Tuesday, July 31, 2007

A Trip to Sendai

Sendai is the nearest big city around these parts. Kind of like Boston to Ishinomaki's Providence, minus the greasy morons and bad drivers. So I took a train trip to Sendai today, mainly to figure out the train system. It was pretty easy, and there was enough English interspersed among the Kanji for me to muddle my way there and back without any problems. Truly a testament to how excellent the Japanese rail system is.

I went in to a music shop in Sendai, and discovered the coolest brand of guitars ever. The company is called "Killer," and they seem to specialize in shredding guitars--their main body shape is kind of an exxxtreme Metallica/Randy Rhoads Flying Death V thing.

Anyway, the guitars were a couple thousand too expensive for an impulse buy, but check them out--my favorite two are the mosaic design, and the rising sun.


Sunday, July 29, 2007

in ur japan eatin ur eelz

Yep, it's nearing national eat an eel day in Japan, which has something to do with summer. Apparently it was an Edo period tradition to eat eel during the hot Japanese summers, because the high calorie/fat content gave you energy to do more than sit in front of the internet cruising for epic lulz.

Eel is called unagi--you may have had it. In America, it's usually found on sushi. The stuff is as expensive as steak, so it's not eaten too often, as I understand it. Anyway, we had Unagi fillets (?) on a bed of rice tonight, and it was pretty delicious. Unfortunately, I don't feel energetic. Just fat and hot.

This is what a scrumptious pile o' unagi looks like:

Thursday, July 26, 2007

Uncle Rico Called...

He wants his van back. Seriously, who knew that the most radical van in the universe was parked outside an apartment in northern Japan. Oh, if only it were mine. I'd be kicking back watching a beta-max on the drop-down with an ice-cold Genny Cream Ale. Initially I was afraid to mock this guy's van for fear of him kicking my ass, but then I realized he's probably too busy impregnating every woman in a thousand mile radius and training for the world arm wrestling championships.

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Bad Decision-Making in Action

So last night I found myself with a half bag of pre-ground coffee that was on its last legs. The best way I've heard of to get rid of a bunch of coffee at once is to cold-brew it. This method--which is a slow, cold brew, as you may have guessed--uses a lot more coffee, and results in a syrupy coffee concentrate when you're finished. I think it's the stuff Starbucks uses in their iced coffee. The idea is that you can add hot water to this super coffee, or pour it over ice and it won't taste like watery crap as the cubes melt.

I rigged up a supremely low-rent method for my brew. First, I dumped all of my remaining ground coffee into a pot of water (4x as much water as grounds), and let it sit on my counter stewing for about 10 hours. You're supposed to wait for 12 hours, but it still worked okay. Then I poured this soupy mess into my coffee maker since I don't have a fine-mesh sieve or anything, and let it drip into my coffee pot. This took a while, but it eventually got all the concentrate out of the grounds. This is where my bad decision came into play.

It was about midnight or 1, but I had to test the stuff out anyway. So I poured a too-big glass, not knowing how potent the concentrate was, guzzled it down, proclaimed victory, and went to sleep about ten or fifteen minutes later. I had probably the weirdest dreams I've ever experienced and then woke up at 5AM, totally wired and alert, and confused as hell. I kept checking my clock, unable to reconcile the sunlight streaming into my room, my alert state, and my clock, which said it was 5 in the morning. On top of that, I was still vaguely unnerved by my dreams. All in all, extremely unpleasant.

Upon further reflection, I think I inadvertently experienced the bigger, badder, brother of the caffeine nap: http://lifehacker.com/software/sleep/take-a-caffeine-nap-154237.php

Sunday, July 22, 2007

Bike helmets in Japan

Today I'm going helmet shopping again. Yesterday's efforts were fruitless. At this point, I've been to 2 bike shops, a large department store, and a couple general home supplies stores that also sell bikes, and no one sells bike helmets! It makes sense, because no one wears them, I suppose.

Still, there's a big empty nature park in the middle of the city with well-groomed trails and no law against cycling, but my over-protective love of cranial integrity prevents me from riding there. Especially since I'll be on a bike with early 90s mountain bike geometry--AKA, so steep you fly over the bars if you twitch wrong in a turn.

The prevailing attitude towards helmets is VERY different from the US, where people consider you to be a suicidal imbecile if you coast down to the 7-11 for a soda with a bare head. (This is not counting fixed-gear people, who cannot wear helmets, as they would obscure their vintage Campagnolo hat, and BMX riders, who seem to just not like helmets).

That being said, most people here ride old-person step-through bikes at an average speed of around 7MPH. So you're basically going for a brisk jog when you're riding, and probably have about the same chance for injury. In addition, they have some reasonable protections from cars--wide sidewalks with tall curbs are the rule in the urban areas around here.

All of this is very interesting to observe, but unfortunately leaves me without my damn helmet. Today, I'm going to try the gigantic shopping mall. If they don't have helmets, I'm just going to buy a construction helmet and line it with mochi.
Not really.

Further reading:


A gruesome counter-argument:


Saturday, July 21, 2007


Japan is basically a big string of volcanoes. Consequently, there's a ton of geothermal activity, resulting in hot springs. These hot springs are turned into public baths, or Onsens. Read more here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Onsen

I went to my first onsen today. It was very relaxing. If you would like to re-create the experience at home, here's what you can do. First, get a bunch of your male friends together. Okay, good. Now take your clothes off and get into a bath together. Bam, Japanese culture. Enjoy.

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Cooking for Lame-O Males!

Japanese ramen technology is astounding. I haven't seen any of those little 25 cent packets of noodles that have the little flavor packets...you know, the stereotypical poor college student food?

The ramen they have here comes in big cardboard plastic-wrapped bowls. Inside, there's noodles and multiple packs of stuff. What is the stuff in the packets? Not sure. I can only loosely describe it as "flavor." There are packets of powders/liquids/dried meat/dried green onions/etc. The ramen I ate tonight was purchased at 7-11 for 298 yen, and had no less than FOUR separate flavor packet things inside. I was opening packets and dumping them in like crazy. It made me feel like I was cooking, albeit in a really sad apartment-dwelling lonely guy sort of way.

There's about 958 million varieties of these ramen bowls, all for less than 3 bucks. I have much work to do.

Monday, July 16, 2007

I started learning Japanese

It's true. I started learning Japanese this week. It's kind of late in the game, but there's no motivation like panic-motivation. It's hard to study a foreign language other than Spanish in the Oregon suburbs. There's just not many places you can get the positive feedback that makes learning languages fun.

Japanese people have tended to be really happy to help, and encouraging to beginners like me. I'm comparing them to my mental image of me going into a Parisian bakery and "jay voodray-ing" a sandwich, and imagining that I fare better here.

Anyway, there is a whole hell of a lot of stuff to learn. I haven't even gotten into Kanji yet, but there's a lot of talk about "2,000 characters is a good foundation" getting thrown around. It's been a while since I've rolled up my sleeves and slugged through some rote memorization, but here goes...

Also, Zachary sent me the link to a pretty interesting method. It's some CS dork who got himself fluent in a year and a half. Check it out if you're so inclined: http://www.alljapaneseallthetime.com/blog/

Saturday, July 14, 2007

The beer vending machine.

Well, today my co-teacher and I went on a walk through downtown Ishinomaki. Shortly after we walked past the porno theaters and dive bars of the red light district, I came across a beer vending machine. I guess in Japan, you can sell beer from a vending machine. In fact, you can sell hilarious 1 liter cans of beer from vending machines. Now, I'm not one to pass up an ironic purchase, so enjoy the results of my labor:

For extra hilarity, I took a photo of this outrageous beer next to an extra-small 165ML coke.

While The Man may have taken away American kids' candy cigarettes, Japanese children are still smoking sugary freedom.

This is a container of candy poo. I guess its really popular in Japan. It tasted like root beer. This country is confusing.

Friday, July 13, 2007

Riding bikes in Japan

I didn't bring one of my bikes to Japan. It seemed like it would have been a pain in the ass. Instead, I ride other bikes, none of which fit me. Here's the rogue's gallery:

Rig 1:

This little gem is what we Americans would think of as an old woman's bike. Well, that's all anybody rides around here. It's strange going from working at a place where people really value bikes and are okay spending a few thousand on them, to a place where bikes are cheap transportation that you leave out in the rain and generally don't care about.

For instance, check out the finely tuned drive-train on my ride:

Pretty scary, huh? On the other hand, my front tire is so low that it hits the rim on potholes, and I haven't cared enough to add some air. That's kind of liberating. Yay for crappy bikes.

Rig 2:

This is an old lugged mountain bike I'm borrowing for the year. There's lots of easy singletrack around here, and this thing should be perfect for it. It was sitting in a garage for years, but everything works perfectly...I have no idea what the "hang ten" brand is.

And this is a neighbor's commuter bike...I took a picture because I thought the swooping twin top tubes were kind of pretty..

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

The Retarder mystery--

Hey Lisa, there was a request for the words underneath "retarder" on the bus. What does it say?

A little gem from lisa

Apparently that picture of the truck wasn't an aberration...check this out, courtesy of Lisa's travels to Japan.

Monday, July 9, 2007

I'm not sure if this would fly in the United States...

Dude, that's just gross

Today in class we were learning about various locations around school. We (the teachers) would hold up a card with a picture of a classroom and say "a classroom," and the students shout back "a classroom." Except when we got to "a restroom," this one kid kept shouting "a restaurant" over and over. I wondered if he was just making an honest mistake, or if he's just deviant.

Saturday, July 7, 2007

Sight-seeing trip to Matsushima

Yesterday we went on a tour of Matsushima, a popular tourist spot known for its temples, shrines, and pine-tree covered islands.

Wikipedia says this about it, if you want to know a little more:


There was some pretty cool stuff here, check out my piczz:

This is what I had for lunch today. Japanese people place a huge emphasis on form, as you can plainly see. It was all extremely tasty too, and ended up being a lot of food.

Lots of statues all over the place...Carving them was apparently part of a priest's meditation

Some priests here live in these weird little houses carved into the hillside...pretty Lord of the Rings, huh?

Last, and most importantly, I found a new kind of my beloved chocolate mushrooms today at a 7-11. They are individually wrapped, have two kinds of chocolate, and the stem is some different crunchier type of cookie. I think this is their luxury chocolate mushroom or something. Either way, I shovelled them all down my gullet and called it good.

Thursday, July 5, 2007

Drinking receptacles and other fun culture differences

Today in class, me and the teacher I'm replacing were chatting quietly about the lesson plan. A bunch of students were milling around playing with a ball and talking and stuff. And then, completely randomly, this one kid starts vigorously thrusting into the air and yells "I RUV ENGRISH!" You really can't buy enthusiasm like that.

Here's a couple more pictures for your viewing

"Drink it black" has always been my personal philosophy, so I bought this. It's black coffee with no sugar. Cool style! (sorry the pic is sideways, I'm not completely stupid, it's a problem with blogger. I don't care, and you probably don't either, since it's either this blog or getting back to the work you should be doing).

Apparently Japanese people don't like to drink more than about 6 ounces at a time. I feel kind of awkward drinking 900 glasses of water at every meal. But not awkward enough not to do it.

This is the town I live in. It's all like involved in fishing and stuff. Click to make bigger.

Wednesday, July 4, 2007

Japan: week 1

I landed in Japan a few days ago. The trip here was pretty exhausting--if it was a scene in a movie, it would have been one of those scenes where the guy is all disheveled and a bunch of neon signs are spinning around his head against a black background, and he's staggering around all confused. Well, that was me. Thankfully, I had lots of help getting to my destination, so it all went without a hitch, but it was a hugely disorienting and semi-stressful for a relatively un-savvy international traveller like myself.

For the 1.5 people who will read this blog, I'm hoping to post a fair amount of pictures--Japan really is every bit as hilarious as I hoped and dreamed it would be, and I will do my best to catalogue that. There is a staggering amount of Engrish, which is strange, considering the fact that everything else Japanese people do seems to be absolutely flawless. Everything here is clean, people are quiet and polite,machines are tiny and precise, and yet the English I see is endearingly bad. Anyway, this first post is rambling, I know, but you're already wasting time reading a stupid blog, so I don't feel too bad about that. I'll try to get a few pictures up today and then start writing more coherent posts in the future--for now, though, I just wanted to get something written to test out the format, etc.

Here's some pictures:

These are from a Japanese cake store. Everything was tiny and perfect. Like a beautiful Swiss watch that goes straight to your thighs.

Apparently there actually are places like this in Japan. No Samurai jumped out and kicked my ass, but if they were going to, this would be a good spot.

This has nothing to do with Japan, but I saw the picture in a book at the school I'm teaching at and I laughed my ass off. These two zonked-out free spirits are pushing their groovy product in a book for children!

PS- click on the pictures to make them all big and fancy if you didn't know that.