Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Hooray for Kure

I'm here in Kure now. My month in Maebashi is up, and I'll be finishing out my contract in Kure, Hiroshima prefecture. This shit is heeeeeeeelllla far from Tokyo.

Over 7 hour train ride from Maebashi. I broke up the ride with a bottle of wine in Ueno park, in the middle of Tokyo, so I was nice and relaxed for the 5 hour shinkansen ride. I was sure to pick up some omiyage before I left though!

I've seen these things for sale in Tokyo train stations ever since I got here. I guess banana's grow in Tokyo? Well, whatever, I got some. I thought the idea of banana's from Tokyo would be a funny ice breaker with my new staff... but they didn't seem to find any humor in it. Actually, it's been 3 days and no one but your's truly has sampled the Tokyo Banana. Tastes like a Twinkie with banana filling. Yum.

What is Kure like? Well, so far it's...nice. It is kinda a cove, surrounded by lush mountains on 3 sides, and a bustling port on the other. I have heard of nice beaches nearby, and some good hiking in the hills. I don't know what social life is like here yet, since the other teacher here just started last week. I can easily see myself relaxing for the next 3 months, saving some money, studying some Japanese or whatever.

But maybe I'll discover some way to spend all my money.

Some totem pole from Kure's sister city in Washington state.

These paintings remind me of Kawagoe.

The Kure apartment is the shit!

FYI, here's a video of my apartment in Maebashi.

Next: Gotta explore the west. Hiroshima, Miya-jima, and Shikoku are a couple of the tourist destinations. Also, Osaka and all that shit is fairly close, maybe a few hours away.

Saturday, September 08, 2007

Mt. Fuji

It's the iconic symbol of Japan. The perfectly shaped conic mountain that is on every foreigner's list of things to do. I had planned to climb it a few times, but plans kept falling through. There is only a short 2 month season where it is readily accessible. Outside of the hiking season, the huts on the mountain close, the buses stop running, and the mountain becomes very cold and dangerous. We decided to hike it 2 days past the official end of the hiking season. This meant that there were no crazy lines to get to the top, no really young or really old folks, and a more relaxed hike. But on the other hand, it meant we had about 24 hours to do the hike instead of the 7 that we needed. The bus schedule just didn't work out to our advantage. We took it really slow. You may think this is better, taking it slow and easy. But in reality it just meant a lot of time freezing our asses off when we weren't moving.

Famous Mt. Fuji peach ice cream.

The shadow of the mountain as the sun was setting. As you can see, the weather up on the mountain was clear and perfect. There was a sea of clouds covering everything in the distance. Beautiful.

The route we took up, on the north side, still had plenty of omiyage shops open.

You can buy a crappy wooden hiking pole and get stamps burnt into it at every station. I'll settle for a photo of some random person's.

So we passed hut after hut, stopping at each one to rest and chat with other people. It was hot and we were feeling good. Then the sun went down. We kept warm by hiking, but the top wasn't far away. This was a very easy hike. Not technical at all. The lack of oxygen is noticeable near the top, but not enough to warrant the overuse of portable oxygen containers that every Japanese person had with them.

We tried to sleep for a bit around the 8th station. You can actually sleep in any of the many huts along the way, but we were being cheap, and $60 to sleep for a few hours didn't seem worth it. To sum up the night... it was very cold. But we did get to see a red moon rise, and we had a nice time with some astrophysics grad students trying to point out the different constellations.

On top dawn was spectacular. Like a rainbow on the horizon, a few hundred people lined the rim of the mountain's crater to watch the sun rise. Screams of "Banzai!" were shouted when the sun finally rose.

A short hike around the rim to the actual highest point, and the ups were done.

Time for the downs.

Taking a southern trail down held the promise of a giant volcanic sand dune that you could literally run down. I couldn't pass this up. But apparently everyone else could. I saw a total of 4 other people on the whole hike down. And then at the bottom we found out the bus wasn't running. But luckily we ran into 2 other foreigners with the same problem and we split a cab. We got to the train and I had a lovely 6 hour train ride back to Maebashi.

That's the sand dune in the distance. It was pretty amazing. You could run at full bore. There was no one around, so I was being dumb and doing tricks off of the larger rocks on the side of the trail. I had my hiking pack on, and was filming with my camera. All this and a little dehydration led to me slipping and eating it pretty hard. I managed to save the camera by sacrificing the skin on my forearm.

The huts on this side of the mountain were closed I think.

Here's my video of the trip!

Wednesday, September 05, 2007

Okayama Art Scene


Over a month ago, but here's what I got into in Okayama.

Weekdays were spent dodging hostess bar touts on my bicycle as I looked for somewhere interesting to eat. Lunches were good, for some reason there was an abundance of French cafes. But come dinner time, nothing was to be found. Rumors of an awesome burger place just led to me exploring the seedy downtown area. What is seedy? I took some photos:

This is of course a place where you can go to find info about various hostess bars, snack pubs, etc. Basically just info on the working girls.

I tried them all.


A normal sex information booth. But check out this next one!

If you live in Japan, this is funny. Here's a photo of a very popular nation wide convenience store.

I wanted a rice ball but came out with a cheap hand job...

Moving on... I went to the Okayama Digital Museum. Very strange place. The top floor permanent exhibit was a huge aerial photo of the city, with computers on wheels you could roll over and get info.

My company headquarters.

On the lower floor was this really really strange exhibit. Nonsense Machines are 26 different apparatuses, each one inspired by fish. Things like a machine that bruises you with fish scales to make a temporary tattoo...

to a fish looking bow...

to a fetus shaped talking gun.

It was humorous and the exhibit was well displayed. No photos allowed, so I had to sneak these. The fish typewriter, where a fish swimming would control a typewriter to create a book written by the fish was brilliant.


I spent half a day in Kurashiki. There is a quaint little canal area with tons of omiyage shops. But the real draw here is the Ohara Museum. Japanese art person bought up a good collection of western and Japanese modern art. Lots of French Impressionist, Italian Renaissance, and a good showing of what was important in the 20th century art world. No photos, but I managed to ninja some anyways.

The next day I was out.

Next: Mt. Fuji! I actually this time.