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February 22, 2007

Jimbocho (神保町) - book stores and coffee

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I met Alex for yesterday - he works in Awajicho and there is not much there. I take that back...we went to a very good Italian place for lunch, but that is about it.

However, it is really close to some cool places. One of those is Jimbocho, and after lunch I walked around there for awhile. Here is one of the main intersections and it is quite a contrast to some of the newer parts of the city.

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This area of Tokyo is well-known for all the bookstores. I walked by a lot of them, but maybe I will have to learn Japanese before I ever stop in and buy something. Having said that, I love book stores and no matter where you are or what language you speak, a certain level of comfort always exists. So, I really enjoyed "just walking around".

With lots of bookshops, there is inevitable a lot of coffee shops as well. I wandered down a small alley that had a couple that looked very cool. One was a jazz cafe, which is on the left below. The other cafe (on the right) is just kind of funky and I stopped in there. I loved it, except that fitting the chair, table and my apparently too tall frame together wasn't working. Still, very cool place and it is a bar at night, so maybe I need to go back and drink something a little more fortifying.

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I finished up by heading over to Suidobashi to catch the JR train home. I would have wandered a bit more, but I had to go to the driving school last night - I will write all about that soon. It is interesting. Here is the "waterfont":

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Oh, Alex...happy birthday.

Posted by Kirk at 11:11 AM | Comments (0)

February 14, 2007

Rain Man

I really have to accept the idea that I am weather-impaired (weather-challenged? unlucky?).

What you need to know is that I agreed to meet Kaz at 8pm tonight for dinner and a few drinks. There was a terrific storm, so I was a bit wary about going out, but weather is not really a good reason to cancel your plans, so off I went.

As I left the apartment it did not seem so bad, but before I had walked the 100 metres to a place I could grab a taxi the rain was coming down so hard that I could hardly see. You know those sudden downpours where the raindrops bouncing up off the road make it look like you are walking through a series of fountains? Where the rain is so thick that you can SEE the wind as it blows towards you? It was just like that.

Needless to say, I was absolutely soaked by the time I got into a taxi (and the rest of the night for that matter!) Can I find comofrt in knowing that all of Tokyo suffered with me. Well, no. By the time I got to the restaurant (ten minutes later) it had stopped raining. And you wonder why I think I have a personal rain problem.

I know this because it is not the first time.

I lived in New York before moving to Tokyo and one night I had a similar experience. At that time, a rare hurricane was forecast to hit the city. This was really exciting and I made plans to meet a friend at a bar with big windows so that we could watch it all unfold.

The storm was forecast to hit around 10pm or so, so I set off around 7:30pm even though the rain had already started. It was a good twenty minute walk with heavy rain and a wind so strong that the it felt like someone was standing in front of me with a fire house. But, I spent every second fighting my way through, comforting myself with the knowledge that it would only get worse and therefore be much more spectacular later, from the inside, with a drink in my hand.

It stopped raining before I could even finish my first beer.

Posted by Kirk at 10:25 PM | Comments (0)

February 11, 2007

A stroll around Tokyo, I mean Okutama (奥多摩)

Well, actually, both are correct.

I took the train up to Okutama (奥多摩) this morning, mostly because it is probably the farthest you can go by train from the center of the city and still be in Tokyo. Really...it took two hours to get there. Check out the link if you want more info on what is there.

Here is a picture of the town taken from a trail on the south side of the valley. I walked up this way for about 30 minutes before I realised that I had no idea where I was going or what I would see.

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So, Okutama is a lot like most places in the countryside: very quiet and peaceful, but everything seems to be old and a bit run down. It is nice to get away too, but I am not so sure I would want to live out there. Well, if I gave up drinking and talking it might be a good place to go.

Having said that, it was lovely. At one point I was walking along the road next to the Tama River and I thought to myself this place is really like Hakone...but farther away...and with fewer onsens.

Well, I suppose it makes sense that it is quiet.

Anyway, after I walked up the side of a mountain for 30 minutes, I walked back down and had a coffee at the first coffee shop I found, the strangely named "Hemlock", not a name that inspires confidence. And when I walked in at 11am the only other customers were banging back cup after cup of sake). After that, I went to an onsen for a bath, had soba near the station and came home. Whew...

Here are some pictures of the town. On the left you see the train station, on the right, part of the commercial district, heh heh.
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And a few more...the picture on the left looks like a gravestone/headstone carving shop. I was walking up the trail and all of the sudden I popped around a curve and all this was laying out in front of me. On the right, some random building with the mountains in the background. I also took a few pictures of temple stuff, but I figure I have 100s of those already, so no need to add more.

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I really enjoyed it, but it is a bit long for a day trip, unless you leave really early. The onsen was very nice, if not a bit crowded. I spent 20-30 minutes in the outside bath and felt absolutely refreshed. It is called Moegi-no-yu (もえぎの湯) and is only ten minutes walk from the station. There are other places, but this seemed to be the most popular.

You should check it out sometime.

Posted by Kirk at 07:59 PM | Comments (0)

February 09, 2007

JLPT - I passed!

Did I mention I took the Japanese Language Proficiency Test (Level 3) in December last year? Well, I did. And, yesterday, I finally got the results.

I am quite pleased.

After the test, I felt confident about my score, but it is nice to be sure. Actually, I was super confident just after the test, but I started to worry more and more as time went on. But, I got 346 out of 400 points, which is 87%! That is even better than the results from the practice tests I took beforehand.

Of course, I have probably forgot about half of the Japanese I knew since then. I did not re-enroll this term because of various things I had to take care of. I told myself I could motivate myself to study at home by myself, but without the urgency of deadlines for homework etc, I am really not pushing myself. Well, there is always tomorrow.

Posted by Kirk at 09:04 AM | Comments (0)

February 07, 2007

Kurihama and the Black Ships (久里浜の黒船)

I went down to Shonan again yesterday...still looking for that elusive apartment by the beach. Really, this would be impossible to do if I was working!

Anyway, I decided to do a bit of exploring afterward and headed off to Kurihama, which is about 20 minutes by train and at the end of the Yokosuka Line. There is really not too much there.

Kurihama sits on the entrance to Tokyo Bay, however, and is one of the places where US Admiral (Commodore) Perry and his so-called "Black Ships" landed on their way to Tokyo. There is a small park and museum just across the street from the beach. It is free, but there was not much to look at. This is a monument erected in the early 1900s to commemorate the landing.

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And here is the rest of Kurihama...the beachfront road is named Perry Street as you can see. Also a picture of the entrance to Black Ship Shopping Street. There were also a ton of restaurants named "Black Ship...".

I imagine it could get difficult to meet people in this town:

"I'll meet you at the Black Ship restaurant!"
"Wait! Which one!"

and so on...

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In any case, the weather was really nice. I could sit out and read my book with my jacket off and the sun beaming down - really it felt like Spring to me.

Kurihama is also where you catch the Tokyo Bay Ferry if you are headed over to Chiba and I have wanted to make that trip for awhile. On the other side of the bay is Nokogiriyama (鋸山), where you can find a buddhist temple, some good views and a lot of onsens. Unfortunately, I really did not prepare myself for an overnight trip (i.e. make a reservation to stay somewhere), so I was not sure I would cross over.

I opted to let the ferry schedule decide for me. If I got to the ferry terminal and a boat was waiting, I would go. If not, I would get back on the train and go home. This is a picture of the ferry leaving without me. I arrived at the terminal at 2:28pm - the ferry left at 2:30pm. Oh well. I also added a picture of pristine Kurihama Beach to balance things out. I really hope to make it to Nokogiriyama next time.

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As for an apartment down at the beach...I am still looking.

Posted by Kirk at 09:32 AM | Comments (0)

February 01, 2007

Almost, but not quite

So, the place I had been thinking about buying in Hayama was bought.

Unfortunately, by someone else.

I am a bit disappointed - there were some definite drawbacks (old building, just off the main road, parking), but it was relatively cheap, spacious and almost perfectly located. Looks like it is back to square one - well, maybe square two or three, as I have a better idea of what to expect in the whole process. The agent told me that this might happen, but I really expected it would be available. Arrgghhh.

Anyway, I am going down next week to look at some more.

Also, my sister Terri has booked her ticket to come out and visit at the end of the month. This is really a milestone as I have lived here for over six years and this is the first time someone from the family is making the trip out. Woo

Posted by Kirk at 06:56 PM | Comments (0)