Tuesday, September 25, 2007

The Raging River of Death: Part 2

After a grueling 3 hours of rafting in the pouring rain, we were all in dire need of relaxation. Where do the Japanese go when they want to relax? To the public bath of course! This is called an onsen. (oh-nsen)

Naturally I wasn't able to take pictures IN the onsen. Bummer I know. Especially since we were all naked. Thats right. The only thing you can bring in is a small towel to cover your...personal area. Men and women are in seperate rooms by the way. Don't get too excited.

This was my first onsen experience. Hatsu Onsen.

First, I strip off everything, and walk into a room with about 10 shower heads lining the right wall. On the left is a huge steaming hot bath, full of naked old men, but before I can jump in, I have to get myself completely clean. I sit on a small stool in between two guys I've never met, and begin to bathe. It's a strange feeling, but no one is watching (unless you're a foreigner, in which case EVERYONE is). Of course my shower head is broken, so it takes much longer than I want it to. When I finish I wait for awhile to see what I'm supposed to do next. I copy the man next to me and dump a bucket of water over my head to rinse off, pick up my coverage towel, and sink in the giant bath alongside everyone else.

Once you get over the discomfort of being naked in front of everyone, it really is relaxing.

Tetsuya and I after our...manly bath together. The blue curtain behind us is the men's entrance, the red one for women. The girls took significantly longer than us, so we sat and read children's comics while waiting.

I forgot the name of the girl on the left. She's from Korea and is also studying Japanese. Then there's Natsumi, and Machiko.

When I got out of the onsen it looked so beautiful I had to make everyone wait while I took a picture.

This is the onsen entrance, and the fancy Japanese style car we rode in.

We still had not paid for the rafting trip, so we headed back to the office to hand over the cash. Why they trusted us to do that I don't really know. That's just the Japanese way I suppose.

We were all starving after our excercise, so we headed to this little ramen shop. The sign says Suzuran...Lily of the Valley.

This area is famous for Hakata ramen. The broth's flavor is made from pig bones. YUM!

To get back we had to pass a fairly wide mountain range. When I saw it on the map I was a little concerned about driving for an hour through windy roads followed by a 3 hour ride in a boat, then back through the windy roads. I took my meds (yoidome) just in case, but in Japan, you don't drive around mountains. There's just no time for that. The ENTIRE way looked like this. Tunnels were built all the way through the mountain range. Hardly a curve in sight.

Japan is wonderful.

The Raging River of Death: Part 1

I don't have a stomach for boats, or long car rides, but I couldn't pass up an opportunity to leave the city behind, and reunite with the color green. My friend Tetsuya invited me to come along with his friends for a rafting trip in Kumamoto, about 2 hours south of Fukuoka by car.

It's not officially a road trip until I take my token road trip mirror photo.

We got there just as the bus was about to leave for the river, so we had to get ready while everyone, in typical Japanese fashion, waited very patiently for us.

My "I'm ready to take on the RAPIDS" face

From here I obviously couldn't bring my camera, so I only have the few pictures one of the rafting company employees took.

First we got a brief lesson in how to survive, in Japanese. Its so wierd to understand what people are saying. Im still not used to it.

About to embark on our adventure.

I wasn't feeling sick just yet...

Around this time I got sick. I didn't puke, but as we approached this 5 meter rock and were told we would jump off, the nervousness must have gotten to me. I'm not a fan of being up high without a rail to hold me back. I don't have a picture, but I DID jump. I was quite proud!

The guide told us the rock is called Tiger Rock because it looks like a tiger lying in the river. I really didn't see it...just said "E----H?!" along with all the Japanese people.

3 hours. 3...stinkin....hours. But it really was a lot of fun.

Monday, September 24, 2007


I wouldn't touch the crane games in America with a ten foot pole. A waste of money AND crappy prizes? No thanks.

In Japan however, the arcades (or geemu sentaa) are packed from wall to wall with the things. And they almost always have prizes that make you actually stop and consider playing. The staff walks through the aisles, occasionally opening the glass doors to align the prizes in a way that makes them ridiculously easy to get. There's no easier way to impress a date than to win her a cuddly stuffed animal. Its better to fail on purpose the first time so it looks like it was really a challenge.

Take a look at the cute little pink bear on the bottom left. What girl wouldn't want one?

But when you come closer, you find its not quite what you expected. Whats great is they are next to those adorable hamster like brown things.

The ad here says something to the effect of:

"Gloomy is Pity's pet bear. Pity properly disciplines him, but it appears he can't remember that he's not suposed to attack people."

God bless Japan.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007


Not the greatest day, so when I got to the park and saw how beautiful the sunset was, I parked my granny bike and just watched it for awhile. Right now is typhoon season so we are getting some of the most incredible clouds.

I've been asked a lot lately why I am in Japan. It's simple really. I've always wanted to learn Japanese. Not just textbook Japanese like I learned in high school, but how to truly speak and think in Japanese. If I don't do it now, I might never have the chance again.

Sometimes I think of giving up. Its been very difficult to make good friends. My phone is full of numbers, but none of them feel like my true friends. Mostly just people I hang out with occasionally. The usual, go out to eat, go to a bar...but it very rarely goes beyond small talk, due to my limited ability to speak the language. Of course, I improve everyday. When I run across someone I haven't seen in a few months and they are blown away by how much better I have become, its a huge encouragement.

But trust me...this is the most difficult thing I have ever done. I have a great amount of respect for all the Japanese people who have become fluent in English. They are two drastically different languges, and completely switching the way you think is close to impossible.


Friday, September 14, 2007

The wheels on the bus go round and round

Public transportation is one of the most wonderful things about Japan...once you figure it out. You can get just about ANYWHERE by bus, and they are almost always right on time. You can set your watch by it.

All the destinations are written in Chinese Characters, with only the bus's final destination written in English, which makes catching the correct bus a bitconfusing. There is a chart that is very easy to read...if you can read Japanese fairly fluently...which I cant.

When you get on the bus, you pull a number from a box at the door, like you're waiting in line to return something at Target.

At the front of the bus there is an electronic sign with all the different ticket numbers on it, and the bus fares written below. These fares keep changing the further you go. When you reach your destination, you check the fare written below your number, get your change ready, and move to the front of the bus.

Here's where it gets tricky. Remember everything is written in Japanese, most of the time using a lot of the Chinese characters that I can't read. At the front of the bus (I didn' get a picture) imagine this metal box with about 76 different places to insert things. Rather than insert your money into the coin slot ( that just gives you change) you put your ticket, AND your money in this clear box at the top with a conveyor belt at the bottom. It took me about 10 times before I figured this out, each time the bus driver giving me instructions into his microphone so EVERYONE on the bus can hear.

Anyway, I have the bus system down now, and last night had a nice peaceful bus ride to the sounds of Nickel Creek on my ipod.

When I reached my destination, the river look so sweet, I had to take a picture.

These little carts are a Hakata (Fukuoka) tradition. You can find one for any type of tradiational Japanese food, and share a meal with a bunch of Japanese strangers.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Just Dance

My good friend Ai Ueno invited me to a concert on Friday night at this extremely compact club, Keith Flack. The band was Little Fats and Swingin Hot Shot Party (ridiculously hard to pronounce for Japanese people...go figure) from Tokyo. This was their second time in Fukuoka, and they were INCREDIBLE. It was my first time seeing an all Japanese Jazz band but all my fears were put to rest as soon as the first note was played.

EVERYONE was dancing their hearts out. It was a blast, and I was the ONLY white guy there. It was like...heaven or something.

My incredibly creative artist friend Ai. We met quite randomly on a missionary ship that was staying in the Fukuoka harbor. Sometimes I go to church with her and her family, but it takes about an hour and half to 2 hours to get there, so I dont make it every Sunday.

Ai`s boyfriend is a stinkin awesome DJ

The concert was followed by a 2 hour conversation downstairs in the lounge, ALL IN JAPANESE!!! Naturally, it consisted mostly of me intently listening, wracking my brain for any words I could understand. The guy in the sailor outfit spoke about as fast as the micro machines guy, which certainly didnt help in my ability to understand, but he was such a good storyteller I couldnt stop listening.

Good times. Many dances were danced. Many friends were made.

Sunday, September 9, 2007

A long time coming...

Ive been in Japan for what...4 months now. A bit hard to believe, especially considering how much trouble I have communicating, but this whole language learning thing is finally starting to come along.

Rather than try to create an interesting story in the 20 minutes of remaining break time I have between classes, Ill just how you pictures. Stories can come later.

I lost my camera in Korea and had to buy a new one, these were the first pictures I took.

Ohoori Park. I pass through here everyday on my way home. Its a good way to get away from the smell of exhaust for a few minutes.

an old man i found reading the newspaper in a sweet little resting spot.

a river pretty close to my apartment

my sweet basket carrying my trusty umbrella.

the building on the right is my apartment. Chris if you read this you will love to know that my apartments name is Riberaru...or "Liberal". I just moved in here about 2 weeks ago. It was quite the experience.

a sneak peak at my TINY apartment. Its actually pretty big for Japan standards.

this is the cooking equipment that came with my "fully equipped" apartment

this so-called stove is an old electric MESS. and it stinks.

These things are my best friends. Throw an eggand some boiling water in there, and BAM instant gourmet dinner.

BARI UMA! Delicious!

I miss you all, Ill write more later. Sorry for not putting up ANYTHING in the last 4 months. Ja!