Olympic Memorial Youth Center, Tokyo

Today the Nakatani family drove me down to Nagoya station to see me off on the Shinkansen. I'm gonna miss them a lot.

Nishiyama picked me up at Tokyo station and took me here to the OMYC, where they're holding an overnight training event for a bunch of college mates. I had some time in the evening, so I walked past Meiji Jingu to Harajuku and looked around for a bit. On the way, I all but stumbled into the Cirque du Soleis Corteo tent set up in the park. Not every day that randomly happens to me.

After ten, everyone was done with their meetings and they invited me to hang out with them for a bit. They're still partying, I hope they get some sleep eventually.

Nakatani Apartment, Nagoya

Today I said a lot of goodbyes. The office threw a tea party for me, and they got me a wonderful little traveler's almanac. Chocolate covered potato chips aren't nearly as disgusting as they might sound, although they probably are just as unhealthy.

My host mom held a farewell party as well, all her labo kids came. It was a very crowded house, and now everyone is very tired. Packing too, I think I'm going to need to ship a box back home pretty soon. Leaving tomorrow for Tokyo!

Nakatani Apartment, Nagoya

Visited Uchida party today, my last Labo party in Chubu.

I just found out about the eclipse this summer. Longest totality of the century? Just south of Kyushu? This is gonna rock. I REALLY hope the weather agrees. Current predictions of mean cloudiness are just above 50%.

Nakatani Apartment, Nagoya

Today I visited Nakano party. We had a grand old time, more setsubun. Pretty wiped though.

OK, I'm tired of putting this off. I'll just post the raw journal for now instead of trying to sort everything out. Maybe I'll fix it up later when I have more time.

Maple Sendai Hostel, Sendai

From where I last left off...

A old couple on the train gave me an apple, it was yummy. Aomori is famous for apples, but they were rather expensive there.

The train arrived in Sapporo (the capital of and largest city in Hokkaido) at about six in the morning. You'd think they'd turn off the lights in a night train, but no. They even stopped every now and then and made sure everyone knew it through the blaring PA system. Needless to say, I was kinda tired.

There was one other American on the train, and as we got off the train I wished him a Merry Christmas. He looked surprised, laughed, and said, "that's right, I'd forgotten." Maybe he was Jewish.

The visitors information center and the hostel weren't open until eight. There I was, Christmas morning in the middle of Sapporo station, with no map, no internet, and two nice hefty bags. I wandered around the (big) station area in search of at least a coffee shop or something, but everything was closed at least until seven. After an hour of wandering, I spent the next hour in a Doutors Coffee, examining the few brochures I had and ingesting caffeine. Then I went over to the hostel (awfully nice of them to let me check in that early) and dropped off my bags.

I had an all-you-can-ride train pass, and I like trains, so I figured I could get a little tour of Hokkaido that way. I only had a simplified English rail map, and plotted out a crude loop. It looked small enough on the map, I figured I could do it in one day even on the local train.

I met a dude on the train who had lived in California for four years, one of them in Davis. Small world.

This necessitated a few transfers. The first was at Tomakomai, there was a department store connected to the station. I had twenty minutes before the next train, so I stuck my head in. They had an array of Gashapon and UFO catchers. They had two set up with game systems in the prize boxes, DSes, Wiis, even a PS3. I don't usually try these things, the math doesn't work out. But even at insanely low odds, the payoff here was good enough to take the chance. I resigned myself to losing, knowing that the machine had some way to negate skill and keep the odds low, but I was too curious as to how. I tried a machine where instead of a grabber, you just have to drop a peg into a hole.

(everyone else is going to sleep, I'll catch up on this later)

Nakatani Apartment, Nagoya

I didn't win the prize, but I did figure out how the machine worked. Money well spent when you consider it was driving me nuts wondering.

The train took its sweet time, meandering down the coast. I could see the mountain with Lake Toya on top, and the volcano coming up out of the center (sorta like Crater Lake). It started to rain a bit before we arrived at Higashi-Muroran. When I did get there, I found that there weren't any more local trains to continue my planned loop. Oh well. I had some time before the return train, so I went for a walk around this unexpectedly final Christmas destination.

Higashi-Muroran isn't a big city, just a little local community. Certainly not a busy tourist destination like Sapporo or Hakodate. It was raining, it was just above freezing, I had left my umbrella with all my other stuff back at the hostel, but I didn't really mind (yet). I walked a few blocks away and found a little buddhist temple. The gates were closed, but I still got a photo or two. I stopped by a local convenience store and bought a snack for the return trip. On the way back to the train, I took a minute to admire the meager christmas tree the municipality had seen fit to erect in front of the station. It wasn't much, but under the bleak clouds and empty streets its blue lights looked as pretty as any other tree I'd ever seen.

When I got on the, thankfully, covered platform, the rain got heavier. I was alone, so I went ahead and recorded myself a video. The train ride back was a bit less fun, I was sorta disappointed about being turned back. I had half expected this to happen, though, and after some beatport and car talk I was back in my happy place. At Chitose, it was sort of half-raining half-snowing, and by the time I got back to Sapporo it was snowing full-blast.

It was well past dark, about six, but I walked down to Odori park and Sapporo TV Tower anyways. To my surprise, they'd been doing some kind of high-profile Christmas celebration all day, and I was just there to catch the tail end of it. They had a lady playing christmas songs on a synthesizer in some sort of glass pod, and there was a kid bundled up in snow gear, dancing his little heart out. It was really cute, reminded me of the penguin from Happy Feet. I took a video, but the sound came out terrible for some reason. Bought some potatoes on a skewer cooked like corn dogs, that was something new.

I went to the top of the TV Tower (itself covered in green lights so as to look like a tree). On the elevator, the lady said It was insanely crowded and the snow made it so you could hardly see anything, but it was still fun. Odori park was covered in christmas lights, and the tree at the base of the tower had lights set up so that if you looked at it from above you saw hearts. I took a picture, and my phone died. It saved the picture, though.

Back at the hostel, mom and dad figured out how to call me. Thanks mom and dad!


The next morning I returned to the station to discover that my pass was not valid for the train I had planned to return on. It was only valid for the night train, so I had to cancel my reservation for my next hostel in Hirosaki and find things to do for the rest of the day. It was snowing even harder, and they were talking about some trains possibly being delayed by the snow, so I figure

I went on a walk through Sapporo, though I was all but the only one out there in all the snow. I visited the former capital building (now a public museum) and the governor's residence, both built by western architects about a century and a half ago. Also visited Tanuki-dori, a shopping arcade.

I took the Hamanasu back that night. I met a dude about my age named Shotaro, who was pretty friendly and a seasoned traveler. He does this same train pass vacation thing all the time, with little more than a camera and a backpack (that looked just like Kintaro's).

The next morning (27th), Shotaro and I went our separate ways at Aomori. I went to Hirosaki (my scheduler Ono's hometown) and visited the castle grounds there. Throughout the rest of the day, I traveled down the Ou line, transferring at Akita, Shinjo, and Uzenchitose (Yamagata) finally landing in Sendai. Just after Akita, where I bought a wooden balsa puzzle of a cute little demon, I sat next to a kid and his mom on the train. He was visibly bored, so I shared the puzzle with him. He had a good time with it, especially after I showed him how to put the pieces in backwards to make it more interesting, and his laughing seemed to cheer up the whole car; people don't usually smile on the train for some reason.

In Sendai I stayed at the Maple Sendai, sharing a room with a bunch of chinese dudes heading the same way I'd come. Maple Sendai is nice, by the way, so if you're ever in the area and need a hostel...

The next day (28th), I took the Chiyoda line to Chiba to stay with the Ishida family. All the trains in the Sendai area were off the clock for some reason, which resulted in me missing one of my connections, in Iwaki. I had half an hour to kill, so I wandered into a mall near the station, where some place was having a fire sale of old VHS tapes. Nothing was in order, but, spread out among four big tables, I pieced together the first season (~25 episodes) of Hikaru no Go, on eight volumes. Such a deal.

I transferred to the local train at Kashiwa, and found myself surrounded by a high school girls basketball team. All of whom were apparently interested in practicing their English. Not quite used to being chatted up by a dozen girls all at once, I missed my station (I hadn't realized it was only two stations away), and at the next station I got swept out with everyone, leaving behind one of my bags. I noticed it in time to bang on the window and indicate the bag to another passenger, who dropped it off at the next station, but it still added a good ten minutes to my already delayed schedule.

At the Ishida house, I gave them a few christmas presents, along with the pile of Hikaru tapes. We had a nommy dinner, and they helped me figure out how to get back to Nagoya the next day without springing for a Shinkansen ticket. All the buses were filled (it being right before New Years), so I just decided to take the old school Tokaido like, through Shizuoka.

The next morning (29th), I played hacky sack with them for a while, and then I had to leave. The trip back to Nagoya was crowded, seeing as it was one of the busiest travel days of the year, but at least I got a nice view of mount Fuji.

On New Years Eve, my host family took off to spend new years with the grandparents in Wakayama. I had to stay because of Labo Camp. I bought some ginger ale (it looked similar to sparkling cider, at least) and toasted in the new year with mom, over video chat. Not exactly the way I had intended to celebrate the biggest holiday of the year here.

Akemashita Omedetou!
Kaminari Building, Kurohime Laboland

Happy New Year! On the way to Nagoya Station, just about everything I saw was closed. Even the ATMs were switched off.

I passed about two stations away from the new years celebrations at one of the biggest shrines in the country, but I didn't have time to detour. I took the Wide-View Shinano to Nagano, then a local train for half an hour to Kurohime.

Since I arrived, I've sat through maybe six hours of meetings with staff, college mates, and senior mates. This is gonna be a long camp, it doesn't even start for two days. Meeting a lot of new friends though.


Kaminari Building, Kurohime Laboland

Geez, these people LOVE meetings. Actually, I get the feeling that even they're not so hot about them, but breaking tradition is bad I guess. The schedule has been something like 3-1 meeting-sleep. Yeah, about 6 hours of sleep per night on paper, and I get the feeling some of them must be actually getting half that.

And no coffee.

Kaminari Building, Kurohime Laboland

The campers arrived today. I've got nine Aussies to take care of, they're doing great so far. Shoveled snow, lots of it. Ate delicious spaghetti. Having fun, but really tired and not much sleep.

Kaminari Building, Kurohime Laboland

Played in the snow, had a great time.

Threw my back out throwing a snowball, still feeling a little funky.

Washed clothes, yay.

Delt with IY stuff, things are holding together pretty well.

Camp is a lot of work, but it's totally worth it.
Sleep is good.


Kaminari Building, Kurohime Laboland

Winter Camp! Workshop today with the IYs, about 70 kids came.

Built the huge bonfire.


Party, late.

Nakatani Apartment, Nagoya

I said goodbye to everyone at camp today, all sad and stuff. Took the train back to Nagoya, really wiped now.

Nakatani Apartment, Nagoya

Just sorta hung around the house today. Feeling kinda crummy with a bit of a headache.

Nakatani Apartment, Nagoya

I joined my host mom's Labo party today, didn't really do much of anything else interesting.

Nakatani Apartment, Nagoya

This poor journal.

Tomorrow I go to Osaka again, and then I dash back to Nagoya and we take off for northern Gifu. Looking forward to it.

Nakatani Apartment, Nagoya

Yesterday I dashed off to osaka to see off the Australian delegates, then dashed back and went up to Shokawa, Gifu with my host family. We stayed at a ski/golf resort in a hotel owned by my host dad's company (Fujitrans), food included.

In the morning we played in the snow a bunch, then drove out to Shirakawago (the world heritage site) and saw some neat thatch buildings. They had those cone-shaped wicker hats for sale, I bought a miniature one.

Nakatani Apartment, Nagoya

Went out to dinner today, sushi. We looked at some shoes, too... didn't buy any, though.

Nakatani Apartment, Nagoya

First day back at the office in almost a month. It was snowing when I got off the subway, but by noon it was sunny again.

I screwed up on a deadline, kinda stressing about that.

Nakatani Apartment, Nagoya

Today I spent all morning finishing the assignment I screwed up, and got it finished up and sent in. Then I took off for a Labo Party, Honda Party, had a good time but it ran kinda late.

Nakatani Apartment, Nagoya

Today I visited Tokunaga Party, had a great time like always.

On the short walk from the subway station home, I saw someone with a little dog like the one in Ghost in the Shell 2. I forget what the breed is called. Anyway, the dog wasn't on a leash and he was smart enough to not run out in front of any cars when the light was red.

I miss Wiley.

Daimon 大門
Nakatani Apartment, Nagoya

Today I made some calls to prepare for my trip to Shizuhama next week, and went to Miura party out near Okazaki.

As I came up the stairs in the subway station, I met that dude from the Nissan college, Eddik. I gave him my card.

Nakatani Apartment, Nagoya

Didn't really do much today.

Nakatani Apartment, Nagoya

This morning I went to a community party down at the Minato Ward Office building. Turned out my host mom was running the thing, there were plenty of kids there. The theme was "the Hungry Caterpillar," and we got to craft little caterpillars out of gashapon capsules.

After the party, there was a little wrap-up at a bakery/resteraunt with a smoking section. Nom nom cough.

Toyooka House, Shizuoka

Today I took the Shinkansen down to Shizuoka, then the Tokaido line to Shimizu and met up with Yamashita tutor. Shimizu is a neat little town (technically a ward), famous for strawberries, tangerines, sashimi, and soccer. There's a professional soccer team, the S-Pulse. You can see Mt. Fuji from it, too.

The party went great. Yamashita's houses were right near the Shinkansen tracks, so every ten minutes or so you could hear it go by. We ate dinner there, one of the laboko gave me a hard boiled egg. This wasn't a normal egg, though; it had been boiled in some hot springs in the mountains, and was jet-black from the sulfur. It's supposed to extend the life of whoever eats it. Not dead yet, so it must have worked.

Then I got dropped off here at Toyooka tutor's house. This is the family of Masahiro, one of the applicants for the year-long high school exchange I interviewed last year. I spent some time with him and his brother, he taught me some shogi, and I taught them checkers. (It was the most I could do with what we had on hand.) Turns out he likes Final Fantasy music a lot, he gave me some, and I showed him some of my stuff from ocremix.

Miyama House, Shizuoka

Today I had a little party at Toyooka tutor's place, three two-year-olds. It went pretty well, all things considered.

Then I got dropped off with Miyama tutor, who took me out to Kuno-zan Toshogu (I think?) a famous shrine honoring the Tokugawa shogunate. There was this neat cable car going into the hills where the shrine was located, we got to ride that. I even got to visit the grave of Tokugawa Ieyasu.

We came back home and I met her kids, twin boys who are really into soccer, and one of the girls I interviewed last year (Misako). Misako and I went to a different party, Yamamoto party, because Miyama's party was cancelled due to flu. Yamamoto party was full of extremely energetic boys, all over the place. Had fun there.

When we got back it was pretty late. Obama gets inaugurated at like one in the morning, but I'm not staying up quite that late. I played the new smash brothers for the first time, like a year after it's been released. Seems just as good as the old one, although I can't say I care much for the nunchuck control scheme.

Nakamura House, Hamamatsu

Today I visited Sakai tutor's party, lots of shy two-year-olds.

After the party we had lunch, and I went shopping around Abekawa with Sakai's daughter Ryoko.

Took a train to Hamamatsu and briefly met with Kokubun tutor before taking another train to Saginomiya station, where I am now.

Nakamura tutor has two college-age kids living here, Shoku and Hitomi. We went out to a game store with Hitomi's boyfriend Kosuke.

Nakamura House, Hamamatsu

Today was supposed to be a break, but it didn't feel much like it.

After a rushed morning, Nakamura tutor dropped me off with Kokubun tutor. Then we went to the studio for FM Haro, a local station. Then we went on the air for twenty minutes.

I went to the local science museum, that was fun.

In the evening we had a party back at the house, consisting mostly of older labo members. I played go with mr nakamura and with one of the labo members, they said they were ~3 dan, but either they went easy on me or the japan amateur/AGA scales are really out of whack.

Kokubun Apartment, Hamamatsu

labo labo labo...

Nakatani Apartment, Nagoya

Two more labo parties today, Kikukawa and Suzuki. Back in Nagoya now.

Usually labo tutors are nice to be around, but sometimes... sometimes they really tap you out.

Nakatani Apartment, Nagoya

Today we went to Nagoyako Aquarium! Got to see dolphins, penguins, all sorts of fish, and a visiting TV personality known as "Sakana-kun." Hung out with Seia for a bit, too.

Nakatani Apartment, Nagoya

Cleaned up my room today.

Nakatani Apartment, Nagoya

I visited Sugiyama party today. We did a little setsubun ceremony, which involved making a big mess with a bunch of perfectly good soybeans.