Friday, November 09, 2007

One False Step

Despite speculation that four US Marines suspected of committing a rape in Hiroshima on October 14th might not be charged, it now appears the case will be pursued by prosecutors...

The case of four Marines accused of gang-raping a Japanese woman was handed over to prosecutors Tuesday, Hiroshima Prefecture police announced.

The police recommended the four servicemembers from Marine Corps Air Station Iwakuni be charged with abduction for the purpose of sexual assault, gang-rape and robbery, according to a police press statement.

Japanese prosecutors must now decide whether to indict the Marines on those charges.

The four unidentified Marines, ages 19, 24, 34 and 38, allegedly forced the woman into a vehicle, raped her and stole her money in a Hiroshima neighborhood early on the morning of Oct. 14, police said.

No arrest warrants have been issued, and the men remain confined by the U.S. military in cells at the air station.

"The action today is another step in an ongoing process during which we will continue to fully cooperate with Japanese authorities," said Iwakuni spokesman Master Sgt. John Cordero.

Under the U.S.-Japan Status of Forces Agreement, servicemembers charged with Japanese crimes remain in U.S. military custody until indicted if they are being detained on military property.

However, a "gentlemen’s agreement" was reached to hand over suspects accused of violent crimes after the public outcry caused by the abduction and rape of a 12-year-old Okinawan girl by two Marines and a Navy corpsman in 1995.

Police refused Tuesday to explain why Japanese authorities have not attempted to gain custody of the Marines.

The Yomiuri Shimbun reported Tuesday that authorities chose not to seek arrest warrants but continued on with the investigation because the alleged victim’s memories were vague and the Marines denied committing any crime, saying it was consensual.

Once a suspect is taken into custody, police and prosecutors have 23 days to indict, according to Japanese law.

Police and prosecutors work in tandem in the Japanese legal system, and as cases progress, prosecutors typically take over the lead.

The case was transferred to the prosecutor's office after Japanese authorities questioned the Marines for several days earlier this month.

A command representative and military police were present during the Japanese questioning on Nov. 2, 5 and 6, the air station public affairs office said.

If indicted for the alleged crimes, the Marines face a legal system that is tough for defendants — more than 99 percent of those charged in Japanese courts are convicted, according to the Japanese Federation of Bar Associations.



Source: http://www.estripes.com/article.asp?section=104&article=57609&archive=true

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Wednesday, October 03, 2007

In Japan Next Week



Sake Matsuri (酒まつり)

Dates
October 13th, 11:00-20:00
October 14th, 10:00-17:00

Location
Central park in front of Fuji Grand, Higashi-Hiroshima (東広島)

Price
¥1500 at the door

Access
From Hiroshima, take the JR Sanyo Line east (usually departs from track 4 or 5) for exactly 35 minutes local, 32 minutes rapid to Saijou (西条). Walk straight ahead for 5,6 minutes.

Sake Matsuri Website
My report from last year




Dragon Boat Festival (ドラゴンボートフェスティバル)

Dates
October 13th and 14th

Location
Nejime Town (根占町), Osumi Pennisula

Access
Start swimming. I believe there is only one bus that travels into south Osumi.

Event Website


I am off to America this week for a wedding; make sure Satsuma can survive without me. Tokyo seems to have torn itself apart in my 10-month absence.

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Friday, April 27, 2007

Self-Sponsored Visa


Image courtesy of frangipani


Thanks to William for sending me this link. It contained some of the most comprehensive information I could find on visa self-sponsorship.

Here are some excerpts:

The Initial Requirements Requested

1. Certificate of "Retirement" [a taishoku-shomeisho 退職証明書] from the last company who sponsored your visa
2. Certificate of Employment from your current companies/agencies (jinbun chishiki kokusai gyomu)
3. Payslips [kyuryo-meisaisho 給料明細書] for the past year
4. Tax forms for the past year
5. Invoices [seikyusho 請求書] for any private students you will be paying tax on (i.e. any agency who will be filling in a Certificate of Employment for you)
6. The Department of Immigration three-page "Application for Extension of Period of Stay" form
7. A cover letter explaining that you are looking for a self-sponsored visa.

They told me there would be a 3 - 4 week wait.

Most importantly, I did get an email that same day from another friend who had applied for a self sponsored visa in December. He was granted a full visa and he only handed in copies of his contracts (and nothing else)!

Amazing - it sounded like I actually had a good chance, like it might actually be quite a reasonably easy process. Just as long as you can prove that you are earning at least 250,000 yen, although I also heard from one source that someone who earned only 220,000 yen received a self-sponsored visa last year. Could be just a rumor though.

...

15 days after I put my self-sponsored visa application in, I received my notification postcard back.

I went to the "approval stamp" counter and waited in line for 20 minutes. The woman took out my folder, glanced inside, asked for the 4000 yen stamp (purchased from the convenience store downstairs), gave me ticket number 32 and asked me to sit down and wait for my number to be called.

15 minutes later, 32 came up. The woman handed me my passport, open at the golden, gleaming new approcal stamp, told me to report my changed status at my ward office and then went back to her paperwork.

That was it. Done. Too easy.



Too easy indeed. Although it does sound like the paperwork can be a hassle, there are some important things to note:

1. Apparently the laws or enforcement of the laws surrounding self-sponsorship are somewhat arbitrary; different paperwork is required depending on the office you go to, the person you talk to, the day you arrive. Just bring everything to be safe.

2. One- and three-year visas are available by the self-sponsorship method. Although you are "self-sponsored", your visa still falls into the category of your job type (i.e. you maintain a "Specialist in Humanities/International Services", or "Entertainment", or "Instructor" visa). The only difference is - no employer backing your paperwork.

3. Even the monthly income requirements seem to be up in the air - between ¥200,000-250,000 minimum, depending on any factors.

4. I'm not entirely certain about obtaining a self-sponsored visa prior to a working visa; it may not be a rule that you have to have worked in Japan before sponsoring yourself, but it may give the bureaucracy the leeway to make you jump through a few hoops.


I'll start gathering my paperwork together and let you know how the process goes. Of course, if I find a suitable sponsor before then... mute point. Any advice? Wish me luck.

In Hiroshima Prefecture, there is a hotline available for those with visa-related issues. Call the Hiroshima International Center at 0120-783-806 or 082-541-3888 on Tuesday, Wednesday, Friday, or Saturday from 9:00 AM to 1:00 PM.


Jobs in Japan self-sponsor information
The best story I've read about self-sponsorship
Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Japan - Visa Information
Gaijinpot Forum - visas

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Sunday, April 22, 2007

Hiroshima Plays Catchup

Hiroshima Prefecture has finally had enough sense to install automatic ticket gates in some of the more frequented train stations (i.e. Hiroshima Station (広島駅) itself). When I first arrived, it really did surprise me that a large and touristy city like this wouldn't already be modernized. I had already seen automatic gates in Tokyo (of course), Fukuoka, Osaka, and Sapporo. Even a southern city like Matsuyama is no exception.

Without automatic ticket gates, commuters coming into Hiroshima on the early trains were herded towards three station attendant booths to pass through. It was chaos every time - I swear I saw people just walk through without receiving a second glance from JR. Others flashed commuter passes, which given the split second looks they received, could just as easily been pieces of paper saying "I like chicken".

Naturally, the shinkansen exit at Hiroshima has always had automatic gates; still, security seems relatively lax in Hiroshima Station. The shinkansen fare adjustment windows leave their handicapped security gates open at all times, leading to what I assume might be the same type of bum rush on the local train side.

When you live near a station like this, it's no wonder people start looking for chinks in the armor.

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Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Mitaki Temple



A useful Japanese proverb to throw around

(能ある鷹は爪を隠す)
Nou aru taka wa tsume o kakusu
"A true hawk hides its talons"


If you're seeking another option to view the cherry blossoms or fall foliage in the Hiroshima area, there is a nice Buddhist temple easily accessible from the city. Mitaki is a very rich area, complete with Pagoda, waterfalls, Buddha statues, and a nice mountain climb if you're in the mood. I've been told it's a common field trip for Hiroshima city schools.






The path is well marked as you get closer to the temple





Access
From Hiroshima or Yokogawa Station, take the Kabe Line to Mitaki Station. There should be a map at the entrance to the loading platform. You'll find the path a few minutes walk to the left.

Mitaki Website
GetHiroshima details

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Tuesday, March 27, 2007

In the News

Finishing the Samurai parade on Miyajima last week, I was treated to a sip of sake and an interview with the Sankei Shimbun. For those of you still learning the Nihongo: "shimbun", 新聞, is newspaper. This was printed in their March 22nd, 2007 issue:

参列した米国人の英会話学校講師、ターナーライトさん(24)は「かぶとやよろいを身につけて、強くなったように感じる」と興奮気味。

Very loosely translated, we find:

"In attendance was an American English language school lecturer, Turner Wright (age 24), who felt very excited: 'Wearing the armor made me feel very powerful, very strong.'"

My thanks to Rikai for help with the translation - a great website for looking up the definition to Kanji, if you happen to have the digital text. I realize that my translation wasn't perfect, but it's closer to my original interview.

Get Hiroshima should be posting their own interview about me in their people section relatively soon. Will keep everyone posted.

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Wednesday, March 21, 2007

The nail that sticks out... stays up



Today, March 21st, 2007... a day which will not live in infamy. Although it is a rather astronomical day - the day of the Vernal Equinox.

In Japan, this also happens to be a national holiday. The result? No work, and the chance to march in a Samurai parade in front of Itsukushima (厳島) on Miyajima.




It was a beautiful day for a parade, and a great chance for me to participate. Although I must admit, as the ferry neared the shores of the great island, that the entire "Samurai perception" is one stereotype foreigners have a hard time overcoming about Japan, and I was determined to enjoy this parade just for the fun of it. No more, no less. Let things fall as they might.

An ad on GetHiroshima had alerted me to the idea - ¥10,000 wired from my bank account to the Miyajima Sightseeing Association, and the armor is yours.





Let's go over the procedure, shall we? Just like armor you'd see on a Medieval knight, Samurai armor is equally as complex. A yukata, covered with shin guards, three cloth belts, inner clothing, outer armor, helmet, flag, sword, dagger, sandals (not a chance they had a pair my size), arm coverings.





On this occasion, the most ridiculous part to me was having seven different ladies attempt to make my face look Japanese. If Sean Connery couldn't pull it off, I know I couldn't. It's a good thing the helmet covered most of my eyebrow markings; I looked pretty ridiculous.




Still, there's something to be said for the weight of any armor - it makes you feel stronger, more powerful, and you feel a little emptier once you have to lose it. Whether this is imbedded in my mind because I met my first love while wearing armor, I'll never know, but the world seems more polarized when you start thinking about warrior mentality: love, life, death, honor, virtue, at the hilt of a sword and the blow of a fist.



I didn't attract any more attention than I usually do; the nail that sticks out... and I do stick out as a foreigner. During the parade, people asked if they could have their pictures taken with me; this isn't a far cry from my typical traveling experiences; the armor is not the only thing separating me from having my picture taken by everyone in Japan.

However, this was a good experience. Despite the calls of "Gaijin samurai! Mite! Mite!" (yes, that really happened), I enjoyed showing off for the kodomo; I'll never forget the look of amazement on their faces when I drew my sword and struck a pose... priceless.

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Saturday, March 17, 2007

One step closer...



Fresh off the ferry from Hiroshima, I find myself walking in the Dogo district of Matsuyama. A quaint village with fruit stands, foot onsen, and people adorned in kimono and geta, I find it to be a very relaxing place to spend Sunday morning. However, I'm on a mission. Turning away from the Dogo Onsen and towards an easterly direction, I soon come upon what I believe to be the object of my search.




Without a shred of hesitation in my mind, I walk right up to the attendant's window and ask in Japanese: "Do you have books? I'm looking for Shikoku Henro: Hitori Aruki Dōgyō Ninin."

The woman is flustered to be talking to a foreigner, and after a few ragged attempts, she drags out a man to speak to me in English.

"This is a shrine, not a temple," he explains successfully. Ahhh... baka gaikokujin. I'm a fool.

I had been search for a Buddhist temple along the 88 temple pilgrimage (八十八ヶ所巡り) path in Shikoku. However, due to my own ignorance, I had successfully navigated my way into a common Japanese shrine.

Why a Buddhist temple? In a few weeks time, I will attempt a journey across Tokushima-ken in Shikoku that many Japanese people walk for various reasons: to obtain spiritual enlightenment, to complete a grand adventure, or nothing more than to engage in an alternative vacation. Many travel to the 88 temples in the footsteps of Kōbō Daishi (弘法大師), becoming ohenro (お遍路) pilgrims in the process. You can easily spot pilgrims at all times of the year if you're in Shikoku - they are identifiable by their white clothing (though not all the time) and staffs, symbolizing the spirit of Kōbō Daishi (two travelers walking as one).


Henro traveling to Matsuyama Station, Matsuyama


Consulting a map, I quickly realize my error and begin making my way towards the true Buddhist temple, #51 if you happen to be walking around the island clockwise from Tokushima.

The difference is immediately obvious. This is what I had been searching for. Statues of Buddha. Burning incense. Henro travelers stopping and paying homage.







But as I said, I'm on a mission. I need information, and there's only one place I can get it. Many of the temples along the pilgrimage route are similar to Japanese shrines: low maintenance, unmanned, and a place to say prayers. However, for the Buddhist temples, there are also many places to stay the night, enjoy a meal, shop for necessary ohenro supplies (white robes, staffs, guidebooks, candles, etc). In short, I was hoping that this temple would have one of these stores:



The website Shikoku Henro Trail had recommended the guidebook written by Miyazaki Tateki as a 100% absolute must own and read for those attempting the pilgrimage.



Publisher's website, or call 089-952-3820

This book is the quintessential volume for your quest, containing all the maps you need to walk to each temple, the distance involved, nearby accommodations, etc. ¥2500 and it's yours.

Often in my travels, I am treated with a sense of amusement: "Ooooh! Let's talk to the foreigner!" I'm not really discouraged by such talk; in fact, I find it kind of funny, and am usually able to twist the conversation into something more serious. However, even looking like a confused foreigner with an overpriced camera around his neck, I sensed immediate respect from the ohenro store at Ishiteji (51st temple). I told them in fractured Japanese that I would be attempting to walk the first twenty two temples in Tokushima-ken, and they didn't react with an overblown sense of excitement. Their tone was respectful and serious, and I appreciated that. After a few questions about the guidebook, we parted ways with a series of respectful bows. I must remember to stop by that temple after my journey; I highly recommend it as a starting point as well (technically, you can begin the pilgrimage anywhere; most people start in Tokushima).

What's in my near future? Visiting the Buddhist temple atop Mt. Kōya (高野山) in Wakayama. Traditionally ohenro visit this temple prior to starting the pilgrimage, to ask for blessings from Kōbō Daishi.

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Monday, March 05, 2007

Super Sento in Hiroshima

Following my recent excursion to Beppu to enjoy the specialty onsen, I wanted to find a solution closer to home. The answer?

Yamato No Yu

This super sento is conveniently located between the Mazda (マツダ) and Delta offices, making it a prime target for Japanese businessmen finishing a long day of work.

Although it is not fed by a natural hot spring (as far as I know), this bathhouse is still quite the place to relax - rotenburo (outdoor baths), massage chairs, a full vending machine cafeteria...

This is not the place for tourists. Know your Japanese bathing etiquette, and be prepared to read plenty of kanji. If you just want a quick in-and-out, the bath costs ¥600 (the top left button on the vending machine).

This is not some small old neighborhood sento, but rather a luxurious spa-type sento that is quite the perk for those living in the area. Enjoy.


Location of Yamato No Yu

Take the Sanyo or Kure line east to Mukainada Station (about 7 minutes from Hiroshima)

GetHiroshima Details

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Not Entirely Sure This is Legal...



First, some background:

Hiroshima has seen its share of suspicious behavior from the police in recent months; dance clubs were shut down in violation of a never-enforced dancing permit. Almost all clubs in Hiroshima have dancing, but only one club holds such a permit.

When these raids were conducted, "gaijin bars" and clubs were a particular target. The police often sorted the club patrons into three groups: Japanese, military, and foreigner. The Japanese were "released" immediately, the others often required to stay for questioning.

Barco Raided
Cover Raided
Continuing Story
Barco Videos
Owner's Statement

Being so close to Hiroshima, US military soldiers often come from their base at Iwakuni into the city on Fridays and Saturdays to the less reputable parts of town. I will be the first to admit I find their presence a little intimidating at times:

- They don't speak Japanese or bother to learn the customs
- Often they only come to have one-night stands with whatever member of the feminine persuasion they can find
- Many are agressive when drunk - a foreigner was assaulted this weekend by a member of the military while talking on his keitai to his mother (just standing on the side of the street)

El Barco, an advertised "international bar", was probably most affected by these raids. Its clientele consisting mostly of eastern European girls and US military forces, it was an easily identifiable target for the koban in these raids.

I will be the first to admit I find this area a little seedy, and the military personnel out of control at times; I wonder if this is the case in other areas of Japan supporting a military base like Aomori or Okinawa.

I don't know when it was posted, but I discovered this sign (above) on a club, Sumatra Tiger, adjacent to El Barco.

Approximate location of the club

Wouldn't such a sign demand that all foreigners (at least, "American-looking" foreigners) present their gaijin cards as proof that they are civilians working in Japan, and not affiliated with the US military? And of course, I assume no private club has the right to make such a demand, only the koban or government officials.

I know this is a different situation, but I couldn't help draw some parallels between this situation and the Otaru Onsen Lawsuit. After all, the main reason Yunohana excluded foreigners in Otaru (despite their logic that "we're discriminating against everyone equally"), was the presence of Russian sailors.

Look at the individual, not the group. True, sailors can be unruly, just as soldiers can, but to say it's a case of nationality is pushing the envelope a little far. I'm sure there are members of the US military stationed at Iwakuni who conduct themselves with a little more restraint than their rowdy, uncontrollable counterparts.

I'd like to hear from others regarding this sign. Has anyone had any negative experiences from members of the military stationed in Japan? Do you believe this sign is necessary?

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Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Ondo Ohashi Yasumiyama Marathon

第18回呉音戸大橋休山マラソン

Here's one for the books. I haven't seen a course going straight up a mountain since the Mt. Marathon race in Seward, Alaska.

Mt. Yasumi in Kure city may not be the steepest on record, but you're still ascending 500 meters inside a 7 km course.

Date: May 6th, 2007

Distance 14.5 km
Price ¥2000
Start Time 10:00 AM
Deadline April 10th

Traveling by train from Hiroshima. Take the Kure Line from Hiroshima Station (広島駅) to Kure Station (呉駅). Take the #3 bus from Kure Station until you reach Ondo Lodgeshita. The starting line is a few minutes walk from there, in Sakura no Sato Park.

Registration includes admission to the Ondo Lodge Onsen, a rather popular bathhouse in the Kure area.

Map to Ondo Lodge Onsen
Onsen website

GetHiroshima race details
Runnet registration
Map of Yasumiyama

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Friday, February 09, 2007

Substitutions

You're walking down Hondori Street in Hiroshima in the twilight hours on Sunday. What a long, hard night out. Otsu kare sama des. The trains are departing, but so hungry, so hungry... if you're not interested in early morning ramen, there's an incredible restaurant offering international breakfast food on Hondori.

Anderson Hiroshima

Anderson is probably the closest equivalent of Whole Foods or any other gourmet food store I've found since I arrived in Japan. It's amazing - a variety of breakfast foods including French toast, and a store complete with:

1. A full bakery with western desserts, Japanese desserts, bread sliced to "normal" sizes

2. A winery

3. A fully stocked deli complete with international cheeses, fresh vegetables, an assortment of meat including German sausage, and homemade pasta, Italian style

4. Dinner foods already cooked and ready to go. Just like Whole Foods, you can order by the kilogram, and have a quality meal at home for less than ¥1000


Casino-quality Games

If you're looking for poker chips bigger than the one yen coins, be sure to stop at this small gaming shop next to Parco. It's the best source for table and casino games I've found in Japan - mini craps table, plastic poker cards, clay chips, etc. The owner speaks some English if you get stuck.

Map


If you're living in or traveling to the Kansai area this week, be sure to check out one of Arudou Debito's speeches. His schedule is online.

My Golden Week vacation will most likely be spent in Tokyo, enjoying the day trips and the familiarity of a big city once again. However, I'd love to head to Thailand and Cambodia for a week or two in the future. Angkor Wat must be seen by my eyes before I die; I love archeoastronomy.

I will be dressing as a Samurai purely for entertainment on the island of Miyajima on March 21st. Come to see the parade.

Apparently drinking water in Japan is filled with little to no flouride; although it is perfectly heathly and has a pleasant taste, it doesn't exactly benefit your teeth.

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Thursday, February 01, 2007

Gaijin on Skis (スキー)



Social Experiment
Try going to a popular ski resort in a full ski mask, covered head-to-toe, and wear a thick set of goggles. It may be your one opportunity to pass for Japanese. The only other way is to be born Japanese.


I thought I'd successfully infiltrated the ranks of the Japanese snowboarding class, but my western nose gave me away; at least, I realized it did as I was shooting down the mountain like a rocket and some passerby still yelled "HELLO!" at me. Did he honestly think I had enough time to reply?

Mizuho Highland is one of the most popular ski areas in Hiroshima Prefecture. Although I had heard the powder could be rather bad at this particular resort, I decided to check it out anyway. Luckily, it was snowing all day, so the powder was excellent. Other conclusions about Japanese skiing:

1. In Hiroshima Prefecture, the ski areas are incredibly small, given what I'm used to in the Rocky Mountains. Maybe between 5-15 slopes per mountain.

2. Snowboarding is incredibly popular here. When I visited Mizuho the population was 90% snowboarders.

3. Maybe this was exclusive to Mizuho Highland, but they had lift tickets that could only be attached not to your jacket zipper, but to your shoulder with a plastic strap you could buy for ¥200.

4. Almost everything else is the same. Gondolas, ski lifts, rental places, overpriced food.


If you're traveling from the Hiroshima area to Mizuho Highland, there is a bus (スキーバス) from Hiroshima Station that leaves at 6:50 and 8:45 AM every morning. Be sure to reserve a seat in the nearby JR Chugoku bus ticket office. The bus leaves Mizuho at 5:00 PM and returns to Hiroshima Station by 6:30.

Rental services must be prepared in advance, and JR Chugoku takes care of everything - skis, snowboards, snow pants, heavy jacket, and boots. You can rent the same equipment from a shop on the Highland side (ハイランド) of the mountain, but it's more convenient and cheaper with JR.



Snow Japan Report on Mizuho
Mizuho Highland Homepage
GetHiroshima Information

Interesting side note: apparently "nice try" is some form of Japanese kana. I heard a ski instructor telling his students that very line as they attempted to use a snowboard for the first time.

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Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Samurai Parade

On March 21st, there will be a Samurai parade on the island of Miyajima. Japanese and foreigners alike are allowed to wear Samurai armor on this occasion. If you would like to participate, call Hamada-san at the Miyajima Sightseeing Association. Japanese only - it would be rude to even attempt to engage him in English. Cost - 10,000 yen.

082-944-2011 from 9 AM to 4 PM.

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Monday, January 08, 2007

Around Hiroshima

Teaching you... business schedules
At first glance, it seems like a gift that most eikaiwa in Japan schedule your work days from Tuesday through Saturday, leaving Sunday and Monday off. Despite appearances, however, this is not done to give you a Monday available for normal business hours. Indeed, Monday is the Sunday of Japan, when many businesses are closed. National holidays are frequently on Mondays. A Monday-Friday workweek will give you more three day weekends and flexibility.


Hiroshima Ekiden

On January 21st, teams from all 47 prefectures of Japan (useful fact) will race over a 48 km course. I'm not exactly sure of the criteria for racing, but it's a safe bet you need to be a professional runner. Either way, this should be an interesting spectacle. Come to Hiroshima Peace Park at 12:30 for the start.



GetHiroshima information
Official ekiden site


Miyajima Oyster Festival

It's a shame that the Sapporo Yuki Matsuri and this event are scheduled on the same weekend... I'll be sure to petition the country to ask they be separated next year. Come to the island of the famous floating torii and enjoy eating fresh oysters until you pass out, or take advantage of the aphrodisiac qualities and find a significant other for the evening. February 10th-11th.

GetHiroshima information
Official site


It hasn't started snowing in Hiroshima yet, but the coldest time of the year should begin in February. Cherry blossom season starts in late March, early April. Almost every place in Japan is wonderful during the unofficial national flower season; remember, the best sights are one week after the blossoms start opening, in full bloom. Invest in a decent camera; these flowers don't last too long. My recommendations - the path leading from Saijo to Hiroshima University. Himeiji Castle. Kyoto, at the famous "rock-splitting" cherry blossom.

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Monday, November 06, 2006

Veni Vidi Vici



As fast as Lance Armstrong
... as long as there's not a bike involved. Lance Armstrong made his debut in the New York City Marathon, finishing in two hours, fifty nine minutes, and thirty six seconds. Full story here.


In the meantime, before I endeavor to match Lance's biking record, I'll stick with adventures a little closer to reality. Aki-no-Kofuji, sometimes referred to as Hiroshima's Mt. Fuji (Aki is the old name for Hiroshima), looms over the bay like a giant onigiri was somehow dropped onto one of the neighboring islands. The mountain is located on Ninoshima, one of the smaller islands just south of Hiroshima Port.



To access this island, take the #5 tram from Hiroshima Station, then go to platform #5 at Hiroshima Port. A roundtrip ticket (and you'll need one; you don't want to spend the night on this island) will cost you ¥760.

From Hiroshima
06:30, 07:30, 08:30, 09:30, 11:30, 12:30, 14:00, 15:30, 16:30, 17:30, 18:30, 19:30, 20:30

From Ninoshima
06:00, 07:00, 08:00, 09:00, 10:15, 11:30, 13:00, 14:30, 16:00, 17:00, 18:00, 19:00, 20:00

Other than the mountain, there is little to nothing else on the island. To me, this is a completely different culture - true, I grew up in a landlocked area, so I'm not familiar with life on the east coast. Taking the ferry to Staten Island, going to a private residence off the coast of Boston... people do this kind of thing regularly. Japan even more so. All these small islands in the Hiroshima area are inhabited by people who commute to the city daily. Even on an island like Miyajima, there are schools, homes, restaurants, public facilities, etc. Ferries capable of carrying hundreds of people and their cars (well, a dozen cars) are quite common.

This is the environment you're walking into once you disembark at Ninoshima Port. It's a small town, connected only by one small boat. Yet there are children playing in the streets, women walking to the store, old men greeting me as they fish... very nice, and very rustic.

To get a nice overview of this area, follow the signs. Take a left as you leave the dock, and you'll run right into a marker like this one:



It's a straight shot from that point on. I should point out once you're starting to clear the town, and the path forks for the first time just past a garden, it seems like the best choice would be right, as the northern path is overgrown and unclear. Yet you should go left - it clears up in about fifteen minutes. Just wear long pants, and watch out for kumo (spiders). They will try to eat you.

Once you do reach the top in about an hour, you get a nice view of Hiroshima and the surrounding islands:





I'd really recommend a night viewing on Aki-no-Kofuji, as the lights of Hiroshima would be incredible from this location. But... it's not the best trail to attempt in the dark, ascending or descending. You could bring a flashlight for the descent, just be careful. You are really cut off from civilization, and the last ferry to Hiroshima leaves at 8 PM.

The Miyajima race is a go thanks to some ingenuity on my part. Come out and join me on November 26th when the autumnal leaves are at their brightest.

Here it is, your moment of literary confusion:

Twas brillig, and the slithy toves
Did gyre and gimble in the wabe;
All mimsy were the borogoves,
And the mome raths outgrabe.

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Wednesday, November 01, 2006

My Corner of the World This Week

North Korea has agreed to six-party talks regarding its recent inclusion into the nuclear club. In this blogger's opinion, China had a great deal of influence on the DPRK. North Korea may not have yielded to their political pressure in response to the first test; the temptation to possess such weapons was clearly too great for anyone to dictate terms to Pyongyang. But now, facing addtional economic and China-backed UN sanctions, we are beginning to see some signs of waning.


Apparently all names of the entrants to the Hiroshima Peace Marathon were published in the newspaper. I may be wrong, but I think I'm the only foreigner running this year (or at least one of the few).


The deadline for the Miyajima Cross Country race is Monday, November 6th. You can register online or through the mail. As of yet I haven't found the proper mailing address. This 10K should prove to be a beautiful autumn run.

GetHiroshima Details


The Hiroshima International Peace Summit 2006 is now underway in our fair city of peace. Such a gathering has even brought the Dalai Lama into Japan to speak.


I have finally discovered the name of the law that is effectively shutting down the nightlife in Hiroshima: the Public Morals Law. This law requires that all clubs do not allow concurrent drinking and dancing between 1:00 and 5:00 AM.

Nightlife in Tokyo
GetHiroshima Information
Japan Times Article


Me? Trying to memorize the lyrics to "Music of the Night" for a girl, keeping up my Japanese studies, and searching for pictures from the weekend Halloween bash. A friendly acquaintance of mine is leaving Hiroshima this week to return to the old country. I need to get out more. Later.

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Monday, October 09, 2006

Sake Festival 2006 (酒まつり)



A great series that shouldn't have ended...

"I want you to look me in the eye and promise you won't get behind the wheel without some kind of alcoholic beverage in your hand."

"I promise nothing!"



And speaking of... the 2006 Sake Matsuri kicked off this weekend in the small community of Saijo, home of the University of Hiroshima and... well, nothing else. This suburban setting, while usually vacant, found itself flooded with 100,000+ foreigners and Japanese alike. A mere five minute walk from Saijo Station, pedestrians could enjoy the crowded streets, filled with promiscuous Japanese girls and assorted salted meats on a stick.



Although most foreigners who make the trip to Higashi-Hiroshima for this event spend the entirety of their day in the sake park, people tend to forget that this is no different from any other Japanese festival - children are common, food is everywhere, live music, good conversation, and big crowds.










Although there is plenty of PG-rated entertainment, the real action occurs in the sake park, a breeding ground for shots, drunken behavior, and accidental collisions. If you've never been to the sake festival, here's how it works:

1. Buy a ticket either ahead of time from a department store for ¥1000, or pay ¥1500 at the gate.

2. Enter the gate. You are given a guide with every single type of sake offered in the park - there are hundreds to choose from - and a single, small sake cup. This cup is your lifeline. You cannot drink without it, and it can't be replaced without another ticket.

3. There is food and drink inside the sake grounds, but the booths don't accept cash. Now, you have amusement park rules - you have to buy vouchers for anything that's not sake in ¥100 increments.

4. There are booths scattered around the park, each with about 8-10 lines of people clammering to taste the different varieties of sake. You can have as many refills as you want, but they will only fill your small sake matsuri cup.

5. Enjoy the random conversations as you both catch up with your old friends and feel the unity between foreigners you don't know and yourself. Some Japanese people will take you by the arm and offer to get your sake cup filled. Others will look at you shamefully. Others are too friendly, walking right up to you and slapping you on the shoulder. Maybe they'll be saying "drink with me!"

6. Once you leave you cannot re-enter. I don't think this has ever been a problem, as I didn't see anyone leave until they were kicked out.



Since I've never been to Tokyo (incidentially, some guys did come in from Tokyo just for this), this was the largest gathering of foreigners I've seen since I arrived. I forgot what it was like to not have to worry about finding someone who speaks English.


You May Say I'm a Dreamer

I know I've mentioned before that I understood the role of alcohol in Japanese society - it's more sociably acceptable; in fact, it implies a great deal of information about your social status. But... sometimes I really just feel pity for those people who drink themselves to a drunken stupor. Maybe it's just because I'm in Japan, and I don't really want the stereotype of the drunk, loud, obnoxious America to proliferate.

I've got nothing against having a few drinks, enjoying time with your fellow man, and feeling your ambitions lower themselves with the effects of alcohol. I freely admit I did not understand this in high school, but I'm starting to take a more liberal stance. Even considering that, I don't see the point of some people drinking themselves to the point where they can't walk upright, start yelling for no reason, throw up, and have to be dragged home by the collar.

Call me whatever you like - loser, downer, whatever - but that's really how I feel. I still go out with friends and have fun because that's a social thing to do. But imbibing so much that you can't even stand up straight... well, maybe if it were because a girl wanted you to... we're all slaves to passion. Still, I can't ignore some of the drunken activities from both Japanese and foreigner alike this weekend - one trashed the checkout line at Fuji Grand, another hit a sweet girl square in the nose with a football (she later rebounded and had a swordfight with a kid - see below), while others just grabbed trees and bushes in an effort not to fall down.



Sake Festival website

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Tuesday, October 03, 2006

Breaches are Sealing, Ties Being Severed...



Book of Little Known Facts

There are 192 countries in the world, but very few people realize there are two countries that speak Japanese natively: Japan... and Tokyo. Yes, Tokyo is so different from the rest of Japan I would actually petition them to sever that "city" from the coast and form a sovereign nation. Then Tokyo could be the "Texas" of Japan. What's the Japanese for "hook 'em horns?"


The music of the night is the gift I give to you... and yet, I bet no one bothered to tell this to the dark lords controlling the future of Hiroshima. If you're planning a trip to this city to enjoy the nightlife - don't bother. The club scene in Nagarekawa and the outlining districts are effectively shut down, especially if you're looking for friendly places. All the work Hiroshima club owners have done to bring foreigners and fun young Japanese people into the area is coming crashing down in one fail swoop.

How did this happen? Well, the beginning...

You're sitting in a club not far from the main shopping district of Hiroshima. The night is still young, and many people are abound, socializing, dancing, singing, drinking... Suddenly dozens of police officers enter the club and start segregrating everyone: Japanese people, military personnel, and other gaijin (seems like appropriate language for this description). Japanese citizens are free to go without so much as a word, but foreigners are detained, questioned, their IDs' checked.

Videos of raid

That was four months ago - May 14th, 2006. The owner of said club, El Barco, was held for a number of days before finally being released. And WHY??? Because apparently the club did not have a permit for dancing. Now, if this were a mere legal technicality, one which the Hiroshima PD felt they had to address immediately before the system became too lax, I could begin to understand it.

And yet this is not what happened - one bar in the Hiroshima area has all the required permits to operate a drinking establishment and allow dancing. One. None of the others, including El Barco, are able to get this permit due to bureaucratic difficulties. Since their openings, all clubs have been operating without this permit, on the understanding that they bring business to the city, life to the area, and comfort to the people. Let's face it, there is no city in Japan without a nightlife district. Just look - they're there somewhere.

Now I know it is breaking the law (an unenforced law, mind you, but still) but this policy on cracking down on thriving businesses seems to be well... stupid. You might as well force all military and civilian police to shut down all the pachinko parlors in the country, on the grounds that they are gambling establishment (which they are, loophole or not). There is no difference between that and these clubs - both are businesses, "dirty" but necessary, which operate slightly outside the law, but bring business and unity.

Even if you don't accept this explanation, there's still something very suspicious about segregating the crowd at the club - what difference does it make who is at the club if it's being shut down? Why isolate the foreigners? Or the military men, exclusively? Oh, wait, do you identify the foreigner as the source of all things evil in Japan? Hmmm... must be, otherwise, that would just be plain racist. Operating under the guise of "looking for illegal aliens" is rather shallow.

Since May, it's been a series of sporadic closings in the nightlife area. One club raided, another shut down, others closing to avoid trouble... just last weekend I heard that Chinatown, one of the largest DJ clubs in the area, was given the same treatment. It's all coming to an end - not as many people are coming out, not as many clubs are opening, and soon there won't be anything left. Congratulations, Hiroshima government. You have successfully driven away the foreign menace from your shores. You can rest easy knowing that your own people are also less likely to partake in your fine drinking establishments. To quote, "mission accomplished."

GetHiroshima story
Interview with El Barco owner
Dirty club raided
Cover raided

I don't know what to tell you - if you go downtown, you'll be supporting those owners in their time of need, but on the other hand, you might have to go through the raid experience if the police decide to stop by again. Either way, it's not exactly the fun evening downtown it used to be.



Some fellow blogger did point out something to me about my entries - they rarely include other people. I hadn't really noticed that until he mentioned it. Well... I suppose that's true. I could tell you I'm still new to Japan, and haven't met too many people, Japanese or otherwise. I could say that. Or I suppose the language barrier might be a good excuse. The truth is I'm just lazy about meeting friends - I don't go looking for them. If I meet someone, I meet someone. If not, that's fine too, just takes time. That's usually my policy with girls too. As such, don't know too many people in this country of ours.

I tend to move at my own pace - in more ways than one. I know about local running groups. As much as I'd love to run with them, I know I'm faster, and that I'd be uncomfortable going so slow. Same with my lifestyle. I go at the pace I want. I'm doing adventure trips to Onomichi, Fuji, Tokyo - will anyone come? If someone can keep up, fine. I'll even slow down for the right people, but usually, you gotta run with me. Hey, good analogy given my blog title. Well, it's not exactly the most social way to live, but it's all I know. It's how I fell in love, it's how I met my best friends back home. Tempus fugit.

But hey, I've got nothing against correspondence - be happy to answer anyone's questions about Japan, will accept invitations for an adventure trip, and would enjoy the occasional running partner. Even if you're a random guy in Canada or South Africa, no problem. And if there's a wonderful girl out there... well, so much the better for both of us. Heh.

I will get you heroes those useful Kanji for Japanese paperwork soon. Your homework for tonight - renounce homework, renounce exams, and stay away from boring early-morning classes. But if you're in the mood, read The Giver again... it's a good thinking book. Useful Japanese for today:

Nani? What?
Itsu? When?
Naze? Why?

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Saturday, September 23, 2006

Running and Burning



Appreciate a Good Burn

"I know you have redeeming qualities. For example, when you're on television you let others shine, while you, generously, absorb all light and oxygen. When you leave an area it stops raining. And I know in the past I referred to you as a 'douche bag'... I only said those things because I honestly think you're a horrible person!"
- Jon Stewart


That was a good burn. And speaking of burn, I saw the most curious event on GetHiroshima - an organized gathering to walk across hot coals in front of Daishoin Temple on Miyajima Island. Now, I know some people call long distance runners masochists... and yeah, we really are to an extent. I mean, who in their right mind runs 42.195 kilometers? That's just insane. But I don't think myself or my kind have quite reached the stage of strolling across a field of burning cinders to "pray for protection from illness and disaster" - seems like the best way to avoid illness and disaster would be to not walk on hot coals. But GetHiroshima did site one of my favorite tenuous quotes: "If your heart is pure..." Anyway, I digress.

One story - making my header graphic a reality, that is running across Miyajima island with the sun on your face and the wind in your hair, flaunting your skills for the world to see. The Hiroshima Seniors Running Club has planned a 10 km cross country race on this famous island scheduled for November 26th (a Sunday). This is the time best known for cool weather, the leaves in their full autumn colors.



Race website
Details from GetHiroshima
Runnet


Random factoids for today

If you're looking for other outdoor activities, I've noticed many Japanese people using jet skis in the inlets surrounding Peace Park - I still have yet to find where they rent them, but using a jet ski in Hiroshima bay or anywhere along the coast would be excellent.

Note to Hiroshima-based foreigners: the best English store in the city is on the 10th floor of Fukuya shopping mall, the one right next to Hiroshima Station. But it is more expensive that Sogo.

"Seriously, how often do you look at a man's shoes?" I'm finding a difficult enough time to find anything over a size ten, even in Hiroshima. Curse my big feet. Also should be noted the practicality of shoes - I see many Japanese businessmen in full suits wearing loose, dirty, tennis shoes, because chances are they'll need to slip them off when entering a professional environment and don slippers. Don't be concerned with fashion, just find something you can slip on/off easily.

Onigiri (rice balls) come stuffed with salmon, seaweed, fruit, and Japanese plums - the Japanese actually dye their plums with a ton of red food coloring. If you've ever had an onigiri that looked like it was bleeding, now you know why.


Coming soon - Japanese business practices: why some people couldn't stop being condescending to foreigners if they tried. Unless I oversleep or eat some bad spinach, I'll being taking the JR to Onomichi, biking to Imabari, and catching the express to Matsuyama... ahhh... the Dogo Onsen awaits...

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