Saturday, 3 February 2018

Japan New Year 2017, Day 3 – New Year Celebrations, Otaku Style

My plan for the first part of the day was to make a much needed visit to that great shrine of otaku culture – Akihabara.
One of the first things I like to do when arriving in Akihabara is to see what series are being promoted. For example, on a previous trip, I remember seeing some “Kizumonogatari” related promotional materials on the outside of the Atre buildings. This time round it was Fate/Apocrypha, there was also a Blend-S billboard on one of the other buildings.

Feeling a little tired from the previous day, the first order of business was to get a some coffee. Fortunately, in Japan, there is no shortage of vending machines capable of supplying caffeinated goodness. While it was tempting to stop by a coffee shop/café (to sit down and enjoy a cup of coffee, I recommend café moco) I was a man on a mission. My mission was to identify and purchase a suitable quantity of figures and character goods. Those who know me from the anime circle will know that I have a particular fondness for Konosuba (and a certain masochistic knight…) so something konosuba related was going to be on the cards.
Browsing around some of the stores, a noticed a few interesting curiosities. First was a cardboard cutout of Reimu (from the Touhou series) in one of the stores (I decided to get a photo of this as there was a sign saying “camera ok”). The second was a promotion for what appeared to be a new manga. I believe the title translated as “Chastity/purity of sadistic girlfriend”. I decided that I’d have to do a little background research in to that series – in the interests of science, it’s not like I’m interested in that sort of thing or anything! (Baka!)

During my shopping trip I found a few items I # interested in, one of which was a “fukubukuro” or “lucky bag”. This is a nice little system for clearing out stock at the end of the year. These are bags with a collection of random items, sometimes you can get some great deals and other times not so much. On a previous trip I got one containing a few random Youkai Watch items. This time I got some rather rare Animal Crossing game cards (buying the 1000 Yen general bag rather than a 5000 Yen “Love Live” bag – I do not like Idol anime!).
Something fun about Akihabara is that you can sometimes find interesting new themes for the old Maid Café concept. One I spotted this time was a “Samurai Maid Café”. It’s different, I’ll give them that! Maid cafes aren’t really my thing, though, and I decided to give that a miss. I also noticed a woman outside promoting an owl café (they have become quite popular) and signs for a few cat cafes. I did at least think “boku to neko” (cat and I) was a somewhat witty name.

Something new that I found was that there seemed to be a trend to use “itasha” (cars decorated with anime characters) for promotional purposes. I think these were promotions anyway, as I saw the same cars doing circuits of the area to I surmised that they were doing promotions.
One of the first places I checked out was the Shosen Book Tower. I was hoping to pick up some JLPT N4 materials (as I wasn’t able to take classes, I thought it best to continue my studies independently) and to see if I could find another copy of the vocab guide I use for some friends who are learning Japanese. Thee vocab guide wasn’t there, so that would have to be left for another day. I was, however, able to find some reading and grammar guides for N4. For anyone currently living in Tokyo, Shosen has a selection of English books so this is good for those looking for books from home of material to practice reading in English.
During the course of the afternoon, I think I managed to break the pedometer in Google fit. Passing one of the many stores, I spotted a little plush of Puk from Re:Zero. I thought nothing of it at the time but as time went on I lamented myself for not making an impulse buy. Eventually, caving in, I double back and went in search of the plush. After reaching Akihabara station, my starting point, I thought to myself “ah, you missed it. Let’s try again”. Sure enough, after an almost endless walk, there was no sign of Puk. Had he been sold already? Maybe, or was I missing something? Then, I realized my stupidity. I crossed over the road to look in one of the other “Liberty” stores (Liberty have a couple of stores, 2 of which are opposite each other. Sure enough, there he was. With luck on my side, I wasted no time and made my purchase.
Normally, I like to describe (in great detail) the things I eat. Unfortunately I was too focused on shopping to remember to get lunch. By the time it got to 16:00, I started to think that I might be a little late for lunch and early for dinner. With that, I employed the fallback strategy that served me well last time, nikuman from the Family Mart! This helped stave off hunger, but I did regret not getting home run curry at one of my favourite restaurants.
My haul in the end was:
·         A lucky bag
·         Puk
·         (Konosuba) Darkness Nendoroid
·         Kiss Shot figure from Monogatari
·         Darkness keychain
·         Saber keychain (Arturia – the best saber!)
·         A mountain of JLPT materials

With a successful shopping trip, I headed back to Kyles to drop off my goodies and plan out where to get dinner. The second half of that turned out to be fairly easy, as Kyle was in a rush and wasn’t sure when he could leave he made an executive decision and bought in McDonalds. How very Kyle, but having subjected him to “The Ramen Diet” a few years back, I’m not one to complain. Besides, he was keen to try the new bacon burger. Eating in gave us the opportunity to plan out where to go later on, we were thinking of going to the shrine in Nagareyama but Kyle wanted to check what other shrines might be available in the area so that we could potentially try somewhere new. Not seeing many other options in the area (we were keen to avoid getting the train for practicality), we decided on Nagareyama. Although we’d been there before, it’s a nice shrine and had a good atmosphere before.
Arriving a little early, we were able to have a look around while preparations were being made. Things were pretty quiet except for the… loud gentleman who was clearly annoyed about a number of current events. He was shouting “bakayarou!” (you asshole) at someone, somewhere, and was referring to Kim Jong Un as “baka” (idiot) – I’m sure we could agree on that part. I got the impression that he may have had a few too many drinks, I commend the shrine volunteers for handling the situation in a dignified way. He appeared to get bored and left at some point while we were looking around the main shrine building. It was interesting to see a large number of omomori in a box, these were likely ones that had been given back to the shrine at the end of the year. You see, after a year, omomori are usually taken back after a year to the shrine they were bought from and burned (the blessing only lasts a year).
Being at the shrine just before midnight was a nice experience as everyone present was able to take part in a countdown to the new year. This was initiated by the mayor of Nagareyama who thanked all present for coming, especially the Gaijin – Sometimes it’s good to be a fashionable westerner! The countdown was a great (collective) responsibility, so Kyle and I made sure to practice beforehand (じゅう、 きゅう、 はち、 なな、 ろく、 ご、 よん、 さん、 に、 いち). After the countdown, we made our offering (5 yen in the box then a routine of bowing and clapping) and checked out the area. I decided to get an omikuji (paper fortune), since we were going to be meeting Yaashita in a few days I thought I might be able to ask him for a translation. Knowing my luck, I’ve probably got a bad fortune!

It was getting pretty late so we then decided to had back. At 02:00, we figured it was going to be a pretty late start the next day…

Friday, 12 January 2018

Japan New Year 2017, Day 2 – So this is a sleeper town?

While I was settling in and overcoming jetlag, we decided not to stray too far from Misato. An interesting opportunity presented itself in the form of an Aeon Town shopping centre that had recently opened in Yoshikawa Minami. This was somewhere that Kyle had not visited before so we thought it might be worth a look. Yoshikawa Minami was just a few stops before Koshigaya Laketown so close to some familiar areas.
Arriving at Yoshikawa Minami station, I was confronted with a giant statue of some kind of pink… creature. Kyle informed me that this was simply the town mascot. Japan went through a phase of creating mascots for just about everywhere. This turned out to be rather costly and now as some of the mascots are being “retired”, replacements aren’t being designed. The aim is to just stick with prefectural mascots.
Behold, your new overlord!

The Aeon Town turned out to be a little disappointing, rather than a mall it turned out to be just a large department store. There were still a few interesting things including a character goods section and some fashions. Kyle managed to convince me to try on some coats, I did find one that looked quite good on me but sadly even the large size felt a little tight when trying to close it. At 4000 Yen it wasn’t a bad price (and of year sale!) but in the end I decided to stick with my faithful old M&S coat.
We explored the area surrounding Aeon Town but there wasn’t much in the area, the whole area looked like a development set to become a “sleeper town” (commuter town). Panic and confusion set in as the creeping realization hit us that we hadn’t seen a single convenience store – impossible! Aside from a single Lawson in an “Mansion” complex, not a single “kombini” to be found. Sensing that there must be something seriously wrong with this place, we moved on to Laketown.
By the time we arrived it was time for lunch, there was a kebab stand in the outlet section that I was told was worth trying as well as a (Japan specific) speciality currently being offered by Burger King (I remember the “Aka Samurai Burger” was good so I thought this might be worth a try). Having filled up after the kebab, I thought it best to abandon burger king and have a wander around instead (that and Burger King was absolutely jam packed). While we were looking for the kebab stand (it tends to move around but doesn’t have the light normally associated with a side-quest) I noticed the “Dog dept Café”, wondering if this might be some kind of Korean restaurant, I quickly moved on.

Kyle took the opportunity to introduce me to the Bean&Leaf Café, a great little coffee shop that he’d recently been introduced to. In addition to great coffee, they have excellent deserts. Having filled myself up completely with the kebab, I split a slice of cheesecake with Kyle instead of having a whole slice.
We noticed that there was a special event on at the stage in the middle of the mall. The event in question was some Japanese boy band. They were… not all that good. The autotune was quite clearly being pushed to its limits. To save our ears from any further assault, we quickly vacated the area.
By the time we made it back to Misato, we’d managed to work up quite an appetite. Since we had hamburg steak yesterday we decided to try regular steak. Part of the reason for this was that the local steak restaurant had an unlimited side bar, which included curry and rice. This was more than enough to satisfy the massive appetites we’d managed to build up.
Since it wasn’t too late when we got back, we connected my laptop to the TV in order to put on Yu-Gi-Oh! Dark Side of Dimensions for some entertainment. All was well and good until my laptop started to install the Windows 10 Fall Creators update – oops. By this point it was starting to get late so the movie would have to be postponed for another day.

Monday, 1 January 2018

Japan New Year 2017, Day 1 - Travel

Once again, it’s time to travel to (where else but) Japan. Unlike last time, this trip is in the civility and comfort of Business Class (as a side note, I should point out that with the previous trip I really can’t complain given the price). As such, it’s time for the much anticipated (it is anticipated, right?) trip report)
Beforehand, online checkin went pretty smoothly, with my preferred seat (3A, both legs) selected and ready to go. A few things I found quite nice were:
·        An email from Luftahnsa the day before confirming some of the basic details (times, services onboard etc) along with the time difference in Tokyo, weather and links to exchange rates.
·        A selection of electronic newspapers and magazines available for download after check in
·        An email receipt after dropping off my bags
·        Email confirmation of the departure gate
Airlines catch a lot of flack for unreliable web services connected to the creaking, legacy, systems but in this case it was all smooth and convenient. The agent/employee who checked my bags was good enough to remind me I could use the fast track security and which lounge I was entitled to. Nice for if you don’t travel often and likely to forget some of these little details.
The “fast track” security at Manchester had quite the queue. So much so that many of us were being diverted in with the other passengers. All in all, security didn’t take too long so I wasn’t particularly concerned. I suspect that if I’d paid extra to use fast track (as opposed to being included in the ticket), I might have been a little miffed.
I took the busy security as a portent of things to come as a sign at the Aspire lounge informed me that the lounge was at capacity and no on the day bookings could be taken. One of the results of this was that there were no baps for bacon sandwiches out. Turning a disappointment in to an opportunity, I figured this was the universe telling me to have coffee and croissant instead of a bacon sandwich (healthy eating is a new years resolution for me).

The view

Despite around a half hour delay, the flight to Munich was fairly uneventful. The continental breakfast provided on board was a nice alternative to the typical greasy, fried breakfast that the English are used to.
Continental breakfast - chocolate muesli

Paranoid, as ever, my first port of call upon arriving in Munich was to figure out where the gate I needed was. Second was the Business Lounge. I wasn’t expecting much but it’s not a shabby lounge and (at least during the time I was there) it was a quiet, relaxing space. As it turned out, for most of the time I was waiting, the lounge was almost deserted. I’d heard that the lounges in Munich tended to fill up at peak time so it was quite a pleasant surprise to find a nice, quiet space relax in.
I am required under international to have a pretzel whenever i come to Germany

Waiting to board -747-9

Eventually, it was time to board the flight. I was quite exited about this part of the journey as I was looking forward to trying ANA business class and seeing how it compared with Finnair (from last years trip). From the moment I boarded, I felt like VIP. After taking my seat (which required shifting the small mountain of amenities), one of friendly and helpful members of the cabin crew explained the use of the mattress topper (a nice little addition to make sleeping more comfortable) and offered to store my coat and hat in the cloakroom. I was also offered a cardigan (as I was wearing a t-shirt under my coat) which I thought was a nice little touch. The in flight entertainment offered a number of satellite TV channels (CNN, NHK world and a sports channel) in addition to a selection of television shows, movies etc – not that I had much intention of using them, my plan was to catch up on some much needed sleep later on (same as last time. While a good entertainment selection is nice, I still prefer making use of the bed to make sure I arrive well rested).
My throne

Pillow, blanket, mattress and slippers 

Entertainment selection

 After take off and maybe ¾ hour in the air it was time for the meal service, beginning with a pre-meal drink. The cabin crew were knowledgeable about available options and offered helpful suggestions. For the pre-meal drink, I opted for an Italian red wine which I was told was one they had specially for year end. For the meal, I opted for the Japanese option over the western option. There was a sake from Yamaguchi and a sake from Niigata on the menu, which went nicely with the food. Interestingly, the flight attendant who was advising the best order to try the two types told me she is from Niigata even showed me on one of the maps where the prefecture is (I was curious as I’m still not familiar with the location of most Japanese prefectures). I was told that a lot of passengers don’t go out of their way to make conversation with the flight attendants in that way, which I thought was a shame.

Afterwards, with a full stomach, it was time to get some shut eye. Comparing the seat/bed to those offered by Finnair, I’d say that the Finnair seat is more comfortable when in recliner mode as the ANA seat seemed a little short. In bed mode, I’d say the ANA seat was more comfortable.
I think I was one of the last people to wake up as other passengers were having their breakfasts. The breakfast/snack service in ANA business class is “on demand” up to about 2 hours before landing so once I’d woken up, I was offered the breakfast choices. As with the main meal, I opted for the Japanese style breakfast. All that was left after that was to prepare for landing (and make sure my landing/customs cards were filled in properly – a good timesaver for arrival)

Having travelled to Narita several times, it would normally be a simple matter to find my bearings and get to Kyle’s. Of course, this time wasn’t quite so simple I’d travelled to Haneda instead. Fortunately, armed with a cheap data SIM, the wonders of the internet made up for my lack of navigational skills and my journey continued. Upon arriving at Kyle’s, I received the usual warm greeting: “You again?”
We caught up on current events and I gave Kyle his Christmas present – The 2017 Private Eye Annual (I saw it in a bookshop and immediately thought of Kyle). It was starting to get late in to the evening (in other words, my stomach was rumbling) so our next priority was dinner. In all the years I’ve been visiting Kyle, I’d never been to the Bikkuri Donkey restaurant near his apartment. Suspending disbelief that we’d somehow managed to ignore this option before, we had our restaurant choice for the evening. This provided a perfect opportunity for me to try a “hamburger steak”, basically a Japanese version of Salisbury steak. It was also my first time eating at a Japanese “family restaurant”, I’d seen them before in shows like Toradora (the restaurant that Minorin worked at, that Taiga took Ryuji to in an early episode) so that was fun.

On to the next day!

Sunday, 21 August 2016

2016 Japanese Travels - Day 5, Kashiwa and Yoshi

As usual, Kyle and I ventured out near lunchtime. While it’s generally not a good idea to waste the limited time available when in another country, I wasn’t particularly fond of waking up too early when on vacation (a morning person, I am not!). However, my morning routine did consist of enduring the sweltering heat for long enough to buy a can of coffee from the nearby vending machine. The milky (latte) version of Japanese canned coffee made for a nice morning kickstart. It’s worth noting that Kyle had already banned me from drinking black canned coffee – Kyle learned a few years ago that the black coffee did something to produce the worst breath known to man. It appeared that the stuff was notorious throughout all of Japan!
The plan for the afternoon was explore Kashiwa. Kashiwa had a large “Hobby Off” (similar to the “Book Off” bookshops) where I would be able to find new anime figures to add to my ever growing collection. I spotted a few figures I wanted to add to my collection, but knew my suitcase space was finite so priorities were needed. One of the figures was a Figma (poseable) of Asuna from Sword Art Online (before you ask, no, it's not going to be used to set up creepy situations with the Revoltech Woody figure... welll, probably not).

By a stroke of luck, Kyle spotted a Yugi figure from the Yu-Gi-Oh! “Dark Side of Dimensions” movie. I decided that I should get a Yugi figure as I already had a few “Dark Magician Girl” figures and didn’t want people to start thinking I had some kind of Dark Magician Girl fetish. Let’s just say that character has inspired some, shall we say, “interesting” fan art. I was going to include an example, but I’d rather not make this blog NSFW.
"Dark Side of Dimensions" figure of Yugi - hard to believe Yu-Gi-Oh has been around 20 years! (I'm getting old)
My plan for the evening was to meet with Yoshi in Shinjuku. The background, for those who are not aware is that Yoshi was a member of the Japanese study group (the Sakura Kai) in Leeds and was also a teaching assistant one year. Those who have followed the blogs of my previous trips will probably already know that I had planned to meet with Yoshi last year, however, I was unable to as a job interview came up at the last minute so he couldn’t make it to Tokyo. While it was disappointing that we didn’t get to meet, I was happy that Yoshi had been presented with a good opportunity.
Upon arriving in Shinjuku, I started to realize a slight problem with our plan. We chose Shinjuku because many different rail lines met there so it would be an easy station for both of us to reach. Unfortunately, this also made Shinjuku the one of the largest and most complex stations in the entire network (I sometimes like to joke that an elite exploration team from Lonely Planet disappeared during an expedition to map Shinjuku station).
I’d arrived at Shinjuku a little early (as a precaution) but did not know exactly where Yoshi would be. It was the kind of situation where having the rental phone/SIM proved invaluable. We had already exchanged numbers so I was easily able to let Yoshi know exactly which ticket gate I was waiting at. Despite the station being incredibly busy (believe me, UK rail has nothing on Japan!), we were aided by the fact that (as a blonde gaijin) I stuck out like a sore thumb.
After Yoshi successfully located me, we went out to a nearby restaurant. Prior to that day, when he suggested going out for food, he’d asked me what kind of food I wanted. I was keen to try new foods so Yoshi suggested oden. Although traditionally a winter dish, it was something that we could still enjoy in summer.
Long awaited reunion
Over the next few hours, we chatted about how things were going for each of us in the UK and Japan. Because I hadn’t heard much about what Yoshi as up to, it was great to find out how things were going for him. We did most of our chatting in English (as my Japanese was limited, so that would have made it difficult to discuss complex topics) but I did get a few opportunities to practice some of my Japanese.
After a few hours of good food, beer and interesting discussions, it was time to head home. We said our goodbyes at Shinjuku station and I planned my route back. Although expensive, I opted to return via Akihabara as the Tsukuba express was the most convenient way of getting back. Next to Akihabara stations, I could see there were plenty of promotions up for the new “Kizumonogatari” – the origin story for the Monogatari series. I’d been a fan of the Monogatari series for a while so Kizumonogatari was something I was quite excited about.
Kiss Shot Acerola Orion Heart Under Blade (do not ask about the name)
I also happened to notice a street performance from a singer who appeared to be promoting an album. It was good to see that independent musicians are still going in Japan and that AKB48 hadn’t completely taken over.

Thanks for reading. Tune in again for an evening of nomification and graphic design (not in that order though!)

Wednesday, 17 August 2016

2016 Japanese Travels - Day 4, Matsudo and Shim Matsudo

Apologies reader, this update is a short one. After a busy few days, I ended up falling behind on my writing so the details aren’t as fresh in my mind.
The fourth day took us once again to the city of Matsudo, although we’d already been there, it was a large city so there was plenty more to see and do. Most of the day was spent wandering around the various shopping areas. Observing the various shops provided an unexpected form of entertainment; looking for some of the more unusual uses of English in shop names. The use of English in names can make shops stand out a little more (for example through unusual names or the use of typefaces which might not normally be encountered with kanji/hiragana/katakana names), it can also make names seem a little nonsensical.
For example, we stumbled across   “impact hair laboratory”, Kyle and I weren’t quite sure about how “impact” would apply to hair styling. We decided that we’d rather not find out first hand and quickly moved on.

Our investigations of the local shops soon lead us to a supermarket which formed part of a larger shopping centre. Since these places could usually be quite interesting, he had a look further inside.
As is commonplace for such shopping centres, this one had a rooftop terrace. One of the more unusual features was a rooftop Italian restaurant.
Under a "Seven&Holdings" sign - perfect place for a 7-11?
As was expected of the Japanese summer we were starting to get a little dehydrated (by “little dehydrated”, I mean “close to being mummified”) so it was time to stop for (iced) coffee and some lunch.
On the way back, for some reason, we decided to stop off at Shim Matsudo. We passed Shim Matsudo on the way each time and thought it might be worth exploring. In the past, we did the same thing exploring Kita Senju when we were on the way back from Asakusa and found a few interesting times. At Shim Matsudo we were in for a bit of a disappointment, the best description I could find was “sleeper town” (somewhere that’s populated primarily by commuters). We couldn’t see many shops or restaurants, the few shops we did see were mainly convenience stores and the restaurants looked like they were for what I call “nomification” (nomihoudai – after work food and drink).
There were a few unusual sights. The first was somewhere called “Club Jesus”, Kyle and I were at a loss as to what that establishment might have been. Perhaps it was a church’s attempt at rebranding? Who knows.

Another unusual sight was a sign for… something, that looked suspiciously like it had been “inspired” by bewitched.

This may have sounded like a less interesting day than other days, but on this trip I’ve been seeing less of the “touristy” side of Japan and seeing a bit more of the “everyday” Japan. So fat, it has provided an interesting glimpse in to what life in Japan is like (something that you don’t really get a picture of as a tourist).
The character design looks... familiar

Friday, 12 August 2016

2016 Japanese Travels - Day 3, Akihaba and the remake of Alien

In the morning Kyle had a few errands to run which he expected would take most of the day. That provided me with the perfect opportunity to make a trip to Akihabara.
From the forecast, I could see it was going to be a particularly hot day. Never one to let little things like heatstroke, sunburn or dehydration get in the way of buying anime merchandise, I shrugged off the alarmingly high temperatures and started to make plans.

My first order of business before heading out was my daily source of caffeine. Simply put, getting a can of coffee from the nearby vending machine. In the kind of weather we were experiencing, a nice cool can of milky coffee was much more refreshing than the usual (hot) black coffee I would drink in the UK.

With my caffeine reserves replenished, I left the apartment to catch the train to Akihabara (two trains, to be precise). As I approached the station, I could feel the heat start to hit me. Between the heat and the brightness I was feeling glad that I’d remembered my hat and applied some sun block beforehand (those who know me will know that there’s a risk I’ll burst in to flames if left in direct sunlight).

As expected, there had been a few changes in Akihabara since I’d last been there. One of the new additions (near to the JR station and UDX building) was a small garden. It was quite refreshing to see something so peaceful and traditional looking in such a modern part of Tokyo.
I wandered around I started to notice a growing rumbling sound. I initially feared an earthquake was starting; however, it didn’t take long to realize it was my stomach. Clearly, it was time for lunch. There was a curry restaurant that Kyle and I had been to previously that Kyle suggested I go to. I had no idea where the restaurant was, all I remembered was that the restaurant had wooden walls and offered something called “homerun curry”. Despite not knowing the name of the restaurant or where it was, I successfully located it – Great navigational skills, eh? Who am I kidding, it was luck. While looking for a vending machine, I happened to stumble across it.

Homerun Curry

With lunch out of the way, it was time to get back to the main task of the day – adding more anime figures to the collection. The two I decided on were Black Hanekawa (from Bakemonogatari) and Sheryl Nome (from Macross Frontier).

With some figures and a few other assorted bits and pieces (I wasn’t buying Ecchi manga, honest!), it was time to head back. Kyle and I were starting to get hungry this point so we decided to go out for food, seeing as we were keen to avoid our stomachs setting off seismic sensors.
We noticed a sukiyaki restaurant that Kyle hadn’t been to before, it looked worth a try. The sukiyaki was quite similar to yakiniku but included a stew that was cooked at the table (on a small gas burner).

The meal was enjoyable, however, there was a little surprise in store. It turned out that we had made a slight miscalculation when ordering, the meal turned out to be a little more expensive than we were expecting. Oops.
After getting back to the apartment, our plan to spend the evening relaxing was interrupted by something scuttling across the floor - a rather large insect. Being from the UK, I wasn’t used to seeing large insects so found it a little unnerving. This reaction paled in comparison to Kyle, who appeared to be having a panic attack. The insect appeared to have gone under the sofa, given that I would he sleeping on a futon on the floor, I knew there was no way I’d get a decent night’s sleep while it was still in the apartment. Due to Kyle’s earlier reaction, responsibility for eradicating the aforementioned pest (the insect, not Kyle) fell to me.
Armed with a promotional fan from Mr Abe and with Kyle following close by, it soon became apparent that we were in a low budget remake of Alien.
Almost an hour was spent stalking the critter. Most of the time was spent in an eerie silence, punctuated only by the occasional shriek from Kyle and plastic bottle being thrown at some source of movement. Eventually we got lucky and I gave it a few blasts of the fly spray, with the bug dazed and confused I sprung in to action with the fan and brought it down on the insect. I’m sure Ripley and co. would have been proud!

The fact that a promotional fan from a dental clinic was the last thing the… whatever it was saw added a somewhat ludicrous quality to the events.
My nemesis! I can't work out if this was more like Alien or Terraformars

Wednesday, 10 August 2016

2016 Japanese Travels - Day 2, Matsudo

I woke up bright and early at around 08:00. That being said, I’d woken up for around the third or fourth time. Jet lag does funny things to my sleep cycle, but one advantage is that it lets me wake up nice and early for a few days at least.
Our plan for the day was to meet Kyle’s friend from the previous day in Matsudo for coffee. Kyle and I aimed to arrive early so that we would have time to explore a little. Arriving at Matsudo, we soon found that we had a serious navigational hazard to contend with: Pokemon Go players! Some days, I’m tempted to write a game where you have to avoid Pokemon Go players running in to you. After staging a quick re-enactment of the asteroid belt scene from The Empire Strikes Back, we had a look around the food hall of a nearby department store (デパート).
While browsing, we found an opportunity to sample one of my current favourite snacks – taiyaki! The taiyaki were made on request, so freshness was guaranteed.
Fish shaped pancaky goodness!
As with other times I’d seen taiyaki, there were several different fillings available. The traditional filling is anko (sweetened bean paste), because Kyle didn’t like bean paste we ordered cream filling (makes ordering a little easier).
After a little wandering around, we were starting to feel hungry. In his infinite wisdom, Kyle’s suggestion was: “KFC”. Don’t worry; he hadn’t jumped the shark tank (well, at least I didn’t think so at the time). Japanese KFC is quite different to KFC found elsewhere. The batter is less greasy and it’s milder (less spicy) than found elsewhere.
It turned out that we had made a slight error when ordering, we somehow ended up ordering two sets for each of us (which explained why it seemed a little expensive). Still, it provided us with the opportunity to try the regular set and the super spicy set (not really spicy by western standards, but spicier than the regular version).
KFC, Japanese Style
Our next stop was the coffee shop, we had arrived a little early so located some suitable seats and bought a round of peach teas. Peach tea – what a marvellous drink! It was very refreshing and had a very subtle flavour; it tasted a little like tea but with a hint of peach. Certainly not an overpowering flavour. After fifteen minutes or so, it seemed we had made a possible miscalculation. Kyles friend was nowhere to be found and it was already our arranged time to meet, punctuality is important in Japan but we paid it no mind and decided to wait. Half an hour later, we began to suspect that something was wrong. With Kyle’s phone out of credit, we appeared to be running low on options. Fortunately however, I was on the ball and suggested using my phone to check. As it turned out, we weren’t supposed to meet at the coffee shop, we were supposed to meet at the train station. Oops, we’d accidentally left her waiting at the train station for over half an hour – the afternoon was not getting off to the best possible start. Once we were all together, we stopped short of a dogeza apology and enjoyed a few more peach teas.
Our next stop proved to be quite useful, we were doing some shopping and found a bookshop with a good language selection. Besides books for Japanese speakers who are learning other languages, there were also books for speakers of other languages to learn Japanese. Given my hit-and-miss Japanese, some additional resources would be pretty useful. In the end, I settled on a book of JLPT N4 grammar as I needed to brush up on some of the more complex verb forms.
As evening approached, Kyle and I had returned to Misato and needed to answer the important question: “Where do we go for dinner?” The answer to that question was simple: Steak!
A great thing about the steak restaurant in Misato was that (besides good steaks) there was an all you can eat salad bar. It’s worth noting that the salad bar also includes curry and rice. This afforded me the opportunity to satisfy my cravings for meat (perhaps the yakiniku brought out my carnivorous side?) and for Japanese curry.

After filling our stomachs, we were prepared for all that the next day would throw at us. Or so we thought…