24 March 2008

Travelling Over King's Yellow Orchards

So, with my free time turning into me laying around doing nothing. I decided on a trip to Tokyo. I have been there quite a few times but I still haven't seen all there is to see there. Another friend from Michigan that recently moved back to Japan would be my tour guide.

I left on Saturday morning a little later that I had wanted but I would be riding the Shinkansen.
When I arrived I met my friend and noticed right away, a different air about Tokyo compared to Osaka. People in Japan always compare the two cities. Tokyo would definitely represent New York City if comparing the two cities to American cities. but Osaka....well, it's just it's own unique city with it's own unique people. The most common things said about the two are that Osaka people are very friendly and talk very fast. While Tokyo people are cold. I dont think they are cold but definitely not the same as people in Osaka.

Anyway, we visited my friend's office. We talked about how strange it is to have a your first business card and office. After that we headed over to Akihabara. It was very different than what I remember the first time I went there a few years ago. Things have grown alot and seems like they put a fresh coat of paint over everything. We just wandered around until we decided we go to one of the now famous Maid cafes. It is a lot tamer than it seems. If you come to Japan we'll definitely go as it is one of those Japan only experiences.

After some coffee ice cream floats at the Maid cafe we went to the edo-tokyo museum for some culture. They have some really interesting models of what Tokyo looked like years ago. The Emperor at the time seemed to meet with a lot of the world leaders. It amazing to think people traveled around the world as much as they did back then without the technology that we have now. There was some really interesting Wood block prints. I wanted to get copies of some of them but they weren't selling the ones I wanted.

After we met up with my friend's parents who actually have a house in Michigan but also one in Tokyo. We went and had some really great food called Chanko Nabe. It's the food sumo wrestlers eat. The restaurant was really amazing. There was a real sumo ring in the middle and you could sit around it and eat your food. One Nabe fed the four of us quite well. There are some Chanko restaurants in my neighborhood but I dont think I can go there and eat that much food by myself.

After filling our bellies My friend and my friend's mom decided to take me to an Onsen (hot spring). It was very nice and relaxing despite being crowded. Again this is one of those interesting Japan only experiences. After we had some drinks and relaxed some more.

For Sunday we had planned on going to Kamakura but we woke up lated and just decided to go eat some italian food in the fashionable Ginza area. After stuffing my face with pizza and pasta (which were surprisingly healthy sized portions for Japan) we went to the Emperor's grounds.
(As you can see the "grounds" are still yellow but spring is near have no fear.)
(I dont think you can read the map but it's the layout of the grounds)We wandered through some of the areas just enjoying the nice weather and the smell of the now wilting plum blossoms. In place of the plum blossoms color were the pink shades of the Cherry blossoms. These were some interesting flowers that smelt good and looked familiar. Do we have them in Michigan?

While we walked arounded I noticed Tokyo definitely has a diverse culture in comparision to Osaka and probably the rest of the country.

Our next stop was another walk to Yasukuni shrine.
It is a place of a lot of debate in Asia as it serves as a war memorial for soldiers lost in many of Japan's wars.

(this is a piece of art (!?) that was made is supposed to be for the mother's of the fallen soliders..it kind of looks like that shape of a mom and the water I guess could represent a crying mom. It has some connection to the Detroit Kiwani club. I think the sculptor was part of it. Detroit is represented all over the world!)
(This is a giant sculptor of Omura Masujiro. If you can open the picture below here it gives a little info on him. He helped bring about the Meiji era. Which was basically the end of the Samurai amongst other things. He helped design the first western war ship for Japan.)It didn't seem any different than any war memorial the US has. It was actually just a pretty standard shrine like they have all over Japan. There was an interesting Museum next to it but it closed right as we got there. I did get a few pictures of the stuff they had in the lobby.(Mitsubishi made fighter planes...This a replica of one of the ZEROs that kamikaze'd pearl harbor. Mitsubish makes many other things as I have found out since living here (nuclear power, I also have a bank account at mitsubishi.)
(A machine gun that is big and goes ..... (machine gun noise)....it's mounted on the Zero)

As the weather was starting to cool down and we were getting hungry again from all the walking around, we headed back and enjoyed some of Mom's home-cooked curry and rice. She also gave me some pictures of us at the Chanko restaurant. I'll have to somehow get them into digital form and share them with everyone.

The next day my friend went off to work and I waited until after the morning rush and headed to Tokyo station. I had a lesson later in the afternoon otherwise I would have stayed longer. Anyway, the shinkansen has 3 types of seating unreserved, reserved and green car. Guess who rode in the green car!!! It was much more comfortable than the other train cars and the service was very nice. Less crowded too. AND it wasnt a whole lot more expensive than a normal ticket (which is about $120).

It was a nice weekend away from Osaka but reality is settling back in. I need to get moving on my job search. In May my Visa is up....so If I don't have a job...All of you who want me back in Michigan might get your wish. Or not...because I think I will get a job. One thing is for certain, something will certainly happen.

17 March 2008

Refresh...ing

My inconsistency in posting has probably left everyone not caring about this anymore but I will continue to update it sporadically. I was pretty close to getting Internet hooked up at my house but in the end it was just better if I came to the Internet cafe. Therefore, Updates to this blog will occur at least once every 2 weeks or so (at most 3 times a week..if I'm lucky).

The promised pictures of the Plum blossoms at Osaka-jo are here! BUT I only have 2 of them...Sorry, I cant find the cord to hook my phone to my computer. I know I had it sent here but I don't know what I did with it. So here are the 2 photos of the plum blossoms...enjoy!

In the upper right corner you can see the silhouette of Osaka Castle and in the foreground are some of the plum blossoms. At the time I took this they weren't quite in full bloom. They are by now I'm sure as this was almost 4 weeks ago.They come in three different colors...white, pink, and a deep red.

Today...Well today was an adventure. Since finishing my contract with the junior high schools I have a bit of free time on my hands so I was beginning to get stir crazy. I decided I would really focus on learning Japanese for the next couple of months. So, I started taking classes again at the school that I originally took classes at. These are the same people that helped me get an apartment and gave me furniture and appliances after the collapse of my previous company. They were happy to have me back and I was happy to be back. I am also considering some Korean classes. They are really cheap and I have a private student that swears the lessons are really good. So, I will at least keep out of trouble for a couple days. I also am planning on going back to training with a local kung fu group but I have been having fun the past couple weekends so I haven't had the chance to go.

In particular this weekend, I went to the Sumo Tournament here in Osaka. It was quite the spectacle. Throughout the week I had seen some of the Sumo wrestlers walking through the train stations and they really are quite impressive. BIG DUDES. Not so much fat as they are just plain solid! I paid about 7,000 yen for seats almost in the back row but it was worth it. Here are some pictures....

This is the entrance to the Osaka Prefectural Gym where the event was held. It was packed like sardines in a tin can!

Where is everyone!? Well there are the low ranking Sumo wrestlers. So, not many people came early to watch them. The tournaments last many days (starting at about 10am and going until about 6pm.) and most people only show up for the top tier matches. Regardless, these guys were still impressive.
The guy in pink is the referee. But he's a low ranking ref . You'll see later that the top tier matches have ref with different colors...assumingly signifying they are better refs...maybe.

These are some of the trophies they are contending for. I don't know what each one means but there were 2 that stood out. The one in this picture (upper right) is filled with pickled plums. Why...I don't know! and there was another (not pictured) filled with sweet potatoes. Don't ask I don't know.This is when the top-tier wrestlers started. As you can see more people and a Ref dressed in a fancy gold and black uniform.

There are some Non-Japanese wrestlers. For example, the Champion of the west division is from Mongolia but there are some Russians and some others. There was one guy I thought might be American. He was white; about as tall as me; but really muscular. Not fat like the other guys (who aren't really fat). The girls I was with though his butt looked cute. Later, I went outside the Arena to take a break from all the chaos and the girls I was with and I ran into that Sumo wrestler but they were just shy and couldn't bring themselves to ask him for a photo. I wasnt going to ask him. He just lost his match and I didn't want to bother him.

OOOOOH! here's a video of the final match between Asa Shoryu (current champ) versus...a bigger guy. Its pretty amazing.


video
All and all Sumo was awesome. I'd like to go again but it doesn't come around here so often I hear.

Tomorrow's plan is a day at the beach. It's warm enough (almost..its about 60 degrees). Just a picnic to celebrate the coming of spring.