Wednesday, November 16, 2005

Fun in Fukui

It was the second day of the autumn training seminar. All of the teachers in Shizuoka prefecture had been together for the past two days each giving presentations and having a grand ole time. See, we don’t often get a chance to be together as a group, so it was nice that we had two days straight to finally feel like more of a team. More than half of the group is new, with at least 4 or 5 people having arrived after myself in July. After a day of fabulous presentations, the rest of the group were heading off to Sunpu Park in Shizuoka city to go to Daidogei, which is a huge festival that takes place all over the city and is a showcase and competition of street performers from all over the world. The night before we had walked around it as well, and seen some wonderful performances ranging from mime and acrobatics to juggling and dancing. Unfortunately I didn’t have enough time to spend in Shizuoka over those few days, but I would have loved to spend more time checking out the performances. The whole park was lit up and bustling with people from all over the world with their faces upturned to the various acts, being dazzled and amazed. What I did see was wonderful but only reminded me of how much of the festival I was going to be missing.

So the rest of the group went off to party it up, and I walked back to the station to hop a train home so that I could pack up and get going to Fukui to visit my friend Chris for his birthday. He is a friend I made in training and someone I have kept in contact with ever since. Great guy, and we have much in common, especially when it comes to music. So I threw a bunch of close in my knapsack, packed up my guitar and my laptop and got myself on the road. I left Fukuroi at roughly 7:00 p.m. and arrived in Fukui just before 11:00. I won’t bore you with the details of the journey, because it was rather uneventful, but I will say one thing and that is that I was very proud of myself in terms of how my Japanese has come along. When I was in Nagoya station waiting for a connecting train, the clerk at the ticket counter had told me that it would be another hour for the train I wanted. If I had waited for that train I would have missed the last one to Fukui from Maibara, where I was headed. So I took it upon myself to go up to the gates and asked the clerk there if there was an earlier train that stopped in Maibara, all in Japanese, and he understood me perfectly and told me that yes, there was a sooner train. So on it I got, and the rest was a breeze.

Chris was there at the station waiting for me when I disembarked. We went and got his bike, and trucked over to a wonderful little blues bar called Swing n’ Base for a couple beers. Just as the place was closing down for the night, we went outside and met up with a couple of friends of his, Lotus and Yukari. They were very nice, and I was looking forward to hanging out with them more the next night at Chris’ birthday party, but we all had to head home, so they went one way, and we went the other, back to Chris’ apartment, which was about a ten minute walk from the station. I got settled while Chris cooked me up some pasta with his home-made bolognese sauce, which was spectacular, and pulled out my guitar, played a few songs and then handed it over to Chris. He hadn’t played one in some time, and was itching to get one in his hands. I was glad to oblige. In the meantime I set up my laptop and when he was done playing we watched a few episodes of the Simpsons before crashing after what was certainly one of my longest days in a while.

The next day we got up nice and late and wandered around downtown Fukui a bit. We ventured into a couple of the shops, including a great bookstore and another place called Muji, which means “no mark.” It’s basically a brand free store. Think of a mix between Ikea and the Gap but without any labels. Very simple but nice furniture, kitchenware and clothing. Chris and I spent some time in there trying on the clothes before we each settled on a piece or two. Afterwards we stopped at a little sushi place before heading back to his apartment to change for the party. We got ourselves primped and primed and ready to go in about an hour and left to go meet the rest of the party at a wonderful izakaya called Akiyoshi. There were about 10 of us by the time everyone arrived, and we got a large table all together on the upper floor. For reference you can check the Fukui folder on my photo website (link at the top on the right.) What a great group! We all had plenty of food and drink, and the conversation was flowing easily. Chris is a lucky guy, having a great group of friends like that. After a good half dozen beers or so we all picked up and wandered down Katamachi, which is like fun zone of Fukui, to a nice little bar called Vilae Naf where we were able to get a deal where we could drink all we wanted for $20 a piece for two hours. I can’t remember what it’s called here in Japan, but damn is it a good deal. So we continued to get Chris as drunk as possible, and unfortunately it went a little overboard so I had to take him home around 2:00.

I didn’t sleep much that night because one of his other houseguests was snoring like saw mill, but because of this I was witness to some early morning hilarity as Chris tried to make it to the bathroom. He stood up on his cot for some time, just staring out at us folks on the floor before he stepped off and out into the front hall. I heard him putting on his shoes, so I figured I should get up and see what he was doing. As I reached the front door he was already out and halfway down the hall. I called after him and asked where he was going. He said he was going to the bathroom. I pointed to the door next to where I was standing and told him it was right there. Then he started mumbling something about “oji-san” which means grandmother, so I just let him go. He returned about ten minutes later but I was already settled back down on the floor and feeling comfortable, having stolen his blanket. He came back in the room and stumbled into bed. I asked him if he wanted his blanket back and he said no, but then he asked me if my blanket was motivated. Trust me, it makes as little sense to me as it does you, but I can’t really blame the guy, he was still quite out of it. The next morning was a hilarious time as we explained to Chris what happened the previous night while we lounged around his apartment.

That afternoon we got a ride out to a mall where there was an entertainment complex. We went in and played a bunch of games, mostly air hockey and a few rounds of bowling; something I haven’t done in a long, long time. It was pouring down rain by the time we were ready to leave, so we popped downstairs from the bowling alley and bought some cheap umbrellas before venturing out. We walked around for a while, getting soaked, until we made it to the bus stop. That night we were so tired and wet that we decided it might be best to just take it easy. We watched a couple of movies and more Simpsons before we crashed, and I finally got a decent night’s sleep. The next day Chris had to work, so for a few hours before he had to leave he took me on a whirlwind tour of some of the cultural sites in downtown Fukui, (pictures of which are also available on my site.) Afterwards I ventured back to his apartment where I spend the evening while I was waiting for him burning an incredible amount of CDs from my collection. When he got back he whipped us up a wonderful stir fry with some tempura he picked up at the grocery store. Lucky bum! Not only does he have two burners, but they’re gas as well! Gah! I wish I could cook here, but my kitchen just won’t accommodate. So we ate and got ourselves ready for a little get together that evening. As it happened, my friend Emi from Fukuroi was there in Fukui that night. She had come into town earlier during the day for a conference, so we decided to meet up with a few of Chris’ friends as well and all went out for a drink. It was a nice time, very relaxed in a quiet bar just off the main drag. We didn’t stay late because I knew I had to get up early-ish the next morning to catch my train back home. We got up at a reasonable time the next morning and Chris walked with me down to the station to bid me adieu. I know I’ve said it already, but thanks again Chris for your hospitality and for showing this boy such a good time. Hope you had an amazing birthday, my friend.

So that’s the trip to Fukui. It’s a beautiful place, surrounded by mountains, and on the north coast of Japan. It’s about 3 hours away from me by Shinkansen. There are many lovely pictures from my adventure, although I was unable to get any good ones of the eagles that populate the hills around his apartment. They were amazing to see though, soaring above the river looking for food and floating on the thermals. It was nice to get out of Fukuroi and see Chris, for it had been four months since we had seen each other in Nagoya during training. Four months! I’ve been here almost five months now, and I still can’t believe it. Time moves simultaneously fast and slow here for different reasons, but it’s a great time at whatever speed it happens to be moving.

Monday, November 14, 2005

Halloween Hijinx

I was ready for it. I had been waiting for weeks in anticipation, and finally Halloween was here. Originally I had planned on going as Darth Vader, because during training here in Japan I bought a mask that even had a voice-changing effect. Alas, I couldn’t find a cape at the local toy store, so I bought an afro and went as Jimi Hendrix instead. I already have the daishiki, and I figured if I gave myself a week I could grow a bad mustache. It worked perfectly, and you can see for yourself in the pics on my photo website.

About a month ago I made a few new friends. A very daring girl named Emi (or Emi-ko as people around here are wont to call her) left a nice note in my mailbox saying that she was friends with the girl who had lived in my apartment before me, and asked if I would like to be friends as well. I can’t tell you how happy I was. In my head I was saying Yes! That’s exactly what I want! Friends! She also introduced me to a nice fellow from Omaha, Nebraska named Andy who is living in another town only two train stops away. So it was perfect, because now I know a couple more people close by, and have people to hang out with. The same day I met Emi she invited me over to her best friend’s family’s house for dinner, and along with Andy, who has been teaching the family English, we ventured over. It was a jolly good time, but I’m only telling you this as a way of introducing Emi and Andy and how I came to be at Andy’s Halloween party a few weeks after we had met.

Saturday night came, and I got myself ready to go. I was already at the train station, but luckily I got a hold of Emi and got a ride to Andy’s place instead. It was a wonderful night. There were perhaps 15 people there, and that was just right. Most of the people, as you would expect, were Japanese, and so I didn’t get much of a chance to speak to them at length, except a very nice girl named Shiyomi, who spoke English flawlessly. Perhaps I should mention that they both lived in Omaha for some time, and that’s how they knew Andy. See, the University of Shizuoka’s sister school is the University of Omaha, so maybe now it makes a little more sense why Japanese girls would be in Omaha. Other than that, there were a couple of other foreigners there as well; Andy’s friend Jo, a New Zealander whom I had met the week before, her friend Sierscha from Scotland, and their friend Matt, coincidentally from Toronto! I had brought my guitar, and so we alternated between playing songs off Andy’s computer and between some little performances by yours truly. Matt also plays guitar, so he played a few tunes as well. In the end, we were all quite intoxicated; I believe between Sierscha, Jo and I we drank 4 or 5 bottles of red wine. Uh… yeeeeah. Luckily I had a ride home with Emi-ko. Right. So that was the first of two excellent parties.

The following night I ventured over to Fujieda at around 5:00 p.m. to help set up the sound system at a club called Juicy Fruit where my supervisor Brad and I were going to be DJing that evening. He arrived about an hour later and we got everything ship shape with time to spare. Our friend Jordan, who I believe I introduced in the last blog, showed up about an hour after that, and the party was under way. People slowly started to trickle in, including Christine, Yosef and Mel from Hamamatsu, the first two of which are Peppy teachers. Ross, Jen and Ghazaleh, also Peppy teachers, showed up a little later. The place was starting to fill out as the regulars came in, each dressed in wonderful costumes, some of which you can see on the photo site. Juicy Fruit is quite a small place so it was packed in no time, with Brad and I hammering out the tunes all night long, and people dancing and banging on the drums throughout the room. We kept the party going until about 3:00 a.m. when the boss man, Minoru, an excellent fellow, (the Indian chief in the pictures,) told us it was time to wrap it up. Having been going since around 7:00 p.m. we were glad to shut it down. After gathering our stuff and changing back out of our costumes we ventured over to the train station with our gear. Unfortunately the trains stop running around midnight, so we were stuck in there till 5:30 in the morning. We pulled out a deck of cards and played the time away until the first trains arrived. Exhasuted, the west enders, that being Christine, Mel and I, hopped on our train and bid the others adieu. Those two girls were asleep almost immediately, and I just managed to hold myself together until I got to Fukuroi. The businessmen and other people heading to work that morning must have had a good laugh at us in our costumes there on the train passing out. And let them! Japanese people for the most part don’t even know what Halloween is. Yay to costumes and candy, parties and good times!