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...