Archive for July, 2015
Today before work I picked up Harry Potter 6 on DVD! Woohoo!
At work during a kids class, one of the students thought it would be fun to do a headstand against the wall. He got into an impressive headstand position, then removed his hands so his entire weight was being supported by his head. His 5 year old neck buckled, and he fell to the floor in a heap.
For those wondering, a typical NOVA kids classroom has no furniture. Classes for younger kids feature a lot of moving around, with some sitting on the floor for textbook work. It is not uncommon for kids to be moving around.
I have seen kids throwing things, trying to escape the classroom, and fighting before, but I had never seen a kid try to do a no hands handstand before. I didn’t really know what to do, so I went over, helped him up, and asked if he was okay. He said yes, so I continued with the class.
As soon as I turned my back for a second, he was back against the wall doing yet another no hands headstand. The results were exactly the same as the first time, except this time he grabbed his neck and started yelling “itai! itai! (it hurts! it hurts!)”. I told him not to do that again in both languages. Moments later he was trying once again to break his little neck for a third time. I picked him up and moved him away from the wall while he was laughing.
I don’t understand children. Not at all.
Today after work Palmer hosted a huge BBQ in the park near our apartment. Classes end early on Sunday, so the attendance was great. Most of the teachers from the area and all of the Japanese staff came out for food and socializing.
The BBQ was a nice change from the usual routine of izakayas and karaoke. My personal highlight was eating a delicious lamb burger. My lowlight was running away from fireworks.
If you ever have a chance to attend a BBQ hosted by an Australian, do it!
Today I got to work a rare early Saturday shift. Through my entire time teaching, I have always worked the late shift on Saturday. Most teachers work early Saturdays, and then get started on their evening activities while I am still at the office.
Conveniently, there was a summer festival in Atami. Koalako invited me and some of the other teachers to come to the festival. We all met up and took the train to Atami. I had never been to a summer festival before, so I didn’t really know what to expect. We walked through the hilly streets of Atami to Koalako’s house. I had met her parents earlier in the ear at a really fun karaoke night. They greeted us all with beer and sushi, which is a pretty great way to greet people.
After eating, we were provided with Hapi Coats (a short robe) to go to the festival. As we approached the main street of Atami, we saw throngs of people on either side of the road cheering on the giant floats that were being pulled down the street. All of the floats had lights and decorations, and were full of people drumming, playing instruments, and singing loudly. It was a crazy atmosphere.
We followed Koalako down the street through the crowds. I expected that we were going to find a spot and watch the parade. However, I was surprised when she lifted up the barrier rope and called us into the street. Not wanting to be left behind, we followed her as she walked up to one of the giant floats. At the front of the float was a team of people in summer festival gear holding on to a large rope used to pull the float through the streets. Koalako introduced us, and her friends made room on the rope.
Yes, we were now part of the team pulling the float through Atami!
We pulled the brightly lit float while everyone inside made lots of noise, entertaining the crowd and competing with the other floats. Occasionally we would stop to jump around and dance, and generally try to make even more noise. Thankfully my years in the fraternity had provided great training for jumping around and being noisy, so I fit right in with the crowd.
By the time we finished and parked the float, we were drenched in sweat. High fives were exchanged, beer flowed freely, and giant bottles of water were poured over heads. As we walked back towards the train station, we all agreed that it was one of the most fun nights we had ever experienced in Japan, and we hoped to do it again next year!
(2015 Update) Check my post about a visit to Atami Summer festival in summer 2013 here
My vacation is now officially over, and I was back to work today. I agreed to work a shift swap to help out another teacher, which means that I will be working the next 11 days in a row. It’s going to suck.
However, I also got some good news about work. I learned that as of August 1st, I will be transferred to NOVA’s Numazu branch. This will save me some time getting to and from work. Getting to Mishima NOVA doesn’t take me very long now, but I will be able to get to work in less than 10 minutes by bicycle with no train ride required.
More importantly, my days off are changing to the rare but extremely popular Sunday / Monday. This means that I will be able to spend time with The Penpal on the weekends without begging for a shift swap! The bad news is that 4 of my 5 shifts are late shifts, including continuing my streak of late Saturdays. It’s still a small price to pay for Sunday / Monday off.
Today I watched the greatest Japanese TV show ever since Iron Chef, and possibly the best food show ever: Debuya.
Every since TV was invented, there have been shows about food. Most of the shows involve cooking, but not many involve people eating. Debuya features two large Japanese men traveling around the country eating local delicacies. The best part is that they absolutely love EVERYTHING. The show reminds me of when Homer Simpson became a food critic on the Simpsons (before he intentionally started writing bad reviews). Debuya needs to be translated and sent overseas immediately; it will become a huge hit.
Other than watching people eat, I went out and bought the new Queens of the Stone Age Album: Lullabies to Paralyze. Like other QOTSA, this one is also amazing!
Buying CDs in Japan is usually more expensive than buying them back home, but there are often extras for the Japan release. For example, my CD had three bonus tracks for Japan, a book of Japanese translations of the lyrics, and a bonus DVD. How cool is that?
(2015 Update) I don’t think Debuya ever made it to North America, but there have been a lot more shows about people eating since I wrote this post in 2005. What does a person need to do in order to get a job traveling and eating? That sounds fantastic!
In the continuing adventures of my week off, I met up with The Penpal today and we went to Odaiba in Tokyo. It was a rainy day, which is unusual because for the first year or so that we knew each other, it never EVER rained when we were together. We walked around some of the same places that I went with my crazy friends when they came to visit last summer.
In the evening we had dinner in Yokohama. It was fun to get to spend a whole day out of the city with my wonderful girlfriend.
After a few days of traveling and lots of walking, I spent the entire day at home playing an incredibly addictive game called Eastside Hockey Manager 2005.
EHM is a hockey business simulation, where you take the role of general manager of a hockey team. It has thousands of real players from over 20 different hockey leagues around the world. I spent my day drafting, trading, and scouting players while trying to win the Stanley Cup. This is simply a fantastic business simulation game.
Since my computer is a bit underpowered, it took some time for the days to advance in my game. While the computer was thinking, I read The Stand by Stephen King.
Video games and a good book = great use of a vacation day!
(2015 Update) Eastside Hockey Manager got an update in 2007, but due to rampant piracy the series was discontinued. While looking for a screenshot of the game, I was shocked to learn that Eastside Hockey Manager came back suddenly, with a new version hitting the net late March 2015!! There goes the rest of my free time! Check it out here at http://eastsidehockey.com/
After thoroughly enjoying my visit to Osaka aquarium, I walked into a nearby shopping area to get some food. As luck would have it, I wandered into Naniwa Kishinbo Yokocho, which was designed to look like 1970s era Osaka. Walking around was a lot of fun, but I was focused on my goal of finding one of Osaka’s two famous foods: takoyaki (fried octopus balls) and okonomiyaki (like an omelette pancake). Both Hiroshima and Osaka have claims on okonomiyaki, the difference being that Hiroshima’s version has fried noodles inside.
After walking around for a while, I ended up walking into the nearby Tempozan Harbor Village where I followed my nose to a delicious smelling okonomiyaki restaurant called “Tsuruhashi Fugetsu“. I was shown to a table with a large grill in the middle. After looking at the Japanese only menu, I ordered pork okonomiyaki both because it sounded delicious, and because it was one of the few items I could read from the menu.
Usually when I am eating alone in a restaurant I am always reading a book. In this case I had to be careful not to let my book get too close to the grill. Fortunately I had no issues and enjoyed reading while eating the fantastic okomoniyaki that the server cooked at my table.
After eating, I got up to continue my exploration of Osaka. While I was in the aquarium, my knee had started to hurt a little. I injured my knee in University due to some grain alcohol fueled misadventures and it has never really been the same since. Usually it doesn’t bother me, but due to the amount of walking I have done in the past few days, it was becoming very uncomfortable. After lunch I was really starting to notice the pain.
To give my knee a rest, I went to a nearby IMAX theatre (Osaka Port has everything), and watched a cool 3D movie about New York City. After the movie my knee was hurting more, and I was starting to limp. I really wanted to get to Osaka castle, but reluctantly made the decision to end my trip short.
I went back to Osaka station, and did a little shopping in an import food store to kill some time while waiting for the shinkansen. I could have used at least another day in Osaka, but I don’t think that my knee would cooperate. I will have to go back another time! I really did enjoy my short time in Osaka and wish I could have stayed longer.
(2015 Update) I realized much later that one of the big differences between traveling by myself and traveling with someone else is that I am much less likely to stop and take breaks when I am on my own. When I started to think about the insane amount of walking I did in my two day trip to Himeji and Osaka and the short amount of time I spent sitting, it’s no wonder that my knee was hurting.
If you are sightseeing in Japan, be prepared for lots of walking. And if you are traveling by yourself, take breaks! It’s important!
Despite a very long day of walking yesterday, I woke up refreshed after a good night’s sleep in my hotel bed. I have been sleeping on a futon so long, that I forgot how amazing it is to sleep in a bed.
I ate breakfast and checked out of the hotel, then walked to the subway station. My destination was Osakako station. In this case the “ko” means port. The Osaka port area has several attractions, the biggest and most impressive being Osaka Aquarium Kaiyukan. The aquarium is one of the largest in the world.
Visitors enter at at ground level, then take an elevator to the top of the structure. There are tanks featuring aqua life of all kinds from different regions of the world, all in separate tanks. The tanks are arranged around the outside of the building, allowing visitors to spiral downward to see the same areas at lower and lower depths. In the center of the structure is a huge tank featuring a 12 meter long whale shark. The lowest levels of the aquarium feature special tanks that include giant crabs and jellyfish.
Osaka aquarium is a world class facility that should be on everyone’s must do in Osaka list. Aside from the wide array of aquatic life from around the world, the most interesting part of the experience was the people. Most of the gaijins in the building (no, I wasn’t the only one), were busy taking pictures of the fish and reading the information. The Japanese people, especially the children, were making several comments that everything looked delicious. Note to entrepreneurs: open a sushi restaurant right outside the exit of Osaka Aquarium. It’s guaranteed to succeed.
After a long day of sightseeing in Himeji and Osaka, I decided that I should get some food before crashing for the night. By this time it was about 10:00pm, and I was hungry. My hotel is in an area filled with office buildings, so there wasn’t a large variety of restaurants available. I was about to settle for convenience store food, but decided instead to try out Sukiya, a gyudon chain restaurant.
I had never been to Sukiya before. Going into a new restaurant solo when you aren’t confident in your language ability can be a bit intimidating. I walked in and noticed counter seats around the cooking area, as well as a few tables. There was no ticket machine in the entrance. Usually this indicates that you should sit at the counter and order from there.
I took a seat at the far end of the counter, and started browsing the menu in front of me. There were various different styles of gyudon, which is delicious grilled beef and onions served on rice. I decided to order the kimchi gyudon set, which included a drink and miso soup.
A few minutes later I was presented with a big bowl of gyudon, a small bowl of miso soup, a glass of water, and a small bowl with an egg still in its shell, and a small empty bowl. I knew what to do with the gyudon, soup, and water, but had never been served an egg like this before. I had no idea what to do with the egg.
When confronted with new restaurant experiences, I like to try to figure things out myself. My main technique is to casually look around the restaurant to see what other people are doing and copy that. I started eating my gyudon while looking around at the few other diners in the restaurant. Since it was after 10 pm, there weren’t a lot of people eating, and many of them were already in the middle of their meals. Looking around provided no help at all.
I continued eating my delicious gyudon, stopping to gently spin the egg in the bowl. I remembered a science book from when I was younger telling me that I could tell the difference between a raw egg and a hard boiled egg by spinning them. A hard boiled egg spins longer and more smoothly than a raw egg. This comparison works a lot better when you have one of each so you can see the difference. Spinning my one egg in it’s small bowl provided some small amount of entertainment, but no insight into what I was supposed to do.
At this point, I was about half way through my gyudon. I decided that I would have to test my Japanese language abilities and actually ask someone for help. My mind went back to my Japanese courses in university to assemble a “how do I” sentence. Normally this wouldn’t be terribly difficult, but after a full day of travel and sightseeing, it took some time. I practiced the sentence in my head a few times to make sure I knew what I wanted to say, and that it would make sense to the server.
There weren’t a lot of staff working, so by the time I caught the server’s attention, I had eaten almost all of my gyudon. I called the server over with a polite “sumimasen” (excuse me). I followed that with “kono tamago, doo yatte tabemasu ka?” which means “this egg, how eat?”. In Japanese the verb usually goes at the end of the sentence, making direct word for word translations sound like Yoda speak.
The server gave me a bit of a confused look. I was worried that he didn’t understand my question, but then he started explaining that I should crack the egg into the empty bowl, mix it up, and then pour it over the gyudon. I thanked him for his help, and he walked away.
- When you pour a raw egg over a full steaming hot bowl of gyudon and mix it up, the egg cooks while coating the rice. This is very delicious.
- When you pour a raw egg over a room temperature, mostly empty bowl of gyudon, the raw egg simply sits there, making the remaining rice slippery and nearly impossible to pick up with chopsticks. This is not delicious.
After making a few unsuccessful attempts to finish my slippery gyudon with chopsticks, I decided to use the spoon from my miso soup to help me out. I was rewarded with a mouthful of raw egg and slimy rice. At that point I decided to give up.
The lesson to my story is when presented with an unfamiliar food, it’s better to ask a silly question than to end up with a bowl full of raw egg.