Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Off to Gifu tomorrow

That's the plan anyway. I've got my tickets, and a bunch of books I'm going to offload onto Ana and Damien. I've also got some other things, but since they read this blog, I'm not gonna say what they are. But it's gonna be fun!

Today was a lazy day. After going to bed way too late last night, I puttered around the house, walked to the place I'd left my bike last night (it decided to pour down suddenly), and went to the internet cafe to print some things off. The weather's warmed up recently, and the cherry blossoms picked today to come out, which is really lucky because usually one good rain ruins them all. Looks like I'll be doing my hanami thing in Gifu prefecture this year.

Sunday, March 23, 2008

Spring vacation

Friday was the last day of the school year, at least for me. In the town I work for, there is a special school for troubled kids. I'm not sure if it's because they have family problems, or behavioral problems of the kids themselves - probably a combination of the two - but the students live there. There aren't many, only about 15 or 20 students, and nearly as many teachers there. Tracey and I go only very occasionally, Friday was the 3rd time for us. The last two times we played soccer and visited the festival held on the school grounds, but this time we went to Enoshima Aquarium in Fujisawa city.

It's fairly small, but pretty good for one not in a huge city. A few weeks ago I went to Hakkejima Sea Paradise, and while Enoshima lacks a ginormous whale tank with beluga whales and roller coaster rides, they do well with what they've got. The construction is really impressive, there's a giant central tank full of schooling fish, stingrays and various other fishes. The entrance is on the 2nd floor and winds around the central tank, giving you small glimpses into it while showing various aquatic ecosystems around Japan, then finally opens up into a giant glass wall that shows the whole tank. It's pretty breathtaking for a town of 400k people.

So we went with the kids and got in free (teachers get free entrance, yay!), then ran all the way to the other side for the dolphin show. After that was a more leisurely walk back around the aquarium and then hanging out at the beach right next to the aquarium. That part was still rather cold and windy.

And that finished my last day of school, how tough. But it's not all fun and games yet. Tomorrow I've gotta go to the immigration office in Yokohama and suffer through the visa renewal process. After, I'll meet Sayaka for lunch and walk around Chinatown, though it's supposed to rain, which sucks.

Future plans are going to visit Ana and Damien on the 27th for the rest of March. I can't wait to see them again, it'll be so strange to hang out in Japan again. Crazy. Right after I get back, I'm going to meet a friend of my friend Aaron, Drew, and his wife who will be visiting Japan. I'm going to take them up to Tokyo and show them around Akihabara, maybe go to a maid cafe, and then have dinner and drinks somewhere. Probably Shibuya. But I'm gonna have to ask around where the good places are because my idea of exotic up there is going to this great English pub and having a bunch of specialty brews.

I'll have some days off at the start of April, school won't get going again until after the 7th, so I was thinking about doing a bike trip. I wanted to ride out to see Ana and Dam-o, but 300km is too far to ride in such a short time. Maybe I'll try to ride halfway, there's a famous castle about that distance. Three days oughta do it.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Time to move the money

Looks like the dollar's down to 96 yen. About a year after I came here, it reached a high of around 122 yen/dollar. Amazing. Note to self: next time you go abroad, do it in the middle of the Republican's term, and send money home all the time they manage to tank the economy.

Friday, March 07, 2008

"I Am Legend" Alternate Ending

I saw this movie a month or two ago. After the movie, my friends and I were discussing the ending and things we didn't like about it. I haven't read the book yet, I'm waiting on my roommate to relinquish the book so I can give it a go.

Evidently there's an alternate ending. It's not much better, it doesn't quite mesh with the book's theme, but it's better than the original. The link has some interesting theories on why this ending wasn't used, though I'm not sure I agree with them. Either way, the alternate comes out better.

(Tip: if you haven't seen the movie, go watch it first)

Monday, March 03, 2008

Speaking of seafood

Monday's lunch was interesting. I wandered back to the teachers' room after 4th period to get a drink and wait for the kids to come get me for lunch. At the elementary schools, I eat lunch with one of the classes of the grade I teach that day, so they can pepper me with the same questions about how tall I am, if I'm married, or when my birthday is. So I walk into the room and some of the teachers are putting food onto trays for the teachers to eat in the staff room, and one of them is plucking these brown fried fillets and plopping them into a dish. I asked her what they were, and she replied, "kujira," or whale.


Actually, when I tried it at lunch, it wasn't all that bad, although it was cold and the congealed grease made it not terribly appetizing. Most of the kids didn't even seem to be aware of what they were eating. The 12-year-old boy next to me said it was fish, and when I asked if it might not be whale he said, "tabun." Maybe. Then he shrugged and downed the rest of it. The taste wasn't that bad. I have to say it wasn't exactly appealing, but it wasn't any worse than cold KFC that had been left in the fridge. But I took a couple bites and pushed it off to one side to finish my mochi rice cakes.

This was my first experience with whale, although it can be found at several restaurants. One of my favorite yakitori shops offers whale bacon, something I've never gotten up the courage to eat.

Japan has a long history of whaling. It started out as a nutritional supplement for the Ainu (a different race of people that were pushed into the north of Hokkaido and were killed off or assimilated), kind of like the Native Americans of the Pacific Northwest, though without a religious tradition behind it. After WWII, when food - particularly protein - was extremely scarce, the US encouraged Japan to turn to whaling for its protein needs. After Japan's rapid growth, it didn't really need it, but the fleet was still sent out as the owners were/are politically connected and receive huge subsidies. Nowadays, most people don't eat it - those who do do it as a sort of nostalgia for their childhood when it was widely served in school lunches. All that excess whale that's caught is typically turned into pet food here, a very sad ending that could easily be replaced by soy products - lord knows they eat enough soy here.