Friday, January 30, 2009

Tenjin Dai (or whatever)

Last weekend was a long weekend. Since it was my first real weekend in town I had barely had a chance to get settled, but a group of coworkers invited me to go on a ski trip and I couldn’t refuse. I had to rent pretty much all my gear since I had shipped all my stuff from home and it had yet to arrive. I was lucky I was able to get out of work early and we caught the train around 7 from Yokosuka. After 2 transfers we made it to the bullet train.


I love the bullet train. It’s the ONLY way to travel. So fast, so smooth, so relaxing. You HAVE to pack a snack and make sure to bring plenty of chu-hi. My usual fare is boxed sushi from the kaitenzushi under the train station, nigiri (rice balls) from the 7-11, and at least 3 tall cans of chu-hi. That will pretty much set you up for any length of bullet train ride.


After about 4 hours of travel we made it to our destination.

The Canyons Lodge is an adventure hostel run by a bunch of Kiwis. All of them are super nice and they provided a shuttle from the train, breakfast, and shuttles to the ski resorts each day.


The accommodations were neat. I think it was an old Japanese style inn because the living quarters were set up with tatami mats and paper walls/doors. There was even a traditional Japanese bath house in the basement.

Six bunks were squeezed into a room and they each had a “futon” mattress. Rylynn commandeered the unused futons for extra padding since the beds were so firm. “Lucky” for me, after a week of the bed at my place I barely noticed.

It was snowing when we arrived on Friday and snowed all day Saturday. Which is great if you have goggles, the one thing I neglected to rent.

Still, the powder riding was sweet and we had no trouble finding new tracks even though the mountain was tiny.


I’m amazed at the Japanese ski resorts. They are the smallest little mom n’ pop places, but they will have an enormous gondola to take you up to their three 2-person lifts.

Here I am, cutting it up in my rental gear! Note the pink arm band. No wickets for your tickets here and pink was all they had left! I think it actually goes pretty well with the standard issue blue. IMG_0073

Photo credit: Mike Stevens :-P

Unfortunately, we had one casualty: Josh torqued his knee skiing. I think it was like his second or third time and the powder was probably a bit much for him. He got some great attention by the ski patrol, who spoke no English.


He looks like he was being a good sport. I never actually saw him after the injury, but heard he was in a lot of pain. This picture is of Josh in the gondola on the sled they used to bring him down the mountain. They brought him to the bottom where an ambulance was waiting to take him to the hospital.

Unfortunately he did quite a number on himself and ended up riding the train all the way back to Yokosuka that night. Later that week he was on a plane back to Washington. He was only in Japan for a week.

Despite the loss of a team member, the party cruised on. That night, after Patrick made it back from the adventure in a Japanese hospital with Josh, we ate dinner in the lodge restaurant/bar. It was definitely western-style food, but it was good and hit the spot after a long day.

After dinner we stuck around to watch the Irish band up from Tokyo which was actually really good! Their drummer was the only Japanese member of the band and she was one of the most lively musicians I’ve ever seen. All night she had an enormous smile on her face and the Irish jig rhythms seemed to flow out of her arms and legs.



The band played kind of a short set for what you might expect of an Irish band. We weren’t quite ready to head to bed just yet so we decided to play around on the mechanical bull and skateboard ramp! Conveniently located adjacent to the bar!

Jo wasn’t the only one to get out there, but she had the best poses. The best part is that the mechanical bull was broken, making this shot that much more awesome.

The next morning we hit the slopes again. This day was a bit more relaxed as we knew the mountain a little better, but since it had stopped snowing we had to work a little harder to find the good snow. Along the way we found some good photo ops:


IMG_0103 IMG_0092

Fun stuff!! We even got to have an awesome lunch together.


Here’s Mike getting seriously into some udon noodle soup.

That night we were all broke so we embarked on what has become a perennial mission: International Cash Machine Hunt.

The goal was to find a cash machine on the way to an onsen and then find dinner. The last resort was to walk for an hour while starving looking for the mythical 7-11.

We found the onsen first and scraped up the entry fee using pocket change. After a nice soak in an unremarkable indoor hot spring we set out to accomplish the rest of our mission via the last resort method. At least dinner was good!

Back at the inn we decide to make our own fun for the evening and play Up Dog. “What’s up dog?” you may ask. “Nothing much,” I’d say. Oh man.

Ok, so we’re playing Up Down forever into the evening having a great time and we even got the new roommate (a Japanese guy who knows a little English) to play with us. Nobu was awesome. In fact we just got an email from him last week saying he’s been to Minakami several times since, but misses us. He apparently plays Up Dog regularly now though ;-)

On the way home the next day we figured out how to turn the bullet train seats around.


What a great way to travel :-)

The weekend’s not over! We stopped in Tokyo for some exploring. The weather was amazing compared to the snow and cold of the mountains.


This picture was taken at the Imperial Palace. You can actually see the only visible part of it just above Patrick’s head. The water behind us is the moat!



Patrick gets the fun pic of the post:


Friday, January 23, 2009

Second First Week

And what a week it’s been! 

I arrived jet-lagged to pouring rain, lugging a bike box and 94lb suitcase which cost me $84 and $252 respectively to check on the plane.  Luckily the shipyard was able to stick to its promise of finding us at the airport and providing a ride to our accommodations since they weren’t able to give me an address of my apartment beforehand.  After a long bus ride we arrive to some random bus stop at Yokohama station where half of us get off the bus.  It’s cold and, as I mentioned, raining.  We’re standing around while the people “in charge” untangle themselves and find taxis for everyone and their luggage.  Of course I’m the last one since my “host” is the only one of the group who speaks Japanese.  We walk around the plaza, literally, three times dragging my stuff in the pouring rain looking for a taxi before we end up right where we started (where everyone else had already gotten taxis).  We pile my stuff in the back seat because it won’t fit in the trunk and then somehow squeeze ourselves in too for the 5 min ride to my building.

I’m staying in the Yokohama “Urban Tower” which is in the new part of the city.  I say “new” because they literally just created 21 acers of land by filling in part of the harbor.  It’s called Minato Mirai 21 and I live in one of its dozens of luxury high rises.  I have a studio apartment with a full kitchen, a balcony, and a nice view of the Yokohama Bay Bridge (if I crane my neck just right).  The studio actually has 4 rooms.  The main room:

CIMG5793  CIMG5794

The bath room (which is actually two rooms because the Japanese-style bath has a door on it) and the toilet room!






Complete with bidet and heated seat of course!



The apartment has a couple of curious features.  At first I thought I’d been slighted by the management when, after a 14-hour travel day, I crawl into bed only to discover they’ve given me a box spring and no mattress!!  Or at least that’s what I thought.  It turns out this is just a standard Japanese bed.  Well… I guess it’s good for posture, right?



The other interesting feature is the in-unit washer and dryer.  The washer isn’t too difficult to get the hang of, especially with the instructions/translations I was provided for each of my appliances (stove, microwave, rice cooker, A/C, and washing machine all have their own sheet).

However, the dryer is unlike anything I’d ever heard of before:  After your clothes are finished spinning in the washer you hang them up in the bathroom, close the door and press the “dry” button on the wall!CIMG5686


I still haven’t figured out how to get the wrinkles out, but I suppose it has something to do with the iron and ironing board in my closet.  Suggestions?




The first week was pretty hectic actually.  Between getting settled in the apartment and figuring out the commute I didn’t have time for much else really.  My train ride is about 30 mins and it takes about 15 minutes to walk to the station from my apartment.  Then, on the other side, it’s a serious hike between the train station and my office on the boat.  I’m working swingshift so I don’t get home until about 11:30, which doesn’t leave much opportunity for exploring the city.  I ended up renting a bike in Yokosuka and have been wrestling with where to park it.



It turns out next to the train station with a bunch of other bikes isn’t right for some reason  ;-)   My next project is to find a cheap folding bike I can take on the train with me. 


Of course I made time for a little bit of fun on Sunday night.  I was out biking around Yokohama and decided to drop in on the Fab Four after I stumbled upon their neck of the woods.  They were properly surprised and agreed to meet Igor and me for dinner later that night.



Igor, Toshi, Andy, and me!  Eriko didn’t come out for some reason.





They took us to an international buffet place in the main train station.  There were all kinds of Asian foods, Italian foods, etc, most of which wasn’t too far off from what you might find at a buffet table at a wedding.  Nothing too special really, but it was good to hang out with everyone. 

I got yelled at for trying to eat curry with chopsticks.  Apparently spaghetti is OK though. 




Eisuke reaffirms his love for Jennifer Aniston.









I hope to meet up with them again soon.  I wanted to have a little party at my place, but I ended up going snowboarding last weekend instead.  Some other time.

Next post: Snowboard trip!