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!