Wednesday, September 30, 2009

The LSAT Oddessy





What a whirlwind weekend! Finally getting back into my regular routine, certainly glad that the LSAT is over with, though it wasn't as bad as everyone makes it out to be. Of course, I won't get my score back for another three weeks, but I can afford to be optimistic for a little while. For those who don't know, here was the breakdown of my weekend.

7:30pm Friday- Got on the Iyotetsu bus bound for Tokyo. Much more comfortable than any other charter bus I've been on, there are only three seats per aisle, and you can recline about three times as much, which is a big help. Still, hard to sleep, and they don't let you get off and stretch your legs after the first rest stop, the other stops are only for the drivers, apparently. There was a bathroom on the bus, so I guess no biggy. They shut all the curtains, and it's pretty much pitch black in the cabin, which is really nice considering how many street lights they have on the highways here.

7:30am Saturday- Arrived at Shinjuku station in Tokyo. Got off of the bus and wandered around for a few hours, checking out the massive buildings they have all over the city. And I do mean massive buildings. The Shinjuku station itself is a huge sprawl of bus stops, train stops, taxi stops, subway stops, and metro stops. The whole thing takes up a city block, and has at least 6 underground levels for all the subways and malls. Yes, I said malls.

Because I was so wiped from the 12 hour ride, I headed over to the area where my test was being held, and holed myself up to study at the university for a few hours before I checked into my hotel, which was near the test site. I know, I know, I didn't see nearly as much of the city as I should have, but I was concerned about resting up for the test, and I was really tired after not sleeping on the bus ride over.

Sunday- Took the LSAT. I thought it was pretty fun, if by fun you mean getting into a bathtub filled with Tabasco sauce, lemon juice, and broken glass. I overexaggerate, it actually wasn't that bad, just another long standardized test. Took about four hours, then I was free. Funny thing, most of the test takers were people in the JET program who had also traveled to Tokyo, since it was the only test center in the entire country. Saw more white people in my test room than I've seen in five weeks! Pretty amusing. Headed back up to the hotel to grab my stuff, and ran into some of my fellow test takers. We all decided we needed to blow off steam, so five of us went and filled up a ramen shop for a few hours. Some of us still had some hours to kill before we departed, so we headed over to the Harajuku district. Oh my people! The picture I took should give you some idea. Literally rivers of people, like Disneyland on the 4th of July. Just crazy! But I definitely know some places that I want to check out the next time I get up to this city. Crazy people dressed up in all sorts of cos-play stuff. Goth people, furries, even girls dressed up like Alice in Wonderland. You'd think there was a convention, but nope, just how like like to go out on the town. Didn't get any pictures, I'll try the next time. Got onto my bus at 7pm on Saturday, and arrived back in Shigenobu 12 hour after that. What a weekend!

So sorry for such a delay, but now that things are back to normal, I'll start posting regularly again!

Imotaki!


Ok, now that I'm back, I can start to post again. The first one, naturally, is about something I ate recently. I was at a friend's house for a little get together, and to feed us, the host brought out a giant pot full of goodies. The name of this dish is called imotaki, and I have no idea what it translates to, but I would guess it's something like "put everything you can think of into a big pot and boil it." Basically, it consisted of chopped up bits of tofu, chicken, bale root, cognac (not the brandy, some chewy vegetable which I'm sure is spelled different), potatoes, mushrooms, and other stuff I couldn't identify. Add in some udon noodles, and you've got some great drinking food. I should be able to make this at some point, it looks like great food to huddle over during the winter. Itadakimasu!

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Sorry

I'm going to apologize in advance, my posts are going to be few and far between for the next two weeks. I have to crack down and study for the LSAT, which means not as much traveling as I've been doing. I'm still getting out, so there will be some posting, but it's not going to be every night like I've tried to keep up since I've been here. No worries though, after the 27th, it will be back to business as usual! Wish me luck!

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Last Set - Summit and Down the Chains!





Third Set - Vids on the Ridge Top

video video

Second Set - The Climb!





First Set - The Straight and Easy





Ishizuchiyama

Wow, what a day. Got a chance to go to the top of the highest mountain in Western Japan, Mt. Ishizuchi. I was invited by one of my students, a doctor who runs the health center on the main campus. He heads various different clubs at the university, this one was the mountaineering club. I was expecting a bunch of students to come with us on this trip, but it actually turned out to be a bunch of his friends, all of whom were in their 50's and 60's, except for one Czech grad student who was 30. So I'm thinking a nice easy hike to the top of the mountain, some good views from the top, and then a trek back down. Boy was I wrong.

To start with, just getting up to the starting point was an ordeal in itself. The roads leading up to the mountain were some of the windyest roads I have ever been on, with little or no guardrail, and 100+ meter drops off the side. Good thing that everyone seems to be used to driving on these roads, judging from the speed that they took the hairpin turns which came ever 150 meters. I was gripping onto the handrail for dear life. But we made it up to the parking lot, safe and sound. The trail leading up the mountain wasn't too bad, some wooden slats placed along the ground make the ascent pretty tame. There was a decent amount of foot traffic, so they've been beaten into the ground by many travelers before us. We got to a rest area around 2km in, and had some water.

That's when the fun started. Instead of continuing along the main trail, Dr. Saheki points us into the bush next to the trail, along what is known as the ridge path. Mind you, there was no path, everything outside of the trail was covered in susa, which is a smaller variation of the giant bamboo. Also, a nice sign telling us that we should turn back, and were now traveling at our own risk. What started as a hike turned immediately into a bush-whacking climb. And I do mean climb, the grade was at least 70 degrees most of the way up, and even sometimes seemed as much as 80, with the occasional vertical portions when we needed to overcome large rock faces. Oh, and did I mention that it was a true ridge? The path we were blazing was at most 1 meter across, with 400+ meter drops on either side. Definitely no room for error. In order to make sure one didn't fall, and come to an untimely end, it was necessary to wrap your hands around a few of the bamboo stems and haul yourself up to the next foothold. Luckily, the shoots were extremely strong, but the rocks and ground underneath was pretty wet. However, the people I was with made short work of the terrain. They're in most of the pictures I took, which look smokey, but that was because we were at cloud level. Every fifteen minutes or so, it would get extremely hazy and cold, but then another gust of wind would come over the ridge, and everything cleared out. All in all, the view was spectacular, especially as there was nothing on either side of me to block the view!

After about 3 hours of this climbing, I got to the summit portion, which basically consisted of me free-soloing up 5 meters of rock to get to the final ledge. Great last section, especially because I didn't notice that Dr. Saheki had tied up a rope, which everyone else was using to climb up. That would have made it a ton easier! We made it to the top, and stood on the summit for a few minutes, taking pictures and seeing the amazing scenery of the Shikoku mountains laid out in front of us. Mind you, this was on the top portion of the ridge. The pictures I'll post don't really do it justice, so I'll be sure to add the two videos I took which actually give some depth to just how far there was to fall if you missed a step. At the top of the actually trail, there is another Shinto shrine, along with a restaurant. Pretty crazy place to stop for a meal. We brought our food, so after a little snack, we headed down the mountain, but along the usual hiking trail. My knees were thankful, and I couldn't have imagined going down the way we came up.

However, my experience was not quite over. You see, there are two normal ways to get up to the top of the mountain: one is by the normal hiking trail, which consists of a fairly sharp rise coupled with staircases set along the mountain face, while the other is a set of large metal chains set into the mountainside. You heard me, big old iron chains. Well, one of my fellow mountaineers decided like I was the adventurous type, so as we were walking down the trail, he looked at me and said, "You. Me. Chains. Go down," turned around, and walked down a side trail. You can probably guess where this is going. At this point, it would behoove me to mention that up close, the chains were a lot older-looking than far away, and the rock face was far steeper. Now, I'm not afraid of heights like some members of my family, but I'm not terribly fond of them either. Let's just say that climbing down 250 meters of mountain using nothing but wet rocks and old iron chains was a fairly good test of the size of my, how to put it, courage. Going up wouldn't have been so bad, I could have just focused on the climb, but descending meant I had to continuously look down to determine where I should place my next hand or foot. Didn't help that the rest of the group had since reached the intersection point at the bottom, and at once was both egging the two of us on, and showing me just how much farther down I had to go. In any case, after a decent amount of leg-shaking and sweating, I managed to make it down, with only a few scrapped knuckles, and a good adrenaline rush. After that, the rest of the descent was quite easy, with only my poor knees to tell the sorry tale of all the steps that remained on the way down.

By far one of the more challenging "hikes" I've ever signed up for, if not the most. However, I would absolutely recommend this trip to anyone visiting this island, if at least not by the ridiculous route that we took today. I promise, there is a straight and somewhat easy way to get to the top, we just didn't take it. For now, I'm going to take a nice hot bath and soak my muscles, and sleep well tonight!

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Yakitori




Lisa and I went out to dinner tonight with Ayumi and Satomi to a crazy little yakitori place right across from the train station in Matsuyama. I'm pretty sure yakitori translates into "grilled chicken." It's exactly what it sounds like. Tons of different chicken parts, cooked a variety of different ways, on wooden skewers. Pretty tasty. At the beginning of the meal, they bring a giant plate of cabbage, presumably so you will eat something with a little fiber in it during the meal. Also, I got to try some chicken sashimi, which is basically raw chicken. Apparently "salmonella" isn't in the Japanese vocabulary. But I'm not complaining, though I have to admit, raw chicken tastes very similar to raw fish. Maybe I don't have enough of a discerning palate quite yet. Oh well, I'm working on it. Another great meal in Matsuyama!

Oh yah, pretty funny. Seeing as how I seem to be the only white guy in the room where ever I go out to dinner, something odd always happens during the meal. Tonight, there was a party of older folks eating dinner next to us, ordering drinks like there was no tomorrow. They must have noticed me, because at one point during there meal, one of the old ladies yelled out to the rest of the table, "I speak English!" They all looked at me and started laughing. Anyways, when I got up to leave, one of the more inebriated men grabbed my shoulder and said, "Excuse me." I turned, and he held out his hand and very drunkenly said, "Nice to meet you." I shook his hand, and returned the pleasantry, while the entire table burst out in delighted laughter. I wished them all a great night, and left. I swear, this happens to me all the time! The reason I mention it in this post is because this marked the twentieth time that something like this has occurred since I've arrived here. I have to admit, it's nice being the exotic one, everyone gets a kick out of talking to me in English. What a funny place!

Even More Museum Pictures





More Museum Pictures





Cultural Museum






Today was a very interesting day. We went to the Ehime Cultural Museum and looked around for a bit. The drive took a while, it was about an hour and a half each way. A long time to spend in the car. The museum itself was fairly modern, it reminded me a lot of the Monterey Museum of natural history. There were eight exhibits, each having to do with his distinct portion of Ehime's cultural heritage. Each exhibit was marked by a stamp which you could collect, which they probably used for children's tours. There weren't too many people in the museum today, maybe because it was a rainy day, and nobody wanted to be on the road. Tons of armor, dioramas, and artwork collected over the years. Really interesting place. I'll just post some of the pictures I took, since it would take a ton of room to describe everything!

Friday, September 11, 2009

Sorry for the delay!

Sorry I haven't posted in a while. Now that school season is starting up again, most of my lessons have begun, leaving me with little time to travel. Hopefully, I will get to explore a little bit more soon, but until then I won't have any new pictures. I promise to post more this weekend, I think I'm going to have a bunch of adventures, with some new pictures on the way. Until then, it's just work as usual. Oh well, it's why I came!

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Yay for Allergy Meds

So I had my first, and hopefully only, visit to my local hospital today. I was running low on allergy medication, in fact down to my last pill, and considering the harvest season lasts for another few months here, I decided that I should probably stock up on my supply. Now normally I get Claratin over-the-counter, loratadine seems to do the trick, and you don't need a prescription for it. At least not in the US. I found that out when I went to a drug store near the mall and tried to find some allergy medicine on the shelves. Turns out, they don't sell any over-the-counter allergy medication in Japan. Not even Benadryl. According to the attendant, people use allergy medicine for "bad things," so you have to get a doctor to prescribe it. So, onto the hospital at 9:30am. I had to show up there early, because apparently they only register new patients for one hour in the morning. If you have never gotten sick before, and you get sick after 10:30, I assume you are just out of luck. Anyways, when you register in the hospital, you also have to designate which type of physician you would like to see for your visit. Which meant I had to describe my symptoms to several nurses, none of whom spoke English. Add that to the fact that I have never had a prescription for allergy medication, since I would just grab some from my father who suffers the same sort of seasonal allergies as I do, and you've got the makings of a fairly large wrench in the well-ordered Japanese medical system. The registration nurse kept getting the impression that I had a food allergy, and insisted that I would need to get a series of tests to determine what was causing my allergies. I, just as adamantly, kept pulling out the last pill of Allegra I had and pointing at it emphatically. Finally realizing I wasn't going to submit to being poked with a ton of needles, the nurse on duty assigned me to the ear, nose, and throat department, and looked quite glad to get rid of me.

I waited in the waiting room for about twenty minutes, and then my name was called. I was ushered into a small cubicle with an attending otolaryngologist. Luckily, he spoke some English. He read over the symptoms that I had written down, along with the drugs that I had been using, and determined from my description that I was suffering from seasonal allergies, which was great, considering that was what I had been trying to get across the entire time. After sticking a fairly long Q-tip up both of my nostrils in order to get a mucous swab, he went over to examine it at the microscope, only to find that the main light was burned out. I must have seemed confident, for he just shrugged it off, and assumed I knew what I was talking about. Even more so, because he tried to prescribe me a different allergy medicine that I had been using, but when I was insistent on continuing my same regiment of Allegra, since I knew that it was effective, he seemed to take it in stride. Then came the really fun part. He asked me how many pills I would like to receive, and I responded by asking, "How many can you give me?" Great guy, he proscribed me 99 days worth of allergy medication, which comes out to almost 200 pills. I think he was just tired of my incessant questions. I assured him that the excessive quantity would probably last me through the entire year, but he just laughed and said if I needed more, to give him a call. Oh yah, and then the best part. Because Japanese health insurance is so good, my entire visit to the hospital cost me around ten US dollars, and a 14+ week supply of Allegra cost me around 50 bucks, which is almost a third of what the drugs would cost in America. Quite an ordeal, but my eyes and nose have been blissfully clear the entire day. No more rationing, the war is over! And thus, my first odyssey into the Japanese health care system was ended. At least I'm in their system now!

Monday, September 7, 2009

A little dancing

video

Thought I would try to post a video that I took from my camera. There was a guy there who was dancing most of the show, I think he was part of a bigger band. In any case, the guy was hilarious. I know it's dark, but it's pretty hard to miss his crazy moves!

Soul Strings Live






Got my first musical experience in Japan tonight. Ayumi met me in the city and we walked over to a small club, couldn't tell you the name. Anyways, it was a tiny little place, with a small stage, a bar, and about ten tables. The band's name was The Soul Strings, your standard rock band, complete with bass, guitar, drummer, keyboardist, and singer. The guitar player was Ayumi's older sister's husband. Let me tell you, these guys rocked hard. I was pretty surprised, I was expecting to hear mostly Japanese songs, but in fact 95% of what they played was American music, from "Very Superstitious" to "When A Man Loves a Woman" to that song they play during Venus woman's razor commercials. The band was rocking! It was pretty funny though, hearing all of these American songs sung with a slight accent. Still, the band performed extremely well, I was very impressed. I have to do this more often. Also, I got a chance to meet some of Ayumi's family, which was fun. In the last picture, her nieces are on the left of me, named Haruka and Ayaka. Haruka's friend, Haruna, is on the lower right, and Ayumi is to my left. What a fun night, I've got to search out more of these little clubs and hear some more music.

Saturday, September 5, 2009

Baseball!






Pretty interesting day today, Azami and Koharu took Lisa and me to a baseball game in Botchan stadium. Our local minor league team is the Ehime Mandarin Pirates. I never got a straight answer as to who we were playing against, but I think their name was the Fighting Dogs. The teams compete within the Shikoku minor league, which I believe only has six teams, one for each province of the island. Big stadium, seemed bigger considering the lack of crowd for the game. I wasn't too surprised, considering how hot it was in the stands. The baseball was marginal, both teams made some pretty huge errors through the game, but it was very entertaining to hear the audience's guided chants being supplemented by the elementary school band that was playing pep behind our seats. The guy yelling in the pictures above was the leader of the chants for the first three innings, then he switched off with someone else because his voice was getting tired. The chants continue non-stop for the entire time the home team was at bat. I'm pretty sure it's also an attempt to screw with the other teams pitcher. Another funny difference from US baseball, between the 6th and 7th innings, both teams had to come out on the field to rake the dirt. Can't imagine the Yankees or the Giants cleaning their own diamond. Oh yah, and Ultraman was there, and we all managed to get a picture with him after the game. At least I think it was Ultraman. Not sure if I would want to sit through an entire game again, but I would love to see the stadium filled with people chanting! Go Pirates!

Thursday, September 3, 2009

"Welcome Home" Izakaya






Another good dinner in the city tonight. Met up with my friends Azami and Tetsuhiro at an Izakaya. I can't remember the name in Japanese, but translated it means something like "Welcome Home." The top picture was our first course, a local shellfish which is something called "Turtle-feet." Yes, they do look very much like turtle feet, but are actually a relative of the mollusk. Very salty, but very tasty. You bite the fleshy part and suck out the juice, and then eat the meat inside. The second course was a combination of stingray liver and hoke sashimi. The stingray liver was very good, same consistency of well-cooked tofu, but much tastier. The last thing on the menu was the neck of a giant tuna. Really good meat. I know most of the posts on this blog center around what I eat, but the food is so good here, I just can't resist!