March 3rd, 2008


20. Trip to Osaka (part iv)

(based in part on notes taken February 10th and 11th – as I type this it’s already March 2nd, a beautiful Sunday morning in Tokushima, so this will have to be short and sweet)

Editorial Comment

I have an observation to make, and it’s one that can’t be made in context – it is the kind of observation that would almost certainly be taken offensively and perhaps rightly so. It’s also an observation that stems from a range of experiences and environments, and it shouldn’t be seen as picking on a particular person, place, job, or group anyway.

People that come here can be children forever, or until they finally get someone pregnant.

Thank you. Now we’ll move on with the main journal.

iv. Sunday, Monday, Tuesday

My earnest explorations began on Sunday with Chris; we walked around quite a bit: over a zoo, through the Shinsekai district (where we saw rooms full of old men playing shogi), through Den Den Town (This was basically a huge electronics shopping district – you know how much I love cables, right? There were entire stores dedicated to cables and wiring for a/v enthusiasts!), into Don Quixote, and at dusk through the underground city and to the top of a hotel. At the thirty-sixth and uppermost floor of this hotel was a superb view of Osaka, but also an Italian restaurant – Tavola36.

Chris was superbly adroit; he asked if we could see a menu and then if we could sit in the waiting area (with the picture windows that afforded a panoramic view). I would have tried to sneak in – if there’s one thing I envy of Chris above all else, it’s his way with people. He just oozes calm, ease, politeness, and reasonableness all the time. Anyway, I’m pretty sure the maître d' knew we weren’t going to eat there – we’ll be charitable and assume that she knew it wasn’t quite 6pm yet and the night was too young. Surely she couldn’t have thought that we weren’t in the market for a $100 dinner (that’s per person), no sir. (If we were there at lunchtime, we could have gone for the $35-$40 buffet, I suppose.)

While I was taking pictures, Chris and I talked a lot about how cool it would be to be having an executive lunch or dinner in a place like that.

After a journey that took longer than it needed to because I was obsessed with finding a curry place that had tables, we finally did eat at Kua 'Aina, a place with great Hawaiian burgers. This is one place that I sort of wish they had in Tokushima – for $16 you get a huge burger, the tastiest fries I’ve had so far in Japan, a delicious salad (with cheese!), and an enormous beer. You know those great big Coke / Pepsi cups that you get in theatres? Imagine one filled with a cool, frothy beer.

We called it a night fairly early, but not before getting in touch with L. I had to use Chris’ cell phone a lot, and for the first time I was starting to think that I needed one. I’ve since decided against it because I don’t want another cost centre. I also don’t really have anyone to call with one – everyone I’ve needed to reach lives on my floor! And when we go out, someone else always has a phone. So I’ve been getting by without one, but Osaka was pushing it – when I did get in touch with L., his first words were, “Hello, were you calling this cell phone?” I would eventually meet him the following night, and again on Tuesday morning.

On Monday morning Chris set up a webcam chat with his parents in Truro, and so we sat in front of his Osaka computer for over an hour peering into a Colchester county basement. The technology was there, but it wasn’t entirely working – the audio was two-way, but the webcam was only one-way. Neither of us was able to troubleshoot successfully. I don’t think I’ll get a webcam myself, because I’ve got a notebook, so the camera would be a big old appendage hanging on top of the screen. And I didn’t get Bluetooth, so it would need a cable. As if my notebook doesn’t resemble an octopus already! Anyway, this is why I tried unsuccessfully to convince my uncle’s niece to get a webcam integrated into her new notebook, and I would suggest the same to anyone – even if you don’t ever intend to use it, you might as well get it in case you change your mind since it’s such an inexpensive thing to add at the time of purchase.

Monday was a warm, warm day. It was beautiful. Chris and I walked to Tennoji, where we split up because he was going to go on a date. (Remember what I said about his way with people?) On my own, I instinctively walked into the station where I got a stamp
Osaka - Tennoji
Osaka - Tennoji
A stamp to let you know that you've been to Tennoji Station in Osaka; at the time I was there, the provided ink pad didn't really have any ink left.

and a quick stop at the tourist information booth was rewarded with a lovely English map of the city. (As tourist maps go, it’s a treasure; you could drive with it.)

I started walking in the general direction of Osaka Castle. I found an awesome little 100 yen shop along the way, and I bought all the houseware items I could cram into my backpack. The 100 yen shops in Tokushima were a lot bigger than this little one, but they were sorely lacking in housewares – from this place I got some really nice spoons, forks, and knives which I use every day.

And I kept walking. I got up to Morinomiya Station and crossed into the castle park at nightfall. It was beautiful even, or perhaps especially then. I did see something mildly unsettling – blue tarps set up among the trees near some of the wooded paths – tarps with sounds coming from them. At first I assumed it was some sort of political demonstration, but then I realized (and L. later confirmed) that people live there. In fact, we saw quite a few people sleeping in boxes on the streets, too. But I guess this sort of thing comes with any large city, and we have a homelessness problem in Halifax too – we don’t have parks and stationfronts where there are dozens of homeless people sleeping, but with this sort of thing, even one is too many. I ask anyone who may know more about this – is homelessness a problem that defies a simple solution, or does it require concerted efforts on several fronts at once?

The castle and its grounds were singularly impressive. It’s a very big place – just crossing the outer bailey can be a ten minute walk. You can also imagine yourself being in feudal Japan, and when you walk up the incline to the doors to the inner bailey, you feel very small and insignificant. (I’m sure the bosses of the builders had this in mind at the time of construction.)

Once inside the inner bailey, I sat on a bench facing the lit-up castle tower as the refreshment and souvenir stands closed and the other visitors (all Japanese) took their photos and walked about. I sat down, and I didn’t move for half an hour. I was completely overwhelmed by feelings of happiness, peace, and contentment, and I just had to sit and soak it all in. It was a sublime moment that words can barely describe. I’m sure there’s a mundane explanation for it all, but that doesn’t make it any less of an experience.

I escaped the castle through the north gates, where the marches were steep and practically deserted. I eventually left the grounds and returned to the city, by now thinking about meeting up with L. at Shin-Imamiya. I entered a mall and thought about getting on the Tanimachi Line at Temmabashi and perhaps interlining, but I climbed back up to the street and got on the Sakaisuji Line at Kitahama instead.

After another bout with signage, I met L. – and purely by chance, at the same entrance he was exiting through. We hiked around a bit and chatted about different things, and we made a dinner out of fried things on sticks. We dropped by Tin’s Hall before calling it a night.

On Tuesday I got up early to go meet L. at Osaka Station. We took the Loop Line and then another surface train to Universal City, home of… Universal Studios Japan! (If you’re lucky, you can catch a train with a special wrap…)

There are lots of things I could say about USJ, especially considering that I’d never been to a theme park before, unless you count Upper Clements. But right now brevity is a virtue because I’m writing about things that happened nearly a month ago.

So USJ was… cool. It’s a story better told in pictures. L. and I went on the Spider-Man ride first. It was a wild ride – the effects were amazing! Of course, we had to wait seventy minutes to get on it. Fortunately, the queues are part of the ride experience – there are lots of posters and video screens and props to make you feel like you’re in the story while you’re waiting. And even the queue in the first room was shaped like – well, do I even have to finish this sentence?

After Spider-Man, we walked around for a bit, and then we went on the roller coaster, Hollywood Dream. (An odd theme for a roller coaster, we agreed.) It was definitely the most intense roller coaster ride I’d ever been on – the only thing I’d experienced that was close to this was the Mindbender at West Edmonton Mall.

L. had to go his own way after this; he still had a few errands to run in Osaka before returning to Tokushima. We walked back to Universal City and went our separate ways for lunch. I returned to the Studios and went on the Jurassic Park flume ride (the drop at the end is something else), saw a 30-minute version of Wicked, and after that I pretty much jogged all the way to Back to the Future.

See, the park closes at 5pm during the off-season. That means that they’ll stop admitting people to the lineups for the major rides a long time before that. When I left Wicked, the displays cited the wait time at 45 minutes. Great! I thought. That’ll be just enough time. But when I got to the Back to the Future area, the sign said that it was closed!

Still, I spied a few people going in anyway, and so I went too, hoping for the best. I guess I got in just in time, because maybe five or six people got in behind me, and we were the tail end of the line all the way to the ride.

When I left the ride, the park was closing, although there were thousands of stragglers. I went back to Universal City and had a McDinner of two 100 yen cheeseburgers, and I walked around a bit. My bus was leaving at 6:15 - back at Osaka Station, L. had helped me change my bus ticket to leave for Tokushima directly from USJ. Talk about convenience! There was no charge whatsoever for the adjustment, either. (Although there would be a… brace yourself… 100 yen charge for a subsequent change.)

I was the only person to get on the bus at USJ. Many more got on at Osaka Station, and a few got on at the Air Terminal, too. I had a lot of fun following the expressway route between the latter two on my map – the road was elevated and seemed to come straight out of a video game. The turns over water and twists between skyscrapers were spectacular.

I dozed to Tokushima. And here’s the bit that I wrote when I finally got home:

* * *

Well, I just got back from Osaka. It was so good to be coming home and to be back in familiar and cheaper surroundings. I took off my coat and walked in to my nice, warm living room…

Wait, warm living room? And what’s that faint whirr I hear?

Oh, NO! I’d left the heat on the entire time! Four days of 24 hour heat – augh! That’ll be at least an extra $20 on my power bill, if not much more. Well, I guess it teaches me a lesson. The worst part is that when I was packing to leave I was thinking of the part in
Around the World in Eighty Days where Passepartout leaves the gas on and has to pay the bill when they get back.

It serves me right for leaving in a hurry, I guess.

See you next time!

22. Catch Up

Right now I’m sipping on a hot chocolate listening to CBC PEI and rooting for school cancellations. The closest thing we’ll ever get to a snow day here is a typhoon day, and I’m not exactly rooting for one of those.

Slim pickings so far, though. Just a cancelled band practice and a bus in St. Peters that’s 20 minutes late. Yawn.

Things are okay. I can’t believe it’s already March – time has really flown by. In just a few more weeks I will have lived in Japan longer than I have lived in Poland. Appropriately enough, I heard a Polish Radio External Service report this evening on the recent surge in popularity of traditional Polish cuisine in Warsaw restaurants. They talked about a lot of Polish dishes that I fondly remember, especially bigos, but also a lot of lighter and more straightforward dishes, too.

So what did I do during the second half of February? Well, on the weekend of Friday the 15th, we rented a Karaoke box and sang and ate ice cream and drank chu-hai for three hours. It was a little bit expensive; I think it ended up being close to $45 apiece. If all you want is singing, though, and not the unlimited drinks and ice cream, it might potentially be a little bit cheaper. But then it’s kind of pointless; I for one could have a superior level of enjoyment dancing and sashaying around my apartment singing along to my MP3 playlist.

The following Thursday, the 21st, we went to one of L.’s favourite restaurants. It was the kind where there wasn’t a lot of space and also the kind where you had to sit on the floor. With eight people and K. with her cast and crutches (her ankle was injured at the time), getting in and out was a nightmare. The food, luckily, was outstanding – I had some of the most succulent strips of pork I’ve ever tasted. Everything food-related was done well there.

Leaving was even more of a pain than coming because 1) we were all leaving at once 2) we were all paying separately and 3) a bunch of other blokes were trying to come in just at that moment. One literally pushed me aside without so much as a “Sumimasen,” and I literally fell sideways onto K. This made her lose her precarious balance, and she started to fall, but fortunately I think one of the other participants righted her (IIRC). (I don’t mean that she fell; I just mean that I don’t remember how she stopped falling!)

Anyway, after this we still got to have our Thursday night Japanese lesson with L. Every Thursday evening, F. and I feed L.; in exchange, he prepares a lesson and teaches us Japanese. It’s been working out fairly well – I’m enjoying it, and the weekly deadline forces me to study. On this particular night we went to the cybercafé, which is just the coolest little place there is. I’ll talk about it in a future post; I don’t have time to gush about it right now, but let’s leave it that it’s pretty sweet.

Saturday the 23rd was the
school performance, which I’ve already talked about. We’ll be working another Saturday at the end of this week, this time for the purpose of being introduced to the new students parents at Orientation Day. So I’ll have earned a whole day of vacation in addition to the ones I already have! Sweet. (Of course, you can only really use vacation days when there are no classes (even when there are no classes, there are still day care programs, and even during those rare times when everybody’s gone, someone has to feed the budgies), so it’s not that big of a deal, but it’s something.)

After the performance we went bowling. It was 10-pin style, not candlepin (which is about all there is in the Maritimes), so I had to have the holes and other things explained to me. And you only get two shots! Still, it’s a lot easier to bowl a strike in this game, and I had two after I figured the game out. But I miss candlepin. It’s more intricate.

Shoe rental was pretty cool; you get your bowling shoes from a machine. In fact, there’s a whole line of machines, all ordered by shoe size (in centimetres). I wear 28.5. Well, it just so happens that that was the biggest size they had. Since this time, I’ve been poking around in shoe stores looking for slip-on shoes. At one place I saw slip-ons for $10 per pair, and I would have purchased two, but they only went up to 28! I looked around the rest of that store and I noticed that the half-sizes stopped at 28: 26.5, 27, 27.5, 28, then 29, then 30, then (likely) SOL. I’ll have to look for cheap shoes the next time I’m in a larger city.

I also met A. bowling. She’s a JET teacher on the south side of the city. We went to a concert the following day, and it was something else. The show was in a small, packed house called Crowbar – I took lots of pictures. (So did A. For me, she’s kind of like an evil twin; we both like taking photos, we both wear our backpacks everywhere, and we’re both… er, verbose. But she’s really really really straight-edge, just in case you netizens were getting any ideas. =)

Anyway, the show rocked. We even got to meet some of the performers afterward. I had fun explaining to a soulful singer that one gets their kicks on Route 66. I found out that he worked for a drinking water company; I could have sworn that music was his full-time job and that we were just blessed to have him in Tokushima that night.

And that brings us to this past weekend. On Friday, F. and I went to the cybercafé again – I’ll write about it and share what I wrote there tomorrow. (I promise that this journal will become less pedantic as time zips on, and I thank you for humouring me if you are.) Again, the cybercafé is five-star awesome.

On Saturday, it was cheap movie night again, and we saw The Golden Compass. What a movie! What a world! More than a few of us are going to start reading His Dark Materials just because of it. I’d give the movie a good 8 out of 10 – it was a lot cooler than I had expected based on reports of the so-so reviews it had been getting.

A. let us know before going in that we were in for a movie adaptation of the first instalment of a trilogy of books, so we weren’t expecting things to totally wrap up. Nevertheless, I found the ending satisfying anyway. But one of the other participants was sorely disappointed. He liked movies with endings that were, well, endings. A reasonable wish. He then said that he figured the title “The Golden Compass” meant that the story would be wrapped up in the one movie. But then we remembered The Philosopher’s Stone and The Fellowship of the Ring, and we had a good laugh.

On Sunday, we went to the musical Momotaro and the Revenge of Akaoni. It was a clever, witty, and well-acted pastiche, written and produced by JET participants in Tokushima. In fact, their theatre group has been running for about two decades, IIRC. We got to meet a few of the cast members after the show was over. They’d been rehearsing every weekend since Christmas, and they still had two more weekends of performances to put on. They were playing at a different venue every time (we saw them at Tokushima Hall), and I asked them about the logistical challenges involved in that – even some things like the texture of the stage can significantly alter some of the dance numbers, for instance.

Most importantly, though, one could see that they were having fun. I must also note that although the play was 95% English, there were many locals in the audience. Anyway, if F. and I are still around for 2009, we’ll definitely try to crash this group; they said we were welcome to audition or help even though we weren’t JETs.

After the show, we went to Jupiter for our import grocery needs. Jupiter lives up to its name – the planetary version is a giant solar system vacuum cleaner that cleans out all of the garbage from the inner solar system. The retail version is an effective Tokushima vacuum cleaner that sucks in the foreigners so that it’s possible to see them all in one spot. After we left, L. and I joked that between Jupiter and the play, we’d seen all of the foreigners in Tokushima. In fact, a pair of young foreigners I’d sighted in the audience had come to Jupiter straight from the play, just like we did!

Oh, this is good. I finally see the light at the end of the tunnel. One more day, and I’ll be caught up on this. Then I can start getting caught up on other things!

Until Then,
Your Pal,
- Will