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.
Aya had to work today, so I slept for 8 hours for the first time in at least a month. Breakfast was already waiting for me on the table, because Japanese people are awesome hosts like that. Eventually, Aya's dad picked me up (he was just as excited to have me come visit as she was), and I went to the "North Country History Museum" to kill a couple of hours and to learn about the history of Nayoro. Or at least infer information about the history of Nayoro, since reading the various informational tablets was far too difficult/time-consuming.
After I had pretended to learn everything, Dad picked me up and we went to an onsen (hot spring), which was actually the second time I've gone to one with him. This time we went to Gomi Spa, which means "five-flavor spa", but sounds like "garbage spa". Man, onsens are the best. By the time we left, Aya was done with work, so we met her back home, and went grocery shopping together. For dinner, we made temaki sushi. You know... like the "rolls" that everyone in America eats when they eat sushi. Only with an amazing assortment of fillings. And no avocado. Aya's parents demanded that I gorge myself, so I did just that. They also demanded that I fulfill my dream of eating a big chunk of raw tuna turkey-leg style after I mentioned it jokingly.
Aya's dad also kept force-feeding me Sake (not "saki"), or as I like to call it, "Japan-shu", while he drank from a big giant vat of shochuu. He kept saying we should have a drinking contest, but fortunately, Aya and her mom (and myself) didn't think it was a good idea.
After dinner, Aya and I walked through a torrential downpour through the streets of Nayoro which were devoid of life, and went to karaoke for a couple of hours to sing some of our favorite songs together.
After waking up and checking my bank account, I discovered that I had approximately 7000 Yen (or about $65.80) in my bank account, with another 1000 or so Yen in my wallet. My plan was to take a train to Nayoro to visit Aya, one of my bestest most awesomest frieands ever, but the train ticket alone was probably going to cost more than that. So I emailed Lena back home to find out what had happened, and tried to sort things out. It turned out that a large sum of money we were expecting in the office never showed up, so not only had I not received the paycheck I thought I would get on the 17th, but we couldn't even afford to pay rent at the office. Fortunately, Yoko loaned me 10,000 Yen, effectively saving my ass/vacation, and Lena worked out a plan that would get me at least some money to survive on. So Japan-Mom and I went out for an awesome lunch, I enjoyed her awesomely difficult yet eloquent manner of speaking, and then she took me to the train station, where she saved me a crapton of money on a route to Nayoro that I never could have figured out on my own. Thanks, Japan-Mom, you're the best!!!
I then began the exciting ~4 hour train adventure to Nayoro, located in the north-central part of Hokkaido, where I was met by Aya. This was my third trip to Nayoro. The first time was to visit Aya, and her best friend Aki whom I had met once before. For the second trip, Aya was in Tokyo at the time, so I went to meet Aki. This time, Aki was living in Okinawa, so it was just Aki. I would have loved to go visit Aki, too, but I'll have to save that incredibly challenging and expensive adventure for another time.
Also, I met the new puppy of the house, Moco. What an adorable little bastard.
Kutchan had some sort of business in Niseko he needed to attend to and wasn't sure what time he'd be back at night. Eventually Erina had to go home, so I went to a manga comic internet kisaten coffee house store thing. Basically you get a private booth with a tv and a computer, free drinks, access to all kinds of comic books (or "manga" if you want to be more accurate/nerdy), and they even have a shower room. I guess if you miss the last train home at night, it's a decent way to kill time until trains start running in the morning. But really, it's not all THAT much more expensive for a capsule hotel (which typically don't allow women, and are also typically only found in super crowded places like Tokyo), so mostly it just seems kind of creepy to me. Aaaanyway... I ended up staying there all day, and as soon as it seemed like businesses might be open (you pay by the hour so I didn't want to stick around longer), I wandered around Sapporo for a while, and eventually went to Otaru to have lunch with my psuedo-host parents, Tetsuji and Yoko Ueno.
Yoko got into some pretty difficult topics of conversation (difficult as in "put my Japanese comprehension to the test"), but she has a very easy-to-follow way of speaking, and it made me feel good that my Japanese ability probably hasn't decreased as much as I think it has. After we chatted it up for a few hours, I met up with Miina and Yuki (Miina said she was bringing "someone I've met before", but I've hung out with Yuki a million times before). We went to an okonomiyaki place that we've all seen a million times before, but only Yuki has actually eaten at. It was pretty damn tasty.
Next up was drinkering time, and I decided it that we had to go to Miwako's favorite bar in Otaru (it's one of my favorites, too, though), Modern Times. We drank pretty much nothing but gin, talked about Miwako's adventures (everyone is excited for her return to Japan... jerks), and how we really do need to start up a business of some sort. Eventually, Tetsuji joined us because he wanted to drink with me.
After the girls went home, he took me to one of his favorite drinking places for middle-aged men. It's the kind of place where there's only about 5 seats at the bar, you purchase your own bottle of whiskey or whatever which they keep at the bar, and they basically keep pooring drinks for you whether you ask for them or not. One of Tetsuji's middle-aged man friends and I talked about Big Sur, California, where he used to live, and along with the barkeeplady, they saw to it that I got quite drunk. Then the other guy decided I needed to experience a "snack" bar.. which was similar to the last place, except you're expected to flirt with a very young waitress/bartender. It was... weird. I had to make the pictures on Flickr friends-only so Dad wouldn't get in trouble (though he wasn't misbehaving because he and Yoko have an impressively strong relationship). But it was fun. Eventually we stumbled home at 2 am. I hope he didn't get in trouble.
Dachambo took off in their tour bus for the ferry to the mainland around 5am, so I hung out with Gravity Free and Erico, who works for the shop that ran the event. Eventually we went in her car to her place and took a much-needed nap. We then went out for ramen at a little-known place known for its selection of unusual styles of ramen (miso milk, cheese, etc.).
After Gravity Free took off for the airport, I wandered around Sapporo for a while, found a copy of Jurassic Park on VHS, and then took a train to Teine, where I met Aki and her family for dinner. Aki and I had a radio program called "Kurt's on Air" at FM Otaru back in my exchange student days. I have no idea what the point of it was, but it was awesome. I hadn't seen her daughter, Aoi since shortly after she was born. Now she's 4 years old and adorable.
After dinner, I headed back to Sapporo and met up with Erina, who I sadly didn't see other than a very brief encounter at Rising Sun. We had a few drinks and got caught up, and decided that within the next year or two we need to quit our jobs and start up a business of some sort in Sapporo. Erina will run the place, Miwako will make the food, I will apparently be in charge of music and bartending, and Miina will... I forgot what her job is. At any rate, Erina is super stressed out at her job and wants to do something new. None of us want to work REAL jobs, so something like this would be a dream come true for all of us.
Even though I came back from Japan nearly a month ago and already posted my travel diary to the interweb in Japanese, now it's time to do it in English. Sorry it took so long.
After Rising Sun, Kutchan and I went to his place to sleep for a few hours, then we headed out to eat soup curry. Every year I want to eat soup curry as much as possible, and every year I end up at Picante for some reason.
After that we met with a friend of his and drove to Otaru Dream Beach in Zenibako (near where Miwako is from), where Dachambo and Gravity Free were performing an all night party. DJ HATA (aka HATA from Dachambo) hooked us up with staff passes, and though the others left early, I hung out all night/morning dancing, drinking, hanging out with random people, and participating in a drum circle where half of us joined in using whatever weird random objects we could find to make sounds with.