Visiting Yusuke and Yumi...

Trip Start Feb 26, 2007
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Trip End Jun 16, 2007


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Monday, June 11, 2007

I had a quiet last couple of days in Tokyo, apart from one afternoon when I had the task of entertaining a cute little Australian boy for a couple of hours! He was only four years old, and initially he just came and sat right next to me in the hostel lounge (perhaps he was attracted to the chocolate that I was eating at the time!). I got talking to his dad as well, who would protest when his son started climbing onto my back (on numerous occasions!), but I didn`t mind in the slightest, and enjoyed this unexpected stint as babysitter...

I went for a mooch around Ueno Park on my final afternoon as it was red hot, but I made the mistake of sitting down to watch a band that was playing, and spent the next two hours talking to an old Japanese man about politics (although in truth, he did most of the talking!). He ended every sentence with "you understand?" and would often triumphantly declare "my opinion" after a particularly controversial statement, but it was refreshing to speak to a local who wasn`t afraid to say what he thought, most of which wasn`t too complimentary about his own country...

With less than a week left in Japan at this point, I wanted to visit a couple of friends from New Zealand, beginning with Yusuke who I met during my second stint in Mount Maunganui...

After meeting at Nagano Station, we went on a bike ride so that I could get my bearings as his house wasn`t in the city centre, but all we managed to do was get wet since it absolutely chucked it down! I had an umbrella so I faired a little better, though I nearly crashed the bike on a few occasions due to my one-handed steering, but poor Yusuke got soaked and ended up looking like a drowned rat!

We eventually decided to return home for the car, and then find a nice restaurant for dinner...

I`ve been a fan of okonomiyaki ever since Rie made me it in Nelson, so I was happy to follow Yusuke to a place where you actually made it yourself...sounded fun. We had our own area to eat and we sat on either side of a grill, so I watched as Yusuke stirred the ingredients and laid the mixture down, flipping it over after a few minutes had passed. I tried my hand next, and everything was going swimmingly until I tossed the okonomiyaki like a pancake, and it broke into about five pieces, much to Yusuke`s amusement! It didn`t matter though as it still tasted gorgeous...

Yusuke had to work the next day, so I was free to wander around with the help of a map that he`d drawn for me, and I began with a visit to Zenkoji, Nagano`s impressive temple. There was some construction work going on which detracted from the spectacle slightly, but the weather was fine so I relaxed there for an hour or so - things were to change shortly after...

I popped into Tower Records back in the city centre for a quick browse, and emerged half an hour later to be greeted with thunder and lightning, so I headed for a bookstore and passed some time in there. I knew that I had to walk back to Yusuke`s place at some point, but the weather showed no sign of relenting - in fact it felt like armageddon! In the end I just decided to go for it, and it was a relief to get indoors again and strip off, since my jeans were drenched!

We went out for ramen later in the evening, before going to a huge Internet cafe that had many pool and table tennis tables on its premises. Back in New Zealand, I`d spent many an hour playing and beating Yusuke at the old `ping pong,` yet he seemed awash with confidence since he`d been practising recently, whereas I hadn`t played for 18 months. The fact that he beat me at pool made me determined to put one over on him, and I duely dished out a 10-0 drubbing over the course of an hour!

We called at the 7/11 on the way back to his house for some beers, and it soon resembled a scene from Men Behaving Badly! I`ll definitely be returning to Nagano later in the year when the snow arrives, as Yusuke said that he`d give me some snowboarding lessons, so I`m looking forward to that...

In the meantime, I embarked on a seven hour train journey down to Hamamatsu, where I was to stay with the lovely Yumi for a couple of nights. It had been well over two months since I last saw her, so it was great to meet her again at the train station, and she immediately drove me to the place where her dad was giving a Shorinji Kempo lesson. On my last visit, he`d demonstrated the form of self defence on me, and I`d expressed an interest in watching him in action. Well Yumi and I did more than just watch, and were summoned to take part in the warm up routine, and I soon realised just how inflexible I am...and lots of cracking of the bones could be heard! It was fun though, especially as there were a few incredibly cute little Japanese kids running amok!

We returned to Yumi`s house afterwards, and I ate some more lovely Japanese food courtesy of her mum. Kazuki, Yumi`s husband, was also there and gave me a selection of Cup Noodles after discovering last time that we share a mutual appreciation for the cheap and easy-to-make snack. Naturally we drank a few beers as well, though I kept well away from the whiskey that Yumi`s dad was drinking...

Yumi, Kazuki and me went to the cinema at 11am the next morning to watch the epic Pirates of the Caribbean...all three hours of it! I really enjoyed it though, despite not even seeing the second one, and the time seemed to fly by. I would hazard a guess that a few of the audience fell asleep at some point though!

A popular activity amongst the youth of Japan is to go into a photo booth and pose for photographs with their friends, and after the movie the three of us joined the throngs of youngsters in an arcade and eventually found a free booth. It was fun posing for the camera and seeing the results, and afterwards we could go mad and decorate the photos with various wacky designs, before collecting the finished product a few moments later...

I bought us some crepes on the high street, but Yumi promptly dropped hers within about ten seconds of receiving it! I would have still eaten it to be honest, but she quickly disposed of it in a rubbish bin and bought something else...

We dropped Kazuki off and went for a drive along the coast later in the afternoon, and I bought her mum some flowers to say thanks for letting me stay - jeez I`m a good lad! Her mum seemed to appreciate them, and in return I was treated to a delicious evening meal at a Japanese barbecue restaurant...

It was actually Yusuke who had told me about these kinds of restaurants where you are given the raw meat, and then you barbecue it yourself. He also mentioned that a particular favourite was cow tongue, and after relaying this tale to Yumi, I knew that I was going to have to try it...

Yumi`s dad was in charge of ordering and he didn`t hold back, obtaining many different kinds of meat that made our table resemble that of a butcher! First up was raw meat which Yumi assured me wouldn`t give me a tummy upset ("maybe" she said afterwards!), and this was followed by intestines that tasted ok, but took at least five minutes to chew. I`d told Yumi not to tell me what each meat was, but it was obvious that the tongue-shaped meat was indeed the cow`s tongue - couldn`t they have cut it up into normal shapes?? In the event, it was actually very nice, all that was missing was a Yorkshire Pudding or three, but I only have one more week to wait for that. And beans. Mmmmm! :)

We called in to see Kazuki playing basketball on the way home, and bizarrely I saw four old guys rehearsing their band in the adjacent building who I could have sworn were the same guys I saw in Hiroshima. When Yumi`s mum walked up to me and said "Ventures," it freaked me out a bit because it seemed like such an almighty coincidence ("Ventures" was written on the drums of the band in Hiroshima)...

I got introduced to a Kiwi guy who was also playing basketball, and we ended up swapping email addresses as his company is looking for more English teachers, and I assured him that I`ll be back in September. I`m not sure that I`d want to teach in Hamamatsu though as it is a lot less glamorous than Tokyo or Kyoto, but he is married to a Japanese girl and settled down so it suits him down to the ground. Still, you can never have too many contacts...

As Yumi was working the next day, her mum drove me to the train station and waved me off as I headed back to Kyoto. I have a renewed desire to live in Japan now, and even though I can`t wait to go home and see my family, I am excited about returning later in the year to resume my adventure...
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