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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.


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.


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.

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.


Over the weekend I got the hook-up from Brian and Bryan to go with them on a free bus tour to Niigata.  Niigata’s up like northwest of Tokyo near the Japan Sea and is famous for rice, sake, and ski resorts.  I’d never been there before and didn’t have anything planned so I figured why not.  It was overall pretty fun since it was like a short road trip with friends, but I don’t know if the actual planned activities on the tour were as awesome as I had imagined.  It was a pretty rough schedule too, so that might have something to do with it.

バスWoke up around 5AM on Saturday morning in order to get to Ikebukuro by 7:40.  The only people I knew of course were Brian, Bryan, and Saori, but whatever.  There were some actual tourists on the bus and some of B and B’s coworkers who seemed all right.  We took a Greyhound-ish bus from there up to Niigata, stopping along the way at 2 or 3 “service area” rest stops.  These are significantly better than highway rest stops in the US being that they actually have decent restaurants and shops, lights at night, and restrooms that have been cleaned this decade.  Also there is much less of a sense of “you will be gruesomely murdered here.”  The bus ride took about 5 or 6 hours, which was pretty grueling to be honest.  I was able to get some sleep but not as much as I would have liked.


After getting to Niigata we immediately went to the “main event” of this tour, the にいがた酒の陣 (Niigata Sake no Jin), a convention for Japanese rice wine.  They had over 500 different varieties you can sample, which meant by the time we got there around 2 in the afternoon, there was a huge crowd of old Japanese guys stumbling around totally red faced.  There were seriously people sitting on the ground completely wasted.  We also saw a women who had passed out in a pool of her own vomit get carried away in a wheelchair.  I heard her friends say something like “she’s resting.  She should be fine in about 30 minutes.”  What a country.  I’m no big sake connoisseur, but they had some good ones and some bad ones there.  In addition to just regular sake, they had plum wine (umeshu) and the unfortunately named and milky white in color jizake, a kind of unfiltered rice wine.

We stayed at the show for a few hours, even though it seems like most people on the tour, including us, would have been fine with leaving earlier.  We checked into the Toyo Inn and went to dinner, covered by the tour.  It was a pretty fancy sushi place, but unfortunately the tour only covered one drink and like 10 pieces of sushi.  I mean, the sushi was really awesome, but 10 little pieces of fish on rice isn’t what I would call a full dinner.  Afterwards a small group of us went out to get dinner and drinks at a standard izakaya.  This ended up being a pretty long night, topped off with some awesome spicy ramen.

せんべい王国Slept for a few hours again, at least actually in a bed this time.  Woke up for another 9AM meeting time.  We were taken to the せんべい王国 (Rice Cracker Kingdom), which sounds about 50 times more sweet than it actually was.  It was pretty much just a small senbei store that also had a small factory in it.  They at least had some funky little mascot characters I guess, but to be called a Kingdom I was expecting something more Namja-like.  We also hit up some kind of museum village or something that didn’t have much worth mentioning except we found a hidden PaRappa the Rapper in the wall displays.  Lunch was at some “wealthy mansion owner’s home” that has been converted into a tourist trap, but at least they had pretty good traditional Japanese food.

So yeah I’ve been to Niigata!


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December is winding down to a close, taking down 2009 with it and ending the era of years that we call “oh-something” even though I’ll bet people will still be saying “oh-ten” next year which I suppose isn’t totally inaccurate. I’m still not really clear on what the shortened name for 2010 is going to be. “Ten?” “Oh ten?” “Twenty-ten?” “Steve?”

That’s not important for another few days though. More important is for me to actually get around to writing a blog that I’ve been putting off for weeks, to record the events of the last month of 2009, not really for any particular reason other than me feeling like I should blog more than I do, regardless of the fact that it doesn’t really matter if I write on here or not. But I’ve already started so I might as well finish this up.

The first part of this month was spent with the dreaded JLPT test, which I signed up for back in September knowing very well that I wouldn’t actually get around to studying, and thus have a very small chance of passing. And hey I was right about that! I actually studied for about a week, primarily sitting in “family restaurants” for long periods of time drinking coffee and checking my e-mail and Facebook on my phone while not actually looking at the small stack of books I had brought with me. The test came and went without much incidence. I had to travel up to Abiko city to take the test, which is located approximately 30 kilometers east of THE MIDDLE OF NOWHERE. As with last year’s failed attempt at passing JLPT level 1, the room was 99% Asians who probably actually bothered to study for more than a week. Oops. At the very least on the way back from the boonies I went to Kashiwa city for the first time where I stumbled upon a Kua’aina Burger shop, which is absolutely awesome and it made me forget that I had just spent more time taking (failing) a test than I had sleeping the night before.

The next part of December that’s worth writing about was the annual Bonenkai, written 忘年会 in Japanese meaning “party to forget the year” which I’m pretty sure sounds like a really depressing and sad reason to have a party. Or is it just me? Anyway contrary to the somewhat suicidal-sounding name, Bonenkais are a lot of fun every year and although it’s kind of a pain in the butt to organize a party with around 30 people at a restaurant where you have to worry about reservations and stuff, followed by a karaoke reservation where nearly everyone’s RSVP is “oh I don’t know yet,” it was totally worth it. I also kind of figured that since there’s a strong possibility that I’ll be leaving Japan before next December, this would be my last Bonenkai so I might as well live it up and make the most of it. Was able to organize everyone together for a good party, so I was satisfied. Thanks to everyone who made it out!

I’m kind of forgetting other events of December, but JLPT and Bonenkai were the most important before coming back home for the holidays. Will write more later.

Poke, Pop, Pics

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I think there was a “blog boom”a few years ago, maybe like 2005-ish? A lot of my friends had blogs, I was posting a lot more on this blog, and blogs in general had, at least among my general circle of friends and acquaintances, become something a lot people did and made. Over the past few years this has gone down a lot: most people have stopped blogging as frequently, if they haven’t already closed up shop completely. I’ve definitely become guilty of not writing as much – not as if I do this blog for a big audience or anything. No, actually I mainly write this just for myself. But either way, somewhat often over the past few months I’ll be sitting at home relaxing on the computer when I think to myself that I should write a blog post. 9 times out of 10 I don’t.

OK enough babbling. To make a long story short, I blame Facebook, Twitter, and stuff like that for sucking people’s attention away from writing or reading long blog posts. The burst of the blog bubble, perhaps. This isn’t a bad thing really, but just a shift in internet habits. It’s a lot easier for most people to do all their updates, pictures, links to weird stuff, messages, etc. in a centralized place like Facebook. Everyone and their brother is on Facebook now so it’s convenient to keep track of friends’ updates, and for friends to keep track of you. It’s a lot more convenient than writing a blog on some other site that people aren’t going to check very often. Why write frequent updates or entries when you can write a quick status update on Facebook? The exception, of course, is if you have a blog with a purpose or a goal. is not that kind of blog. Nor is it like a Xanga where I post short status update-appropriate messages on the blog.

I don’t really want to stop running this blog, especially after doing it for so long. Every now and then I go back and read past posts, which is great because blogging about stupid little things means I can recall those little things well past the time any normal person would remember them. I know there have been a lot of actual studies and insightful articles about how casual internet communications have moved away from e-mails and blogs to more interactive social networking like on FB, so feel free to go find those and read up. While you do that, I’m going to end this post with some pictures and short captions of stuff I’ve done over the past few weeks, in lieu of the usual multi-paragraph post describing my activities.

Japan Seafood Show at Tokyo Big Sight:

Japan Seafood Show

Giant 1:1 scale Gundam down in Odaiba:

ガンダム お台場

Played park golf (kind of like mini-golf without the goofy stuff) in Shisui:


Went to Namja Town with Nick when he came up to Kanto last weekend. This is cheese fondue gyoza (with corn) and teriyaki mayonnaise gyoza. Both were actually way good.


Of course took Nick to Y’s. 伝説の参忍、再び集合! (Thanks to Brian for the pic)

Indiana Legendary Three

The end for now.
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