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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.

One more moon

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This past week I passed the one-month-left mark, leaving just a matter of weeks now before I make the big leap across the pond for the who-knows-how-manyth time.  There are still a few people who have asked me about this, but yes this is a move rather than a trip.  I’m moving back to the US semi-permanently.  I don’t say “semi-” because I have any specific plans to come back to live in Japan again anytime soon, but at the same time I don’t have any plans to stay in the US for the rest of my life.  In short, I don’t have any idea what I’ll be doing even a few years from now so let’s just play it by ear and continue feeling around in the dark like I have been for the past 2.658 decades.  Things haven’t turned out too badly so far.

If moving is a pain in the butt then moving overseas is a machine gun loaded with pain bullets into the butt.  I’ve already sent a few big boxes of stuff back home via sea mail, which is the slowest and cheapest option.  Cheapest in this situation means it still costs an arm and a leg, and I probably should have actually thought about if the value of the stuff I’m sending back is worth the shipping costs.  (The answer is probably no.)  And slowest means that even the first box I sent back last month will probably arrive around the time my first-born child hits junior high school.  But again there’s not much that can be done about that.  I’ll likely send another box or two back and really figure out what will fit in my two suitcases for the plane ride(s) back.  Most of my furniture and appliances are going to be either sold on craigslist or trashed, and even that isn’t as easy as you’d think because the Japanese trash service actually charges you extra to haul off anything somewhat big.  I have to go to the convenience store to buy a special sticker, then register online to have the big stuff taken away.  It’s not really expensive though – only 370 yen for most big items or 750 for really big stuff.

I took the JLPT at the beginning of the month, level N1.  Not especially because I studied for it, but just since it’s easier to take it here than in the US.  It would be nice to have passed it but I don’t have my hopes up.  That being said, I think I did better than the previous time and passing is probably less impossible than before.  Test results aren’t being sent out until like September, and I have to have my results forwarded back to St. Louis so I really won’t know until long after I’ve forgotten about it.  My last time to take JLPT in Japan was also the best because my test site was at Chiba University, the next train stop over.  This was so much better than having to take a 1-2 hour train ride to Abiko like last December.  The week after that I also took a test you’ve probably never heard of called J-Test, which sounds stupid until you call it by its full title of the Test of Practical Japanese (実用日本語検定).  Figured that would be something to bang out before I leave the country.  It’s actually supposed to cover a wider range of levels than JLPT, and it’s pretty much the same test for everyone unlike JLPT which is sorted by level.  You can take J-Test once and get a level grade, as opposed to having to pass a test that is for a specific level.  It’s also cheaper and is offered several times a year in a bunch of locations.  I took it at some place like 10 minutes from my apartment.  I’ll know my score like right before I leave.  I don’t think I did as well as I should have, but again oh well.

I’m not really going to be having a going away party, but there will be two last Y’s parties before I leave.  Everyone should have already gotten the info.  We’ll be checking out “Bizzaro Y’s” in Shinjuku at the end of the month when NR7000 comes to visit.  Yes, there is another Y’s.  I’ve known about this place for some time and actually checked it from the outside back in 2006, but we’ve never actually set foot in it.  I’m picturing the manager there to be a Bizzaro Matsushita.  Maybe he’ll look the same but with a handlebar mustache.  Or maybe he’ll be Puerto Rican.  It will be even stranger if we run into the Bizzaro A-Team there.  You know they exist.  The following week we’ll be going back to the classic Y’s since I can’t leave without saying goodbye there.

Last week was pretty busy overall.  I’m starting the slow process of packing finally, and on top of that there was normal work, verrrrry minimal studying of Japanese for my upcoming shot at the JLPT and J-Test, and visitors from the United States.  It’s starting to finally kick in that I don’t really have that much time left here in the land of ramen vending machines.

We went to Y’s for the first time ever on a Saturday a few weeks ago, the night of the Japan vs Holland game.  I’m not especially a fan of soccer, and that doesn’t change just because it’s World Cup season.  There are a lot of people who are usually as uninterested in the sport as I am, but who have suddenly become obsessed with it since this tournament started.  This phenomenon is funny and slightly annoying in its own right, but let’s not go into that just now.  The plus side to this special Y’s event was of course that it was on a Saturday so we could get a lot more people to come, as opposed to the normal handful of attendees, an even bigger handful of maybes, and followed by a giant armful of people who say they’re going to come and then end up not making it.  We also got a big table in one of the back rooms, which wasn’t all to ourselves but still wasn’t stuck in the middle of the crowd of roaring “fans” in the normal seating area.   That was of course the drawback to the special Saturday event being for the World Cup, since everyone there was primarily there to watch the game, instead of focusing on the usual gluttony fest that is Y’s.  It was of course a good time though, and it was still Y’s, so I guess I shouldn’t complain so much.  Y’s was followed by karaoke until morning, and we had a giant room despite not having so many people.  We were also coincidentally put in the room right next to the Chiba AEON’s party group who were there for Ryan’s farewell party.  They had a lot more people than us but a smaller room, which was funny.  It was a good night despite half of our group being asleep at some point.  Also you have not known true auditory bliss until you’ve heard me sing “Bailamos.”  Of course I’m just joking: it was as horrible as you can imagine.

The following week I ended up going into the city almost every day to meet up with people, including a few IU professors who were visiting Japan with a group of students.  Last Friday was pretty cool because I went with that group on a cruise of Tokyo Bay aboard the Symphony Moderna.  We had a private room and deck on the boat that went around Tokyo Bay for about 2.5 hours or so.  The weather was pretty good and not as ridiculously humid as usual so it was a good night to go around I’d say.  The next day I met up with the infamous Johnny Ho, who was visiting Tokyo on his way back to Taiwan for summer vacation.  I hadn’t really gone around the Ueno area for a long time so it was cool to check things out there.  We found a pretty cheap kushi-katsu and oden place and then spent a really long time at Donki (Don Quixote) which is kind of like the Japanese equivalent of Wal-Mart just because it sells a lot of totally random crap and is open 24 hours a day.  But Wal-Mart doesn’t have a catchy theme song, off-duty hostesses in sweatpants, and it also doesn’t sell products as sketch as Donki sometimes has.  That being said, Donki doesn’t have rednecks or guns, so maybe it’s an even trade-off.

Sunday was the annual Konosuke BBQ at Inage Kaigan, also known as the time of the year when we all get horribly horribly sunburned.  This year’s Yoga-UV-Shangri-la attack wasn’t as bad because it was slightly cloudy and even rained very briefly, but I think most of us still managed to get tan/burned.  I put on sunblock in the morning, but it was the same bottle of sunblock I had bought like 2 years ago for this BBQ and it was getting pretty old I think.  It came out like normal lotion but when I put it on my face I kind of looked like a kabuki actor.  I tried to rub it in and I thought it had blended in pretty well, but of course when I arrived to meet up with everyone I had at least 3 people go “oh my god what happened?  Your face is so white!”  Oops!  Luckily, after standing outside in the sun for about 5 or 6 hours and sweating, the sunblock was pretty much gone and I was just red and sunburned.  Despite that minor hiccup, it was a great BBQ as usual and I had a lot of fun hanging out with a lot of the people there.  After the BBQ we headed to Chiba and did karaoke at the somewhat new Karaoke Kan which was really nice especially compared to the UtaHiro we usually go to.  Then we went to Hub until about 11PM ending out a long, loooooong day.

BBQ 2010 @ 稲毛海岸

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.

Golden Week 09

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Golden Week in Japan ended on Wednesday. My company’s American so I don’t technically get Golden Week off, but my schedule’s flexible so I was able to take a few days off or did some half-days. I didn’t do anything major (but I am in Hong Kong now), but Y’s on Friday the 1st was pretty awesome.

ワイズ幕張 最高

Even with just 3 or 4 people Y’s is always a good time, but this time we had about 20 or more, filling up the whole “usual counter.”

Now onto the weekend of April 4-6, an action-packed three days full of events ranging from ridiculously awesome to just ridiculous. On Friday morning I headed into Tokyo to discuss a full-time position offer, and after that I headed back home to get ready for the big day. Steve checked out of his hotel and met me in Chiba, where we cabbed his luggage to my apartment, where he would be staying that weekend. That night was the first 2008 reunion at the rightfully legendary Y’s Makuhari. We had a pretty good turnout, with A-Team representatives, old friends, new friends, and of course a big grilled fish head.

Y's Mug ワイズバー 幕張テクノガーデン店We showed up before opening at 5:30, hanging out in the lobby with a decent number of middle aged salarymen, all waiting to enter paradise as well. Matsushita-san opened the place up and gave us a wave. He was telling some of the staff (Kanda students) that we’re the ones responsible for popularizing Y’s with the foreign students and probably Kanda students in general. Amazing. The place was probably busier that night than ever, since April is the start of the academic and fiscal year, meaning there were a lot of companies having welcome parties for new staff members. All of the private rooms were full, every table was packed, and even the counters were populated by tons of young Japanese workers all wearing the same suit. We weren’t able to get the usual middle counter, but I guess it was permissible this time. Steve and my friend Jini were the only ones who had never been to Y’s before, and they were both very pleased I think. It’s hard not to be.

After closing the place out around 10, we headed out towards Kaihim to try and find a karaoke place. There was a slight mishap and delay due to Steve’s glasses, but it was temporarily remedied with some 7-11-purchased scotch tape. Unfortunately, all those new company employees wanted to do karaoke as well, meaning that both King Arthur near the station and the place in the new shopping center were totally packed, and we were out of luck. We ended up cabbing to the big place near Hongo station and doing an all-nighter there. The group had been reduced to about half since a lot of people didn’t want to stay out all night. It was a fun night but the cold walk to the station at 5AM is never pleasant.

On Saturday after waking up in the afternoon we had a pretty lazy day in Chiba. We took Steve’s glasses to the Megane Super (メガネスーパー) glasses shop and they did a free and quick repair job that was of course not perfect, but it was a lot better than scotch tape. Went to Bochi Bochi (ぼちぼち) for dinner, letting Steve try okonomiyaki and natto. I don’t think he was a big fan of the natto, but most foreigners aren’t. I sure hate the stinky stuff.

Sunday was another busy day, waking up around 8AM to head to Kawasaki, which is south of Tokyo. It was the first Sunday of April, meaning that it was time for the 2008 Kanamara Matsuri (かなまら祭り), the Iron Penis Festival that I went to last year when Ari was in Japan. I didn’t think I’d end up going again, but with Macie and Steve both here, it was time to go see the giant pink penis float again. This year was very much the same as last, but it seemed like it was a lot busier. There were people all over the place, it was super crowded and still just as loud and lively as before. Konosuke had never been to this before either, and even being Japanese he was pretty surprised that such a weird, messed up event happens in his country. It was my second time and I’m still finding it difficult to believe. And hey, let’s make a quick collage!

川崎 かなまら祭り 2008 金山神社

So that was that.

Mayor of Namjatown ナンジャタウン 池袋 餃子スタジアムAfter the Penis Festival, we headed up to Ikebukuro to go to Namjatown, the “Golden Saucer” of Tokyo. In addition to the usual zones like Gyoza Stadium and Ice Cream City, there was a Cheesecake Expo going on and some other new stuff. It was great to see the mayor and the Namderbirds. Going with a big group to Gyoza Stadium is always a good idea because that way you can try a lot of different kinds of gyoza (pot stickers/Chinese dumplings). There was an awesome one made with a beef filling that I don’t think I’ve had there before. We walked around some of the amusement areas that I’ve never looked at before, and they were kind of interesting. Not interesting enough to pay for, but they were free so it was all good. After Namja we went across the street to The Lockup Ikebukuro location, giving the visitors a taste of a weird Japanese theme restaurant/bar.

So pretty much after that there wasn’t anything as special, at least with me. Macie left on Tuesday and Steve headed down to Kyoto on his own. He came back at the end of the week and left the following Saturday. I was still busy doing work and job interviews and stuff, but I was able to make it to the airport with both of them.

It was good to have visitors! It is tiring though, haha. But anyone else who’s going to come for a visit, let me know and I can help you out. I’ve got a decent amount of free time until June when I start the new full time position and have to go into Shinjuku everyday to work.

If you want to see some pictures from the places we went, there on the Pictures page.

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