Monday, October 31, 2011

Day 5 - Osu and Akochan's House


Today, we drove to an area of Nagoya in downtown called Osu with the younger of Megu's two brothers.  Megu's the youngest of 5 siblings (Girl, Girl, Boy, Boy, Megu!).  And they all lived in this 600ish square foot apartment with her parents and occasionally their grandma, I've been putting off doing a video of.  I'll get to that later today for sure, promise!

To me Osu was kind of a mash-up between Tokyo's Akihabara (renowned for all things nerdy and geeky) and Vancouver's Gastown, which has become full of local, independent, clothing stores, except imagine all those stores are actually cheap.

We met up first with Megu's best friend Hyunka and her fiance, Hisa.  Part of the reason this trip started in the first place was to attend their wedding, which is actually next week!  We ate at an authentic Napoletana Pizza Parlour!  Apparently it won a bunch of awards in Italy for being super authentic.  

Pizza is expensive in Japan usually, in part because it's topped with ridiculous amounts of seafood sometimes.  However, in an ironic twist relative to Vancouver Napoletana pizza, this place was super cheap, but I'm guessing they make their money on volume, as you can see the lineup literally out-the-door.  350 yen translates to roughly $4.50 Canadian (the yen is disgustingly strong right now, making this trip a lil pricey!) but that's insanely cheap for pizza in Japan.  
You can even check out the oven, which I'm sure was flown in from Italy.  It's a wood-burning oven that flash cooks the pizza at almost 900 degrees Fahrenheit (about 500 celsius) in just over a minute.  Super Delicious!!!
Here's a shot of Hyunka and Hisa.  Hyunka is renowned for making ridiculously silly faces in pictures, this one being no exception.  Also in the shot, is this delicious Calpis soda, which came from one of those ubiquitous vending machines.  It's this delicious kinda cream soda-y, not too sweet, fizzy drink which I freaking love.
They were giving away free samples of sake in the square.  Yes please!!!
Popped into one of those famous Japanese arcades and this kid was killing this Rock Band-esque drum game.  Actually I'm quite sure this game came first and Rock Band way later, but this kid is owning!
There were also some kids playing this Pokemon-esque game based on the japanese manga (comic) One Piece, which is insanely popular in Japan.  Naruto is probably the most famous manga outside of Japan, but One Piece is probably the biggest inside Japan.  The game actually relied on the use of physical cards you stuck into the arcade unit, pretty unique imho.
In addition to those drink vending machines being everywhere, you can also get smokes and beer.  I'm sure there's a sticker somewhere telling kids not to buy these.  And they're only about $5 a pack.  No wonder so many Japanese kids smoke....
There's also an amazing second-hand luxury brand store.  Items never used, gently used and sort of abused, all at very reasonable prices.  There were multiple floors for watches & jewellery, clothing & hand bags.  I'm not usually a high-end brand kinda guy, but there was an Louis Vuitton bag I totally loved, but was too expensive with the strong yen.  They also had two related stores for musical instruments and camera equipment.  Here's a shot of me leering into the camera store.
Also a cool looking temple just outside of all the shopping on Osu.
You can see the big red lantern at the top of the stairs with Japanese writing on it.  The next pic shows lots of white strips being tied to that lantern.  

Apparently, you can pay 100 yen ($1.30) to get a random fortune given to you on a white piece of paper.  If it's good news, you keep it.  If it's bad news, you tie it up at the temple for the bad news to be exorcised.

Here's a general shot of the streets of Osu to give you a feel for the place as it's getting darker.

There were ridiculous amounts of computer, electronic and audio stores, a nerd's wet dream.  I should have taken pics inside the stores, but here's a few shots.

Used cell phones for sale for like $50 bucks, I'm sure which are way more advanced than the average phone in Canada.

Megu and I spent the night at Megu's older brother's house.  Her brother was still working when we came by for dinner, but we spent time with her sister-in-law, Ako-chan, and her two nieces.  

They even made a cute dessert to welcome us to Japan.  The top right one says "Setta", a nickname they came up with for me years ago at the Japanese Hair Salon where I met Megu because my name is hard to say in Japanese.  Setta is a reference to my volleyball position, "setter", which is kinda like the quarterback but in volleyball where you set everyone else up to spike.

OK, longest blog post ever!  Took forever to make, but hopefully you kids enjoy :)

Saturday, October 29, 2011

Day 4 - Oct 22, 2011

Four Hour walk with Happy

Megu and I decided to seriously explore Nagoya on foot and ended up wandering around her neighbourhood for almost 4 hours!  Found a cool little pond with another cool stone pathway.  

We ended up making friends with the old dudes who chill out at the pavillion there everyday to avoid their wives :)
Cute shot of Megu with Happy at the lake.
Also walked by a bunch of car dealerships, one of which had a glowing pink honda fit.  Like crazy flourescent pink.
There are tiny buddhist shrines/temples scattered throughout cities everywhere.  The architecture is beautiful, I really love the ceramic roof tiles.

I've recently discovered the awesomeness of the macro function on my lil camera.  Snapped this lil flower while walking on the road side.
Megu's mom made us okonomiyaki for lunch.  It's basically a savoury pancake filled with cabbage and whatever you want really!  Megu's mom made it with tons of seafood.  You then top it off with yummy okonomiyaki sauce (sweet and savoury yummy dark brown sauce), japanese mayo (which is like crack cocaine good), bonito flakes and little pieces of seaweed.  If you like Takoyaki, you'll love okonomiyaki.  And Megu honestly makes super killer okonomiyaki.  Yum yum yum.
First Night in the City
We took the train from Kasugai to downtown Nagoya, 20 minute ride or so.  The city at night is SOOO awesome!  Nagoya has a population like 4 times Vancouver, so the downtown is much more impressive.  Here's a few pics of us chilling downtown before meeting with friends for dinner:

There's this awesome man-made oval with a pond in the centre in the middle of a large square downtown.  It's hoisted three stories in the air and is a cute place for couples to walk and chill out.  The first is a just ok picture but gives you a good sense of the space.  The second pic is one my fave pics I've ever taken!!

We went for dinner with 3 of Megu's friends whom I neglected to take pictures of.  We ate "motsunabe", which is a hot pot with beef intestine and miso soup base, lots of cabbage and green onion.  It was AMAZING!!!  Probably top 5 things I've ever eat anywhere, ever.  Having worked at restaurants for over 10 years, I think that's saying something!

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Random Post: Language

Megu and I spent the night at her best friend Hyunka's house, feasting upon pizza, beer and wine, but mostly to do Hyunka's nails before she gets married tomorrow.  I don't have access to my laptop, and hence pictures, so I thought I'd post about random stuff I've thought about during the trip so far.

Language Barrierland

I've always been kinda worried about going to a country where I barely speak the language.  I'm only been to the states, England and France so far, so I really wasn't sure what to expect.  I took French Immersion from Kindergarten to Grade 12, so I spoke decent enough French to be able to express myself.  

Japanese is another story.  I can understand spoken Japanese at a very basic level and can speak even less.  Written Japanese takes years upon years to master.  For someone who's never taken an actual class, my Japanese isn't horribad, but that doesn't make you magically understand the language.

I've been surprised at my ability to actually explain ideas that go beyond weather, like how me and my friend Dave used to bomb around in his underpowered Geo Metro with a badass 12" subwoofer and rule the town until the wee hours listening to Daft Punk, "Around the World".  But other times when they're using anything beyond daily life chat, it reminds of being with my ex-gf, being the sole white dude around a table of Chinese folks eating dim sum and not understanding virtually a single word.  Overall, not as bad as I expected and definitely inspiration to study harder. But it absolutely helps having Megu to translate things for me, in both directions, when I can't express myself, not to mention having someone to express yourself to.  Plus all my awesome accounting friends back home that I've been harassing over whatsapp and facebook!

Anyways, we're running out the door to go grab sushi, so I'll catch up with you kids later!

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Day 3 - Oct 21, 2011

Today was pretty lazy, ate some delicious french toast, topped with butter-sauteed bananas that basically became a syrup/jam.  As well, I added a dollop of maple syrup!

I was triple fisting (is that even a word?!? lol) this breakfast, with mango juice, orange pekoe tea, and milk blended with fresh banana.  Bananatastic breakfast it is.

Took the dog out for a quick walk, but didn't take any pictures!  Here's a few random shots from yesterday's walk anyways :P
Stone path to cross small pond totally reminds me of Lost in Translation.  Awesome cinematography ftw.

Quick snapsnot of stirfry lunch with rice and miso soup made by Megu's mom :)
Outlet Malls with Haruka :)
We spent the day with Haruka, a friend of Megu's I had a chance to meet in Vancouver when she was in town for literally one day in Vancouver.  Megu and I took Haruka and her mom around the seawall on rented biked, took photos with the totem poles and other fun touristy things.

Haruka drove us out to the outlet malls outside Nagoya, which I swear are affiliated with the outlet malls just north of Seattle.  So I'm in Japan, shopping for Nike and Adidas shoes.  Didn't exactly fit in with my vision of sumos and samurais, but I had just dragged Megu around a suit store for several hours the day before, so I was happy to return the favour for girly shopping.

Megu ended up finding a nice dress (that I didn't snap a picture of) for about $100 which looked fantastic on her at BCBG.  Next we hit up Cold Stone Creamery, an ice cream empire that started in the US.  They take ice cream and mash it together with cake, fresh fruit and various toppings on a frozen marble slab (hence, cold stone) to make your very own frankenstein ice cream.  You REALLY need to see the link below which illustrates it perfectly because I'm unable to steal their picture from flickr:

Me and Haruka being Japanese tourists below:

Every time they make your ice cream creation, they sing a ridiculously over-the-top-cutesy song, while clanging the metal spoons illustrated in the link above.  It's amusing the first time, but if I worked there I would literally go insane!  I got Strawberry Cheesecake which I'm sure was a million calories but tasted divine.

I've been researching new cameras for months and waiting for Canon or Nikon's new semi-pro models to come out, but between the earthquake at the Sendai factories and the factories in Thailand currently under about 9 feet of water, those new camera models aren't coming out any time soon.  That being said, I did get to handle and take shots using the current models at the Nikon outlet store which was SOOO cool!  Here's a shot of me holding about $4K in camera equipment, pretending I'm all-pro:

A pic below of a prosumer camera, but in imac-style clear plastic.

Last but not least, us making our own cute little house from scratch at the Lego store!!!  I bought LEGO like mad when I was a kid and still love the stuff :)  All in all, a very fun day and we're hoping to hang out with Haruka again soon.

Monday, October 24, 2011

Day 2 - Oct 20th, 2011

Daily walk with Happy

The next morning, we took Megumi's family dog, Happy, out for a walk in the morning after eating some delicious home made bread with huckleberry jam we brought from Canada.  Here's a few shots from our first walk that morning:

I had a vision of Japan being a concrete jungle, but perhaps that's only downtown Tokyo.  In Megu's neighbourhood, it seems just like Vancouver except with a little higher population density with lots of people living in 5 story apartments.  Here's a crappy video I shot from outside of her balcony of their third floor apartment.  The Hasegawa family lives in an apartment which is just like the ones shot in this video:

We had a pretty lazy first day, mostly napping, getting unpacked and trying to get over jet lag.  We also went suit shopping that night as I ended up tearing the shoulder of my suit on the edge of a wooden sign shop in a freak accident.  We're going to the wedding of her best friend, Hyunka, this weekend, so needed to look good!  Ended up buying the store, 3 suits, 6 shirts, 4 ties and a belt.  They had a sale and we had a coupon as well, so the three suits ended up all being half price, so even with the exchange with the yen being so crazy strong right now, it still ended up being a good deal! 

Getting to Nagoya!

Hey kids! I'm already a few days behind on getting around to posting about my travels, but here we go! I'll attempt to post on a fairly regular basis going forward.

New Job!!! - Becoming a Tax Man

I've just been hired at the downtown office of one of the world's four largest accounting firms (handily called "The Big Four"), in their Direct-to-Tax program.  I'll get my CA (Chartered Accountant) designation after three years of work, which is widely regarded as the toughest accounting designation to get in Canada. 

I'll mostly be doing tax related work, but will still get exposure to normal accounting, mostly working with privately owned businesses (as opposed to large public companies like Google or Apple). Though I was just hired last week, I won't actually start work until September 2012, so now is a great time to travel knowing I have a steady job to come back to!

The Trip - Japan and Korea

I'm headed to Japan with my girlfriend of almost three years, Megumi, to stay for almost three months (Oct 17-Jan 9th).  

We'll be staying mostly with her family in their apartment in the city of Nagoya, Japan.  Nagoya is the fourth biggest city in Japan behind Tokyo, Yokohama (the equivalent to Burnaby for Tokyo) and Osaka.  It's about 2 hours-ish west of Tokyo by bullet train We'll be staying in a suburb of Nagoya called Kasugai (again, the equivalent of Burnaby, 20 minutes away by train to downtown Nagoya).

We've got three side trips planned, two of which will use the JR Rail pass, which gives you unlimited bullet train use (except the crazy fastest one, but still, they're ridiculously fast).  The JR Rail pass is only available for foreigners, but Megu is OK because she's been approved for her Permanent Resident status.  The yen is crazy strong relative to the Canadian dollar, but it was still only $624 to purchase a two week JR rail pass.  These are the side trips we're planning:

a)  Two week JR rail pass to west and south-west Japan, hitting up major cities like Kyoto, Osaka and Kobe, as well as the two large islands of Shikoku and Kyushu
b)  One week JR rail pass to Tokyo and surrounding area like Yokohama and Hakone
c)  3-day trip to Seoul, Korea.  Korea is crazy geographically close (as you can see from the map below) and is essentially the "Vegas trip" for Japanese people, especially since the Korean Wan is so weak and the Yen is so strong. It's only going to be about $400 for flight, 3-night hotel and a tour.

View Larger Map 

Packing Madness

Megumi and I pulled a virtual all-nighter packing for the trip.  Packing was complicated by the fact that a Japanese friend had an emergency and had to leave for Japan from the US, leaving behind all their equipment to work as a nail artist.  We volunteered to bring back essentials, but it ended up being about 35 pounds of stuff and virtually filled the largest of our four suitcases (pictured here with Megu inside!)  We managed to shuffle everything around and make it work despite lugging a crazy amount of souvenirs for family and friends thankfully!

The Flight

We left Vancouver at noon on Monday, October 17th.  Flight was about 10.5 hours to Tokyo and then a short 45 minute flight to Nagoya.  It's been a while since I've flown, and now everyone gets their own screen on the flight which is essentially a tablet computer, letting you pick from a variety of movies and even video games like Street Fighter II (old school, yo!).  To the left is an example of the flight map I yanked off google images.

Watched a Japanese movie called Princess Toyotomi, which intrigued me because I knew one of the main actors from other Japanese dramas I'd watched, but damn, this was the worst movie I'd seen in years.  Including the Transformers movies.  That's saying something. 

I also started reading A Game of Thrones, a fantasy novel collection of 5+ books, which has been adapted into a wildly popular HBO TV series.  I'm about 150 pages into it and it seems pretty awesome, but dude seriously likes to kill off characters in his book.  Pretty addictive book though and it came highly recommended.  I decided to purchase a copy after having a hold at the public library which only shifted me from being hold number 200-something to 100-something in two months time.

Meeting the Parents

There's nothing more fun than meeting potential in-laws for the first time than doing so after a transoceanic flight combined with several days of sleep deprivation.  Megumi's parents picked us up at the airport and bought takeout sushi for dinner to eat at home.  I managed to somehow stay up until 10pm local time (which was like 6am Vancouver time) and passed out.  Happy to make it to Japan but exhausted!