Monthly Archives: June 2006

My Second-Last Day

Last night I went out with some Australian and Japanese students for a few drinks at an izakaya. Which turned into a few drinks and karaoke afterwards. Great fun, and reminds me that karaoke should also get a mention in the previous post. It’s hard to believe that by tomorrow I’ll be back in the U.K. Still, it’s been an amazing nine months.

I will continue to keep an eye on Japan, blog on any news or issues about it that I find interesting, and of course carry on learning the language. For than anything else, the year abroad has reminded me of why I’m interested in Japan. That’s definitely going to help with the remainder of my degree. And after that, I’d like to come back here. While my interest has widened to other countries in Asia over the course of this year, I’m pretty sure that Japan will always hold a special place in my heart.

UPDATE: This post from Adamu at Mutant Frog looks back at his experience in Japan. A good read, and sort of says what I was trying to say.

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Things I will miss about Japan

Partly inspired by Feitclub and quasi‘s lists of things they would/will miss about Japan, here’s a selection of things that make me very sad to be saying goodbye:

Food

Top of the list, as it should be. Before I came, some aspects of Japanese food, such as azuki bean paste, I remembered with trepidation from my last trip. Over the course of this year, I’ve become a fan of all of them – except natto. Ramen, okonomiyaki, sushi, shabu-shabu, yakisoba – not only are they all delicious, but most are pretty healthy as well. I honestly don’t know how I’ll get by at home without them. Also, my time in Japan has introduced me to Korean food, which is so good that I resolved to travel to Seoul to try the real thing.

Urban Life

hanami 045
Because I live in a small town with not a lot going on, I enjoy going into Osaka or Kyoto. Osaka definitely has the edge in big-city atmosphere, and I enjoy wandering around Umeda, Shinsaibashi, Namba or Tsuruhashi, experiencing the crowds, the bustle, the crazy arrays of neon lights, and the many opportunities for fun.

Kansai Manners

As I fond out, people from the Kansai region behave quite differently to the traditional view of Japanese people. They’re often upfront, direct and pretty in-your-face, which makes for fun conversations. Osaka is renowned for its contribution to Japanese comedy – many comedians on TV speak in Kansai dialect – and you can see some of that humour in how Kansai residents go about their business.

Onsen

I’ve written a few times before about how much I like Japan’s hot springs and public bath houses. They are a fantastic way to relax, and although they’re better in winter, I’ve enjoyed them in all seasons. Although your fellow patrons (at least in the male side) will be on the old side, I have no problem with public nudity. Unless it’s done by other people, in which case it’s disgusting.

Public transport

train arriving
I’ve done a fair bit of travelling while I’ve been here, mostly thanks to the cheapness and convenience of public transport over here. In particular, Japan’s widespread rail network is very friendly to the student traveller. I’ve gone by shinkansen three times for some long journeys, but for others, such as trips to Ise and Toba, we took a local train and got amazing views of the Japanese countryside as we trundled through.

Matsuri

danjiri action shot
Just as festivals across Europe provide an intruiging glimpse back into our pagan history, Japan’s traditional festivals let you look past the usually formal, buttoned-up view of Japanese society. There are family groups, tourists, stalls selling all kinds of food, and usually groups of middle-aged men in traditional happi-coats, who look like they’ve been drinking heavily all day. At the Kishiwada Danjiri matsuri, which I went to last September, these men were in charge of pulling large floats, or danjiri, round corners at breakneck speed (see above). Nobody died last year, which according to some people was unusual.

TV

On the occasions when the TVs in Seminar House 4 weren’t being used by clueless Americans to watch CNN or the Discovery Channel, I loved checking out Japanese TV. Sure, it’s renowned for its craziness, and rightly so. But you can also learn quite a lot from it, mostly thanks to NHK, Japan’s public broadcasting service, which is second only to the BBC in terms of size. I remember watching a Japanese sign-language program on one of NHK’s channels, at prime time on a Saturday evening. I can’t think of any other network in the world that would give such a prominent slot to that kind of programming.

My fellow gaijin (and Japanese friends)

group shot, ise
Over the course of this year, I think the greatest help to me has come from the other international students. We were pretty much all in the same boat, and apart from a few exceptions, snobbery over language ability or knowledge about Japan never reared its head. Along with the Japanese friends we made, they were the best support network for finding yourself in a strange country that I can imagine. Together we explored Japan, from remote countryside shrines to city-centre bars, learning about Japan, our own countries and ourselves. It’s been brilliant.

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Seoul

Seoul was rather nice. I’d been thinking about going for a while, but I decided on it when in the last days of living in Seminar House I found a Lonely Planet guidebook to Korea that someone had thrown out. As good as handing me a free ticket there, IMO. I spent three days mostly walking around, visiting tourist sites and snapping pictures. A lot of memories stuck with me:

A park full of old geezers doing karaoke with portable machines in the open air at sundown. Street stalls galore selling food and alcohol. Drunken boisterous groups of middle-aged men in the street. On a Tuesday. The hugely impressive great city gates (photos to come). Branches of Dunkin’ Donuts everywhere. Team Korea football merchandise everywhere. The Gyeongbokgung palace – more impressiveness. The amazing amount of stuff for sale at Namdaemun market, including a load of stuff that was obviously taken off the U.S. military base. Seeing people stretched out on park benches in the early evening, taking naps. A bunch of middle-aged Korean guys in military uniform putting up banners outside Seoul Station (I found out later from a news report that they were veterans protesting against the missile test by the North). The Cheonggyechoen river at night – it used to be really polluted, but after a huge clean-up operation is now a nice spot in the heart of the city, full of courting couples at night. It made me think about the approach in Japan – most rivers there are artificial concrete channels, just like the Cheongyecheon, but it at least in Seoul they make an effort to make it look nice.

All in all, a nice trip. Next time I go, it’ll be for longer, and I’ll make more of an effort to explore the rest of the country. From what I’ve seen of Korea’s natural features, it’s just far too beautiful to just visit once.

Oh yes, enjoy my photos.

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Fukuoka: Part the Second

After the antics of the previous night, I managed to escape from my hotel at the exact check-out time. Unfortunately I didn’t get to shower. So, what do you think I did? Walked around dirty all day? Ha! You don’t know Jim Moore.

I took the train down to Futsukaichi, a small town with an onsen complex, and had a nice relaxing soak. As in most of these places, the clientele were mainly old men, with the less-than-ideal sights that entails. Still, it comes with the territory. It’s not like I was expecting Jessica Alba or anything (though that would be a nice surprise).


After I got back I explored Canal City, the river (see above) and Tenjin a bit more, and before I met up with my Leeds friends again, checked into a capsule hotel. I had it down as one of those things I might as well do while in Japan, and this one seemed a little better than most – it had an open-air bath on the roof. Yes, on the roof. Who cares about sleeping in a pod – there are four-star hotels that don’t do that sort of thing! I changed into the yukata-style nightwear they left out for guests, had a shower and quick dip in the public bath, and headed out on the subway to meeet my friends. (BTW, if you think I’m showering/washing/bathing too much, try spending a fairly active day in Japan in mid-summer. You will not believe how much you can sweat.)


I got a tour of Fukuoka University campus, during which I somehow managed to not spend every second pointing out things that were better at Gaidai. They’ve got a Mos Burger on campus, but we have a Seattle’s Best Coffee. Despite my almost bankrupting myself last semester with coffeee, I still wouldn’t care to trade. Anyway, they took me out to a little place off campus, where we had ramen. Fukuoka is actually famous for this king of foods, and there are many little mobile stalls, called yatai, selling it around town. I wandered past a few of these in the early afternoon, and they were just starting to prepare the ingedients. There were enormous hunks of pork bones laid out for making the broth – so big I could actually tell which part of the pig they came from. Being a carnivore is fun.

All in all, Day 2 was pretty chilled, but I had a nice evening. I’m heading off to Seoul tomorrow. It’s all been a bit last minute, but it should be fun, barring those pesky North Koreans. Someone should tell them to play nice.

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Fukuoka: Part the First

So, on Thursday I went down to Fukuoka on the shinkansen. It was raining in Osaka, and all across the area of western Japan we tore through in the morning. Arriving at Hakata station, though, the sun was shining. Hah! Moore – 1, weather – 0.

I dumped my stuff in the hotel, then met up with Jake and the other Leeds people studying at Fukuoka. I got a miniature guided tour of the city, wandering through the Canal City development, across the river and up to Tenjin, the big shopping/partying centre. I was struck by how small it all seemed after Osaka, but that wasn’t necessarily such a bad thing. It was nice to be in a city where “the centre” was something you could cross on foot.

A rough trajectory of the evening follows:

- We see a animation show on the top floor on a bookshop, by an outfit that do short films of oddly-done jungle animals. They are giving away free badges on the way out. I grab a few for presents.

- We sit outside a conveience store where one of the girls says she’s going to look for “HedgeCat”. I assume this is someone she knows, as she uses nicknames for everybody (real quote from her: “I’m not worried about MaxiHat anymore, because now I have MiniHat.”) Turns out HedgeCat is a real cat, who lives by the store. For a stray cat, he looks remarkably healthy. We pet him for a bit, before he takes offence to me, hisses and runs off. He must be able to tell a Kansai resident from a Fukuoka one.

- We go to an izakaya (Japanese pub-style place). When ordering drinks, I ask for a “big beer” and am brought something the aproximate size of a rain-water butt. I drink it dry and ask for another. Finally, a place that knows my tastes and does its best to accommodate them.

- We go to an amusement arcade. The girls try a game where you throw balls at a screen to zap various things threatening cute characters. The game is called “GASHaaaaan!” which makes me laugh out loud. The guys go for “House of the Dead 4″. I mow down crowds of zombies in a tube station, an experience which brings back traumatic memories of rush-hour Osaka and Tokyo. We meet back up, and have all have a go at the ball-throwing game together.

- We head upstairs to go bowling. As I haven’t gone bowling in over a year (and I was rubbish back then) I’m not looking forward to this. We talk about the low-rent bowling alley near Morrisons’ back in Leeds, and how my old flatmate from last year stole a pair of bowling shoes from there to wear in clubs and other places with “formal” dress-codes. I am surprisingly good at bowling, even though Jake tells me I strike a “Spiderman” pose at one point. I explain that I was bitten by a radioactive bowling ball.*

*(I actually didn’t. But it would have been funny as hell if I’d thought of it at the time.)

- We go to a club called Happy Cock (yes, really) to have a few drinks and watch the England-Trinidad and Tobago match. Because we get there super-early, we get wristbands which mean we can drink all we want for 1000 yen. I pronounce this the greatest thing ever, and immediately get a drink to celebrate.

- The dancefloor is filling with Japanese people in b-boy clothing. They look like the breakdancers who practice in Hirakata train station, and throw shapes at each other in a hilarious “You Got Served” style. Jake tells me that they are members of the Fukuoka University breakdancing club. I tell him that I “could do better than that.” He motions to me to go ahead.

- The dancefloor has turned into a circle of breakdancers, who take turns performing jaw-dropping moves in the middle. Jake asks if I’d like to try and do better. The circle breaks up temporarily, and I step to the dancefloor and tear it up for a bit. They don’t ask me to join their crew, but I think I earned their respect. Now all I have to do is beat a Japanese person at Dance Dance Revolution, and I will have something to legitimately boast about.

- Jake introduces me to two friends of his, who happen to be hot Japanese girls. I try to think of things to say to them, and realise my level of drunkenness has gone right past “Language ability magically improves” and into “Language ability goes straight to hell.” I must be more drunk than I thought. This is confirmed when one of them asks me to go up and get a drink. Let’s break this down a minute:

Normal thought process:
Hot girls suddenly interested in me + lack of nomihodai wristbands + request to buy drinks for them = manipulating whores using me to get alcohol
My drunken thought process at the time:
Hot girls suddenly interested in me + lack of nomihodai wristbands + request to buy drinks for them = Wow, I’m such a stud. I’d better get them a drink.

- Having got what they wanted, the girls proceed to ignore me. I am angry beyond measure. Charging up to the bar to get a drink for myself, the following conversation takes place in my head:
“Dude, you’ve been drinking a lot. Don’t you think you should slow down, get some water in between?”
“Well, they are cocktails. They’re not strong. In fact, look at the amount of vodka she put in that last one. That’s a piss-weak drink by anybody’s standards.”
“Yeah, I guess there’s not a lot of alcohol there.”
“And the mixer is basically like drinking water anyway.”
“Yeah. Slam a couple more, you’re doing fine.”

- It is later. I am not doing fine. I am sprawled on a sofa trying to watch the match, but sinking into semi-consciousness with each passing moment. I miss seeing England’s last two goals, but hear the reaction and manage to cheer with everybody else as the replay unfolds.

- We leave the club. I decide to rant to Jake about how women are “manipulating whores” and that his friends are “off the list”. Perhaps sensibly, he does not ask me to elaborate.

- The Leeds people point me in the direction of my hotel, and get a cab back to their dorms. Although it is literally a straight line to my hotel, I have to stop people several times and ask them for directions. I stagger into my hotel room, and glance at my watch before I pass out. I have been in Fukuoka a little over twelve hours.

To Be Continued…

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Back

I’ve been in Fukuoka for the last couple of days, visiting friends from Leeds. I haven’t for a while because, well, nothing was going on. I now have a post in the works on my adventures down south though.

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Other people’s photos

I’ve been in the middle of a photo drought for some time – I just don’t have the inclination to take pictures at the moment. It could be because I’m preparing to buy a whizzy new digitial camera. Anyway, in the meantime you can see these pictures from Of Rice and Zen. In fact, take a look at the whole blog – the guy is a damn good photographer, and a hilarious writer. See this caption on his picture of Japanese toilet instructions:

Do you realise what it looks like when you go into a toilet stall, turn on a digital camera and start flashing away in the middle of tourist season in the WORLD FAMOUS Sanjusangendo Temple? Yes, you’re right. It does look like taking pictures of your cock at home like a normal bloke is not enough for you, and that you need the extra thrill of travelling around the world to do it in crowded tourist locations.

Ladies and gentlemen, a big hand. This man has done much to entertain us.

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