Sunday, December 31, 2006

Hello? Watch, bag?....Hello? Crazy times in Shanghai

Wow! I'm back in Japan after 10 days of madness in Shanghai. It was quite an experience and made me realize that there is a hell of a lot more to Asia than just Japan. Natsumi and I headed to Narita airport on Dec 21st, and arrived in Shanghai at about 9 o'clock in the evening. By the time we got to the place where our hotel was it was around 10:30, so we just dropped off our gear and headed out for some food. Natsumi had lived in Shanghai previously as a student, and the hotel was near to her old campus so she knew the area well. The little restaurant that we went to that night was great. It was a little shishkabob restaurant that had the best food. We ate until we were full and drank beer until late. When the check arrived, I finally understood that we were in China. The grand total came to 34 yuan, or the equivalent of about $5 canadian. Nice.

The next day we went to a not-so-tourist-friendly market area called Qipu road. It was pretty crazy, and not a lot of tourists go there. The sheer quantity of shops, vendors, noise, and kiosks was a bit hard to take in. We did a bit of shopping there, and then moved on. Our next stop was the more famous Nanjing road. This is the more upscale area near the center of Shanghai where many name-brand shops, fast-food chains, and coffee shops. We spent some time walking around there, then headed to People's Square, a park area closeby. There was a huge Hong Kong style shopping mall there, and we ate some more delicious food. After that, we walked to the river to stroll along the famous pedestrain walkway know as the Bund. At night it is lit up and gives a great view of Pudong across the river. Later we headed back to Chifeng road, near our hotel, to do some "DVD" shopping.

The next day (Dec 23rd) we visited Yuyuan Garden. It was a beautiful temple area, and also a huge maket bazaar. We did some poking around and shopping there. On the way to Yuyuan, we took a very "scenic" walk though a neighborhood that was very traditional Chinese. It consisted od very, very old buildings, some without walls or even floors, but all still with tenants inside. It was weird to see such run-down and slummy looking places but see smiles on the faces of all the people around us. It really put into perspective just how different my life is than anything these people know.

Christmas eve was a bit of a downer for me. The first part of the day had been great. We had met up with a friend of Natsumi's, Akina, and visited some cool shops, a great market, and then headed to Nanjing Road. There, I split off from the girls and went walking around on my own for a bit. I was trying to buy a bottle of water at a kiosk when the "incident" happened. As I took my wallet out of my pocket, someone tried to rip it out of my hands. It fell to the ground, spilling out some cash onto the street. I went straight for the wallet, but the 4 other guys who I didn't even know were there went straight for the cash. It didn't take to long to realize that this little group of guys likely had me pegged for a while before and saw their chance. Anyway, only a bit of cash was lost, and all my important papers and cards were safe. If you are ever in Shanghai, keep a tight grip on you wallet! I should have been more careful!

We woke up early on Christmas day so we could eat some 'Baozi' which is a steam-bun filled with meat and/or vegetables, and is officially my favorite Chinese food. Even better, each bun only costs about 0.7 yuan, which is about 10 cents canadian. SWEET! Later in the day we did some shopping on Huaihai Road. By the time we were ready for Xmas dinner we were pretty beat, so we had a delicious KFC christmas.
We spent boxing day around People's square, and also near to Akina's apartment. We went to an enormous tea shop, tea shops actually, and were allowed to sample many kinds of Chinese tea. Later that night we went out to dinner with some Korean friends of Natsumi's. It was a very weird meal, as there were many languages being tossed around. There were 8 people there: 2 Chinese, 3 Koreans, Natsumi, Akina, and I, but we all didn't share common languages. Most of the people were Chinese language students in Shanghai, but none of them spoke any English. Akina doesn't speak English either, so as a result all of the conversations were in a mix of Chinese, Korean, Japanese, and English. Confusing to say the least. Also, one of the Chinese girls (a Korean guy's girlfriend) was a bit of a cold fish and didn't seem very friendly at all. Not sure if there was some Chinese-Japanese hostilities or what, but Natsumi and I had more than a couple of chuckles at her expense during the meal.

On the 27th we headed to Shanghai station. We went to this are that was a huge underground are that was all eyeglass shops. I managed to get a great pair of glasses with prescription lenses for about $25 dollars. Silly me, I didn't check them until I got home and found that the prescription was off a little. Ah well. Later, we went to the trendy area of Xintiandi. It is a pretty upscale little are full of shops, restaurants, etc. In the evening we met a Shanghainese friend of Natsumi's called Xiao Li and enjoyed a delicious traditional Chinese-style meal.

On the 28th, we visited Jing'an temple and the nearby area. There was even a Burger King there! Of course we had to go it. I hadn't had Burger King in 3 years, as there are none in Japan. Whoppers are great! Later that night we went to the high rise district area called Pudong. From there we could get a beautiful view of the Bund. Also, we headed up to the 88th floor of Jin Mao tower.
Our last day we went back to Qipu road maket to do our shopping. We were able to buy tons of shoes, clothes, watches, etc. It was a tiring day, but we managed to get it all done. To cap off our trip, we headed back to the same shishkabob restaurant that we went to on our first night and enjoyed another night of good eats and good drink. Our flight the next day left early, so we had to get up at 4:30 am to catch it.

The trip was short, wild, intense, but was an unforgettable experience. If you want to see more of the photos from this trip click here.

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Seasons Greetings from Joe and Natsumi

Hi everyone. Hope you have a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year! We'll be in Shanghai until the 30th so I won't be posting for a while. Enjoy the holidays! メリークリスマス と 明けましておめでとうございます!

Monday, December 18, 2006

My 2006

It`s that time of year...time to write about the main events from the last 365 days. It seems like every year just goes by faster and faster, and I am never able to realize it until it`s happened. It`ll soon be 2007, but I am still getting used to saying 2006.

I began my 2006 with a New Years party in Tokyo. I had been up in Akita prefecture doing some skiing with friends and had returned to Tokyo for a New Years party held at club Unit in Daikanyama. There was a good vibe in the place, and it was a fun night (minus the nausea trouble I got myself into as a result of drinking too many Heinekens).

I was busy in January, because my band (The Peacemakers) had a gig scheduled for the 22nd. It was at a large concert hall in Yashio, the same venue we had played a year earlier. We had been rehearsing in December and continued that into January right up until the date. The show went off well, with no major malfunctions other than the atrocious weather. It snowed a total of 3 days all winter last year in Yashio, but one of those days was the day of our concert, just my luck! We had a large post-concert party at a local izakaya (Eena) to cap the event off. Little did I know that it would likely be the final time I would play a gig with them.

February and March were spent trying to keep warm in my apartment. As I`ve no doubt mentioned hundreds of times, it is wickedly cold here in the winters. My apartment was also furnished with the world`s worst kerosene heater. It stunk up the place something awful, and didn`t kick out much heat. So instead, I used my aircon/heater despite the horribly expensive price of electricity. To stay warm, I would often spend long hours at the local gym. It was better to be warm and exercising than shivering in my apartment. I was lucky enough to have a decent community gym not far from my apartment. Community gyms are adequately equipped, and 300 yen ($3) per visit was much more reasonable than the 12,000 yen ($120) monthly fees charged by most private clubs.

In April, I was lucky enough to have my sister Natalie and her husband Mats come out to Japan to visit me for a week. It was nice to see them, as I hadn`t seen anyone from home since the previous year at their wedding. We toured many local areas in Tokyo, including Asakusa, Odaiba, Shinjuku, Harajuku, etc
I think it was a little hard for them to adjust to Japan`s climate/culture/food in such a short period of time though. If you are in Japan for a week, it taked a good 2 or 3 days just to get over the jetlag before you can fully comprehend things. They were troopers though, and we went on lots of day trips and tried lots of local Japanese cuisine. I am expecting more visitors from home in 2007 as well. My tour guide skills are top notch! lol

In May I met a wonderful girl named Natsumi. Since we have been together, my experince in Japan has been 100% different. I still do all the same things that I used to, but now I have so much different input and alternate viewpoints on things I thought were pretty obvious. Being with Natsumi has really opened my eyes and unlocked a culture that I have been immersed in for the past 2 years. I am now privy to all the subtle nuances of people`s actions, business strategies, pop culture, and history and as a result, I am really beginning to appreciate my experiences here the way they should be appreciated. Natsumi is a 4th year university student studying Chinese (Mandarin) and she is currently writing her thesis (actually she finished it 2 days ago! Omedetou!). Her English ability is also very high. We generally communicate in English, but I try and use the Japanese I`ve learned, and I am learning much more from her as well.

In early June, I met up with another music friend of mine, Kirk. He is formerly from Regina, Saskatchewan, but has been living here in Tokyo for the last 6 years. He is married to a Japanese woman and plans to spend his life in Japan. We rented a car and decided to go on a weeklong adventure. In Japan, it is very easy to travel almost anywhere by local or bullet train, but not so popular to do a Candian-style raod trip. We looked to buck that trend, so we planned a route through Japan that would take us on a scenic, off the beaten track kind of adventure. After a minor fender-bender in Tokyo (Kirk still wasn`t used to the right-hand drive cars, lol) we were off. We headed east of Tokyo and made our way to Nagano prefecture. We took a few roads through the mountains that were more than treacherous, but eventually ended up in the beautiful mountain village of Iina-shi. We stayed with another frind of mine, Carla, who is also origianlly from Winnipeg. We enjoyed a beautiful mountain onsen before pushing on in the direction of Osaka. Or plan had been to travel about halfway to Osaka that day, but instead we made it all the way there in a day. We stayed in Osaka for a couple of days, soaking in the local atmosphere, food, and excitement. The world cup was on at that time, so we joined the sea of blue Team Japan shirts and watched Japan`s game amongst hundreds of screaming Japanese fans. From there, we carried on to beautiful Kyoto. This was such a change after the madness of Osaka. We saw all of the beautiful temples and castles, and really chilled out for a couple of days.
Lastly, we headed back towards Tokyo. Our plan was to stay on the beach in Shizuoka, do some swimming, and just relax. When we got there though, the beach was a bit subpar, and it wasn`t so beautiful. We thought that maybe we should just head back to Tokyo that day, but we weren`t sure. It became a definite plan when Kirk lost his glasses in the ocean after taking a wave to the face. We arrived safely back in Tokyo, no major incidents in our trip.

At the endo of July, I packed up and moved to a new city, Kasukabe. All of the teachers in my previous city (Yashio) were being replaced by a private company, but I was licky enought to get a transfer to Kasukabe. Natsumi and I rented a moving truck, loaded it up, and drove it the 2 hours to Kasukabe. It was sad to leave Yashio, as it had been my home for 2 years here in Japan, and my base for all the crazy adventures I have been on in that time. It`s also where i met my good friends. I also had to say goodbye to a good buddy, Keith. He was heading back to the UK at that time. I think one of the first posts on this blog is about the beaking up of the YA-JET massive, so have a look if you want to read more. Anyway, I finally got settled in my new apartment (which is waaaaaay nicer and bigger than my previous one). I`ve made many new friends here in Kasukabe, and it is a great place to live.

I`ve made friends in Kasukabe who are from the US, the UK, Australia, NZ, Jamaica, Canada, and the Phillipines. My new school, Midori Junior High School, is also a lot of fun. The job is a lot more challenging here. Also, I have been teaching regularily at an Elementary school that is part of a special pilot program in English language education in Japan. It is one of only 3 schools in the whole country to incorporate a high level of English instruction at the elementary level. It is so influential, in fact, that it is regualrily visited by delegations of principals, superintendants, and other education officials who are interested in similar programs for their schools. Last week, I was part of a demonstration day where 500-600 education-related people, media, etc came to the school to watch us perform our classes and classroom routines. The work is a lot more interesting this year.

In October, Natsumi and I headed down to Okinawa. There is also an extensive post about that trip on this blog, so I will not bore you with the synopsis again. I will say that it was great and just the break I needed after the stress of moving to a new city, meeting new people, and starting a new job. Since then we`ve done many fun things including going to museums and parks around Tokyo, going to art shows, throwing parties (had a housewarming in October as well). In our downtime, we both enjoy going to the gym and are lucky enough to have a fairly inexpensive club near my apartment.

This past weekend, the English teachers from Kasukabe got together and threw a little Xmas shindig. We had to have the party early because it was the last chance that we would all have to be together before Xmas. Most people are leaving Japan to go home or take a vacation over Xmas. It was a fun time, and we even had a Xmas tree! Now I am back at work writing this after a hard weekend recovering from that night.

But all is well! Today is Monday, but this week I only work until Wednesday the 20th. On Thursday, Natsumi and I hop on a plane and will be headed for Shanghai!

I`ve got my Chinese VISA all sorted, and I`m ready to go. I am excited to go, as Shaghai looks and sounds like one of the craziest places. I`m looking forward to the shopping too. I`ll have a big post on here about the trip when we get back.

So...that was an abbreviated version of my 2006. Please write me and tell me all about your year as well. Merry Christmas and Happy New Year! I hope you all succeed in whatever it is you are doing! Bye.


Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Studio Ghibli

Last weekend, Natsumi and I headed west of Shinjuku to visit the Ghibli Museum. This is the company that produced the anime films like Spirited Away, Howl's Moving Castle, and Grave of Fireflies. The museum is kind of a tribute to Miyazaki, the guy who is the creative mastermind behind the movies. The museum is set up like a maze, so that when you walk in you have a number of choices of a route to follow. There were various rooms that were dedicated to different movies. Also, there was a movie theater in the lower section of the museum. We were shown a 20 minute movie that is only screened in the theater itself which was pretty interesting. We went up to the roof and saw a huge replica of the robots from the movie Laputa: Castle in the sky (pictured here). It was a really cool experience.

Friday, December 08, 2006

Japanese superstitions (日本の迷信)

I came across some interesting information yesterday and I thought I would share it with you. It is concerning some superstitions that are common here is Japan. I had heard some of these before, but others were new to me so I thought I would pass it along.

Bad luck superstitions:
1. The one thing that is considered to be very bad luck in Japan is to see a hearse (霊柩車)driving down the street. If you see this, you are supposed to make a fist around your thumb and protect it. Why? Well, in Japanese, the thumb is literally translated as the "parent finger", so by wrapping it in your fist as a hearse drives by, you are protecting your parents from death or injury.
2. Another superstition that I found interesting is about bad luck numbers. In the west, we always say that 13 is an unklucky number. In Japan, it isn`t 13 that is bad luck, but rather the numbers 4 (四)and 9 (九). The reason they are unlucky is that 4 is sometimes pronounced "shi", which means "death". Similarily, 9 is sometimes pronounced "ku", which means "suffering". Therefore, various measures are taken to avoid these numbers. For example, I live on the 4th floor of my building, but there is no apartment 404. Many buildings and hospitals often don`t have a 4th floor. Also, if you are giving prensents such as plates, cups, etc you would never give them in sets of four. Most of the time they are sold in sets of 3 or 5 just to avoid such a coincidence.
3. Yet another superstition is observed after returning from a funeral. It is believed that you should throw salt on yourself (or on the other person, if with someone) to purify yourself before entering your house after a funeral.

There is also a good luck superstition that I have heard about. For us in the West, keeping a rabbit`s foot on us is considered good luck. In Japan, businesses, companies, or any organization that is hoping to make a profit have a certain ornament that is placed in the store. It is a small cat with one paw raised. In the hopes of attracting positive financial gains, this cat is used.

As I sat with Natsumi discussing these superstitions, she informed me of another interesting one. In Japan, if you go to visit a sick friend in the hospital, you should never bring a potted plant or flowers as a gift. Bringing a bouquet of flowers is fine, but if you bring something that is potted it is considered back luck. The superstition is that because the plant/flowers have roots that are entrenched in the soil of the pot, it signifies that your friend will "grow roots" of their own in the hospital and not be able to leave. Intersting huh?

Sunday, December 03, 2006

Clapton, culture, and craziness

I had an interesting weekend. On Saturday, I joined my good buddy Nori at Saitama Super Arena for an Eric Clapton concert. A company affiliated with Nori's work was the main sponsor of the show, and as a result he was comped a pair of tickets. Lucky for me, he hooked me up with a ticket. We got to the show a little early so we could catch up and have some afternoon beers. Then to kill some time before the show, we took in the John Lennon Museum, conveniently located in the same arena. The museum was quite interesting, and there was many cool Lennon-related items there including; guitars, clothes, artwork, and letters. Although I couldn't take any pictures inside, here is a picture of Nori with the famous couple.
After that, it was time for the concert. The fan base at this concert was quite a bit different from what I saw at the Loud Park Metal Festival in October, with most people being in their 40s and 50s. I was quite jacked for this show though, as Clapton is one of the all time greats and I had never had the chance to see him. Our seats were decent, just off the floor to the right side of the stage. Clapton was amazing, and he was complimented by a stellar backing band. He ran through most of the hits, including Layla and Crossroads. After the show we went to Omiya and caught up with some drinks and dinner.
The next day, I met Natsumi and her sister Yuko at Tokyo Big Sight. We met there so we could attend the Tokyo Design Festa. This is a yearly meeting of all sorts of artists from Japan and other countries around the world. The variety of exhibits and paintings on display at the event were quite amazing, but some were also a bit confusing. It was interesting to walk down an isle and see a goth booth, and anime booth, a performance art booth, and the a musician's booth all packed in together. Some of the stuff was a bit amateurish looking, but some of the people who were making the goth dolls really paid attention to detail. Example:
One of the funniest/freakiest things that I saw there today was some of the performance art pieces. In one (which I will put up on Youtube ASAP), tow masked guys were addressing the crowd. They looked like guys from WWE wrestling, wearing overalls and those cheesy masks. All of a sudden, the final scene from Terminator 1 (where Arnold gets shot up and lowered into the molten steel...remember?). Anyway, when the scene came on, the two guys proceeded to enact the scene as well by screaming like idiots for about 2 mintues. And I mean SCREAMING. It was so ridiculous, but sooooooo funny. I"ll put up the link to the video soon. Anyway, after that we headed to Shimbashi and walked around in Ginza. There was even a Subway restaurant! I hadn't eaten Subway in about 3 years...natsukashii! School tomorrow though :(


Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Bye bye beardy

Well, for the first time since around 2001, I am without any facial hair. What do you think? Better or worse? Do I need to grow that thing ASAP or stick it out as is? You tell me.

Long time no speaky

Hi all!
Sorry it`s been so long since I`ve posted here, been pretty busy lately. Well, the beautiful fall days are over, and I`ve had to resort to the old kerosene heater to keep my apartment warm again. For anyone who doesn`t really know, it seems that most buildings in Japan are not given any insulation when they are built, making them almost unbearably cold in the winter. Given, I am used to the -30C winters of Manitoba, so you would think the relatively mild zero degree winters of Tokyo should be no problem...well, think again! I challenge any Canadian tough-guy to come here and say that Japan isn`t a cold place. You can still enjoy things outside, as there is rarely any snow, but the problem lies in the fact that it is almost the same temperature inside as it is outside. Central heating? Forget about it! As I said, the main heat source in buildings are smelly kerosene heaters, and the concept of "heat-retention" doesn`t exist here. So, for the next 3 or 4 months I`ll be shivering. Good times!

Natsumi and I finalized our winter vacation plans as well. We`ll bejetting off to Shanghai, China on December 21st. I am super excited about that, and I would like to really have a good poke around. I even started learning some basic Mandarin for the trip. Ni hao ma (How are you?) lol. We`ve also planned an English teacher`s Xmas party for December 16th. We`re doing a gift-exchange, and will likely be pretty merry. Natsumi and I will return to Japan on December 30th, so we will be in Tokyo for New Year`s. Not too sure what we will get up to as of yet, but we had tossed the idea around of going to a temple and bringing in the new year in the traditional Japanese style. I think this would be quite fun, as last year I was at a packed nightclub and could use a change of pace this year.

Also, this Saturday I`ll be going to see Eric Clapton at Saitama Super Arena. My good friend Nori was comped a pair of great tickets from his employer, and he asked me to go along. Lucky me! Should be a great show. I`ll post a report and link to any pics that I take from the show as well. The following day there is an art exhibition in Tokyo that I will go to with Natsumi and her sister which should be interesting as well.

It's been crazily dry here lately too. Seems everyone is down with some sort of flu, cough, cold, or sore throat, and I am no exception. The way that most Japanese deal with the problem is just to wear a small mask to protect from spreading/catching germs. Although personally I don't think they do all that much, I gave it a shot the other day. Here's the pic:

Keep checking the My Pics link to see if I have added anything new recently. Hope all is well for everyone at home. Miss you all. It is hardest being away from home around this time of year, but the fact that I don`t have to join the Xmas shopping rush makes it a bit easier! Ciao!

Saturday, October 28, 2006

When you least expect it...

What a weird but great day I had today. Natsumi and I woke up early so we could call Mom and wish her a happy 50th birthday (again, HAPPY 50th MOM!!!), and were contemplating what to do with out Saturday. The weather was nice, and we figured we should get out of the house for a while and do something.

We decided to go to the Ueno Park Zoo. However, when we got to Ueno Park we noticed that there were all these random 'buskers' doing their acts at various points around the park. The performers varied from mimes, 0ne-man-bands, marionette artists, and acrobats. We quickly ditched the idea of going to the zoo and decided to explore.

One of the artists that we saw was a group of high school girls who were playing accordion/swing music. Might sound a bit lame, but the girls' musical abilities were top notch. Also, there was a guy who was doing a marionette show that was completely mesmerizing. He had 2 marionettes, one was a little edo-period doll that he made to seem like it was super drunk on sake. The other looked like the chinese-dragons that you see in parades with 2 or 3 guys working the head and body, but this one was all controlled by the one guy. Neat.

Then this really weird alien-like creature came cruising by. It was named the Darkrakou (no idea of the meaning, the guy comes from France though). The creature was so eery looking and moved in this totally creepy fashion. It would rove around the park and freak people out, children chasing after it. I can't really explain it so please check out this link and look at the video of it. Talk about the ultimate Halloween costume.

After that we saw some acrobats (also from France), musicians, and weird statue-like people. But the main event was this group of Chinese "acrobats". They performed the most amazing routing of balance and contortion that I have ever seen. These little Chinese women would twist themselves into all sorts of weird position, get flipped around by the men, all the time balancing a stack of bowls on their head. At the end, one guy stacked a whole bunch of chairs up and did some jaw dropping moves atop them.

We walked away from the park feeling great. We had lucked into a great day. Neither Natsumi or I had heard anything about the day's events beforehand, but we just got there at the right time. It's days like today when I can really appreciate Tokyo and that feeling of surprise and newness comes back, just like when I first arrived here 2 years ago.

See the pics, click here.

Wednesday, October 25, 2006


This past weekend (Oct 21st), Natsumi and I headed north to the scenic temple/sightseeing/laketown area of Nikko. I had been there last year to see the famous Tosho-gu shrine and the like, but this time we went because we wanted to do some hiking and stop in at a little resort-like town up in the mountains.

Nikko is about an hour and a half north of Kasukabe by train. Because this is the time of year when the leaves are changing colors, the area is overcrowded by tourists. Roads are jam-packed with cars, and all of the trains are really crowded. I can`t believe some people drive up there, as traffic moves at a snail`s pace at times. Regardless, we caught a train out of Kasukabe at 655am, and arrived at Tobu-Nikko station at about 845am. From there we wanted to go up into the mountains to Chuzenjiko, the famous town located 1500m above sea level. It is in the shadow of Nantai-san, the biggest mountain in the area. This was easier said than done, as we had to take a super-crowded bus and ride for over 2 hours (a trip which should take about 25 minutes...that`s what I mean by heavy traffic.)

The strange and beautiful thing about Chuzenjiko is that there is a lake up in the mountains. It was weird to travel up a mountain for 2 hours, only to arrive at the top and see a huge lake. Very surreal. We had a nice stroll along the edge of the lake and enjoyed the surroundings. Being fall, the leaves were turning, and it was really nice to be there. It really reminded me of being in Clear Lake, just with mountains. From there we wanted to hike to a different area so we could see the `dragon`s head falls` (Ryuzu no taki, pictured above), which are also famous there. We must have missed the hiking trail, and we ended up doing our `hiking` along the egde of a busy road for about 10km. Determined, we pushed on and ended up at the falls after about 2 hours of slightly stressful hiking. The falls were very beautiful, and there was a nice area there where we could relax.

Our mission accomplished, we hopped on the bus back to the train station, and then caught the train home. Unfortunately for me, my inability to sleep on airplanes also crosses over to trains, so I can`t sleep on them either. Natsumi can sleep just about anywhere, so 5 minutes after we left she was passed out on my shoulder. By the time we got home, she was almost rested, lucky thing. For me, the traveling is just as hard of a slog as the hiking or other activity we are doing. Either way, I always give it my all, or "Ganbatte!" as they say here in Japan.

Pics to come...

Joe`s Beauties

Come on Senators! Wake the fvck up! My pre-season pick this year for winning the Stanley Cup was the Ottawa Senators. I love their young, explosive lineup, and I know they are capable of repeating last year`s regular season success. I think that the acquisition of Martin Gerber in net is good as well, as he was kind of overshadowed by the Cam Ward sensation in Carolina even though he had a great season last year.

I had so much confidence in the team that I selected Gerber as the starter for my fantasy hockey league team: Joe`s Beauties. The league I am in is a 12-team league, and we drafted players online via a `there and back again` order. Other notables on my team includes Ilya Kovalchuk, Joe Sakic, and Dion Phaneuf. I am sitting in 6th place out of 12 teams, but I am not actually in too bad of shape. If the damn Senators could get going and boost the numbers in my win column, I would be right up there.

I watched the back episodes of Coach`s Corner online last night. I always need a good dose of Don Cherry to get me fired up for the hockey season, and as arrogant as he is, he is usually right on the money. His rants about Phaneuf being overlooked for the Norris trophy last year, and how Kyle Wellwood should be up on a line with Sundin are good examples. I tried to explain the phenomenon of Don Cherry to Natsumi, but the image of an angry Canadian senior citizen yelling about `sweetheart` plays and the pros of fighting was lost on her. Regardless, Don is the man (hence my team`s Cherry-esque name, Joe`s Beauties), and I always get a kick out of seeing him on TV.

Come on Sens, 75 more games to go. No mercy for the weak! Sens! Sens! Sens!

Sunday, October 15, 2006

Metal Madness!!!

To see the rest of the pics from Loud Park, click here.

My ears are still ringing! On Saturday, October 14th, I joined some friends of mine and travelled to Makuhari Messe for the 2006 Loud Park Festival. Basically, the festival is a 2-day onslaught of metal by about 30 of the world's premier metal bands. My dream come true. Although I could only go one of the two days, I still had the time of my life.

The doors opened at about 11am. As we were walking in, we noticed a camera crew interviewing someone. We thought it might be someone from a metal band, so we investigated. It tured out to be Sam Dunn, a true metalhead from Victoria, BC who created the documentary 'Metal: A Headbanger's Journey', likely one of the most important films ever made about hard music, and a must-watch for any nay-sayers of the metal music scene. We yelled "Hey Sam!" and flashed the devil-horns. Without missing a beat he gives us a nod and flashes the horns right back. Good start to the day.

From there we entered the main hall. It was in a huge convention centre that had been divided into 3 main areas: one room which held 2 stages, another room with 1 more stage, and a food/merchandise area. The band that was playing when we walked in was a Canadian band called Anvil. Although the set was a bit lackluster, the lead singer's crazy-eyed antics made it a fun show. Next, Opeth took the stage. I have listened to Opeth for about 1 year, but I didn't realize what a true musical force they actually are. From the second they started up, I was completely enthralled with the show. Their sound is nothing short of epic. The sheer scope of an Opeth show has to be seen to be believed. Although they only played for about 50 minutes (it was a festival after all, short time slots), I can safely say that this was the best musical exhibition I had ever seen. I was fired up.

Other notable bands that we saw during the afternoon included Cathedral, Dir En Grey (Japanese metal), Angra, and another of my favorites Arch Enemy. This female-fronted band is a true force. Lead singer Angela Gossow is one of the most amazing frontmen (frontwomen) I have ever seen. Her stage precense is truly ferocious. The gutteral vocals that she can put forth are indescribable. Also, later in the day we saw two other bands that I have never had the luxury of being able to see: Anthrax, and Napalm Death. Both of those shows were also great.

Another amazing experience was seeing my first Dragonforce concert. They are basically a group of music gods who don`t think of themselves as gods. They play the fastest craziest power-metal, complete with epic lyrics and amazing compositions, but indulge in hilarious stage antics. They routinely do over the top spinning jumps off of amps, monitors, each other, etc, and are always smiling and having a good time. Their main guitarist, Herman Li, is truly the most electifying guitar player I have seen to date. He is just a tiny guy (from Hong Kong originally) but he makes up for it with his speed-of-light riffs and mind melting whammy bar dive-bombs. Definetely high on my list of wildest bands. On top of that, I managed to sneak into the area where the band was signing CDs and T-shirts for fans who were lined up (with tickets they`d received for buying a CD at the show). Of course I had no ticket, but I managed to get right up to the band and shake Herman`s hand and the lead singer`s hand before security got wise to my presence. Check out Dragonforce NOW if you have never heard them.

The last band of the night has been one of my favorites since I was a wee lad: Megadeth. The latest incarnation of the band is still of the highest musical ability, and Dave Mustaine is basically a robot. He has been playing with the same intensity and speed for the last 20 years. It was a great show, and the band played on my favorite songs of theirs, Hangar 18.

I walked out of that hall completely exhausted, but also exhilirated. I would never get a chance to see as many bands of this quality in the same day any place else. And the bands I have described were only the lineup for day 1, there were still 15 more amazing bands to come the following day. Alas, as good as Japan is for snagging great bands, it also takes a toll on the pocketbook, as each day's ticket ran upwards of $130 canadian. Oh well, I came, I saw, I rocked.

\m/ \m/

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Okinawa a-go-go!

From Sept 27-30, Natsumi and I flew down to the island of Kumejima, in south-western Okinawa. We caught our flight out of Haneda (Tokyo) Airport at 1:40 pm, and landed in sunny Kumejima at around 4:00pm. The first thing I noticed about the place was how truly isolated it really was. We had passed over the main island of Okinawa and its capital Naha, on the way down. Naha seemed to be a fairly densely populated place, and looked to have all the amenities of home. Kumejima, however, was a completely different story.

We caught a taxi and headed to our hotel, located at Eef beach, on the eastern side of the island. All the raods were so narrow, and it was the forst time on "Japan" that I saw old, run-down cars, something I would never see in Tokyo. The hotel was right on the beach, and was fairly decent. As soon as we dumped our bags, we set out for a walk down the 2km long beach. The daily temperature in September still hovers around the 30 degree mark, with none of the humidity that the main islands of Japan have to deal with. After that we headed to a local restaurant to try some local fare, which was very interesting.

Day 2 involved nothing but serious R n R. We enjoyed a nice buffet breakfast, and then headed straight for the beach. I had managed to get a bit of a tan over the summer, but it had since faded, so I quickly became a victim of the powerful Okinawan sun. Regardless, the beach was absolutely great, the water was super warm (almost like bathwater), and we were able to snorkel and see many cool and colorful fish. That night we sat out on our balcony chatting and drinking the local beer, Orion beer.

We had originally planned to go scuba diving on the 3rd day, but we decided instead to take a day trip to another small island called "Hate no hama". That morning at around 9am, we left Kumejima harbour and headed east by boat for about 45 mins. The "island" that we got to wasn't really and island at all, it was really just a gloified sandbar. That said, it was one of the most beautiful places I have ever seen. The island itself would only have been about 300m x 100m at most. There were no trees or buildings of any kind, just crudely made shelters to get out of the sun under. Standing on that little island, you could get a 360 degree panoramic view of the ocean, and see Kumejima on one side, and the main island of Okinawa on the other. The beach was all white sand, and the water was truly amazing. I will try and upload the pics and video of this place shortly, so check the links out. We stayed there until about 4pm, just relaxing, swimming, laughing, eating, and generally just chilling the f*** out. Paradise.

The fourth and final day, we headed down to the beach early, and chilled out until about 2pm. After that we had o head to the airport and head back. Our flights were a bit later this time, so we didn't get back to Tokyo until about 11pm. This posed a bit of a problem, as we were going to be cutting it super close to make it home before the trains stopped running. After a bit of running, and a bit of stress (admittedly brought on by my frustration of being rushed, as anyone who knows me can attest to) we managed to make it to Kita-Senju. Unfortunately, we missed the last train to Kasukabe, so were stuck there for the night. As a cheap alternative to a hotel, we rented a "room" at a local Manga Kissa (Manga and Internet cafe). For about $15 cdn, we could stay in a room with a sofa, computer, and free drink bar, a more than acceptable alternative to a $100 hotel room. We caught a train at 6am, and were back at my place in kasukabe by 7am. The trip was fast and furious, but it was a great time. Check out my pics and videos, they should be up soon. Now where's the aloe-vera, I need to sooth this sunburn and take care of these damn raccoon eyes...

To see the photos, click here.

Party time!

Now that Natsumi and I are back from Okinawa, we decided to throw a party at my apartment to get to know some of the other people in town. Some other English teachers came over, and Natsumi invited her sister and some of her friends too.

Natsumi and her posse were just amazing. They came over to my apartment early armed with an arsenal of food and drink. They made 'norimaki' which is rolled sushi. It's made by wrapping various kinds of sushi and rice in dried seaweed. They also made desserts, salads, and even a crepe-fruit-cake creation.

We managed to have a great time. The neighbors didn't complain, and my place didn't get trashed. We also had some intersting scenarios play out. My girlfriend Natsumi invited a friend of hers from Shanghai (who now lives in Tokyo). So at one point, she was talking to him in Chinese (Mandarin), then she would relay info to me in English, others in Japanese, and I would be talking to my buddy Kerry in French. It was a crazy language mash-up at one point, but great fun all around.

*Pictured above clockwise from top-left: Abel (NZ), Joey (CAN), Natsumi (JPN), Kerry (NZ), Yuko (JPN), Harumi (JPN)

To see the pictures, click here.

Monday, October 02, 2006


This is a picture of a Shi-sa, a traditional lion-like animal popular in Okinawa...

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

Got my baby back!

Natsumi finally arrived back in Japan last week, and the reunion was a happy one. The stories and pictures from her 'Silk Road' trip through China are amazing. She had ridden camels, climbed mountains, travelled on amazingly old and crowded busses to some extremely remote places, and saw some of the most beautiful temples in the world. Because she is fluent in Mandarin, and because she had lived in Shanghai previously, she wanted to take a trip through more remote and out-of-the-way places. She went to the north-west of China, close to Pakistan, and travelled back through the country that way.

Her stories are incredible; from standing on top of enormous sand dunes near Tibet, to witnessing a gang-style beatdown of a man in a local restaurant in Shanghai. Craziness. I do hope that I get to experience China like that soume day. We are tossing around the idea of a trip at Xmas. So far, the top contenders are: the Philippines, Shanghai, or maybe Cambodia.

And as I write this (Wed, Sept 27/06) we are just finishing packing and are about to head to Haneda Airport to catch our flight to Okinawa! We're only going for 4 days, but for me this is going to be my 'summer vacation'. It will be so nice to just relax after the stress of moving to a new city, starting a new job, meeting new staff, and worrying about Natsumi in China. I can't wait just to chill out on the beach, do some scuba diving and snorkeling, and basically just unwind. Wait...why am I sitting here typing this? I should be going NOW! Yes! I'm gone. Details of the trip to come.

p.s. the pic above is Natsumi at Shinjuku Park in central Tokyo, taken on Sept 24/06.

To see a great photo album of Natsumi pics, click here.

Monday, September 18, 2006


Hi all.

The last couple of weeks have gone by rather quickly, and much has happened. I've jumped in head-first into my new school life here in Kasukabe. The school that I am currently teaching at is called Midori Junior High. It is a school of about 450 kids. The first thing that I noticed when I arrived was how friendly the students and staff are. The kids walk up to me all the time and try to start conversations with me in English, which was a rarety in Yashio. I've been doing self-introduction classes and the like for the last 2 weeks, so I think I have had a chance to meet all 450 of the kids. Now if only I could remember their names! I have also started teaching at the Elementary schools, which are always a blast. I am to do a demonstration class for about 30 teachers next week with some 5th graders, so that should be fun.

This past weekend I was also a judge at the Yashio English Speech competition. It was nice to go back to my old city and see some of my former teachers and students. I was hoping that some kids from my last school (Hachijo JHS) would make it wasy for me to vote for them to win, but they were upstaged by some other kids from another school who did some fairly complex and well done speeches. Fun times were had.

Natsumi arrives home on Friday and I couldn't be more excited. We will have a couple of days to relax together and then its off to Okinawa for some R 'n R. Can't wait! I will definetely put up some pictures and video links here. Wait and see.

The picture above is a view of central Kasukabe from the blacony of my apartment. It's not a terribly big city, but its comfortable. More to come soon!

Saturday, September 09, 2006


I just added a link to my YouTube site. Just click the link on the right-hand column that says 'Videos' and you're there. I will be adding various clips and videos to that page every now and then, so check it out!

Thursday, September 07, 2006

Hilarious cops in Japan (and elsewhere)

This morning on my way to work, I was reminded of the hilarity/stupidity/wonder of police here in Japan. I drive a little 50cc scooter around, and was stopped at a red light. I was still in my early morning fog, and not really doing anything but zone out until the light changed.

Suddenly I felt a tap on my shoulder, and there was this old cop looking at me. He had to be at least 60 years old, and he was on a bicycle. He proceeds to tell me (in lightning-fast Japanese), that I am waiting incorrectly at the light. When I asked why he said that, he tells me that I have the wrong foot on the ground. Apparently it is illegal, (or at best not advisable) to have you right foot on the ground at a light. "You should use your left foot here in Japan," he says. Yawn. Granted, in Japan you do drive on the left hand side of the road, but really, the wrong foot??? Come on.

Who`s heard of a more useless thing? The guy was obviously trying to feel important and think he had a bit of power left. I nodded to him, but didn`t change feet, and then sped away. What was he going to do? Chase me? Write me a ticket? I actually hope I do get a ticket for that. I`d even pay the fine. It would be worth it to have a framed traffic ticket for standing incorrectly at a traffic light. It would match the warning I got back in Canada for leaving my truck running during a -40C day. Man, cops are weird...

Saturday, September 02, 2006

I'm back baby!


It's been a loooong, agonizing month, and I can't be happier to see September. As previously mentioned, I have just moved to Kasukabe, Japan. The move itself went fairly smoothly. My girlfriend Natsumi and I rented a moving truck, loaded it with stuff, and I drove 'er straight into the heart of Saitama. Once I got moved in, things were cool... for a while.

Natsumi and I spent our days exploring my new city, swimming, eating out and doing some drinking (like everyone does in summer). But on August 14th, I said a sad goodbye and saw her off (she left that day for a 6-week trip through China along the 'Silk Road'). At that point, I still had no Internet connection, and my computer had decided to pick that week to melt down. Needless to say, I became a bit stresed.

But after many trips to the local tech shop to bitch about my internet delay, and a pretty penny spent in the meantime at the local internet cafe, I was finally back online.

Step one: complete.

Next, I had to deal with my useless, annoying computer. A few hours of reasearch and a new hard drive actually did the trick, and I managed to install it and get everything up and running again by myself (Yay for me!). As I write this, I've only had the machine up and running for an hour or so.

Step two: complete.

This is my 3rd and final (I think) year in Japan, as I began a new contract on August 1st. Natsumi arrives back in Japan on September 22nd, so once she is back I will be able to say that all is back to normal and that this year can actually be started.

Step three: in progress...

Friday, July 28, 2006

See you on the dark side of the moon

Hi all. As of this Sunday, I'll be making my big move to Kasukabe. As exciting as that is, it does have one major drawback: I'll be without Internet access for the next 2-3 weeks :(
So, if I don't update this blog or respond to emails in a timely fashion you'll know why.

Yay! Kasukabe! Boo! No Internet! But... YAY! KASUKABE!
A la prochaine...

Wednesday, July 26, 2006

The man in Japan

Ladies and gentleman, meet one of the coolest dudes in Japan: Mr. Norihiro Nouyama. In the 2 years that I have gotten to know Nori, he's never ceased to amaze me. His ability to melt faces with his superior shredding on his doubleneck bass/guitar are well-known. The man's passion for music is so fierce, I don't think I've met another person quite so driven towards rockin' (other than the old Basement Boys maybe...). Although he always says that he hates coming to karaoke, and that it sounds "fake", you can see by the look on his face in this picture from our karaoke session the other night that he loves to rock wherever he is and whatever he is doing. You are my hero dude, seriously.

The YA-JET massive

Its the end of an era. Two years ago when I arrived in Yashio, 2 other dudes arrived at the same time. Keith Kelly (center) and Kerry Harding (left) were the other fresh meat to arrive in Japan in August 2004. Over the past 2 years, these guys have become good friends of mine, and we have unofficially been referred to as the YA-JET (Yashio JETs) massive. As of July 30th, Keith will be returning to his home in the UK (Sheffield). Kerry, who is from New Zealand, will be moving to the same city as me, but he will live further down the Isasaki line near Ichinowari station. These are two pretty righteous dudes, and it is a shame that the massive is being split up, but who knows, it could be reunited some day in another country... Ya-kun, Dai-kun, its been a blast. Safe travels.

Tuesday, July 25, 2006

Small world

I was watching some "Japanese" TV last night, when I happened upon a language instruction show. I've always been surprised by the number of language-learning programs that appear on NHK, and this time it was a show on the French language. Curious, I checked it out. After about 30 seconds of watching, I thought to myself, "Wow, that girl on this show looks awfully familar..." Sure enough, it was a girl that I went to school with in Brandon! I remember her because we took the same French courses at Uni, and I remember her saying she'd been to Paris (that night's show being set in Paris). Can't remember her name for the life of me though... Meghan? Melanie? Marie? Something with an M anyway. Not sure where the program was actually produced or if she is in Japan at all, but I still found it strange that a girl I knew from a small university of 3000 students in Manitoba could appear on my television 3 years later in Japan. Weirdness...

Monday, July 24, 2006

Sayonara Yashio

Well, on Sunday, July 30th, I'll officially move away from Yashio, the city that I've called home for the past 2 years. I'm moving on to greener pastures (literally, lots of rice paddies near the new place) to a city called Kasukabe. While my new city will definetely be a more metropolitan place, I am already getting a little bit nostalgic about Yashio. It was the place that I used as my base for exploring the intense city of Tokyo. It's also the place where I experienced my first earthquake (on the first night in the place, mind), ran around outside in my first typhoon, met some of the coolest people in the world, played some super-fun gigs, and the place where I've hosted family and friends on their adventures with me in Japan.

It'll be a bittersweet farewell, as many of the good friends I've made here in Yashio are also returning to their respective countries. Others will stay on in Yashio and work for a different organization. Still others have lived and worked in Yashio for their whole lives, and will never leave. Luckily, Kasukabe is only about 40 minutes away, so I'll still be able to come back and visit friends, go to my favorite izakaya (restaurant), and see old students.

In the roughly 700-odd days that I've lived in Yashio, I've changed so much. I was having a discussion with a friend the other night about this, and we both agrees that it is hard to remember what we were like before we came to Japan. I'd never been on a subway, been in a building higher than 30 stories, never been immersed in a foreign culture. I was totally green. Two years later, and I've never felt more independant. Now if I could just buckle down and really start to study some Japanese! I'll always remeber Yashio and never forget what it has meant to me.

The move is on!

Hey hey! Nothing like starting a new blog 2 years after moving to Japan eh? Better late than never... I just completed my second year in Japan, and am in the process of changing cities to begin my third year.

I've been having an amazing time here in Japan, and I will attempt to keep you a bit better informed into what I'm up to, crazy things that have happened, and the mundane aspects of daily life in Japan.

Yoroshiku Onegaishimasu!