Wow, a whole month just flew by! How did I manage to survive without the internet? We may never know, but let me recap on what’s been going on with me this past month in Japan. Highlights include Dannychoo’s figure event, canyoning in Hakuba, numerous nomikai and playing with my new Olympus E-P1!
As much as I’d like to write this entry in lavish detail and adorn it with luminescent sprinkles, I figure there’s just too much to write and too little time, lest I spend the next month touching it up. Gotta be up for work tomorrow morning and such and being late is a big no-no in Japan. No more fanciful times spent browsing the internet at 3 in the morning and sleeping into 1 the next day for me then. My university days are over – now I’m a white-collared public servant with a salary made from tax-payers’ money.
What happened to my youth? Gone in one foul swoop. *Cries*.
But we’re getting ahead of things. So, I jetted off to Japan on the 1st August from Heathrow in the U.K after saying goodbye to my parents at the airport. All the Group B JETs were on one of two flights, although I ended up sitting next to one young lad who was on his way back to Japan to see his family. He told me he studies music in the U.K and lives in a boarding school in London. As is now customary on 12 hour flights to Japan, I helped myself to 3 or 4 films in addition to some scrumptious air plane food. Memorable points include the film ‘Taken’, the free orange juice and my glee at being able to watch a Korean drama by reading the Japanese subtitles. Until the plane landed and the film cut off just as the couple were about to confess to each other. Son of a.*
*Thankfully free internet at the hotel and the blessed pirates who upload films to streaming sites online ensured I was able to see the heart-rendering ending. Aww.
So, the JET Orientation. I bet some of you reading who are thinking of applying are really wanting to hear about this. But unfortunately I’m not gonna talk about it. It was 3 days of seminars, speeches, meals and all-round informative fun (and I’m actually not being sarcastic!) I was very impressed with the level of organisation and quality – Keio Plaza Hotel in Shinjuku, baby! No mollycoddling either – I flitted off in the evenings to meet some of the Japan bloggers I’ve only known virtually up until now!
Above: Keio Plaza Hotel room
First up was the Real Shaq himself, David Shackleford. We rendezvoused in Harajuku and David took me to a popular gyoza joint he knew nearby. There was a queue of people outside, which proves the food was good, of course. A beer and plate of fried dumplings later saw us chilling like long lost friends, clinking glasses and reminiscing about life in Japan, girls, work and all sorts of stuff. Terrible shame that he’s now back in the US, but it was cool to bridge that strange gap between online and real life!
Above: Gakuranman and David Shackleford
If that wasn’t enough to spice up the night, as I was just returning to the hotel, a couple of guys and a girl appeared behind me. I greeted them as they seemed to be pretty jolly and weren’t Japanese (it’s that weird thing that happens when one foreigner meets another in Japan). I was about to continue walking when the tallest guy of the group grabbed my arm and invited me to go for a drink with them. It was clear the guy’s taste didn’t lie in women, but hey, I wasn’t about to pass up the opportunity exercise my resolution to be more outgoing.
Above: Takeshita-dori in Harajuku at night
A brief visit to the hotel convenience store later, the 4 of us were sitting outside on some steps happily drinking. It turns out the 3 of them were employed by an acting agency of some sort – they did live kids shows, including something with a Disney theme, as well as singing and dancing. I can’t pretend I didn’t feel out of my depth with the two guys making all sorts of insinuations and happily talking about their sex lives, but they were a friendly bunch and I enjoyed mostly listening to stories about their lives in Tokyo. As must as they tried to persuade me otherwise, the night was getting late and I had to be up the next day for the orientation, so we took a few photos and bid farewell.
The following night I had the opportunity to attend one of Danny Choo‘s famous events. It wasn’t quite a CGM night, but it was especially fun for me as I haven’t been to these sort of things before. Stretching the gakuran across my back and sliding into some black shoes despite the summer heat, I headed out.
I arrived right at the start, the elevator doors tinging open and the Stormtrooper himself stood to the left greeting the guests. I was humbled Danny knew who I was and even remembered my name despite it being our first meeting! After shaking hands, I wondered around admiring the figures on display, all dwarfed by the centrepiece – Danny’s very own mascot Mirai-chan. Oddly enough the venue was shared with another company – Vitamin Water – who were giving out free samples of flavoured drinks infused with alcohol.
Above: The Tokyo Stormtrooper Danny Choo
I grabbed Chris Gaunt of Nihongonotes (and new employee of Danny’s) and pulled him aside for a hearty chat while the event was warming up. He was very easy to talk to and we chilled out discussing Britain, life in Japan and all manner of other things, like fully fledged adults do, you know.
Above: Danny’s mascot Mirai-chan
It wasn’t long before more guests started appearing, each one followed by another with a bigger camera, and the room was filled with flashes and shutter clicks. It could have been he figures, or it could have been Emily (Applemilk1988 on Youtube), I wasn’t sure. Her band partner and Mr. Tokyo Cooney were also present, as well as Ken Lee, Steve Nagata and many others. I was still jet-lagged and it was all pretty overwhelming, so I’m sorry if I forgot anyone!
Above: Emily & band and Tokyo Cooney
Anyway, I chatted with Emily and Tokyo Cooney for a while and both were very cool people. Emily wasn’t half as intimidating as in her videos and Mr. Cooney amused himself drinking the liqueur-infused vitamin water while musing about going and talking to the campaign girl. Unfortunately, they closed the bar without any warning, which didn’t go down very well with everyone…
Above: Gakuranman and Danny Choo
Joseph Tame had clued me into the event and we met a little later on in the evening to chat. I ended up staying to the end with him and Danny and going up to the rooftop to shoot night scenes of Shinjuku – secret photography spot! Definitely looking forward to the next CGM night – I just have to find a way to get there from Nagoya!
Above: Gakuranman and Joseph Tame
Above: Shinjuku cityscape at night
With the Tokyo Orientation out of the way, I headed down on the Shinkansen to Nagoya in Aichi-ken, where I would change trains and go to my new city, Okazaki to begin my work as a CIR – Coordinator of International Relations. I’ll leave ramblings about my new home and line of work for a future post, but the city I’ve been placed in has been great so far and close enough to Nagoya to enjoy quite a range of activities. Definitely satisfied with my JET placement ^_^.
I met a few other JETs and internationally minded Japanese people at a welcome BBQ in Okazaki on Saturday, and a nomikai (drinking party) later I had agreed to go canyoning with them in Hakuba, the place of the Nagano 1998 Winter Olympics. We drove all the way there in two small cars packed with tents and clothes for the weekend. Stopping at a sake store along the way, we loaded up with the essentials and arrived in Hakuba, a small town which happened to be having a local festival that very night!
After checking in at the camp site, we all went to eat ramen in town which was possibly the biggest bowl I’ve ever had! Following that, we wandered into town to watch groups of local dancers compete with one another for the festival. Hats off to the guys with beer bellies who dressed up in thongs! Returning to the campsite saw us all gather in the large tent to have a small drinking party and attempting to play a variation of murder mystery with werewolves. Fun stuff ^^.
Sunday was for canyoning. The outdoors centre came and picked us all up and after kitting ourselves up we drove up the gravel mountain path to the beginning of the canyon, constantly batting away the nasty horseflys that swarmed around in the summer heat. The wetsuits we were wearing quickly heated up, but it was just as well as the river water was freezing!
Above: Me about to take the plunge
The guides instructed us to take our first plunge into a pool of water by sliding off a rock, and with that, we were off! A whole day’s cascading down the mountain side using a combination of jumps, slides and flying foxes. Absolutely fantastic day out, although I was shivering quite a lot! Highlights included climbing up a running waterfall (really tough!), backflipping off a rock into a deep pool and hearing the girls scream going down the flying fox ^^.
Above: Me and Leigh – manly bonding under a waterfall
Above: Our group after canyoning!
Olympus E-P1 – finally!
To round off August’s highlights, it’s gotta be me finally getting my hands on the new micro 4/3 Olympus E-P1 camera! I’ll likely write a fuller post with better shots and such at a later point, but for now I just wanted to put up a few of the shots I’ve taken messing around with the 17mm pancake lens. I am absolutely loving the camera which brings certain feelings of the time I used a film SLR camera back alongside the ease of use and compactness of a digital compact. I’ll let the pictures speak for themselves.
Above: My hand, shiro-kuro mode!
Above: Olympus zoom lens with pinhole filter
Above: Such a waste!
Above: Frog with pop-art filter
Above: Nagoya city at night, b+w
So that’s August in a nutshell, without even mentioning the whirlwind of stuff going on trying to set up my apartment, learning how to separate rubbish, getting a mobile phone, opening a bank account and of course, settling into my new job! Stay tuned for more Gakuranman stuff in the near future ^_^.