Places to go, food to eat, people to see... I've been spending too much time in my apartment. Most of that time has either been for eating or studying, which are kind of essential to my life here and life in general, but I should still get out more. Let's break the ice first, shall we? I promised myself I wouldn't post too many examples of Japanese TV on this site, but this one was so ridiculous to me, as an English teacher, that I had to spread the word - what would happen if NOVA, GEOS, ECC, AEON, and JET treated their students this way?
So many things to do the next time I go to Hiroshima. I was supposed to go today after working out at the YMCA, but was so exhausted from Saturday I had to get some more sleep. Yeah, but I'm still not old, just lazy. Wednesday morning before work I'll take the local Sanyo train to Hiroshima and get started on the Futaba no Saba trail next to the Shinkansen - it's a trail outside of the downtown area that takes you past about a dozen shrines. Should make for some good pictures. Apparently, there are no hanko or inkan shops here that will make a custom Katakana name stamp, so I'll see what Hiroshima has to offer.
Also, I've been planning a trip to Fukuoka during Obon vacation. The major vacation times in Japan, and the ones given to teachers (GEOS gets more flexibility, and ECC gets more time, but there are other trade-offs), are Obon in the middle of August, New Year's, and Golden Week in May. Obon vacation for me starts on August 10th, and I plan on catching one of the first Shinkansen trains to Hakata Station. Should run about ¥17,000 roundtrip; my thanks to Hyperdia for providing excellent information about JR fares across the country.
I'm planning to stay in Fukuoka in a capsule hotel カプセルホテル. For those heroes not in Japan, a capsule hotel is something definitely unique. Instead of a cheap or modest Super 8 or Best Value Hotel, you sleep literally inside a "capsule": an independent cubicle with air conditioning, heating, space for luggage, lights, etc. There are walls in the hotel literally lined with them. If you're thinking this is a cheap escape, it is (about ¥3465/night where I'm staying, and I think I can get a member card to make it cheaper), but it's hardly like Motel 6. The surroundings of a capsule hotel usually include normal and luxury rooms, as well as a spa and a restaurant; Japan really knows how to treat its guests. I'm staying at the Greenland Espa next to Hakata Station, and I'll give a full report when I return. Don't expect any entries between August 10th-16th. If you're curious about Fukuoka, I found this site incredibly helpful.
My brother is visiting Japan on September 7th. He may be able to read Japanese better than I can, since he has a working knowledge of Chinese characters - there are differences of course, but some of the meanings are the same. I won't be able to get any time off from the eikaiwa that week because it's when we get our new foreign teacher, but we'll still have a long weekend planned. And fortunately for him, he qualifies for the JR Rail Pass, which will probably allow him to travel more in the week he's here than I have thus far. I'll recommend a few good places in Okayama, but I think Tokyo's a bit of a stretch to visit for only one or two days.
In addition, this may be an opportunity for me to see my first Japanese baseball game. When I arrived in Hiroshima on Saturday, there were Carp fans everywhere sporting the teams colors after the game. The stadium is rather convenient as well, just northeast of Peace Park, and a mere trolley ride away from Hiroshima Station. On Sunday, September 10th, the Hiroshima Carps will play the Chunichi Dragons. See details here. Tickets for non-reserved seats go for ¥1500-2000, so not too bad.
Hiroshima has a paragliding club that offers an introductory course for ¥10,000. I don't know how open they are to foreign members who are still struggling in Japanese, but it's something I'll definitely check out in the near future, before it becomes to cold to try. Check out their website.
I'm planning to either run (well, not ALL of it) or bike along the Shimanami Bridges (しまなみ海道) in the future. I'm not sure, but I believe they are the longest series of bridges in all of Japan, connecting two major islands, Honshu and Shikoku. Running 77 kilometers long, the first in the series of ten bridges starts in Onomichi, accessible by car or rail (but not the Shinkansen, I believe), and ends at Imabari. Regardless of whether you're traveling by car, bike, or on foot, there is a toll for each bridge ranging from ¥50-200. You can also rent a decent bike for ¥1000 if you go to the right place - will report on that.
Ahh, yes. For those of you who have not mastered a Japanese rice cooker, I highly recommend it. I have been pretty lazy since I first got here and have been sticking with bento (Japanese pre-cooked meals, usually for lunch) or eating out. Tonight was actually the first night I used my rice cooker, and it was DELICIOUS. Sweet, sweet rice, fresh from the fields. I will pretty much quit buying ¥150 cooked rice from Fuji Grand. I have heard about confusion over using the rice cooker, so here's the Kanji for the usage:
1st setting: normal, sticky rice 2nd setting: quick, dryer rice 3rd setting: very soft rice (I think it has to soak for a long time), called okayu style
Also, be sure to prepare a glass of green tea; most Japanese people will either drink water or tea with meals; drinking beer and soft drinks is a foreign concept. And be sure to prepare meat or fish. Soup if you have time. Voila. Add some chopsticks and a warm towel before the meal, and your food is now Japanized. Email me some cheap dinner ideas. I'm working on it.
Coming up next: KISS cover bands, karaoke songs that give you the "Tao of Steve", and plans to climb Mt. Fuji. Ja mata.