Posted by: Darrell | September 4, 2008

Orientation Week Part 2

The Japanese Garden at Kansai Gaidai University

The Japanese Garden at Kansai Gaidai University

With quite a lot of free time in the evenings, I have managed to get out and explore Hirakata city. The city itself is not very big and walking 5 km in any direction away from the Hirakata City Station will almost end in nothing but houses. In my opinion, the city is not quite as nice as Takasaki, although it does have some good moments, even if fleeting. During orientation week, there will be plenty of opportunities to go out and explore the city, and my recommendation is to take full advantage of those opportunities. Every night Liz and I went out to try some new food or satisfy some culinary craving together with taste of the alcohol Japan has to offer. The food is great and most often we can determine our order through the pictures on the menu or the plastics displays outside the restaurant. We also managed to go to Karaoke with a group of 13 and my speaking partner Yasuharu. It was a crazy evening although maybe a smaller group would be a little easier to manage and get some decent singing done. Following the singing a few of us decided to grab some drinks close with about 40mins to spare. However, order took a good 20mins and by the time the drinks came we hang to pound them back and run to the bus, catching it just in time.

Opening Ceremony for International Exchange Students

Opening Ceremony for International Exchange Students

So registration came and went and with my absurdly high number, I still managed to get into 50% of the classes I wanted and waitlisted for the other 50%. A higher number would still be best; however, it doesn’t seem to make a significant difference as there are always ways to get into a full class except for the super full classes with a waitlist of 30+ students.

The opening ceremony was pretty good without being overly long, although the speech from the international student representative left a lot to be desired. The American Consulate representative was said to be a good speaker and delivered on all accounts. However, the highlight of the night was the food. As my roommate put it “…probably some of the best food you will have while in Japan”. It was well catered and the food was delicious with a large selection and variety. It also allowed everyone to mingle and enjoy some conversation over some great food.

Food at the KGU Opening Ceremony Dinner

Food at the KGU Opening Ceremony Dinner

Karaoke With Other Exchange Students

Karaoke With Other Exchange Students

Posted by: Darrell | September 2, 2008

Orientation Week Part 1

Hirakata City

Hirakata City

Culture shock. I didn’t really experience the full brunt of the shock until coming to KGU. In Tokyo, I was often guided by Ben and also thoroughly explained the differences I often observed. However, upon arriving at KGU I was immediately inundated with having to determine and decipher all of the cultural shock I was experiencing. Even at the airport, the procedures for domestic arrivals vary quite differently from international arrivals. There were no directions to the luggage, there were no customer or immigration inspection, nor were there anyone waiting at the arrival gate. There is a perfectly logical explanation for these observed differences; however, being half excited and nervous didn’t quite afford me with the clear head to determine the explanation.
In a way, coming to KGU was an even greater leap for me in comparison to other students as I had never been away from home for more than a week. Even then, it was often within the same province so there was always an escape clause. Furthermore, the only other time I have ever been in a dormitory was during SFU Orientation Leader training.

Another view of Hirakata City

Another view of Hirakata City

The shock is one thing; another is having such a large gathering of people with immensely varied backgrounds. There were 435 international exchange students representing 39 different countries. Every single international student always had something new to offer and share and dispeled most preconceived notions. Well, expect for the Americans; they are everything we know and love to make fun of.

Most days are very busy, but often in manageable chunks. The most draining exercise would be the banking session due to sheer frustration. Most of the briefings and lectures are well executed although it may lack excitement. Generally the most pointless and drawn out part of these meetings are the questions that stupid people ask. No question is ever stupid, but the stupidity of the question can be attributed to the questioner.
The placement test is quite challenging especially the listening exercise. And to my delight, I managed to get into level 2 Japanese even without any formal university/college instruction. Although, it remains to be seen if I will be kept there, as they will reassess in two weeks time.
As for the lottery, I unfortunately got 411 which is one of the last numbers. So I will see if my poor placing will have a significantly detrimental effect on my registration. However, I still firmly believe in being one of the first to pick the lottery as you will always statistically have a greater chance of drawing a lower number…

Posted by: Darrell | September 1, 2008

Kansai Bound

 

View from the airplane of the mountains among the clouds

View from the airplane of the mountains among the clouds

So I am flying JAL from Haneda Airport (Tokyo) to Kansai International (Osaka) and I noticed that the flight is only 30-40% full. Honestly, every person had a row to themselves, me included. I guess it is true that the Japanese do not fly JAL domestically. The flight just took off and I had just started some anime, then the seatbelt lights come on and then we were landing in 15 minutes. The flight was only about 30-40 mins. Every single flight that I have taken so far has been delayed upon departure, but always seems to arrive early. Either JAL is under promising and over delivering or they are flying on super punctual Japanese time.

Kansai International Airport

Kansai International Airport

Kansai International Airport is super nice and very beautifully designed. Although I had to wait 2.5 hours for the next Charter Bus to take us to the school, I had more than enough time to explore the entire airport. The bus ride was about 2 hours and it passed through Osaka which provided great views of the city, although I don’t think I will have much time to travel there during orientation.

The first thing I noticed about Hirakata City (where Kansai Gaidai is located) is that it is not an overly beautiful city. The area around the school is very nice, clean and scenic, but Hirakata city centre wasn’t quite as nice as Takasaki. I have some great roommates, and the futon is quite comfortable and cosy. Moreover, the University is absolutely amazing; 10 times nicer than ghetto SFU. I have been neglecting my camera lately so I don’t have quite a selection of pictures to choose from, but enjoy!

Kansai Gaidai University Administration Building

Kansai Gaidai University Administration Building

The orientation week will be super hectic and busy, so I will try to recap the entire week in a single post. Don’t forget to leave a comment!

Posted by: Darrell | August 31, 2008

A View from the Top

 

Takasaki with a backdrop of the mountains

Takasaki with a backdrop of the mountains

 

On Saturday (August 30), Ben and I decided to hit an onsen (hot springs). We found one relatively “close”; however, somewhat up in the mountains. Starting off as a decent day we rode bicycles to the onsen. Half way through the 5 km journey, we realized that it was 5 km UP A MOUNTAIN. It ended up being Tour de Japan, climbing up into the mountains. I am pretty sure we hit the mythical 200bpm heart rate. Well, I am not sure if we can even hit that without passing out (as our fitness isn’t exactly in top condition). All I know was that I must have dropped at least 5lbs just from that ride. Anyways, complaining aside, we arrived and had a great time at the onsen overlooking Takaski from the mountains. There were too many (naked) people there for me to take a picture so I unfortunately don’t have any pictures, but you can imagine a hot springs in the mountains overlooking the city (paradise?).

View of Maebashi City

View of Maebashi City

On my last day at Takasaki, Ben and I completed most of our errands and went shopping for some minor supplies. Over the course of this we ended up driving around the city and I managed to snap some great shots. Ben also took me to his office in the Gunma Parliament and Government Offices. At the 32 floor they had a great look point that you could see all around Gunma. You can see Maebashi (where the offices are located) and Takasaki (where Ben lives) and the backdrop of the mountains and rivers. I also managed to get some even better shots.  All in all I had a great time in Tokyo and Takasaki and I have Ben to thank for that! Everything I wanted to eat, Ben and I searched for it. All the beers I wanted to try, Ben also drank along with me. And all the places I would never have seen as a gaijin (foreigner), Ben showed me. So THANKS BEN!

Super, SuperDry Asahi

Super, SuperDry Asahi

Note: Yes, those are actually LARGE cans of beer. I am not sure but maybe 20 litres?

Posted by: Darrell | August 30, 2008

The Beer Review

The six beers being reviewed

The six beers being reviewed

In Japan, there are four major beer companies: Asahi, Sapporo, Kirin and Suntory. We do have a limited selection of Asahi, Sapporo and Kirin in Canada, however, I have never seen Suntory. There are also generally two types of Beers: regular beer and happoshu, which is less than 60% hops to avoid certain liquor taxes making it cheaper for the consumer. In this selection of beers for review, there are two happoshu and four regular beers.

The beers up for review are (as ordered in the picture from right to left):
1. Asahi Prime Time
2. Sapporo Beer
3. Suntory Malts Beer
4. Kirin The Gold Beer
5. Asahi Red Label Draft (Happoshu)
6. Asahi Gubin (Happoshu)

The Asha Prime Time is a premium beer costing slightly more than most other beers, but still around $2.00+ per can. The taste is quite strong and robust. I can’t say I would consistently buy this beer due to the high price point; however, it’s not a bad beer.

The Sapporo is an easy going beer that is pretty popular and fairly priced. In a choice between Asahi Super Dry and Sapporo, I would still take the Asahi. If there were no Asahi or Suntory, then I would probably buy the Sapporo.

The Suntory Malts beer has become one of my beers of choice in Japan. It is decently priced and great tasting. One point of note, all bars in Japan usually offer only one type (brand) of beer as they usually have an exclusive contract with only one company. So you are always forced to drink whatever is served at the place. Suntory is a major company in Japan; however, it is rare to find their beers internationally. Both the Malts beer and the Premium Malts beer are excellent.

The Kirin Gold is definitely the worst beer in this selection sample. It has a weird taste that just doesn’t feel right. Overall, I would probably not buy another Kirin in Japan. Honeslty, it isn’t that bad, it just isn’t all that good. When there are so many better beers, why settle for less?

Various kinds of Asahi beer

Various kinds of Asahi beer

The Asahi Red Label happoshu is one of the cheaper beers. Don’t get me wrong the happoshu tastes exactly like beer just less fizz so there isn’t as much head when you pour into a glass. The Red Label is pretty good, but compared to the Gubin, I like the Gubin so much better. The taste is very light and easy to drink which makes the happoshu all the more appealing.

The Asahi Gubin is a great happoshu. Ben mentioned that this used to be his favourite beer and I can see why. It is a great tasting beer and incredibly cheap, somewhere around a $1.00 per can. Also note that bottled beer are almost non-existent in Japan, except in the very large bottles. Also all beer is always offered in large and regular sized cans and some are even offered in the mini cans.

The beers in Japan are always very colourful and I will continuously provide a running commentary on the beers that I drink. Drinking in Japan is a way of life and often referred to as “nomucation” (nomu – drink in Japanese, ‘cation – short for communication). Drinking usually allows people to get to know one another a lot better and you can usually find almost everyone going for some forms of drinks. Although, I haven’t really tried out the Sake yet. So in the mean time, Cheers!

Posted by: Darrell | August 29, 2008

Mountain Drifting

Huruna Mountain in the Gunma Prefecture

Haruna Mountain in the Gunma Prefecture

No, not really. It was more like Ben and I driving to Haruna Mountain in his Honda Fit. However, Haruna-san is the real life mountain that is known more famously as Akina Mountain in Initial D. The mountain pass is very winding and we did encounter the hairpins; however, I doubt anyone could really race there as the roads are so narrow with the constant threat of oncoming traffic, and no shoulders to protect you from falling off the mountain. On the way to Haruna-san, I did find some Skylines and Silvias in the streets. Be on the lookout for my post on the Cars of Japan.

Even though it was a cloudy day with a light drizzle, Haruna-san was still very beautiful. The mountain is a now extinct volcano that formed a lake in the crater after eruption. So at the tip of the mountain are clouds and the base a large lake. We walked around for a bit and also looked at some of the gift shops around the area. Before we came to the mountain, we also stopped at the Haruna Shrine which was a 5 km climb up the face of the mountain right beside a fast running river.

Haruna Shrine

The path leading to Haruna Shrine

It is quite refreshing to be able to see this part of Japan, that most tourist probably will never see. And I can also say I was racing in Akina mountain (sorta…). Most foreigners will stay in Tokyo and won’t get to enjoy the beauty of nature in Japan. I am quite lucky that Ben has a car so that we can go to place not easily accessible by transit or very complicated to get to. Plus almost every car in Japan has a GPS system, including Ben’s 2001 Honda Fit (which is not even an option in North American newer Fit models). However, the 100km drive that would normally take us, in Vancouver, more or less than an hour to reach can sometimes take three hours in Japan with the small single lane roads and the horrendous lights and traffic.

Udon Lunch Set

Udon Lunch Set

For lunch Ben and I also found this small Japanese restaurant that served set lunch meals that were absolutely fantastic at about $8.00 CAD equivalent. For dinner we also had ramen, which is so much better compared to the ramen instant noodles, you get in Vancouver. All I can say is that the food has been great!

In the evening, we also went to a supermarket and I bought all the crazy, cool looking beers and spent the night trying them all. So my next post will be a review on six different, Japanese beers. Cheers!

At the top of Haruna Shrine

At the top of Haruna Shrine

Posted by: Darrell | August 28, 2008

Tokyo Exploring

So while waiting for Ben to finish work, I had the entire day to explore Tokyo on my own. After my breakfast at McDonald’s, I wandered to the train station and attempted my first utilization of the complex transit system in Japan. I started my adventure on the Chiyoda line and headed to Hibiya. There I transfered to the Hibiya line, heading on towards Akihabara.

Yodobashi-Akiba in Akihabara

Yodobashi-Akiba in Akihabara

Akihabara is known as the electronics capital of Japan. Anything you could ever want and need is located there, often at very good prices if you look hard enough. The Yodobashi-Akiba department store had 6 floors of nothing but electronics from music players, cell phones to anime and watches. The prices weren’t all that great; however, it is a large landmark in Akihabara and right beside the subway station. I then headed off to discover the rest of Akihabara, but at 10AM in the morning nearly nothing was open. I then took the Hibiya line again to Tsukiji.

Tsukiji is most famous for it’s wholesale fish market where at 5AM in the morning, you can see all the fresh fish coming into the docks ready to be auctioned off to all the haute restaurants all over Japan. I got there around 11:30AM, so I had missed the fish auction; however, I still decided to have lunch and try out the fresh fish available. Following a satisfying lunch I headed on to Ginza.

Mitsukoshi Department Store in Ginza

Mitsukoshi Department Store in Ginza

Ginza is the centre of fashion in Tokyo. Upon arrival, I saw more beautiful girls than you would ever find in any of the clubs in Vancouver on a Friday or Saturday night. And the women were absolutely stunning and carried themselves very well unlike like some of the undesirables you also find in the Vancouver clubs. Right out of the subway station I saw the stores for Dior, Giorgio Armani, Coach, Prada, Gucci. This is not including all of the department stores holding all of those brands and so much more. The department stores are so large and contain almost everything including my favourite; two whole floors of nothing but food!! Everything I wanted to eat, I bought. Japan is amazing for food and I have ate everything that caught my eye.

Selection of sweets in the department stores in Ginza

Selection of sweets in the department stores in Ginza

I then had about 2 hours to kill so I explored Hibiya and Akasaka. Both places are interesting but not quite as cool as Ginza. Akasaka is an upscale area where almost all of the cars were all dark tinted, slammed, luxury sedans riding on blades. The Lexus LS Hybrid is super popular and it seems like they are everywhere in Japan, although Toyota and Honda have so many more cooler models than they do in North America. I will be doing a blog strictly on the cars of Japan on all of the cars I have photographed. I am always expecting drifters to come screaming down the next corner in Japan; however, they are rarely seen and rarely heard.

I will also be doing a entry reviewing some of the interesting beers of Japan. There are also types of beer called Happoshu which are beers containing less than 60% hops and thus qualifying for less taxes and consequently cheaper for the consumers. Predictably they are much drier and have a less robust taste and flavour, but still great nonetheless. Although beer in Japan isn’t all that expensive altogether.

Hibiya Park in Hibiya

Hibiya Park in Hibiya

The plan for tomorrow is to take a drive around the Gunma Prefecture.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Akasaka Rain

The heavy rains in Akasaka

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Tsukiji Market

Tsukiji Fish Market with lines to the freshest sushi restaurants

Posted by: Darrell | August 28, 2008

Arrival and then some

So I finally arrive. Customs and immigration were easy and quick. The flight was okay without much turbulence or any other disturbance. However, the personal entertainment center that JAL had, could use some work and many more channels. The food was not too bad until just before arrival they served us sandwiches with deli meat. Not only is it just sub-standard food, but the deli meat made me weary with all the recent Maple Leaf listeriosis outbreak. That being said, the service was excellent and I had tons of room and space.

Inaka (Japanese for middle of nowhere/countryside)

Inaka (Japanese for middle of nowhere/countryside)

Upon arrival, I met up with Ben (some time later) and we attempted to take the train back into Tokyo. However, along the way we had to make a transfer and that’s when Ben forgot his bag at the Station. So we ended up getting stuck somewhere between Narita and Tokyo in the middle of nowhere in some isolated, empty station and ended up waiting 30 mins for the next train. However, we eventually got on our way and made it to Tokyo. Following that, we went to an Izakaya and found some food. The Suntory Premium Beer is absolutely excellent!

After dinner, Ben had to go back to his hotel as he had a seminar to attend the next morning. So we found a Capsule hotel and I stayed there for the night. It was quite an adventure. I am sleeping with many other “salary men” in this small like “capsule” with shared baths, washroom and everything else. However, it wasn’t as bad as it sounds; in fact as a matter of bang for the buck I would say that this is an awesome deal. The hotel included everything from shampoo to toothbrushes, towels and a robe. I was very tired as I did not sleep on the plane so I instantly passed out and woke up the next morning. The most interesting thing is showering with random guys all naked in the same room; but you what, if you don’t try you never know. So I can at least say that I have experienced a public bath and it wasn’t so bad.

Capsule Hotel

Capsule Hotel

Everything is so different that it is always so interesting; however, I have made some funny observations:

  • Guys in japan practically walk around naked and feel no shame.
  • The taxis generally very ugly except for the Infinit M taxis and the Toyota Majesta taxis.
  • Tons of super hot women, literally everywhere
  • McDonalds is a very good, cheap place to eat. And their drink selection is incredible; everything you could ever want on tap, is on tap!
  • Seating is McDonalds is so focused for the business people that nearly 90% of the seats are single seaters

Anyways, I am writing this in a McDonalds and it is time to get a start on my adventure today!

Inside a Capsule

Inside a Capsule

Posted by: Darrell | August 27, 2008

Skytime

After flying for a few hours and during the course of the first meal I decided to be more adventurous and try something alcoholic. To my delight, my new favourite drink on the plane is JAL Skytime (a JAL propriety citrus drink) with vodka. It goes well with the food and takes the bite away from the vodka. Moreover, it is also very light and refreshing.

JAL Flight 11

JAL Flight 11

I haven’t had much time to think, but writing this entry in word on my laptop halfway through the flight provides some solitude and thinking space. My overriding feelings are that I am very excited and extremely nervous. I haven’t been away from home too much and everything I know and feel comfortable with, is suddenly non-existent.

One very important observation, I really, really need to go to the washroom, however, there is a line up 10 people deep. Note to self: Time your washroom visits away from meal times. The flight so far has been pretty good. I am sitting in the middle four seat section and only have one other person at the other end, so we have two whole seats to ourselves. Plus Seat 41D has tons of legroom, though as Seat Guru points out the proximity to the lavatory may bother some.

The plan upon arrival is that Ben is going to meet me at the airport and then we will  have something to eat and also find a place to stay for the night. Ben also has a seminar all of Thursday, so I will be exploring by myself for most of the day. I am not quite sure where to go, however, every block will be an adventure. Some of the places I do want to visit are Tsukiji fish market, the Sony Tower and also try some nightclubs in Tokyo. Although not the ultra expensive, $50 CAD equivalent cover charge, night clubs.

Arrival Board at NRT

Arrival Board at NRT

This will be the last entry incorporating a Vancouver based date stamp. All the entry henceforth will be based on Japan local time. I still haven’t figured out the time difference between Japan and Vancouver, however, it should be about Vancouver time + 15 or 16 hours. Anyways it is time to fill out some immigration documents before I begin to watch Code Geass R2.

Posted by: Darrell | August 25, 2008

The Night Before

It has been a hectic week trying to organize and pack everything. Not to mention all the dinners and parties to go to! However, it is great to see everyone one last time before I leave. I am half excited and half nervous. Excited to go on a trip of a life time, but nervous about the challenges and the language I will have to overcome. I sure wished I had paid more attention to anything Japanese. I will be staying in Tokyo & Takasaki until September 1, afterwhich  I will be flying to Osaka and staying at the school during the orientation week. I should have pictures soon and I will try to update as much as possible!

To everyone: Take care and don’t forget to comment on my blog!!

« Newer Posts - Older Posts »

Categories

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.