Wednesday, 9 April 2014

Japanorama: Final Day

Very sadly today is our final day in Japan. We've had another wonderful trip here and I don't want to leave yet. Since my last post we've been based back in Osaka at Hotel Raizan South. Amanda and I have done a lot in the past week but also had plenty of downtime. Some of the highlights of the week have been:

  • Catching up with old friends Shinsuke, Hideki, Shinozaki & Sukrit and meeting many new friends
  • Attending two Hanshin Tigers at both the Osaka Dome and Koshien Stadium. 
  • Checking out the cherry blossoms at both Osaka Castle and Mt Yoshino. 
  • Eating at my favourite restaurant: Chitose Okonomiyaki restaurant here in Shin-Imamiya.
  • Rooftop beer
  • Visiting both Kyoto and Nara
So Japan I guess it is farewell for now. Amanda and I don't really know where life will take us in the next year or two but hopefully it's not too long before we are back again for "Japan V: insert working title here".

P.S. Before the trip I promised a bunch of articles about what to do, see and eat in Japan. Obviously I got a little sidetracked here enjoying our holiday so I'll have to complete these when we get back to Palau. I'll also post some of my SLR photos which i haven't even looked at yet.

Sakura at Osaka Castle

Koshien Stadium

Osaka Dome

Giant Buddhas at Nara

Tuesday, 1 April 2014

Japanorama: Punkspring music festival

Friends and regular readers will know that both Amanda and myself love seeing live music It's one of the things I've seriously missed while living in Palau.

Gimmie Gimmies!!
A band I've quite enjoyed over the years is called 'Me First and the Gimmie Gimmies'. They are an all-star punk band who only do covers. They cover everyone from Dolly Parton to R Kelly to Billy Joel to Boys 2 Men. The songs and the band are a lot of fun. They have rarely toured Australia and I was very disappointed to see them head down under late last year (while we were in Palau). But when planning our Japan trip I was more than a little excited to see our trip timed with their tour.

Unfortunately I got a little sick the night before the gig so we went in a little late and I was a touch subdued. Going to a festival in Japan is rather hilarious. Like going to Pro Baseball games you can bring in any food or drink you like. You just have to transfer drinks into plastic cups. No bag checks either!

The crowd will either be very subdued and polite or crazy and completely into it. Up the back of the standing section there were people asleep on the floor. Many people left bags and belongings on seats with seemingly no concern of them being stolen (there is little crime in Japan).

At one point a few circle pits started but at least two of them seemed to very quickly into something more like a hippy love circle.

Good crowd in for the festival
The first band we caught was a Japanese one called Dragon Ash. They were a really weird mix between funk/metal/rap and pop music. They also had a couple of male back up dancers which at times left me wondering if they'd be better placed performing at the Sydney Gay Pride festival. The crowd seemed totally into it though.

Next up were the band we'd come to see. Me First and the Gimmie Gimmies were awesome. They sounded great, were very funny and played some of my favourites in Country Roads (John Denver), I Believe I Can Fly (R Kelly) and Jolene (Dolly Parton).

We missed most of the next band called 10-Feet, another Japanese band while doing a convenience store run for a snack and some beers. Unlike Dragon Ash they actually had one style and did it fairly well.

Part of the cool ceiling in the hall
Next up were Swedish band The Hives. I've been aware of The Hives before but they are one of those bands that I never managed to get into for whatever reason. I have to say I was quite impressed by them, they are a great live band with a very good stage presence. I enjoyed their garage rock style and will have to check then out more.

Last up were Bad Religion a band I'd listened to a little bit through the mid 90's but wouldn't say I'm much of a fan. As soon as they started it was immediately noticable the sound mix was completely off with far too much drum & bass and very little vocals and guitar. Unfortunately the mix didn't get much better through their set. This was a little bit of a let down as the major focus of the band would be Greg's vocal harmonies.

Overall a fun gig and I'm very happy we went. Many thanks to our friend Shinsuke for securing the tickets for us! I also have a cool new Me First tshirt with a Japanese inspired giant robots theme.

Japanorama: on the road

Another update coming at you from the Shinkansen. We are currently heading to Matsumoto from Nagoya. Since my last update we've been travelling around a bit with stops in Hiroshima, Kobe and Nagoya. We've been doing heaps of walking each day hitting between 10 and 15 kilometres. Hopefully burning off all the great food & drink we are consuming.

Deer at Miyajimi like maps and cakes (just ask Amanda about the cake)
The first afternoon in Hiroshima we went for a look at the castle and around the A-bomb dome and peace park. The castle is nice but probably a little pointless if you've been to numerous others in Osaka or elsewhere. The following day we went for a day trip to the beautiful island of Miyajima. It is a beautiful place and I'd highly recommend a day or two there if you are ever travelling around in Japan.

Miyajima craft beer & a fish cake wrapped in bacon & cheese!
Rather quickly we were headed back to Kobe, the main reason for stopping in so close to Osaka was to attend the Punkspring music festival. (I'll write more about this in another post). We apart from the festival we had a quiet couple of days but did have some amazing pork rolls and crispy skin duck pancakes in Kobe's Chinatown. One night we stopped at a small but well decorated bar, we ordered two beers which ended up being half foam. Slowly drank them, then decided to leave and head elsewhere. The bill for two beers ended up being nearly $24! The beers were 600 yen each and we also got charged 500 yen each for entering the bar. I believe this might be a typical thing for small bars but I'm far from impressed at paying $12 for a half foam beer. I wish I got the name of the place so I could warn others from going there.

Last night was an overnight stop in Nagoya. We went on the (free) Asahi brewery tour yesterday afternoon which I have mixed reports about. The tour itself was very sterile and you didn't get to see much. I've had better tours in Australia and Ireland. The draw card is however the 3 free decent sized beers you get at the end. Again you have to question if it's worth it as you have to take the train around 15 mins from Nagoya station, then walk another 15-20 to the factory. The beers you taste are their standard ones which you could buy for under $2 each in vending machines or shops located everywhere. Even the Asahi merchandise shop was rather poor.

Weird stuff in Japan can be found everywhere
Last night was another visit to the restaurant chain Yamachan for some Tebasaki (Nagoya specialty deep fried chicken wings). These are awesome, best wings ever. (Sorry Franks Red Hot sauce). They have multiple stores in most major cities so when in Japan check one out.

Today we making use of the last days of our JR rail pass and are headed to Matsumoto in the Nagano region to check out the castle. Tomorrow we'll be headed back to Osaka for the last third of our trip.

The stupidly expensive bar in Kobe

Thursday, 27 March 2014

Japanorama: 1st week update

This post is coming at you at roughly 300Kph. Yep we are on the Shinkansen (bullet train) travelling from Osaka to Hiroshima. Rather quickly the first 3rd of our trip is over and we are into the middle week where we are doing some travelling around: Hiroshima, Miyajima, Kobe, Nagoya & Matsumoto are on the list.

Beer & Sumo! Sugoi!
We've have a great time in Osaka with plenty of eating, drinking, sightseeing AND internetting. Some of the highlights are: Attending the Grand Sumo Tournament, catching up with our friend from Tokyo, attending a high school baseball tournament at Koshien stadium, eating at my favourite restaurant in the world (Chitose Okonomiyaki), crashing someone's birthday party, eating at the world's first ever conveyor belt sushi restaurant and tasting plenty of new beers.

Nagoya specialty beer with red miso paste from the awesome Yamachan tebesaki wings restaurant

Birthday boy lost the use of his legs but found a pole to cuddle instead

Sakura flowers starting to bloom at Osaka Castle
Mawaru Genroku apparently the 1st conveyor belt sushi restaurant
The super popular high school baseball tournament

The rather awesome Shinsekai area at night

Thursday, 20 March 2014

Japanorama: Touchdown Osaka

Shinsekai area. Right near where we stay.
We are here! Holy crap it's great to be back in this city again.

The overnight commute sucked though. We didn't leave our house until about 11pm and sat in the tiny Koror airport until about 1:30am. It's a 2 hour flight to Guam which is one hour ahead, so we arrived towards 5am. Another two hours on the ground before leaving around 7am for a 4 hour flight here. Our eyes were ready to drop out of our skulls. Luckily the flight to Osaka was almost empty so we both had three seats each and managed to get some good napping in.

We've had a productively lazy first day here. We've eaten Udon, Tempura, Takoyaki, Sushi, Kushikatsu and compared the new Asahi Gold vs my old favourite Asahi Black. Like recent afternoons back in Palau we even managed to watch the Sumo.
Sumo + Beer tasting!

Outside of the restaurant
What I have managed to be productive with is using this amazing new tool called the internet to update things like; my phones firmware, 50 odd phone applications, laptop OS to windows 8.1, various PC applications and just generally get a whole bunch of various stuff down. WINNING!

Oh and I even managed to fit in a soak in the onsen!

The melt in your mouth sushi
Tomorrow Amanda wants to do some shopping then we'll hopefully visit what is possibly my favourite restaurant in the world (tough call i know) and then off to Kyoto tomorrow night to check out some lantern festival.

Tuesday, 18 March 2014

...and in other news

So in more positive news, finally last Friday my new scuba gear arrived. (I’ve only been trying to order it since September last year)! It was good timing as on Saturday I started a 7 day block with a great group of divers based out of Canberra (mostly). It’s always fun to dive with fellow Aussies so I can talk in my native tongue ;)

And in the most exciting news for a while Amanda & I leave for Japan late tomorrow night. Well actually it’s about 2am Thursday morning. For some reason pretty much every flight out of Palau leaves between about 12-3am. I’ve heard two different reasons why this occurs: 1) to time with connecting flights elsewhere 2) because in high heat/humidity environments it uses less fuel to get a plane up into the air at these times. Either way it’s pretty frustrating but there is no other choice!
After near permanent summer for the best part of the last two years I think we are in for a shock. The forecast for Osaka on Friday is 3-9 degrees Celsius. Ouch! In Palau it’s 26-30 degrees all year around. Good thing I have my Clutch hoodie and Canadiens beanie at the ready, I’m going to need them. 

We are super excited for the trip and have already sorted tickets for the 2nd last day of the Osaka Grand Sumo Tournament on Saturday, two different Hanshin Tigers baseball games and punk music mini-festival. Both Amanda and I love watching Sumo, it really is an impressive sport, trust me. And after being in Palau for 9 months and missing so many awesome gigs back home I’m super happy at getting to see one of the bands I missed in Me First & the Gimmie Gimmies. 

Sunday, 16 March 2014

The Great Palauan Baseball Fail

Through most of my life I’ve played sports. My main sport over the years has been ice hockey but I’ve also played a bunch of other sports everything from breach volleyball to squash to cricket to baseball. When Amanda and I started looking at moving to Palau I went searching to see what sports they played. I wanted to keep up some activity and was hoping they had something I’d be interested in. Unsurprisingly they don’t have an ice rink however it turns out Baseball is their national sport. Brilliant I thought, I can get involved, meet some people, keep active etc etc. Perfect!

After arriving here in June last year I quickly found out I needed to go visit the Palauan Olympic Committee office. I met the guy who runs Baseball and was told the final series for the current season was starting that night and there wouldn’t be another season for 6 months (starting January). BUGGER!

I was told I could come watch the finals and they would coincide with the national Belau games (state vs state comp) which baseball was a part of. In typical Palauan fashion I had to ask question after question to get details on what time the games where on, if anyone trained over the off-season, when the next season started etc etc. Eventually after asking enough questions I was told I could join the Peleliu teams training session prior to their Belau games campaign. 

As I mentioned in early blog posts I watched a number of games and enjoyed my training session despite it being rather unorganised. 

Skip down a few months to December and I started contacting the Baseball organiser to find out when the new season started and if I could train with anyone. Of course the information forthcoming was poor, the extent of the information I got was that the season was due to start in January still and I’d be contacted closer to the date.

Skip to January, again the same details. No one is training, season is due to start in January some time and the guy would contact me when the season was organised.

So around late January I get fed up waiting and go into the office again. The season has now been delayed due to the weather hampering the re-building of the pitcher’s mound and it may be a shortened season due to Micronesian games around mid-year. The good news was that apparently now it might be possible for me to join the Palau Community College team’s training and he’d put me in a team from the Ngechebed area. 

A few more weeks later and finally after contacting the guy yet again I’m told I can indeed join the PCC training session. I got to one session which was fairly well run and despite having a sore shoulder for a few days I enjoyed getting back out there again. What I found out though was that they had been training since September and I could have joined them way back then! The coach seemed very disappointed with the organisation of the league over the last 5-8 years and they had even boycotted the last few seasons because of it. I was invited to join the PCC team for future trainings however over the next two weeks it inconveniently rained each day that training was scheduled. 

Finally somewhere around the start of March we get a fine day for training. I head to the field only to find two teams in full uniform warming up for what is clearly a league game. With no communications the season has started without me. I immediately sms the bloke in charge… of course I receive no reply ( I would have called him but I had almost run out of phone credit, I tried to buy more that night but found two stores in a row had run out *SIGH*). So I call the guy the next day and got some long winded story about how he’s trying to put me on a team (maybe the PCC team now) and he’d get back to me. Again I never heard back from him. I went down to the field for the next game and low and behold the PCC team are playing. I had a quick chat to the coach who said he’d talk to the organiser and get him to call me back. It’s been about 1.5 weeks since and no further communication­s have been forthcoming. 

With the season starting late and apparently ending early and with our Japan trip starting this week I’ve given up on playing this year.

If you can’t tell I’m rather pissed off and extremely frustrated. All I wanted to do was play some social baseball, it’s not that f#%king hard is it? I know another 4 whiteys on island that wanted to play as well. Somehow due to the complete lack of communication and organisation they’ve only managed 4 teams. Although each team has about 15 players! There could be a league with 8 teams if they’ve only worked their shit out.  

So now not only am I regretting the effort I’m gone to in attempting to play but I’m also regretting bringing over my glove, cleats, uniform and recently buying new batting gloves and a training bat. What a waste. Thanks very much Palau.