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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.

Just another idiot on a bike

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Hello Blog, I’ll bet you thought I forgot about you. Well actually I did, but only because I’ve been doing a lot of stuff in the past week since returning to Japan. Let’s look at a quick summary of that stuff in a nice bulleted list:

  • remembered how to speak Japanese (harder than it sounds)
  • played a lot of DS
  • slept a lot
  • organized a 新年会 (New Years Party) at Lockup, almost killed half the people there with the Electric Shock drink
  • finished reading Beach Road. Ending was disappointing.
  • found the joy and convenience of delivery curry from Coco Ichi’s
  • re-watched the entire run of the highly under-appreciated Judd Apatow series Undeclared
  • dropped a valuable thing of deodorant into the toilet. Don’t worry, I threw it away… reluctantly*.

Of course that’s not a complete list, but I’d say it covers the highlights. I also managed to teach some people English somewhere in there so that I can afford to enjoy the things in the bulleted list. But the greatest discovery I made during the past week was, wait for it, the library. That’s right, shut up now, the freaking library. I had never been to the Chiba Chuo Library before, but one of my students recommended it over the weekend so I went to check it out. The library is right next to Chiba Park, which I had also never been to. Both places are huge and a lot nicer than what I would have expected. The park has a lot of walkways, baseball fields, playgrounds, and a huge lake. The library has, of course an impressive selection of books, magazines, maps, and those little golf pencils, but most importantly for me, they have a passable section of English books and magazines. I’m almost done with Dave Barry in Cyberspace. I think I found a new hobby. Oh, and the best part is that it’s free. Now I’m starting to sound like one of those hokey PSAs they’d show on PBS.

I guess that’s the biggest update. For two days in a row I rode my bike about 7 miles exploring Chiba, mainly going to Chiba Park and stuff. I’ve lived here for a while but am still exploring and figuring out how all the roads and stuff fit together. Good times.

*Hey, Old Spice Pacific Surge deodorant doesn’t grow on trees here in Japanland.

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.

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