Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Hazy Cosmic Jive

Life in Japan is especially interesting during Golden Week, when I have no set plans! I'm also way busier than I expected to be, considering the “no set plans” part of the last sentence.

On Friday, Mie and I hit the road for Nagoya Castle, delicious Sukiyaki and an impromptu night of song with some fabulous Turkish men at a kebab restaurant.

Nagoya Castle was in a word, WOW! The castle is about 400 years old, though much of it was destroyed during WW2 and had to be rebuilt and restored afterwards. So in a sense, we're getting a reimaged snapshot of the castle: one piece construction, and one piece memory (which of course always contains its own part imagination). The castle tower is seven stories high, a huge achievement considering the time period. It is mainly made of stone and wood, though of course the foundations are stone (getting a 7 story high building in the 17th century isn't happening without a frak-ton of stone, not that I'm any expert of architecture).

After going to and through the castle, we had some delicious Matcha Ice Cream, wandered around Sakae for a bit (shopping and the like) and then enjoyed yummy, all-you-can-eat Sukiyaki! Sukiyaki is essentially meat and vegetables cooked in a delicious soy sauce based sauce and water. You cook it yourself in a heated pot at the center of the table (or between you and your friend) and then eat, and eat, and eat. I made sure to eat it the traditional way, which meant beating one raw egg into a bowl in front of you and then dropping the hot cooked meat and vegetables into the bowl to languish in the egg for a bit before eating it. Yup, that's a raw egg. I was a bit nervous about the possibility of salmonella, but Mie assured me that Japanese eggs were safe to eat raw, and since I have a cast-iron stomach, I figured, why not? It was much tastier than I expected, and when I finished out my first egg, I used a second to continue eating.

I really can't speak enough about how delicious Sukiyaki is. Both Mie and I ate until our stomachs hurt, and then we waddled back out into Nagoya with the intent of doing some intensive Karaoke to help speed digest the food. But instead of Karaoke, we wound up at a Turkish kebob place singing along with “Jackie” on his guitar and drinking tea. It was a fun time, and the tea was very similar to the tea at Aromatic House of Kebab, so thus delicious as well. Jackie and also had a great time talking about life and times, so we'll probably hang out again.

After Kebob style Karaoke, Mie and I returned to Toyota, where we then hung out at her place until way late. It's good to be getting a social circle here! And I'm loving having this vacation time!

On Saturday, as a spur of the moment thing, Eric decided to come visit me in Toyota. He wanted to do a long trip on his new motorcycle. This gave me a reason to clean my apartment (which was in dire straights) and also to show a new friend around my Japan hometown. As an aside, I utterly love Toyota City. Whenever I go away and come back, walking the uphill windy street to my little Leopalace Apartment, I feel a sense of peace and homecoming. (Even the Tacmate, the convenience store closest to my apartment, and probably the least convenient convenience store here in Japan—closed now for Golden week, the only one in Toyota that is—gives me a ridiculous burst of happiness when I walk past it on my way home.)

So it was fun to show Eric around a bit on Friday, introduce him to VITS karaoke (where the wonderful older woman who works there totally hooked us up in regards to cheaper than average nomihoudai) and then with drunken energy, continue on with vigor and a bit too much excitement onto the Saizeria (spelled wrong I'm sure, and a chain restaurant through Japan that serves dirt cheap and delicious Italian food), finally winding up at Kogame (my Izakaya) where he got to hang out and chill with some of the regulars (including Ito-san and Kato-san who I've been hanging out with since my first day at Kogame). We were quite Yoppara-ii (that's merry drunk. The word I had been mistakenly using to describe the state of being happy drunk was futsuyoi, though that's probably wrong spelling, actually means hung over, which explains why people kept asking me if I had a headache when I thought I was saying I was drunk. Much thanks to Mie for clearing that up.)

Eric and I managed to get to sleep before the sun rose...barely, and more importantly, get up in time for the Golden Month picnic in Nagoya the next morning. We met Mie and her friend Haruka at the Toyota Train station (surprise new person, yay!). Then it was a raucous train ride to Nagoya's Fushimi station (a nice train representative actually came over and with much bowing told us to keep it the frak down!) after which we made our way to the park where the picnic was being held. It was stunningly beautiful weather, bright and sunny and just a little hot. (I made sure to wear sunblock which was a really good decision because our camp area was for the large part in direct sunlight. )

At the park entrance, we realized that we had no idea what to do next, and we weren't the only ones. There was an accumulating group of people, many of whom were foreigners like me (this shindig was put on through some relationship to a Nagoya International Association, though JP appeared to do all of the legwork of setting things up.) I asked some confused looking folks “facebook?” and they said yes (or maybe they asked me, I don't remember) and soon we had a good sized group of people going to the same picnic.

Mie had JP's number in her phone (because she's cool like that) so we set off in the right direction, more or less. Our 50 person picnic was one of a zillion like it going on at the park, so finding our camping area was a bit of a task. Mie had to call more than once to get us oriented, but we made it! And the picnic, as promised, was packed full of great people, great fun and huge amounts of meat. Seriously about the meat. When a Japanese picnic promises meat, they don't play. We had bbq meat from a huge variety of animals, the most unusual being crocodile, which tasted EXACTLY like chicken, not that I pigged out on the scaly animal. Later though, during picture time, I made sure to get as many pics of me dangling the claw over my mouth. It's not everyday you can pretend to eat a crocodile claw.

After the meatfest, we got a group together for drinking and Karaoke which was incredibly fun. First, Sean (an utterly awesome individual) took us to a 280 yen Izakaya, where everything was 280 yen (food, drinks, everything). Surprisingly, more food was ordered, and since it was there, interesting and tasy, I ate even more. Though I did my best to avoid more meat dishes. I'm good on meat for a while. In fact, dinner tonight was veggies with shrimp shumai (seafood is still more meatlike than I wanted today, but it's what was in my fridge). In the States, you think of Japanese food as super healthy but between the massive amounts of crazy good snacks, processed breads, ippai meat in everything, fried food, and eggs (raw and otherwise), I'm sure my arteries are cussing me out every day.

And as yet another aside, today (Sunday) I had to make a firm decision to cut back on my food intake and major up my exercise as my pants are fitting me too tight on the hips and gut (I have no idea how much I weigh. Even if I could find a scale, it would be in kilograms). I also really need to get back to running. I meant to do that this week, but the partying and like made that not happen. Sho ga nai!

Tomorrow though, I've decided to have a real adventure and bike the12 km to a nearby Onsen that Ryuichi recommended. Google's walking directions quoted 2 hours 45 minutes (and seems to follow a relatively straight main road for most of it), so biking should take about half as long, but considering my Japanese land navigation skills, I'm budgeting 3-4 hours, and I only give myself about a 50/50% chance of finding the place. I'm also expecting to go about 20 km one way to somewhere, whether it's to the onsen in question or an abandoned rice field and alien abduction party, who knows? I'm super excited to find out though! Of course, by the time I'm done purchasing the tire repair kit, inner tubes and portable air pump for my bike, it'll probably cost me more than five trips there via bus or train. (I'm so pissed I left all of these vital supplies at home!) But I've been realizing that if I get a flat tire while out biking, I have no idea how to find a bike shop or how I'd get home. And that's SO not good!

But back to yesterday...at the 280 yen joint, we ate and drank and were quite merry. Afterwards, we went onto Karaoke with Nomihoudai (all you can drink), two hours for only 1,000 yen (that's $10). I was totally Yoppara-ii when we finally stumbled out. Which is why I felt like it was a brilliant idea to instead of going home to Toyota, continue wandering around Nagoya and find a club in Sakae to dance at. So Eric, Kanae, Tyrone and I went forth. Later, we were joined by Sean had who missed his train. The five of us had a fine time wandering drunkenly around the city, randomly talking to people, and even hanging out with skateboarders who were doing their thing randomly on the street (I briefly tried to skateboard, but then had visions of myself as a paraplegic and stopped).

Note: After Karaoke, I also did make the intelligent decision to stop drinking, and when I hit the convenience store for a bathroom, I also got some bottled water and food. As much of this entry is about my poor decision making, I wanted to get that one in here.

Things were going well until we got to the Manga Cafe to sleep (at about 3:30AM) and it was full. Which meant we had the option of Karaoke (3,000 yen for 2 hours—way too expensive!), find another manga-cafe, or just keep walking until 5:30am when the trains started. At this point, I was really tired (I'd only slept about 3 hours the night before, and non-consecutively) so I reverted back to my base nature: stubborn and cheap! Just because these places thought they had us by the virtual balls, damn if I wasn't going to keep walking! (usually when I get like this, someone in the group who is more rational takes over the decision making, but I don't think any of us were exceptionally rational at this point) Also, as we were leaving the Manga Cafe, Tyrone realized that he had left his bookbag at the kebob place we'd had 3am dinner at, and since the rest of us didn't stay at the manga-cafe we all went back to the restaurant together. This was a huge piece of good fortune for me, because in my exhausted state, I hadn't realized that I'd left my wallet (with passport) in the restaurant as well.

This was by far the stupidest thing I've done in Japan. I must have put it on the table when I was fishing through it for a pen to write something down. Thankfully (1) it doesn't look like a wallet at all, instead it's a small bag with flowers embroidered on it that Japanese people use to hold tissues. (it's large enough to hold my passport, which is why I bought it). (2) the people at the restaurant asked if we had left it, and I heard “bag with flowers” and my heart dropped.

As an aside, it seems I don't have to carry my passport around with me everywhere, as I'd thought. After this debacle, Sean let me know that a photocopy would work just as well for daily life. So I photocopied it this afternoon and the real passport stays home, in a hidden location. I made sure to thank the man who returned it to me profusely, though I probably came off a bit less gracious than I should have because I was so utterly pissed at myself for being so stupid.

After that, we went back towards the manga cafe area, but at this point it was after 4am, and the prices were exactly the same for staying in the manga-cafes, so we ended up just figuring we could just keep walking and maybe find an all night restaurant. Unfortunately, the all night diner does not exist in Nagoya. In fact, the entire city seems to have a good racket going to get you to spend ridiculous amounts of money to be inside between 1am and 5am, because the trains stop running basically at midnight and they put gates down to close you out from even sitting in the train stations.

We weren't the only zombified looking people wandering around Nagoya in the wee hours. Occasionally, another group of young men and ladies in club clothing would pass by us, sometimes exchanging a konban wa (good evening) or a nod or the like. Also, like the ladies in club clothing, my afternoon wear of skquirt (skirt that's really shorts) and short sleeved shirt with button down blouse as covering was not at all suited to predawn cold. So in addition to be exhausted, we were all somewhat freezing. (though I think Eric and I dressed the least appropriately for our predawn wanderings. We're the newbies)

Even when the sun rose (at 4:45am, first time I was glad to see that happen), it was still freezing. Under the cold dawn light, I had brief visions of Serenity (the movie): at this point, our party was the only group on the street, and we are walking down abandoned streets under an overly bright sun that made the corers of things feel sharp and strange. Whispers of “they all just laid down and died” passed through my mind. At that point, with my feet aching, arms huddled over my chest, and eyes heavy with tired, I turned to Jeff and shared this movie reference, and then said “Sadly, I can understand where they're coming from”.

At about 5am, we made it back to Fushimi, with about another 40 minutes before our station opened. I saw a small restaurant that was OPEN next to the Karaoke place, and even though we'd just eaten less than 2 hours ago, this was like a beacon. So long as we ate something, anything, we could sit down and not be so frakking cold! And the food was like 300 yen instead of 3,000, which seemed more than fair enough for me. So we parted ways with Jeff and Kanae (who it turns out had to walk all the way back to Sakae, which I felt terrible about since we'd been going in the other direction). I ordered and ate the food, as Eric is a picky eater on a good day, a meal that included another raw egg, which I just cracked and ate, scared that if it didn't look like I was eating everything with relish and vigor that they might throw us out.

The train ride home was uneventful (or if there were events, I totally missed them because I was unconscious.) When we got back to my place around 7:15, Eric and I both just passed out. I woke up at about 1:15; Eric slept for another half hour and left around 2ish. I had originally planned to return the visiting favor and crash with him in Ogaki for the night (and thus see another new place in Japan and so some more partying), but neither of us had any interest in that concept after our Nagoya deathwalk. Another time.

As today was a beautiful day, though I was still tired, I wanted to do something beyond sit in my apartment and waste my afternoon, so I took my bike out and decided to find Kosema Elementary School. (Since my mission in life in Japan seems to be to eat as much as possible, as often as possible, I'd like to bike to my schools as much as I can so that I can at least get some decent exercise). This was a fun excursion and was not only easier than I thought to find (I only got very mildly lost 2x) and the afternoon sun (unlike early morning) was warm and welcoming.

Also, while biking, I had a revelation about the Kanji for a song that I've been trying to practice at Karaoke but haven't known the reading of the Kanji for (or the original artist, apparently, as my version is Fukuyama Masaharu and Aiko as a duet, but neither of them have the song listed under their Karaoke collections, at least not at VITS). 居酒屋(いざかや-izakaya). I have no idea why I didn't know these Kanji in combination, as I belong to an Izakaya and izakaya are everywhere, but I don't remember seeing the first Kanji as a part of the combination, and as I have it memorized in it's ON Yomi (“kyo”- residence), I'd been trying to read the combination as Kyoshu + ya or shitsu (first is the correct Japanese reading, the second is the Chinese reading of a different Kanji, but I couldn't think of anything better). While listening to the song and biking, I heard the word Izakaya, and suddenly it hit me: “Duh! This song is all about drinking, the second Kanji is Sake and the third one is “ya” (roof), it's gotta be Izakaya!” On my way back towards my apartment, I tried to go to VITS and do a couple of hours of Karaoke (including this song), but as its Golden Week, they aren't having the 500 yen special, so no Karaoke until next week. Oh well...

This took way longer to write than I'd planned. As the clock approaches 1am, and Dar Williams croons out her cover of David Bowie's “Starman,” I realize it's well past time to go to bed. Especially if I'm planning on getting to this onsen and back before the sun sets tomorrow.

To bed!

BBQ Pics: http://www.facebook.com/vashti.bandy?cropsuccess#!/album.php?aid=2037648&id=1215105662