Wednesday, April 30, 2008
I have a bed!

After going back and forth for quite some time, I finally decided to get a bed. While the futon/holder/sliding thing I have is okay, I found this great little bed at the Muji in Kofu that folds into a couch. I've always wanted a couch in my room but there is no space for both a bed and a couch, so this was the perfect solution. Janet went with me to help with all the ordering and paperwork and what not. I also picked up this nifty mini dinner tray thing at half off. It was the floor model and the only one they had left. It was interesting trying to drag around the giant bag they put it in, but it was half off, so I didn't really care all that much.

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posted by am at 12:22 AM | Permalink | 0 comments
Monday, April 21, 2008
Not the noob anymore!
We recently held a new teachers enkai. This is basically the welcome party for all the new teachers who started working at the beginning of the semester. While other enkai's have had games and what not, this one was pure business. The principal welcomed all the teachers and gave a speech, then all the new teachers gave a speech, then we ate. This enkai was also held in Isawa, like most all the other ones, but one significant difference was the food.

The food at this enkai was the best yet! All the other ones were set menus that were pretty much all traditional Japanese food. This one still had your sushi and soba, but everything was serve your self rather than a course meal. So I got to pick and choose what I ate. There were also several non-Japanese plates to choose from like a chicken and potato wedge dish. Overall, this was definitely the best, at least food wise, enkai yet.

new teachers enkai

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posted by am at 12:23 AM | Permalink | 0 comments
Saturday, April 5, 2008
Takeda Shingen Festival
The Takeda Shingen Festival is held the first weekend of April and is one of the biggest festivals in Yamanashi. Months before the festival people apply to participate in it and on the day of the festival, dress up as various samurai and participate in a huge parade. I really wanted to participate in this, but managed to miss the sign ups. However, watching wasn't as boring as I thought it would be. I went with Tiffany and we had a blast wandering around and checking things out. Next year though, I'll be ready for when the sign ups roll around!

When we got to Kofu, we went to check out Kofu castle, which was were all the performances were supposed to happen. Walking the castle grounds is a lot more interesting when there are various samurai groups camping out.

When we finally made our way to the stage, we ended up walking through a bunch of dressed up people and ran into another ALT, Josh who was participateing in the festival. He was carrying this giant flag and asked if I would hold if for he while he took a few pictures, so I sort of got to participate in the festival for a bit! We chilled with him while things while the main event was happening on stage. It was pretty much an actor playing Takeda Shingen and all his generals on stage talking and serving Takeda some tea. Staying with Josh, we were actually really close to the action.

After the performance, all the samurai armies started moving to where the big parade would start and as me and Tiffany were heading out to get a good spot to see the parade, we were stopped by a group of samurai who asked if we wanted to take some pictures. The even gave us their swords! Please note our awesome paper samurai hats!

After that, we found a somewhat decent spot to watch the festival parade from. It was really cool and exciting for about the first hour, but the second started getting a bit draggy. Each samurai group, lead by one of Takeda's 24 retainers, did a little skit type thing so the parade too forever. We toughed it out though and watched till the very end when Takeda himself finally made his way down the street.

By the time the parade was over, it was already dark and pretty late so me a Tiffany grabbed some Starbucks and then headed home. All in all, a good festival, just a bit too long for my liking. It's almost made me reconsider if I want to be in it or not. I got tired just watching! Who knows how tired I might have been if I actually had to march around in samurai amour for the whole parade!

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posted by am at 12:22 AM | Permalink | 0 comments
Tuesday, April 1, 2008
A New Look at Tokyo
While Heather was visiting, we spent several day in Tokyo. We hit up a few places that I've been to many times, but also went to a few places that I had yet to visit. Some of the same old, same old, places included Asakusa, Shinjuku, and Akihabara. A few new and interesting things happen while there though. In Asakusa, while we were looking around and shopping, a group of what looked to be elementary students on a field trip came up to use and asked if they could ask us some questions in English. It was mostly likely a group of kids from an English school given the level of their English compared to my students! So that was kind of nice. Heather got to participate in some English teaching, if only for a few minutes. Also, in Akihabara, I usually go straight to the Yodabashi Camera and then leave, but this time around I spent a lot more time perusing other places in Akihabara, like Mandrake and Animate. We even ran into another JET from Yamanashi while I was looking for the Death Note soundtrack in the music sections of this big anime store/building. Small world.....

We also went to Harajuku and the Meji jingu shrine. I've been to Harajuku a few times and was at the Meji jingu shrine for New Years, but this was my first time visiting during the day, so I could actually see and take my time to enjoy the shrine. We got really lucky too. The day we were there we can across a wedding party taking pictures and managed to get a few pictures of them. The bride was just gorgeous! In Harajuku we also stopped by a lolita fashion store called Bodyline. While I've seen the fashion before, I've never been to an actual store that sells it till this trip. I was pretty interesting to see all the different designs and they were also having a sale that day so it was super busy!

As for new places, the biggest one was Tokyo Tower. Why it took me so long to visit, I'll never know. Probably because I heard climbing the tower is expensive, and it really is! At the tower you have the option to go up either by elevator or by taking the stairs. Both are equally expensive, but we opted for the stairs as you get a nifty little 'I climbed the Tokyo Tower' certificate if you make it to the top. One there, you can also spend even more to get to a special, and higher, observation deck, but we decided to pass on that. While the tower was fun to climb, and the view is quite nice, there are plenty of nicer and cheaper ways to view the Tokyo skyline. But, it was still worth at least a one time visit. After we climbed down and did some shopping at the base of the tower, we headed over to the temple that is right next to the tower. You actually get a really nice view of the temple complex from the tower itself. On the way over to the temple, we ran across a group of women trying to take pictures of their dogs with the tower in the back round. It was really funny watching them try to get their tiny bite sized dogs, all fashionably dress, to sit still.

We walked around the temple area for a bit. There was some type of festival happening that looked like it was wrapping up as we arrived. Luckily, the decorations were still up and I got a few really nice, colorful pictures. We ended up being at the temple for some time as Heather's brother specifically requested a set of black prayer beads from this temple. He had been to Japan before and got a set, but he lost them or gave them away to an ex-girlfriend or something and wanted another one. Normally its not that hard to find prayer beads or shopping areas at a temple, so I wasn't worried about finding them, that was until we actually started looking. I swear we walked around the whole temple like 3 times before encounter a random, nondescript door that ended up leading us to a little shopping market inside the temple in what looked to be a hallway/conference room type space. I almost didn't even go in the random door as it didn't really look like a place that just anyone could walk in to, but its a good thing I did or we would probably still be looking for the stupid beads. The beads themselves ended up being pretty expensive though, which Heather wasn't too pleased about.

We also ended up going to Ueno park, which was a new area of Tokyo for me. I didn't know much about it except for the fact it is a stop along the Yamanote line and is famous for its cherry trees. When researching good places to see cherry blossoms in Tokyo, Ueno continually came up as the number one place to go. So off to Ueno we went. In truth, I'm actually not a huge fan of cherry blossoms. They're pretty, but no as pretty as I thought they would be from all the hype. I find that I prefer plum tree blossoms. Ueno is fairly impressive though, if not just for sheer number of trees and volume of blossoms. You can't turn your head in that park without staring down a straight away fully lined with them. Beyond just the trees, the blue tarps spread out under them were pretty noticeable as well and sort of pissed me off cause I wanted pictures of the pretty trees, no some ugly blue tarp. But the tarps are tradition as well. They're placed under the trees so that people can picnic and drink while sitting under the trees and enjoying their beauty. While wandering the park we ran across a temple, some type of festival, and a mini parade complete with flute playing monks and cute costume wearing kids. We didn't really do much but wander around and look at things, but that was more than enough. Plus we were really tired and in need of a relaxing break, which Ueno proved to be perfect for.

I'm sure we did a bunch more while were we in Tokyo, but we were so busy during those few days that its all pretty much a blur. While in Tokyo we stayed at a Tokyo Inn near Asakusa. I normally stay in hostels or managa cafes while in Tokyo, but all the hostels were booked and we needed a bit more of a permanent place than a manga cafe. All in all, it was a great experience and I might choose to try business hotels more often. The hotel itself was very nice. They even gave us face and skin care kits when we arrived. I also got a pair of knee high stockings too. I also recall that we did a lot of eating at Denny's. There was a 24hr. one really close to our hotel so we ate there quite a bit. It was funny because Heather refuses to eat at them in America and Canada, but found she loved the Japanese version, which is why we seemed to end up there every night! Anyway, it was a good few days and I had a great time getting to visit new places in Tokyo with a good friend.

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posted by am at 12:21 AM | Permalink | 0 comments