Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Slow Times in Japan, My Umeshu

10 months ago, I poured white alcohol over unripened apricots and rock sugar. It looked like this:

Now, after sitting around and being admired:


The loss is not due to the "angel's share", but an occasional tasting session. Now I need to drink it before the next batch of unripened apricots are ready to pick. On the rocks is the way to go.

For a recipe and more info. check out Blue Lotus.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Operation Hokkaido

I'm in the process of planning a big ass trip to the great white north of Japan. Though in August I don't think there will be much white. Just my pale, white ass on the seat of the bike. It's checklist time!

Bike... check!

The CB1000 is comfortable enough for a marathon drive, fast enough to induce bladder leakage, and loud enough to wake the neighbors. Random story, I was idling outside one day, at like 2pm, and some old dude came out and yelled at me for making too much noise. But he was wearing a Subaru racing t-shirt. That's like some dude coming out of a Slayer concert and complaining about "these damn kids with their bump in the trunk hippity hop".

Map... check!

The Touring Mapple series or road atlases are, to put it bluntly, fucking kick ass. The Hokkaido one has a listing of free onsens, free campgrounds, a detailed map of Shirakawa (a town known for ramen), and it can be dissolved in water to make a gasoline substitute if you run out of gas.

Vacation Time... check!

No high school from July 18th to September 3rd. That's hella rad. Downside is I have no income during that time. Hence my happiness at free campgrounds.

Camping Equipment... not yet!

I have the tent and sleeping bag. I've got my eye on a cozy Thermarest mat and a Jetboil cooking system. Also, I should buy a hammock. Hammocks are pimp.

Luggage... not yet!

Motorcycle luggage is god damn expensive. I really really want to outfit my ride with some Givi boxes. But a setup of 3 cases and all the mounting equipment costs almost a G. That's a thousand bucks for some Tupperware cases that bolt onto my bike. For my big tour a couple years back, I just bungeed a backpacking pack to the rear seat. It was hokey, but it worked.

ETC unit... not yet!

Highways are crazzzzy expensive here. The toll from Tokyo to Aomori, the northernmost part of Honshu, is like 15,000 yen. That's $150 cash money. But the government just passed a stimulus where highway tolls are only 1000 yen on weekends. I often pay more for a bowl of ramen. The kicker is that you need an automatic payment system installed in your vehicle. The other kicker is that the ones for motorcycles are back-ordered. You can read more about the fascinating world of ETC here. I asked at the motorcycle store place near my home, and they were like "Hmmmm, they are sold out and we have no idea when more will be here." Then they added the standard in Japanese たいへんですね.

Riding Gear... working on it!

My helmet is uncomfortable, my jacket is too big, my pants are just regular jeans.

There's a sale on the J-Force III helmet, Ima get that!

I've got an order in for some stylin Draggin Jeans. Them shits are reinforced with kevlar yo!

Whenever I find a jacket I like, it's over $600. I dig this one from Icon. Anyone have any ideas on how I can quickly earn $600?

A Plan... no where near it!

Just a checklist and a dream. But as soon as I click the publish button, I'm committed. 3...2...1...

Monday, April 20, 2009

The Fuji 5 Lakes

The 富士五湖, fujigoko, are 5 lakes on the north side of Mt. Fuji. Well, it was only 2 lakes, then around the year 800 the mountain erupted and the lava flow split the big one into 4 little ones. The fertile volcanic soil also gave rise to 青木が原, aokigara, which is like the number one place to commit suicide in Japan. Hella people just wander into the forest, never to be seen again.

View Larger Map

On a wonderful spring Sunday I took the CB1000 on a mission to see all 5. Let's go...

Lake Yamanaka


Coming from Tokyo, this is the first one you'll see. It's a rather boring lake, but it's proximity to the mountain, which hovers over you in all its glory, makes this a cool stop.


Not a lot going on here, the shore is just rocks. So head west a bit for the most popular destination of the 5...

Lake Kawaguchi


If you want to relax in a $400 a night hotel and sip martinis on your balcony while the sun sets over Fuji, this is the place to go. There's plenty of ways to spend (waste?) your money here, like rides in a giant swan-shaped boat or an herb museum.



Or you could take part in something free with your kids.


Dinner or a new addition to the family?


Lake Sai


Looks like this is a good place to chill. No motor boats or developed buildings, and gravel beaches next to clear cool water. Are you thinking what I'm thinking? Skinny dipping this summer!

There are also some caves which cater to tourists. I went to one called the "bat" cave, and after getting my jeans covered with... cave goo... I was told the bats hibernate until summer.

Lake Shoji


Super puny lake. Apparently the fishing is good here.


Lake Motosu


The last lake, and farthest to the west. This lake has the view found on the back of the 1000 yen note. It also has a yellow submarine that you can ride around in. With the John Lennon museum in Saitama, and now this, Japan is a veritable mecca for Beatles fans. I was kinda beat by this point, and wanted to make it back to the mountains above Lake Kawaguchi to see the sunset.


Honest, it looked exactly like that!


There was a local photo club up there, waiting for the clouds to clear a bit.


About a total of 400 km to drive from Tokyo to the mountains and back. Access is very fast on the expressways, but expect some traffic on the way back if it's a Sunday. I opted to take Route 20 to some mountain roads out there in the morning, then the express on the way back at night.


Thursday, April 16, 2009

Spring Apparently Came


The 4 seasons are celebrated in Japan. The horrid, swamp-like summers and freezing, dry winters are cut by the amazing (relatively) days of spring and fall.

I stood next to my motorcycle at a rest stop on a mountain overlooking Hakone. This was during the first days of April. It had officially been spring for some time. It was snowing. A real "What the fuck" moment.

10 days later, and I'm kicking myself for wearing pants outside the house. I have to consult a kanji dictionary to find out how to turn my air conditioner from heater mode to cooler mode. It sucked.

But it was nice for 10 days, so at least I got that.

Wednesday, April 08, 2009

Ramen Books

Two options for info on ramen in Japan. Your first choice:


A whole shelf with hella books on the subject. Seriously, that's like 20 books written about ramen. But... dizam... all in Japanese. That brings us to your second option.

My Ramen Blog!

Go subscribe to that shit.

Sunday, April 05, 2009

Magic Money from the Shinto Gods


It was late February. I stood in a Shinjuku silversmith's shop, trying on some skull rings that weighed more than my camera. They also cost more than said camera. I remember thinking, "What if I just spend all my income this year? 90% of the foreigners I regularly see live check to check. I could be living large with some serious shit. I'm talking iPhones and gold chains!"


Sure enough though, my thoughts of decadence jinxed me. I arrived home to find an email saying that my Junior High job, which provided the bulk of my income, had been cut from about 12 working days down to 3 in March. A couple of days later, some of my February working days were cut as well. Some bullshit about the board of education going over budget or something. Dreams of lizard skin boots and a new Tag Heuer became a realization of daily ramen (the 100 yen kind you make at home).


But the Shinto Gods, who watch over us in Japan smiled on me, for it is tax season. I wasn't planning on doing taxes, to tell the truth. But the happy eyes of a friend at one of my other companies changed my mind. A couple hours of paperwork, research, and waiting in some lines at the local government building and I had a huge tax refund. Magic money. But the Shinto gods (or maybe just the government) wasn't done yet. A couple weeks later, they announced that foreigners in Japan will receive the same stimulus money as Japanese. 12,000 yen... just for basically having a pulse. Magic money.


Even more magic money came in the form of forgotten retirement accounts, some almost 10 years old. And... oh snap... my paypal account which I never check has a balance.


So, yeah, my Junior High job is finished. But, like so many living in Tokyo, multiple forms of employment is the norm. My first year and a half in Japan, I had a steady, well paid job. But that just doesn't seem possible for English teachers in Tokyo. For real, salaries are actually lower in the city than out in the countryside. It's simple supply and demand. Multiple part time jobs is the way to go. Take a cue from the classics:

Starting next week, I'll be at a new position at a private High School. Will a cream of the crop group of smart girls bust out with some random shit like my Junior High students? Probably.


It's taken me about 2 hours to write all this. Not because I'm at a loss for words, but because I've been watching old Youtube clips of In Living Color.


Time to go apply for some more jobs-