Tuesday, April 17, 2007


...is not all that different form Seoul, we've decided. A giant, hulking metropolis with too much neon, too many people and too confusing a metro. Granted, Sarah and I only spent two days there, not nearly enough time to make a very through impression, but as far as we're concerned Tokyo is pretty meh.

We left early Monday morning and spent most of the hour and a half train ride perfecting our ticket scam. You see the trains work like this: You buy a ticket at a station, put it in a turnstile and hold on to it until you exit your destination station where you put it into another turnstile which eats it. If you have to pay more fare an alarm goes off and you take your ticket to a fare adjusting machine and pay some extra money to get out of the station. So what we did was buy a round trip ticket, which is actually two tickets, one for going there and one for getting back. We bought a ticket to only the next station, i.e. the cheapest ticket possible. When we got to Tokyo we used the fare adjustment machine and paid full price. Or we would have had I not lost my ticket. This took some explaining to the guard who, after not really understanding us just charged us the normal rate and didn't penalize me. Sweet. When we left Tokyo, we bought a cheap ticket again, to get into the train station but used our return ticket from the day before to get out of the station once we got home. It worked like a charm but was really convoluted and had lots of "what-ifs" attached to it when we were coming up with it. But, half price to Tokyo isn't bad.

We got there and went directly to our hostel to drop off our stuff. Then we headed for Asakusa, one of many Japanese temples that all look alike and have lots of rituals and incense burning that I don't really understand. It was nice, though crowded and we stayed for an hour walking around in the rain taking pictures. After that we went to the Akihabara electronics district which I thought would be amazing. Maybe it was just the shitty weather but the whole place felt kinda seedy and run down. Not the bright technology filled party I was expecting. After that we left to meet our friends at the concert hall.

Now the concert itself was good, though our seats were in the very back of the hall. We could see and hear fine though so it wasn't bad. Beck came on at 7:30 and played a really great set. They opened with Loser and played a bunch of my favorite songs. The annoying thing was they seemed to play only the verse and chorus of each song then stop. The songs came to only a few minutes long. It was weird. I don't think they played the entire version of any of the songs. Which meant, when the concert ended at 8:50, they had only played for an hour and twenty minutes! We were a little pissed at the length but the quality was there and we thought it was a good show.

Left with a lots of time after the show, we headed to Shinjuku, supposedly a happening place to wander. The whole area was closing down (at 9:30?) and reminded us of the PNU area of Busan. Just a tad cleaner though. It was a bit disappointing. We walked around for a bit, ate some noodles, played the Taiko drumming game in an arcade and headed back to the hotel.

The next day we checked out and headed to the Yasakuni shrine, which had caused/is causing controversy all over Japan. The shrine holds the ashes of 2.5 million people who died in war since the mid 1800's. Enshrined there are the ashes of 14 Class A war criminals from World War 2. Visits to this shrine by Japanese prime ministers over the last decade or so have sparked outrage from China, SK, Taiwan and other Asian nations that were affected by Japanese militarism. Sarah and I found the shrine beautiful and very peaceful. Certainly an excellent reminder of the mistakes of war.
We left Yasukuni for the Imperial palace. We walked around the gardens surrounding it since you can't actually enter the palace (the Imperial family is living in it and probably don't want to be bothered). The gardens were beautiful and were easily my favorite park of Tokyo.

We then left for Ueno park, which looked cool in our guide book. It though, felt really run down and shabby and was nothing really impressive. Besides Sarah being dive bombed by a large, hungry crow who wanted to steal her ice cream, nothing impressive happened at Ueno.

That was it for Tokyo. There's plenty more to see and do, I'm sure but my first impressions were pretty unimpressive so I don't think I'll be tripping over myself to get back to Tokyo. It is nice knowing it's close in case I want to get back though.

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

I'm going to see Beck!

For my upcoming birthday, Sarah and I are going to go see Beck in Tokyo. He's playing in the Nippon Buddokan Hall near the Imperial Palace, apparently the same place the Beatles played when they came to Japan. We haven't been to Tokyo yet so we are going to spend the night and hopefully see a bit of the city the two days we're there. Should be great. I'll have a post up with descriptions and pictures next week.


To celebrate our first day off that wasn't overcast and rainy, Sarah and I decided to hike up to Kannonyama a huge 120 foot tall statue of the bodhisattva of compassion, Kannon. It took us a little over an hour to walk accross Takasaki, where we will be living next month and then up into the surrounding hills where the statue was. Check out the pictures below and for more, click on the link to the right.

We had to walk accross the city to get to the hills. That bump on the hill is the statue.

Almost there...


To give some scale, here's me at the feet of Kannonyama.

Wednesday, April 04, 2007

Awesome Blossoms

This week Sarah and I were officially trained to teach kids classes and will be starting those this weekend. I can't wait.

We had Tuesday and Wednesday off and spent it with our upstairs neighbors, a Canadian and an American themselves and had a great time. The highlight though was yesterday when we drove for 45 minutes to get to a park way up in the hills to go view the newly arrived cherry blossoms. Not only did the park not have flowering cherry blossom trees, but it started hailing the moment we got out of the car. Not to be defeated, we drove to another park and found it sunny and full of blossoms. The trees were beautiful and held my attention, for, oh 4 minutes or so until we found the playground complete with a zip line. After finishing there we started throwing around a football, much to the amusement of the Japanese park-goers.

All in all a good weekend. I'm back to work today (but not till 5 pm) but I can pick up my Gaijin of foreigner card from the city office which hopefully will lead me down the road to cell phone ownership. I have my fingers crossed.

Check out new pictures on the right of my apartment, the Thorpedo, and the awesome blossoms.