Saturday, December 31, 2011

Happy New Year! 明けましておめでとうございます!

After a very late night out in Kyoto with some old coworkers (went out dancing until 4:30!), me and my travel buddy decided to just stay in for new years eve and watch the NHK Kohaku Utagasen in her house in Mie Ken. We are going to Ise jinja for hatsumode tomorrow morning and then to the wedded rocks. It feels lame not going out for new years eve, but excluding one new years eve three years ago, I don't really ever go out for new years eve. Plus, we've been traveling so much recently... I'm at the breaking point and just need to rest and chill out for a night. :P

I hope the omikuji I get tomorrow is a good one! I need a lot of guidance this next year. Farewell 2011. You started out rough and slowly turned good. All I hope is that 2012 will continue the same and I won't have so many rough patches. I'm ready for you, 2012!!

I think everyone's expressions sum up my year: weird, scared, excited, apathetic. hahaha

Friday, December 30, 2011

Korea Day Three, Photo Diary

Day three was a shrine day! We saw two shrines: Bongeunsa Temple and Jongmyo Royal Shrine. The Bongeusna Temple was free of charge, and really unspeakably gorgeous and serene, considering it was in the middle of huge skyscrapers and near the noisy COEX building. I was surprised how pretty all the wooden buildings looked juxtaposed with the metallic, shiney, business looking buildings in the background.

The Jongmyo Royal Shrine was quiet, but for the reason that they would only let you in if you took a guided tour. We had missed the English tour by thirty minutes, and didn't want to wait another ninety so we took the Japanese guided tour. Yay for bi-lingualism!! Haha~ It was actually a really interesting tour; the shrine houses the ashes of all the dead Korean kings and has a bunch of buildings dedicated to religious ceremonies. The coolest thing I learned from the tour was about the raised stone paths. The paths have a raised area going down the center so they look like they are split into three parts. You're not supposed to step on the middle path because that's the path for the spirits of the dead to walk to the shrine on.

After shrines, we walked around the COEX building and then headed back over to Myeongdong to see the Seoul Tower in the evening light. The cable car up the mountain had a gorgeous view of the city, and the tower itself is really pretty lit up in red. On the observation deck, you could see the entire city in all it's night time glory. Comparable to the view from Tokyo tower: lights going on for miles and miles in all directions. The other cool thing about the tower is that they have this "Love Letter from the Highest Post Office" project going on, where you can buy a cute postcard and send it from the top of the tower. Me and my travel buddy sent a few :)

After that, we went out to yakiniku again but at a much nicer place this time. The beef we chose was to die for, and we also got a lot of fun side dishes along with the meal (like this spicy soup and fluffy dashi egg dish) and some makkori! I guess traditionally makkori is sipped from a bowl instead of cup or glass, so it was a bit awkward holding liquid in that way, but really fun. A good way to spend the last night in Korea! Now, onto the photo diary~

Yukine tying her wish to the tree at the Bongeunsa Shrine
Cool lanterns decorated the place.
No meat yet, but the awesome side dishes.
Cutest hot-drink sleeves I've ever seen!!!
More shrine-ness
Yukine being a huge tourist. NERD.
COEX art
Highest Post Office
The shiney-ness coming from this area was insane.
View of the city from the cable car.
Seoul Tower.

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Korea, Day Two, Photo Diary

After being completely beaten down by that mountain yesterday, it took a lot of effort to do anything today :P Thus, shopping ensued!! We went to two of the shopping districts: Namdaemun Market and Myeongdong to check out the shops. After that, we made it to the five o'clock Nanta performance, which is like Stomp or Blue Man Group but with kitchen utensils. It was really fun to watch, and is my big おすすめ from my trip.

After Nanta, we went out for yakiniku and so-ju at a place near our hostel. Can't go to Korea and not have the BBQ, kimchi, and sake equivalent so-ju! It wasn't bad either! A little sweeter than sake but a lot stronger I think. Pictures to follow!

A food cart near our hostel we frequented once. :D Best imo tempura I've ever eaten.
Nanta in action!
First time at yakiniku, Korea style~
Illuminations were all over the city.
Cart food.

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Korea and the Hike of Death, Day One Photo Diary

First day of four in Korea and we ended up hiking up a huge mountain. All because we wanted to see a wall! Haha~ somehow me and my travel buddy got roped into checking out the military zone of the Seonggwak fortress wall that sits on top of Bukhansan mountain. It didn't seem like a huge endeavor, but the whole thing ended up being a 2.5 hour hike up a really really steep mountain path. My legs wanted to give out by the end!! This was all after checking out the two palaces in the area: changdeokgung palace and gyeongbokgung palace. They were both gorgeous and it's interesting seeing the Chinese and Japanese architectural influence on the buildings.

Other than that, I finally got to try real Korean bibimbop! Tomorrow, BBQ awaits us~ I love kimchi and spicy food sooo much :)

Cool moving lights on the building near Seoul station
That is the first thing I've ever seen sold in a KFC that looks appetizing (besides the biscuits)
Bibimbop, my favorite Korea dish ever. Finally got to try some real stuff :D
Breakfast the first morning~
Cat cart.
The north gate along the fortress wall we nearly died climbing.
When Santas attack..
Kitty Cafe!
Gorgeous view of the city from the top of a mountain we climbed.

Monday, December 26, 2011

Merry Christmas!!

Just in time for an American Christmas but a little late for a Japanese Christmas (by seven hours). The last week has been really busy, filled with finishing classes, bounenkais, band practice and a Christmas party I held yesterday. I feel like compared to last year, the end of the year really snuck up on me this time. I wanted to design some nengajo and send them out but didn't have any time at all! :P Oh well. Next year is my year, year of the dragon, so maybe being in my element will bring me some extra luck.

On Thursday I got to spend a wonderful evening with all my junior high school teachers at their bounenkai. I love that school best of all, and the teaches all treat me so nicely and are so friendly and chatty. We played a really fun team game and all got to receive presents that varied in usefulness. I chose the gift wrapped in the Kaldi bag. You can never go wrong with food, in my opinion. Saturday was the bounenkai for my Japanese class. It was hilarious seeing our 60 year old teacher drunk, sassy, and speaking English. She is probably my favorite person in this country and I'm so happy I started going to that class last February. We all hung out in Hirome Ichiba for the evening and did a gift exchange.

Friday, me and Matto went to band practice in Tokushima. Because our drummer had to work (on the emperor's birthday too! Damn you Sunny Clean!!) we went early to eat dinner with kabuki face and his girlfriend, then went to practice from 9-11. Arase had just gotten this really amazing recording device as a gift so we got to test it out. The quality and balance of just our practice tracks is impressive, to say the least. Can't wait to start recording for real!!

Yesterday, I held a small party at my house with some close friends and my young JTEs. I made a vegan caramel apple pie that came out soooo wonderfully and Matto made his vegan pasta bake, which tasted better than usual. We also played a game that my family always plays for Christmas where everyone brings five presents and adds them to a massive pile in the center of the room. The contents of the presents vary greatly in quality, which is the funnest part of the game. Everyone receives three playing cards and when your card is called, you get to take a gift from the center. Once all the gifts are gone, you can steal from other people. It gets really fun when people get possessive of a gift they don't even know the contents of. Me and Tomokazu kept stealing a present back and forth that ended up being an incense tray or something silly like that. We also watched The Nightmare Before Christmas, which I haven't seen in ages. One of my favorite movies, no doubt.

Hope everyone has/had a lovely Christmas as well! Whether you're with your family at home, or far from home with your friends, spending christmas with loved ones and people you like is the most important thing to me. :) Now, I'm off to Korea for a four day vacation and then will be in Mie Ken for the new year. This is the first time I'll be spending new years in Japan. I'm pretty excited to go to the famous Ise shrine and pray for a good new year. I have a feeling 2012 will be a good one. ;)

Seisui Enkai
so much love
People love showing me the bird in love <3 Christmas party!

Monday, December 19, 2011

"Tease Me, Please Me #3"

I like how our band's name is the only one not all in caps.
The flyer for our first show was finally made!! Yahoo!!! The picture used for it is one of Hikko from ELMOC in a particularly drunk-looking state, hahaha. Oh man, can't wait! Other than FOOL THE PUBLIC (which I've never seen before), the rest of the bands we are playing with are awesome. I need to be on my A game for this...yesterday, we had the singer/guitarist from THE MADWIFE, one of her friends, and the bass from WHAT-A-NIGHT'S come and listen in on our practice. I got kinda nervous the first song and royally messed up my guitar part. :P The song we always start with is a little tougher, so having an easier song to start with will help take the edge off playing a real show I think. As soon as the first song was done, I eased up a lot and was able to get through the rest of the songs fine. I wonder what they thought of it all... the singer/guitarist from WHAT-A-NIGHT'S really liked our practice recordings and mentioned that at the show me and Matto went to on Saturday evening, but no one said anything in particular when we were taking a break Sunday. Of course, I don't really think that means they didn't like it or anything. Thinking about it, when I went to the recording for Horse and Deer, it's not like me and Matto jumped up and down and yelled "OMG you guys are soooo awesooome~!" or anything. You just smile, bob along to the music, and enjoy what you're listening to.

Saturday, me and Matto headed out to Takamatsu to see a show at a place called Rizin. I've mentioned this before, but Takamatsu is famous for their udon, and ever since I had a taste of it (at a place apparently called "God Hand") I've craved it. I did not satisfy that craving Saturday because the place we chose to eat at was just a lame chain restaurant, so the udon was only so-so. :\ Next time I'll have to do it properly. The only notable bands were Turncoat, WHAT-A-NIGHT'S, Shipyards, and Parkmates. Everything else was pretty bad...

Wine wine win~
Friday night, one of my friends in town had a wine and cheese party that I went to. It was really nice tasting different wines and indulging in ligit tasting cheeses. Japanese cheese tends to be so mild and dull tasting... it was really nice trying a strong blue cheese and brie with apple slices and nut-filled bread. I brought a crumble cake to the party, and Sea brought some cheddar. Unfortunately, the cheese was rather mild and only had a hint of any true cheddary taste. I miss sharp cheddar's bite so badly sometimes...

Last week of classes and work until I take a 12 day vacation! Pretty busy week, actually: I have classes everyday this week, a bonenkai on Thursday and Saturday night, practice late Friday night, and I'm holding a little Christmas party on Sunday the 25th right before I head out to Korea next Monday! Me and my college buddy (that came to visit last month) living in Mie Ken are going to Korea from the 26th-30th, and then I'm bumming at her house until I have to go home on the 3rd. We decided that we are going to go to the extremely popular and very famous Ise Shrine for New Years. I've never done the traditional Japanese New Years thing before, so I'm excited to get freezing cold receive omikuji, and see what sort of fortune next year will bring me~

Atsushi's new nickname is going to be "Speed Red," after those awesome glasses we got for him in Tokyo.
Arase nicknamed himself "This is shit" after the poop stickers we also brought back for them. His Tokyo gift was a lighter that had a heart that lit up on the front when you used the lighter. Hahahaha~

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Day 09 – Favorite stores/shopping centers.

It's been awhile since I've written a "Japan 30 Day Meme" blog post, but I think this one is my favorite prompt thus far!

I think I can safely admit that I am a bit of a shop-a-holic. While I am definitely no where near clinically-diagnosed bad (shopping can be just as addictive as gambling or alcohol), I still do have the tendency to buy things I don't need and spend money that I really should be using on rent or food on buying a cute new dress. The thing about Japan, as anyone who has been to the country is well aware of, is that there are cute dresses, shoes, bags, and blouses exploding out of every shop front and crevice available for use. Styles and seasons change quickly, and once one thing goes in fashion it's everywhere and then no where in a flash. I love Japanese fashion, but I don't make that much money, and can only splurge on a few nice things every once in awhile.

The other thing about Japan that I like is their access to nice quality used shops. Everyone and their brother has probably heard of the chain "Book-Off" if they have any experience traveling or studying abroad in Japan. They've even started opening stores in the US! If you don't know, Book-Off is a used book store where you can find used (and in very nice condition) books, comics, magazines, CDs, DVDs, and video games (sometimes the consoles too). They have walls of 100 yen comics and books, and you can usually find what you're looking for in a Book-Off somewhere near you and at 2/3rds the cost (at the very least).

Now, something I'm not sure everyone knows about Japan. There is not only Book-Off. In fact, the "Off" chain of stores (if you can call it a chain...) has a bunch of different resale shops! Among the stranger include: Off-Garage (car stuff) and Golf-Off (...obvious?). My two favorites are the magnificent Off-House (used clothing, furniture and house wares) and Hard-Off (PORN SHOP!... no it's electronics, DVDs, games, CDs, and musical instruments). I have spent countless hours going through the racks in Off-House and coming across 300 yen adorable dresses and skirts. Not to mention the fact that half of the furniture in my house is from Off-House (4000 yen yellow couch, 800 yen lamp, 500 yen lamp, 3000 yen bamboo bookshelf.... the list goes on). On the Hard-Off side, I can thank them for my lovely blue acoustic guitar (6000 yen) and a number of fun film cameras I've been collecting (nikon FE for 6000 yen and toy camera for 300 yen that takes really fun pictures), as well as most of my electric guitar accessories (picks, strings, and input cables).

On the same line as Off-House, I also love to frequent the two other used-clothing chains called "Jumble Store" and "B.J," which I'm pretty sure they have all over Japan (I've seen them in every prefecture on Shikoku at least). The clothing that they accept for those places is of amazing quality and basically brand new. While these type of "furugi-ya" can run a bit expensive, if you look hard enough, you can find cheap gems everywhere. The existence of these stores, and the high quality of clothing they provide, while maybe not the latest fashions, has made it rather difficult for me to resist the urge to spend my yen when I step foot in them. :P

Monday, December 12, 2011

Tokyo Photo Diary

I had such a fantastic week/weekend in Tokyo, that I really don't have much to write about it. I just want to share pictures. Being back in boring Kochi is also not really doing much for my mood... it's weird but taking the 11 hour bus back is better for the mental transition than a 1 hour plane ride. In the 11 hours, you dread coming back, but it's such a tiring ride that getting home feels like a relief. Riding on a plane takes no time, so the transition is stark. I went from big city lights, busyness, noise, movement back to dark, slow, empty fields and mountains... Meh, oh well! This December weather is gorgeous today, and I have dinner with my friends, so I really don't have a lot to complain about right now. :)

Advertisment in Shibuya.
Beautiful blue sky in Shibuya.
Antique toy store, one of the many weird shops in Broadway (Nakano) we went to with Shota
Shota on his giant computer phone.
Band called "Water Closet." An older band but really awesome!
My favorite Tokyo girls, ELMOC <3
With Kazue. She almost didn't make it to sing because she was hung over from her bonenkai the previous night.
More ELMOC <3<3
"Horse and Deer" recording a new CD. Matto got to do some guest vocals. It was fun hanging out with them.
Recording the vocals for another part of their song.