Sunday, May 07, 2006

Tokyo in Three Days

What do you do in three short days in Tokyo? Well if you were me, only just about everything.

After just barely finding location for the night bus to Tokyo and only finding it after a very generous taxi driver, I realized that the seats on the bus were slightly less than comfortable. My advice for anyone about to take a nightbus to anywhere in Japan is be prepared for a very uncomfortable. Also, since it is a "night bus" you'll be riding from late night and reach your destination in the early morning. We arrived in Tokyo at around 5:30am after stopping for about every two hours for 20 minutes.

I only slept about an hour or two on the way to Tokyo, but as soon as I arrived in Tokyo at Shinjuku station I felt rejuvenated. Rejuvenated enough in fact, that after finding my Hostel located on the other side of Tokyo in Asakusa I immediately started exploring Japan. My first stop was in the Ueno shopping district to meet a friend. Thanks to the aid of my friend and another friend who I'd just met for the first time that day, I was able to see all the major sites in Tokyo on my first day.

A dreaded place for some, Akiharabara is home to the infamous Otakus (or "geeks"). The streets were flooded with people (much like all of Tokyo actually), and it was nothing less of a Mecca if electronics, manga, or video games are your thing. Admittedly, I found myself along with my friends going to a "Maid Cafe Massage Parlor." Essentially a massage parlor devoted to gaming and anime fans. No photography was allowed, but my friend managed to sneak a photo.

If you want to come to Tokyo to do shopping, you don't have to go any further than Shibuya. Of course you'll just have to wrestle with the millions of other people looking to come shopping. Shibuya is home to the self-proclaimed "busiest crosswalk in the world." Imagine a four-sided crosswalk, each literally swarming with people and when the light says "go," it becomes a sea of swarming shoppers. Simply amazing.

Roppongi Hills
Home to some of Tokyo's most prominent people, it is also known for being a central gathering place for foreigners. Roppongi Hills is a tall skyscraper where visitors are allowed to climb to the top for a magnificent view of the city, including Tokyo Tower. Since this was a holiday (and Tokyo afterall), there were swarms of people gathering for a magnificent night-view of Tokyo. It was impossible to see where exactly the sprawling city ended.

Yasukuni Shrine
The following day I went to Yasukuni shrine. Since it's quite contraversial because of Prime Minister's Junichiro Koizumi's occasional visit, I felt I had to stop by and take a look. The shrine is nestled in the middle of an otherwise urban part of time. Yet, the shrine area is quiet and peaceful. The shrine looked like any ordinary shrine, but inside a building beside the shrine is a museum. The museum included exhibits from Japan's wars during the 19th and 20th centuries. Although no photography was allowed, I have photos from the exhibits that allowed photography.

Welcome to America
Just for kicks, I stopped by the American embassy. Or at least as close as I could get before being told by security I couldn't go any further. I have a very blurry picture of the American flag flying high over the embassy, but it was the best I could do. Seeing the American flag flying over the incredibly large building was quite awe-inspiring.

All in all, Tokyo is an amazing city and I have every intention of going back. For anyone considering travelling to Japan, I recommend Tokyo as a first stop. You won't be disappointed.

Tuesday, May 02, 2006

Golden Week

I'm spending Golden Week in Tokyo. Good times ahead. Stay tuned for updates and photos!

Wednesday, April 19, 2006

American Football... In Japan

Yes, I've neglected my blog.
No, I haven't disappeared into the abyss of Japan.

Although I've been incredibly busy with my Japanese and other classes, I recently found time to join the Kansai Gaidai University team for a scrimmage match between Red and White. One thing I learned quickly about sports in Japan is "don't lose," but more on that later. Although the team wasn't exceptionally talented (let's face it, Japan isn't known for its great football talent), they were a tremendous amount of fun to play with. Some of the plays were quite interesting to watch develop and probably not actually legal in a real football game. Imagine a quadruple play-action fake! I soon realized that the actual competition was less important than the social aspect of the football team. Yet, considering the strong Osaka dialect and the rapidity at which dialogue was being exchanged, I was able to understand little of what was going on. I did understand, however, just how humiliating losing can be. While my team was able to win one of our first two matches (I scored the winning touchdown), we regrettably lost our second match (I swear it was the night lights in my eyes!). After losing the game my team was made to "perform," as it were, in front of the winning team, the team's managers, and the coach. For someone who isn't a native speaker of Japanese I was more than a little embarassed. Especially after they told me my role in the dialogue was to say "Nandeanin!" While an extremely thick piece of Osaka-dialect, it nonetheless sounds inredibly funny coming from a foreigner. That fact became obvious that after no matter how many times I said it, everyone laughed. To be honest, I have no idea what the phrase means and quite frankly, I don't think any Japanese could explain it to me. All I know is that it is an incredibly funny phrase. After feeling like my moment of shame was over, I soon became horrified after they told me I had to introduce myself in front of the whole team just as the Freshmen students were doing at that time. Albeit a little embarassed, I managed to introduce myself, where I'm from, and say I had a great time in both English and Japanese. Although I'm afraid that few people actually understood my English. Truth to be told, you've never played American football until you've played with teammates who can't speak English very well. I still wonder how I managed...

Saturday, April 01, 2006

On top of the World... Trade Center!

So lately, due to my extreme sense of adventurousness and seemingly endless crave for high places, I've been spending a lot of time exploring buildings. This time my adventures led me to the World Trade Center of Osaka. As the tallest building in Osaka and the second tallest in Japan behind the Landmark Center of Yokohama, it offers a magnicifent view of the city and the port area. From Hirakata City it was a more than a two ride and probably the deepest I've ventured into Osaka. Since this was my first time visiting the port of Osaka, I was reminded just how far across the Pacific the United States is :( Of course I have pictures.My only regret was that the weather wasn't better. More photos on Flickr as well.

Friday, March 24, 2006


Last night I watched a movie in Japan for the first time. Titled in katakana, the movie Crash became クラシュー. Watching movies in Japan is a little different experience than watching movies in the US. I think my wallet was the first to notice the difference. At just 1200yen, watching a movie in Japan comes to the equivalent of just over 10 dollars. However, one advantage (or disadvantage), is that not only are you buying a ticket to see the movie, but you're also buying a seat. Before preparing to sit down I found myself asking my friend "Where shall we sit down?" but quickly realized my seat had already picked for me courtesy of my ticket. Not unlike movies in the US, we were bombarded with advertisements for other movies. Interestingly enough, there were advertisements for American and Japanese films. From what I could follow along with for the Japanese advertisements, many of the movies seemed interesting and I might just have to see them someday. Thankfully the movie was in English with jimaku, or Japanese subtitles. So I was at least offered the opportunity to practice my reading. I was able to notice the slight variations from the English in the transliteration to the Japanese subtitles. I fear that maybe some of the meaning within the English words may have been lost. Just as I sensed the movie was coming to an end and feeling the closing credits approaching, I began to sit up anticipating the moment the lights came on and I could leave. However, everyone in the theater sat motionless and waited until the very last credit scrolled to the bottom of the screen. I almost feel rude now for leaving abrubtly at the beginning of credits in the US.

Hope you're not scared of heights

Ever been on the top of world? Well, this past week I got pretty close. Before coming to Japan I was determined to see the Umeda Sky Tower and ride to the top. Mission Accomplished.
As it is a 40-story building, it offers a breathtaking view of the huge city of Osaka. If you're any bit as acrophobic as my friendly Japanese tour guide, then I'd suggest you enjoy the view from the ground. However, if you're adventurous and willing to drop 600yen, then by all means take a gander from the fifth tallest building in Osaka. Not to be outdone, however, I also visited Osaka castle this same day. As the castle is very tall, it was difficult to photograph. However, I was amazed at how beautiful the castle has remained over several centuries.Not very far from the castle was a grove of cherry blossoms. A few them had already began to bloom. Especially this one.

Friday, March 10, 2006

Spring is in the Air

The weather is warming up, kids are outside playing soccer in the parks, retirees are going for weekend jogs, and the first cherry blossoms are beginning to bloom. Dare I say, spring is in the air?You be the judge...

Wednesday, March 08, 2006

How to: Grocery Shopping

Grocery shopping in Japan can be a pretty overwhelming task if you're technically an illiterate. If you're any bit as Kanji-challenged than I am, then grocery shopping will seem less like a routine chore at your local supermarket, and more like a crash course in Chinese characters. Unfortunately, the meager amount of Kanji I do know isn't quite enough to read every box, bottle, or carton and its instructions. Guesswork (and not to mention "picturework") is key. Within walking distance of the Seminar house are two grocery stores: "Sanko" and "Top of the World." Grocery stores in Japan tend to be significantly smaller than the megastore-shopping experience I've grown accustomed to for most of my life. Many of the mundane conveniences that are easily found and are cheap in American grocery stores aren't always that case in Japanese grocery stores (for instance apples can go for about the equivalent of $1.50 each). Yet, other items, such as fish, can be found quite easily and at prices much less than one would pay in the US. Well, if you're curious, here is my list of groceries:

Half a head of cabbage
Small bag of snow peas
Baby broccoli
Green onion slices
Pack of ramen noodles (wouldn't be complete without these!)
Dried, prepared fish (not sure what type, but it's quite tasty)
Small can of Pringles (yes, you can find those here!)
Udon noodles
Pack of mini-donuts

As you can probably tell, my cooking skills aren't quite honed. If anyone has any suggested recipes easy enough for even me to cook, please let me know!