Thursday, December 11, 2008

Sunday drive up to Fujiyoshida.

Kawaguchiko Fujisan 2008-12-07 001 I finally got around to getting my seasonal tire and oil change and figured it would be fun to drive out to Fujiyoshida to check out MT Fuji one last time before the new year.

The timing couldn't have been better. After a lot of overcast days, we finally had one nearly perfect clear day which really makes MT Fuji look even more beautiful in pictures. After stopping by the side ofKawaguchiko Fujisan 2008-12-07 006 the road to snap a few pictures, Yuko and me went souvenir shopping. I bought a few things for my mom and sister along for something for one of my friends. I might go out there one more time to pick up a few more things just to get a lot of my Christmas shopping out of the way before I visit my family at the end of next week.
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Kawaguchiko Fujisan 2008-12-07 020  After checking out the scenic view of MT Fuji in Kawaguchiko, we checked out Fuji Sengen Shrine. I've passed this shrine many times but never once stopped to check it out. I figured it was like all the other shrines I've seen scattered along Japan's landscape. Most shrines and temples are generally similar and not all that interesting to look at but Fuji Sengen was a pretty decent place. While we were checking out the main Shrine we got a glimpse of a traditional Japanese wedding ceremony. I would've taken pictures but it seemed kind of rude to go any further than just watching it as outsiders.
Kawaguchiko Fujisan 2008-12-07 019 After freeing our butts off at the shrine we stopped over at a large recycle shop in the area. I happened to come across an incredibly filthy used official Xbox 360 USB controller. The controller was sitting under a pile of other game related items in the junk bin. Being the tinkerer I am, I decided to take a chance and buy the nasty thing for a mere 600 yen. The controller sells new for about 2500 yen so I think I got a really good deal on that. I ended up spending about an hour or so taking the thing apart to disinfect and clean every nook and cranny of the controller. After I was satisfied with how clean it was, I plugged it in and tested it out. To my relief the controller worked just as well as my wireless controller. So now I have two controllers but nobody to play with. Oh well, at least it gave me something to do.
I love Japan recycle shops. Its amazing what people consider junk here. Electronics go obsolete here quickly and most people could care less for used stuff in Japan even if its in near perfect shape. Japanese are the perfect consumers. Of course, when it comes to used CDs, DVDs, books, and games, Japanese have no qualms about getting second hand media.
So that's it for today. The days are getting colder and colder here and I am really looking to warming up next weekend in San Diego.

Friday, December 5, 2008

You get your hair cut at a ... what?

catipult As this year comes closer to an end, my workload at school has significantly gone down. With all the extra free time I've been given, it's made me even lazier and focused on my upcoming visit home. If every thing works out like last year, next week will be my last week of "real" classes.
I am still in wonder that I've already been working in Japan for the length of two school years. The more I work here, the more I warm up to the idea of staying around for a few more years. Of course nothing stays the same at Japanese schools as teachers are rotated often and morale and friendships change. I'm hoping next school year will be as "smooth" as my first two school years here but who knows?
Winters in full swing in my city and I am greeted with a thick layer of hard, icy frost on my window on nearly a daily basis. It is a strange feeling scraping frost off my windows before I go to work but I'm getting used to it. My schools out in the local mountains already are salting roads because black ice started forming there about a week ago and will probably turn into snow soon enough. I'll be throwing on my set of snow tires this weekend in anticipation of bad weather. I really like snow but I don't like driving in it at all and I know I'm going to have a lot more experience starting next semester in January...
Despite it being so cold outside, my apartment holds most of it's heat in. My place is about 15-22 degrees Celsius which is just warm enough for sweat pants and a sweatshirt. The kotatsu, a short table with an electric heater mounted on its underside, has been a greater asset this year as it serves more than just a piece of furniture my girlfriend wanted but more of a practical functional item. It does a good job of keeping my feet warm and my energy costs down. 
But enough about school and seasons. I witnessed a cool freak thunderstorm today. Its due to the rainstorm and the snowy mountains. I guess a cold front and a warm front collided over my area causing some serious freak weather patterns. I love thunderstorms!
After two long months of ignoring my wild unkept hair, I finally went out to my local salon and got my hair styled and cut. Its amazing how much they preen and mess around with my hair. In the hour and a half I am there they have four separate people attend to me by washing my hair before and after the cut, another to blow dry my hair while the main stylist is working on somebody else, and finally the stylist who cuts my hair. Its a lot different from the 10 dollar barber shop cuts I used to get but I really love it. I pay 4,300 yen each time and I know its expensive but for the quality of work and service they provide, I happily part with my money. I think living in Japan has really changed my opinions on personal upkeep and fashion. I think I am slightly more presentable than I used to be, which is cool I guess.
So that's it for now. Maybe I'll squeeze another post in if anything else happens or if it gets cold enough to snow.

Sunday, November 30, 2008

Fall has come and gone.

Ashiyasu Fall 2008-11-15 017 I promised a while back I'd snap some seasonal pictures and I finally managed to get a whole bunch of them a few weeks back. I completely forgot to post these pictures and only remembered because I was screwing around with my photo folder in windows media center.
Ashiyasu Fall 2008-11-15 019 Fall is kind of special to me because I've lived in southern California all my life. Southern California's seasons consist of a very long spring, summer, and short fall. So seeing trees leaves change colors is pretty neat. Plus, I prefer cold to heat and really like wearing coats and jackets. I think I only owned like one nice heavy jacket in the US... I own about five in Japan and they are used out of necessity rather than just fashion.
Ashiyasu Fall 2008-11-15 014 I snapped these pictures not very far from my own home. Since I live in the countryside, I can practically go out in any direction and find a nice wooded hill or mountain to snap pictures. Only during certain seasonal periods of the year do I actually appreciate living in the countryside of Japan because I really prefer city life more due to my upbringing.
Ashiyasu Fall 2008-11-15 016 I took them in the mountains overlooking my schools in Ashiyasu. Instead of driving out towards Mt. Fuji which I originally wanted to do, we went out to Ashiyasu where the leaves were actually quite beautiful and easy to get to. Weather has been bad on the weekends as of late so I missed the best leaves viewing near Mt. Fuji but at least I have the following pictures to share with all of you.
Ashiyasu Fall 2008-11-15 015 As of writing this entry, most of the trees around my area are either bare or really brown and dead looking. Snow has already capped most of the surrounding mountains and every morning I am greeted with a nice layer of ice on my car window that I have to chip away at with my trusty ice scraper. I am looking forward to seeing snow again but not the cold that it brings along. At least I live in a city now so the winds I complained about so much last year aren't as bad because of all the buildings that server as excellent windbreaks here.
These last two pictures were taken from my phone so their quality are significantly lower.
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Nothing really to report. Business as usual here.

12527D~1 This is more of a filler entry than I'd like but I felt a strong need to update my neglected blog as of late. I'm getting more and more excited to head home for Christmas and its causing me to loose focus on work a little bit. For the past couple of weeks my schools have been on strange schedules because of festivals, tests, and other random events so I've been left with a really light schedule resulting in serious laziness on my part. This post is mostly for my mom who probably keeps clicking on this site hoping for updates.
AVATAR~3 See the picture to the right? That's the my digital representation of me on Xbox live. With the new Xbox 360 update, I am now able to access many new features like avatar creation. Ever since the end of October, I've managed to catch up with a lot of my Xbox 360 games I bought over the past year. I finally beat Lost Odyssey with all but one achievement, beat the snot out of Beautiful Katamari and it's online bonus levels, and also managed to chip away even further at Forza Motorsport 2. My Xbox 360 gives me about 75 percent of my weekly entertainment which helps keep the cost of life down and my gaming addiction strong. Another reason my Xbox 360 keeps me entertained is due to its system update that completely changed how it works and looks. I can now chat more with my friends through voice chat and watch Netflix movies instantly.
But enough about games, let's catch up a little bit with how my life's been going. I've finally managed to save money for the first month ever by meeting my target of 100,000 yen (1,000 US dollars.) I've been able to save money since I moved to my new apartment back in July but most of the money I saved each month before this one has been put into random things like my TV, unexpected bills, and my plane tickets to the US for Christmas.
$1,000 may seem like a drop in the bucket as far as savings go but it's a huge step in the right direction for me. Unfortunately, part of what I saved from last month will most likely go toward some new clothes and time well spent with my friends and family back in San Diego. If nothing unexpected comes up within the next year I should be on target to save at least $10,000 which I would use to settle my credit card balance and student loans. I really want to come back to the US debt free and I think its possible if I can continue to be tight with my money and pray Japan's cost of living doesn't skyrocket again like it did a few months ago.
I really hope my short 10 days in San Diego will be full of fun and good memories for me. I look forward to catching up with friends and also look forward to seeing my new nephew and the rest of my family in a few weeks.
I'm not sure if I will update my blog again before I head off to San Diego but if anything interesting comes up, I'll post it.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

A monkey with maracas and the fate of a nation.

571F66~1 Before I get into what the monkey is all about I want to briefly share my thoughts on the outcome of the 2008 presidential election. Despite both candidates being poor presidential nominees by each of their parties, one man had to win tonight. Although I have a lot of worries and misgivings about our new elected president I am taking a positive approach to all of this. I will try to be optimistic and pray that all the crazy scenarios about socialism taking over and the government being turned upside down single handedly by Obama's presidency will turn out to all be unfounded worries. I just pray that America doesn't become any worse off or change drastically in any way for religious groups, belief systems, and our financial class system. Maybe it is time for America to see what "change" can do. I just pray that its the kind of change that America's forefathers would agree with.
DC_MAR~1 Now that all that political garbage is out of my system let us move on to more interesting things (to me.) On one of my random visits to the local recycle shop, I happened to come across a very rare game peripheral I used to own about eight years ago. I found a boxed set of Samba De Amigo maracas in the Junk section of my local Hard-Off for only 525 yen. I had to take the chance and test them out even if I knew that they probably would either be broken or in real rough shape. When I got home, I fired up my inappropriately "junk" labeled Dreamcast and the maracas worked like a charm. So I got a game that will give me a little bit of a workout.
SAMBA0~1 Samba De Amigo was recently released on the Nintendo Wii a month ago but the game play turned out to be horribly broken due to the inaccuracy of the wiimote controllers. So I am incredibly pleased that I was able to pick up such an enjoyable game for such a low price. Heck, on eBay people are still getting just under 100 dollars for just the maracas. So I got a deal of a lifetime here for a simple budget gamer like myself. It seems as if I get all my electronics and entertainment items from junk shops. Cool for me.

Sunday, November 2, 2008

Yokohama China Town

Yokohama China Town 001 Instead of heading out to the mountains to see the fall colors, I decided to tag along with Yuko's family for a day in Yokohama. I've never been to Yokohama before so I decided I'd rather go out for a nice FREE road trip.

I ended up eating at a decent Chinese buffet restaurant in China Town and snapped a few pictures of the area before I got bored being there. Personally, I think San Francisco's China Town is much more interesting but about 1000 times dirtier and smellier too. But at least San Francisco has cheaper food.
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After Yuko and I browsed through a few shops in China Town we ended up walking to the bay to check out the amusement park nearby. We rode on the Ferris Wheel and visited the haunted house. It was a pretty nice amusement park and the Ferris Wheel gave us a great view of the city.
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Yokohama is probably one of the nicer urban areas I've visited in Japan but still nowhere near as nice as my home town in sunny San Diego.
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The day in Yokohama passed by pretty quick and before I knew it I was back home in my warm bed by midnight that evening. Maybe I'll be able to snap some pictures of trees this weekend if the leaves haven't already fallen off by now. Enjoy the pictures!

Saturday, November 1, 2008

October has come and gone

give a s---- What's happened to me in the past few weeks? I can't even fully answer that question. This whole month has been what feels like one groundhog day after another.
I was trapped in a boring daily routine for about a month because I had to stay at school all day, every day to "help" out with speech contest practice. My time was mostly spent on my butt at my desk till 4:30 every day and then another hour after that coaching students because I had no classes due to weird scheduling changes, tests, and a plethora of festivals the school was planning and participating in. It was all due to seriously bad planning and it happens every year like clock-work without anybody doing one thing about it. Those Japanese sure are troopers. At least I don't have to participate in most of the things they do at school or I'd be completely burnt out and sick of school all together. At least there is one good thing about how I handle work; when I come home, work doesn't follow me. I am quite proud of that and it's probably the reason why I am comfortable working here.
1185354528052I look forward to starting the next school year because I do have a certain 1st year class at my base junior high that is more than a handful for all the staff. It basically was a case of not mixing the classes properly after the beginning of the year. I learned that there are a handful of students in the "problem" class that completely ruin any chance of enjoying school for the others because they have home problems and have had no discipline throughout their lives. Oh well, its their problem if they want to be bitter dorks so early on in life. They can enjoy their bleak futures in their monotonous dead end jobs for all I care.
Despite my very small complaints about school in Japan, work is pretty good. I mostly have good classes and great students who truly enjoy having classes with me. I will be a little sad to see this year's 3rd years move up to High School. Hopefully my company won't decide to add yet another school to my job or take more days/hours away from my original base school. I like my new schools but one day a week with them is more than enough time for me.
Outside of school activities, I haven't had much free time as I normally do to just sit around at home and screw around on the Internet with my friends back in San Diego. I have caught up on a few games in preparation for Gears of War 2. I decided I wouldn't buy Gears of War 2 if I didn't finish a couple of the games I bought a couple months back. So my nights have mostly consisted of late night gaming on my Xbox 360 and Sega Saturn.
I did get a couple of big things accomplished this month. Firstly, I paid off my plane tickets for my flight home over Christmas. I am really looking forward to seeing friends and family during my short 10 day stay. Hopefully I can sleep on the flight for once and stave off jet lag better than past trips.
2008 Presidential Overseas Ballot 002 The second big thing I got done was that I sent in my overseas vote for the 2008 presidential election. Thankfully, I haven't been taken up by the hysteria of Obamaina that the mainstream media has pushed on the American public. This is most likely due to the fact that I am not bombarded with their junk (the US mainstream media) on a daily basis and can see through the left biased mainstream media of America and understand that true journalism has dissevered. Everybody has an agenda they want to push, even if that means lower viewership of once popular news shows or falling sales of once large news papers.
Static-DynamicsThe main thing that bothers me about this election is that I can't stand seeing an unknown man with ties to shady figures in his past and isn't forthcoming with events in his upbringing and past getting so much attention by the media as if it were the second coming and Jesus was running for president... I also am very displeased how race has become a big factor in this election as if every thing Martin Luther King Jr. worked for during the civil rights era never happened. Just because the Democratic presidential nominee happens to be a man of a darker skin tone with a Muslim name, he seems to get a free pass by the media and is off limits for any criticism on the grounds that it might be hateful or racist. Barrack Hussein Obama may be a nice man with a slick tongue but he's just not the man I want to see as president.
So whether or not my vote makes a difference, I sent my vote in for McCain. I really don't like McCain either but at least I generally know where he stands politically even if he's slanted well to the left of better Republican Presidential candidates like Mitt Romney. McCain is a pretty weak choice too but at least I know a lot more about McCain than Obama.
I am sick of this election campaign that started almost two years ago. Its been the most expensive, and corrupt one yet and I am truly worried about where our country is going regardless of who's sitting at the big desk in the Oval Office.
handouts_for_troubled_wall_streetBut enough about election politics, my main beef with current governmental affairs is a much larger fundamental issue. America is run by wall street and the bailout is much bigger news than our poor choices for president. America should be going nuts on the current president and his cronies in congress regardless of party affiliation for passing such a ridiculous economic stimulus and buying parts of major American bank. Who's going to pay for the bailout? The common American tax payer of course! The bailout should have never happened, we're putting a Band-Aid on a gaping mortal wound here! We need solutions, not a short term handout...
People need to go to jail and have their assets seized by the government for their blatant disregard for laws and their country. If the big heads at Enron got grilled and tossed in jail for all their financial misdealing's, why aren't the CFOs and CEOs at the many large, now fallen, investment banks that fell over the past month being tried in court for their misdeeds? Also why aren't governmental officials who were in place to prevent such things from happening aren't getting the negative media attention they deserve? Oh what a weird world we live in...
2008 Presidential Overseas Ballot 001 Finally on a lighter note, fall has finally hit Yamanashi, Japan and the color of the leaves are turning to brilliant reds, yellows, and oranges. I went out to the local mountains a couple weeks ago to take a few early shots but I plan to go out again this week to get some better shots of trees in full color near MT. Fuji. I didn't get to do this last year and I really regret it. Hopefully I'll be able to take some decent pictures this time.
2008 Presidential Overseas Ballot 003 That's it for now. Hopefully I'll have more time to remember to keep up with my blog posts. I have a feeling November will go by quick and then I will be getting ready to head out to San Diego for Christmas soon after. Lord willing, I will be able to control my spending before I head back home so I can have a little extra money to enjoy myself.

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Where did the summer heat go?

U kids Just one week ago it was over 85 degrees here and then without warning, its time to turn on the heater. When seasons change, they seem to change with little to no transition in Japan. I'm not absolutely sure which is better, the intense heat an humidity of Japan's summer or the intense dry-cold of Japan's winter. I guess both are pretty bad and the  only "season" where every thing is comfortable and nice is limited to just under a month sometime between May-June.
Speaking of cold, I'm really looking forward to going back to San Diego during my winter vacation for about ten days. I wish I had more money saved up for tickets that were cheaper a year ago when I arrived in Japan, but that's just how the sucky airline market works. Life is going to be a little tight in October because I have to pay for my roundtrip ticket in one large lump sum but I'll try to look at it positively since its going toward something meaningful.
New Sharp Aquos TV 007 September has been a weird month for me financially. I just couldn't stop hemmoraging money. It all started when I saw a 32 inch Sharp Aquos at my local recycle shop for 63,000 yen. It was a price too hard to pass up especially when the market for HD flat panel LCD TVs in Japan is over priced and much different from the economical American market I'm used to. It was a big step financially for me as it was about 1/3 of my monthly income in one purchase but I think it was well worth it in the end. I was able to auction off my 7 month old 19 inch monitor and VGA TV tuner box for about 20,000 yen in total. I lost about 4,000 yen on the monitor (which isn't bad since I only owned it for seven months!) and about half the value on the VGA box (which is understandable since its an analog only tuner). So the TV ended up costing about 43,000 yen when offset by my auctioned items.
New Sharp Aquos TV 004 Now that I own such an extravagant item, it kind of forces me to think about how long I am willing to stick around in Japan. Luxuries like this show that I am willing to tie myself down here for another year or so. It is pretty hard at this point to uproot myself and move off somewhere else now that I own so much stuff. This can be good and bad, but I'm more positive about it. Hopefully some of my friends or family from San Diego come over to visit some day. I'd be able to host at least a couple people here simultaneously. I think the TV was a good investment since most of my entertainment comes in either video game form or video format. My laptop also can connect to it via a DVI-I port in the back of the TV which is an awesome feature because I can play my American DVDs on my laptop and blow it up on my TV instead of being limited to my small 15 inch wide screen on my laptop!
 New Sharp Aquos TV 003 The 32 inch wide screen TV looks huge in my tiny bedroom so I ended up rearranging my room layout to better utilize it. My room feels a lot more open and comfortable for guests. My fish seem happier too now that my couch isn't so close to their tank. I think I freaked them out every time I got up from the couch. Playing games and watching movies has never been this good in my apartment. One less reason to go out and waste my money. :)
Well, that's about it for now. I haven't had anything newsworthy to report on my blog for about a month now. Work has been work, neither bad or good and life in Japan is just as uneventful as anywhere else I've ever lived. In a way I am happy for that, I think  my life has finally mellowed out a bit and I've had a chance to adapt to my new lifestyle.
Hopefully life will pick up once more here now that its fall. By the end of October the leaves should be changing colors on the local trees. I'll be sure to go out more and snap some good seasonal pictures.

Saturday, August 23, 2008

Last fireworks festival of the summer

Fuefuki Fireworks Festival 8-08 001 I've been to three fireworks festivals so far this summer but this week's was the closest and best one I've experienced. On average I've driven up to 50 kilometers just to see fireworks displays in other parts of Yamanashi but nothing seemed to hit the spot till I experienced the Isawa Onsen fireworks festival. Go figure that the Isawa Onsen festival is only about a 30 minute drive from my home and also was the most interesting and accessible of the bunch.
Fuefuki Fireworks Festival 8-08 029 The Isawa Onsen fireworks festival takes place in Fuefuki near the river and attracts over 20,000 people yearly. It was quite a feat navigating through the sea of humanity to find a clear spot to stand and view the fireworks and even harder to get out of there when it was over.
So now my summer officially comes to an end and I am anticipating another new semester teaching. I can't believe its already been a year since I arrived here. I have already gained a lot of good teaching experience which may be a good point on a future resume but I still haven't really done anything about improving my Japanese level. What's even more upsetting is that I still don't have a clear idea what I want to do after teaching. I know I don't want to teach in my current job forever because it barely can support a single guy comfortably, and there is also no chance of pay raises or moving up within the ranks of the teaching company so I'd rather just finish my time and move on to something bigger and more secure.
Fuefuki Fireworks Festival 8-08 088 The topic of my future came up because Yuko and me were talking over dinner the other night and she squarely told me that I haven't done anything to improve my Japanese at all and I have absolutely no goal or ambition to get a better job. And you know what, she's absolutely right. I've been sitting on my hands for the past year when I could have at least gone out and asked her to help me study Japanese or something. Well, the time has finally come and I made a simple resolution to finally go out and pass the level two Japanese proficiency exam later next year. I could have passed it when I graduated from college a few years ago when my studies were still fresh in my mind but I really didn't know what to do with my self after graduation and wasted whatever I had at that time.
Fuefuki Fireworks Festival 8-08 057  So today Yuko and me will go out book shopping to start me on the right track. With all the free time I have in the afternoons, I think I can manage to get my Japanese back up to the level I had it when I graduated college. My real goal is to get it up to a useable level so I can actually promote that skill as an asset for any job I may apply for. Its not like a good job or opportunity is just going to fall in my lap because I'm a nice guy. I need to get stuff done for myself or at least get the ball rolling.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Delicious charred mammal flesh...

Yard Renovation 009 Ever since I moved into my new apartment I've always wanted to use my yard as a spot to relax and have a nice BBQ. Before I started cleaning up the yard and fixing the place up, I really didn't feel it was right to have a BBQ at my place because of all the tall grass and dirt back there that would just make things messy and possibly dangerous. Well now that I've cleared out the yard and filled it with pretty Japanese garden style rocks, I now have what I envisioned. A yard for a delicious BBQ.
New kitchen floor 001 Last week or so, I finally got around to buying a grill and all the supplies needed to have a BBQ. Since BBQ's are supposed to be with friends, I had Yuko invite a couple of our friends  over for a BBQ. It worked out pretty good and there was just enough room out there for about 4-5 guests including me. I was a little worried that the smoke from the BBQ grill would be annoying to my neighbors but nobody has complained once during the three times I've BBQed out there since.
New kitchen floor 001 I find there is nothing better than a Japanese style BBQ. I really love their sweet sauce that the meat is dipped in along with a bowl of rice. It really hits the spot and fills me up quick and at a really reasonable price. Before now I had to get my BBQ fix at restaurants which were pretty expensive and a pain to go to because I can't drink there if I drive. Now I just bring the party to my house and its all good. I hope I can have a few more people over for a BBQ before the summer is over. I want to make the most of what I've got now.
New kitchen floor 002

Home improvement

New kitchen floor 001 Up till now I've put a lot of hard work into an apartment I know I won't be living in after a couple years. My girlfriend thinks I'm a little crazy for wanting to fix things around the place, and maybe I am, but its something that has been keeping me happy and busy. Fixing stuff is in my blood and there is nothing like the feeling of accomplishment after doing something constructive.
New kitchen floor 002 This time I decided I had enough of the original vinyl flooring in my kitchen and picked up 12 packets of fake wood self adhesive floor tiles. The original floor had a really bland pinkish-beige color to it and also had some odd stains on it that I really didn't want to see anymore. The main reason I went through with changing the floor is because the floor tiles were 100 yen per pair of tiles. In other words it was cheap enough and simple enough to give it a shot.
It took me a little over an hour to cut and fit every piece on the floor but it came out looking very professional and nice. Although Yuko disagreed with me re flooring the kitchen, she seemed to really be impressed with how nice it came out and gave up her complaining. Now that I've seen how easy and nice the cheap flooring is to set up, I may finish the job and redo the restroom floor also. The floor in the restroom is a really tacky pinkish color just like the kitchen was and really looks bad against the new flooring in the kitchen. If I can find the same pattern flooring, I may do it by the end of this week since I have one package left. I estimate it would only take about five more packages to cover the floor in there anyway. Its just cutting around the toilet that will be a challenge.
New kitchen floor 004  The only other thing I would like to fix in my apartment are the bathroom walls and ceiling. The bathroom is the only place left that has any hint of the past smoking tenants.  Replacing the unit is out of the question and painting it is also impossible since it is plastic. Hopefully I can find a reasonably cheap industrial strength cleaner or something to bleach the walls out. Its really just the walls and ceiling that are stained, the tub and floor were miraculously spared. Well, that's for another day I guess. I can live with its current state, because I scrubbed it down good and killed every last bit of cigarette stink. My place smells and looks nice now and that's all that matters.
Well, whoever happens to live in this apartment after me will be happy to have such a clean place to live in compared to what I stared out with. If anything I bet they'll raise the rent a little on this place for the next guy.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Initial D Road Trip!

ind022 Usually loosely planned things don't pan out all that well but this time they worked pretty good. Yuko and me had been planning to travel somewhere in Japan over our summer break since I don't have enough money saved up to fly back to the US. We decided to drive out a couple prefectures over to my old home Gunma to visit a couple popular hot springs.


Ikaho Onsen and Mt. Haruna 039 We decided to avoid all toll highways because of the absurdly high cost of gas and the equally absurd tolls we would incur. The drive ended up doubling in both distance and time but we saved a lot of money and got to see a lot more than we would have on the boring highway. I ended up driving about 90% of the time because most of the roads we took were seriously windy mountain roads which Yuko is absolutely terrified of. It was no skin off my nose though, as I really enjoy a good series of hairpin turns.

Ikaho Onsen and Mt. Haruna 007 Our first stop was a popular hot spring in Gunma called Ikaho Onsen. I've been there before when I was studying abroad in Gunma but really didn't get much time to enjoy it because I was only there for about an hour last time. We stayed at reasonably priced hotel where we were able to get our own private hot spring with free buffet breakfast and dinner included.

Ikaho Onsen and Mt. Haruna 004 The hotels in Ikaho are fairly old and look really worn inside and out. Yuko wasn't really thrilled with staying at such an old hotel but she was happy to be there because the price was too hard to resist.

Ikaho Onsen and Mt. Haruna 027 It was also nice to escape Yamanashi for once, its a nice place to live but its not as pretty as Gunma. Plus, I am a huge fan of Initial D and most of Initial D's courses are based in the mountain courses of Gunma. The best part of the trip was that most of the courses I really wanted to see were within driving distance from Ikaho Onsen or on the way back home.
Ikaho Onsen and Mt. Haruna 005 Ikaho is famous for its long, narrow staircase shopping district and its natural hot springs. I could really care less about hot springs though, I was there primarily to take pictures and just enjoy the scenery.

Ikaho Onsen and Mt. Haruna 003 The only really interesting thing about the hotel we stayed in besides it being super old, was one of the previous guests etched the Chinese character "Noroi" into the wall. Noroi basically means spirit or haunted, and this really freaked Yuko out. If she found it before we went to sleep she would have slept in the car instead. She was that scared of the place already before she found the etched word. As for me I was thrilled at the sight of it because I love ghosts and folklore.
Ikaho Onsen and Mt. Haruna 049After we got our stuff situated in our room and checked out Ikaho's shops we went out to Lake Haruna for a little leisure ride. I've been wanting to ride in a goofy swan boat in Japan for a while so we ended up driving up to Lake Haruna where a few parts of the Initial D series take place. It was nearly picture perfect there from what I saw in the manga and anime. 
Ikaho Onsen and Mt. Haruna 051 I got to see the boat dock where the swan boats are in the manga and also got to see the meeting area for the downhill course start area. The biggest highlight of the Haruna drive was that I got to see the real course which was really windy and would have been really fun if I were in a real car rather than my girlfriend's pink Nissan March. Oh well, at least I got to drive the course and take tons of pictures.
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Ikaho Onsen and Mt. Haruna 011 On the second day, we left Ikaho and went about 13 kilometers down the mountain to my old city of Maebashi. I got to see my old university, Gunma Daigaku and where my old apartment used to be.
I was fairly shocked to find the school had gone through a major remodeling and looked nothing like what I remembered it to be, and my old apartment was gone. I wasn't all that disappointed to not find my old apartment there but I was a little sad to also find that the old man that lived in an old hobble next to me was gone and so was his home. He probably did just like he joked he would, well God bless him and hopefully he died happy although he was lonely.
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Above: Before, Below: Present
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Ikaho Onsen and Mt. Haruna 014 After a trip through memory lane in Maebashi, we decided to take a little side trip to Kusatsu hot springs as well. What was really cool about our unplanned detour was that we unwittingly stumbled across another famous Initial D course. We took the Usui mountain pass which took us by the large bridge in the middle of the course. We stopped at the bridge and were really surprised at how beautiful and cool it was there despite how hot it was in the city. The bridge used to be an old train line which has long since been empty. We got to walk through a portion of the tunnel also.
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Ikaho Onsen and Mt. Haruna 046 After stopping at the bridge, we continued driving towards Kusatsu but ended up making yet another detour which took us to Mt. Asama. I've been to Mt. Asama before but not to the Oni shrine (I forgot its proper name). The Oni Shrine is pretty cool because it sits amidst a craggy volcanic rock formation. It was a pretty cool place to stop and another great place to snap pictures for my never ending photo album.
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Kusatsu Onsen 001 We finally made it to Kusatsu just before nightfall and got to enjoy a quick walk through the city. This would be about the third or fourth time I've been there but this time seems to have been the best because it wasn't crowded and I was with somebody I wanted to be there with. We had to stay at a hotel nearby because it was too late to drive home but it was a really nice detour.
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On the third day we went to a big shopping mall because Yuko is a shop-a-holic. After that I continued to drive back home through Nagano and finally home where I went straight to bed. The trip turned out to be really good considering we only planned to go to Ikaho Onsen. The Initial D portions of the trip were purely coincidental because I saw a manga at a convenience store that reminded me that Gunma was all about Initial D. Yuko's GPS Navigation system was also a great asset, as we were able to find places fairly easy with its help. I wish I had navigation in my car now because of how much I used hers. It can help you find restaurants, gas stations, hotels, and homes based on phone numbers, landmarks, or just addresses. Really handy stuff.
I still have about two more weeks of summer vacation left. We might go somewhere else if we can agree on something. I really don't want to waste any more days just sitting at home surfing the net or watching old episodes of Star Trek the Next Generation.