Wednesday, May 27, 2009

The 4th birthday celebrated in Japan.

surfing_1280x1024 Where has the time gone between my first birthday in Japan and the most recent one that passed by last Saturday? I still vividly remember my first birthday in Japan just as if it happened yesterday. I had my 21st birthday during my first trip to Japan with my good friends Lorenzo, Heinrich, and Monica. It was at that point in time that I decided its where I wanted to spend a few more years of my adult life in and I eventually made it back for an exchange student program and my most current employment venture. I am a little surprised how fast seven years went by between visits. Hopefully my life will continue to benefit from my experiences in Japan.
DSC00003 Last year I really didn’t do much for my 27th birthday. I think I went out for a simple dinner with Yuko and that was it. This year we planned things out a little better and we got a reservation at a cool Ninja themed restaurant near one of my schools I currently teach at. We’ve driven past the place quite a few times over the couple of years I’ve lived here, but we never tried eating there.
DSC00022 The restaurant, Izakaya Ninja was a pretty cool themed restaurant. You walk into a dark room with one door that opens from another room. A ninja jumps in and asks if we’d like to be seated immediately or if we’d like to take the ninja path. Of course I picked the ninja’s path since I wanted my money’s worth. We were then led through a very dark and narrow passageway to the dining area. The interior of the restaurant was very dark and well decorated with period era items and architecture. Well at least as far as a restaurant can go since it isn’t a museum after all.
DSC00020 The place where we were seated was in the “Tokugawa House” booth. A pretty important feudal house in Japanese history, which seemed to please Yuko a lot. The booth/table where we were seated was lit by a single hanging light and was secluded from other tables. Our table was waited by a couple of female ninjas, dressed in authentic ninja dress. The waitresses even spoke in a certain dialect/style used in the feudal time period.
DSC00010 The food was pretty decent but a little on the pricy side. I’d definitely go there again just for the heck of it. It isn’t like you can go to a ninja themed restaurant in the US.
As for birthday presents, I got a package from my mom containing a karaoke game for the XBOX 360 called LIPS, and a few bars of deodorant just in time for the humid summer. And from Yuko I got a cool digital photo frame and a free dinner at the ninja restaurant. Over all it was a pretty good 28th birthday. Hopefully next year I can celebrate my birthday with more friends or something. I am really starting to miss my friends in San Diego among other things.
DSC00018
DSC00021
 DSC00005
DSC00024
As we slowly roll in to June, I am getting closer to getting something new accomplished. I will take my 2nd level Japanese exam during the first weekend of July which is in just about a month from now. Hopefully the studying I’ve been doing over the past month will help me just enough to pass the test even if it is barely passing. I think I am satisfied with the time I’ve spent as an English teacher and I’m getting the feeling its time to move on and find a career that will lead me back to San Diego/California eventually. My real goal is to return to San Diego before my 30th birthday if possible. If I do end up staying in Japan I will have a good enough job to travel to America without worrying about airline costs.
Well, that’s it for now. Enjoy the pictures.

-edit: As of 2009, Izakaya Ninja closed their business in Yamanashi. You will be missed. Dearly...

Monday, May 18, 2009

Things are back to normal again.

ren cropped Its been almost a month since I started working at my new schools. I wasn’t all that happy with having to change schools completely but I think its one of the better things that has happened so far.
Teaching elementary classes are a little tiring because I have to move about more and be more animated in order to keep the kids focused and interested. Planning and preparation for my classes isn’t as bad as I expected. I think I spend less time thinking about what I’m going to do but I spend more time making props and games.
The kids at both my schools are really cooperative and are happy to have me in their classes. Elementary school classes are very different from the quieter, more reserved junior high school students I used to work with. The only thing that I still don’t really like about my new assignments is that I am at school later than I’d like to be but at least I can spend some of my free time studying Japanese.
DSC00002 In other news I bought some more cheap shirts from Uni-Qlo for about 500-900 yen each. I really like my Goonies and Domino’s Pizza Noid, shirts. I want to wear my Sonic the Hedgehog shirt out in public, but it seems a little too childish so I’ll probably keep that one for indoor use mostly… at least till I move back to America.
DSC00004 I’m not really looking forward to my birthday this year. I’m creeping closer and closer toward 30 years old. I’ll turn 28 on the 23rd of this month. That’s this Saturday. I’d prefer to be in my early 20s again back in college screwing around but I guess I should be happy I still get summer breaks working as a teacher in Japan. I can’t wait for July to come around. I really want my month of summer vacation!

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Road trip! Ninjas, Nature, and Initial D

DSC00022 It’s not often I get to start off a month with a long block of holidays. The first few days of May starts a block of national holidays in Japan called “Golden Week.” Even though its called Golden Week, it feels more like a weekend but I’ll take what I can get.
For the first time, I actually participated in the planning of my holiday with Yuko. Usually I sit on my butt and play games or watch TV and let her handle most of the planning. But this time I actually had a good idea what I wanted to do, so I wanted to help plan the trip out. I decided to re-visit some places I visited back when I was an exchange student in 2004-5. So I decided to go to Edo Wonderland in Nikko and Irohazaka which is also in Nikko. Yuko tacked on Utsunomiya for her dining interests since it was nearby.
img01_04 In preparation for our long road trip, I got Yuko psyched to buy an electronic toll transmitter/receiver for her car so we could drive through Japan’s overpriced pay highways and newly affordable, reduced prices. The transmitter sure paid for its self over our first road trip. It saved us time, money, and even more time. It allowed us to move on our own time, freely without any real restriction.
nissan-march-2[1] So, with the toll transmitter in our possession, I took the wheel of her Pink 2008 Nissan March and drove 280 KM across the middle of Japan. I got to drive on the highway for the first time ever through the mountains, and the ever so famous Tokyo highway loop “Shutoko”, twice. Yuko doesn’t like driving all that much so I am always automatically elected to be chauffer every time we go out together. I really don’t mind all that much because I enjoy driving, especially on famous mountain passes and highways in Japan.
DSC00063 On our first day in Nikko we visited a cool amusement park called Edo Wonderland. It’s a theme park that is set in the Edo period of Japan with ninjas, geisha, samurai, and feudal lords. Every employee there wears some kind of authentic period costume and also behaves as if they were living in the Edo period. We got there about two hours before it closed so we only got to see one Ninja show, which was pretty cool, along with a couple of haunted houses and a full walk around of the grounds. We took some pictures with the park attendants but for the sake of time and bandwidth on my website, I’ll just post the ones of myself.
DSC00006
DSC00024
can you see the ninja?

DSC00035
Heaven or Hell, let’s rock.
DSC00038
DSC00040
DSC00046
DSC00059
By the time we were finished looking at Edo Wonderland it was sunset, so Yuko decided to head down to Utsunomiya city. We ate at a famous local Gyoza restaurant there. Gyoza are basically Chinese pot stickers.  I am not much of a cuisine fanatic but Yuko seemed satisfied.
On the second and final day of our trip I drove us back to Nikko to check out Toshogu temple and Irohazaka. On the way to Irohazaka, we stopped over at a famous large historical landmark in Nikko called Toshogu. I visited here a few years back with my friend Yuko but I really didn’t know what it was till now. I got a ton of pictures there but I’ll only post a few good ones below.
DSC00082
DSC00083
DSC00086
DSC00088
DSC00098
DSC00101 
DSC00159 Irohazaka is a famous, notoriously windy, mountain pass that is featured in the famous street racing manga/anime series Initial D. Even though I was driving in a pink girly car, I still got to experience something most people who enjoy the anime series will never get to try for themselves. Maybe next time I’ll drive a real car through there, but at least I got tons of pictures off of it. The best thing about the treacherous Irohazaka is that the uphill and downhill portions are one way, so the roads are wider and safer than most Japanese passes.
DSC00118
DSC00121
DSC00005
DSC00133 At the top of Irohazaka there is an elevated, mountain-top lake with a waterfall called Tegonotake where we stopped for lunch and more photo opportunities. After we got tired of walking around in the cooler mountain air, we got back in the car and drove back down the other side of Irohazaka.


DSC00141 
MR2 SW20 vs. AE86 downhill on Irohazaka.
DSC00150
DSC00156
DSC00006
The only thing that tarnished a nearly perfect weekend was that it rained hard on the way back. I had to drive in a strong downpour even through the tight and dangerous Tokyo highway.
DSC00134 Yuko and me had a ton of fun up in Nikko. I got to see what I wanted, and she got what she wanted too. I also got an added bonus of highway driving so now my Japanese driving experience is complete. I’ve driven on all kinds of terrain possible to drive on in Japan. If I end up staying here longer, I think I will invest in a 4 seat sports car or something, so I can enjoy my drives even more.