Thursday, August 21, 2014

Vacation Days 4 and 5: Trains and USJ

There's really not much to say about the day of trains. We saved a lot of money by taking the normal trains from Fukuoka to Osaka instead of the bullet train. Remember on the bullet train it took about 5 hours from Shizuoka to Fukuouka. It took 12 hours from Fukuoka to Osaka, and after that is still 5.5 more hours by normal train another day. Why do this? We saved lots of money. There's a special ticket you can buy during school breaks that allows you to ride JR train lines for 5 days for about a hundred bucks. You can also share it with someone. Since we needed 2 days a piece, we each paid about 50...and I could sell the remaining day for money back. The bullet train down alone was 200. Yay money saving! So we rode trains and got to our hostel/hotel in the evening (we weren't staying long, so we stayed somewhere cheaper).

The next day was the big event! USJ! Harry Potter! One Piece! It was time to party. We awoke and jumped on the train for the short ride to USJ! (We made sure our hotel was nice and convenient so we didn't have to get up too early) This time, we knew where the McDonald's was and got ourselves a hearty breakfast to prepare for our adventurous day. We were still ready to roll before the park opened, but we figured we might as well just head over anyway. And it was a good thing we did, because soon after they were letting people in. We were confused but we weren't going to question it; we just followed the people towards Harry Potter. We were even more confused when we saw people running (actually flat out running) towards it. Why? It wasn't going anywhere!

Well, after we followed the people, we found out why. Because it is new and crowded, there was a timed entry system set in place for Harry Potter area. You were allowed one ticket per day, and they will run out if you don't get a ticket soon enough---especially since this was the most traveled week of the year in Japan. This is also why they opened the park early. Luckily our tickets were for 9:10, so it's not like we had to wait very long. Actually, as we sat waiting for our time to enter the workers saw us and waved us through anyway (what was the point of the timed entry then? I don't even know whatever) so that was cool.

Happy Potter world in USJ is....identical to Harry Potter world (pre-Diagon Alley) in Florida! Yay! We made our way over to the awesome castle ride immediately and it was awesome. Then it also let you out into the most crowded gift shop ever. We were considering coming back to buy things later, but it was a good thing we didn't because there was a huge line to get into the store. Gah. 

Then! We feasted on butterbeer! And I made a stupid mistake. I wanted to take a picture of my butterbeer with the castle in the background, and so I dropped my bag like a foot off the ground to the ground, and there was a mug in there--that I remembered as soon as I heard the clink! of shattering glass. (One horrible thing about USJ: they refuse to give you a plastic bag with handles unless you pay them money for it, so we were stuck with crappy paper horrible bags all day) So I had to go back to the store. Luckily (luckily) they let me cut the line and the lady at the cash register was super nice (and also a Gryffindor) and I didn't have to pay for a replacement. Good job Me.

Anyway! We decided it was a good time for some food...well, it was a good time to get in the line for food. They said it was going to take a bit over an hour, but luckily since we opted to eat at the outside seating it went faster. And they had some nice food. Beef! Pastry! Oh it was so good. Very happy campers. 

And then we...didn't really want to do anything else. We fought our way into some stores before lunch, but it was so crowded and overpriced we didn't really want anything else. And the main gift/candy store had a wait that was literally 3 hours. Longer than the rides. Absolutely not. Jeez Japan.

So after exiting that area we ran into another problem: we wanted to ride Backdrop, the awesome coaster that goes backwards. However, it appeared that because it was crowded that day they also sold timed release tickets for that as well. No one ever told us this, so we were right pissed. But luckily we could ride single rider (the whole time we never saw anyone really go through the real line so what was the stupid point of the tickets but whatever) later that day so that was...acceptable. At the time we just rode forward instead, but still. Gr.

The other main event of the day was of course, One Piece! USJ's One Piece Summer Event! Lots of One Piece goods! The main event was that night, but during the day there was a small water street show with Luffy and Usopp that was really cute (and I was actually allowed to film part of it). The Marines were looking for Luffy, and Usopp (and the kids in the audience) were trying to distract them and everyone was shooting water guns and it was really cute. We were also literally inches away from getting soaked with a fire hose so that was lucky. 

And that night! The main show! This time we had forgotten to read / translate the plot summary teaser before hand, so extra Japanese practice! If you don't know what One Piece is, feel free to skip the next paragraph:

So the timeline of this show was set as an additional island they stopped at before Dressrosa, so the gang was still with Law and Caesar. An island famous for fireworks was taken over by the Deluxe Marines, who apparently have some big names working for them (such as Hordy, Boa Hancock, Kid, Crocodile, I can't even name them all). SO of course the Straw Hats stop there (despite Law's protests) and have to defeat them. It was super confused until it was revealed that the right hand man of the leader of the DX Marines (who was a plasma user) had some ability that enabled him to make copies of people and use their abilities (including Law) so all of these big players were fakes of the real people. But they still needed to be defeated, and Luffy was up to the task using Grizzly Magnum (which was pretty cleverly demonstrated I might add) to defeat the leader. Also heavily featured was shirtless! and breakdancing Sanji throughout the show. It was a very good time haha. I wish I remembered more, but I should have wrote this when we got back instead of a month later in September. -____-

And then afterwards we made a bit stop at the Jump Shop because goods and had just enough money to make it home the next day...which was Obon, so no rest was needed as we arrived home, geared up in yukata and headed out to the festival! THEN I slept very well that night.

All in all an excellent, excellent vacation :D


Kyushu Day 2: Perfection at the Beach

Our next full day in Kyushu, Tuesday, was considerably more relaxed. No alarms set, (although we still got up at 9), just plans to hit the beach. And I had directions to a nearby beach, so we were set. We leisurely made our way to Seaside Momochi Beach Park and set up shop in a corner of one of the giant umbrella tents set up for public use. Here's what we did for the rest of the afternoon:

1: Get hot. Go in the water (the thankfully jellyfish-less, only slightly dirty water).

2. Get cold. Go sit on the towel and tan/dry off while listening to music.

Repeat haha. We did also hunt for seashells on occasion. And of course, the entire time we admired the glorious view that the beach provided. It was a good day.

Before heading back to hole up in the hotel again, we ate an early dinner of a famous food in Fukuoka: tonkotsu ramen. Different regions of Japan have special ramen flavors. This one was good, but not my favorite.

Then we went home and loafed and watched anime, because we had a big day of transportation to prepare for the next day. Allll the trains!


Close Enough Kyushu: Day 0 and 1

Vacation time! My friend Sam and I were considering going to Okinawa for vacation this month, but for a variety of reasons (one of which being I didn't want the skin to melt off of my face) we decided it was a better idea to go to Kyushu, one of Japan's southern main islands (where Nagasaki is, if you recall). Only this time, we were thinking more about beaches instead of museums (and One Piece..but more on that soon ;) )

With saving money for the important stuff always in mind, we made our plan. First, Sunday: getting there. Since we were going to stop in Osaka on our return and take normal trains then, we decided to use the bullet train (Shinkansen) to get there. Even travelling at 300kmh it took about 5 hours (we were going through some typhoon remains, so we had to slow at points). We arrived in Fukuouka around dinnertime (which we then ate) and eventually got to our hotel (after walking in the exact wrong direction and making a big circle, because how else would we get there). But it was still only around seven, so what did we do? Oh, just go see the Rurouni Kenshin movie again <3 It was just as beautiful the second time... Next time I'll actually pay attention and take vocabulary practice notes.

So, first full day! Game time! The goal? Huis ten Bosch. Thousand Sunny. Does that sound familiar at all? Well, when I went to Nagasaki I wanted to go to this "amusement park" (that's super boring) so I could ride the pirate ship from One Piece, but I got tied up searching for the correct bus to the Penguin Aquarium and it was sold out by the time I got there. Well that wasn't happening this time; I was determined.

Continuing our money saving, we left really early so we could take the cheaper, slower trains there. (sidenote: we charged our train cards before we left so we could use them, but the park was so far out in the countryside that it wouldn't accept them...I was super ticked at the accidental misappropriation of money, but I was able to use it elsewhere) We arrived a bit before 10; then we needed to determine how to get to the free area (where you paid by ride instead of admission) where the ship was. Turns out we needed to take a bus that was leaving in 15 minutes. Okay, fine.

Well that bus was 15 minutes late. And poor, traumatized Rosie was freaking out that we didn't get there early enough and it was going to be sold out again. The bus finally came (one of the Japanese people also waiting even called the bus people, because seriously) and took us to the area, and...we got tickets! I was slightly beside myself. Finally. Eeeeeeeee

Then we of course did some One Piece shopping. I was slightly saddened, however, that the One Piece area had shrunk since I was there last time. But we were still happy campers. And Huis ten Bosch is in Sasebo; since we came so far, we figured we'd eat some famous Sasebo food for lunch. Sasebo lemon steak was way too expensive, but we got Sasebo burgers! Yum!

Then we started home and arrived around dinnertime. Then we holed up in the hotel with ramen for dinner and went to bed at 10. Why would we do this you ask? Well we did get up at 5, for one. But the last day of our vacation was at USJ, home of Harry Potter and One Piece. We had to pace ourselves!

But the merriment had only just begun!


Wednesday, August 20, 2014

How It Should Have Been: Fuji Take Two

So after work I took advantage of the forecasted clear weather on Mt. Fuji and made my Tuesday night ((August 5th)) into a mountainous adventure. There was an initial panic the day before when I realized that both my friend and I misread the bus schedule and I couldn't take the bus straight from Shizuoka station, but I managed to figure out a route through Fujinomiya that I could still make after work and still be free to get a return bus home the next morning at anytime. So I arrived at Fujinomiya 5th station around 8:30 (to jog your memory: there are 10 stations, and sane people start climbing from 5). I waited about an hour to get acclimated to the oxygen drop (writing postcards, eating food) and we were off! The mission? Get to the top before sunrise at 4:52, and considering it took us about 9 hours last time, I thought I was pushing it.

A note; when I say 'we,' I mean me. I decided this time that I would climb by myself. And I assure you that although lots of big groups climb Fuji, climbing alone is not overly abnormal. Nor was I ever truly alone, as Fuji is a busy place. And you know, I think I was better for it. But I'm getting ahead of myself.

So the climb to 6 is barely worth mentioning because 5 and 6 are practically on top of each other so no problem. I even stayed on the path this time. It was the path up to New 7th that was terrible (annd I strayed from the path a bit, even though I was following someone). It was supposed to take a half hour, and it took me an hour. It was also a lot more windy right off the bat than last time. Needless to say, I was pretty discouraged. How did I do this last time? I'm alone; there's no way I can do this...what am I doing here?

But I wasn't going to give up or anything stupid like that; I still had cell service at the time, and after some encouragement from my friends I was (reluctantly) off! I was ready for the worst; 7th was 50 minutes away, and it had taken me double the expected time to get to New 7th in the first place. So I started my climb...

And it only took about an hour. I was shocked. For some reason, after that the climb started being a lot easier than last time. I know I'm not in better shape, so I think it's because I was alone. Being alone, I could set my own pace, so I only really stopped between stations once or twice the whole time (whereas last time, we stopped about a zillion times). The only real delay was stopping to let other groups pass me so I wouldn't feel chased. (also stopping to pee; but at least I wasn't dehydrated this time?) It was cold with the wind, but I brought enough layers that it was only mildly uncomfortable. And when I was moving, it wasn't uncomfortable at all, so that worked. And even starting later I made it to the top with time to spare before sunrise! Also I had an ear of my favorite music the whole was almost fun. Almost.

So I sat for about 40 minutes on a sharp rock on the summit of Mt. Fuji freezing my ass off waiting for sunrise (there were people climbing on pretty dangerous parts of the rock too; I was like what are you doing).

I was not disappointed. No rain!! Woo!! I could see things!!! I trust you've seen the pictures. I was a very cold, happy foreigner. 

A very cold, happy foreigner that now had to climb back down the stupid mountain. It took about 4 hours to climb down last time in the rain, dehydrated, and missing a lens of my glasses. This time I was pretty optimistic that I could make it in at least 3. (Can I also point out that I had cell service the whole time? Lol) I was able to progress more rapidly by using my gloves and sliding my free hand along the guide rope for most of it. And towards the end, I made even better time when I realized I was about to miss the once-an-hour bus. So with a burst of knee-destroying speed, I made the 9:30 bus. My descent took exactly 3 hours.

I made it home around noon, and immediately threw everything (including my clothes from the work day before that smelled like nasty water) into the washer. I then passed out for like 6 hours. But the day was not yet done! For that was the day of my friend from college's arrival in Shizuoka, so I got on my bicycle once more to take her to dinner. And I was very very sore for the next few days.

And I'm probably jinxing myself somehow by saying this, but I will say it now with absolute certainty: I will never, ever, do that again.


We Danced and Rode Cardboard Canoes: Shenanigans

((written around August 20, 2014))

So before we go on vacation I figured I should briefly the merriment that happened before vacation. The first weekend in August was Minato Matsuri in Shimizu, a summer port festival that actually honors a mafia guy that made the port but shhhh. SO festival! Food, fireworks, dancing! Dancing?

On the Saturday night of the festival there is epic dancing in the streets for like 2 and a half hours. Like, 50,000 people epic dancing. And for me, it isn't fun unless I know what I'm doing, so the week before was super practice time (we kinda didn't sign up until a couple weeks before and lost track of time). Dancing every night was a pain in the ass, but I learned them. It was hot, but lots of fun! Not a lot of people in our group knew what they were doing (poor exchange students basically thrown into it), but there were enough knowledgeable people to follow. Did I mention our group leader was dressed as Spiderman? So I danced in the streets with Spiderman, and I think my friend and I were pretty good. A drunk man even came by and gave me a nametag that said いいね, which means nice! And I wasn't that sore, which was good for what was coming the next week...

But before we get into that, on Tuesday I actually did some work at a summer camp...riding cardboard canoes.

Cardboard canoes.

I was pretty skeptical, as were my colleagues. Us, some exchange students, and some junior high schoolers spent a couple hours taping the shit out of some cardboard and covering it in duct tape. I wasn't going to ride in it, but then I figured why not sink and we gave it a go. It held two people. I was very impressed. It even held my over six foot tall coworker (alone though). And then right after that, I hurried home to get on a bus to my next big adventure...Fuji.


Sunday, July 20, 2014

Summertime: Tanabata, Rain, and the Shimizu Lantern Festival

So I've heard you can't really tell from the weather in Ohio, but here it is definitely summertime. It's hot a s hell, humidity is through the roof, and there's festivals! Yay festivals! I've been to three festivals in the past 3 weeks, and since I haven't done anything worth blogging about in a while, I figured I'd tell you about it!

So the first was a big deal over 4th of July weekend (What did I do on the 4th, you ask? Ate more Burger King than I've had in my life, shot off party poppers in the park while yelling We The People!, and played TV Tag, Red Light Green Light, and Marco Polo). It's called Tanabata, a festival centered around making wishes (and stories about gods meeting once a year, if you want to know). So we headed there on Sunday. And half the "fun" of going to festivals is wearing festival clothes! I say "fun" because I had a hilarious, hilarious time remembering how to put on my yukata (I wore it once at Obon, last August). And it's also hot and hard to walk in the shoes. Fun! But no seriously, I do enjoy wearing them. And I also enjoy festival food. Let's showcase some of my favorite festival food, shall we?

Jyaga Butter: Literally potato butter; it's a steamed potato in a bowl smothered in butter. Mm.

Karaage: I've mentioned this before, Japan's version of boneless fried chicken.

Choco Banana: It says chocolate banana and it looks like a banana dipped in different colored chocolate, but really it's a candy coating that doesn't really taste like much but I enjoy it anyway.

Frankfurter: The strangest hot dog on a stick you'll ever see. Inexplicably orange with a slightly savory-sort-of-kielbasa-but-not-really taste.

Kakigori: Japan's shaved ice, with more flavors than you could think of (I've seen tomato, but I don't know if I want to waste money to try it).

So at Tanabata we basically waded through people, eating our way along. Of course we made wishes: you write them on a slip of paper and hang them. Here's mine:

It's an inside joke that basically means to find a boyfriend, lol.

We went to my friend's house to escape the heat (and yukata) for a while, and then went back out that night for dinner. But we weren't putting on the yukata again, so we went to Seiyu (it is literally WalMart; they have WalMart bags and everything lol) and got another kind of less formal festival clothing: jinbei. It's definitely a pair of comfy, glorified pajamas. There's no pictures of mine yet, but it is black and pink and ridiculously floral, like all jinbei for women, but it's comfy and I'm wearing it to the festival next week. So, Tanabata.

The next week was another little festival near my house. I don't even know its name, but it was at the temple I call Baby Kiyomizu (an offshoot of Kiyomizu Temple in Kyoto, I believe) and it had food stalls, so we were going. Unfortunately, there was also rain, so no festival clothes were worn. But lots of food was eaten, and the rain was light enough they still set off fireworks. (There are also lots of festivals with fireworks in summer). So we got wet trying to see fireworks under our umbrellas (because they shoot them off kinda slow and paced), so that was fun.

And this past Wednesday we visited the Shimizu Lantern Festival, where they float lanterns down the river to remember deceased loved ones (I did not buy one; I think my deceased loved ones would have wanted me to save the money). I also wore yukata this time, and I was very proud how quickly I put it on. Let me show you how proud I am:


The festival was kinda spread out, but we eventually found the food. And the fireworks. Except these fireworks were traditional fireworks, where a guy literally held an uzi-looking thing that was very dangerously shooting sparks into the air, and then the sparks got brighter and the thing went BOOM! and it's terrifying and pretty cool to watch. 

So lots of festivals are on the way! The list includes more fireworks, dancing in the streets for 4 hours (this is happening), and another Obon. :D

Also, in terms of pictures, they are on Facebook, and if anyone is actually looking at the ones I put up on the albums on here let me know and I will load them up. 


Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Oh My Ace! Universal Studios: One Piece Edition Trip #1

((I swear I wrote this on April 30th in my notebook, so I'm dating it that way haha. You didn't miss an update, I'm posting this on the 21st of July shhhhh))

So remember how I mentioned that one time about our spontaneously planned trip one weekend to Universal Studios Japan (USJ) to see the One Piece show about my friend and I's favorite character Ace? Yeah, that happened this weekend. And it was a glorious, wallet-destroying adventure. But let's start at the very beginning, which is a very good place to start...

The plan was simple: get out of work Friday, take the bullet train to Kansai and stay with David in Kyoto, wake up early on Saturday to spend a BAMF day in USJ, and take the much cheaper (and longer) local trains back home Sunday at some point. And did this plan fall apart at the seams like the return from Sapporo? No! It just got more awesome.

So first we rode the bullet train (just to give you a general idea; price: $100, time to get there:2 hours) to Kyoto Station Friday after work. Then we followed David's helpful directions to his house, which was about a 40 minute train ride from the downtown of Kyoto. David was out, so they key was taped in the inside of the mailbox, and I almost dropped it in, but happily I didn't and we safely arrived and could prepare ourselves to wake up early for awesomeness.

And we did just that: we got up early and got our nerd on, heading to USJ when it opened. We ran into one small problem that morning, however: breakfast. We had enough time that we didn't need to eat convenience store food for breakfast, and in the country where restaurants just don't do breakfast, we found ourselves on a quest for the McDonald's. Luckily, we were heading to USJ, a Western establishment! Of course there would be a McDonald's!

Well, we could see it on the map, but we couldn't find it. Standing in the front of USJ's City Walk, the map said that the McD's was in the basement of one of the hotels. So we circle around and go in said hotel, no luck. Continuing to circle, we managed to find a matching sign near the hotel parking lot. Progress? So we go in the basement (and are bombarded by students who were leaving from their school trip. But don't worry, there were plenty more students in USJ lol) and take the elevator to the floor that says it has the damn McDonald's. We walk out the hotel, turn left, and there it is! ...about five hundred feet from where we started, right on the City Walk. If we would've just kept walking...sigh. But yeah, so McD's fail #1, but we got food! Woo!

So in case you don't know, this July, Harry Potter is coming to USJ. Get. Excited. ((As I'm typing this, it is July and I am excited)) So we got to see all the Harry Potter hype (and the castle surrounded by cranes) while we were there (and rest assured, we will be back this summer lol). So mission #1 was to try to get tickets to Sanji's restaurant. There was basically a character lunch/dinner you could get tickets for (early if you were a USJ member, the day of if you weren't), and we wanted to see what said actor would do with a pair of foreigners...but it was sold out, probably before the park even opened. But it was okay, because we already had the most important tickets in our possession: the tickets for the One Piece Premier Show, that evening at 7. So until then, we entertained ourselves around USJ. Yay!

We hit the most popular thing first. USJ has a rollercoaster that plays music while you ride; I've mentioned this before. However, in 2013 USJ added a new feature to said coaster: the ability to ride it backwards. Some trains were on the track facing forwards, and some were not. Yes.

So obviously we get in line for the backwards first. And here's something weird. Last time we were here, they were ridiculously strict about having stuff in your pockets. Like, you had to get rid of everything before even getting in line. This time, you could have whatever you wanted in line, and there was a bag space on the platform. Your pockets just needed to be empty...but I rode with my glasses on every time. Weird.

Anyway, the sign said 170 minute wait, but we really only waited about 70. Lol pretty significant difference, but I had no problems with this. I didn't want to choose any of the Western music choices (Madonna, I Cry by Usher, other people I don't know, etc.) so I picked Battery by SMAP, which is a popular J-pop/rock group in Japan. It fit well, and I'll be getting that song haha. So lucky us, we got placed in the last car (back frontcar?) so it was pretty terrifying going up the hill, but it was SO MUCH fun. The restraints were a bit terrifying too, in that there was no actual belt, just the weight bar like for Millennium Force or Top Thrill Dragster, so I was like .... but it was fun.

Next, we ambled over to the Jurassic Park ride, which is a water ride where you really don't get wet. Well lucky me, I was sitting on the end of the car, so I got wet. Only on my right side. Sigh. We also rode SpiderMan and Space Fantasy (which is like Space Mountain with spinning, and we were still kinda traumatized from backwards rollercoaster so when the car spun for us to go backwards down the hill we were kinda freaking out but it was cute). Then we decided to get lunch at the One Piece themed restaurant of course (the one that was quick-service and needed to reservation). When we went there was a character (Usopp) there at the time actually, but we did not want to talk to him so we ate outside instead. :D

We still had lots of time, so we rode the rollercoaster forwards this time (shorter line, ridiculously so). We rode this to One Direction: Live While We're Young which was just hilarious. Then we waited longer for the Jaws ride than we did for the forwards coaster.

After Jaws we walked towards the area where the One Piece show would be that evening to take a picture at the special One Piece photo spot area (XD). In Japan, if you go to a special photo spot they take your picture once with your camera and once with theirs. And people still buy theirs. But this one we were actually probably going to buy because it was a special one and all that. On the way, we stopped at a face/body art tattoo place and got special One Piece art for our picture with Ace. (We got the Ace symbol, so the worker at the photo place was like Ace. Ace. Ace. 3 Aces?! It was cute). Picture taken, with all the time to kill (USJ is kinda teeny actually) we rode the rollercoaster backwards again before going to buy all the goods.

Moment of complaint: when we first found out about this event, we looked on the goods website: there was a color-changing mug of awesome, and I was excited to get it. (If you don't know, in a country with no shot glasses, my love for shot glasses has mutated into a love for mugs) I shouldn't have waited, because it was sold out both online and in store when we were there. >.< But I have enough goods I can swim in them, so it's okay.

Next, food time! Last time I was here, the pizza place randomly had fried Mac-and-Cheese bites. Unfortunately, they did not this time. Sad. But, we were hungry enough that one slice of pizza would not be enough, but two slices cost as much as half the price of a whole we bought a whole pizza and ate it. Foreigner power!

It was finally time to head over to the show! Woo~! It was being held in their water show area, so we were wondering how the copious amounts of water would fit into the show, but they did really well with it! The actual show's voice actors pre-recorded the dialogue for the show, so the actors had to mouth along with the tape...which they did a good job at doing as long as you weren't right on top of them. The actors resembled their animated counterparts as well. Now I'm going to talk about the plot of the show, so if you don't know One Piece, just skip this bit:

So the point of the show was to have another opportunity for an adventure with Ace, and they did a good job at fitting it into the plot of the show. It started with them heading to Dressrosa, after Punk Hazard, and Luffy fell asleep reminiscing about another adventure he had with Ace when they met Doflamingo previously, which is the show. Flashback to Seabody, and Hancock gets captured for the human auction because DF wants something special for the world nobles at the auction. Luffy tries to save her, but DF takes over his crew and Ace comes to help Luffy kick some ass. (There's also some awesomeness where Handsome and his gang help search for Hancock (and save Luffy in the water) by being awesome on jet skis) DF says we'll meet again in Dressrosa and oh hey end flashback.


So at the end of the show they played a lot of the songs from the show. Fortuitously, our seats were at the end of a row and we were able to high five characters as they passed down the aisle (Sanji, Zoro, Franky, Luffy, Ace) So that was fun.

After the show, we headed to the Jump Shop on the City Walk to buy (more) things, and then (after the helpful store lady guided us), did some One Piece purikura:

Then we came home, played some video games, and got some much needed rest.

The next morning, we got up early to head home, aiming to be home at 4:40 by the normal trains (Price: $56 dollars, Time: 5.5 hours). We had 2 goals to accomplish in Kyoto Station before we left: breakfast, and Hakuouki store. 

A couple months ago, a new movie came out for an anime/video game I enjoy called Hakuouki. It's setting is Kyoto, so for celebration/promotion there's a teeny little store in the station with goods. What convenient timing.

So thanks to David's help we find that no problem and I spend all the money. ^.^ Next, breakfast. McDonald's. It's in Kyoto Station, but where? Cue the manhunt for McDonald's fail #2. We finally find it after some circles and backtracking, and they were no longer selling breakfast, but who even cares at that point. Now we know all the McD's locations for when we come back in the summer for HP and more One Piece magic. 

Then we hop on the trains and head home (which after Sapporo, 5.5 hours on a train is nothing). But is the adventure over, ladies and gentlemen? No! Arriving home at 4:40 means we had just enough time to throw our bags in a locker at the station and see the 5:05 showing of The Amazing Spiderman 2. Because how often does a movie come out in Japan before America? Practically never. And then what better way to finish an awesome weekend than sing some karaoke for 2 hours when we were too tired to go after USJ? 

(Tuesday was a national holiday, and I slept until 1, which I haven't done since coming to Japan. I wonder why.)


P.S. It was so hot, we didn't need jackets. Aw yeah, Osaka XP

Thursday, April 3, 2014

A Day in the Life: Junior High #2

So since I start at Junior High #3 next week, I should tell you about #2 before I forget. But first! A review of important vocabulary and ideas from the last article that is necessary for your understanding and enjoyment:

I am called an ALT: Assistant Language Teacher, and as I am a city ALT I rotate from junior high to junior high every so many months depending on the size of the school. 

School #2 is a decently mid-sized school of about 400 students, not super big but not small or a mountain school by any means.

Junior High is 7-9th grade, and High School is 10-12. In Japanese, ~nensei means year student. So at junior high, there are ichinensei (first graders/ 7th graders), ninensei (second graders/8th graders), and sannensei (third graders/ 9th graders). So it is easiest for me to say ichinensei, ninensei, and sannensei, so this is a helpful key so you know who I am talking about!

At this school, there is 5 classes of ichinensei and ninensei, and 6 classes of sannensei. My first school had 3 of each. So students all over, but still not a super big school.

Also, more vocabulary: JTE= Japanese Teachers of English. These are the English teachers at each school that I work with.

At this school, I have 4 JTEs. One for sannensei, one for ninensei, and two for ichinensei. The sannensei JTE is pretty awesome; she was the easiest to actually team teach with. She would give me liberty to create activities, and we would work together to implement them. Ninensei JTE is an excellent teacher, but I almost never got to make any activities in his classes (not that his activities were bad by any means, it just left me with little to do). For ichinensei JTE #1 (who I saw the most at the end) I was a tape recorder. I read things, and usually did nothing but read things. But JTE #2 for the ichinensei was the worst. There was no control in his classes, and I'm not in charge of discipline in classes, so even if I wanted to do anything I couldn't. It was already difficult enough being a tape recorder in those classes. Those two classes were always a trial, to say the least.

So, a typical day at JH #2! From my apartment, I take a train and a bus to school. However, unlike the last school's bus stop, which was directly in the station, this one required me to stand outside in the cold and rain. Boo. And the bus was usually late too, which was ever so nice. From the time I got on the train, it took about 45 minutes to get to school. Once there I would put my shoes in my cupboard and go to my locker to take off my jacket and put most of my stuff (because there is no permanent ALT at the school, the teacher next to me took the biggest drawer at my desk >.<).

I almost always had classes in the morning, and almost never had any after lunch. So my mornings were usually pretty busy, or I would sit at my desk and write or study. School lunch at this school is not in a separate room. A lady would bring my lunch to me at my desk (usually about 20 minutes before lunch, where it would sit and get cold) and I would eat it right there. Since it was right at my desk, I did have slightly more time to eat it, which is nice. It's still a ridiculous amount of food though.

Now that I've been here long enough, after lunch I now go to the bathroom to happily brush my teeth. My dentist would be so proud, haha. Then I sit at my desk for lunch break. After which is cleaning time! At this school, I help the students and the vice-principal clean the teacher's room. But the students usually pretend to clean / extremely ineffectually clean, so the vice-principal always uses me as an example for the kids ('Don't leave it to Rose!' 'Rose is doing her best! You should too!'). I really wasn't doing anything special, haha.

Then, I would have afternoon classes or study more. I would make myself study, write, or do something productive until 3:30, which is when I would give up and read Game of Thrones. At this school, I did not go visit clubs. Partially because I never got a full tour of the school and didn't know what/where they all were, partially because I could never tell when they started, and partially because I was just really lazy. But going to clubs depends on the school, so it wasn't a big deal. Then I left at 4:45 and got home a bit after 5:30. Yay school!


Well It Was a Good Plan Anyway: Coming Home from Hokkaido

Before I get into the disaster that was getting the heck home from Hokkaido, Julie brought to my attention that I should probably be more specific as to what my Japan map actually means. Japan is comparable to California in size except it is a bit longer and thinner (according to Julie's map overlaying thing). So think West Coast. By normal trains, it took me 5 hours to get to my friends house in Gunma the night before we left, then it was 23 hours of solid (non bullet) train riding to get to Sapporo by Saturday morning at 6 am. If that makes more sense.

So when we traveled up to Sapporo there was no problems (minus having to run for train #1 just because we were walking slowly), so in reality we should've known better that all hell would break loose on the way home.

So the original original plan for going home was I would ride normal trains all the way to Tokyo where I could pick up a bullet train (shinkansen) that would enable me to get all the way to Shizuoka in one night. However, before we left for our trip my friend realized that they changed the train times and I would miss the final bullet train by 2 minutes. So then the new original plan was to take a shinkansen from Utsunomiya (an earlier stop) to Tokyo and then take shinkansens home that way. The night that we got on the sleeper train, we decided to change the bullet train part of our plan. If we took an earlier, cheaper, shorter shinkansen ride early in the morning, we would gain significant hours and my friend would be able to get home 2 hours earlier. I would not, but I would save 20 bucks, so I said let's go for it. And everything was fine until after that shinkansen ride that morning.

We got on the next local train in the plan, and all throughout the north of Japan there was high wind warnings. Therefore, our train to Ichinose was required to travel at the speed of steam engine for a great portion of the route. And we missed our connection train by three minutes. And the trains come once an hour, and I would no longer get home on time that way. So in order to catch up, we took a bet. We took another bullet train to Sendai in the hopes that when we got there, we would catch our planned regular train to Fukushima and return to our schedule. It would cost the same as the original plan for me with these two shinkansen, so we were still okay. We would have to get to Fukushima by 3:05 for me to still get home on time that way. It was around 12:20 when we arrived in Sendai. There was no reason it should take that long to get to Fukushima, despite being a long train ride.

WELL, the train to Fukushima was late in arriving, and once it did arrive it decided it needed to wait for some other late trains to get it before it left (although of course when WE needed to catch one of our trains, none of them waited. Gah). But it left, finally, and we were the speed of a steam train in the 1800s. Because of the wind. And we did not make it to Fukushima by 3:05. So now I had but one choice to get home that night: get to Tokyo and take original shinkansen that I was going to take in the first place. I was pretty pissed, because at this point I paid the same amount as if we just flew to Sapporo, which is what I wanted to avoid by riding the trains in the first place (we bought a special spring break train pass to take local train lines=cheaper than flying). Sooo it all ended up being out the window.

I got to Tokyo (Ueno actually), where I hellfire booked it to another platform to get to Tokyo station, where I made the crowded shinkansen by minutes. And I got home by 11. Yep. Alllll according to plan.

But despite the stupid wind, it was still a wonderful vacation. ^.^


Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Not My Best Day as Map Captain: Hokkaido Day Two

So before I start to regale you with the epic of day two in Hokkaido, I forgot to mention something cool about the trains yesterday. If you notice on the map I put in the last post, Hokkaido is not attached to the main island of Japan. But I rode a train to Sapporo. Anyone confused? I honestly didn't even think about it until a few days before we left. Hokkaido is connected to the main island of Japan by awesome train tunnels that dig so far down they go under the floor of the ocean. I went under the floor of the ocean. Cool? Super cool. Yes.


So we get up on Sunday and have some yumful hotel breakfast (there was a waffle, I was excited) before checking out because that night we were getting on the sleeper train again. That means we needed to return to the station to dump our bags in the giant lockers there (thank goodness for lockers, it would really suck to carry around that much luggage all the time). After that, it was still too early to go do the karaoke-ing that we were too tired to do the night before, so we hung out at Starbucks until 11 when the place opened.

It's subtle, but I may have mentioned on Facebook that I've developed a thing for mugs in this country. I have many. And in that Starbucks, they had a Hokkaido-themed mug. Of course I needed to get this. And since I got that one, I might as well get the ones for Osaka, Kyoto, and Tokyo. Gah, mugs.

But anyway, then we went to karaoke. On the way up to Gunma my allergies/sinuses decided to explode, so I was pretty ticked that I was going to have difficulty. But the night before, I had remembered something awesome: I had (accidentally) left one Aleve Cold & Sinus in my backpack from America (Aleve C&S are a major nono in this country). So for one magical day, I was healed and could karaoke! Woo! It was glorious (and if you're wondering, as soon as I came back to Shizuoka I was almost immediately better. I'm allergic to the North, haha).

At this point, my friend wanted to visit an onsen for the rest of the afternoon, and since I have not had that particular adventure yet (and didn't have any things to cover my tattoo / didn't want to get kicked out and waste the day) I had some other things to do in mind. Mainly, eat my last Hokkaido famous food for lunch at finish Hokkaido Bingo: Soup Curry.

The day before, we had passed a soup curry place on our way to the ramen street. I simply walked over to it; there should be no problem. Well I opened the door and the line was completely down the stairs, so that place wasn't going to happen. And on the door I could see that there was a sign that read "Sorry we're busy, you should go to our affiliated restaurant at such and such," but I couldn't read exactly where such and such was.

No problem; that's what Google Maps is for! A quick search revealed a verifiable list of soup curry places (luckily soup curry wasn't as rare as lavender ice cream). I click for the closest one, and it requires a ride on the cable car. I walk to the cable car, get off at the right station, and then....promptly walk in the wrong direction. Realize this, correct myself, and then Google Maps lead me to the back of the building. (Because apparently Google does that because it's the address where the mail is delivered). Figured out it was the back of the building, walk around, and find the soup curry closed! It was apparently some kind of soup curry bar thing that didn't open until dinner. -__-

Fail of all fails. So I click the next soup curry place on the Google list and despite saying it's farther from my original location, where is it? Two feet from the original soup curry place. >.<!! I was not happy. So I hike it back over there and finally get to sit down and eat some delicious soup curry. But I didn't get out of there until 3:30, and this poses a new problem. Of the things I wanted to do this day, I wanted to see Hokkaido Shrine, which was a half hour away. Shrines and temples typically close at either 4:30 or 5. But, close at hand was the anime store that I wanted to check out. Why would I come all the way back here? That would waste time.

So I check that out really quick and book it to the subway to make it to Hokkaido Shrine. I get out at the right station, aaaand promptly start walking in the wrong direction. Again. But I realized it quicker this time! So I turn around and hike it to Hokkaido Shrine, which is in a park that reminded me strikingly of Ohio (Snow everywhere, spitting cold rain, wind, faint smell of burning wood, come on). Hokkaido Shrine itself is huge--the grounds are huge, there's a bazillion buildings, it's just huge. But I wanted to find the main one so I could check it out and get the stamp book. Because stupid here forgot to bring her stamp book again, and I was just going to get the slip again to stick in the book. But then I realized, I'm in Hokkaido. How COOL would it be to have the actual book from Hokkaido? I wanted this.

So I find the correct building (and promptly felt like an idiot because I haven't been to a shrine in a while and the kind Chinese lady that was in a tour group had to direct me how to wash my hands before going in, fail) and walk in just as the man is saying they are closing soon. I walk around (taking speed pictures) and miraculously find the corner they directed me to where they do the stamps. I asked if it was the place and the man said sure, I can be the last one. And then there was some confusion as to if I just wanted the paper or the book. Something like this happened:

"Can I buy the book, please?"
"The book?"
"Yes, the book."
"The book. The actual book? Not a paper?"
"Yes, a book. I forgot mine."

::guy comes out with the paper:: "Well, don't you just want this then?"

"No, I want to buy the book please."
Other guy in English: "Piece of Paper じゃなくて?" [Not the piece of paper?]

I couldn't exactly explain that I wanted their book because it was super cool and I was from very far away. I didn't want to accidentally offend their religion by somehow implying the collecting of cool things was more important than the religious significance of the book or something. I really didn't want to be touristy when they are super cool and nice. So I got the book and it is so cool! I geeked out and victoriously made my way back through the park on the way to the station. Happiness.

The final thing on my list to do this day was hit up the Ferris Wheel. Because apparently that's what I do in this country is ride a million ferris wheels. It was a rainy cloudy and overall crappy day to ride a ferris wheel, but too bad I wanted to. So (after some map failing AGAIN, but after I saw the giant ferris wheel I had no problems haha) after finding the building the ferris wheel was in, I started riding escalators to the 7th floor where the entrance was.

Well, a couple floors below, I accidentally ran into what basically equates to a thrift store of anime goods and toys. Crap. So I spent some more money before heading up to the ferris wheel. -____-

Then I rode the ferris wheel, yaaaaaaaaay.

At this point, I had a lot of shopping bags that I was going to have to some how miraculously carry back with me on a thousand trains. I was stupidly naive and didn't bring any of my eco/tote bags with me from Shizuoka, so I decided to make my life easier and go buy one. I check a convenience store, no luck. I also decided that at this point, it was going to be easier for me (and the life of my phone) to go underground and be guided back to Sapporo Station by signs. I go down the stairs, and right in front of me is a 3 Coin store (where everything can be paid with 3 coins; like 300 yen plus tax) that has eco bags! Yay! So I get one and head back to the station to meet my friend and consolidate my stuff into the bag. Then, my friend and I get dinner in the station ("Irish" pub, fish and chips, cool with this) and buy some food souvenirs for people back home. Then we sit around for an hour to wait for our train to arrive at the station, get our stuff out of the lockers and prepare for the epic journey back!

The train ride(s) back was supposed to be an anecdote at the end of this blog entry, but it got so screwed up that it gets it's own blog entry.

Yay. Get excited.


Almost forgot! Pictures Day One & Pictures Day Two!

Monday, March 31, 2014

Free Chocolate is Nice, but Free Whiskey Is Better: Hokkaido Days Zero & One

Alright. It's epically epic train adventure time. The plan for my friend Pat and I's trip to Sapporo, Hokkaido was simple: it was (in theory) marginally cheaper to get a special train pass and ride a zillion trains to Hokkaido from where we lived. I'm all for cheapness, and I enjoy trains, so I said why not let's do it. Who needs a plane? To give you an idea of this trainventure, let me show you just how far exactly, I went:

I live in the bottom circle; waaaaaaaay not near Hokkaido. There was no way I was making it from Shizuoka all the way to Sapporo in one day, so Thursday night after work I took 4 trains (and a good 5 hours) up to Gunma where my friend Pat lived so we could head out from his house in the morning, where it was logistically possible to make it to Sapporo...via 13 trains, one of which included a sleeper car. But! When we woke up on Saturday morning, we would be in Sapporo! Plan: execute.

There's not much to say about the trip up on Friday; the weather was nice (besides my allergies basically exploding) and we had zero problems when it came to changing trains. Like, we only almost missed the very first train because we were walking slow, but other than that we had no trouble whatsoever getting to our final train, the sleeper car, easily and on time. Nothing went wrong; weird right? Just wait for it. Remember this.

So let's take a moment to talk about the 13th train on our journey: the Hamanasu, a (slightly janky looking) train that has some cars you can lay down and sleep in as it travels overnight. You buy a ticket for a bed (in a pod of four) and you pull a curtain around you for the night. The way to Sapporo there was no snoring, the bed was pretty comfortable, and I managed to sleep most of the time. I woke up at 2:30 and at 5, which was okay because the train was arriving around 6. At this point I also attained Master Level status at using the Japanese toilet by using it on a moving train. Yes.

So we made it to Sapporo! Yay! Let the super long day of adventuring begin with breakfast! We needed breakfast. So we waited for McDonald's to open, haha. Breakfast eaten, we headed out very slowly for the Chocolate Factory that was opening in the morning. At said Chocolate Factory, they make these:

Delicious cookie chocolate things. So we got to see how these were made, which is nifty. And the strange chocolate factory also had a gramophone museum and a toy museum, because Japan. So it was fun to explore and take pictures of. Next, we tooled around for a little bit because it was definitely too early for lunch, (and we got Resees from the Japanese version of WalMart we found) and we headed back to the main part of town to see some Clock Tower of Significance. We didn't go in, but it appeared to be one of the original buildings of Sapporo and important and all that. It was interesting! We also did some shopping around, feeling out the souvenirs of the area. At lunch time, we decided to start the eating of the Famous Foods of Hokkaido. 

Famous Hokkaido foods I knew of / Coveted: Ramen, Sushi, Lavender Ice Cream, Soup Curry, and the Chocolate pictured above. Chocolate done, we decided to hit up some Sapporo style ramen for lunch. And of course it was delicious. I personally didn't taste a huge difference compared to non-Sapporo ramen, but it was still good ramen. Win. 

Next we headed for a (sort of) nearby city called Otaru, where near that was another baby city that had a famous Whiskey Distillery we wanted to explore. We had about a half hour before our train left in Otaru, so we poked around a bit. Mind you, until this point I had yet to see any evidence of lavender ice cream, and my determination was increasing to find said ice cream. (First thing that made Rosie want to go to Hokkaido: Lavender Ice Cream) So while we waited we searched, no luck. We found the tourist center who gave us a map to hopefully lavender ice cream, which we planned to explore after whiskey.

So we headed to the Whiskey Distillery, and we saw how whiskey was made which was cool (and also cool that it had an English button on the explanatory TVs). But the best part was that not only was the factory free, but the free samples at the end were also free. You could get a pretty decent couple sipfuls of 10 year old whiskey, 17 year old whiskey, and apple wine. I've never had straight whiskey before, and damn, so I only had one of the whiskeys. But the apple wine was really good. I did not buy any, but I did get a shot glass. Heck yes.

After returning to Otaru, we began the quest for lavender ice cream in earnest. We followed the directions of the tourist center, and despite passing many many ice cream places (one of which appeared to be Bertie Bott's: Kimchee, Sesame Seed, Potato?! I considered going there instead, but I must have lavender) I was about to give up, when Pat found it! Yay~! It was...lavender tasting. Haha. Like, I've never eaten lavender, but it was good. And the cows are in Hokkaido (because space) so the milk in the north is really good; hence the vanilla ice cream was awesome. And melon is also a thing, so my ice cream was threefold. And the melon tasted like sherbert.

Success! Dreams fulfilled. Next we started to head for the street of sushi, because the sushi of Hokkaido is said to be the most awesome. After stopping in some stores along the way (got some fancy hand-blown Hokkaido glass of win) we made it to the street of sushi...and searched for some that didn't cost a million dollars. Both my friend and I are pretty choosy with our sushi (meaning we didn't want the fish eggs one), but we managed to find one that had a decent portion of sushi that we both could manage to eat. And it was SO. good. Hands down best sushi I've ever eaten. Even the squid one. Yum.

At this point we were ridiculously tired; by the end of the day it seemed as if we had been in Hokkaido for days. So we got on the train, headed back to Sapporo, found our hotel, checked in, and passed out. Day one: Complete!


A Mugiwara Day: Tokyo

(written on the train heading to Gunma before our trip to Hokkaido)

Well hey there! Since I'm about to go blog crazy with Hokkaido adventures, I figured I should tell you about last weekend (March 22) first!

(Even before then: At the end of February we tried to go see plum blossoms in Nihondaira in Shizuoka, and we waited for the one bus to get up there, and lo and behold they had all completely bloomed already and there was practically nothing to see. Utterly epic fail, so I attempted to take some pictures and we got on the same bus on its way back down the mountain. I waited to post these pictures because we were going to see more plum blossoms in the mountains in March, but we were poor and decided against it. So have some pictures of that failed event, haha.)

Anyway. Picture it. March 22nd...((The pictures are there btw))

SO I have a friend who loves One Piece just as much as I do (I feel if you read this blog that by now I probably shouldn't have to explain what One Piece is [but Mugiwara does mean straw hat, if you wondered]) and we've been planning for a while to find the time to hit some major One Piece attractions in Tokyo. More specifically, a One Piece themed restaurant and the mother of all One Piece stores (that opened a few months after I left Japan the first time, if I'm not mistaken -.-). Budget-breaking day trip, gooo!

So there are many different ways to reach Tokyo from where I live at various speeds and prices. Wishing to save some money, my friend and I reserved seats on a bus (which roundtrip is about 45$) which in theory would take us to Tokyo in about 3.5 hours. I say in theory because Tokyo traffic as hilariously insane as you'd think it to be, and (both ways) we had to wade through such business. So leaving at 8:50 we were supposed to arrive around/after 11:30, aaand we got there at 12:15. Yeeeah. But! The day wasn't super urgent, so no worries! Our return bus departed at 6:10, so we had lots of time for shopping and copious money spending.

First. Lunch! The One Piece restaurant was a bit far away, so we decided to make our way out there first (and we were also quite hungry of course). I was expecting just a type of quick-food service place with One Piece themed food, just like other One Piece events I'd been to. So I was very impressed by how...upscale the place was. It was very impressive, and the food was delicious. And we also happened to be there for one of the random times that the "owner" (show character) came out and talked to the customers, so we got to take a picture with him :D

Afterward we stopped at the nearby (sort of new) mall called Diver City Tokyo because there used to be a Jump Store there (there wasn't) -.-. But the journey wasn't an utter waste; when I was in Odaiba last this place was under construction, and the Gundam I took pictures in front of was shrouded in construction and fences. So now I have better pictures of the Gundam! ((Irony: this gundam was built in Shizuoka, where I live now XP))

Meanwhile, fortuitously my friend David from college (who is a JET in Kyoto) had come up to Tokyo the night before to visit a friend of his. And he was free, so he met up with us at this point to hang out and have merriment!

So we headed over to Shibuya to find the fabled Mugiwara Store, the sort-of-new store that is a beautiful place to spend all the money on One Piece goods. It took us a minute to find it because it was in a mall called Parco, but because Tokyo is Tokyo there are three different Parcos, but we found it. And it was so beautiful. And I'm proud to say that I spent less than what I thought I was going to. :D


When we were waiting in line at the checkout, behind the registers they were playing a Universal Studios Japan (USJ) commercial on loop. I was already aware that in the summer USJ has a huge One Piece event, and we were already planning on going (also: Harry Potter is supposed to open here then; yes please). But! This commercial was advertising for something going on now in USJ, until the beginning of May.


AND, the star of said show was my and my friend's favorite character. Needless to say, before I made it home that night we had booked tickets for a weekend trip to USJ in the end of April. Woo! Get excited.

But anyway, after some One Piece purikura--

--We took a brief pit stop at The Disney Store before heading to Tokyo station to attempt valiantly to find the stupid bus (which we did, eventually. And it was hot. And we were talking, which no one else was doing. And I added to my foreign stereotype by eating hamburgers from the rest stop. Yes.)

So all the One Piece adventures! We have a lot more One Piece plans in the future for some reason. Go figure.

Now, to Hokkaido with me!


Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Jam-Packed Weekend: Tokyo in the Snow & Strawberries

So I've been feeling like a bump on a log lately and wanted to get out and you know, do things. So I made plans with my friend that is going to school near Tokyo to spend some time with him on Saturday. Small problem: Upon going to bed on Friday (at 10pm mind you, living it up here) my friend warns me to be careful going to Tokyo the next day: they're supposed to get a blizzard.

My initial reaction is severe disbelief. I wouldn't be the least bit surprised if "blizzard" equaled like 3 inches of snow. So I kept it in mind to check out the weather before I left the house the next day and went to bed.

So I wake up around 8 (I went to bed at 10 remember? lol) and figure I might as well make an early start of it and head over there. I also figure, oh hey, I'm up so early and I've got time, I can be cheap and take the bus instead of the Shinkansen (bullet train)! Well all the buses were cancelled for the day. And the trains were running late. Hm. Must be snowing pretty hard this morning. So I check the weather, and it says it's snowing but it should stop by the time I get there.  SO, Do I bring my earmuffs? No. Do I bring a hat at all? Nah. I head down to the station around 10, and the train is about 20 minutes late, no big deal. I even manage to snag a seat, even though it got super crowded. Win.

Meanwhile, Shizuoka (the land of no snow) is freezing and rainy, so I'm looking out the window on this train, waiting for snow to appear, and we hit Mishima and BAM snow. All over the place. No sign of stopping.

...Oops? So I get off in Tokyo station, firmly the land of snow for the day, and my friend is sleeping in late due to a long night before, so I have some time to kill. I found on the internet that several years ago, there was a store in Tokyo station that sold all the different kinds of crazy Kit Kats from all over Japan. I searched and searched and searched, no luck. So then I set out in this:


To find me some good ol' cheap gyuudon for lunch. (Also: Pictures) I still have lots of time to kill, so I get on a train to Tokyo Dome City in search of a store called the Jump Shop. You probably don't remember, but I've visited these on occasion: they are stores of a particular brand of manga/anime that sell goods from these particular shows. Which means I had to find it with my slowly dying phone with snow pelting me in the face and tennis shoes slipping in the snow. It took a bit of effort, but I made it! Whee spending money! I didn't buy much though, what a novel idea. But I definitely want to go back to this place when it's warmer, because this:

Now who can pass up a rollercoaster.

So THAT will happen eventually. (Terrifyingly, the ferris wheel was running in this weather. Did not go there) So at this point, I received a reply from my friend, but no further, so I headed back to Tokyo station anyway. (He had fallen asleep again, haha). I set up camp in a cafe and get a phone call from him, where we plan to meet up in an hour. At this point, my phone's battery is at 30%, and stupid here didn't bring her charger with her, so phone usage will be down to nothing unless necessary. So I head over to the meeting place in Shibuya (place with largest crosswalk in the world, if you recall) and wait in front of the train car, outside, where I suggested we meet.

Another great idea by me, waiting outside in the snow! The first 15 minutes, no problem, it's just snow. But then I started to feel soaked. Like, I-just-exited-a-water-ride soaked. And my phone battery was at 14 percent, so I didn't want to change where we were meeting. Yay. (Sidenote: You could tell who was foreign and who wasn't by who was using an umbrella. SidenoteSidenote: I realized AFTER this that I had both a hood on my cloak and an umbrella, and used neither. Victory) So 10 minutes later friend shows up, and we head to the first place we see to get dinner.

At this point, I have no idea how much I resemble a snowman until the server takes one look at me and says, お!すごい雪ですね!(Wow! That's a lot of snow!) I say that I was waiting outside for a bit and he just laughs as he returns to the kitchen. Not chuckles, full on laughter.

As we sat down, I noticed that my bag was utterly white on the front. And I reached back and my ponytail had a half inch of snow on it. I was a snowman. o.o 

So it was very cold as I melted, but dinner was nice. I caught up with my friend, and then we went to Starbucks because warm. We also wanted to take purikura (crazy photo booth pictures), but this means we had to find somewhere and my phone's battery was at 6. I managed to find a map to Purikura Mecca (literally what it was called) but I wasn't able to leave the map up as we looked because battery. So we marched around in the wind for a while and we knew it was by Forever 21 but we couldn't find Forever 21...and when we finally did there was no purikura. But then we walked down an alley to the other side of the building and there it was! Victory! And then we did an hour or karaoke to celebrate. So it was around 8 o clock and I get on the train to head to the Shinkansen; this is when I start panicking as to whether or not they are running. It has been snowing steadily all day, despite the weather report, and other normal trains were delayed or closed. I mean, if they were closed I could still get home by taking normal trains (just take several hours longer), but my phone was almost dead and I couldn't use it to figure out how. 

So once I get to Shinagawa, I book it over to the Shinkansen area and talk to the station man about buying the right ticket. He says the trains are still stopped, and to check the board to see if the train I need is still on the list. I bend down to look at the board from afar: of the trains listed that are late but will depart eventually, there is one that I can take. So I buy a ticket and book it to the queue. Mind you, I still had to wait there for a half hour, so it was by no means a close shave, but still. They kept updating the delay information in Japanese, but the English was staying the same >.< 

And then finally it showed up and finally we left. Hoo. 

And then Sunday my friends and I went strawberry picking: Strawberries are in season right now, and you can pay to eat them right off the vine, as much as you want. We did this, lol. The smell? Beautiful. The strawberries? Delicious. I ate 37. My friend at 57 lol. Then the area was below a famous shrine (Kunozan: home of Tokugawa Ieyasu) on top of the hill, so we climbed up 15-20 minutes to see it! 

And I forgot we were going to do this, so I was wearing way too many layers. Grr. And I forgot my shrine/temple stamp book. More grrrr. But I will return! And then we came back down and ate strawberry ice cream, because it was delicious. 

After we came home, my friend and I were full of strawberries but yet hungry for dinner. The restaurant we go to was advertising strawberry parfaits (noooo) AND when we walk in, what song are they playing? Strawberry Fields.

....All the strawberries. 


So We Went to the Zoo

So last weekend (although I guess this is Tuesday, so...two weekends ago? National holidays make everything confusing) my friend and I went to the zoo! Nihondaira Zoo, a cute little thing that we live very close to. I had spent the weekend before holed up in my house, and I needed to get out. So we did!

We arrived around lunch time, so we first immediately sought food...and who are we to mind if the closest food happened to be a hot dog? Yum. Then we started our round of the zoo (pictures). Some highlights from the first half of the adventure:

Red pandas in Japanese are called lesser pandas (poor pandas).

They had a cage you could go in that said "homo sapien" on it, and you could take a picture (I just took a creeper picture of people in it, because it was crowded)

In the polar bear/seal area, the one polar bear was back flipping off of one rock, over and over. For probably at least a half hour. Every time we looked at him over an extended period of time, he just kept going. Must've been pretty fun.

They elephants were very far away and I was unable to get good pictures of them. -.-

All the cats in the feline area were taking a nap when we went by, except for the puma.

The bird are was this huge enclosed thing that could very easily have been used as the set for the pterodactyl scene in Jurassic Park III.

So as we make our way around the zoo, we notice this colored....procession of chairs, if you will, going up a hill to God-knows-where. At first we think it's some ridiculously random water ride, because Japan; this could be a viable thing. But it was too cold; there was no way that many Japanese people would get on such a ride without a raincoat! Once we get over there, we decide to have a peek. In front of the area, it says WONDERSHAW CASTLE.

We have no idea what this WONDERSHAW could be, but we pay our 100 yen (about a dollar) and follow the Japanese people to get on a little car that took us straight up into the sun to the top of the hill...

Where there was a huuuuuuuge expanse of a picnic area (beautiful view) and this little castle. We get some ice cream from the vending machine (although if we really wanted to, we could have got actual food from the vending machine too: there was a machine that spit out hot food such as friend fries and takoyaki: we watched the magic happen) and we sat for a while. Then we went to this castle (apparently shaw is supposed to be a forest, by the way) and inside appeared to be a Jumpin Jolly Jambers like play area in which I would have been so game if we were of the appropriate age. So instead we went up to the top and took some more awesome pictures.

Then we had two options of getting back down: we could ride the car, or scoot down on this giant slide....thing. I say slide, but it really had no slope at all. It was those rollers that slides sometimes have, and you had to scoot to get going at all before you had to scoot again. Sounded like a lot of work that would cause us to get stared at by a lot of Japanese people, so we took the little car.


Then we saw some very unenthusiastic penguins, alligator (crocodile? I think it was an alligator), and some terrifying snapping turtles before heading home. THEN we went shopping, and to complete the evening sang 6 and a half hours of karaoke.



Sunday, February 9, 2014

Oh Hey Hamamatsu (and Gotemba Too)

This may or may not have happened November 23rd. >.> (And mid December too.) So why bother to write about it? It's going to bother me if I skip something that we actually went out to make effort and do, so...everyone follow me into the time machine as we go back to the end of 2013...

So November 23rd. A movie that my friend wanted to see was coming to Hamamatsu instead of Shizuoka. Hamamatsu is another large city in Shizuoka Prefecture, about an hour away by normal train. So since we were going to go there anyway, I figured hell, let's make a day of it! Yay! So we get on the train in the morning and head over there for merriment. (Here's some pictures if you don't have Facebook) So we arrive in the train station and it (creepily) looks identical to Shizuoka station, which we just left. Weeeird.

First order of business is to head to the tourist information so we can figure out what to eat later (and get a map as well.) Hamamatsu is famous for it's gyoza (potstickers) so we wanted to make sure we got the best. It was a b-e-a-utiful day; super blue sky and awesomeness. Next, we wanted to go to the movie theater and make sure we had tickets for the film that night (because the ultimate fail would be to miss the movie that we came for). Tickets acquired, we trolled around in the mall that the movie theater was in (they had a Toys R Us that had plastic food sushi XP) for a little while.

Then, we wanted to go to the observation deck in Act Tower, which is the harmonica shaped building in the city that has a great viewpoint. (Hamamatsu is known as the city of music) So we hit the elevator button and wait. And wait. And there's a sign like off to the side of the elevator entirely in Japanese; we pay it no mind. People are looking at us as we wait. On another, hidden sign, we discover that the freakin tower is closed on the weekends.

Good job Hamamatsu.

So that waste of life done, grabbed some lunch (gyro! And I had turkish ice cream which was ridiculously sticky) and headed over to Hamamatsu Castle, where there was a beautiful park with fall leaves (mostly) still on the trees to take pictures of. Hamamatsu Castle is small to begin with, and with half of it under construction at the moment there was precious little to see. Still, was cute. Beautiful day and beautiful park that we explored for a while. On the way back towards the station we stopped at a shrine we passed (and you know, I keep forgetting to bring my damn stamp book with me, so I picked up another loose leaf one) and took some pictures.

Then we lingered in the mall in the station for a while before heading to the movies! On the way to the theater, we ran into Ieyasu-kun himself. (Tokugawa Ieyasu is honored at Hamamatsu Castle, and so the mascot of Hamamatsu is a cartoon plush version of him). We were very excited and took a picture with him ^.^ Then we saw the excellent movie (and I ate real popcorn yes). The movie theater by my house took away actual popcorn; they now only sell pre-made super teeny containers of stale crappy popcorn and I am depressed.

And then we came home. So Hamamatsu! Woo!

Next, flash forward to December. Seeing Illuminations (Christmas lights) is a big deal in Japan around Christmas time, so I wanted to make sure to see some. We had heard wonderful things about the Illuminations in Gotemba, a short bus ride away, so my friend and I jumped on a bus to Gotemba Illuminations!

They were weird and not Christmas-y at all! I mean sure, they were okay, but we were just surprised at how...un-Christmas like they were. As we walked through the lights we kept looking for the actual light display. And we found a place you pay for and we assumed that's where the actual lights were, and then...they handed us an umbrella.

....? So we went up the path and found not Christmas lights, but a fountain show. Because yes. Fountain show. We were a bit taken aback to say the least. So we went back through the lights and did some more shopping. In order to not wait around for 2 hours for another bus, we left very soon after.

Adventures!! Look how often I leave my house lol.