Finally, it was time to go home. Fortunately, I was smart enough to not book a flight in the morning, so I had time to wake up and pack, then go out for lunch with Jai. I wasn't super hungover, which was impressive considering how much I drank the night before, and how grossly hot I was sleeping at Jai's place, but it was enough to be unpleasant. For my final meal in Japan, we walked to a place famous for uni (sea eel, probably my favorite incredible edible water animal), but they were closed. Damn. So we went to an Indian restaurant, which Jai said is the "second best in Tokyo". Since Jai wasn't about to let me stop enjoying my vacation just yet, he made me drink a morning after beer. Well, I choked it down (aahhh, I miss you already, Japanese beer), and the food was awesome. I kinda felt bad that I spent a week at Jai's place, but we had barely hung out. He was okay with it, though, understanding both that he had been busy at work, and that I needed to get as much out of my vacation without worrying about finding places to stay and the like. I hope we can hang out again soon... either he and his girlfriend come to Seattle (or more likely, Mt. Whistler in nearby BC, Canada), or I'll be back in winter to see him again. Either way, I look forward to seeing him again sometime/somewhere.
Not much can be said about today. It was a long, sad trip to Narita Airport followed by a long, sad flight back home (though actually, I love flying, so I was pretty entertained on the plane) via a short, confusing layover in San Franciso. Josh Smurr picked me up and took me home, and the next morning I went back to work to find out what all had exploded while I was out of the country for nearly three weeks.
I had an awesome time in Japan this summer, but it was way too short. Every time I go, I come back wondering why I'm not living there yet, and I felt that way more than ever this time. I miss my friends, I miss the food, and I miss feeling completely at home in a place that I should feel completely out-of-place in. I had hoped to move to Japan by this summer, but since that obviously didn't work... I'll just have to push it back a year. 2010 seems like a nice year to once again completely change my life. Of course I'll miss Seattle and all of my friends in the States, but it really is what I need to do with my life. Wish me luck, frieands.
Ahh jeez... this is gonna be long. I don't expect anyone to read it, but at least now I'll have a record of my thoughts and feelings on my last (full) day in Japan.
I woke up feeling pretty nervous, because today was the day that I would go see Mizue in the hospital. I skipped breakfast and made my way to Mitaka, which is on the western part of Tokyo, kind of near where TAKMIZ live. Takkun met me at the train station, and he gave me a more detailed description of Mizue's condition on the bus to the hospital. When we got there, she was away from her room, so we sat down and he prepared me as best as he could for what I was going to see. Shortly after Takkun said goodbye to Mizue and Tsukuru and left for work in the morning, he got a panicked call from Mizue saying that her head hurt really badly. The phone cut out, and he wasn't able to get back to her. Then he got a call from an ambulance saying that they had picked her up and were taking her to the hospital. She was lucky that they got to her as quickly as they did, but the stroke had caused some pretty serious damage in her brain.
So Takkun went on to explain that she's still Mizue... she still knows who people are, recognizes pictures and words and such, but her brain had basically wiped itself clean of all the neural connections she had spent a lifetime building. So she had a hard time talking because she could imagine what she wanted to say, but she just couldn't get herself to say it. Her reading skills were about the same as mine... she'll see kanji and vaguely understand the meaning, but she doesn't really know how to read it (this is probably a difficult concept to explain to someone using a language that doesn't use pictographs). She can't really write... she can scribble out a few letters and draw simple sketches. But she's been writing in a notebook every day, and that's how she and Takkun have been communicating when words don't work. The difference between the first days after the stroke and a month later was pretty drastic, but it still resembled a small child. Naturally, I couldn't help but wonder how much about me she remembered. We dated for three years, after all, and have remained very close friends ever since (we chat online all the time, and I could always count on her to help me in any sort of random difficult situation that came up). When Takkun said I was coming, she said it was really embarrassing, and that she didn't want me to see her like this. The more Takkun and I talked, the more worried I became for her. But he assured me that she's still herself. She hasn't forgotten all of the things she used to know... her brain just doesn't know how to access them. So every day, little by little, she's reminded of things, connections start to form, and she's slowly working towards recovery. Of course it was really hard for him at first, but between his job, going to the hospital to see her every day, and the baby, he didn't have much time to feel sad over her condition. Instead, he's gotten used to it, and is now enjoying helping her recover, waiting for the days (not any time soon) that they can travel together again, go to music festivals, and enjoy their new family life.
So then the moment of truth came. Mizue was wheeled into the room in a wheelchair, and they helped her wash her hands. She hadn't noticed me, and she wasn't saying anything. Well before Takkun had told me much of her condition, I was fighting back tears, but upon first sight, it got bad. Then she turned around, saw me, and let out this wailing sound like "uwwwaaaaaaaaaahhhhhh". Immediately I realized that Takkun was right, that she really is still herself, because that's pretty much the exact same reaction she would have had in a moment of embarrassment even without the stroke. So she kept making that sound while laughing and pointing to her headgear saying "..but I look like this!" Over the course of the next few hours, I got a good idea of just how little she's changed. She had a hard time talking, but would then suddenly say something surprisingly coherent. She kept saying things like "what's that??" and "I don't know what that means", but the way she said them was no different than it would have been normally. And she kept laughing at herself when she couldn't remember how to say something, or when she tried to write something and immediately realized that something was wrong, but she wasn't sure what. Mostly it was the sounds... even if she couldn't talk normally, her weird little grunting noises, sighs, and laughter were exactly the same as usual. So that was comforting. The three of us were able to laugh together at her state, because even she realized that this wasn't normal, but she would just have to keep working to return to normal. Or as normal as she could be. Takkun said that if it had been anyone else, it would have been incredibly difficult, but because of Mizue's strange sense of humor, her incredible self-reliance, and overall strong personality, she turned a difficult situation into something much more manageable. That doesn't mean I wasn't still struggling not to cry the whole time, but it was good to see that our friends were right, she really was doing well.
During the day at the hospital, some interesting things happened. Mizue's mom had come down from Sapporo, and was living at her and Takkun's apartment taking care of the baby and the cats. Just a day or two prior, her dad also came down to visit. So the two of them came to the hospital and brought Tsukuru. I hadn't seen Mizue's parents in 6 years. It was awesome. Nothing had changed... we chatted just like we used to, and they seemed just as happy to see me as I was to see them. Meeting Tsukuru (or "Tukuru", depending on who you ask, which only makes it even more obvious that you can derive MY NAME from his) for the first time was also neat. Seeing Takkun holding his son and talking about how much fun it was to be a dad did something horrible to me... all of a sudden there was like this crazy wave of emotions inside of me that made me think "ahhh jeez, I want one of these things. I want to get married and have a kid." Gross. I thought that only happened to women. But even with Mizue in the state she was in, seeing TAKMIZ with TAKMIZ, Jr. (when she first told me she was pregnant, this is the name she used for him, which I still find to be ridiculously funny) it just seemed to right to see them like that, and it felt like I should have a kid by this point to grow up with Tsukuru (or Tsukkun for short). That was weird.
Eventually Mizue's parents and Tsukkun left, and one of her friends, Minaco showed up. I then presented Mizue with a bunch of souvenirs I had brought with me. She had asked me for baby books in English, so I gave her a bunch. We assumed that if she couldn't really speak Japanese, there was even less of a chance of her understanding English. She was thrilled to receive the books, but didn't really understand what was going on, so we decided that it would be up to Takkun to teach both English and Japanese to both his wife and child. Better than the books, though, were the two years' worth of snow globes that I had collected from them from my various travels (mostly moped rallies). I had wrapped them loosely in newspaper, but as soon as she pulled the first one from the bag she immediately knew what it was, and reacted like "oh, you've got to be kidding me, another one?!?", which is exactly how she reacted two years ago when I gave them more for the collection I'm forcing upon them. But then she opened them and was struck by a wave of nostalgia. Some of the cities (Salt Lake City, Victoria) she had never been to, but they brought back memories of her adventures in the USA and Canada. Then she pulled out Detroit, and got really excited because she had lived in Kalamazoo for a year and a half, and it brought back all kinds of memories of Michigan. She pulled out her notepad and drew a picture of an explosion, and said that "it's that place which is abu". That was weird... "abu" is a word I invented (which means "dangerous"), and an inside joke among our friends, but she said it like it was nothing, and laughed that her memory of Detroit is that it was dangerous and she didn't want to go there. Even more impressive, she started writing "Detroit", and even though she couldn't quite get it right, even she was surprised that she remembered how to write in English. Then she opened the one from Los Angeles and got really excited, because it's always been one of her favorite cities in the world. She said "it's the place where everyone likes to do this" and drew a picture of a giant ice cream cone. She then remembered how much she loved American junk food, and said "everyone is like this because of the food" and drew a picture of a big fat guy. Clearly, Mizue is just as badass as ever.
We hung out for a while more, but eventually I had to get going to attend my going-away party. So I said goodbye to everyone, and Takkun walked me to the bus stop. I fought back the last few waves of tears (mostly because of Mizue, but also partly because, once again, I would be attending a going-away party for myself and going back to the Americraine, something that has happened far too many times in my life). All in all, I was glad I got to see Takkun, Tsukkun, and the parents, but most of all, I was glad that I got to see Mizue. Takkun is right... it's probably going to take a long time, but she'll recover, and she'll never stop enjoying life to the fullest.
In Shibuya, I met up with Shingo outside of Hachiko (soon to be an offensively American movie), the dog statue, while we waited for Minaco to show up. I had only met her for the first time a few hours ago, but she was coming to my going-away party. I guess that's just kind of how our friend group works. Actually, I didn't really know WHO was going to show up, so it was interesting. As we waited in the crowdedest part of one of the crowdedest wards of Tokyo, we noticed that our skin was becoming warm and sticky just from it being so crowded. Gross. So Minaco showed up, and we set out for the drinkery/eatery, a tiny little hidden place that was supposedly very good for how cheap it was. Shingo asked what I wanted to eat (by the way, I hadn't eaten yet today.. I was hoping to get to Shibuya early to find food so I wouldn't get super drunk, but that didn't work out), and I said "anything I can't find in America". It kind of seems like he ordered a selection of the grossest things they had to offer: Shiokara, chicken liver, some kind of fish roe, and other weird things. Good thing I can eat anything. Even the things I don't really like (for example, Shiokara were damn tasty. And of course, I ordered things I wanted to eat, too. I was already drunk by the time people started showing up. It was kind of weird.. there were 9 people there that I met for the first time that night. But every time one of my friends showed up, it was an awesome surprise. Ai-chan showed up, and it was neat not only seeing her and her brother in the same room, but also her boyfriend who was visiting from Shizuoka, who just happens to live in the same town as Kengo. And work for the same company as him. And know him. Weird. Also, she was awesome when she was drunk. The next pleasant surprise was Takkun... he's got such a crazy busy schedule that I didn't think he'd actually be able to make it out tonight. MAN, it made me happy that we could actually spend some time together (I mean, besides in the hospital). Hitomix also made a cameo appearance, which made me happy, especially after how much she and I had hung out 2 years ago when we were both studying Audio production. But especially awesome was that Mi-kun came out. I've been friends with him since way back in 2003 when Mizue and I met up with 8 of her friends and went on a 3-day tour of Utsunomiya, doing nothing but eating the gyoza that town is famous for. Not only was that trip the first time that either of us met Takkun, but it was because of Mi-kun that I learned Japanese. Seriously, I had an epiphany overnight, and it's because of him. It was too bad that his long-time girlfriend Sachikun couldn't make it out, but I was super happy to see him. So that was the going-away party. Kind of a weird mix, but we all ate a lot, drank a LOT, and had an awesome time.
I was glad my friends insisted on getting me really drunk, because otherwise saying goodbye to everyone would have been really sad. Especially Takkun. Naturally, Shingo decided it would be a waste if I didn't hang out more (also, Jai had told me that since it was my last night in Japan, I should hang out with my friends as long as possible and don't worry about coming back late), so he and two people whose names I of course don't remember and I went to... some place. As soon as we sat down, I realized I was super drunk, and that it probably wasn't going to end well. Then Shingo ordered me a beer. And when we looked at the menus, I got really excited about a dish which was basically a cocktail glass filled with blueberries and topped with soft-serve ice cream (something I crave ALL the time). So I ordered that. Then I saw pancakes, and for some drunken reason decided that it was tradition for me to eat them while drinking (which is only sometimes true, and definitely not while in Japan). So we ate and drank more, and then I went to the bathroom to puke. Normally when I vomit, that's it, I'm done for the night. By which I mean, I keep vomiting until I'm too tired to move. But because tonight was special, I cleaned myself out, went back to the table, and finished both of my meals and my beer. Gross man, gross.
Finally, I said goodbye to Shingo and my mysterious new friends, and I took a taxi back to Jai's place, which was pretty far away. $2000 yen away, in fact. Not only did I not get carsick (which I was sure I would, what with all the drinking and me not handling vehicles well when I'm drunk), but I had a really long conversation with the driver. Then I got back to Jai's place, and suddenly felt really sober as I told him about Mizue. What a weird last day. But it was good.
My second-to-last day in Japan was pretty crazy. Kengo dropped me off at the bus stop on his way to work in the morning, and I took a bus to Shizuoka City. I then took a highway bus back to Tokyo. It passes by pretty close to Mt. Fuji, and since it was a really nice day, I got a nice view of my old friend. Back in Tokyo, I decided to head out to Shimokitazawa to find Empty again, because there was a t-shirt I wanted to buy that I couldn't afford before. The owner kept hooking me up with free swag, so I felt like I should buy something to support my favorite clothing store in Tokyo. Ai-chan was there, so I got to hang out with her again. She also helped me figure out how to cross to the opposite side of Tokyo so that I could go to Nihombashi, where my friend Kounosuke was now the manager of the standing bar he started working at several years ago. I had a few drinks and ate his awesome food, and we talked about various things. I hope that next time, I'll have more time to hang out with him. Way back in 2004, on the last night of my trip to Japan I went to a club with Takkun, and I didn't have a place to stay for the night. I was having fun dancing with random people when Kounosuke asked where I was staying (what a strange yet convenient thing to ask), and invited me to come to his place. So it used to be that I could always count on either TAKMIZ or Kounosuke to give me a home while I was in Tokyo, but now that he's moved out of "Life House" (which was TTLY badass), it's not an option anymore. Anyway, I wanted to stay longer, but I was being summoned.
My next stop was Daimon, where I met up with 9 people from RUNS n' MOPEDS. We wanted to actually get to know each other, so we spent the night drinking. It was awesome. They brought me gifts! They also wouldn't let me chip in when it was time to pay. They talked about the rides they want to do around Japan, and I talked about some of my many moped (or otherwise) adventures in the states. They got really excited about the idea of coming to a moped rally, and asked how they can be part of the Moped Army. I of course told them that they have to come to rallies and get to know people, and probably also attempt to talk to people online. Too bad none of them speaks English. I told them that a few years ago, I came up with this crazy dream to tour Japan by moped, and several of us decided that we need to make that or at least Hokkaido happen in the near future. Man... I want to hang out with those guys again. If I'm living in Tokyo, I want to be a part of RUNS n' MOPEDS, and help them to make it even more awesome than it already is. And if I end up in Sapporo, I want to start my own moped gang.
When it got close to last call for the trains and everyone had to go home, antique◇cube and Akazou and I decided that since we (well, Jai in my case) all lived close, it was far too early to go home. So we went to the next bar and hung out for much longer. antique◇cube is the guy who loaned me a moped the other day, and he is a ridiculously cool guy. Any time I come to Japan, I have a moped waiting for me. I can even stay at his house (with his family, which is just a little weird) if I need a place to stay. What a guy. I of course offered them the same thing if they were to come to Seattle. The three of us continued to get drunk and discuss the crazy awesome moped adventures that we want to have in Japan, and maybe even in the States if they can find enough vacation time to come visit.
Shortly after Kengo left for work, Chiaki picked me up and we headed along the coast towards Shizuoka City. She had a secret appointment, so I wandered around the city, including a park (Sunpu) that was long ago a castle. Shizuoka felt a little like a smaller Sapporo to me... a [relatively] big city, but not everwhelmingly so, and with a much more relaxed pace of life than someplace like Tokyo. Oh yeah, I received the rest of my paycheck today, so I would be able to survive the rest of my time in Japan.
After Chiaki finished her secret appointment we met up and went for lunch. Two years ago, Kengo and a friend of his and I went to a CRAZY futuristic conveyor belt sushi place where the sushi doesn't just go around in circles. You select what you want from a screen, someone hidden behind a wall in the center of the room prepares it and puts it on the conveyor belt, and when it gets to your table it a sensor senses it and automatically sends it down a track of rollers onto your table. One of the last things that we ordered that night was anago (aka river eel), and I swear it was the most delicious thing I had ever eaten in my life. So anyway, this time in Shizuoka, Chiaki and I went to a restaurant in the same chain minus the hidden chefs and the table-specific track things. So we ate a bunch of sushi, and everything was fabulous. But I was afraid to order the anago. What if it wasn't good? What if it was good, but not the most delicious thing I had ever eaten? I was pretty happy with the memory I had from last time, so why chance it? But I told my story to Chiaki, and she insisted that I try it again. So I did. And I'm happy to say that it is still the most delicious thing I have ever eaten. HELL YES SHIZUOKA ANAGO.
After lunch, we debated what to do next, and I decided that we should do one of my favorite things to do in Shizuoka; go to the ocean. So we drove back along the amazingly beautiful coast and to Haibara (the part of Makinohara that Kengo lives in, for those of you keeping track (mostly I'm just proud that I was able to track down all the parts of Shizuoka that I've been to on Google Maps/Earth)), to pick up our bathing suits (I came prepared). Chiaki's house is kind of amazing... Haibara has a lot of hills and a lot of tea farms. Her house is on the top of one of these little hills, and it's completely surrounded by tea bushes. As in you can't see any other houses, you just see tea. Also, her family's cemetery. Freakin' awesome. I want to live there. Not HER house, per se, but a house in the country. Yeah, so yeah. We went to the ocean. It was one of those beaches where lots of young, kind of trashy (by Japanese or maybe just my standards) people hang out. But it was also late in the afternoon, so pretty much everyone was gone. The Pacific Ocean is one of my favorite things/places in the world, so it was fun to hang out with my waterproof camera and my new friend on the other side of the ocean. It was a little weird that not only did the beach close at 6, but there was closing music blasting over the speakers that were playing hip young generic beachy Jpop for the patrons of the beach houses. This picture I took underwater was wicked phresh:
After swimming, we stopped for ice cream on our way to meet up with Kengo and had a nice long conversation and bonded while waiting him to get his stuff. We went to my third onsen for this trip to Japan, Koumare Onsen. Chiaki went to the ladies' side by herself, while Kengo and I got naked and bathed together for the millionth time. What a great time to spend time with your friends. Japan is great. After the bath, we went to on-site cafeteria for some damn tasty soba and beer (except for Chiaki, who was driving, and according to Kengo a "bad drunk"). That was damn tasty. The next step on our tour was to some really tiny karaoke place that had weak drinks and a not very good selection of songs. It was great singing all our old favorites with Kengo, though, and Chiaki and I sang a lot of duets, including a lot of Unicorn. Eventually we ended the night at Kengo's house with more drinks and looking through pictures from my previous trips to Shizuoka.
Going to Japan for a length of time is an adventure in itself, but there are two subquests that I feel like I must accomplish every year. (1) go way the hell out in the country to visit Aya and/or Aki in Nayoro, and (2) go way the hell out in the country to visit Kengo. Today was my day to do the latter. In the morning, however, I met up with DJ HATA, aka HATA, the keyboard/synth player/booking agent for Dachambo. Aka my mentor. It was cool hanging out with him in a non-Dachambo context, though. We met up in Shinjuku in the morning and went to eat udon (delicious!).
I could have sworn that he said he needed help with something for their next DVD, but it turned out he just wanted help translating some emails. I've been translating stuff for Dachambo for a couple of years now, but I'm not very good at it. Or at least, I'm not good at thinking up interesting ways to talk about them in English. It also takes me damn forever to translate stuff (possibly because I always, ALWAYS type too much, no matter what I'm doing *cough*). But I was able to help him with his emails, and then he helped me figure out where to buy a bus ticket to Shizuoka.
After parting ways with HATA, I went to Shibuya to meet up with Mamiko, aka Shitoro (the name she's known as in Dachambo Village, their community of fans). The first time I ever saw Dachambo, I was super excited and rocking out. Some girl grabbed my hand and pulled me up to the front of the venue (it was a tiny place so there was no stage, but people left enough space in front of the band that we could easily go right up to them) and we rocked out together. We've been friends ever since. This was actually the first year since then that we weren't able to go to a Dachambo show together (every year prior, including the first year, we had gone to at least TWO Dachambo shows together), and my time in Tokyo was short, but I demanded that we meet up. So we went out to a cafe and had a couple of drinks and chatted about various things. She was one of the lucky people that I made a New Year's card for, so I gave her that (it contained CDs and all kinds of bonus goodies), and she gave me some "Best of Dachambo Live" CDs that a guy who records a lot of their live shows made. Incidentally, I just finished listening to them today when I posted this entry, and it makes me really sad that the "best" songs of the typical Dachambo fan are my least favorite ones. The jam band-ier, hippy-ier ones. That's not what makes Dachambo awesome. Oh well, I digress. Before Mamiko took the train with me back to Shinjuku, she decided that we needed to take a picture in front of Hachiko, because she had never done that. Being a foreigner and all, it was embarassing, but she's an awesome kid, so it seemed like a good idea.
Incidentally (again), I found out recently that they're making an AMERICAN movie about the dog Hachiko. After watching the trailer, I was filled with such angry furious rage that I vowed to never walk near the real Hachiko statue again. Actually, that's probably impossible because he's right by the main exit of Shibuya Station.
So... yeah. I took a bus for three hours to Shizuoka, two prefectures to the west of Tokyo. Out of five return trips to Japan, this was my fourth time visiting, which is really kind of incredible. Also, I swear that every time I go, I somehow end up on a different mode or route of transportation. By the way, the prefecture is Shizuoka, but the capital city is also called Shizuoka. Like how the capital of New York the state is not New York the city. Anyway... from Shizuoka Station, I had to take a highway bus back way out to Makinohara, or more specifically, the area that Kengo lives in, Haibara. It only took me four trips to Shizuoka to finally figure all these things out. Kengo picked me up from the rice field that I waited by, and we went out to a place called "This is Cafe". It really was a cafe. On an unrelated note, at this point I had only $3000 yen to last me until I left Japan. Sorry Kengo, I didn't mean to trick you into buying my drink and my dinner! Before returning to Kengo's house, we stopped at a random convenience store to buy drinky-drinks, and ran into Kengo's friend Chiaki. We talked for a while, and we decided that since she had the day off tomorrow, she could hang out with me. Which was good, because I didn't mind having no plans while Kengo worked, but I had no idea what I was going to do way out in the country. So then Kengo and I went back to his house, had a few drinks, and talked about life until 2am.
Crap... these things keep getting longer and longer. Well, there's only a few left. Thanks for reading, uhhh... wait, is anyone actually reading these???
Today was another slow day, which would have been okay except that I went to Shimokitazawa, which is probably my favorite part of Tokyo, and spent 2 hours trying to find my friend's shop. Shimokitazawa consists of a million tiny little roads filled with tiny little shops that all intertwine and twist all over the place. Plus they do that on both sides of the train tracks around the main train station, and it can get confusing as to which side of the tracks you're on. Anyway, after 2 hours of confusion, I finally found Empty (it turns out that one of their locations had recently moved), and my friend Ai-chan, who is Shingo's (one of my favorite dancing buddies from Rising Sun) younger sister. I was lucky that she was even there, since she's no longer working there full time. But I hadn't ever really seen her outside of Empty, so I didn't know how else to hunt her down. Ai is Shingo's younger sister. She gave me directions to the other Empty shop, where those belts I'm always wearing come from, as well as some of my favorite t-shirts. Even after two years, the owner remembered me, so that was cool. After Ai-chan got out of work, she met up with me, and we went out for some Okinawan food. This was my first time actually hanging out with her, so it was really fun. She introduced me to Awamori, which is the Okinawan equivalent of shochuu. Normally, I'm not a huge fan of shochuu (bad memories of terrible hangovers) because the cheap stuff is terrible. But the good stuff is exceptional, so I tried a class of aged awamori that was 45 proof. Or 45 percent alcohol. I guess I'm not really sure what "45 degrees" in Japanese means when it comes to rating alcohol.
Anyway... it was a really fun bonding experience with Ai-chan. Also, at some random point I came to realize that I had eaten at that very Okinawan restaurant at least once before, which was weird.
On the way back to Jai's, I decided to stop by to visit Gravity Free's office, since they weren't far away. I can't believe how incredibly lost I got in Shinjuku... actually, yes I can, because Shinjuku Station is unbelievably enormous. See this picture to get an idea of what I'm talking about.
Anyway... eventually I found their office. It's a shame that trains stop running so early in Japan (1am at the latest, but usually not much after midnight), because I would have loved to hang out longer. Oh well, It was awesome seeing them again, and especially awesome because Masa (he doesn't do the live painting, but he takes pictures of them, and does other... businessy stuff... I think) was there, and I didn't think I was going to get to see him on this trip. I really hope they (and Dachambo) can come back to the States again.
Today was mostly a day of recovery. Also it was a Monday so everyone had jobs. Also I was too busy having fun in Hokkaido to spend much time trying to plan my days in Tokyo. I slept in in the morning, and then wandered off to Shibuya for some CD/DVD hunting. Almost as soon as I arrived, I got caught in a sudden squall. I was stuck under an awning for about 30 minutes.
Eventually I decided to just cross the street and follow a trail of awnings until I found my favorite CD store and killed a couple of hours. Fortunately, I had received part of my paycheck while I was in Nayoro, so I could afford to buy a few things. Every year I have a big list of must-buy things, things I can't find online, and other fun stuff, but I was pretty good about not spending too much money this time around. Later at night, I met up with Hitomix, who wasn't able to go to Rising Sun this year. We hung out a little bit, and then went to eat kaiten-zushi (sushi on a conveyor belt). She didn't realize that it's the same place we went to last year. She also apparently doesn't realize that it's probably the least-tasty sushi I've ever eaten. Oh well, it's still edible, and it was nice to hang out with my very strange yet awesome friend.
(this description is mostly stolen from the one I posted in the Moped Army Members Forum)
Sometime a few months before I left for Japan, I somehow randomly got in touch with a group in Tokyo called “RUNS n’ MOPEDS”, and they decided to put together a mini-rally in my honor (“Welcome to Jap Run”). Even though I had never met a single one of them in person, I had three different people offer me up a loaner ped.
So in the morning I rode several trains to Koiwa, where Billy and antique◇cube (they all have crazy nicknames, by the way) picked me up and took me to antique◇cube's house, where he gave me a moped, and we left for our trip. Immediately after leaving I was smiling and couldn't stop, because it was like a dream come true for me (or at least, the first small step to a bigger dream... to tour Japan by moped). Also, the moped broke down a little bit, because that's what mopeds do. Somewhere in a more crowded part of Tokyo we met up with most of the rest of the group, and we went down to the Tokyo Bay to the Wakasu Campground. The ride to the barbecue wasn’t terribly exciting, but the fact that I was in Japan, I was on the left side of the road, and I had no international driver’s license (because I forgot to get one before I went) made it amazing.
The barbecue was grossly hot and humid, because Tokyo is disgusting in August, and the cicadas were loud as hell, but the food was great, and it was fun trying to explain what Moped Army is, and then pulling out the picture of my mopeds that I keep in my wallet and explaining what those things are. [WARNING] I must apologize to my non-moped readers for turning the rest of this paragraph into a moped blog. People mostly rode Tomosses ese se S, but there were a couple of Ciaos, a Sachs, and a Motebecane. One guy actually knew what Minarelli is, and that made me happy. All of their bikes were shiny and new. The Tomomomoses were mostly from the early 90’s, but that’s as vintage as they got.
After the barbecue, we rode through Odaiba, one of the busier parts of Tokyo, where I actually recognized my surroundings (which was a neat feeling). In Tokyo, you’re apparently allowed to make your own traffic laws, so we split lanes and cut in front of traffic to make weird 2-point right turns while avoiding cars that didn’t feel the need to stick to a single lane.
Our destination: Shiokaze Park in Odaiba to see a giant robot. A real one. I think it was Gundam's 20th or 30th anniversary or something, so we stuck around to watch it light up and move its head slightly (which was pretty cool, but it would have been WAY cooler if it had flown away or just started randomly punching buildings and trees). After Gundam, I gave them all the swag I could find before I went to Japan (mostly Mosquito Fleet and Guns t-shirts and stickers) and they played rock-paper-scissors (janken) to determine who took it home. Finally, there was a long night ride home, where I couldn’t stop smiling because I knew it was just a preview of future awesomeness to be had in Japan for me. I can't wait to start a moped gang in Sapporo!!!
Just for the record, Kutchan's real name is Kumei. Actually, that's his last name. Many years ago, Mizue and I went on an awesome adventure for her birfday to stay in an onsen somewhere in Hokkaido. We passed through a tiny town which is named after the Ainu word for the area, "Kutchan". A month later I met Kumei for the first time and immediately gave him the nickname Kutchan. The name stuck, as that's now the preferred name for him among our Rising Sun members. Anyway, he had somewhere to be in the morning, so we slept all of 4 hours, and after saying goodbye I wandered down to Odori Park to nap/plan my day/hunt for CDs/whatever. On my last day in Sapporo, I met up with Erina in the early afternoon, and we went to Globule to eat soup curry, where we met Erico. I ordered salisbury steak soup curry. On a scale of 1 to 6 for spiciness, I got a 5. When I order something that's nearly the hottest level in the 'States, it's almost never spicy enough, let alone spicy at all. When I get Sapporoan soup curry that's even in the middle of the scale, it's damn hot. Today's selection was murderously spicy. But that makes it murderously more delicious. Seriously, it was damn good.
Anyway, it was cool seeing Erico again, it was awesome seeing the gigantic painting that Gravity Free had painted in Globule (by the way, when I'm living in Sapporo, this will be my weekly hangout place), but it was especially awesome to get another chance to hang out with Erina. She was going to try to visit Miwako before she left Victoria, and of course I would have gone to visit, but it ended up not working out. I doubt I'll get her (or any of my friends in Japan) to visit Seattle, but I'm sure as hell going to try. After lunch, we met up with one of my favorite people in Sapporo, Nao. I said goodbye to Erina, and then Nao and I went to a cute little cafe for a cup of coffe before I (barely) made it to the airport.
During my far-too-short visit with Nao, she asked me if I really knew what had happened to Mizue, and I said no. A couple weeks before I left for Japan, there was a note on her blog written by Takkun saying that Mizue fell down, and she had to be hospitalized. About a week later, I was starting to worry because I hadn't heard anything. Eventually I got a hold of Takkun, who said that she was still in the hospital and that her head hurt. During Rising Sun and the following week in Hokkaido, people mentioned her occasionally, but they said things like "her head hurts", "she's doing much better", and "she's having a hard time reading." I thought it must be migraines or something... she's had health problems in the past, but those were mostly with her stomach. Well, Nao said she wasn't sure if she was supposed to say anything, but she decided I should know the truth. Mizue didn't fall down because she had migraines... she had a stroke. She was still in the hospital several weeks later because her brain had lost the various neural connections between things. She couldn't read (though looking at written words made a sense of vaguely knowing the meaning but not how to read it, which is pretty much exactly how it is for me trying to read Chinese characters ("kanji") in Japanese), she couldn't really speak because words didn't come to her, and she had a hard time understanding what was being said to her. But she was doing well. Naturally, I became extra worried, and decided that I needed to harass Takkun until I could at least meet him, if not Mizue or their 4 month-old baby Tsukuru.
So... this was all a shock to me, but I'm glad Nao finally told me SOMETHING, because it didn't seem like anyone else would, if they even knew. Anyway... more on that later.
So yeah, every iota of my being was telling me that I belong in Hokkaido, but it was time to go back to Tokyo. I knew there would be many fun adventures to be had and awesome people to meet, and maybe it was the weight of finding out about Mizue, but I wasn't looking forward to it at all. The second I got off the plan, I walked into a wall of hot, sticky humid air. I took a monorail to the city center, and as soon as it arrived, people started running because that's what people do in Tokyo. They're always in a hurry. But Jai (one of a million billion friends that Mizue introduced me to, but also one of my closest friends in the world, not just Hokkaido) came to meet me, we dropped off my stuff at his house, and went out for drinks. We walked through Roppongi, the part of Tokyo where all the gross foreigners and gross girls who want a foreign boyfriend hang out, until we found a yakitori place that looks like foreigners wouldn't hang out at. Jai is still working for the Hokkaido Newspaper, but they recently relocated him to Tokyo. He's slowly getting used to Tokyo life, but as a Hokkaido native, he feels incredibly out of place. I guess it's like if I lived in LA or New York (or even Chicago)... I like big cities, but there has to be a limit somewhere. A typical work day for Jai, just like everyone in Tokyo, lasts until 10 or 11 pm. His girlfriend is still back in Kushiro (a tiny town in eastern hokkaido; I went there to visit him three years ago), so they have to communicate using something called "the Internet". Well, he seemed out of place, but it was nice hanging out, and nice for me to know that I had a place to stay in Tokyo (every year prior I had stayed with Mizue and Takkun, but the baby changed that... and the hospitilization especially changed that). So we spent a few hours getting caught up, and it made me feel not as bad to have left Hokkaido behind.
Aya was able to get the day off today, so we hang out until I had to return to Sapporo. Which I didn't want to do. There's not much going on in Nayoro, but I love how relaxing it feels, and how pretty the Hokkaido countryside is. After breakfast, we went to the big new shopping mall to take a purikura (those little stickers that are typically covered with hearts and glittery text and a million Japanese girls and are too small to actually see what the picture is). Wait, actually, they sent two of them to our phones, so I uploaded them to my Flickr account:
Right, yeah. So after that we went to Sun Pillar park, which was still under construction when I went with Aki 2 years ago. We were lucky that the weather was nice, because that meant we got to play on the "Fuwafuwa Dome", the most amazing playground equipment in the world. Basically, it's a bunch of big vinyl lumps with some incredibly bouncy material underneath, like a big weirdly-shaped trampoline. We must have played on the thing for half an hour before we were all tired and sweaty. Aya even has the honor of being the cover photo for my post-RSR photo album on Flickr.
So after that, we went inside the relatively new activity center thing and played badminton. I hadn't played in a long time, and I sure wasn't dressed for it, but it was damn fun, and made me miss playing regularly. Besides the Fuwafuwa Dome, the activity center, and the incredibly cool playground that Aki and I previously explored, it turns out that Sun Pillar park is ridiculously huge... so next time I visit Nayoro I'm going to have to really check it out. On the way back to town, we stopped for soft-serve ice cream (something I had been craving for months), then at Aya's house so I could shower and say goodbye to Moco. We then stopped by her parents' cosmetics shop to take a family photo, and then Aya and I parted ways for the millionth time and I headed back to Sapporo. Back in the big city, it was time for my going-away party. 18 people from our Rising Sun group showed up, so it was like a really awesome after party. We went to Kirin Beer Hall for all-you-can-eat Jingis Khan (a Hokkaido dish involving lamb and a goofy-shaped grill) and all-you-can-drink beer.
What with it being Friday, a lot of my friends were fresh out of work, but everyone got drunk and had an awesome time. After we finished feasting, the plan was that people who still wanted to hang out would go out for karaoke. Well, it turned out that EVERYONE wanted to go. We even had a few more people show up. So we got one big room for our group, and went absolutley nuts for four hours.
At four in the morning, we stumbled onto the streets of Sapporo, and did what you're supposed to do after a night of heavy drinking in Japan... we went out for ramen. It was fantastic. I can't believe I didn't get a picture of Yuusaku (yes, that's his real name), who ordered an extra-large bowl of ramen, and fell asleep with his hair in the bowl. At 4:30 am as the sun was coming up over Sapporo, I said goodbye to my Rising Sun friends, and vowed that someday, I will be living in Sapporo and we will hang out like this every weekend.
...maybe not every weekend.