Monday, 29 November 2010

Tokyo, Chiba, Kobe, Osaka, Aomori

It's been a busy few weeks.  I'm just looking back over Google Calendar to see what I did. I won't write about everything that happened, but here are a few highlights.

From the 15th to the 17th it was the mid-year JET CIR conference, and it was held at the Tokyo Bay Makuhari hotel in Chiba. All the CIRs from all over Japan came together for 3 days of training (socialising) and networking (eating and drinking).  Most people stayed at the hotel where the talks were being held, but I ended up booking pretty late which meant there were no rooms left there. So I booked two nights at the New Otani Makuhari Hotel just across the road. It was slightly more expensive but a bit swankier. And instead of travelling down from Aomori on Monday morning, I went down on the shinkansen on Sunday night, staying over at a Smile Hotel in Nihonbashi, near Tokyo Station. It was interesting seeing all the adverts in Tokyo for the shinkansen coming to Aomori. That happens in 5 days on December 4th, and it's a big day for the city.

I came back to Aomori on the 18th to film for 江奈滋家の食卓, which I mentioned here. I learnt all my lines on the Thursday morning and it was all over in 5 minutes. The episode will be shown on RAB December 12th.

Then on the 19th I was back on the shinkansen, this time travelling as far as Kobe to take part in the JET football tournament on Awaji-Shima. It worked out that I had a couple of hours to kill in Kobe while I was waiting for my mates to come pick me up in their car, and I had a bit of a stroll round Sannomiya, a place I spent a lot of my time during my year abroad two years ago. Two years had changed my perception of the place a bit, and I noticed things I'd never noticed before. I walked all the way down to a sports shop we used to go in, as I needed some shin pads for the tournament, then I walked back towards the station and stopped at a ramen shop for some dinner. Then my three mates came and we drove to Awaji-Shima, arriving at our hotel at around 10:30 at night. The room was for all four of us, and it was obvious as soon as we entered that it was a room intended for two people, just with four beds in - there was no space whatsoever. The food and service was generally appalling as well, so a bit of a step down from the New Otani.

I was playing for the Ishikawa team during the tournament at the request of a friend - Aomori hadn't entered a team. Meeting all the guys from Ishikawa was a laugh, even if they were mostly American and had never really kicked a ball in their life. We didn't do well, but we were apparently much better than the Ishikawa team of last year, and everyone had a great time. Also, the weather was amazing, with people having to get the suncream out, and there was a great onsen on the island which we went to on Saturday and Sunday night. There were a few of us with tattoos, and we covered them up with towels and didn't have any probs.

On Sunday night we left the lovely weather behind and drove through the rain to Osaka. We met up with an old friend of mine in アメ村 and then stayed at a capsule hotel there. I enjoyed that, and it was definitely worth it for the price of only 2,800 yen. The capsule wasn't cramped at all, even for my gaijin body, and in some ways it offered more than a standard hotel with an arcade, cafeteria, onsen, coin locker and more. I'm going back to Kobe/Osaka this January, and I'm planning to stay at the capsule hotel again. You can't beat it for that price. There's even a TV that plays porn for ten minutes everytime you put 100 yen in.

I'd taken the Monday off work, so we hung out in Osaka, bought some new/old clothes, went to the Hub, and then in the evening I stayed at a friend's house in 田舎大阪. Tuesday was a national holiday, and I caught the shinkansen back to Aomori at lunchtime and arrived home at around 9pm.

All in all, a busy few weeks. And that's not mentioning the French-themed party this past Saturday where I ended up DJing for a bit. The bar owner said I could go back next time with my vinyl collection and spin some wax. Sweet.

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Wednesday, 10 November 2010

I've been everywhere me

I've done a lot of travelling around Aomori recently. A couple of weekends ago we went out to Hirosaki and I saw the castle there. Everyone talks about it round here, and apparently it's a great place to go during sakura season when the cherry blossoms are out, but I found it a bit underwhelming. We did go on a cold, drab Saturday afternoon, but compared to places like Osaka castle it's very small and not very ornate. That night we came back to Aomori and there was a big Halloween party at a place called ONE SHOT HOUSE, which seems to be the default gaijin drinking spot now the weather has turned and we can no longer drink outside at Passage Hiroba. It was originally gonna be a mainly gaijin affair, but when we turned up there were loads of Japanese folk drinking there and we ended up joining together for a party which crossed international boundaries and drinking limits. I dressed up as dracula this year after getting a few compliments since coming to Aomori that I look like a vampire. When I went to visit RAB Aomori Broadcating Corporation that week I managed to blag a professional costume from a woman who works in the wardrobe department.

The next week we had a day off on the Wednesday - it was 文化の日, or Culture Day. We travelled to Towada and went to see the planetarium and the art museum there. We didn't actually go inside the art museum, but they had some nice exhibits on a patch of grass just across the road which you could see for free. On the recommendation of the cleaning lady from the city hall we also tried a local speciality called バラ焼, or barayaki. The dish consists of beef rib meat (bara means rib) and onions which have been marinated in a garlicy sauce. The beef and onion are brought out raw and you cook them yourself on a hot plate. It was pretty nice, and the dish has quite a strong flavour which is uncharacteristic for most Japanese cuisine. We went to eat at a place called 大昌園 which wasn't the nicest or newest looking restaurant, but it came as a recommendation, and is in a pretty central location, and the food tasted great. After that we found a recycle shop where we had quite a chat with the owner and I ended up buying a radio/CD/tape player - something I'd been looking for for a while. The owner liked us so much she gave me a third off the price. Recycle shops are sick.

Then this past weekend we travelled to Kuroishi where we ate an amazing invention called つゆやきそば, or tsuyuyakisoba. It's literally a cross between yakisoba and ramen and tastes just like it sounds. I'm a fan of both, and when you combine them you get a tasty result. You can only eat it in Kuroishi, so make sure you go and try if you get the chance. There's loads of places that sell it. We just stopped at the first shop we saw which said つゆやきそば outside.

On Friday it was Bonfire Night, and we tried to have our own version here in Aomori, but unfortunately it's pretty hard to get all the things you need to celebrate it. Fireworks are only sold here in summer and baking potatoes don't seem to be available at all. We attempted to make some bonfire toffee, but couldn't find ingredients like back home and the toffee never ended up setting. We did manage to make some parkin though, and we'd watched V for Vendetta earlier in the week as well. I'll be better prepared next year.

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