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January 30, 2007

Busy as a bee?

This entry is not about you Christine, despite the title.

Anyway, I noticed again that it has been a few weeks since I updated the blog. I have been doing lots of things and my first reaction to seeing how long it took was to think that I have been busy lately. And I have, but not nearly as busy as I was when I was working.

It reminds me of that old saying:

"If you want something done, give it to a busy man"

I used to spend almost five months every year travelling and I managed to get something posted most days, but now I am spending A LOT of time at home and not getting around to the blog very much.

I am not a busy man.

What can I say? Actually, maybe part of the problem is that I do not have anything to write about anymore. Well, not exactly true...

I have finally bought a desktop computer to supplement the faithful laptop. I am still getting used to it, but I got a 21" monitor with it and that is very cool. I also decided to get a wireless keyboard to cut down in the spaghetti-like mess that comes with a desktop, but that is not so cool. It is huge because there seems to be a special button for almost any situation (My Favorites, My Documents, My Pictures etc.)...In fact, it seems to be twice as big as my laptop.

I have also signed up for driving lessons to get my Japanese license. This is such a scam - $3,000 and 60 hours of my time, but it will be worth it in the end. Many of you already know that you can get a license rather easily if you come from a country that has reciprocal licensing priveleges, like the UK or Australia. are out of luck if you come from the US.

I have heard a lot of reasons for this...the one that makes the most sense is that reciprocal rights is based on the exchange of safety data with other countries' department of motor vehicles. In the US, licenses are issued at the state level, which means 50 seperate exchanges and that is apparently too much.

In any case, I went for the first time on Sunday. Not bad, except that I was at Kamiya Bar in Asakusa the night before with some of my Japanese language classmates. Oops.

Also, I made ANOTHER trip down to the beach to look at apartments to buy. I wanted to take a second look at one of the places, but the real estate agent tells that someone else could be going to contract on it today. I will wait and see what happens.

So, that is about it. I will go take some pictures so you do not have to read through my aimless chat next time.

Posted by Kirk at 05:16 PM | Comments (0)

January 12, 2007

Snowy Durango

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I spent Christmas at my sister's place in Durango. I took this from her front yard. It is really a winter wonderland isn't it? I just missed the first big storm of the season. The second arrived shortly after I left and now I hear the FOURTH big storm is on the way.

That is a lot of snow to shovel.

So, I had not been to Durango in maybe eight is not as convenient to get to, especially when yoy are flying halfway around the world. Usually, we go to Pennsylvania to my other sister's place. This was a nice change. A bit cold, however.

It was great to see my sister and my niece. We watched a lot of videos, my sister cooked a fantastic turkey dinner, and I sat around a lot. Good holiday.

Posted by Kirk at 08:20 AM | Comments (0)

January 10, 2007

Enoshima sunset

Today was one of those absolutely stunning winter days in Japan. It is getting colder here, but the sky was clear and one could be forgiven for thinking it was least in the sun. The picture below is Enoshima and Mt. Fuji from the road above Inamura Beach.

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To take advantage of this, Laura and I headed down to Shonan and walked from Kamakura to Enoshima. Make sure to check out her blog, which should have much better pictures! It was warm enough that we could sit outside at the Sundish Cafe across from Inamuragasaki Park and admire the view. We hung out around there until sunset, snapped a few pictures and walked the rest of the way to Enoshima.

On the left below is the Zushi/Hayama coastline taken from the road between Kamakura and Inamuragasaki Park. On the right you can see everyone lining up to take pictures of the sunset. This is one of the things I love about the beach in Japan...seeing people make an effort to watch the sunset everyday. I grew up in California and this makes sense to me, but it is easy to lose touch with simple pleasures like that when living in the big city.

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And here are a couple of sunset pictures. The colors at sunset were amazing and lasted well into twilight. It was so nice walking down the road with that kind of visual pleasure (too cheesy??). I really liked it.

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Posted by Kirk at 07:51 PM | Comments (0)

January 09, 2007

Zushi beach sunset

This is one of those pictures that seems so great on the camera, but loses its appeal when you download it. I was terrible excited on my way home from Zushi yesterday because the beach was so lovely. Still, it is blog-worthy, so here you go. But you should know it was much better in person.

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Anyway, I went down to Zushi/Hayama for the first time this year to look at apartments to buy. I arrived early for my appointment, but instead of walking to the beach I went to Starbucks and read my book...I figured I would hit the beach afterward.

The quick rainstorm did not figure into my plans at all. As I finished up with the real estate agent I could hear this "plink...plink" sound but was totally baffled at what it could be. But, it was rain at all when I got out and walked. Just the ominous clouds. Mt. Fuji was visible barely, but none of this snaps turned out. Did I ever mention how much I like Zushi and Hayama?

Posted by Kirk at 08:44 AM | Comments (0)

Phoenix, Arizona

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This is a picture of the Phoeniz/Scottsdale area from the Pointe Hilton Tapatio Cliffs. I did not stay there very long, one night on each side of my drive to Durango, but I would have stayed longer if I could - there was a nice little Mexican restaurant with an outside bar that I quite liked. (and it was much warmer than Tokyo or Durango!)

I did not eat at the locally famous restaurant in the hills above the hotel, but I did walk up there to get this picture. It was recommended by the man at the rental car desk when I asked for directions to the hotel. He told me he goes there every year on his birthday. Nice view.

Posted by Kirk at 08:35 AM | Comments (0)

January 05, 2007

Shiprock, New Mexico

I went to the US for Christmas, but left my laptop at home. It was a last minute decision and not very clever as I piled up a bunch of pictures and experiences that is too daunting to do all at once. So...I will drop a picture in every now and then for variety. This is Shiprock, New Mexico, which is about 70 miles from where my sister lives. It is pretty impressive. WHen you are driving, you can see it from 20, 30 miles away. It is that big. The town next to it is really not worth writing about. I stopped there and got a takeout coffee.

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Posted by Kirk at 10:05 AM | Comments (0)

Weather proofing the apartment

As some of you know, I moved to a new place late last year and I am still in the process of getting settled. I moved in October when the weather was just about perfect. One of the problems with that is I had no idea how cold the apartment could be (and I know...the worse is yet to come).

My last place was a high-rise tower and the apartment was always warm, probably because I was sharing the heat from the apartments above, below and on each side of me. Not to mention the front door opened on to an internal corridor. I usually had to run the AIR CON until November.

Now, however, my apartment stands alone on the top of a small buidling with an entrance directly to the outside. All four walls are exposed and there are LOTS of windows. Do not get me wrong...I love it, but it is not the best set up for keeping things cozy and warm. There is a heater for the apartment, which does an adequate job (cheap landlord? old building? maybe both), but only in some parts of the pad.

I won't freeze to death, but it is not very comfortable. (by the way, good lesson on cultural differences - my agent would never to think to tell me any of this unless I asked...which I did not). Even worse, my electric bill here is THREE times that of the old place.

Anyway, last night I bought an electric blanket for the bed and for the first time in a few months, when I went to sleep the bed was warm and cozy. No more freezing cold sheets for me. I tell you, this is the best thing that has happened to me this year. Granted, that means the last four days, but still, I am quite happy.

I also have two ceramic heaters now, one for the bedroom and one for the living room. Things are starting to shape up around here. I have a feeling, however, that I am going to be absolutely cooked next August when the temperatures are in the 30s and humidity is 90%. Woo steo at a time.

Posted by Kirk at 09:50 AM | Comments (0)

January 02, 2007

Meiji Jingu (明治神具)

Well, Laura and I did make it back to Meiji Shrine for some pictures. And we also went all the way through, which we may have reconsidered if we had known how long it would take! But the pictures are generally good and this is a not-to-be-missed chance to see the shrine at night, when it is very lovely.

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We were in line for over two hours before we finally made it in, which was probably about one hour too long. It is incredible how many people were there. Laura tells me that over 3 million people visit Meiji Jingu over the new year's holiday, making it the most popular in Japan. It seemed like most of them were in line in front of us!

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One thing that surprised me is how few locals were wearing traditional clothes. There were a few, however, and when I could, I took a picture. The picture on the left is at the entrance to the shrine. The one on the right is inside the temple grounds. They are both lovely, right?

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Like I mentioned before, Meiji Jingu at night is absolutely lovely. This is sort of what it looked like, although the pictures do not really do it justice. The pictures below with the wide spaces covered in tarps show where people are expected to make their offerings. Really...that tarp is covered in coins!

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After making an offering, people go to make wishes. Now that I think about it, it makes good sense to pay upfront. I didn'y make any, but this is where you go to do it...

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And here is one last picture of the crowds inside the temple.

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Posted by Kirk at 01:42 PM | Comments (0)

January 01, 2007

Happy New Year

Well, after 18 months of writing a blog you would think I could come up with a better title for this entry! But, we were out until 4am last night, so you have to cut me a little slack.

I met up with Nuala and Laura and we had a fantastic time.

Things kicked off around 9pm with a few snacks and drinks at my new place. I was a bit worried that Japanese TV would let me down, but we found a countdown show that featured Japanese men wearing loinclothes being chased down so that tails could be pinned to them. Absolutely brilliant and in line with my expectations for quality TV.

At midnight, we went over to the local shrine (Tenshin Jinja) and rang the bell. It was very cool and I wish I had some pictures, but my camera battery died as soon as we left the apartment. Ugh. Anyway, there was hardly a line at all and we reckon our turn at the bell rang in the new year, so that was very cool. It was surprisingly personal, with maybe ten people in line or watching and two priests there to watch over things.

We celebrated that by spending some time near the kerosene heater drinking champagne and taking pictures with various groups of locals that came by.

All of that was merely a prelude to the real plan: a visit to Meiji Shrine in Harajuku. This is the most visited shrine in Japan over the holiday period (or one of the top three...Laura told me twice, but my brain was soaked with alcohol), so it is a major undertaking. BUT WELL WORTH IT!!!

First of all, the streets around the entrance are all closed down...and with all the neighbourhood stores closed to, it seemed like a completely different place. The road from Meiji Dori to the temple entrance was lined with stands selling the typical holiday fare and there was already quite a crowd of people walking around.

Having taken care of our bell-ringing duties in my neighbourhood, we did not need to wait in line to see the actual shrine itself (for those of you familiar with Meiji Shrine, it was already back to the sake wall at 1am). Instead, we detoured to all the stands, shops and boothes catering to the post-prayer crowd, drank a bottle of rose, and watched everyone enjoying themselves.

Sometime around 3am, sanity prevailed and we headed home. Well, after a brief stop at Choco Cro, possibly the best place in Tokyo to drink your first coffee of the year. Then again, I love Choco Cro, so I might be a bit biased.

I have charged up my camera and I will call Laura soon to see if she wants to brave the crowds one more time so I can get some pictures.

Posted by Kirk at 12:39 PM | Comments (0)