Wednesday, February 28, 2007


People that know me, know that I have always been a big movie fan, so I always enjoy to watch the Oscars every year.

Tonight I got around to finally watching the end of the Oscars from this year. It wasn't the best one this year, though. I wasn't sure I would like Ellen as host, but she actually was mildly funny- I guess I just don't like when she does that dancing bit on her talk show. Last year I thought was much funnier with the always funny John Stewart hosting.

A couple of natural funny laughs in the show. I had the biggest chuckle near the end of the show when Francis Ford Coppola, Steven Speilberg and George Lucas came out to present the Best Director award. They started talking about how great it feels to win the Oscar when Lucas reminded the other two that he has never won anything. It was a good laugh- of course I am sure Lucas' confidence is safe- he is pretty much a billionaire between the money made from Star Wars, THX and ILM.

Another funny moment when Robert Downey Jr, who is well known for having a drug problem in the 90's was introducing the special effects award and said “Visual effects: they enable us to see aliens, experience other universes, move in slow motion, or watch spiders climbing high above the city landscape. For me, just a typical weeknight in the mid-’90s.” (thanks to MSNBC website for the quick copy and paste here).

Ritsy and I watched American Idol a few years back when Jennifer Hudson was a contestant. We really felt that she was a pretty good singer and got a bad rap from Simon and the other guy (oops can't remember his name). It's amazing to see her win first the Golden Globe and then the Oscar this year, she was all class too- she never once called out Simon for his rude comments. To be honest though, when they performed she was seriously out-performed by Beyonce- and you know I don't like that type of music so that says a lot.

Final thought from the show was Peter O'Toole. He is about 75 years old now- but he has had an incredibly long and amazing career- most memorable for Lawrence of Arabia. Well he was nominated for the 8th time and was passed over again, the poor guy was shown on camera and you could see he was totally nervous before they read the name and it took a moment for him to realize that it wasn't his name they called. I hope Forest Whitaker's performance was something special- I would have been okay with a sentimental nod in that category.

It was good to see the Departed win the big award too- Scorsese has made so many memorable moves, this one will stand up with the others.

Sunday, February 25, 2007

Hanging Out

I fell like today was mostly wasted hanging out in the quiet of my home for most of the day, but some things got done and in the end it was a pretty mild paced day off, perfect for relaxing.

We had to wait for two deliveries today, one came in the morning- we had AC installed in the extra room- something that we had meant to do for a while and we had managed to budget for it now with hosting my family in a month and a half. The man came to install at about 10 o'clock and was finished at about noon. I still had to hang at home to wait for another delivery. I actually didn't think we needed to buy one, but Ritsy wanted to buy an upgrade on our old dining room table- so we had found one that I kind of liked that wasn't too expensive at Nitori. Heck, I like buying things- so it wasn't a hard sell for her, anyway that new dining room table arrived today at 3:30. I just hope we use it more than the old one- we were pretty much just eating in front of the TV everyday.

With the deliveries out of the way, I had to give Ritsy some time to sleep as she had worked the graveyard shift the night before and had to keep waking up to help with the deliveries. Finally at 5 pm she woke up and we went to pick up my car. They had finally fixed her and she looked beautiful with the new bumper, to help my special lady (my car, not the wife) feel even nicer I splurged and bought her an oil change. It is nice to have the car back again- even though my loaner was also a Vitz it just didn't feel exactly the same to drive.

Now with my car back we decided to have some food. We are pretty excited that they are opening a Denny's not too far away in Hamamatsu and we swung by to see if it is open yet, but not until Wednesday. By the way- Denny's is a bit different here in Japan than back home- in Canada we get a lot of sandwhiches and burgers on the menu (my all time favorite name- Moons Over My Hammy - is not available here)- here you can have pasta, Japanese style food and only features two sandwiches! So we decided to go to a pretty nice little Italian restaurant called Capellini which is located across from the Hamakita drivers license center. I think the food is nice and their antipasto layout is nice but it is pricey and I find the menu to be a little confusing ( it is comprised of about 209 pieces of paper). It was a nice dinner and we were stuffed afterwards!

Tomorrow should also be productive. I have an early class (oops I have to hit the hay!) then I will probably have a quick nap then we need to go and do some banking and I can finally pick up my new Spousal Visa. I don't look forward to going in there after we had complained (to a number of offices) I feel there may be some averted gazes and some insincere butt-kissing, I would be happy if I could just slip in and then out again...

That's Japan! (Issue 2)

Welcome back to America's favorite sporadically released issue of That's Japan! This week we will explore a now defunct trend, a red train, music blaring out everywhere, gift buying and Fashion accidents in everyone's favorite wacky destination!1. Morning Bell

This may only be strange for me, but in Japan there is a very large scale public address system that is transmitted over loudspeakers. These things are placed Everywhere! I think the thing that makes it sound creepy to me is that I can't understand what the heck they are saying when they are making an announcement. It makes me feel like I am in wartime and they are informing us of the latest bombings- it could be because the only time I have heard loudspeakers in Canada is when they are testing out the Air-raid sirens. The truth of the matter is that the bulletins are usually for good purposes like if someone's grandmother has gone wandering or if there is an accident locally ( don't laugh families traditionally live with their grandparents, so when they get old and more senile they can easily wander off). Everyday at 7:30 am, noon, and 5:00 pm they always play a different song. Ritsy wasn't sure what the name of the morning song is, the afternoon song used to be different but it has been changed to chimes like Big Ben might make and the evening song is a contemporary Children's song- which I think is called Yuyake Koyake (though Ritsy thought it was Toki Yamani hiwa ochi de- web search shows no results). This website has a midi sample, thought I don't think it sounds as cool....

2. Me-do Kissa (maid coffee shop)

In Japan there is a large 'otaku' or 'geek' culture as we would probably call it. As manga, or Japanese comic books, are largely successful, the often oddly dressed and enigmatic characters are popular to emulate. So a trend of coffee houses having waitresses geared in showy maid uniforms was quite big for a number of years. Unfortunately, this strange and somewhat fetishy trend has fizzled in recent years.

3. Aka-Den

As I wanted to focus on at least one thing uniquely Hamamatsu- I will talk about the only form of mass transportation worth talking about to us in North Hamamatsu- the red train (or aka den). Of course, Aka- den is the nickname for the train- the train company is actually called Enshu Tetsudo or Entetsu for short. It basically runs on a 90 degree angle from the JR line heading north running about 16 kilometers. That's it. If you don't have a vehicle- you are stuck taking the bus, which for no logical reason is much more expensive than the train. It does run pretty often- every 12 minutes, but the last train runs at about 11:40- so if I get stuck in city center after that, it's a 4000 yen cab ride to where I live. I have done it a few times! Another seeming oversight is that, while Hamamatsu has the world HQ's for some large companies; like Yamaha Music, Honda Motorcycles and Roland, the train only services one of the companies. Oh I said this was the only train worth mentioning, there is one more that runs north of Hamanako called the TenHama line. The train is more geared as a sight-seeing train and only runs once an hour. I had to take the train for a couple of my classes last year, believe me you don't want to be late for your train when taking that one! I don't know if this will work but last year, I had put up some pictures of me waiting for the TenHama in Morimachi- if it works you should be able to click here.

4. Omiyage

Going on a trip to Kyoto? Better not come home empty handed. Well, it's not actually a prerequisite, but one of the fun traditions of Japan is bringing back some sort of edible souvenirs from your destinations for your students or colleagues. As you will learn from this fantastic blog, pretty much everywhere in Japan has some sort of famous food, so people will usually bring back a little snack (usually bought at the train station) for everyone to enjoy. A good example that I mentioned before is Unagi pie- which I brought to my friends in the Nagoya Office for Time/Life the company that I work for- as unagi is the big gift from Hamamatsu.
5. Yamaba

I actually thought they were called 'garu' but this website really clarifies things, there are many categories of this (IMHO) horrible fashion. The basic idea is that some young girls love to paint their faces with large amounts of make-up (to the point they look like a clown) and suntan almost daily and bleach their hair blond to disfigure their appearance and look, well just strange. Hey, to each his/her own- don't get me wrong-- it's just something you will only see in Japan.I haven't seen too much of this trend in Hamamatsu but it will be a common sight in the larger cities.

That's this entry of That's Japan! Tune in next time as we dig deeper into the culture and uniqueness of this beautiful country!

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Whistler remembered

I was trying to remember exactly how long I lived in Whistler and I realized that it must have been about 3-4 years in total. What a beautiful place to live - a popular, bustling, beautiful ski resort only about a 1.5 hour drive from Vancouver! The winters are just amazing especially on fresh powder days, and the view is amazing. The lifestyle was very fun, but it does get a little wearing, there is a lot of partying involved- I think it is the first time a lot of people leave home and end up going just nuts- much like going to college! Another great thing about Whistler of course is that it is where Ritsy and I met!

In this picture, Ritsy would be standing about 100 meters away from the doors to the Brewhouse, the restaurant we worked together at. Unfortunatel it won't be in this picture, it would be behind the photographer. It was a pretty crazy place to work, the winters would get downright busy with the huge seating capacity and the fact that it doubled as a pub and a restaurant.
This is a picture from one of the staff parties, with some of our ex-coworkers, Kayo, Emi, Marie-Lou, Eddie (Ritsy in the background) and our chef Clarke (he is the big man in the picture) he looks pretty scary, but he really was a great guy to work for!
On top of those fun times, there was apparently a bit of snowboarding to do up there. The view was just amazing, I sometimes loved sitting on the ski slope and resting and enjoying it.
It was an amazing place to live and holds some great memories, but there definitely came a time to leave. Of course, I didn't stop adventuring I simply moved on to Japan from there! I hope to get back there when the Olympics are on in 2010, it should be a blast!

A part of the drive to Whistler (I think it's Britannia Beach)

Assorted ramblings

The full moon shines over the Miyakoda area of Hamamatsu
Sorry, it's been a few days since posting, I will make 2 posts today...

1. Driving
It can be pretty scary driving around in this country at times. I am not saying that just because I had the accident a couple of weeks ago, I have actually thought so for quite a while. The first thing I have been noticing is that even though it is illegal to drive and talk on your cell phone, an alarming number of people are still driving with their keitai jammed up against their faces. In North America, without the law, we have seen a gravitation towards 'hands-free' kits- such as an earpiece and microphone for those worried about radiation or bluetooth devices for those just looking to free their hands. For the most part someone talking on their cell phone doesn't scare me, but some of the roads are quite a bit narrower than back home and at those times I think drivers need the ability to maneuver a little bit more than on a wider road. Just today, I passed by a guy driving a large dump truck at about 60 km/hour on a rather narrow road yammering away on his cell phone like there is no tomorrow. Freaks me out. I see at least a half dozen people each day on their 'keitais' in their cars, and I hope they crack down on this a bit more. Also of note, GPS (or Navi as they say here) devices are quite widespread with TV and DVD capabilities- I remember being on a bus on the highway one day and looking to my left to see a guy driving his truck and staring at the TV screen. Hello! You are Driving! It's also pretty common on the morning commute to see people reading and driving at the same time (quite literally- book open behind the steering wheel). If these people want to endanger their own lives, that is fine, but they endanger mine too- that is crossing the line!

2. Hamamatsu loves gyoza
In my class yesterday, my student told us that Hamamatsu eats more gyoza then any other city ( I guess that is on a per household basis). We sure do love our gyoza here! I know I do... My class picked their favorite gyoza in Hamamatsu:
- Fukuraiken -- located near Nishikajima station, they make only gyoza and apparently cook it very uniquely, so you can only eat it cooked at the restaurant. Apparently you can bring your own rice to eat- as they don't even make that.
- Maruwa -- is a store actually but apparently they make some great gyoza which you can buy either cooked or raw.
*Sorry I can't find a link for either just now!
Tojimbo picture borrowed from here
3. Fukui
I also learned about Fukui prefecture and Tojimbo yesterday from the same class. Fukui is about 5 hours to the north of Hamamatsu and there is a great fishing community there so you can enjoy fresh crab (which I would travel 5 hours for!). I also heard of the place called Tojimbo that has a dubious reputation as a popular place to commit suicide. According to the wikipedia, the area is also haunted by an old Buddhist priest. Looks like a beautiful place I would like to check it out sometime.

Sunday, February 18, 2007

Hina Matsuri

My Student Miyoko's hina display
March 3rd is a Japanese tradition known as the doll festival (hina matsuri). This website says that girl's day is no longer celebrated, but I had thought they were both celebrated together. My impression is that the day is to celebrate the families' daughters life and wish for good luck and happiness, as this website suggests. The truth must lie somewhere between the two websites. It is traditional to drink a sweet immature (meaing it is not alcohalic) sake called amazake, and eating chirashi sushi. The dolls are layed out in 7 layers, the dolls at the top are of the highest caste (meaning the Emperor) and each level down represents a class lower. An interesting superstition is that if the display is not taken down on the 4th of March the daughter of the family will never get married! Makes me think back to my youth when we would leave our Christmas tree up well into February.

Last year, my student Miyoko showed me her display after our class one day, that is the picture at the top. Today in my private lesson my students Kazuo and Atsuko showed me their display;

Sorry the pictures are so small, I took them with my phone! I understand this tradition is becoming less commonly followed in Japan, and it's a shame- it's these little culture points that make living here so unique and interesting!
My students also had this old figurine of a geisha that I thought was quite interesting;

Oh- off topic, there was a helpful comment in one of my old topics about a shrine that I checked out near my home one day! Thanks a lot to Josh for the great link and the interesting tofu drink link!

Friday, February 16, 2007

The Miracle of Tofu

One of the great things I have really discovered with trying to save money and lose a bit of weight over the last year is the versatility of tofu! A serving of tofu (when using budget priced tofu from the local store) is about 33.333333333 yen each and anything you serve it with is quite delicious!

Today the fridge was pretty barren so I took the tofu and sliced it up and microwaved it for a few seconds to warm up. I then sliced up a quarter of an avocado and put it on top, then topped it with some salsa and sour cream. Microwaved for a few more seconds and it was pretty darned good!

I often take a serving of tofu and chop it up and throw it in a frying pan, when the tofu starts to brown a bit, I will throw in some kimchee and some kimchee sauce. Serve it alone or with some rice it is simple to cook and just great to eat!

Tofu topped with just teriyaki sauce is great too! ( I pre-made a big batch of teriyaki sauce like we used to make at the brewhouse, so it takes no time to throw this one together)

It is quite popular to eat tofu simply served with some grated ginger and soy sauce, though I haven't had it like that in quite a while.

Tofu is also a good compliment for any leftover sauces you might have- I personally like slapping leftover meat sauce with tofu. While this was definitely invented out of the height of laziness, it actually is quite good and I often consider it even when not feeling lazy.

I also have been a big fan of Mabo Dofu since the first time I came to Japan (never had it in Vancouver, Chinese food is just different there).

I guess this whole revelation is more exciting for me because before meeting Ritsy, I never ate the stuff. I thought it was bland and not worth the time to explore. It has now turned into a staple of my everyday life!

Ya, I know I have lost my mind, but as Tofu is a big part of Japanese food, I will count this as part of Japanese life.

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

That's Japan! (Issue 1)

In today's issue of That's Japan! We will explore the exciting world of the things that make Japan unique and a couple of instances of what makes Hamamatsu unique.

1. Unagi
When you travel around Japan, or talk to the Japanese about travelling you learn that one of the great identities of a region is often what food is famous from there. In Hamamatsu the big popular dish is broiled freshwater eel- also known as Unagi. Probably the most popular way to eat it is Unajuu- Unagi broiled and slathered with sweet barbecue sauce served over a bed of rice. Sometimes we will eat it broiled without the sauce with soy sauce and fresh grated garlic, it is actually quite delicious (and healthy!).
You can also find Unagi Pie- which doesn't look like pie at all , it looks like little cookies and tastes like sugar cookies. The little unagi pies are supposed to be very good to improve fertility and... relations.... I am so happy I ended up here since I love Unagi, it would have been a nightmare to end up in Ibaraki where natto comes from.

2. Enshu Kara Kaze
It doesn't usually hit me so much living a bit north in Hamamatsu, but the region in infamous for it's windy conditions. Quite logically too, as this area is quite close to the ocean. Enshu is the old name for this region, it was Enshu province a very long time ago. Kara Kaze translates to dry wind. If you are in the southern area on a dry windy day, it can bite!
3. Some websites about Japan
I would love to go on about the crazy signs(or shirts) we often see written in bad English, or the interesting commercials featuring North American celebrities, but there are already two excellent sites that I can point you to that have been around for a long time! Both Japander and Engrish have been quite popular for a while and have been a constant source of amusement! If you haven't checked them out, please do!
4. Chikan
I find most of my experiences in Japan have been positive and leave me with a great respect for the people of Japan. But some things make me sick to my stomach and one of them is chikans. Ladies, if you take a train or subway in Japan, especially a crowded city like Osaka, Tokyo or Nagoya- you may find yourself being groped by a stranger. I have never seen a profile of who the culprits are, but I tend to think it is usually older men- but I remember an incident where a group of college students surrounded a girl on a train in Tokyo to touch her. It is sick and cowardly, I was always trying to catch someone in the act when I lived in Tokyo but to no avail. Recently the trains in the bigger cities have a "Women only" train to give safe haven from the perverts.
5. Karaoke
Out for a night with your friends and missed the last train at 12:45? No sweat! Sing the evening away at a big box karaoke place! I hear that karaoke isn't as popular as it was 10 years ago, but it is still prevalent here and I have even partaken in it myself from time to time! While I heard it is a way to wait out the night for some, it is also a destination as the main event for a night out sometimes. It is surprisingly addicting and fun, try it!

That concludes this installment of That's Japan! Tune in next time as we explore the world of me-do kissas, the red train, music to wake up to and more!

Monday, February 12, 2007

Movie day

My secret weapon, Arec Barwin
The wife and I hooked up with my sister-in-law to watch the movie The Departed at the theater this afternoon. Yep, that is how far behind the North American movie scene we are here, I think this movie was out 3-5 months ago back in Canada!

I really enjoyed the movie. I think it is Scorsese at his best. His best is not easy to stomach for everyone - it is usually very violent and there will be some scenes that are tough to watch. But the pace is always quick, the characters are usually well defined and he shows his love for classic films with scene-setting camera tricks and a great attention to detail. I'd have to say that DiCaprio, Nicholson and Wahlberg all gave performances that will stick out in my mind. I especially liked Mark Wahlberg's character who was always abrasive but so much so that I couldn't help laughing at every one-liner he spat out. Matt Damon was also good but I don't know if his performance stands out above the one he gave in "Good Will Hunting". Chase from 24 was also alright, though not spectacular, he didn't seem so out of place with the great performances going on around him. I also was impressed on the story twist, instead of a Cat and Mouse chase to find the rat, it was a mouse and mouse chess match, as the Police Rat tries to sniff out the mafia rat. Unfortunately the wife and her sister didn't like it as much, could have something to do with the negative outcome for some of the likable characters in the movie.

Speaking of 24- I guess Scott and Benita are mourning the loss of Curtis in the early part of the season. I hope you are still watching!

Feeling a little springy

It's only February 2nd today ( a National Holiday by the way- Commemoration of the Founding of the Nation Day) and it still is a bit chilly outside, but the day times are starting to look and feel like spring already. The ume (or plum) trees are already starting to blossom all over the place. The two shown above were just a 50 meter walk from my home. So is this one.

Nice to have two day weekends again. I really wore myself out last year working so much. I can now take some 'me' time every week, it has a total different feeling. I was in danger of spiraling into a lazy "do nothing" kind of day yesterday so I willed myself to pick up the phone and touch base with Chris. We ended up going and getting some more basketball in for a couple of hours. The same guys we played with last week were there again, pretty funny and nice guys. I don't think I sunk a single hoop but I was stunning them with my cheeky passes. Chris, recognizing the threat that I posed to his team tricked me into jumping up to blocking him and dug his knee into my leg giving me a Charley Horse. Cunning ploy. Another member of the team charged me with his head down and landed his head square on my cheek. Luckily, I am a pretty sturdy Canadian guy!

Ritsy and I were talking about what we might do when my Aunt and Mom are here. She is thinking of going down to Okinawa for a couple of days. I have never been there and always wanted to, so I hope we can do it- but I don't want to create a huge expense for my mom and Aunt so will probably end up eating a lot of the travel and stay costs for them if we do that- so the price needs to be right! Does anyone that lives in Japan have any other suggestions? It seems they have a tour package that already includes Tokyo, Nara and Kyoto...

Sunday, February 11, 2007


A dubious first for me this week. My first car accident. It was basically incidental and there was no injury to me and the car runs without any major repair work. But as it was my first accident, and I had to deal with the accident process in a foreign country with a still weak command of Japanese, it was still pretty stressful.

I was lucky in the fact that the guy was young and really nice. He was so extremely helpful when we had the accident, he not only called in and reported it, but he also didn't take advantage of my language handicap and he honestly reported the accident and seems to have accepted full responsibility.

Basically, we were driving on a steep winding hill and as I entered into a sharp turn, I saw a large truck that I thought was stopping. Feeling safe I entered into the curve, but I saw the truck was merely slowing down to enter the curve so I had to hit my breaks to allow for the trucks' wide turn. I hit it pretty quick, but I did ease up enough to allow for the person behind me to break as well. 2 seconds later, I was jolted by the impact as the other driver rear ended me. We drove out of the hill so we wouldn't be in the way and we waited for the police.

I guess I was a bit shocked because I really had no reaction at all. I actually was a bit amused that the nice guy worked for the same company (but different office) that I had just come from teaching. In the end the cop came and was not only very helpful but, thankfully, very patient with helping me understand the questions and situation. In the end I exchanged info with the man that hit me.

I thought I had heard the last of him, but was surprised that today he called me and wanted to come by and apologize to me. This is purely the Japanese way of thinking, in Canada if you came to the house to apologize you would be exposing yourself to liability because you are basically admitting your guilt. But this nice guy came by and gave me an assortment of cakes as a gift. I consulted with Ritsy and she told me this is quite traditional for Japan but I ended up feeling bad because he felt that he needed to go so far to apologize to me (when I had told him already a number of times- "Dai jo bu"---- It's alright...).

I am lucky, 4 days later I don't have whiplash symptoms and it seems that his insurance company will be accepting full responsibility. So in the end a negative situation was really not so negative.

Thursday, February 8, 2007

Lillooet 2- The Revenge

After watching bro-in-law juggling 13 monkeys, 8 elephants and a giant bag of rocks, we headed out into the surrounding mountains for a nice drive and my sister and I stopped for a couple of pictures.

As we headed back into Lillooet, the clouds seemed to be showing signs of forboding as if something very dark and evil was about to happen.
And then it did on wrapping up the trip, I went to my friend Scott's home to find him being eaten by his tv set...

Naturally I saved him and there was much rejoicing!

Lillooet- A Canada moment

Mac looking 'Hapi'
I wasn't the only one to make the difficult decision of leaving Vancouver and my family and friends 2 years back. My sister and her husband decided that it would be a good idea to move into the interior and live in the Coast mountains in a town called Lillooet.

I had a pleasure of visiting her, my Nephew and Brother-in-Law last year, and want to share some of the pictures from that great trip!

The drive up there was an amazing winding trek through BC's coast mountains and there were many beautiful moments, I stopped to take this picture.
I arrived in Lillooet and was breathtaken by the town completely surrounded by mountains. I also liked the tree in this picture.
Sean amazed me with his ability to juggle Mac and 23 bananas, he is just warming up in this picture.

I am having troubles uploading pictures at the moment, so will post more later!

Tuesday, February 6, 2007

Tuesdays ramble

1. Hockey - Got a call from Chris on Saturday with a couple of options for the evening, either drinking with Adam again or watching more hockey. Being a Canadian and having to work the next day, I chose the hockey and volunteered to be designated driver so the boys could pack back a few brews. We found Tomoko there to take in the game as well and we cheered for Pete Wright and his buddy Dave. Unfortunately as they were the two biggest and best players on the ice for their team they were picked on madly by the referee with the big head (didn't take picture, his head was too large), and Peter was given a 10 minute misconduct for shooting the puck after the whistle (some of the worst reffing that I have seen, some even muttered the 'r' word). Needless to say the ref killed the game, I guess he was trying to protect the smaller Japanese players by calling tight, but he ended up making calls on clean hits that were just to hard for his liking (he told Dave- "It's because you are big" --- can you imagine a ref in NHL telling a player that's ridiculous!). Well our spirits severely dampened by what turned out to be a 2-2 tie we hit Denny's for a little after game grub.

2. Kyoto - I complained about my Prime Minister's comments about the Kyoto treaty but it seems I was too quick to react. Thankfully in Canada the Conservative govenment doesn't hold a majority of the seats in the Parliament so the House was still able to vote in favour of Kyoto's emissions regulations. I had neglected to save the link, but I did see that Harper acknowledged (naturally after he read my blog) that the environmental problem is one to be reckoned with, I guess he just didn't like Kyoto's method as he heavily rallied the Conservatives to vote against it.

3. Basketball - Pete, Chris and I hit the ball courts on Sunday for what turned out to be a good day of gaming. We played two matches and I thought I played alright, though I am far from the pro that my colleagues are. Chris actually blogged about it here, though I think he had fired up his photoshop a bit because I don't remember being as excellent as he reported . Anyway, we had a wicked time and my bones ached for the next two days (yes, that includes today), but it kind of aches in a good way.

Monday, February 5, 2007

A bittersweet week

Last week was one of my more stressful ones in a while, but I survived it. The biggest stresses involved having to wade through the complicated and confusing process of the Japanese government system.

The first had a happy ending though. In Japan, most individuals never have to worry about the tax returns as their company will fill it our for them (lucky bastards). But as my work is comprised of 4 part time jobs (last year anyway) I had the pleasure of trying to do my own taxes. Luckily enough I found an add that the local International center, the Hamamatsu International Cultural Exchange had a free tax consultation with English translator. So on the 1st I set out and though arriving late (my stress) was still able to get help and after filling out a small stack of paper work I was almost done. The guy helping was so nice, he spent about 5 minutes trying to convince me to think of some tax write-offs to lower my tax load. Could you imagine a staff member of Revenue Canada doing the same? I think not. Well I wanted to get the taxes done with so I finally had him calculate and I will get back 13,000 yen! Thanks a lot to a nice guy and the ever-helpful Christina at HICE!

I had the opposite experience on Friday. Back on January 4th, the first day it was open after winter holidays, Ritsy and I went down to immigration to apply for my Visa extension and found the place packed. Actually Ritsy had to stay in the car and wait for a spot, so I went in alone. The office looks like it was built back in 1978 and the last time they cleaned it was about a week later. There is no clear signs about where to line up and no number taking system etc... So I basically stood there for about 15 minutes without any clear idea of where to hand in my forms. Finally Ritsy came in and stopped a nice helper lady behind the desk and she took my information and photocopied my Passport and told us to go home as they can't help us that day. So we left. Well on Feb 2nd I was getting a little antsy because my Visa expires on the 8th, so I asked Ritsy to call them. They said they didn't have my application! The man on the phone then proceeded to get argumentative and basically said that she was lying that we ever came in. So, Ritsy's blood was boiling now and she called their Customer Service to complain about the man on the phone. Then we headed to the office. When we got there, the staff already knew about our complaint and pulled us into the back room. Rather than being productive and helping us meet a solution, he was abrasive and told us basically that we shouldn't have gone home (though we were told to- the girl obviously was new and didn't have the right training, so I don't think it's her fault) and he kept going on about how they hadn't stamped my passport. To me this conversation was completely useless they obviously made some mistake and he was getting defensive. He then pointed out that we hadn't brought the right paperwork with us originally- fair enough, they should have called us and let us know about that rather than throw out my application (which is what I think they did). Anyway, we are sitting in this office and Ritsy, god bless her, wasn't taking his crap and he was getting angry and starting to raise his voice- I couldn't understand but I remember hitting the table and gesturing for him to calm down. Well in the conversation he said 2 things that stick out, 1. he offered to go to court to settle this ( they were by now admitting they remember us coming in- so what is there to settle???)and 2. He said "I don't care if your husband overstays his Visa" like he was challenging us. Finally I convinced my wife to ask him what we can do now to move past this silly spiral of an argument. Then the bastard started being nice to us. At that moment I imagined this man as a Samurai sitting in front of us, ready to go to battle to gain the upper hand. But I was so proud of Ritsy when we left she exclaimed "He is not forgiven" and she called Nagoya again and told them all the garbage that was said. Oh, did I mention this bastion of Customer service was the branch manager? Unbelievable!

Well I felt very deflated after this whole encounter and had a tough time getting my spirits up for the kids classes I had to teach next (sorry!). But that evening's class that I teach at Carlsson really cheered me up. That staff is always so calm, eager to talk in English and funny that I was feeling a lot better by the time I left!

Sorry for the long rant- but the story needed to be told! Back to more Hamamatsu highlights next entry.

Hamamatsu- where excitement goes to die

Ok the title is a little dramatic but I was amused with a chat I had with my mother on MSN the other day. My Aunt and mother are planning a trip out to Japan and Hamamatsu this coming April and it should be quite fun. She was checking around on a Japan Guide website and came to the conclusion that "tourists don't seem to come to Hamamatsu at all because there is no information about the place anywhere on the web". I chuckled, I guess, because it is obvious to me, but it is kind of shame as there are many little 'treasures' around here that even I haven't checked out.

I just talked about Hamamatsu castle in the last entry so today I will talk about Nakatajima. One of the most unexpected things in my oppinion about Hama town is that there are Sand Dunes here. When I think Sand Dunes, I imagine Lawrence of Arabia or Dune- large deserts with crazy sand storms. But here in Hamamatsu right next to the ocean sit these large piles of sand making quite a beautiful (though often very windy) scene to check out on sunny days.

When my friend Matin came to visit from Tokyo, I think that he was shocked that there is in fact clean air and beaches in Japan!
Unfortunately, it doesn't look like Tatooine like I had expected.
Nakatajima is where the annual kite flying Matsuri (or festival) is held. I sadly have missed it both years I have been here, once because of sleeping in (oops) and once because I was in Vancouver.
I don't know if I would called the Sand Dunes a 'destination', but I would say if you were in the area (when it isn't windy- it can be cold!) that you should definitely check it out!

Saturday, February 3, 2007

Hamamatsu Castle

One of the great historical sites around Hamamatsu is the Castle- Hamamatsu-jo. It stands about a 15- 20 minute walk from the Main train station and offers a slight glimpse of the area's history. The sad fact about pretty much all of the castles around Japan is that they were at one point destroyed either through natural fire or as a result of the bombings in the World Wars- so this,like many of the castles, is a reconstruction that took place in 1958.

The castle has a few other names over the years Shusse-jo meaning success castle is a reference to the fact that many lords that have lived there have gone on to enjoy more success in later years. Another old name is Hikuma Castle that was changed when the great Shogun Tokugawa Ieyasu claimed the castle as his own. Apparently he fought several of his more famous battles here in his 17 year stay in the region.

To be honest, I thought that I had taken more pictures around the castle but these two recent ones are the only ones I can find. This website has some nice pictures and information though.I do have this old video that some people have already seen. It isn't my best work- but there are some nice visuals in it...

Thursday, February 1, 2007

Stewart McKay- RIP

Some bad news arrived in the evening from my friends back home.

A good buddy from the cooking days passed away from Heart Failure. I haven't heard many details and a search on the web suggests that he actually passed away on December 14th of last year. We had regrettably fallen out of contact with Stewie, so it makes sense that it probably took a while for the word to get through to us, though I am not positive that I found the right obituary. I also truly regret that the old days predated any of us owning a digital camera so I don't have easy access to a pic of Stewie, but when I find one I will edit it into this picture!

Stewart was a guy with a warm and honest laugh and smile and was always a pleasure to chat with especially after work over a cold beer. He was the kind of guy that never had anything bad to say about another person and I never saw him lose his temper. We had far too many laughs together to start listing the times here. I had often thought about him and wondered how he was doing and it is sad that this is the first news I have heard from him in a long time. I will always think of him in a positive vein and he was always stick with me and be remembered. Rest in Peace old buddy!