Tuesday, January 17, 2006

This blog has been archived for the time being. My trip over, I will no longer be updating it. You can follow my post Japan adventures here: http://dockett.blogspot.com

Sayonara for now

Sunday, December 11, 2005

Just a quick post to let everyone know that I've successfully returned to the states. It's actually been about a week since I landed but most of that time I've been battling the jet-lag monster. I plan on writing a wrap-up post some time in the near future summing up my thoughts and experiences. Hopefully before too long I will have that posted. In the mean time, I hope everyone has a happy holidays.
Ja Mata Ne.

Monday, December 05, 2005

Last post from Japan, again (3rd time?) Anyways, I believe I have found the ultimate Japanese gizmo.
I accidentally packed my laptop power cord in my checked luggage and, not wanting to waste battery power before I got on the plane, readied myself for two hour of sitting and waiting with nothing to do. When wandering to find lunch I came across the gizmo.
A coin operated computer. Like a ride in front of a grocery store or an arcade game is coin operated, so is this computer fueled. It's 100yen for 10 minutes which is about equivalent to what I paid in Metro airport for wireless access on my trip over.
In other airport related things, my luggage actually only weighed 37.6Kg (less than what I weigh.) This was good however as I did not incur the over weight charge I suspected I would.
Also as a nice send-off I used the Japanese learned in the last 3 months and had a coherent conversation with the staff inspecting my bags.

Another hour and a half until my flight boards. I've got the usual butterflys in my stomach feeling I usually get when about to fly.

Will I write again before take off... who knows...

Ja Mata Ne.
Alright, so this is it. My last post from Japan. I had a great night's sleep last night and am ready to face what will literally be the longest day of my life. I leave Narita airport at 3:00pm local time and arrive home, the same day, at noon. Basically I have a 36 hour day.

I'm really happy with the hotel I stayed at. It has a great view of Narita airport, but isn't noisy at all. It has wonderfully soft western style beds. (As you can see) High-speed internet. And perhaps, best of all, it has an indoor pool.

After getting up and finalizing packing and doing one last sweep of my apartment I was ready to go. Well, after taking the 6 bags of garbage out that it... yikes. Once I was all set to go I dragged (most literally) my bags to the train. I suppose it's good to know I can carry my own body weight in luggage, but still...

In Shinjuku I found the Narita express bus and got in line. After the bus arrived it took an hour and ten minutes to get to Narita's terminal 1. From there I waited a few minutes for the hotel shuttle to come pick me up. As a bonus, while riding the busses I didn't have to handle my hugely heavy bags.

At the hotel I checked in and got settled in my room and watched some TV (Mmmm cable.) Soon after I decided I didn't stop for lunch and headed for the convenience store across the street for a light lunch.

Once lunch had settled I headed for the pool facilities. I swam in the pool for a while and had a brief soak in the hot top. Unfortunately the heat in the hot top had been turned off and I had no idea how to turn it back on. Still wanting a relaxing hot soak I did the unthinkable... I used the traditional Japanese bath. Luckily it wasn't crowded.

Back in my room I plugged some of my portable electronics in to charge the for today's flight and repacked my bags (they're a little lighter now.) Later on I talked with Sparks for a while (the last time it'll be that easy to do that for a while.) Finally I watched "The Godfather" (with Japanese subtitles) until I fell asleep.

Here I am. An hour left until I check out and take the shuttle back to the airport. Seventeen hours before I'm back on American soil. I'd be lying if I said I wasn't a little nervous. I have been lead to believe there will be a slight reverse culture-shock. I suppose living in a different culture for long enough will somewhat alienate you from your own.

Finally, I'd like to say thank you to all my family and friends who have offered moral support throughout my trip. I has been invaluable. I don't believe I could have done it without your help. I'd like to thank all the people at NichiDai for making my trip so very educational. Also a "shout-out" to the nice people at FedEx and Holiday Inn.

I guess that about wraps up this part of the story. I'm sure I'll have some follow up posts in the next few weeks. Until then.

Ja Mata Ne.

Sayonara Nihon. Iie, anata ni [ja mata ne] mo iimasu.

Saturday, December 03, 2005

This may be my last post from Japan. I depart from my apartment tomorrow and will be staying the night at a hotel. (Mmmm western bed...)

This last week has been bitter sweet. I've had a really good time, but at the same time it's sad to leave. When I arrived in Japan I didn't know anyone (well, one guy but he was several hundred kilometers away) but since then I've made so many friends. Thanks to the internet I should be able to keep in touch with everyone. If I ever want to visit Europe I now have lots of people's couches to crash on.

Friday there was a Closing Ceremony held at the main NichiDai building. It was a very nice presentation and all the JLSP students got certificates of completion. Afterwards there was a nice catered reception and we all said farewell to our teachers and the staff.

Friday night all the students got together with some of the staff and went out for a big dinner.

It's funny; when I arrived "the" question was "What did you think of Japan before you came?" In the middle of my stay it was "What do you think of Japan now?" Now it's always "Will you come back?" (The answer is "Yes, definitely!", BTW)

This morning I took a box of stuff to FedEx to have it sent home. The nice people at FedEx were very helpful and actually saved me some money by suggesting a smaller box then the one I had used.

This afternoon was spent packing up. A lot of hard decisions about what to take home had to be made. I have a VERY nasty feeling my bags are still too heavy for the plane...

This evening I went out for some Japanese curry. I went to a new place near my apartment which I hadn't tried before. It was quite tasty. A shame I had to find it on my last night here.

Now "Lost World: Jurassic Park" is on (Japanese language version.) Argh, I'm so spaced out I actually want to watch it. I hate the stress of moving.

The next time I write I'll probably be half a world away. Until then.

Ja Mata Ne.

Tuesday, November 29, 2005

Previously I had said that I had experienced the best day of school ever. I most amend that to say that day was, in fact, the second best day of school ever. Yesterday was so much better.

It started off way too early at 5:30 when my alarm rang. After getting reading I headed out the door for the train. I arrived early to the meeting place in front of the main NichiDai building. The bus and the professor that organized the trip were already waiting.

One everyone assembled we boarded the bus for the two and a half hour from Ichigaya in the heart of Tokyo to Kanagawa in the Hakone mountains. About a half an hour into the ride we passed the freeway exit not a kilometer from my apartment (if the bus had picked us up there it would have saved a half an hour’s drive and we could have slept in another hour and a half. Oh well.)

An hour or so later, I had dosed off listening to music when I was awakened by people moving about the bus. Looking about to see what was up I glanced out the window and saw…

Finally a good enough view of Fuji-san as that I could photograph it. I took about 16 pictures from various angles as we drove in a semi-circle around the base.

An hour later we arrived at Fuji film. The Kanagawa Fuji film factory is about 70sq. kilometers in area, home to over 4000 employees, and makes over 10,000 varieties of products.

We were greeted by a very nice tour guide who escorted us into a lecture hall. On the way in I was unable to get a picture (because of the nature of the thing) of the NO PICTURE sign. Irony thy name is Fuji film. Once we were all settled we were told to stand up and walk outside for a group photo. As expected, the photographer was top notch. After the picture was taken we all went back to the lecture hall for a brief introduction to the facilities.

After the introduction we walked to another building in which the Fuji “Quick Snap” instant cameras are made. It’s quite amazing in that each camera can be almost wholly remade from the parts of a used camera. On top of the resource efficiency, all of the work is done by robots. The only humans present are there to service the machines.

Next we got on the bus and took a short drive to another part of the facility. There we were shown the final step in the factory’s water purification facility, a koi pond. Being ISO14001 certified Fuji film abides by strict environmental standards. Before releasing the used water (evidently film production uses a lot of water) into the natural surroundings it is passed through the koi pond. Scientists can measure the health of the koi to gauge how clean the water is. As a bonus we got to feed the koi (who went into a feeding frenzy like little sharks.)

Back on the bus we rode back to the entrance where we each received a copy of the picture we had taken as well as a free “Quick Snap” camera. We said goodbye to our tour guide and headed for Asahi Beer.

Several minutes and some steep S-curves later (ala “Initial D” for those in the know) we pulled up in front of the Asahi plant. Due to an error in planning we were scheduled to go on the tour before going to lunch.

Inside the factory we watched a short intro movie (in Japanese) before beginning the tour. Unlike at Fuji film where we were the only tour group and the tour guide spoke English, at Asahi we were with other people and the tour was given in Japanese. Luckily my knowledge from previous brewery tours served me well and I was able to understand most of what was said.

The general difference between Asahi and the local breweries I visited back home was a matter of scale. At Asahi everything was approximately ten times bigger. The brew kettles were bigger, the fermentation tanks were bigger and the caning machines were bigger. In fact the fermentation tanks are so big (and plentiful, 45 - 3 story tanks) that if you were to drink one beer a day, it would take you 3900 years to empty all of the tanks. Also of note is the bottle labeling machine which can label 600 bottles per minute.

After the walking part of the tour was over the taste test part began. This is where “lunch first” would have been nice. As mentioned in the weekend’s post, here again was “nomi-hodai” or all you can drink (this time, in 20 minutes). After sampling both the light and dark (I actually really like the dark (and I hate dark beers)) the tour ended and we went to the Asahi community restaurant for lunch.

Once everyone finished eating we got back on the bus and rode for home. Two hours later we arrived in Shinjuku and parted ways with our teacher. After that we all rode the train home together.

So that was the awesomeness of yesterday. There’s less than a week before I go home now and I’m a little stressed (finals plus having to move all my accumulated junk home.) I have the feeling I definitely want to return some day. Enough writing for tonight.

Ja Mata Ne.

Where to start? From the beginning I suppose. If you haven’t noticed already, I’m a big fan of chronological writing. By now you know I’ll note the disclaimer: this is one side of a two sided story. Please refer to Spark’s blog for his version of events (which may or may not differ slightly.)

Friday after classes I scooted home and waited for Sparks to call. Unlike last time where the plan (which sort of failed) was to show up in the same station at the same, we though it through a bit more. When Sparks got on the train he called me on his cell and told me where he was arriving. I showed up around the arrival time and called his cell using a payphone and we figured out where each other was. This was a good tactic because the station he arrived at this time is about twice as large as last time.

Once we met up we decided to check out the area surrounding Shinagawa station. Since it was about dinner time we talked and walked as we looked for someplace to eat. After several (literal) dead ends we found a wonderful Thai restaurant. Aside from tasty pad-tai the restaurant also has a fully tri-lingual wait-staff (English, Japanese, and Thai.) After dinner we rode the train back to Shimotakaido and dropped Spark’s bags off at my place. Next we headed off (across the street) to the little bar we visited last time. The same three guys were working behind the counter and I think they even remembered us. We decided to go nomi-hodai (all you can drink for 2 hours) with some yakitori (grilled meat on a stick) both of which were tasty. At the end of our two hours we wandered back across the street and played video games until the wee hours of the morning.

Saturday morning came way too early with the day-star streaming in the window. Being awake but needing further motivation to move we decided to hit up McD’s for breakfast. After some Egg McMuffins and Hotcakes were had we boarded the train to Shinjuku.

The day’s over all plan was to show Sparks the big “have to see” sights in Tokyo while seeing them again myself before I leave.

The first stop was the Tokyo Government building. Before going up (while taking pictures from the ground floor) we met a very nice guy from California. We chit-chatted for a bit while we rode the elevator to the top floor. Unfortunately Saturday was particularly smoggy/foggy/hazy making it hard to see much of anything (let alone Mt. Fuji.)

Leaving the Metro building we walked through Shinjuku central park to the Park Hyatt Tokyo hotel. This hotel was made famous (well, more famous) by the movie “Lost in Translation”. Filmed on location in the hotel, the staff seen in the movie are actually employees from the hotel. We rode up to the upper floors looking for the bar from the movie but with no luck. After a bit of looking around we headed onwards.

The next stop on the grand tour was Jimbo-cho. Those of you who know Sparks know that I couldn’t NOT show him this district. We wandered around for a while looking in a few shops. Pressing onward we decided to walk to the Imperial palace.

On the way we decided to grab a quick lunch. After some searching we found a collection of restaurants in the basement of the Mainichi Shinbun newspaper agency. Since all the restaurants were out of the price range we were looking for we opted instead for a light snack at a coffee shop.

The Mainichi building is right next to the Imperial palace, but the wrong side for what I wanted to show Sparks. While we were walking around the outside of the palace (you can go “through” because of how it’s set up) we were battered by runners. Evidently there was some sort of marathon going on that day.

We finally got to the side of the palace with the famous view. It was a little more packed with tourists than last time (as last time it was raining.) After taking a few photos we moved on to the National Diet building.

While looking at the cool lion fountain (from the last time I was in the area) Sparks asked what the cool art-deco building behind it was. Not knowing Sparks asked some locals who said it was the Supreme Court building. I have to say, Japan’s Supreme Court building looks a hundred times cooler than America’s.

After some more walking around in the Imperial palace area we took a subway to Asakusa. We walked around there for a while and saw some oddly dressed people evidently there for some sort of festival party.

Unfortunately they left before we could ask where the party was.

Seeing the Baskin Robins (31 flavors) shop in Asakusa brought forth the craving for ice-cream. As such there was only one real place to go: Roppongi.

We decided when we got to Roppongi to have dinner first. We walked up and down the main Roppongi drag until we came upon a nice little place that looked good. It turned out we were not only the only foreigners eating, but the only customers for most of the meal. Once we finished dinner we walked around a shopping complex that’s part of the Roppongi re-development project before heading to Coldstone.

Next, we waited. And waited. And waited. For 45 minutes we waited in line (which was a lot shorter than on opening day.) But I have to say, that was THE best cup of ice-cream I have ever tasted. Perhaps it’s because I’ve gotten used to Japanese tastes (which tend not to be too sweet) but the ice-cream part (discounting the Snickers and Caramel) was tastier than the ice-cream from Coldstone in the states. We sat and savored our tiny dishes of happiness for a while (our legs being tired from standing in line for nearly an hour.)

Not having anywhere better to go, our next stop was a stroll around the American embassy. After that we headed back to the train station.

At this point we ended up doing something that we thought never would while in Japan. The conversation went the way of, “What do you want to do?” “I don’t know what do you want to do?”

A quick brainstorming session reminded me of a place we could check out. Keeping it a mystery for Sparks I only named the station we needed to end up at so he could help me find it. Checking the maps at the station turned up no such stations on the JR or subway lines. I was pretty sure it wasn’t on the Keio line either. Once again, Sparks asking some locals saved the day.

One step better than just telling us where to go, the group of young women actually came with us to Shinjuku station, showed us where to buy tickets (on the Odayaku line it turns out), and got on the train with us. It seems we got lucky and asked a three sisters and their mother who all spoke some degree of good English where a station they were headed by on the way home was.

I head from a classmate that Shimokizawa is the place to go if you’re looking for a Live House. A Live House is basically a bar with live music every day. It’s a place where small bands looking to get a start or big name bands wanting a small venue can play. Unfortunately we arrived a little too late and most all of the Live Houses had closed up shop for the evening. Slightly defeated we decided to head home and get some sleep.

After a half an hour and two trains we arrived back in Shimotakaido. I realized where Shimokizawa in relation to Shimotakaido… we could have walked home quicker.

Sunday, after a bit of sleeping in to make up for the previous day’s early rise, we headed first to my favorite bagel shop in Shinjuku then onwards to Harajuku. We shopped around in Harajuku for a while but, not finding anything too wonderful in the section we visited last time, we began to wander. After several minutes of walking I realized where we had walked to: Akasaka.

We walked to the ring road around the central baseball diamonds, which was closed to auto traffic. Wondering why there were hordes of people walking around, we investigated. Even after reading some flyers, and out best reasoning, all we could come up with was there was some sort of festival going on. Moving around the ring road to the baseball diamonds we stopped and watched what must have been a “B-team” game. It seemed to be pink-haired players vs. normal colored hair players. Each team had player with the “other team’s” colors. It was very weird. Also the pitchers seemed to purposely try to bean the batters.

After seeing all that was to be seen at whatever festival we saw, and being close, we walked over to the secondary palace. On the way we found the Canadian (*cough Galbanian (inside joke) cough*) embassy and the Sony Computer Entertainment building. The SCE building was closed (I may go back this Saturday). We snapped some pictures before heading to look for dinner.

A couple tasty plates of Japanese curry later we figured that we could walk from where we were to Shinjuku. We stopped at a Mos burger so Sparks could taste the weirdness. Moving on we headed to the electronics part of Shinjuku to look for cheap videogames. Once we were done shopping around we boarded a train for Shinagawa. At the Shinkansen transfer gate we parted ways and I went home to do the weekend’s home work.

Monday, November 28, 2005

Sorry folks, it's gonna be one more day before the post is ready. As expected on a Dockett-Sparks weekend, it's a long one. Add on to the weekend today's factory tour adventures and you can see why it's taking a while to get this all typed up. Hopefully tomorrow I can finish up. Until then.
Ja Mata Ne.

Sunday, November 27, 2005

Yay, big fun weekend was had with Sparks. To much to type to finish tonight. I may be able to finish by tomorrow night, but we'll see. Tomorrow I have no classes, but have to be AT school by 7:30am to ride the mini-bus to Fuji film and Asahii.

Ja Mata Ne.