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Josiah's Japan Travelogue
Part 2: September 2007
Part 1: August 2007
Day 17 (1st): Normal Saturday

The title pretty much says it all. Being a Saturday, my dad and I hung around my apartment for a bit then headed into Tokyo for services. We got there pretty early since my dad is always paranoid that things will take a whole lot longer than the actually do. Plus there's that whole better early than late thing (which I usually agree with). That evening we swung by Akihabara so I could take a look at some electronic Japanese-English dictionaries and then headed back to Koga. So yeah, nothing special or exciting happened.

Random Japan Comment: Left or Right?
In Japan, cars drive on the left side of the road like in the UK and Australia. To go along with that, people tend to walk on the left side of things as well. For example, in America if people are going opposite directions down a sidewalk, we typically each move to the right so there's room for both of us. The same type of things applies to stuff like stairs, escalators, etc. Naturally in Japan people tend to move to the left...well, sometimes. It's true that people often stick to the left side of sidewalks, hallways, etc and many places like subway and train stations have signs clearly telling everyone to stay to their left in high traffic areas. But there's an exception, or rather a whole lot of exceptions. Not everyone goes left. Some random people walking around might go to the right or just stay in the center. Left might be the most common way but there's enough people who don't do it that you really need to pay attention. It doesn't help that some of those aforementioned 'stay to the left' signs are actually 'stay to the right' signs. Not many, but it's enough to throw you off. The only place that seems completely consistent is escalators where everyone will stand on the left side, leaving the right side free for people who are in a hurry and want to walk up the escalators instead of just waiting for it to carry them.

Day 18 (2nd): A Little More in Tokyo
Since my dad is only going to by in Japan until Wednesday, I've been letting him decide what we do. He wanted to do some stuff around Tokyo so we headed there.
First stop was a once a month flea market. But, unlike the last flea market we went to, this one specialized in antiques. Naturally this meant the stuff was typically a bit more expensive and a bit fancier (also a bit older in many cases). There was some interesting stuff, especially if you like old statues, teapots, pictures, etc, etc, etc but since it was just antiques it did get a little boring after a while. Eventually you've just seen enough antiques (and least that's how it is for me, I'm sure collectors and the like would disagree).
After that we went to Ueno's Ameya-Yokocho again. Definitely more interesting to look around than an antique market. So we looked around and got some lunch then walked around Ueno a bit. I have to say, Ueno seems to be the place to go for pachinko (a type of Japanese gambling that I'll talk about more another time) and slot machines. If you want to gamble, you won't have to look far to place a place in Ueno. Well, technically you're not "gambling" since gambling is illegal in Japan. In reality, it's gambling with a bit of a workaround/loophole that makes it technically legal. I'll go into more details about that in a later post. We also saw a monk begging while we were there, which was kinda interesting.
Finally, we left Tokyo and went to a city a bit to the north called Saitama. There's a couple of soccer teams that play there and a nice shopping plaza although, since it's that close to Tokyo, there doesn't seem to be much of a reason for me to go there very often, unless I want to watch a soccer game or something, which I might do at some point. Seems that there was some sort of special show or concert going on that day in the soccer stadium so there was a ton of people (mostly girls) going to that. Anyway, the reason we were there was for the John Lennon Museum. My dad was a big Beatles fan when he was younger and still likes their music a lot so he wanted to go. I like the music too but I'm nowhere near as big a Beatles fan as he is. Anyway, the museum didn't allow pictures inside but it wasn't bad. It chronicled John's life pretty thoroughly and had lots of memorabilia. Plus all the signs had Japanese and English so we were actually able to read them.
And that was all for Sunday. Wasn't a really full day but we had time to do some shopping and stuff when we got back to Koga.

Day 19 (3rd): The First Day of School

Well, as you probably know I didn't come to Japan for eight months to tour the entire time (although that would be pretty cool). I came here to work as an ALT (assistant language teacher). Basically I work in a school and help teach kids English. Today was my first day on the job. So for the next week or two I'll mainly be talking about my job and after that I'll go back to more normal news posts and make travelogue entries if something special happens or to talk about the places I go and things I do on the weekends.
So, day one on the job. I'd already been shown around Nogi Elementary (where I'll be working four out of five days each week) and it's right down the road so I had no trouble getting there and finding my way to my desk. The work day officially starts at 8 and a few minutes after that is a short staff meeting of sorts. With my limited Japanese I couldn't understand most of what was being said but at one point I did get up and introduce myself to the other teachers. I didn't have anything to do after that (from the looks of things, I won't have anything to do for a very large portion of most days) so I studied Japanese for a while. A little while later, since it's the first day of the semester, the principle gave a speech to the students. At one point during said speech, I and some other new staff members went in and introduced ourselves to the students then one of the students read a little greeting message to us and then it was back to my desk (if you're wondering, all the teachers' desks are in one room and that's where they're supposed to work and hang out when they're not teaching).
I didn't have any classes today. In general, I only have one or two classes a day anyway but this week all of them except one (on Friday) were canceled (probably cause it's the first week). So yeah, with the exception of Wednesday (when I have to go to a completely different place) and Friday I'm not actually doing any teaching this week. Or even much work for that matter. Too bad I don't actually get the days off. I suppose it's important that I look like I'm doing something. Oh well, gives me plenty of time to get things done like studying Japanese, planning lessons (which doesn't seem to take much time since I'm supposed to be following a pretty detailed curriculum), writing, working on various things on my computer, etc. The only other thing that happened in the morning was cleaning time, where all the kids went around and cleaned the building (supervised by the teachers). They really have those kids well trained. They swept, dusted, emptied waste baskets, picked up trash outside, etc (and these are just elementary school kids). Can't imagine anything like that in the US. I guess it saves money since the school doesn't have to hire janitor... Normally I think I'm supposed to help with that but they hadn't figured out what area I was supposed to supervise yet so they told me to just sit it out.
On most days I think I've supposed to eat lunch with the students of whatever class I taught. But, since I didn't have any classes, I ate with some of the teachers. They seem friendly and a few of them know at least a little English. After lunch I did a some more things on my computer. Then, since it was the first day, they let the kids go home early and I got to leave not too long after (about two hours earlier than my official quitting time).

Random Japan Comment: Water Fountains
In the US, water fountains are all over the place. You'll find them in parks, around cities, and in many businesses and large building. In Japan, there's hardly any. I assume the reason for this is all the vending machines. With so many vending machines around, in most areas you can find something to drink pretty easily despite the lack of water fountains. Of course, that something won't necessarily be water and it's gonna cost you around a dollar or so (typically 100-130 yen) and if you happen to be in a building or part of town without any vending machines you could be in trouble. Hmm... Maybe whatever company owns all the vending machines lobbies the government to block the construction of water fountains in Japan. Or maybe not, but it wouldn't be all that surprising.

Day 20 (4th): 2nd Day of School
It was a full nine hour day today. Technically, I think I'm only supposed to be working eight hours a day but I'm guess that the Board of Education don't count the lunch break as work (despite the fact that I'm required to stay at the school and eat the school lunch with either the teachers or the students). Speaking of the school lunches, I have to pay for them. Fortunately, they're pretty cheap (only 250 yen per meal) but with five meals week for a month that does add up a bit, especially when you tack on the extra 2000 yen a month fee for assorted other stuff like coffee and tea (which, like the school lunch, I have to pay for whether I eat/drink it or not). I suppose I wouldn't mind the fees too much if my salary was a bit larger, but it's not. I think I'm the lowest paid ALT at Joytalk (the company that hired me), of course it's not exactly their fault because the salary was chosen by the Nogi board of education. Still, after paying for rent, utilities, assorted other fees, and food I'm not gonna have much money left over. Especially since I want to do some touring on weekends and holidays. Fortunately, I've got a decent amount of money stashed away in my US bank account so I can draw from that whenever my salary is depleted (which could very well happen every month) and I wasn't expecting to make a lot of money from this job (I came for the experience, not the cash), but I have to admit, it's kinda annoying knowing that most other ALTs get anywhere from around 130% - 200% as much as I do. Which would definitely give them enough money to live, tour a bit, and maybe even have some money left over to spend or save. As for me, I'm probably gonna end the trip with less money than I started with. Which, as I said, is acceptable but still annoying.
Anyway, I'd already done my little intro speeches and since most of this week's English classes were canceled, I didn't have a whole lot to do. I did spend a little while helping a couple kids clean the English room. As previously mentioned, they have those kids really well trained, seems that if you sent a bunch of 1 - 6 graders in the US to clean their school something would go seriously wrong pretty quickly, with or without supervision. I also went through the contents of said room (stuff bought by the school and/or left by the previous ALT) so I'd know what I had to work with (although I don't know if I'll get the chance to use much of it cause of the curriculum I have to follow. Aside from that stuff and lunch with the teachers, I spent the rest of the day studying Japanese and working on several things on my computer. Good thing I rarely have trouble keeping myself occupied.
Since it's his last day here, my dad and I went to the nearby kaiten zushi place for dinner and picked up some stuff at the 100 yen store while we were there (something like a US dollar stuff but with more useful stuff).

Day 21 (5th): Wednesdays
My dad left this morning and headed back to the US so I'm on my own now. As I mentioned before, Wednesdays are totally different than my other work days each week. First off, I've got a 25 minutes bike ride to the Nogi Board of Education (gotta get there by 8:30). The ride isn't that bad, I just hope I don't have to do it in the rain or snow... So anyway, I got there at 8:30 and then did...absolutely nothing actually. See, I'm supposed to teach a few classes nearby but the first one isn't till 10. Supposedly I can use the time before to plan my lessons if I need to... But I need to be there at 8:30 even if I already have my lessons planned (which I always will considering how much free time I've got the rest of my work days). And it's not like I have a desk there or anything (plus I don't really want to carry my computer all the way over there). I can study Japanese. But there's really no reason what so ever for me to be there then (they don't need to talk to me about anything, go over my lesson plans, or anything). Oh well...
Anyway, after sitting around studying Japanese for a while I finally headed out to my first class. It was at a preschool and lasted for a grand total of ten minutes. I can't do a whole lot with ten minutes once a week but the kids were cute and it was kinda fun. Basically, they have some sort of recital or performance later in the year so I have to teach them an English song for that and keep them entertained. For now, I'm working on the ABC song and once they start to get that down decently I'll probably do another song or a game or two to fill the time.
Right after that I had to quickly bike to another school. This time I had two lessons that lasted for 15 minutes each. One was four year olds and the other was five year olds. They have a similar recital thing to prep for so once again I needed to teach them a song. I was told that they liked stuff with lots of movement so I did Head, and Shoulders, Knees, and Toes for both classes. Once again, it was kinda fun and the kids were really excited and energetic. I'll probably be reviewing the songs each week and work in other songs and games eventually.
After that I had around three hours to kill before the meeting at the Board of Education. Fortunately, they didn't require me to sit there the whole time. I could have gone back to Nogi Elementary for lunch but, seeing as it's a 25 minute bike ride each way, it was supposed to rain today (which it did for a while), and I can't even eat half the stuff in the school lunches anyway, I decided to hang out and take a look around Nogi. There wasn't much to see so I ended up in the park playing Elite Beat Agents on my DS. Plus, I kinda got stuck there when it started raining (there were some covered seating areas).
The meeting itself was fairly short and nothing important happened, unless you count me finding out that the Board of Education no longer gives ALTs any money to buy teaching supplies and materials (even when it's something they want you to get), add that to my salary and there's only one conclusion...The Nogi Board of Education is really cheap (or maybe really poor). Anyway, I got to leave once the meeting was over, despite it being about an hour before my official quitting time, so I suppose Wednesdays really aren't that bad despite the long ride and wasted time before classes. I mean, I get a few hours of free time in the middle and I get out early.

Day 22 (6th): Back at School

The weather was iffy but at least it didn't rain till after I got to Nogi Elementary (getting caught in the rain twice yesterday was enough). Once again, I didn't have a lot to do so I spent most of my time working on various things on my computer and studying Japanese. I also helped once of the other staff members clean some windows.
I ate lunch with the kids for the first time, that was the most interesting and fun part of the day. I was with the 5th grade class. At first it was pretty quiet as we ate. Speaking of which, I can say with certainty that corn was never meant to be eaten with chopsticks, it's just too small and slippery. The payoff (eating the corn) just isn't worth the effort (picking each piece up (often one at a time) with your chopsticks. Anyway, after most of the kids had finished eating I got barraged with questions about what I liked to do, what games, anime, etc I liked, what my favorite characters were in certain anime, etc. It was fun and made for good Japanese practice. Although, I kinda have to wonder if, as an English teacher, I should have tried to get them to speak to me in English...

Random Japan Comment: Addresses
As previously mentioned, finding a specific address in Japan can be difficult without detailed directions. Here's how Japanese addresses work. Japan is divided into prefectures (somewhat like a counties or maybe states in the US) and each prefecture has towns, cities, etc, and sometimes said towns and cities are divided into sections. Anyway, aside from all that stuff the addresses also contain some numbers. See, most roads in Japan don't have names and even with the ones that do, road signs are extremely rare so you can't just say 123 Oak Street or something like that. Instead, cities and towns are broken up into numbered sections (although figuring out where one section starts and another begins (or even what section you're in) seems pretty difficult if not impossible without a very detailed map. So that's the first number. Then those sections are divided into smaller sections (once again, you're probably not gonna be able to tell without the right map). So if you manage to find the place indicated by those two numbers you'll be in the general area of where ever you're going. The last set of numbers is the building's actual address. But if you think the hard part is over you're probably wrong. See, unlike in the US where buildings are numbered sequentially as you move down a road, numbers in Japan are assigned in the order the buildings were constructed. So while building 147 might be right next to you, 148 could be right behind you, a couple of blocks in another direction, or even on the opposite end of the section you're in. And without super super super detailed maps (most don't show that level of detail) you have no way of telling where the building you want is.
As I also previously mentioned, Japanese people don't seem to understand the system much better than I do (so far Japanese people that have been taking me various places have gotten lost repeatedly (sometimes for very long periods of time) even when they had maps or directions. I have to wonder who could have ever thought that this address system would be a good idea...

Day 23 (7th): My First Class
Today started out with rain, lots of rain. Actually the rain started last night. Lots of rain and lots of wind. It wasn't just any storm either, it was a fairly large typhoon. Really sucks when a typhoon hits and you have laundry hanging out to dry and nowhere in your apartment to put it. I miss having a dryer... Anyway, all the wind and rain were really loud and made it kinda hard to sleep. It was still raining in the morning so I had to bike in the rain. Fortunately, I have a cheap raincoat and I stuck my backpack in a big plastic bag so I managed to arrive relatively dry. Even better, it stopped raining by the afternoon so I didn't have any trouble getting back to my apartment after work. As usual, I spent most of the day studying Japanese and doing stuff on my computer.
The only thing special thing about today was that I finally had my first class at Nogi Elementary. I was teaching 5th graders (who I met yesterday at lunch) so they already knew me. As I probably mentioned before, Nogi uses a fairly straightforward if not all that intense or exhaustive English curriculum for all its schools so I had a nice little lesson plan to follow with the help of the class's home room teacher (who speaks a little English but not much). The lesson topic was months. Started with a quick review of the days of the week then went through some month flash cards, sang some little songs about the days and months, went around and had all the kids say their birthday in English, and then had a couple of games. The first was a card game that played a lot like BS (aka I Don't Think So) but with the 12 months being used in place of regular numbers. After that we did a game where I'd whisper a month to several students who would run and tell the next person in their group who would tell the next person, etc until it got to the last person who would run to the board and grab the card for the correct month, first team to get the right one got a point. All in all it was easy and didn't require much prep time (thanks to the afore mentioned curriculum) and kinda fun. The kids seemed to enjoy it anyway and a lot of them are really friendly so it wasn't bad at all.

Day 24 (8th): Culture Fest
For the most part it was a normal Saturday. I went into Tokyo for services and all that. Afterwards, however, the congregation leader offered to take me to the Tokyo University of Art & Design (where one of his daughters attends) since they were having their culture fest. Culture fests are something that all school have in Japan. I think they take place once a year per school (although they might be more frequent, not sure). The actual date varies by school (Nogi Elementary's isn't until sometime next month). If you're an anime and manga fan chances are you'll have seen a culture fest or two in one series or another. Basically, culture fests typically take place on a weekend. Students break into groups and create booths (or use classrooms depending on the school) and create things like food stands, little shops, carnival type games, etc and people who live nearby come to walk around and have fun. I assume that the money earned goes to the school and not to the students but I'm not positive about that. Since this culture fest was being done by a university, it was fairly large and pretty crowded. There was lots of stands selling different types of food and beer, students selling artwork (it is an art and design school after all) and a stage with live music with included a girl singing J-Pop style songs, some rappers/break dancers (although kinda amusing to watch for a few minutes, I have to say that I think rap typically sounds even worse in Japanese than it does in English), and a DJ doing the whole turn table mixing/spinning thing. They also had some Japanese parade floats on display, which I think were created by the students. It was interesting to look around and I'm definitely curious to see what my school's will be like.

Day 25 (9th): Even More Sightseeing in Tokyo
While I'm working in here Japan I plan to spend most of my Sundays and holidays doing some touring (since I don't have time on work days). I had been hoping to go to Nikko but there was a pretty high chance of rain so I went to Tokyo instead which, besides having a much lower chance of rain, had plenty of things I could do indoors incase it did rain. My initial plan was to take a quick look at a the statue of Hachiko, check out the sword museum, do a little shopping and then get back to Koga fairly early, making it a short and easy day. However, do to a few different factors, it ended up being a very long day. I had fun though so no big deal.
First off I took a train from Koga to the station where the Hachiko statue is (either Shinjuku or Shibuya, I keep getting those two mixed up and don't have a map handy right now). The statue is another thing that some anime/manga fans might have heard of. If you haven't it's the statue of a dog named Hachiko. A while ago (a bit before WWII if I remember right) there was an old man who had a dog named Hachiko. Every day that guy would take the train from the station to work and back and every evening Hachiko would come to the station and wait for his mater to return. The man eventually died but Hachiko continued to go to the station every evening to wait for the train for the rest of his life. After Hachiko died, some people made a statue to commemorate his loyalty. There really isn't anything amazing about the statue itself but, after having read about it in various anime and manga I wanted to take a look at the real thing.
My next stop was the Japanese Sword Museum which was a little bit to the northwest of Yayogi Park. Since the weather wasn't looking too bad, I decided to walk to and through the park to get there. I've heard that there's a party or festival just about every day in Japan if you go to the right place. Well, on my way through the park I stumbled across a Brazil festival. Now I've got no clue why there'd be a Brazil festival in Japan but there was. Maybe's it's a big tourist spot for Japanese people.
After looking around the festival for a little while I continued through the park before stumbling across a huge wooden shrine gate and a lot of tourists (Japanese and otherwise). Since the place seemed to be pretty popular, and since I was already there, I figured I might as well check it out. Turned out it was a large shrine built to honor the Meiji Emperor (a much loved Emperor who laid the foundation for modern Japan back in the 1800s). The shrine itself wasn't all that impressive after going to Kamakura and seeing my dad's photos from Nikko but it was surrounded by a nice forest and some big grassy meadows that seemed to be popular picnic spots. There was also a treasure museum that featured lots of paintings of and items owned by the Meiji Emperor.
The forest and gardens surrounding the shrine were pretty large and I was stopping to look at stuff so it took me a while to get through. Fortunately, I ended up pretty close to the sword museum. Unfortunately, it took me quite a while to actually find the museum itself (gotta hate the Japanese address system). I ended up walking in circles pretty close to the museum but was unable to find the place itself. Fortunately, in the end I asked someone for directions and he showed me the way. The Japanese Sword museum was pretty small but features a nice collection of katana (the primary type of Japanese sword) blades along with some wakizashi (a shorter secondary blade) and tonto (a third blade that's more of a large knife than a sword). The blades were in extremely good condition despite the fact that most of them were hundreds of years old. I guess they can really last a long time if you take good care of them. There were also some sword fittings (grips, sheaths, etc) and guards (a metal piece placed where the blade meets the grip). After looking over them you can really see that Japanese sword making was/is as much of an art as it is a craft. While I was there I also read a bit about how Japanese swords are made. It's pretty interesting and shows why they're considered to be some of the best (quite possibly the best) swords. I would have gotten some photos to show you but Japanese museums all seem to have something against taking pictures.
My last stop for the day was Akihabara. Having done a decent amount of research on electric Japanese - English dictionaries I decided to go see what I could find. Since they're all made for Japanese speakers, using many of them can be difficult if you don't know much Japanese and there isn't really any comparable device made for English speakers (heck, you can't even buy the Japanese ones in the US). Fortunately, many of Canon's models have the option to switch all the menus to English. Naturally, that's only the menus and whatever data is in English to begin with (like the English dictionaries) but they've got English > Japanese and Japanese > English dictionaries built in (usually with a lot of other English and Japanese reference books too like a thesaurus and kanji dictionary) so they're pretty useful. The nicer (and more expensive ones) also include the ability to identify kanji that you write with a stylus (which is extremely useful when you run into a kanji you don't know (which for me happens constantly)). Unfortunately, the most powerful of Canon's English models didn't have that feature (which I really wanted) so I got to choose between on that was English - Japanese - Chinese or one that was designed for Japanese school kids. In the end, I got the school one. Both had about the same amount of English stuff and unlike all the Chinese reference material (which I probably wouldn't ever use) the kids one has things like history, practice tests, and the like. Things that could come in handy once my Japanese improves enough to read them. Yodobashi Camera let me sign up for one of their point cards when I bought it so I got a bunch of points. So far that makes one stamp card and two point cards I've gotten so far. Could be pretty useful...at least if I ever manage to figure out what you can do with points/stamps you earn...
After that I wondered around Akihabra for a while. I was looking for some certain things in particular (like a present for one of my cousins). Wasn't exactly sure which store had the exact items I wanted through so I ended up exploring a lot of stores that looked like they might have it (plus some stores that just looked cool). Along the way I got a picture of a Yuna cosplayer, saw lots of cool stuff, found and bought a nifty USB device that lets you back up DS save games to a PC (been wanting one of those for a long time), and eventually found exactly what I was looking for (took a while though). By the time I left Akihabara it was getting pretty late so I headed home.

Day 26 (10th): Back to Work

Just another school day without anything particularly special to write about. My class for the day was canceled because the lower grades don't have English classes every week so I just hung out and had lunch with the 6th graders who were nice but, in general, a bit less talkative than the 5th graders.

Random Japan Comment: Business Hours
In the US stores and the like typically open at 9 (or maybe 10) and, depending on what it is and where it is, stay open till anywhere between 5 and 10 (the average generally seems to be 6 or 8). In Japan, however, although much of the population gets moving pretty early (which is why train stations and the stuff around them usually have pretty long business hours) the majority of stores and the like don't open until 10 with some waiting until 11. However, they typically stay open a bit later as well (often till sometime between 8 and 11). Also, Saturday hours are typically the same as regular weekend day hours with Sunday seeming to be the only "official" weekend day.

Day 27 (11th): 4th Grade Class
I had my first class with the 4th Graders today. The lesson focused on months and dates. If I haven't explained this already, each lesson I teach I'm actually assisting the homeroom teacher of whatever grade I'm teaching (except for preschool on Wednesdays where I'm running the whole show). So, although we're following a curriculum, things can change a little depending on the teacher themselves. The fourth grade teacher took a bit more direct control of things than the fifth grade one so I pretty much just went along with him. Not I had a problem with that. Actually, he might have done that since his English wasn't very good (he spoke less than the fifth grade teacher, who doesn't know all that much herself) so he might have just wanted to make sure he knew what was going on. Anyway, he gave me some extra time to do a longer intro as well (normally there's a very large portion of the first class set aside for the ALT's intro but since I'm replacing a teacher who had to quit after the school year had already started, we're way past that lesson so I just have to squeeze in my intro whenever I can). Didn't get much of a chance to talk to the students themselves since I was teaching the whole time but them seemed nice. Now I just need to meet first, second, and third grades.
Like culture fests, schools also have sports days. Once again, I know they take place at least once a year (possibly two or three times but I'm really not sure). Sports days involve dividing the students into teams (not sure exactly how they're divided, I think some schools go by classes but I think others go with a more random evenly matched division) and then having the teams compete in a variety of sports and games. Sports days typically take place on a Saturday or Sunday. I think they're supposed to promote teamwork, healthy competition, and all that stuff. My school's is a week from Saturday. Unfortunately, that's also Yom Kippur so there's no way I can go (unless the sports day is delayed because of bad weather which could certainly happen if the weather doesn't start improving...). Since I can't go, the principle asked if I'd watch the kids practice for sports days (which they do for around 20-30 minutes every morning). Now when I was asked to watch sports day practice I naturally assumed that the kids would be running, practicing for various events, etc. Boy was I wrong. Actually, this practice involves running though the ceremony. The kids stand in the proper place, carry a flag around, sing the sports day songs, etc. Guess the sports themselves aren't as important as the kids knowing how to walk up and take a flag. Maybe they should rename it to 'Nicely Performed Ceremony Day Featuring Sports During the Intermission'. Ok, just kidding about that last part. Still, the whole thing is a lot different than what a similar event would be like in the US.
Speaking of the singing, they've got that pretty well rehearsed too with the two different sports day teams (red and white) each having their own parts in the songs. There's also one kid playing the tune on an electric keyboard and another standing in front waving a conductor's baton around. Now that made me wonder... First off, does said student know how to properly use a baton? Secondly, do the other students know how to follow prompts from a baton? Doesn't seem like something they'd learn in elementary school. Maybe the adults just think it looks more professional if there's someone there waving a baton around...

Day 28 (12th): Rain
Rain sucks. Well ok, sometimes it's not bad and sometimes I even like rainy days. Well, I like rainy days when I can find a comfortable spot on the couch and read or play video games all day. However, I HATE rainy days when I have to bike for 25 minutes in said rain. So anyway, guess what I did this morning! If you guessed that I biked for 25 minutes in pouring rain, you're absolutely right. Fortunately, I had a rain coat. Unfortunately, it was raining pretty hard and that, combined with the fact that I was biking, ensured that I still got pretty wet. On the up side, the B.O.E was nice enough to give me a towel and a dry shirt when I arrived and drive me to my classes (too little too late but at least they tried). Fortunately, by the time I was done teaching the rain had turned into a very light drizzle and when it was time for me to bike home it had stopped entirely. Also fortunately, my backpack confirmed my past suspicions by proving to be quite water resistant.
The classes themselves were good. I reviewed the ABC song with the three year olds and Head and Shoulders, Knees and Toes with the four and five years olds. Plus I taught the four and five year olds a simple "start" and "stop" game and, once I managed to explain it to the teachers (who were then able to do a much better job explaining it to the students than I was), the kids really enjoyed it.
The meeting ended early so when I got home I had some time to go out for sushi and check out the nearby arcade before sunset. I think the sushi place opened for dinner not long before I arrived so there wasn't anything on the conveyor yet so I got to try ordering things directly. Wasn't that hard really, although I was limited to whatever had names that I could both read and identify since not everything on the menu had photos.
Like most of the Japanese arcades I've seen so far, this one had lots of claw machines (Yeah, they're really popular here and you can try for lots more than just stuffed animals. They're still nearly impossible to win though.), a bunch of collectable trading card based video games (as in video games which are played using special cards which can be won by playing said game, not the type of thing that makes it to the US), a selection of normal games, and an area set apart for the more gambling based games like slots and pachinko. Anyway, I'll give a more detailed rundown of Japanese arcades another time but suffice it to say that I tried some different stuff out and had a fairly fun time.

Day 29 (13th): Rosh Hashanna
Thursday was Rosh Hashanna. It's a really important Jewish holiday so I took the day off work. Unfortunately, the group I go to couldn't do a special service for it (I think they're gonna do something Saturday instead) and the Jewish community center charged a fortune to go to their service so instead I stayed in Koga, read through a service booklet on my computer, and just kinda had my own little thing. Plus I took a really long bike ride and explored the town a bit so here are some photos.
First off, here's the main room of my apartment. It's basically living room, bed room, and dining room combined. A little tight but it works. Now if only there were more places to put figurines... Here's the view from my little laundry hanging deck. Not much of a view really but I've had worse. Here's my really tiny kitchen. Complete with half a stove, no oven, and a tiny fridge (which you can just see the edge of). Probably wouldn't have minded so much before I started getting into cooking... And here's my apartment building. There's no amenities and I never really see the neighbors (I think I've glimpsed a couple once or twice) but since I'm only gonna be here till April I don't need anything real fancy. Still, definitely a big change from US apartments.
Leaving the apartment behind, here's the nearby shopping plaza (or as much as I could fit in one picture) and here's the nearest 7 - 11. Convenience stores in Japan, unlike in the US, usually aren't paired with gas stations. They're pretty popular here and have a better selection of stuff. You can get food, drinks, magazines and even a handful of DVDs and games. Plus, you can go to convenience stores to pay your utility bills. 7 - 11 seems to be the biggest of the chains and even has its own bank. What I like about 7 - 11s is that they have free international ATMs so if I run low on yen I can easily pull some cash from my US bank account and, once I actually get a Japanese account and a paycheck, I can use it to get money from there too. Anyway, I already mentioned that many restaurants have displays of plastic food outside to show you what they have. Well, here's one of those displays. And here's Koga Station, well one side of it. This actually isn't the side I need to go out of to get to my apartment but I think this side makes for a better photo. And here's a random shot along one of the main roads. After biking all around, I can say that I was right about Koga not having a nice shopping street or anything like that. But I did spot a game store, which is kinda cool. Too bad it's pretty far away from my apartment. I also found a Pizza Hut. Now if I'm in the US, Pizza Hut is one of the last places I'd go for pizza. Here's it's probably just about my only choice, at least in Koga. There's probably someplace better in Tokyo but who knows if I could ever find it. Anyway, pizza here is extremely expensive so I'm sure I won't be getting it much. I mean, it's nearly 3000 yen (around $26) for a 12 inch pizza. I mean seriously, and I thought the place I used to go in Phoenix (which charged about $18 for a two topping eighteen inch pizza) was a little expensive...

Day 30 (14th): Normal Day on the Job
Nothing much happened at work. I taught the 5th graders about school subjects and the 3rd graders about directions and helped the other teachers get some stuff ready for the sports day but that was about it. However, since I had already had some photos of Koga, I decided I should take some of the school as well.
Here's some kids going to school (actually this one my dad took a week or two back). Elementary schools don't have uniforms (at least not in Nogi, although all the kids do wear the same gym outfit during P.E.) but at Nogi Elementary they all wear those yellows hats on their way to school and then take them right off when they get there only to put them back on when they leave. Maybe it's so drivers notice them better? Oddly enough, I didn't think to take a picture of the outside of the building. But here's the main hall, the place where the teachers' desks are, a regular class room and the English class room (there's a lot of specialized class rooms including a computer room, science room, home ec room, and what looks like a shop room, along with an indoor basketball court and a fairly large pool). Since it's a new building (they're still doing a little construction on the outside) everything is nice, new, and in good shape. In the off chance that anyone is wondering, those floors aren't real wood. It's a fake stuff that's actually a little on the rubbery side.
Since the weather was a little better today than it has been, they did a lot of sports day practice outside. First off, they actually practiced a game this time which involved the teams rolling a giant ball around their half of the field as quickly as they could. First team to make two complete rounds won. Might be a little hard to tell from the pic but it's the kids in the white hats vs the kids in the red hats. They're actually not all mixed in like it looks. See, the hats are reversible (one side red and the other white) and since it was the beginning of the day some of the kids had their hats on the wrong way. They switched them shortly after I took that picture. After running through the ball game a couple times the did some aerobics and started rehearsing the ceremony again (maybe that's not the best word for it but it's all I can think of at the moment). I did get a video of the kids singing if you want to see (or more like hear since my camera takes lousy videos). You can't hear the kids too well at first but they get louder a little ways in. Oh, and the video is a little big so it might take a couple minutes to load. Good thing I've got bandwidth to burn with this hosting package...

Day 31 (15th): Yodobashi Gold Card

I have a three day weekend thanks to Respect for the Aged Day. It started out as a pretty normal Saturday. The only strange thing was that I got a visit from a couple Jehovah's Witnesses in the morning. Guess they really are everywhere. I mean, here I am in Japan where Christianity isn't all that big plus I'm on the edge of a kinda small town in a sorta hard to find apartment building. Anyway, that aside I went to services which where a bit different since they were having a late Rosh Hashanna celebration.
Afterwards, I headed to Yodobashi Camera in Akihabara to get a Japanese PS2. Why get a Japanese PS2? Well my normal PS2 can't play Japanese games. So why do I want to play Japanese games? Well, there's a lot of great games that just don't reach the US like Kingdom Hearts II Final Mix+ (which is probably the main reason I got the Japanese PS2, that and Japanese DDR). So yeah, with a Japanese PS2 I can play them while practicing my Japanese at the same time. Plus if I ever get any Japanese DVDs (unlikely considering the prices) I can use it to watch them.
Anyway, I did some internet research before hand and figured out how my Yodobashi Gold Point card worked so I used my points to help get the PS2. I gotta say, the Gold Point Card is awesome. To explain, I'll compare it to my Best Buy card. FYI: Yodobashi Camera is a Japanese electronics store chain. Their prices are usually pretty average. Their selection is great but you could probably find stuff a little bit cheaper if you shopped around. Best Buy is an American electronics chain that usually has prices that range from average to fairly cheap.
With a BB Point Card for every dollar you spend you get 1 point. The points get added to your account after around a month. For every 250 points you earn you get a $5 gift certificate. Also worth noting, when you make a purchase using one or more of those gift certificates you get no points (so if I use a $5 certificate towards a $50 purchase there's still $45 of my money that I'm not getting points on). So in a nutshell you get a 2% return on your purchases and it takes about a month before you can use it.
With the Yodobashi Gold Point Card you get points equal to 10% of the amount of yen you spend (or 8% if you pay by credit card) and they get added to your account after one day. You can keep saving points as long as you want or you can use them towards a purchase. When you use them, the amount of yen equal to your point total is deducted from your purchase. Plus you still get points for any real money you spend in the purchase. So you get an 8-10% return and you can use it the next day. Really blows the BB card away.
Even better, when you first sign up for your card you get 20% points on that purchase. And, since I bought that expensive electronic dictionary, I ended up getting about $60 off the cost of my PS2, pretty nice.

Oh yeah, here's a picture I mean to post a little while back. If you're not familiar with Full Metal Alchemist you won't get it. If you are, you'll probably either really like it or think it's kinda creepy.

Day 32 (16th): The Tokyo National Museum
Day 2 of my three day weekend. I decided to go to Tokyo again, do some shopping, and visit the Tokyo National Museum, which I've been wanting to see.
My first stop was the O-Keibajo Flea Market (the giant flea market I went to with my dad a few weeks ago). Like before, it was huge, had all sorts of stuff, and was pretty interesting to look around. I didn't buy much (couple gifts for relatives mainly) but I did see a lot of cool stuff.
Since it was nearby, I swung by one of the Tokyo Pokémon Center next, just to look around. It was a little bigger than the one in Yokohama and really really crowded. I found the selection of pokémon plushies kinda odd. I mean, some pokémon like pikachu and pachirisu are real cute and make total sense as plushies. Others, however, I'm not so sure. I mean, spiritomb never struck me as the cute and cuddly type...
When I finished up there I headed to Ueno Park. After getting briefly sidetracked by the Children's Book Festival (told you there's always a festival of some sort going on somewhere) and watching the giant fountain in the park, I reached the Tokyo National Museum.
If you want to see a good sampling of Japanese art the Tokyo National Museum is a good place to go. While it doesn't have a enormous collection of any particular item (except maybe Buddha statues, saw way too many of those) it has a bit of just about everything so you can look at all kinds of Japanese art in one place. I wasn't allowed to take pictures of most of the coolest stuff but I was able to photo some things. So here's the main building (there are a couple other buildings with exhibits and a couple more that are saved for special exhibitions). So here's a little scepter like sculpture thing, here's some red laquerware, and here's a katana and wakizashi blade. Next we've got some really cool metal toys (they're articulated and everything), an old shell matching game, and a fancy plate. For all the Phoenix Wright fans out there, here's a real magatama (you could even buy magatama pendants in the gift shop). And here's a scroll painting, a naginata blade, some old armor, and a bow and arrow set. Naturally, there was tons more stuff, it was a pretty big museum and really interesting if you don't mind looking at lots of different types of art for a while. Fortunately, quite a lot of the signs were in English too so I could read about what I was seeing.

Day 33 (17th): Nikko
As previously mentioned, today is Respect for the Aged Day so I had the day off. I've been wanting to go to Nikko since my dad went there. The train ride wasn't as long or expensive as I thought it would be and there was some nice scenery towards the end of it. Anyway, Nikko is a mountain town famous for its fancy shrines and temples. They also do a lot of woodworking and lacquer there too so there's some pretty cool stuff in the shops. Plus there's supposed to be some good hikes a bit further up the mountain (I might go and check those out another time).
My goal for the day was to see all the shrines and temples that my dad had mentioned (you can see some of his pictures in a previous post). The train station was a ways from the stuff I'd actually come to see. There were busses but I decided to walk instead. If I had known it was all up hill, I might have given the bus a little more consideration but I did get a good look at the town and I passed Shinkyo bridge.
The main shrines and temples are all in a large forest area that starts neat the bridge (BTW: the was only the first of many sets of stairs that I got to climb). You can get a handy combo ticket that gets you into all the main temples and shrines in that area (although most of them have some special areas that you have to pay extra to get in) so I got one of those. The first place I came to was Rinnoji Temple. It was a really big temple and you got to go on a walk through the inside where there were various statues and the like. The main draw here was the three giant golden Buddha statues. They were really impressive but you couldn't take pictures and I really wanted a picture so I ended up spending 500 yen on a souvenir booklet with lots of photos of Nikko (including ones of some stuff you couldn't photograph yourself, like those statues), which is no doubt the reason why they don't let you take photos. Anyway, I don't have a scanner down here so here's a photo of the book's photo of the golden Buddhas. It's hard to tell from the photo but keep in mind they're all 15-20 feet tall.
Next I came to Toshogu Shrine which featured a ton of incredible wood carvings and is the most ornate shrine I've ever seen by far. This cat carving is a very popular one but the most famous carving is this one. Chances are most of you have seen it in one form or another. The tomb of one of Japan's emperors was behind the shine (and up another long flight of stairs). The tomb itself wasn't all that amazing (not much is right after seeing Toshogu Shrine) but, for the anime fans out there, there was a real sacred tree.
On the way to me next stop I passed a large pagoda and stopped in a treasure museum (as usual, no photos allowed). Futarasan Shrine was nice but definitely the least impressive of the bunch. They did have some shrine floats and other things on display though, including this enormous sword (you can't tell from the picture but it's at least six feet long). I'm assuming it was made as a display piece since only a giant would be able to effectively wield that thing.
The last destination on my combo ticket was Rinnoji Taiyuin Temple. While there were some decent carvings and stuff the main thing here was the statues (my dad had already photographed them all so I'm just posting some of his photos) which are pretty neat to look to at and there were a whole bunch of them.
When I'd finished up in the shrine and temple area I tried to find this one place on my map. Turns out the route I choose didn't go there (although it gets close) but along the way I came across a large villa that used to belong to various emperors so I checked that out and eventually ended up at Bakejizo, a long path following a river that was lined with Jizo statues with little caps and bibs. After walking the whole thing I slowly made my way back through Nikko and eventually headed home.
In summary, Nikko is the place to go to see Japanese shrines and temples and has nice scenery too. I'll probably go back there sooner or later to check out some of the things I didn't get to and, naturally, you'll get to read all about it when it happens.

Wednesday (19th): End of Daily Coverage
Well, after slightly over a month of writing a daily travelogue it's finally done. Not that I'm out of things to talk about, there's still lots more Japan related stuff I want to go into detail on, not to mention that I'll still be detailing my weekend excursions. But, like I was saying, I've been doing that whole daily recap with photos thing for a month and those posts took a long time to do so today I'm taking a break.

Friday (21st): Game Stores & Claw Machines

So, what happened this week after I stopped doing full day by day coverage? Not much. I worked, taught some classes, helped the other teachers set up stuff (tables, chairs, etc) for the sports festival (too bad I can't be there for it, looks like fun), got some work done, and started playing with the kids during recess (variations of dodgeball and keep away seem pretty popular). Outside of school, I've been keeping busy. I did go to that game store I saw before. It's a ways away (15 minutes or so on my bike) but it's not a bad store and a lot closer than say Akihabara so if I just really want to go to a game store for some reason it's there. My main reason for going was to get a DDR pad (saw them when I went past the store before) since, now that I have a Japanese PS2, I want to play Japanese DDR and the pads proved extremely hard to find in Tokyo. I just got a really cheap one (about $8) but that's fine since there's a good chance I won't be able to take it back to the US anyway. It's ok but refuses to stay in one place (a real pain considering how small my apartment is) plus I have to try and dance pretty softly since I'm on the second floor but hey, I can play DDR now and the Japanese versions generally have better song selections than the US ones. While I was at the store I also stuck 100 yen into one of those claw machines just for the heck of it and ended up winning a PS2 strategy RPG (much to my surprise) (if you're wondering, it's called Berwick Saga and was never released in the US). Now that'd make for some great Japanese practice but I'll have to improve a whole lot first so I'll start with DDR and Kingdom Hearts and work my way up.
I also wrote a short story. Me writing isn't unusual (heck, I've written 7 1/2 full length novels so far) but me writing a short story is. I hardly ever do and in general I don't even like short stories that much. This one, however, I'm pretty pleased with. If you want to read it, I posted it on the PV Forums.

Random Japan Comment: UFO Catchers:
You know what I'm talking about, they're those things you find at grocery stores in the US. You put in some money and get to move a claw around (you usually get either full control of the claw for a very short time or you get to move it once horizontally and once vertically). When you get it more or less where you want it you watch as it drops down and closes and hope that by some twist of physics defying luck it actually manages to hold onto one of those stuffed animals long enough to drop it in the goal so you can claim it. In the US, most people avoid them since losing your money seems pretty much guaranteed. In Japan, they're insanely popular. You'll see them at stores from time to time (although not grocery stores) but the place to really find them is arcades. From what I've seen, an arcade just isn't an arcade if it doesn't have at least half a dozen (or often a whole lot more) UFO catchers. And it's more than just stuffed animals and little toys here (although there are plenty of those), I've also seen video games, trading cards, DVDs, figurines, jewelry (much nicer than the plastic stuff in the US claw machines), and even food (although if I really wanted a bag of pretzels or potato chips I think I'd rather go to the store than try to win one). Anyway, there's lots of different types of claw machines too. Many are still of the nearly impossible variety that you find in the US but there's others that you actually stand a decent chance at if you're careful and think about what to aim for and some that are just plain weird (like one where you try to guide a plug into a socket).

Well, that all. Can't talk too much right now because tonight and tomorrow are Yom Kippur, a very important religious holiday for me. But, after that, I've got the rest of my four day weekend to look forward too since Monday is a holiday (something to do with the equinox) and my school is closed Tuesday to make up for the sports day tomorrow. So yeah, tomorrow is Yom Kippur. Sunday I'm going to try and get to the Tokyo Game Show (assuming I can figure out how to get there). Wish I could go more than one day but I had to work yesterday and today (plus those two days were industry only and since I'm currently working as an ALT I'm not sure my Game Design degree would be enough) and tomorrow is a Saturday and Yom Kippur to boot so really Sunday is my only shot. Probably won't have time to see anywhere near everything I want to but it's something, and should make up somewhat for the lack of E3 this year (well, ok there was an E3 sorta but it was nothing like past E3s and no one except company employees and the press got to go). Monday I've got plans (more on that in Monday's post). Tuesday I'm really not sure. Wasn't positive that I'd actually have the day off until yesterday. Got a few ideas but haven't decided yet.

Sunday (23rd): The Tokyo Game Show
Saturday was Yom Kippur and I don't really have a whole lot to say about that other than that I fasted and went to services, which is the normal thing to do on Yom Kippur. So, here's the recap for Sunday.

If you're a fan of video games you've no doubt heard of the Tokyo Game Show. Like E3 was and sorta still is the big US game show (unfortunately, it's gotten restructured and is, at the moment, not as big an event as it used to be) TGS is the big Japan game show. Since the old E3 is the only thing I have to compare it to, I'll probably be doing that a lot.
Anyway, what really sets TGS apart is that it is open to the general public and a ticket only costs around $10. Unsurprisingly, it gets a ton of attendees (I think the estimate was around 180,000 this year). This year it ran for four days with the first two being for industry and press only (so they could see what they needed to without battling through all those people) and the last two being open to everyone.
Like E3, TGS had a lot of big flashy booths (although often not quite as flashy as the E3 ones) that offered videos and demos of upcoming games. Of course, since this is a Japanese show pretty much all of that stuff was in Japanese so unless you're fairly fluent don't expect to pick up a lot about the games' stories or anything like that. Heck, I couldn't even read most of the little 'these buttons do this' sheets. Size wise, TGS definitely isn't as big as the old E3. I mean, there were three big rooms but the main two combined were maybe the size of one E3 room (out of three) and the third was mostly taken up by snack stands and little shop booths (this being a more consumer based convention, some of the game companies and stores have booths to sell various types of memorabilia). A decent amount of companies simply weren't at TGS. Most of the big ones were though (expect Nintendo which seems to skip out fairly often and just have its own show at another time).
Like E3 there were quite a lot of cute girls in game costumes or cute outfits to help drew people to their company's booth. Unlike E3, it looked like some of the people had come just to photograph said girls. One thing TGS has that E3 doesn't is cosplayers. There were a pretty good amount of them and there was even an area between the main show rooms that was set aside for cosplayers to hang out and get photographed. There were some pretty nice costumes although I have to wonder if most of them came to see the show or just to show off their outfits. Anyway, there were lots of different types of cosplayers but Final Fantasy characters seemed to be the most popular subjects, with the girls from Evangelion a very distant second. And there were some that I really hadn't expected to see at a Japanese convention.
At E3, you were pretty much guaranteed to go home with a huge bag (or three) full of really cool little toys, pens, shirts, and knick-knacks. TGS, not really. You do get a whole lot of booklets advertising the various companies' upcoming games (which you also got at E3) but there wasn't a whole lot more. There were a few neat thingies but getting them usually required playing a game demo (which wouldn't be a problem if it weren't for the lines). Speaking of lines, the lines at TGS are much worse than E3. At E3 there were usually only one or two really big lines and playing most games only required a 5-15 minutes wait at most. At TGS, waiting for 40-60 minutes was pretty normal and there were quite a lot of longer lines ranging from 1 1/2 - 4 hours. Naturally, that meant I didn't get to play all that many games and none of the really big ones. I mean, I would have loved to play Metal Gear Solid 4 (which has an awesome new trailer BTW) but since I was only at TGS one day I didn't want to spend most of said day waiting in line to play one game.
As far as games go, the MGS4 trailer was awesome. MG Online doesn't look bad either. DBZ Budokai Tenkaichi 3 is looking really good (especially on the Wii) and has a streamlined control scheme. Final Fantasy Tactics A2 seems rather similar to the first but but with much stronger ties to FFXII (Seeq are in it, as are many FFXII monsters and even Vahn and Phenelo). FF Crystal Chronicles for the DS is fun and works just fine over wireless. Star Ocean 1 and 2 on the PSP should be fun. FFIV is being redone in 3D for the DS. Square has a couple new RPGs in the works (one a PS3/360 game using the Unreal engine and one a 360 exclusive (drat)). FFXIII and three new Kingdom Hearts games (one prequel on the PSP, one that takes place between 1 & 2 on the DS and focuses on Organization XIII, and one that either takes place then or right after 2 on cell phones) were shown in a closed theater but the tickets were gone before I could get one, which was pretty disappointing. Oh, also Konami was showing off a DS adventure game called Time Hollow where the main character has a pen that can be used to alter time. Kinda hard to explain the gameplay and it didn't help that the demo involved a whole lot of text that I mostly couldn't read. Still, the whole Hollow Pen time portal mechanic was pretty neat and I really liked the trailer movie and theme song so I'm hoping it gets a US release.

Monday (24th): Visiting a Co-Worker

I had been invited to one of the other teacher's house today to meet her son. I assume the purpose was the help him with his English, and I did that a bit, although we mostly talked in Japanese. But anyway, I got to see inside what I assume is a fairly typical Japanese style house (which I'll talk about in a Random Japan Comment sometime) and practice my Japanese a lot both with Yamanaka-sensei and her son (eventually Suzuki-sensei (another coworker) came over as well and was able to translate some stuff that I wasn't able to say in Japanese). We talked about a lot of stuff, played a few card games (turns out Old Maid is quite popular in Japan) and video games, ate dinner (I got to try a Japanese soup with vegetables and rice cakes in it), etc. It was fun and interesting and I got invited back sometime next month.

Now, what am I going to do tomorrow? Well, although staying home and playing some video games (which I haven't gotten to do a lot of lately) is tempting I'm think that it would be a good day to hit some big attraction (since it's not a holiday so the crowds shouldn't be too bad and the weather report is good) but I'll talk more about that next time.

Tuesday (26th): Tokyo Disney
I was kinda tempted to just hang out and relax on Tuesday since I've been running around so much but I'm gonna have some hang out days over the next couple of weeks and since I had the day off because of a school event (Sports Day was Saturday so they gave everyone Tuesday to make up for it), it was still a work day and school day for most people so I figured it would be a good day to hit something big and avoid the crowds.
Tokyo Disney seemed like a good choice. It has two parks, Tokyo Disneyland and Disneysea so I decided to go to Tokyo Disneyland and save Disneysea for next time (probably sometime in October). So, like I said, that plan was to beat the crowds. Didn't exactly work out like I thought it would. It was actually a lot more crowded than when I went to Disney World in Florida last winter. I mean, if that was really an off day like I thought it would be I'd hate to see it on a busy day. Cause of the time of year, the park was decked out for Halloween (even though it's not an official holiday in Japan). Anyway, Tokyo Disneyland is a lot like the Magic Kingdom in Florida (and probably Disneyland in CA, but I haven't been there so I'm not sure). Cinderella's Castle is in the middle and the park is divided into a bunch of different themed areas. The entrance area was the World Bazaar and there was also: Tomorrowland, Toontown, Fantasyland, Critter County, Westernland, and Adventureland. If you weren't reading my news post back in December, or if you just forgot, I went to Disney World in Florida for a few days and had a really good time. Kingdom Hearts got me back into Disney in general and the parks are really well done and well staffed. Tokyo Disney is the same way. It's also the most English friendly place I've visited in Japan so far. Some of the ride narration is in Japanese only (although some stuff is English only so that kinda evens things out) but all signs, important announcements, maps, menus, etc are in English and Japanese.
Lines were worse here than in Florida (although that may have been a timing thing). Some of the most popular rides ended up with a wait time of nearly 3 hours and the fast pass tickets (tickets that let you come back at a certain time to skip most of the line) were all taken pretty quickly. Because of that, I didn't get to go on all the rides I wanted to but that was ok. I'm sure that I'll go again at least once before I go back to the states (either taking someone (my brother and mom and going to visit me at some point) or just by myself for fun) so I'll just make sure to hit those rides first next time. Anyway, some of the rides and attractions are straight from other Disney Parks so there are classic rides like It's a Small World After All, Space Mountain, and the Haunted Mansion. If my memory serves me correctly, I don't think they're carbon copies of the originals but they're similar so they've got the same feel and are just as much fun (and a little different if you've been on the originals a bunch). There were plenty of rides and attractions I didn't see at Disney World too.
Following the Halloween Theme, there was a couple of Halloween parades and events which included Mickey and the gang decked out for the occasion (interestingly enough, about half the time Mickey and the other cast members spoke English and the other half Japanese, it wasn't even consistent between characters (i.e. one Mickey spoke English and another Japanese), guess it just depended on the person inside the suit, although all the parade songs were in English). And, while I'm not a huge fan of Halloween the holiday, I have to admit that I do kinda like the pumpkins, ghosts, and cobwebs look. There was also a pretty cool parade of lights after dark.
So I went on rides, watched shows, wondered around, waited in a bunch of lines, and had a really good time. Gotta say, Disney's humanitarianism are getting extremely good, the Jack Sparrow at the end of the Pirates of the Caribbean ride could almost be mistaken for the real thing. I even ate in the Queen of Heart's restaurant. Unfortunately, the Queen's torts weren't on the menu. But maybe that's a good thing since if everyone were eating her torts she'd probably start ordering lots of beheadings... (If you have no idea what I'm talking about you should watch Alice in Wonderland or read the book.)

Wednesday (26th) Getting My Resident Card
Note to self: Make sure to watch channel 12 on Wednesday nights, there's lots of good anime on. Of course, I can't understand a lot of it yet but hey, it's practice.

I had to go to the Koga City Office to pick up my alien registration card, which I kinda need to stay here in Japan for longer than 90 days. Now, the office closes not too long after my weekly meeting with the Nogi BOE would have ended so I figured I'd use the three hour break I have between classes and the meeting to bike to the office and get the card (a lot of biking but it'd work). So I biked all the way back, followed a map to the city office, and, after a few communication problems, discovered that the staff members who handled the registration card stuff had moved to a different office. Fortunately, the people there gave me a map and the other building didn't look too far away so I headed out. Problem #1: Turns out the map didn't show all the roads (or even most of them), add that to the lack of street names and finding the correct place to turn became extremely difficult. Problem #2: There was no logic to which roads the map did or didn't show, which made finding said turn even harder. Problem 3: The map was not to scale. Actually, the scale didn't even seem to stay consistent. What looked like a fairly short distance (considering the location of some places I recognized) turned into a really really long bike ride out into the middle of nowhere (and also involved getting lost a lot). Fortunately, I did find it eventually but by the time I got my card it'd already been 3 hours so I had to call and say I'd be really late for the meeting. Fortunately, the BOE was nice and said I could skip it (going would have added another 25 minutes to my ride back from the City Office and that's not counting the return trip from the BOE to my apartment), which I was kinda hoping they might since they meetings typically don't cover anything important. So yeah, that was a large portion of my day.

Well, that's all for now. Sukkot starts tomorrow (heck of a lot of holidays in a small amount of time, I know, but after they're done it's a long way till the next one) so I'll be taking the day off and getting some much needed R&R. Touring is a lot of fun and it can be relaxing at times but between work and touring I've basically been on the move constantly since arriving in Japan so it'll be nice to have a break.

Friday (28th): Talking About Shoes

Well, I didn't do anything particularly interesting the last couple of days and I need to get ready for tomorrow's Sukkot camp out so today I'll just do a Random Japan Comment.

Random Japan Comment: Shoes
When entering a house, school, some restaurants, some shrines and temples, and a random assortment of other buildings in Japan you can't wear your shoes. Normally there's either an area right outside the building or a little entry area where you can take off and stow your shoes. These are typically pretty easy to recognize since they're a bit lower than the rest of the building and you need to remove your shoes before stepping up to the higher area (although sometimes it's all flat so you just need to pay attention). Some places have little shoe lockers where you're supposed to put your shoes as opposed to leaving them on the floor. But just cause you take your shoes off doesn't necessarily mean you'll be going around barefoot or in your socks either. On tatami floors (tatami is a floor made up of mats woven out of straw) you can't wear anything other than socks. On other types of floors, little slippers are usually provided for guests to wear. Said slippers vary from place to place but they're usually one size fits all (although sometimes that fit is pretty bad) and can often slip off your foot fairly easily if you're not paying attention. Naturally, if you're going from regular floor to tatami there will be a place to take those slippers off and leave them while you're on the tatami. There are also bathroom slippers. These are a tad less common but with some bathrooms you'll have to leave your slippers either right inside or right outside and wear a special pair of bathroom slippers while you're in the bathroom.
Now that works ok if you're visiting someone's house, eating in a traditional Japanese restaurant, or visiting a shrine but it'd be a pain to wear those slippers all the time at a school or some other place that you spend a lot of time at. There's where indoor shoes come in. There's nothing special about them, they're just a pair of shoes designated for indoor wear. For example, when I go to Nogi Elementary for work I wear my sneakers on the way there. When I get inside I take off the sneakers and put them in my shoe locker where I keep my other pair of shoes which I wear exclusively indoors. If I want to go back outside, I need to swap shoes again. Naturally, shoes that are easy to slip in and out of are a big plus.
I suppose all this shoe swapping business helps keep floors a bit cleaner and I can see the sense it when it comes to tatami (shoes could probably wear it out faster) but when you're just going onto a normal floor it does seem like an unnecessary and mildly annoying extra step.

Saturday & Sunday (29th - 30th): Sukkot Camp
Ranting About my Apartment
Before I talk about my weekend I feel like ranting a little.
So, here in Japan I'm staying in a Leopalace 21 apartment. Leopalace has a lot of apartment buildings scattered around the country. On the plus side, they don't require key money (a usually non refundable (and, from what I've heard, not entirely legal) deposit that you have to give the landlord when renting an apartment in Japan), are foreigner friendly (from what I've heard some apartment buildings don't like renting to non-Japanese), have English support available, offer furnished apartments, and have free internet and basic (and I mean very basic) cable. On the down side, they're a bit expensive, their idea of a furnished apartment is more along the lines of an unfurnished apartment in the US (has a couple of things an unfurnished US apartment wouldn't but is missing stuff that said unfurnished apartment would probably have) (I got: half a stove (two burners, no oven), a microwave, a washing machine, a very small fridge/freezer (about 1/4 - 1/3 normal size), a bed frame, a tiny table, and a TV (around 15") with a rather fuzzy picture.), and the internet has some issues. And that brings me to what I kinda wanted to talk about in the first place, the internet.
It's cable and it's actually a pretty fast connection...sometimes. See, the thing I always hated about cable is that the connection is shared by everyone on the cable loop. That's no big deal if you've got one of the only houses on the loop, it's rather annoying when you're one of twenty apartments on the same loop since the potential speed basically gets divided between everyone currently using it. So during the morning and day when no one (usually including myself) is around the internet is really fast but in the evening and night time when people start getting back to their apartments it slows down quite a lot. So that's annoying but not a huge problem most of the time.
Next is what you can do with your internet. See, with Leopalace's internet you can plug the modem into your TV and browse the web on the TV screen (nice if you don't have a PC but not something you'd ever do if you have one). Now I don't mind that (although I don't use it either since it's way faster and easier to use a computer), but they offer some other features on an internet connected TV as well. Namely, you can pay to watch movies and play some little online games of theirs (online board game type stuff I think). So what's the problem with that? Normally there wouldn't be one. So they have some extras features that I don't care about? That's fine, I just ignore them and go about my usual internet stuff...or not. See, since they have those games and movies they want you to use them (well duh, I mean that's kinda the point of having them). They want you to use their online games and movies so much so that they don't want you getting your online games and movies from anywhere else. In other words, they don't want you playing online games or watching online videos that aren't theirs. It actually even says so in the FAQ (I don't remember the exact wording but boils down to something along the lines of 'since we provide movies, games, and the like we don't support the use of online games, or video, or voice/video chat over our service).
Now I'm normally one to play by the rules but in this case I couldn't care less. I'm paying for that internet connection (well, it's free but only when you rent an expensive apartment so I am paying for it in a round about way) and I don't want to use it for anything illegal so if I want to use voice chat, play games, or watch videos online I'm going to do so. Their policy basically amounts to unfair business practices and wouldn't be allowed in the US (just imagine if your ISP did something like that).
Unfortunately, it's more than just a policy, they actively try to keep you from doing all that stuff. I don't know their exact set up but they have some sort of firewall or net traffic monitor that basically throttles your connection whenever you try to do something they don't like (i.e. torrents download at extremely slow speeds, streaming video needs to buffer every half second unless you wait a really long time (usually much longer than the video clip takes to play) for the whole thing to download, etc). Fortunately, I have all my gear running through a router I brought with me which manages to circumvent some of their protection. Thanks to the router, voice chat works fine (good cause Skype is great for talking to my family back home) as do online games (although that doesn't stop them from lagging a bit at night when the internet slows down). Torrents were a problem for a little while (I typically use them for things like unlicensed anime fansubs and abandonware (I like to keep things as legal as I can), but here in Japan I've been using them to keep up on my favorite US TV shows (waiting for the DVDs sets would take way too long)). Luckily, I found an option in uTorrent that encrypts its data stream, which effectively keeps the ISP from figuring out that you're torrenting something, and got my download speeds back to normal levels (as opposed to about 2 kilobytes a second).
My only problem now is streaming video. I don't use it too much but it does get annoying when my friends and family keep sending me links to youtube clips and I either have to ignore them or wait half an hour for the entire thing to buffer just to watch a little 2 minute video. Haven't really figured out any way to get around that.
Anyway, to sum this all up let's just say that Leopalace actively tries to rip off its internet users and block them from using stuff that they should have every right to use in an attempt to make them pay for Leopalace's own services (you might be able to make a case for blocking torrents because of all the illegal ones but there's plenty of legal stuff too and you really can't make a case for blocking things like games and voice chat). That sucks and it would be illegal in the US (maybe in Japan too for all I know). Fortunately, at least most of their blockers can be fooled or circumvented.

Wow, that ended up being a lot longer than I thought it would. Anyway, here's a little about my weekend.

Saturday & Sunday (29th - 30th): Sukkot Camp
Living in Tokyo, there's really no way for the people in my congregation to build a sukkah (a booth of sorts that you're supposed to hang out in during the Jewish holiday of Sukkot) so instead we went camping Saturday night. Yep, camping in Tokyo. We went to what was basically a camping park in the middle of the city. You paid to rent lots where you could pitch tents, camp, and all that (unfortunately, there were no campfires, just portable stoves/grills). There were a lot of other people there so it seems to be a fairly popular weekend activity. Since my parents dislike sleeping outdoors this was my first camping trip in quite a long time. Naturally, it rained. Fortunately, it didn't start raining until after we'd gotten the tents up although once it started it didn't really stop (it was still raining when I got back to my apartment Sunday afternoon and continued to do so for quite a while after that). We had 12 people (myself and two others aren't in the picture) (BTW: a lot Japanese people do a V sign with their fingers whenever they get their picture taken) and ended up with 3 tents and a large canopy type of tent where we ate. Since I wasn't in the US and there wasn't a campfire we weren't roasting hotdogs and apples on a stick (though some people did spear marshmallows on chopsticks and hold them near the portable grill). But, having a restaurant owner as a member of your camping group can make for some pretty good meals. Supper was Korean BBQ (he owns a Korean restaurant) and we grilled up beef, onions, and garlic (I never knew that people grilled and ate whole cloves of garlic) and had rice and kimchi (a type of Korean food) to go with it. Then, in the morning we made giant pots of ramen. We had to break camp in the rain (which was a pain), but overall it was a fairly fun trip despite the bad weather.

Part 1: August 2007

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