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Browsing Posts published in May, 2007

It’s soda, not pop

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Grape Soda in Japan!? Awesome. Grape soda in Japan! I guess they have Fanta Grape, but I never drink that and don’t even know what it tastes like. This stuff, called Cheerio 700 for some weird reason, is advertised as a low calorie soda, and it tastes pretty watered down. This is no Vess or Whistle Grape soda, that’s for sure!

After drinking about half the bottle, I have to say that this stuff is terrible. Whatever excitement I had when I saw this multi-colored bottle in the store has since dissipated. I wish they still had Bubbleman around. What a sweet soda.

Hermes Conrad

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I haven’t really had to deal with any Japanese bureaucracy for quite a long time, although today’s trip to the Immigration Office certainly made up for the drought. The basic premise of this journey was simple. Since I’m going to Hong Kong next week, I need to get a re-entry permit for Japan, otherwise my work visa is canceled when I leave the country. I can’t do this through the mail? Fine. I’m fine with that. I thus have to go in person to the closest immigration office, which is luckily up in Chiba not too far away. I was informed to go there with my passport, fill out a form, and I will then receive the stamp in my passport that will allow me to come and go as long as my working visa is valid. Sounds easy, right?

I went to Chiba, took the monorail to the City Hall station, and found the Chiba Chuo Community Center where the immigration office is housed. I enter and the place looks like a terrible airport terminal waiting area. Boring white walls, boring white furniture, crappy signs all over the place in Japanese and Engrish, and 1 tiny TV against a wall that was playing some samurai soap opera. On the far side is a barricade of counters, where the officers were working and slowly calling people to step up with their paperwork This place was packed. It actually seemed to be primarily packed with hostess ladies and/or prostitutes, either active (with their old man Japanese sugar daddy in tow), or former (older, even fatter and uglier, and with a bunch of kids). Now, of course not all of these women were necessarily sleazy bar hostesses, but I’m willing to bet a good share of them were.

I use the dispenser machine to get a number for waiting in line. I was number 457. I looked up and saw that they were on around 305. Great. I go back to one of the tables and get my form and fill it out. Went downstairs to the Post Office to get a 6000-yen stamp for the payment. Pretty much the Japanese equivalent of a money order, although it’s just a small postage stamp. I remember holding it and going back upstairs thinking to myself don’t drop it, don’t drop it. I come back upstairs and check out what number they were on. 307. What?! About 20 minutes and they had only moved 2 numbers? I knew then it was going to be a long day.

There is actually a Yamada Denki electronics store less than a block away, so I figured I would have time to go there for a quick look around, then come back. I was gone for almost 25 or 30 more minutes. They were on like 312. To make a long, long, painfully long story shorter, I spent about 3 hours walking around the Community Center building, either listening to my iPod, calling travel agencies to finalize my HK plane tickets, or staring at the Yamaha Music store wondering “why is this in a supposedly government building?” When they were at around 450, I went to go sit near the number display on the counter since you can’t really see it unless you’re really close. Finally, they called me, I submitted my application, passport, and Gaijin card. I sit down, and start writing a mail on my phone. Before I can even finish the short little message I was writing, they call me up. I thought there was some kind of mistake. Nope, it was done. In less than 2 minutes, he had approved, processed, and validated my passport for multiple re-entries into Japan. I’m sure the most time-consuming part was him peeling off the printed barcode to stick in my passport. 3 hours of waiting for the guy to give me a sticker.

I don’t completely understand why you have to hand them your application/passport. You are waiting to just give them your paperwork. You’re not waiting for them to process it, because you don’t need a number for that. You are taking a ticket and waiting for several hours just to hand the desk clerk your documents. Wouldn’t it make more sense to immediately upon arrival receive your paperwork, maybe even do a quick check to make sure that’s you, then let you go do whatever for a few hours, coming back at your convenience to pick up your newly stickered passport? I hate government offices like this.

Anyway, I am all set now. Booked my plane ticket on JAL, paying for it tomorrow, then I’ll be ready to go. I’m looking forward to not only having a 4-day mini vacation, but also to being able to buy tons of counterfeit stuff and eat awesome Chinese food for cheap.

Spur

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This is somewhat spur of the moment for me, but I think I might go on vacation to Hong Kong in a few weeks. I took off 2 days in early June during a counseling week, meaning that there are no normal classes, thus giving me a Friday-to-Monday 4 day weekend. I didn’t really have any plans in mind; I just took off because I needed to use up some of my vacation days, and because that week is the easiest for my school since they won’t have to rearrange any of my classes. Someone asked me today at work “what are you doing for your 4 days off?” and I realized how dumb it sounded to say that I had no plans. Somehow the fact that I live 3 minutes away from work makes it even more ridiculous to me. So, I figured I should maybe take a trip.

It looks like for around or less than 400 bucks I can get a round trip ticket to Hong Kong, which would be the nearby Asian locale that I want to go to the most. Somewhere in Korea, probably Seoul since I know nothing about Korea, was in second place, but the lure of buying cheap counterfeit goods and eating cheap delicious food easily wins it for HK. Also Derek is over there so I can hang out with him. There are a few Japanese travel sites and such that I’ve been looking at, with super cheap fares, but they seem too good to be true. It looks like they either don’t include the charges and fuel taxes, or they’re really cheap but you don’t even know what airline or flight you’ll be on until really close to the departure day. Seems a little sketch for me. I’ll prolly just stick with trustworthy ol’ Expedia and take myself a vacation.

Anyone have any good recommendations for finding cheap flights, or on what to do in HK?

Yakety Yak

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三社祭、浅草

What could have been another fairly normal Sunday of sleeping, walking around, going to arcades, and making fun of Chicken Heads instead turned into another slightly strange yet sweet Japanese festival.

Checked out the Sanja Festival (三社祭) in Asakusa, one of the major Tokyo summer festivals, which has been going on since Edo times, I believe. It also happens to be a festival that the local yakuza actually take part in, and you can see them riding on the mikoshi floats, almost completely naked to show off their full-body tattoos. Although seeing a bunch of old Japanese guys wearing nothing but a sweat rag to cover their balls might not seem like entertainment, it was pretty cool to see the yak tattoos. Not so much the buttcracks. I’ve got a bunch of pictures from the festival like the above one, which I’ll upload someday on my Pictures page. For now, I uploaded 2 short videos on YouTube from the festival. They’re both from the same mikoshi float, but different sides of it.

The first is of some crazy looking older yaks, most likely high-ups of some kind. Especially the guy in the black coat with the permed and orange hair. The second has 3 nearly naked guys covered in tattoos. They’re all somehow standing up on a float that is being carried and bounced up and down by a group of people. It must be nauseating riding that thing.

You can see, kind of, from the videos how loud and crazy this festival was. Of course I only saw a bit of it on Sunday, the last day of the 3-day event, but it was packed full of people and there were tons of onlookers following each mikoshi as they paraded up and down the streets. People were cheering and clapping for the yaks on the mikoshi like they were national heroes. Maybe they kind of are. I’ll bet that if the police or something had a festival, people wouldn’t be nearly as happy. And there wouldn’t be any sweet clapping in rhythm.

10 Gratuitous Megapixels

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I meant to post these a few weeks ago when I first got it, but here are the very first two photos I ever took with my new digital camera (Casio Exilim Zoom EX-Z1050). The first is of Goi Station from in front of my school’s building. The second is the big Sun Plaza building right next to the station. Click on the thumbnails to see the FULL pictures. They’re huge; 10 megapixels big. Around 3 megabytes each.

五井駅 サンプラザ

GW Wrap Up, Back to Twerk

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Golden Week’s already over.

So yeah, on Thursday went to LaLaPort in the daytime. Had lunch at the Shakey’s there, where Nick had the balls the challenge me to a pizza eating contest. It was a grueling match, with me defeating Nick as he was nearly in tears with his 14 slices of pizza. I had 15 slices, and claimed victory as the Shakey’s Champion. Afterwards, we both felt rightfully ill and I spent the rest of the day digesting. Nick somehow needed the rest of the week to do this. Anyway, that night we went to hang out in Chiba with Sato-san at an Izakaya. I was still full of pizza, so it was hard to do anything but rock back and forth. Either way, it was a fun night that ended up with Nick trying his eyebrow-slicked “hey hey kanojo” pickup line on random old women outside of Chiba station. And when I say old, I mean like over 50. Pretty gross. He was joking, at least I think (and hope).

On Friday, headed into Tokyo and checked out Shinjuku, Harajuku, and the Meiji Shrine. Brian met up with us after recovering from a week of being tourguide, and we walked down Takeshita street. UNFORTUNATELY at some point during the walk back from Meiji to the end of Takeshita, I realized I had dropped and lost my sunglasses. Rest in peace, trusty old black aviators. We had a lot of good times. Anyways, me, Nick, and Brian wanted to hit up Tabasa for dinner, since we were in the mood for some all-you-can-eat hip hop and jelly, but the line was super long and we opted to go around the corner to a very similar (looking) place offering all-you-can-eat pasta and pizza and stuff. Big mistake. The place we went to, called Gonzo’s or something Italian with a G, had sub-par cold food, pizza that was hard as a rock, and not even any hip hop. Add on top of that a fat Russian waitress who could barely speak English let alone Japanese, and a table of lowlife hippie types who came in about 30 minutes after us, and you can see that I will never go to a Harajuku pasta buffet ever again that is not named Tabasa.

After eating, we walked around Kabukicho for a bit, looked around, and got harassed by some Nigerian princes who wanted us to come to their clubs. Mainly we just went to a few arcades there, and realized that karaoke would be too expensive at this early in the evening. Thus, we went to Shibuya around 10PM to kill some time before finding an all-night karaoke spot. Went to The Lockup*, which was actually pretty sweet although there were no jail breaks or monsters. The nomihoudai was decent, and about the same price as a normal izakaya. We had the Electric Shocks first, which were as bad as before. After that, went to a Shibuya branch of Utahiro; not the one I went to last time in Shibuya, and it was a nice place. Did that all night, during which time I was given permission to use Nick’s phone to be a jerk to his ex; some yakuza-speaking girl who didn’t believe I wasn’t Japanese. It was pretty funny. After karaoke ended at 5, hit up McDonalds for some breakfast, saw some cops get all riled up because of a security alarm going off, and then headed back home. All in all a good Shibuya all nighter.

*Note: I uploaded my first YouTube video; us entering The Lockup. There are automated traps and stuff that are supposed to scare you. I took it with my new camera, so it’s pretty shaky, dark, and terrible, but hey, it’s online.

After getting home around 7 and sleeping for a few hours, Nick headed back to Hyogo via Shinkansen. I slept some more and headed to Chiba to hang with Brian for the usual family restaurant/arcade excursion. We ended up finding a trick to one of the UFO Catcher-type machines, and ended up walking away with an entire bag each of plastic Mario Mushrooms. Pretty awesome. Sunday hit up Global Viking again, and saw Spider-Man 3 again. It was totally worth it for the Venom scene, and also since Blanchard and I used our IU IDs to get student tickets.

Today, Tuesday, I started back up at work. It’s seriously rough having 9 days off, with complete freedom, fun, etc, then having to haul back into work. I couldn’t even speak slow enough to my first student today, so for the first half of class he had no idea what I was saying. I’m not going to write more about work now, since it will make me depressed. Tomorrow I have to wake up early and go to the head office in Shinjuku for a workshop. Yippy skippy.

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