Wednesday, October 31, 2007

the engrish files #4

a note at the akihabara capsule hotel i stayed at in august

Monday, August 27, 2007

striking out

a lucky strike captured from our hiroshima hotel window

an eleven and a half hour flight saw me return to british shores, waiting sleepily for a delayed connection at heathrow airport. i'd left the majority of my friends behind in miyagi one week earlier, setting off on one last tour of japan, hoping to leave in style. leaving wasn't easy for a whole host of reasons - that i'm not going to go into - but thankfully i didn't have to go it alone for the majority of my trip, having hashmatt as my travel companion. first stop: kyoto for the daimonji festivities.

getting a tip from some fellow travellers staying in our traditional, quaint hostel - so quaint that it lacked even air-conditioning - we got the bus to a small hill in the centre of kyoto where we were able to view four of the five gigantic kanji they annually burn into the mountains to mark the end of the festival of the dead. there was a lot of excitement, pushing and shoving once the flames were lit at each of the distant sites, people battling to either get a decent look at - and in many cases photo of (imagine long-exposure night mode in a world without tripods, trying to remain steady amongst a relatively small but thronging crowd, and you get an idea of how difficult this task was) - the far off flames. all in all a pretty low key but memorable event.

himeji castle

the next day we headed over to himeji, location of japan's best preserved and, as everyone says, most impressive castle. wandering the castle grounds, walking barefoot through the west bailey, climbing its wooden staircases to the top of the main building; being there was certainly an experience that topped visiting osaka castle (1). actually, afterwards we headed to osaka, there going on a busy night time river cruise guided by this comedian who hit us with a barrage of japanese pun riddles. later we wound up wide-eyed in the streets of dotonbori (2), somewhat of a neon paradise, with novelty building façades a dime a dozen and endless eating and entertainment opportunities - in my opinion, if you're in the area, a must see (last time we missed out thanks to bad timing and last train paranoia).

all at sea off miyajima

one shinkansen later and we were in hiroshima; getting off i couldn't help thinking i'd arrived in one of the most famous places in modern history. having decided to stay there for two days, first on our agenda was to head to the site of one of japan's official top-three scenic vistas: the shrine entrance gate standing in the sea before the little island of miyajima (3). taking the ferry toward the gate i was struck by the beauty of the island itself and the deep blueness of the sea. once on the island amongst the various tourists seeking the perfect photo of the gate, however, it's own picturesqueness very quickly became apparent. after dining at an overpriced yet relatively oishii restaurant we realised it was possible to get on the beach and get an unobscured shot of the shrine gate. once down there wading into the sea to get an even better pic trigged a desire in me to actually walk to the thing; the at just the right level to get away with it in my shorts. followed by some inquistive but fundamentally less daring japanese people i actually made it. henceforth, with the tide at ever-more appealing levels, other travellers would make their way to the gate - but we made it there before them and got the best photos!

the peace park cenotaph; a-bomb dome in the backdrop

day two took us to the hiroshima peace park and museum. visible through the arching cenotaph shown above is the skeletal remains of a building now known as the "a-bomb dome," which was right next to the hypocentre of the atomic explosion all those years ago. i was surprised when i found out the history of the area immediately after the blast; it seemed that only a few months later work to resurrect the flattened city had begun - i had expected the area to be lethally radioactive for some years. not only that but some people in the city had randomly survived unscathed thanks to being in random buildings that somehow protected them. the museum itself held back on being too gore-orientated and, somehow - despite its stated purpose of working toward ridding the world of nuclear weapons - my idea of the longterm consequences of nuclear war was vastly reduced, despite individual tragedies. perhaps by skewing my conceptions of the massacre by focusing too wide (on countries) and too narrow (on the individual stories) without criticism or anger, in a way perhaps mindful of international relations, my trip to the peace park museum had the opposite effect to what i'd expected. that day ended with the two hour thunderstorm fortuitously captured at the top of the page.

fuji at 6am on a summer morning

setting off alone the next day i eventually made it to the fuji area by monday evening. tuesday saw me getting up at 4.30am on a mission to get a decent view of the mountain, aware that in the sweltering summer it is often too hazy to clearly make out. getting completely lost meant that i didn't reach my intended viewpoint until around six. after following my urge to scale the 1180m mountain i found myself on i headed down to the shrine at the bottom of fuji, which marked the beginning of the hiking route back in the day when you couldn't just get the bus halfway up there (4). after that i went on an udon quest - the area is famous for its thick and chewy noodles - on a tip from the tourist information office and using a specialist map, eschewing the lonely planet's lazy recommendation. when i finally reached my destination there was a 25 minute queue! thankfully i was rewarded for my endeavours with the best udon i've ever had - and cold too, thanks to my request - which i ate with some electricians on a business trip from tokyo. notably, the people in the fuji area are some of the most friendly i came across in japan.

at the shrine at the foot of mount fuji

my last day i spent with hashmatt in tokyo, visiting the edo-tokyo museum and having two great meals, the first of which being chanko nabe - a sort of soup comprising of anything and everything, with the kitchen sink thrown in for good measure. because the place cited in the rough guide was sadly shut, and because we were in tokyo's sumo district - chanko nabe is the cornerstone of the sumo "diet" - we asked a nearby sumo wrestler for a recommendation; his suggestion wasn't at all disappointing. the second meal was a good note to end my time in japan on: tepanyaki at a restaurant specialising, unusually for japan, in cooking vegetables (5). to round things off i stayed in a capsule hotel overnight in akihabara. if you're thinking about doing so too one day, i recommend you don't - unless you enjoy being surrounded by snoring middle-aged men whose capsules' alarm clocks wake you up and not them, leaving you with an apparent eternity of beeping to deal with around 6.30am in the morning to cap off a wonderful night of no sleep whatsoever. though we may imagine capsule hotels have glass doors, this place only had pull-down screens: the chocolate fire-guard of noise insulation. it was something i felt i had to do but, trust me, you don't!


(1) much smaller and less authentic, both in that the necessary restoration work was much more extensive and in that it is so thoroughly artificial on the inside that it even includes an elevator.
(2) osaka's main night life district, famous throughout japan.
(3) another is miyagi's own matsushima; this one is a lot better.
(4) those who climb mount fuji - apparently the most climbed mountain in the world - usually begin their ascent from the so-called "5th station," midway up.
(5) tepanyaki is that style of japanese cooking conducted on a large hot steel surface.

Tuesday, August 07, 2007

the vagabond

wood, sweat and beers: katie, akira and i after carrying that omikoshi


so right now i'm sitting on the veranda of matt's apartment, balancing my laptop on a bit of wood between below-the-belt clotheslines and a concrete wall, stealing some poor, unsuspecting wireless internet on a tuesday night. matt himself is away in america - hell, all my usual crew have buggered off somewhere or other, be it tokyo, the states or on a hastily-arranged trip to thailand. as of today my own apartment is bereft of gas, water and electricity, emptied out apart from the heaviest and bulkiest of its contents; my job has come to an end, my bank account closed, phoneline and internet cut-off. and, just to top things off, even the seat on my bike isn't my own - mine was nicked so i've temporarily borrowed that of my absentee host.

i have around one week left in ishinomaki before i leave for to tour of southern japan; i'm not looking forward to leaving. and yet, as of tomorrow, when i hand over the keys to my own apartment, i am officially homeless and jobless in this country. though i've started saying my goodbyes already, the hardest ones are yet to come. my leaving drinking parties are behind me, my speeches said - it's saying farewell to my closest friends that i worry about now.

but you have to have some fun in your last days, right? i have had a little luck in that department, owing a debt to my limited japanese contacts and recent summer festivals. thanks to a lady who calls herself 'maria' i was able to board one of the ships circling onagawa harbour during its summer celebrations, later being pushed into doing a little "lion dancing" before confused crowds - who just couldn't understand why there was a clueless foreigner bumbling around in the requisite costume - and a short spell on the taiko drums (when nobody was looking). i spent the day thereafter with a couple of ALTs i seldom see and a shipshape bunch of drunken japanese blokes - not such a bad combination all in all. then there was the fireworks at night, the last of which bursting the heavens and bringing an immediately-soaking downpour.

a few days later there was the two-day ishinomaki fireworks festival, the first night of which summoning up the best display of hanabi (literally "flower fire" - take note mario fans) i've ever seen and lasting nearly two hours. having been invited by my mate akira, the second day i was able to carry omikoshi (1) through the ishinomaki streets at the close of the celebrations - i.e. when just about everybody out to see their kids perform in school brass bands etc had went home - along with the man himself, his fiancée, katie, and twenty or so others. despite requiring a lot of strength - and lot of "heart," which the guys said is something i had because i am, well, a guy - it was hugely fun in a personally-challenging and yet team-orientated way to help carry the thing, and nice to be actually actively involved in proceedings (i've seen a fair few omikoshi in my time but never from beneath one) in the appropriate outfit on a sweltering, sweat-soaked afternoon (2). not an experience i'm going to forget any time soon.


(1) a portable shrine carried on the shoulders that japan, as seen plentifully in asakusa but most spectacularly in shiogama.

Friday, July 06, 2007

show of hands

after having last week off to traipse round tokyo with chris one of the teachers forgot that i would be team teaching with them and left for a first year class without me. when i arrived i received a cheer from the class - the students were actually happy to see me.

i've been trying to teach them grammar this week using a weather lesson i made as the subject matter. despite grammar being not only deadly boring but also ridiculously hard to teach when it came to asking the students to answer questions they were raising their hands and competing to be chosen to answer like primary school kids. it's happened a couple of times so far this week now and it never fails to surprise me, this enthuasiam.

i like teaching this current first year - they're my students. when i came here the kids were pretty apathetic; i used to blame myself and my tendency to try and teach english instead of just playing games all day. the teachers used to reassure me that they prefered my way of doing things to that of my predecessor but classes were difficult to motivate so i was sure i was doing something wrong. these new first years, however, which has been mine from the offset, still seem to have a certain spark about them that was already lost in the previous generation by the time i'd arrived last august. when i asked one of the new teachers about it he said that he'd heard that my predeccesor was a "little strange, not so hard-working" and that in turn had had a negative impact on the kids.

all of a sudden i feel like i can have a positive impact; that some ALTs can have a positive impact. i now understand that sometimes the ALTs who have life easy are the ones who had good predecessors that prepped the kids correctly. it's not yet august - tellingly, after the summer holidays - and i might be deluded, but a little job satisfaction once in a while never hurt anyone, right?

Sunday, July 01, 2007

the adventuring

the oft-forgotten forth member of the so-called "three little pigs" didn't really make things difficult for the wolf

i met chris at a train station in ueno, the northern district of tokyo where we'd be staying the next few nights. it was tuesday afternoon, around 5PM. after we'd got ourselves checked in to our lodgings it was time to head to the overrated akihabara in search of a plug adaptor for chris' laptop. it took an hour of getting sent around the houses before we could accomplish our mission. after that a brief trek outside to check out the overhyped neon of the little "electric town" was enough. next stop shibuya and shinjuku.

shibuya and shinjuku are where you go to when you want to experience what you expected from the aforementioned akihabara: both districts featuring vast neon-lit streets bustling with people, the latter having more than its fair share of electronic shops and arcades if you know where to look. shibuya is famed for its crosswalk so that was a must see. after eating in some random restaurant, giving up on the lonely planet's somewhat idiosyncratic and difficult to locate suggestions, we jumped on the subway to shinjuku, home of the busiest (subway?) station in the world. heading to its skyscraper district we then checked out the view from the metropolitan government offices - which i personally prefer to that from tokyo tower in terms of impact - and quickly nipped in to the keiyo plaza (the hotel i stayed in when i first arrived in japan all those months ago). wandering around shinjuku gave us the chance to head into the insanity that is a pachinco parlour; it was a lot of fun for me to watch chris' reaction to the staggering noise of hundreds of metal balls descending through machines as we weaved a trail through the cigarette-produced smoke therein.


wednesday saw sunshine, persuading us to reorder the detailed schedule i'd hammered together and head off to kamakura in the morning - if you're in the tokyo area, heading to see the big buddha statue is one of the most rewarding sight-seeing options. last time i was there we had only enough time to visit that star attraction, eschewing the confusing variety nearby temples. this time it was different. of the four we saw our favourite was one famed for its hyderangers, plentiful and vibrant in their blue hue; chris and i were lucky to stumble into its grounds as they were in full bloom.


after bidding our escape from the heat, a one hour train ride saw us at the terminal for reaching the small island of odaiba (1). the views from the train as its skirts its way toward rainbow bridge and onto the island are impressive, though the island itself leaves a lot to be desired during the day, with various unkempt and undeveloped plots apparent if you walk from one side to the other. there chris and i decided to duck into the odaiba onsen, which is a little pricy but well worth it. you have to don a yukkata before entering this area themed on an old school japanese village, which was in essence an excuse for various money-grabbing enterprises, including restaurants and a massage parlour (2). the onsen itself was amazing though, with a supernova sauna, a jacuzzi-style bath, indoor and outdoor pools - everything you could want, and volcanically heated too. eventually bumbling back out into the odaiba streets, we were met with the vista below, featuring rainbow bridge, a scaled-down statue of liberty replica and, in the distance, tokyo tower.


thursday was destined to be a scorcher, and that was evident even as we left our ryokan at 7AM on our way to the chaotic tsukiji fish market. despite missing the auction, and thereby various mighty sea creatures, but we did eventually manage to find out way into the public market section - just - through the hectic array of vehicles milling around outside. therein some fellas were slitting the throats of living eels, others sawing up tuna fish into more managable chunks; somehow it still felt worthwhile being there just for the hustle and bustle. after sushi for breakfast it was time for us to desparately hurry over to the imperial palace for a tour of its grounds. the palace itself is somewhat underwhelming, too modern and architecturally understated to be striking on the outside - and that's all were were allowed to see. so instead we were advised, thanks to the free english audio guide, that the best place in the grounds to take a picture was in fact by the much older nearby guardhouse. so we did.


after the palace we made a brief sojourn around the national museum in ueno before getting hopelessly lost for an hour on our way back to where we were staying. one well-deserved break later it was time to meet up with little sara and her friend from back home, julie, who had coincidently got to tokyo that day. not knowing exactly where to spend the evening we headed off to shinjuku where we found this little bar where the waitress couldn't understand our japanese and the kanji-packed menu left us eating onigiri and soy beans for dinner. cutting our losses on the seating charge, we decided our best option was to wander round the streets armed with a can of beer each; it was then that we finally came across the nightlife district of shinjuku, away from where the business men stray after their long days at work (i.e. where chris and i wound up on tuesday night). it was fun just walking the streets there, aside from the burly guys trying to push certain venues on us.

on friday we got up a little late but still managed to get to nikko, a two hour train journey away, by midday - it felt like something of a coup. nikko is another special place, home of various temples and a particularly famous mausoleum, and it's nice to spend time there even on a misty, damp day thanks to the effects on the hills and greenery. after exploring the area for a few hours we jumped on to a train and began the trek to my "hometown," ishinomaki, where i was able to introduce chris to my mates and have him visit our usual haunts; from friday evening to sunday morning, when chris left for narita airport, there's nothing exciting to report per se - well, apart from us trying milk ramen!

it was fun having chris meet my mates here, and just having him around. karaoke, for example, is certainly a different prospect when you have someone on hand who knows the stupid songs from the 90s that you grew up with. the downside is that when he left it really hit home that i'm going to be leaving too fairly soon. still, happy memories in the adventuring.


(1) the name apparently means "fort."
(2) yukkata: japanese cotton robe.

the engrish files #3

a shop window in kamakura

one for all

the days of four or five blog posts per month are sadly long gone; these days i seem to average one each month, though that's not always because i'm lacking in my adventuring. time to scribble some stuff down, huh?

i have no idea when it was now, but we made a weekend retreat to a place called cat island, which is, strangely enough, famed for its felines: dogs were banned there long ago; cats roam free. the human population, meanwhile, is small - like the island itself - and consists of aged japanese; the invasion of several tens of foreigners one saturday surely must have been a shock to their system. we stayed in two cottages with cartoony cat paint jobs designed by some semi-notorious manga artist. turns out that my infamous kocho-sensei actually grew up on this island - and attended the manga kitty houses when they served the function of an elementary school back in the day. for us school was out and the beers were in.

on a different weekend our friend kocho-sensei took me to a place called kamimachi (lit. "river town") where the local high school canoeing heats were held. that day i had to work on a saturday - in exchange for the following tuesday being a holiday - so i jumped at the chance to escape into the mountains. previously kocho-sensei had taken me around the schools on the ishinomaki area sports day, and on the whole the sports facilities are impressive; the stretch of river they converted into a canoe course was no exception. (i was more impressed, however, when it turned out that kocho-sensei was the president of the miyagi high school canoeing federation, the tohoku regional president and the all-japan vice president.) anyway, for me all in all it amounted to a day getting paid to lounge around in the sun, which can't be bad.

another weekend i went with annie to find this mysterious ice cream shop of myth and legend, the location of which handed down from one generation of ALTs to another via cryptically-titled scrolls with names like "things to do in ishinomaki." luckily, annie had misplaced her copy - possibly the last surviving one in existence in her apartment - so we were on our own. after asking a convenience store clerk we were on our way to an aladin's cave of ice cream delight (1). as we gazed upon its brilliance our minds were filled with delusions of pearl ice cream, shark ramen ice cream, even whale flavoured ice cream. eschewing such extravagence i plumped for vanilla. no, not really. i had the curry one - a little spicy, kind of tasty; very cool.

but who needs whale ice cream when you can just eat the real thing? i hear your jaws hit the floor as you consider the implications of what "real ice cream" might be, but you are misguided - i am in fact talking about eating whale. so we headed down to the peninsula attached to ishinomaki on yet another of these weekends, albeit not with that particular purpose in mind; mr kocho-sensei had previously recommended the place to me as his favourite in the entire miyagi prefecture, so it was with his blessing that six of us packed into a five person car and just drove down there. near the tip the peninsula has some killer views, making it good value for a n afternoon day trip, and a fun adventure park which sarah, annie and i conquered. but there is also a whale museum in the area, replete with a medium-sized whaling vessel. we didn't actually drop into said tourist trap; the gift shop alone was sufficient, proudly displaying as it did a whale foteus and two dried whale penises - both of which taller than me. with these exhibits somehow having no impact on our hunger we tired the whale jerky lying around there to dry in the sun, then stopped off at a restaurant where hashmatt ordered whale sashimi (2); kindly he offered some to the rest of us, and i can exclusively reveal that the taste is nothing special. (talking to kocho-sensei it emerged that whale used to be cheap, and thus an economical source of protein for local families, and that is why it was popular. he said i should be like an advocate for whaling when i get back to england.)

and then what happened? a friend from back home came to visit, a certain mr turnpenny stopping by via hong kong. he just called me to say he got to narita airport ok and will be jetting off shortly. stay tuned for the adventures of turnpenny and thomson.


(1) i'm over-hyping this beyond belief. there was like a fridge.
(2) sashimi: sliced fish, like sushi without the rice.

Friday, June 01, 2007

capital gains

since we came here i'd always wanted to go see sumo wrestling; surely it is one of the unique experiences japan has to offer. sumo tournaments last two weeks; we decided to go down for the middle weekend of the may competition in toyko, coinciding with one of capital's trio of biggest festivals: the asakusa sanja matsuri.

we got an early shinkansen on saturday morning, deciding to make use of a weekend rail pass, and checked into our hostel before heading to the arena for around 1pm (1). with the majority of the seats empty the atmosphere was somewhat lacking; it's only the tourists who make the effort of arriving before 3pm when the major league bouts begin, hence an unusually high ratio of foreigners to japanese in the audience when we arrived. as a spectacle, too, the bouts earlier in the day are lacking, though it is worth to show up earlier so that you've got a point of comparison for when the true fun begins. so round about 3pm the wrestlers representing the east come out, all bedecked in their ceremonial sumo regalia, stand in a circle around the ring, engage in a little ceremony and depart, followed by those from the west, who follow suit. the colours are bright, the fabric exquistite; the audience is seated, there's a buzz in the air; the lights are turned down: the stage is set.

the arena is a cross between an indoor stadium and a theatre, tiered so that the run-of-the-mill seating is on the second level, with the spectators below sitting on japanese mats in areas demarked to accomodate blocks of four people. everyone faces the middle, where there is an square earthern stage marginally bigger than the outlined circular sumo ring, raised a couple of feet or so above ground level. a black-clad line judge sits facing the ring on each of the quadrilateral's side, amongst the foremost spectators, with the technicolour referee - dressed in purple, yellow or some other powerfully bright colour - standing in the ring itself. the wrestlers come out in fours, one quadruplets from the east emerging with one from the west, plonking themselves down to face each other across the sumo ring. one wrestler from each side then enters the ring, both introduced to the crowd by the chirpy introduction of the fight announcer. the sumo wrestlers then take their time pacing around, hoisting their legs in the famous way at the corners of the mound, throwing salt by way of purification across of the ring, washing their mouths out with sake and composing themselves mentally (2). a minute or two later they square up. and then go at each other.

sumo fights are fun in the same way that sushi is fun: each lasting for brief but enjoyable moment and impressive as variations on a theme. you get fast-moving bouts where the wrestlers just push/slap at each other, with one inevitably maneuvering the other out the ring; you get tense times when the wrestlers are locked together, each trying to unbalance the other; you get moments of comedy when a wrestler falls out the ring and onto squishes someone sitting in the front row; in short, you get everything you could ever hope for. the most memorable battle featured one sumo wrestler side-stepping the other from the off as his competitor charged by and then pushing the suprised and off-balance fellow into the ground for an ultra-fast victory that was both cheered and booed. toward the end we actually took to betting on who would win: the stake being, funnily enough, 105 yen plates of sushi. as always, the day ended with a traditional form-shifting performance by the yokozuna.

the highlight of sunday was the asakusa festival, famous for its portable shrines a la the shiogama matsuri from a few months back. while none of these shrines, or omikoshi were anywhere near as large or ornate as those in shiogama, what was lacked in quality was made up for in quantity - there seemed to be a never-ending number of the things moving around the district, each carried by a small army consisting mainly of men dressed in mainly white outfits, whose job it is to make sure the shrine keeps bobbing erratically and chant (3); supposedly there are around one hundred shrines. the real spectacle, however, was seeing the tattoos of japanese gangsters, aka yakuza. ordinarily tattoos, the mark of the yakuza, must be covered; the sanja matsuri is one of the rare times they can reveal - and others can revel in - their body art. it was possible to see detailed and impressive tattoos covering the backs and legs of men donning little more than an old-fashioned nappy-like garment, thankfully in a safe enviroment but in the knowledge that they were dangerous characters.

before heading home we had enough time to go the controversial yasakuni shrine, famous under the previous japanese prime minister thanks to his own visits and the diplomatic fallout they caused in china and south korea (4). the atomosphere was sombre; we didn't stay long.


(1) the bouts actually begin in the morning and continue all day, with the junior ranks kicking off proceedings and the masters bringing things to a close.
(2) the ritualistic elements are skipped in the second rank competition.
(3) their purpose is to purify the neighbourhood.
(4) the shrine is controversial since it commiserates japan's war dead, including those chinese and koreans press-ganged into service whilst japan controlled their territory.

Friday, May 11, 2007

half-century

i wasn't going to accept a run of any less than fifty posts for this japanthropology malarky; finally, as my innings is nearing a close, i have reached the milestone. and you thought i'd forgot about this thing. time for the customary catch-up highlights package.

so golden week - famous for it's abundance of national holidays (i.e. three in one week) - finally came along and, thanks to the use of two days annual leave, gave me a half-term holiday just a few weeks into the new school year. the weather finally became warm too, meaning that we ventured to the beach, though this doesn't mean that the sea was any warmer than an ice cube slipping down your spine, or that we henceforth kept ourselves dry. we spent another day playing basketball and frisbee in a local park, one checking out the onsen in onagawa, what's really worth talking about is our four day trip to the tokyo area.

the things we did down in toyko, for the most part, are altogether too predictable for japanese people to be interested in whilst at the same time lacking the clout to make those unfamliar sit up and take note. we went to asakusa, which is famous for its HUGE red paper lantern; we went to kamakura, famous for its outdoor sitting buddha statue - yes, yet another sitting buddha statue! this one, however, is my fav so far due to the fact that it was aged, authentic and approachable - and where we managed to locate a pretty nifty turkish restaurant; we went to the china town in yokohama (one of the biggest in the world), home of a myriad of reasonably-priced quality chinese restaurants and various tourist-orientated shops; and we went to tokyo tower - the japanese capital's questionably attractive eiffel equivalent. we also managed to go to akihabara (tokyo's famed "electric town"), which is a place i've wanted to check out since i was a kid. unfortunately when we first went there - at 10PM on a sunday - all the lights were off. heading back there a few days later, after a relatively expensive failed mission to get a idyllic vista of fuji on an unfortunately rainy day, we did experience its distinctive neon glow, however - which for the record is shut down at 8PM. now, having been there, it seems to me that the name "electric town" presumably comes more from the fact that it is THE place in japan for discounted electronics than its illuminations.

tokyo is some place: huge, time consuming and costly. however, while this makes it totally unlike the sapporos, sendais and kyotos of this world - your typical mid-range japanese cities - it lacks the class of london, paris or hong kong. perhaps what it lacks in character it makes up for in quirkiness. on our last night we ended up at this place called "lock down" - walking into which being akin to short haunted house ride (with the odd rattling corpse and what have you catching you off-guard in the darkness) - where we were greeted by a waitress wearing this blue plastic dress and waiters dressed as prisoners. the best thing about the place was the drinks, which all were themed in the style of concotions you might find in the lab of frakenstein or some such crazed scientist. served in beakers and connical flasks, and coming with mixers contained in test tubes and fluid injectors, were various eccentric cocktails with names like "jekyll and hide" that were as easynjoyable to drink as they were fun. sadly we had to escape before we missed the last train back to our hotel, thereby missing out on further hijinks. i forget the name of the district that the bar was in, but i do remember the streets outside teeming with people sheltering from the rain, anonymous beneath endless umbrellas, walking a criss-cross crosswalk between brightly lit streets as we ran between them - it was like a picture perfect movie scene.

there is one last thing to mention. the night before annie's birthday (fifth of the fifth) our mate akira, who's father is a fisherman, took us to ishinomaki international harbour on the way back from a kareoke session. he made us get out of the car and watch while he grabbed a poled fishing net from the trunk, put it in the sea and slooshed it through the water. magically the net lit up, illuminated by the phosphorescent plankton therein. amazed, we experimented with the net, splashing it into the surface water. the effects were unreal, the blue-green sparkle unforgettable - as a memory, it was unbeatable. thanks akira!