberry flavored ice cream at Bashamichi Ice. It was tiny and delicious, topped with a couple of fresh strawberries and sprinkled with dried bits as well.

Lunch was an avocado burger at the Hawaiian themed KUA`AINA. Sure, it's a chain, but its a pretty cool one.

It was one of those burgers that is so big and packed with toppings that you have to really hold on to the bun to keep everything from falling out. It was really good.

I was a bit disappointed in the brick wonderland because it didn't seem to address any of its undoubtedly interesting history. It was completed in 1905, served as a customs building for the bustling port, and survived the Great Kanto Earthquake and World War II. I think I missed something though, because I was too worn out to check the twin building on the other side. I assumed it was just more shops. My bad.

One of Yokohama's strong points, and one that differentiates it a bit from Tokyo, is its Chinatown.

We checked out a Chinese styled temple with a nice incense aroma.

Japan's vision of China: Hello Kitty in a panda suit.

You can check out the previous time I visited Yokohama's Chinatown here for more pictures and witty observations.

Angelica and I discussed not even going to the Ramen Museum in Shinyokohama. We were pretty tired already and the museum was a little bit out of the way. I am soo glad that we went. I wouldn't think twice about taking another multiple hour train ride to visit this place a second time.

Even the exterior was pretty cool. The lights above are giant soup bowls.

After paying a small admission of around 3 dollars, we entered. It was a bit of a rocky start. The first thing one sees after entering is a large gift shop full of ramen related trinkets. I wondered if I had been tricked into buying a ticket to a big store. Around the edges of the the merchandise was a bit of the history of ramen. There was little English signage, and I didn't find it incredibly interesting.

An instant ramen cup featuring Arnold had me laughing.

One level down was where the awesomeness started.

It's a two-story little ramen theme park set in 1958, the year when the first instant ramen was sold. The people that work in the little city are all in character more or less. Super awesome.

The upper floor has nice winding alleyways that are very well themed. Sound effects come from all sides, really pulling you in to the time period. There was even a penny candy store that I bought several interesting items at.

Little ramen restaurants are embedded in the city streets. Sometimes they looked so much a part of the scenery that I had to poke my head in the window to check if they were real.

I only had the stomach room for one bowl of ramen, but the Ramen Museum has assembled an all-star collection of restaurants from all over Japan. We chose to eat at Komurasaki, a ramen shop from the southern island of Kyushu.

It was really good. It was flavored with grilled garlic, something I don't think I've ever tasted in my ramen. Two thumbs up!

So yeah, the Shinyokohama Ramen Museum is awesome. I strongly suggest a name change for them though. Some people find museums boring, and this place is anything but.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Unfortunate Incidents

I went to Narita Airport to get Angelica Sunday. Her plane was a bit late, but it wasn't a big deal. Some unfortunate incidents took place earlier that day, though.

So recently I have been cleaning up my apartment quite a lot. It has been super warm the last couple of days, so I took the opportunity to do some Spring cleaning. I was doing some dishes about an hour before I needed to catch the airport bus and I heard a new sound come from under the sink, accompanied by the sound of gushing water. Awesome. I instinctively tried the cartoon method of holding the pipe where the water was coming out. Having that fail, I knew I had to shut off the water valve. The next logical question was "where the freak is the water valve?!" I checked under the sink, I checked by the washer and dryer, then the bathroom. Next I ran outside and ran around the building.

There were plenty of valves, but they all seemed to be for the natural gas. AHHH! I ran back in and checked the sink. Water was flowing all over the floor. I put my dish-washing tub under the leak to catch the water, but it was a weak stopgap measure. The tub was quickly filling. I ran out again and towards the mechanic garage next to my house. This being a Sunday, no one was there. Then I jogged to the taxi place next door. In my most excited, grammatically awful Japanese I explained that my apartment was about to float away. There I was directed to talk to my landlord who lives next door. On the way there I called my boss with no answer.

My landlord is about 100 years old and has a hearing aid. She didn't look thrilled when she answered the door and a big sweaty white man was standing there. When I first started to explain my problem, she was certain that my apartment wasn't even her building. Awesome. Eventually she remembered that she does in fact own the large apartment building directly adjacent to her home. We walked very slowly together over to my place. She pointed to a baby manhole cover in the gravel where the shut off valve had been hiding, and that was that.

With only about 15 minutes left to get to the train station, I hopped on my bike and peddled like a monster. My bike didn't appreciate the effort, and the chain came off the gears about a block from my apartment. Giving some colorful blessings, I ditched it, ran back, and got a taxi to the train station with about 7 minutes to spare. The End.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Beef and Rice and Everything Nice

Last night after rocking the gym with Zishan we both grabbed some quick dinner before splitting ways. I opted for a place I don't think I've ever been to before. It's called Sukiya, and it's a chain that primarily sells gyudon. Gyudon is really simple. It's just cooked beef and onions served over a bowl of rice. Wikipedia says the beef and onion mix is "simmered in a mildly sweet sauce flavored with soy sauce and mirin". Can't argue with that.

In Japanese restaurants it is really common to find a little button on the table. This serves to call someone to take your order. Its not such a bad idea really. This way I always get just the right amount of time to look over the menu. The food came laughably fast. A good portion of the menu involves meat on rice, so they probably have one cauldron of each ready at all times.

I went for the three cheese version, which probably isn't the way the emperor eats it, but it's pretty darn good.

I thought the little privacy curtains were funny.

This little gem is a clip from an 80's Wendy's training video that breaks down burgers with a funky beat. "Don't wait too long I emphasize, or the meat won't reach the proper size."

Sunday, March 15, 2009

St. Patrick's Parade in Tokyo

Shaun and I met my friend Kazu in Tokyo for some hardcore Irish parade action today. The festivities took place in the same place as last year, in Harajuku on Omotesando, at 2 o'clockish. It is pretty darn close to the parades you might find in a medium sized city in the US, minus the politicians, Shriner cars, and thrown candy (frown). The setup is kind of funny because the actual parade route is really short. The procession goes like one or two city blocks, then doubles back along the opposite side of the road. That way we could see each group twice. The security presence was either more numerous or just more anal. Last year was so casual that we even jumped in for pictures once or twice.

A marching band played an old Irish favorite, Abba's Dancing Queen.

This is Pipo-kun, the mascot of the Tokyo Metropolitan Police. You can listen to his cheese-ball theme song here.

The U.S. Army Japan Band from Camp Zama, Japan

After the parade we hit an Irish pub and partook in some classics. Fish and chips, shepherd's pie, and Guinness were enjoyed by all.

The ordering of green beer was a Saint Patrick's miracle I performed much to the amazement of nearby bar patrons.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Curse of the Colonel Lifted!

I previously reported here about the "Curse of the Colonel". You might recall that some Hanshin Tigers (a Japanese pro baseball team) fans threw a statue of Colonel Sanders into Osaka's Dotonbori River while celebrating the Tigers' Central League title win. That was in 1985, and the Tigers haven't won the title since, prompting claims of an evil, secretly spicy sort of curse.

Well a Mainichi Daily News article from yesterday reports that the "Colonel's upper body, minus the hands, was discovered on Tuesday evening by divers checking for unexploded bombs as part of riverside pedestrian walkway improvement works. The figure's legs and right hand were discovered Wednesday morning." Is the curse lifted? Or do his remaining hand, feet, and glasses need to be retrieved as well? Only time will tell. If the picture of a ghostly, cursed, handless and legless Colonel Sanders torso rising from the depths of a river doesn't strike fear into your heart I don't know what will.

"The Osaka Municipal Government, which is responsible for the riverside, is holding the statue and will consult with Kentucky Fried Chicken Japan on how to handle it." I'm really glad to hear that the government has this delicate issue under control.

Saturday, March 07, 2009

Rising Fame

If I'm in too many more magazines I'm going to need to hire an agent. Why is it that Ashikaga understands that I should be famous while my hometown doesn't? Hehe. Maybe I should start a fan club.

I appeared on the back cover of what I believe is the Ashikaga International Association newsletter(?). Anyway it's called Symphony and it gives the public what it wants, in depth interviews with John Milito. That's all I need to know.

Along with my 100-word little blurb, I attached a shot of me at the sumo match in Nagoya last year.

I wasn't given much instruction on what I was supposed to write about, so I just whipped up something general.

Greetings from Fukui-cho,

My name is John Milito and I am the ALT at Yamabe Junior High School. This is my second year teaching in Ashikaga, and what a great time it has been. I've met lots of interesting people and done plenty of memorable things.

This year, I have two goals. The first is to develop my Japanese language ability. Someday I hope to reach fluency. In addition, I want to pursue one of my interests: travel. Living in Japan makes traveling to other countries in Asia fast and inexpensive. I hope to explore more of the world before I return home.

Thank you, Ashikaga, for this opportunity.


John Milito

Reading it now doesn't exactly fill me with pride, but I did what I was asked.

Next is the December issue of Ashikaga Magajin.

I was in it for the same reason I was last year, having an awesome costume at a Halloween party.

Over the past few weeks I have done lessons with elementary school kids at 5 or 6 different schools. Last year I only did a lesson at one, so I was a bit surprised by the increase. The kids are really cute and fun so I really enjoyed the experience.

The problem of what to do with your hands in a picture is thoroughly addressed in Japan.

"Maury, my fear of mustard and pickles is ruining my life!"

My friend Sam recommended a fun little online geography game to me. It's called Globetrotter XL. Check it out here.

Thursday, March 05, 2009

Thailand Part 7: Movie Time

Mike and Allison left for Hong Kong the day after we returned from Hua Hin. Clarence and I still had a day or two after that to mop up the last few things that we wanted to do.

I went to the first class cineplex at Siam Paragon Mall and watched a movie in style. It was all pretty slick. At 600 Baht (about $16.50) the tickets were more expensive than the normal screens available, but there were plenty of benefits for the money. First there was the private lobby with couches and coffee tables. It was a nice quiet place well removed from the bustle of the masses outside. There was a bar and waiters taking orders. My ticket entitled me to a small soft drink and some little cookies. I sat and flipped through a magazine while I waited for movie time. I think there might have even been electric massage chairs in another room.

The lobby had curtains like a harem.

The theater itself was small in a good way, with a maximum capacity of only 25 or so. I think there were two different types of seats. One was a larger love seat kind of thing. The one I picked had an electric recliner in it. As I sat all stretched out with the provided pillow and blanket, a guy came around to take my order. I said something along the lines of “John commands that you bring him a large Sprite and a caramel popcorn posthaste!” only much more politely.

Thailand seems to release movies when everyone else does, as opposed to months behind like Japan likes to roll. As a result I had trouble deciding what movie to watch. The Day the Earth Stood Still? "What the heck is that?", I wondered to myself. It was like being released from movie exile. I ultimately decided on Transporter 3, which wasn't bad. Perhaps the coolest bit of Thai culture I received from the whole experience was the playing of the national anthem before the movie began. It wasn't just a little song either, it was accompanied by some nationalistic tribute to the king. I read in a couple different sources that “everyone stands up” for the anthem but a large portion of this money-wasting audience was foreign, so I'd say participation was around 50 percent. Super dramatic and emotional, by the end even I was just about teared up and I didn't even understand what the heck was going on. Propaganda at its finest, I guess.

I'm gonna say this is the first and last picture I've taken in a movie theater. (Oops, that's a lie. I took a few in the Chinese Theater in Hollywood). Sorry about the blurry shot, it was dark in there. You get the idea though.

Monday, March 02, 2009

What's Going Down at the North/South Korean Border

North Korean and UN Command officials have recently begun talks on the border at Panmunjeom, according to Reuters. I was eyeballing the North Koreans myself at Panmunjeom just last Spring.

Here is a nice little pan of the North/South Korean border I posted in a blog about my trip here, to refresh your memory.

Then here is a clip of what the soldiers on guard duty are doing when there aren't any tourists around.