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年末 Back to the Japan

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At multiple points during the past few months, I’ve (OK fine, only very slightly) deluded myself into believing that 2012 would have me jumping back on the blogging bandwagon, rather than neglecting this poor excuse of a website, save for a minor post once every few months that consists mostly of me talking about how I don’t blog anymore.  So ignoring that, I’m not going to waste any more time talking about not blogging.  I am going to just do it.  So hold on to your butts, here comes a somewhat old-school style mind barf as I recount my short trip back to old Nippon in a semi-followable manner.

START UP!

Despite booking the ticket to Japan back in like August, it still seems like it kind of crept up on me.  Could have been because December was pretty busy with school and work, but all of a sudden it was Christmas and even sooner after that I realized that I needed to pack to head over to Japan.  This was the first time going back since returning to the US in August of 2010.  Nervousness, anxiety, curiosity, dyslexia – I had none of these issues while preparing for my “return voyage.”  As I’ve explained to a few people since, going to Japan just isn’t a huge deal for me anymore.  It’s along the same lines as if I’m going to take a trip to Bloomington: I of course look forward to revisiting old hangouts, seeing friends who are still around, walking down familiar streets, and all that normal stuff.  It’s fun and I love going, but going to Tokyo is no longer a big adventure.  It really doesn’t even feel like I’m going to a foreign country at all.  I don’t think this is a bad thing, but rather something to be expected after so many trips to Japan, topped off by living there full time for four years.  So while it might sound amazing to some people when I say “I’m spending New Years vacation in Tokyo,” really it’s not such a big deal for me.

I was back in the Tokyo/Chiba area for about a week and a half total, which seems like a long vacation but honestly still is a pretty short trip.  Especially when trying to meet up with so many people in the area and hitting up old favorite restaurants and shops, I do kind of wish I could have stayed longer.  I definitely feel like I didn’t waste any days over there though – pretty much every day had something planned at least roughly.  It seems like a lot of old friends would say “wow  you haven’t changed at all!” which I guess is better than hearing something like “my god you’ve turned into a totally different person” or “Godzilla is attacking the city!”  At first I thought it was a little strange, but I did quickly come to realize that although a  year and a half had passed, not much really had changed.  Everyone and everywhere is pretty much the same as before, which I guess should be kind of expected.  It’s hard to explain the feeling.  I guess if anything, it was weird that it wasn’t weird to be back in Japan.

This is getting a lot more introspective than I thought it would have.  I guess I should give more details about what I actually did during my week and a half over there.  I didn’t really do anything touristy of course, so it was more just hanging out with friends and hitting up old tabehodai buffets and restaurants.  Also I expectedly bought a decent amount of plastic toys and junk.  Surprisingly though, my suitcases didn’t come back as full as I might have thought they would.

The flight over to Narita was via Chicago, on an early morning series of flights.  Following my modus operandi for international travel, I stayed up the entire night beforehand packing, which means I was pretty exhausted as I stumbled around O’Hare waiting for my international flight.  Finally got to my seat, and luckily there was an empty seat in my row so I could spread out a bit more with an empty seat separating me from the next passenger.  I slept around a total of 6 or 7 fairly solid hours during the 11 hour flight, eventually watching some TV on my iPhone.  Breezed through immigration, getting the first stamps in my brand new, renewed passport, and picked up the rental SIM card I had pre-arranged for my iPhone.  It did feel slightly cool and spy-like, picking up a package at the airport post office, going to a bench in the corner, swapping the SIM card from the rental phone into my own, and having my iPhone work in Japan.  Or it might have just been the jetlag and lack of sleep doing their thing.

As I was spending the first few nights of my trip in Chiba, at the Mitsui Garden Hotel just 2 or 3 blocks from my old apartment, the nostalgia kicked in pretty quick.  Took JR from the airport to Chiba, and cabbed it from there.  First meal was kind of late, at Choshimaru, for real sushi that was actually prepared fresh with fresh ingredients.  It might not be a fancy place, but it’s light years above what they have in St. Louis (no offense to the many St. Louis sushi shop owners who I’m sure read this blog religiously).   Crashed hard that night, sleeping until late the next afternoon.  Jetlag wasn’t too bad after that, although my sleep schedule was slightly weird for the first few days.  It might not have helped that there was an all night party/karaoke planned for my first full day in Japan.  I was surprised that I could stay awake for as long as I did, being jetlagged and out of practice for so long.

Hmm… If I actually do a full, detailed description of every day back in Japan, this entry will be way too long.  I’m going to have to kind of summarize stuff from here on out.  I’ll throw in some pictures though, since supposedly 1 picture is worth 1,000 words.  Coincidentally, this is much, much better than the exchange rate of 1 USD to Japanese Yen.

千葉神社での初詣

Spent New Years Eve in Chiba, with the countdown to 2012 at The Hub.  On New Years Day checked out Chiba Shrine for a kind of hatsumode I guess, which was actually pretty cool because I don’t recall ever going to a shrine on New Years Day proper.  It was of course super packed with people.  That afternoon I changed hotels to spend the middle portion of my trip in “THE TOKYO.”  Got a pretty good and cheap hotel, the Keikyu EX Inn Asakusabashi-Ekimae, which ended up being great and a good central base of operations for doing stuff in the city.  Went to Kamen Rider The Diner in Ikebukuro, saw the national college rugby semi-finals, and almost died eating shabu-shabu tabehodai.  I feel like my mass-eating skills have gone down significantly since leaving Japan, which is kind of a shame.  It was delicious, but wow there is only so much beef and goma-dare you can eat.  The next morning I experienced a post-food coma food-hangover of epic proportions, which could be the really disgusting plot for The Hangover Part 3 if those writers get really desperate.  

Ichiran ramen - I am drooling as I look at this pic

Speaking of food, that was definitely one of the highlights of the trip, since it really is just totally different being back in the States.  When you’re in Japan for a long time, you really start to miss stuff like pizza, Mexican food, and steak.  I mean, you can get all of those foods in Japan, but they’re just not the same.  They’ll work, and there are even some good places to go, but you still always are wishing you could get stuff from the other side of the pond.  Well after being in the US for a long time the same thing starts to happen with Japanese food.  Sushi, ramen, donburi, and stuff like that are kind of available in the US (especially in places like LA or NY), but it’s still not the same.  So being back in Japan was awesome at the very least just because of all the good food.

Y's 新年会 2012Got to see a lot of old friends (thanks to everyone who made time to hang out!) at random times during the trip, but the main event was of course a massive party at Y’s with tons of people.  Since the IES days in 2004, Y’s really has been the location for some of the best and most memorable events and parties, so it was awesome to go back and do another one there like in the old days.  Bryan and Karen, who also live back in the US now, happened to be  in Japan while I was there so it really was like a massive reunion.  All in all it was a great time and I got to see a ton of people who I hadn’t seen in at least the year and a half since I moved back to St. Louis.  Even certain friends who only have a 60% encounter rate for Y’s events showed up, haha.  We went back to Chiba afterwards for all night karaoke again and I actually managed to stay up the whole time.

The last part of my trip I went back to stay Chiba, and was able to meet up with some old AEON people, etc. who couldn’t make it to Y’s because of the Saturday work shifts.  It’s hard to believe that it’s been so long since I graduated college and moved to Japan to work as an English teacher.  Actually, I only now realize as I type this that that was about five and a half years ago.  Things have changed but then again they really haven’t.  I could definitely see myself moving back to Japan at some point, although I am honestly pretty happy with the way things are progressing back in St. Louis right now.  I’m definitely not going to just settle down here for good just yet, so maybe in a few years I’ll get the urge to work and live abroad again.  I guess you could say that life right now is a lot more routine than during the years I spent in Japan, but I don’t know if that’s because I’m busier and living in the American suburbs, or if it’s just because I’m getting older.  Eh, I’m not really worried about it because I still have several more years of wandering around the planet trying to figure out what I’ll do when/if I grow up.

And with that, since my eyes are starting to close on their own  I guess I will wind down this absurdly long post.  I am seriously going to try to at least post more often than once a month during 2012, but that is a promise that will most likely be broken several times if not every month.  Actually, I’m sure I’ll have at least one  follow up post regarding weird or random stuff I saw in Japan, so there is at least some content there.

California 2010

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Palo Alto, CA

I went out to California in mid-October for my cousin Mei’s wedding.  We flew into San Jose and traveled up to San Fransisco twice during the trip, but the majority of my time was spent in Palo Alto, on or around Stanford’s campus where my now cousin-in-law goes to school.

Pretty much the entire trip was spent eating, which I guess is pretty much one of the only things a guest at a wedding needs to worry about.  That, and wearing something decent for family photos, of which we took approximately five thousand.  I can’t imagine how many total photos the bride and groom were forced to take, but it was probably closer to a million.

I’m already slipping out of chronological order, which is not good for continuity or coherence.  So first up was a fairly early Thursday morning flight to LA, where we changed planes to go to San Jose.  I don’t think there was much to note about the two flights other than me falling asleep almost immediately on both of them.  In LA since we had like a two hour layover we got California Pizza Kitchen for lunch, which kind of a mistake at LAX considering each 10-inch pizza costs about the same as a semester of community college.  From San Jose my uncle picked us up and drove us up to Palo Alto, where our hotel was.  After checking in and saying hey to some relatives, I jumped on the CalTrain, which happened to be right next to the hotel, and rode it up to San Fransisco since it was going to be my only free night to hang out with friends there.  Got to catch up with the VidSF crew, Kieran, Steve, and Ray, and checked out the shared office they use which was pretty awesome.  We got dinner and drinks in Japantown at a place called Mums which had shabu-shabu tabehodai and nomihodai for a pretty good price.  It was like being back in Japan already. We were pretty stuffed by the end of it.  Mueller is out in SF too and he showed up about halfway through at Mums, so it was great to see him too.  Stayed out until last train (haha just like Japan!) and managed to get back to the hotel in one piece around like 2AMish.

Dad's favorite restaurant, Bow Hon

Next morning, woke up and loaded into a car with my parents, brothers, cousin, and uncle and drove up to… San Fransisco!  Yeah, if I would have planned it better I should have just spent the whole night there but oh well.  Anyway the main goal of this little excursion was to check out Chinatown, where my family used to come quite a bit for family trips.  Things are pretty much exactly the same as I remembered, which isn’t saying a whole lot since they are just very general memories.  These include:

  • Lots of old dudes gambling in the one main pigeon park.
  • Lots of restaurants with awesome food.
  • Lots of stores selling junky crap, like coolie hats, snap ‘n pops, chopsticks, and those postcards with naked ladies on them.
  • More old Chinese people.
  • Some funky smells on the street with origin unknown (for the better).

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So yeah, good old SF Chinatown!  I actually really love this place and wish we would have had more time to stay there.  We ended up doing some browsing at random stores, buying food at at least two bakeries, and then later eating lunch with another cousin and her family.

After eating way too much food in Chinatown, it was time to pile back into the car around our boxes of mooncakes and get back to Palo Alto for the rehearsal dinner.  This was at a very authentic Italian restaurant.  Having an all-Hispanic staff is pretty authentic Italiano, right?  I am pretty sure there were at least 4 main dishes at this dinner.  Two of my uncles had joined us by this time, so pretty much we had my dad’s entire side of the family in one room for the first time I can actually remember.  Too bad my Uncle Ron missed out on that $50 bottle of wine.  Shoot. Oh yeah –  I can’t really remember now, but the men’s bathroom at this restaurant was pretty sketch.  There were either breasts everywhere (paintings, pictures, sculptures, etc) or penises.  I only remember being uncomfortable.

That night, the night before the wedding, there was a traveling party of sorts with the groom’s friends on Stanford campus.  I don’t want to go too much into this whole exciting evening, but somehow Stanford being a private campus means it is a bizzaro land where the police don’t act like you would expect and you can wheel an active keg around all you want.  Me and my brother were all ready to devise some kind of exit strategy at the library but we didn’t even need to.  Pretty crazy.  After the non-incident with the police, my brothers and cousins decided it was time to head back anyway, so we walked from campus.  Little did we know that this would be like a 45-minute hike.  It’s a straight shot, but Stanford’s “driveway” has got to be several miles long.  We couldn’t even see the light from where we started when we were like midway through.  To make up for all that walking we ended up driving to In N Out that night at like 2AM.

Congrats to Mei and Josh!

Day of the wedding, we were all up fairly early to get dressed, etc.  Headed back to Stanford, this time on a bus (thank god) and the wedding ceremony was held at the school’s chapel.  It was a shortened version of a full Catholic ceremony, which made it much shorter.  There was a lot of stuff that was different from my image of a Catholic wedding (as seen on TV), like the circle of power, the chairs up on stage, etc.  And also, not being Catholic I was a little thrown off when the audience had lines and everyone seemed to know what they were supposed to reply back to the priest when he called out.  I have no idea.  Also at the end there was like a “give me your energy” hand motion salute thing that struck me as a little awkward, but all in all it was a really nice ceremony.  After the nice ceremony we all went outside where around 5000 photos were taken.

At the cocktail hour after the wedding, my Uncle Jeff ate approximately half the ocean’s worth of shrimp by scoping out where the waiters come out of the kitchen.  Sneaky.  Later in the evening we had the full reception dinner which was really good.  Then more photos, my cousin dancing, and I think that was about it.  Oh yeah, you know “Bros Icing bros?”  They did that at the reception to the groom and the groom’s father.  Normally I’d be against this kind of thing but it ended up being pretty funny.

We had brunch the next morning and from there headed back to St. Louis.  It was a pretty awesome weekend, and kind of counts as a mini family reunion as well I guess.
Congrats again to Mei and Josh!

August Return to America

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I think a lot of people have heard by now, but I’m coming back to the US in August.  No, not just for a vacation – for good!  OK not necessarily for the rest of eternity, but yes I am actually moving back to live in St. Louis for what will probably be a fairly long period of time.  Originally I was planning on coming back sometime in September or November, but it’s been pushed up to sometime in mid-August.  I’ll be working in St. Louis and slowly going back to school.  Just at night for now, but eventually going for a Master’s I guess.  That’s pretty much the main reason for the earlier than planned return, since the fall semester at the university I’m going to take classes at starts the last week of August.

It will be just short of the 4-year mark of when I moved out here after college to start working.  It’s been a long time since I’ve lived for real in the US, so while it’s hard to imagine that I’m going to be leaving Japan for good, I am starting to get excited about my return.  It’s going to be nice to actually drive places instead of doing a bicycle/walk/train combination.  It’s going to be nice to have an apartment larger than an American hotel room.  It will be great to see all the friends and family that I haven’t been able to see much over the past few years.  And it will be absolutely amazing to be able to get real American food every day.

I of course complain about things here in Japan a lot, but that’s natural.  Obviously I like living here, otherwise I wouldn’t have stayed for so long.  So yes it will be a big transition, but I think it’s about time.  Time to get more focused on my career and future, time to live a life that’s not as temporary as I sometimes see my current situation here in Japan.  I’m going to try and fit in a lot of stuff before I leave Japan, including of course seeing a lot of friends and people that have made Japan home.  I’m slowly working on my list of stuff to do/see/eat before leaving, a “bucket list” of sorts if you want to reference a terrible movie that I’ve never seen.  So far the list is fairly sparce, but it includes:

  • eat at an Iron Chef’s restaurant
  • go to a mahjong parlor
  • hit up the museums and zoo in Ueno
  • (maybe) check out the parasite museum in Tokyo
  • (maybe) visit another Asian country while I can get flights for less than $300
  • tabehodais: Top Run, FuuFuuTei, Moo Moo Paradise
    (of course not all in the same day, as impressive as that would be)
  • all nighter at the video game bar in Shibuya

 

A lot of the things on my list I’ve done before, some more than others, but I’m putting them on the list to make sure I can do it again before leaving.  So of course if you’re interested in hanging out before I leave and/or knocking off things on this list with me, let me know.  The next 3 months are going to go by a lot faster than I can even imagine, but I’m going to try to make the most of it.  America, I hope you’re ready for me to come back.

3W + ∀

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Phew. Wedding week is finally over. Last week I had 3 (pairs of) friends get married/have wedding parties, meaning that in a 7-day period I had a total of 2 receptions, 3 after parties, and 2 after-after parties to attend. It was a busy and expensive week. On top of that, Ari, Seth, and NR7000 were in town so there was the 2010 A-Team reunion to add to the Earth-shattering awesome festivities.

Monday was a holiday here in Japan, so Yuri and Sho-chan had their wedding party down in Kamakura. I hadn’t been out there in probably a few years and the weather was really nice. The wedding reception was super close to the shrine where the ceremony was performed, and it was a huge formal reception afterwards. Blanchard and I sang the Kishidan wedding song which was embarrassing to say the least, especially considering that the families of the bride and groom were also there. At least we uhh… practiced a lot for that. Ha, ha. The pressure and shame were short lived though, since the third and final karaoke song performed at the reception was by the bride and groom, meaning by the time they finished everyone had hopefully forgotten about the two off-key gaijin who sang earlier.

On Wednesday Seth somehow overcame his broken leg, broken cell phone, and broken computer and arrived in Japan.  Oops!  Met up with him in Tsudanuma and I grabbed some food at Jonathan’s while Seth sat around shocked that the restaurant was 99% chicks.  Then headed into the city to meet up with Bryan and Brian for some yakiniku tabehodai.  Thursday Nick came up via shinkansen, and we went to a creepy maid cafe in Akihabara.  They’ve got a stamp card system, with the top tier “Black Card” requiring over 2000 visits.  That is not a typo.  Two.  Thousand.  According to our maid, there are about 6 or 7 potential serial killers with multiple mental disorders who have this card.  Be very afraid.  After having enough of our souls depleted at the cafe, we headed up to Namja Town for some gyoza and ice cream, followed by Lockup 2999.  Lockup had some kind of campaign for March where you get half of your bill back as coupons.  It’s actually a pretty decent incentive to come back.

Friday was the main event, Y’s.  In the daytime we hit up Saize in Makuhari and Seth made our way to IES and Kanda.  Shin-san wasn’t at IES, but we talked to Kudo-san and got to see some of the new kids.  Vest!  Crashed Hosoi-sensei’s office and caught up on old times with her.  I’m pretty sure she remember every single detail about everything ever, since she even remember Seth’s girlfriend at the time, IUSTV, and that the Musashino line was late every day.  We met up with her again later before Y’s with Bryan, and Mikey was super late for that.  Couldn’t have been a better entrance.  Hosoi-sensei knows how awesome the A-Team is.  Y’s, even without the usual counter, was epic.  Ari showed up direct from Narita and it was just like old times.  We’ve been doing this for almost 6 years!  Thanks to all the fans and supporters who came to celebrate with the A-Team at the 2010 Reunion.2010 A-Team ReunionBryan and Saori’s wedding reception and after parties were probably the highlights of wedding week, since everyone was there and also because I’ve known Bryan the longest.  It was pretty awesome, especially when the picture slideshow had so many A-Team shots.  I gave a speech which ended up being a little shorter than I had planned, but I think it was fine.  We made some new friends with (well actually just probably creeped out) Saori’s friends, ate some good food, and celebrated something that really made me feel old.  Also at the second party and karaoke there was a kid who smelled like wet garbage.

After not going to bed until about 8:30AM on Sunday, I had to get up for Isoroku’s wedding after party that night.  It was also pretty sweet, in a fancy lounge in Roppongi near the Ritz Carlton.  I was worried that I wouldn’t know anyone there, but luckily there were some Kanda people I’d met years ago and from there I was able to mingle and such.  Isoroku also gave out some pretty classy party gifts.  I have no idea what I’m going to do with Ultraman Tenga.

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