Monthly Archives: July 2014

Stuff I have learned about Japan (and myself)

So, as part of MY ROAD, MY JOURNEY, I’ve decided to compile a list of everything that amuses me in Japan.

Day 1: bumming around Narita
I love old school Japanese buildings, they look so cool. And to know that they’re still in use today is amazing. The modern meets the past aesthetic is alive and well here, it’s true. It was the same in Portugal too when I visited (in the Commercial and historical sense, not the residential sense). I met a cool girl on the plane who teaches English as a second language in Calfornia, but now she’s heading back to Japan for a year to make a go of it and teach English here. I wish her all the luck! Her partner is a musician too, I have to listen to his stuff.

Day 2-5: Tokyo
I like the sense of calm that comes from finding serene gardens and surprisingly large parks in a city like Tokyo. It makes me appreciate Toronto’s High Park a lot more. Hiroko is super awesome and has shown me a lot of cool things around here. It is a totally different city when a local is with you for sure.

I also learned that I prefer to stay in dorm rooms instead of singles. Number one, they are cheaper and number 2, if I’m staying in one place for a while, it helps to make new friends. I met Andrew and Eric (Americans), two awesome Norwegian people, and a Brit named Joe. We did dinner together, explored Asakusa, I showed them Taiyaki (a waffle stuffed with something sweet in the shape of a fish) and we just had fun.

Day 5 and 6: Fuji Gogo (Five Lakes)
Nature is awesome, and the lakes are lovely. And Fuji-San is awe inspiring for sure. Also I learned that I can eat for less than $10 a meal if I really work at it. It’s surprisingly not that hard to do. I also learned that if I don’t eat huge breakfast, I won’t get sick! I just have to be very careful and listen to my stomach.

Day 7 and 8: Yokohama
Yokohama is like a nicer, better developed Windsor. Their boardwalk goes to a futuristic city centre and has a red warehouse district that has some lovely shops in them (think like the distillery district in Toronto). I learned that a 5 tatami mat room is as long as my body is laying down. It was like sleeping in a closet. Cozy is one word to describe it. The hostel girl I met was super nice, she is the only hostel worker I have gotten to known so far and have a conversation with. It was really nice. The town of Kamakura is really nice too. The Great Bhudda was definitely something to see. The beach to the south was very nice to walk on as well. I ate delicious yakisoba on the beach at a restaurant that was playing early 2000s RnB. I’ll be honest, I definitely felt like I did not fit in there, but the food was so good and the price was right ($8). Walking around after, two Japanese guys approached me, they seemed younger than me and tried to have a conversation, but I was weirded out and ran away. I felt like they were gonna play a prank on me or something. Now that I look back, I’m sure that wasn’t the case.

Day 9: Ito and Odawara
If I sit in the 4 seat boxes, no one joins me. People are afraid of foreigners it seems? I discovered that I actually have to go into the Shinkansen section in order to ride one. So I did, and I’m convinced that I will never ride a local train again unless I need to. So much leg room! So classy! So fast! Odawara is a run down kind of town but the castle is quite nice. It helps that the sun was setting as I left, but it was neat to learn the history of the area.

Ito is lovely. I can imagine getting away for a weekend and staying at K’s Ito onsen hostel (which is Amazing looking! And private onsens that I can’t wait to try!) I’m going to walk the beach tonight and eat some ramen. I have a craving. (I ate ramen and ended up chatting with Americans in the evening).

Day 10: Shizuoka
Shizuoka was rainy all day but Shizuka, the hostel owner was awesome. She even took me to a music store so I could play the piano for her and gave me info for a cool green tea espresso place and a Yamaha music factory tour I could do tomorrow. I ended up spending a lot of time at the Green Tea Espresso place, I met a neat Japanese woman named Midori who was studying film making in England and wanted to go back. So we talked about sacrificing artistry for logic and all that fun stuff. Then she took me to the supermarket to show me Shizuokan delicacies which I later ate. They were pretty tasty. I ended up spending the evening watching tv with some Taiwanese guys. Everyone in Japan really seems to go out of their way for you, it’s so nice.

Day 11: Hamamatsu
I didn’t know it, but Hamamatsu is a music town! I was surprised and excited when I started walking around and saw all the musical notations everywhere. I am going to the Yamaha Music Factory and maybe a piano museum later. Pretty stoked I must say.
The tour was so good! I saw how Yamaha pianos were manufactured and exactly what it takes to make a piano that has the sound and feel of a Yamaha. My tour guide was extremely nice and spoke English very well, so that was a nice bonus. It was like I got my own private tour. And I even got to play a bunch of songs on very nice pianos, so my day is totally made. Now I am going to eat some Ramen and Gyoza (I will buy some eel cookies tomorrow and try them.)

Day 12: Nagoya and Mie
My hostel’s reception closes from 11-4 and I was too late to store my luggage, so I had to use a locker at the train station. Fortunately my bag fit, but at the cost of $7. I guess that’s the price of being late, sadly.

I’m not too sure what I am gonna do for my first day in Nagoya. I can’t visit the Brother company because it’s the weekend and Aki isn’t in town. So I am free to do whatever I please. The question is what? I guess I’ll ask the tourist board when I finish my French toast. I hope it’s good! (The French toast was amazing)

I ended up going to Mie to see the Mikimoto Pearl Museum, but it was a 3 hour long train ride, so I only got to see it for an hour. Which sucked, and kind of ruined it for me. On the way back I ran to catch the rapid train and caught it just in time, so that was good. Had I missed it, reception would of closed again at 8 and I would be screwed. I got in at 7:30 and there was a Tanabata party happening, so I got to eat a little which was much needed.
Plus I got to know the people at the hostel a bit which helped.

Day 13-14: Nagoya downtown
Today I am checking out the Noritake Museum and maybe a Japanese tye dying exhibit later. Seems like it’ll be fun. I am currently having a lunch recommended to me by one of the people who work at the hostel. Also apparently they do a special Nagoya breakfast which involves copious amounts of coffee and bread and boiled eggs. Lunch is here! Looks good too! Lunch tasted great but made me sick after. Kind of haven’t been the same since. After that I went to the Noritake Museum and Garden and saw how fine china is made. It was quite cool and I even bought a piece home to start my collection. Just a small plate, but it’s still bone china, so it’s all good. Plus I know it was made in Japan and not Sri Lanka like some of their prettier stuff (but porcelain) was. Also, I love the muzak that they play in the shops. They’re recognizable songs that sound nice but are not in your face. It’s very satisfying (helps that I know them all). Much better than in Canada where it’s all radio Top 40. And I like that the shop people actively want to help you in a nice way not in a sales way. All soft selling here and I like it. In Canada it is very obvious or they don’t help you at all.

The next day I went out with three hostel mates (Americans named Scott and Justin and a lovely British girl) for lunch at a famous Nagoya eatery that served Pork Katsu Miso shirodon. It was super delicious although a bit expensive for what it was. After that, we went to a gaming centre and then we lost each other and I ended up checking out the bookstore. Everyone that I talk to in Japan likes the old school japanese music (90s) which is the stuff I wanna write, so a part of me thinks that I will do well here in that regard. But I will get into what I really wanna do later. After we found each other again near the hostel, us guys went to Kawai Pianos (cause I wanted to play one) only to find that the store was closed but the music school upstairs was open. Fortunately they both speak much better Japanese than I do and we were able to steal a room for half an hour while I played stuff and discovered that one of them wrote a song that sounded pretty good. After that we went to the convenience store, picked up some stuff, went back to the hostel and I taught everyone how to play 31. A bunch of us played for a good 3 hours straight, so fun times by all. I learned that no matter how much I try to disguise coffee, I can’t turn it into a latte. It needs to all start with milk. Also, a typhoon is on it’s way to Japan but the time it will reach where we are it will just be rain, hopefully.

Day 15: Tsumago and a revelation
A beautiful day! I woke up with my mind set to go to Tsumago, the most expensive stay of my trip. My plan was to go walk the Nakasendo road where people in Edo times would of walked to go from Tsumago to Magome, but I am not doing that with luggage. I just wanna travel back in time and see how things look. The trip started out well enough, I was on the train happily dozing in and out of sleep and arrived at my first station to switch trains. I even had some nice cheap udon at the station! And then… I have also learned on this trip that I can hardly do anything on a train or moving vehicle without getting sick. I don’t remember being especially prone to motion sickness but now I am. I am currently stuck in Kiso-Fukushima after getting on an express train that did not stop at the station I wanted (should of asked first, lesson learned). Fortunately, this gives me time to type stuff out on here and work on my plan that came to me last night as I was sleeping.

What I really want to do with my life (though not necessarily how to do it): own (be the director) of a venue that deals with classical music or really good artists. To make it sound really good I can just do Canadian acts and support local charities, but it fits me so well. I’d obviously want to select the acts that go onto my stage and I’d be creating jobs in the arts administration field.

Should I go to school to complete my degree? I’d say yes definitely so I know all I can for running my own business. It’s honestly the first time i have liked the idea of running my own business from this idea instead of directing my own music school. I like teaching a lot but I honestly could not see myself owning a school for a long period of time. So basically by the time I get a business running I will be 30. Not bad at all, really. I always seem to start things late which is just fine by me. I got over not starting things early a little while ago. Plus as I discovered on this trip, age doesn’t matter. People that I encounter are basically around my age anyway and my maturity has always been a bit high, so it’s all good.

But it would have to be a pretty large venue, it can’t be small like Statlers, which is where I would run into a problem. Where do I open up a theatre or music venue that is large enough to hold my dreams? Ah. Oakville. Make something as awesome as The Living Arts Centre. But that is really quite big, I don’t think I want that… I wonder how big Heidi’s mother’s theatre is?

At least my dream has a name and goal now. I guess I could work under someone else too for a while, but in the end I wanna own my own music venue for sure. And find a way to employ students in order to benefit them (not because it’s cheap). Integrity is at the base of this operation of course!

I got to Tsumago by taxi after the bus showed up. Today is not my day. The ryokan I am in is nice, but the Ito one was way better and not as expensive. I would not stay here again. The guy (proprietor) who works here is good though. Or at least so far he is. And I get to have a bath and wear a yukata later! Woo! I’ll never take it off!

Now that I am sitting in my room in the ryokan, it is kind of nice, although I can hear the Taiwanese (I think?) couple in the next room. It’s just good to have a bigger room in general. I could live in this size, surely. I did go for a walk in the rain and it was alright. Definitely a one off experience. Also, poking around the book cabinet and the first thing I found was porn. What the hell Japan? I was pointed out to one by an Australian family in Nagoya too.

Turns out that couple is from Singapore originally. We talked in the halls for a half hour about all sorts of stuff. They moved to San Diego (which has a beach and a desert) and they have two kids, 8 months and 2 years old. They’re swell people. Americans aren’t bad people, they just get a bad rap from media. Plus New Yorkers are assholes.

I keep finding little bugs everywhere I look… It’s gross. The dinner was good though, minus the fish. I hate having to work for the meal (and bones are super annoying).

Anyway, now I think I’m gonna go study that shelf of books and see what I find. I found 3 porn magazines, 11 hentai books (3 were a series as were the other 8), a manga about a dog that saves other dogs (5 in the series), some girls manga (about 5), horror manga (4 of them, digest style) and an encyclopedic amount of this one manga that had a salary man getting into crazy situations (maybe he’s a cop?). Anyway, without realizing it, I accidentally organized the shelf. Whoops.

Japanese tea pots are better than the crappy Chinese one I have at home. You pour by turning, not tipping. Smart and not messy. Problem is that it only serves 2 Japanese style cups of tea. It does however have a built in mesh for loose leaf tea, so yay!

So tomorrow I will get up and maybe (by suggestion of the couple) I will takuhaibin my suitcase to Takayama and walk the Nakasendo road tomorrow. Problem is that from where I am now to Magome, I have an uphill walk. If I start in Magome and go to Tsumago, I will have more downhill. Or just don’t do it and explore Tsumago a bit tomorrow. The other issue is that the train back to Nagoya only leaves at 8 or 1. I am literally in no man’s land and I refuse to repeat what happened today.

Hmm. I have some flexibility in Takayama. Maybe I should make a day trip to Nagano? I just really wanna use that Shinkansen and go somewhere ridiculous. I could do that in Kyoto too, if I get sick of the festival stuff.

Day 16: Takayama
Man the train ride was really long. It was even express and it was still 3 hours. At least the scenery was pretty. Basically Takayama is the other side of the river outside of the Kiso Valley. Once I did get in, it was super easy to find the K’s house and get settled. I changed my room to dorm style to save a bit of money (and more fun anyway). I was then recommended Don Cafe by an employee and it was really good. On the way I found a Yamaha music store and bought two Old school enka Japanese song books. I’ll have fun translating and singing those. It’s my new project when I get back. I have 3 musical plans so far singing and piano wise:

1. Sing and translate a Japanese song each day
2. Continue to sing and play a Real Book song each day
3. Learn 2 ballet pieces at least a day.

My ballet Mentorship program is on the week of September 22, so I have to get ready!

The downtown streets of Takayama are very cute. Plus everywhere I go I hear classical music. And in the hostel it’s jazz. It is super awesome. But now it is raining pretty hard, so I have given up going outside for the moment. Guess I’ll stay in working on my plans.

Day 17: More Takayama
I was supposed to go to Kamikochi Mountains today, but lots of rain and a $50 ticket round trip on a two hour bus ride is not my idea of fun. So I decided to try and go to a park near Takayama Station but the rain is too much, so I went to the downtown streets and now I am at a cafe across from Cafe Don called soeur. It’s quite picturesque on a rainy day. After this I will go to the nearby festival exhibit and walk around some more.

I saw an Angela Aki poster outside the music shop yesterday, but it was sold out shows for today. I may just go anyway and toss maple candy at her and say thank you for writing music! It helped me get into college! Plus it did inspire me to write more. It showed me that there’s room for music style like mine in the Japanese Pop world at least. Barring that, there’s definitely England. That whole blue eyed soul thing is popular now for some reason, but I think it’ll die out soon enough.

I checked out the festival exhibit. It was pretty cool until my phone decided not to work and I had to resort to taking photos (of a lower quality?) with my iPad. When I got back to the hostel I fixed the problem, but it was still super bizarre. I hope that doesn’t happen again…

Tonight I will be going to a restaurant I saw the night before but didn’t go into. I opted for a convenience store dinner to save money. Tonight I will be having the famous Hida Beef (think like Kobe or Matsuaka) and another delicacy, Hida Shiroi Something. It should be good. I hope it’s open in a little while. I had the Hida beef and a pickle and egg dish. It was quite delicious though I wouldn’t say it’s earth shattering.

Before I do that though, I’m trying to work out exactly what it is and how I want to help the arts community. I mean, I know I want to run a space and offer arts to people, but after reading an article on it, I am considering other ways to do it.

Tomorrow I will be heading for Kanazawa. I will be taking an express train there but it I will still be a 2.5 train ride. I am definitely getting my rail pass usage though, you better believe it!

Day 18: Kanazawa
Awesome experience, great hostel. The town is small but really nice. I like that it has two rivers running through it. The hostel was nice too. Made some new American friends from Laramie (which I didn’t realize until later when they pointed it out with the Laramie Project), but they were super cool. They just finished a 1 year work and study program in Australia (lot of tech people on this trip, software, IT, even a Square Enix translator!) and they are heading back to America. Before we left the hostel, we encountered tv producers who are going to do a guest spot on the hostel we were at next week. More on that after.

We saw a super nice temple and walked around a few areas. Then we went back to the hostel and learned how to do origami and I met a bunch of people. 5 guys from Thailand, a Japanese girl, a Malaysian girl, and a Swiss guy (who gave me a tip on a new genre of music I should listen to). I actually made a peace crane and then sat up and talked with people all night. It was quite fun!

Day 19 and 20: Osaka
The train ride was great, I slept and felt ready to take on the day. But the hostel I am at is shitty. Well I mean hipster. It’s renovated, I am in the basement basically army style (they don’t have doors, they have curtains that don’t even conceal anything). I can’t get wifi down here. I’m on a shit single mattress with a concrete floor and I am paying $40 for this shit! I am trying to stay positive, really. Guess this will force me to explore Osaka.

I figured out what it is I don’t like about my hostel. The ideas are half baked and polished to a shine but they definitely aren’t thought through. The owner didn’t think about what it would be like to live in this space. For example, yes, there is a lock box for your belongings (although small), but someone could literally grab my suitcase from behind the curtain and walk out the emergency door on ground level with it. I am separated by curtains from my fellow dorm mates, but I am lucky to have a wall to place my stuff next to and not a curtain. The showers are big but you have to be as thin as Kate Moss to open the door and close the door behind you without getting your feet wet from stepping into the shower. I will not come here again. I just may write a review about it if prompted. Another thing: you can’t get to the washroom without walking through the common area that doubles as a bar on Friday and Saturday. So it is super awkward. Me walking through with my scrubs with my toothbrush and toothpaste or whatever.

Today I saw that there was a cat cafe posted in the pamphlet I got, so I decided to go and befriended a Japanese woman who was also at the same cafe I was and wanted to go. It was pretty cute but the cats only went for the treats. If you tried to pet them they’d begrudgingly do it. It was weird. Cute, but weird. Afterwards we walked around a bit and we ran into some English speaking people. They do free language exchange (and there was a quebecker there!) so I think I may check that out tomorrow. If I decide against it I will go to Kinosaki instead (which looks like a lovely spa town). It’s supposed to be quite nice too. I guess we shall see what the weather dictates!

Day 21: Hiroshima
It was great! Met some awesome people at the hostel and ran into the two Australian guys from a previous hostel. So we decided to grab a bunch of people and drink. I met a guy from Boston who at 22 has a phd offer from Germany, and he’s the only gay guy I met on this trip. Super nice, had the hots for a Scottish guy who was shy but nothing came of it so Boston was disappointed, understandably. I told him that things get better, not that it’s much consolation at the time and he has Germany to look forward to. I have totally been there though, so I know what it’s like. But we all had fun talking about each other’s countries and all that.

The peace park was beautiful, a great testament to the atomic bomb and a reminder that the atrocity committed on that day will (hopefully) never happen again.

I had 3 beers in total and it was too much for someone like me, so i definitely felt it in the morning…

Day 22: Fukuoka
I did not leave my bed until the 11 AM check out time. I felt so crappy, but I had to solider on and catch the Shinkansen to Fukuoka. Fukuoka is alright, the roofed shopping mall that my hostel is in is pretty great. And I had booth ramen. Imagine the desks you sit at when you want to study with the partitions up (or a bank teller booth). Now imagine eating ramen in that booth. That’s basically it. I also got a tip from a dorm mate about cheap and good yukatas, so I got one! I am a Large Large in Japan because of my height. But the price was awesome and I have my second awesome souvenir (the Yamaha mallet is still number 1).

I walked around a bit and now I am going to go have dinner with a Belgian guy who does HTML programming for apps. He worked on Score Plus, a website that me and my colleagues use all the time! So it should be interesting. I had another idea for an arts administration job, I am currently researching it. Right now it seems to fit though, so I am feeling quite confident with it, but it needs more thought.

Day 23: Fukuoka Part Crazy
My original plan was to go Miyajima for the day and see the floating shrine and the red tori gates in a row, but it was raining quite hard, so I ended up bumming around Canal City Mall. I bought a new wallet that can hold my keys, cell and various cards, so it was well worth it. Plus it is only made in Japan and it is bright orange so I can never miss it.

After that, I went back to the hostel and convinced the hostel guitar player to play Just The Way You Are by Billy Joel while I sang. It went pretty well (except the last note but that’s ok, it was all in fun). After that I made some friends with an American-Japanese girl named Coco, an Irish girl named Louise and a Japanese woman. The Irish girl and I decided to go out for food which spiralled into a crazy night out.

We first had soba at a nearby restaurant and then went on an adventure to find the Happy Cock bar. It is not a gay bar, but a very popular club of sorts with an all you can drink charge. On the way there I saw a piano bar, so we decided to go in. It was dead because it was a Wednesday, but I played piano for a while and the bartender sang. After that a saxophonist showed up, so we all did some songs. It was a lot of fun.

After doing that we decided to set out again to find the Happy Cock. We found it and discovered that in Japan there is a law against dancing. You can’t dance after midnight and you need to have a license to do so. Ridiculous. So there was just a bunch of drunk people (about 10) and no one dancing, even though the bar was playing Top 40. The manager seemed to like us, so that was fun. Until she started feeling me up because I had arm hair and was white (which means a Happy Cock for someone). It was a bit bizarre. My friend tried to open the doors but realized that we were (wrongly) locked in. I tried the door (it’s always the other one) and we escaped.

After that my friend still wanted to go out, so we talked to some Japanese guys for directions and they took us to another bar and bought us drinks. One of the guys really liked my friend (even though she had a girlfriend), so it was super flattering for everyone. After they went home, it was 3:30, so we walked back to the hostel. On the way though we found a karaoke bar, so we decided to sing for half an hour. Wuthering Heights, Let It Go… That’s all I really remember. Following that, we really went home and slept.

Day 24 and 25: Kyoto
When we woke up we checked our luggage and went to the Canal City Mall and saw a bunch of stores that I didn’t see yesterday. She did a bit of shopping and we had food and shopped a little. Afterwards I decided to head to Kyoto as she was taking a night bus to Osaka. I went to Kyoto smoothly and had no trouble finding the hostel. I had Kyoto style ramen for dinner (which has you dunk the noodles into the broth) and then slept.