Song of the Month 2010 #2
Song title: ezo09 ("ezonine")
Audio file: http://kurtasbestos.com/ongaks/Panda_Left-ezo09.mp3
Date Recorded: 2010.02.28
Equipment: KORG DS-10, KORG D888
Instruments: broken jaw harp
Concept: I started this song last summer during the 5-hour wait in line to get inside Rising Sun 2010. I continued working on it occasionally when I had time to kill (the train to Nayoro and the bus to Shizuoka), and on the plane back home at the end of the trip. Because February marks the halfway point between Rising Sun 2010 and 2011, I decided that would be the best time to release it.
Process: I actually finished this song pretty shortly after coming back to the States, but something wasn't quite right. The DS-10 only allows you 16 patterns per song, and I had already filled them all up, but I didn't have a good transition to lead into the ending. At the "quiet" part at 3:20, I also had a quieter pattern. Unfortunately, you can't set a separate tempo for each pattern, which is sort of what I wanted there (so the tempo would speed back up slowly during the transition into the end), so I ended up getting rid of that pattern entirely in order to make room for the transition at 4:30. I'm pretty happy with that decision. The jaw harp was pretty spontaneous... I thought about adding one about 2 days before I started practicing for the recording. Unfortunately, the only jaw harp I had in the right key is broken, which made it hard to play. Otherwise... some other things I tried in this song were messing with effects (as they fade in and out) and messing with the swing setting, which does... that. Swing. Actually, messing with that was the first thing I did with this song, so it ended up being pretty integral to the whole thing.
Comments: I had this recording done before the end of February, and even posted it up on my diary on Mixi, but I didn't want to post it here until I finished my traveblog. It was a lot easier to record than January's song, but still, I could have used more practice. There are a couple of fade-outs that end too quickly, and one cymbol that I didn't mute fast enough, but otherwise it turned out more or less like I wanted it to.
I guess there's not really much to say about my last day, other than it sucking. After getting up and getting ready, Miwako and I ate breakfast at about quarter after 5 in the morning. I wasn't very hungry, but it was my last meal with her until summer, so I ate.
Mom came downstairs shortly thereafter, and we went to the train station around 6. We were actually pretty early, but with my terrible luck I wasn't taking any chances. We were on a local train (meaning it stops at every little stop along the way, though there aren't as many between Zenibako and Sapporo as there are between Zenibako and Otaru), but it turned into a rapid train in Sapparo. Still, it took over an hour to get to the airport. We attempted to stay awake, but the awkward silence of the train and our absolute exhaustion made that impossible.
The first time I ever left Japan after my year-long exchange program, Mizue saw me off at the very same airport. We were both crying, but she wanted to stay with me until the last possible minute. That turned out to be when they called my name over the speakers. Oops. The next summer, when she and I weren't officially dating anymore, but also weren't really sure of our status, she saw me off again, and this time, they sent a person out into the main terminal to find me. Miwako and I had a little time to say goodbye, but not wanting to repeat the past, at some point I said "well... I guess I should probably go". We were okay up to that point, but when we made the walk towards the security area, that's when we were suddenly both on the verge of tears. Then I heard the final call for my flight. Oops.
It was probably better that way... we didn't have a long, drawn-out goodbye, and instead of crying, we were laughing. I booked it to my gate, and though there were people sitting around and the boarding supposedly started 15 minutes earlier, there was no one to be seen at the gate itself. Eventually someone showed up, and they started actually boarding. Jeez. Then my flight left, and I sadly said goodbye to Hokkaido for the 8th time in my life.
In Tokyo, I immediately took the highway bus from one airport to the next, and had enough time before my next flight to call Miwako and talk for a while. For some reason I didn't have a window seat on my flight home (I ALWAYS have a window seat), but the aisle was extra wide, so that wasn't bad. I mostly slept, but I decided to watch this ridiculous (yet entertaining) movie. Miwako had also prepared a sandwich and an onigiri for me, which was nice. After leaving Miwako's house at 6am on Monday, I arrived in Seattle at 6:30am on Monday. Huh? I spent the only Americrainian money I had on a ticket for the Link Light Rail, only to discover that you can't use those tickets to transfer to the Metro bus (even though you can transfer the other way). Damnit. So then I had to wander around downtown Seattle carrying all my luggage all grossly early in the morning trying to find an ATM and then somewhere that was actually open in order to find change. Damnit. Eventually I did and I got on the bus. Finally, at about 9:30am I returned to my normal life when I reached my destination... my office.
Man, talk about a disappointing end to an awesome adventure.
After checking out of SUPER HOTEL SUPER EARLY in the morning, we once again headed towards the train station to drop our stuff off in a coin locker. We then headed to the Morning Market to search for food. We agreed that uncooked seafood was in order, and found a restaurant that served a bowl of rice covered with raw things, only you got to select the raw things. I opted for squid, ikura, salmon, and tuna. Miwako basically had the same thing, except scallops instead of tuna. I had seen all kinds of touristy seafood places like this in Otaru a million times before, and being sleep-deprived, I misinterpreted the menu to mean it would be really expensive. It wasn't, and it was tasty. Walking around the maze of streets filled with seafood and souvenir vendors, we couldn't help but wonder how people living that lifestyle manage to survive when it looks like everyone else is selling the exact same things within a very small radius. Weird.
After breakfast, we took the street car thing past good ol' SUPER HOTEL towards the actual factual downtown-like area of Hakodate (which I had assumed was around the train station until we saw the city from above), and to Goryokaku Fort, which is (or was, really) not only one of the very few castles in Hokkaido, but also shaped like a star for some reason. We went to the top of the air traffic controller-like tower first to get a view of the park first, which has a fantastic view of not only the park/fort/star, but all of Hakodate. Off to the south east where the onsen we stayed at was was mostly clear, and there was a clear view across the water to Aomori. The area around Hakodate Station and Mt. Hakodate was visible at first, but then was devoured by a giant series of clouds that dumped snow on the city, while the mountains to the north of the city kept disappearing and reappearing in the clouds. It was neat. The fort itself looked HUGE when seen from space, and there were a million billion sakura trees, which probably means there are a million billion people there in spring.
We then headed down into the park itself. Unfortunately, certain parts were blocked off, possibly because of some kind of winter festival, so we ended up getting trapped in a corner of the park near the winter festival of some kind. We were able to climb over a wall, and then down to the inside of the outermost moat, but at some point we hit a dead end and had to turn back. We really only made it about 2/5ths of the way around, but it was still pretty.
We took a break in a cafe at the base of the giant tower for some coffee and to exchange Valentine's Day presents before making our way back to Hakodate Station. We weren't at all looking forward to a 5-hour ride on the uncomfortabus back to hang out with Miwako's mom on our last night together, but the walk to the street car thing was awesome... the combination of ridiculously slippery sidewalks, lack of sleep, and our best inside jokes from the past few days probably made us look like complete idiots to people around us. I'm okay with that. When we got on the bus back to Sapporo, we lucked out and were placed all the way in the back where the seats are actually next to each other (seat-seat-seat-seat instead of seat-aisle-seat-aisle-seat). We alternated between enjoying the beautiful scenery and falling asleep until it was too dark to see anything outside, when we made our best attempt at napping. Stupid unfomfortabus.
Many hours later, we made it back to Zenibako, where Mom was patiently waiting for us with a steaming hot vat of nikujaga (literally "MEAT POTATO"). Although we didn't exactly want to spend our last night together with Miwako's mom, I do have to give her mad props for watching The Lost World: Jurassic Park. I didn't even notice until we were eating and all of a sudden I realized the sounds coming from the TV behind me were incredibly familiar. Man. Japanese voices dubbed over anything are so fake-sounding. Anyway, Mom of course hung out with us for a while, and when we realized that in order to make my flight in the morning, we would have to take the absolute earliest train possible, she offered to drive us to the airport. I straight up told her no, that was NOT going to happen. F'real, yo. Eventually she wandered off to bed, so Miwako and I had like... 2 hours together before it was time to wake up.
On Saturday morning, we were sure to wake up at a decent hour so we could still enjoy the onsen before checkout. We made the tail end of breakfast in the dining hall, where I remembered that Japanese-style breakfast at places like this is always incredibly disappointing. I wish I could describe it better... it's always a collection of really weird Japanesey things that you don't see very often (a lot of mysterious slimy seaweed things), things that I wouldn't consider breakfast food (like one specific tofu dish I can't remember the name of which is good but would be way tastier as a side dish to a more substantial meal), or things that are just plain gross (remember when I told you about shiokara???). As a big fat Americrainian, I demand copious amounts of sugar first thing in the morning, and the closest thing I could find to something sweet was toast. Partway through eating, I started feeling kind of gross, and at first I thought it was just because of the disappointing breakfast selection, but then at some point I realized that I was incredibly dehydrated. Surprisingly, spending a lot of time in various bathtubs and drinking a lot of alcohol while drinking very little water will do that to you. I stocked up on fluids as best as I could (asbestos), because we wanted to relax in the tub in our room for a little while before it was time to check out.
After leaving the hotel, we had several hours to kill before we could check in to our next hotel, so we took a bus towards Hakodate Station. On the way, the combination of being dehydrated and the fact that the bus felt like it was a thousand degrees inside, I suddenly felt incredibly nauseous and we had to get off the bus. It turned out it wasn't a very long walk anyway. But that's when we discovered that even though there wasn't as much snow on the ground as there had been in Otaru and Sapporo, there was a thick covering of incredibly slippery ice on every surface in the city. We carefully made our way to the train station and stashed our stuff in a coin locker, then roamed around for a while checking out the town until I felt too gross to go on. We then found a cafe and looked at the guide book that Miwako had purchased and made a rough plan for the rest of our time in Hakodate.
By the way, at some point I took a picture of this alley because it was really neat looking. Then I realized what I was actually taking a picture of, and made sure to get a good shot of it. Can you guess what kind of meat the shop in the left side of this picture sells???
Don't worry, it's okay to hate the Japanese for the horrible things they do.
At some point in the afternoon, we were able to check in to our hotel, so we walked back in the direction from whence we came and checked into SUPER HOTEL. Considering it was incredibly cheap, it was actually really comfy, and had all kinds of good things going for it (like a wall of pillows in the lobby where you can select a pillow based on your personal preferences). The weird twin-sized bunkbed above our queen-sized bed was a little weird, though. After a much-needed nap, we headed back into the town. We took one of the street car things that prowl Hakodate and made our way to the red brick district. Like Otaru, there are a bunch of old brick warehouses that have been converted into shops and restaurants and such. Just like Otaru, most of the touristy shops were pretty ridiculous, but it was fun walking through the maze of buildings, and the night illumination was certainly pretty.
Miwako's guidebook had a number of recommendations for food, so we ended up settling on a place called "The Very Very Beast" (we both thought it was "Bistro", but boy were we in for a surprise when we got there. Miwako had omurice and I had hambagu, both of which were ridiculously tasty. Thanks, guide book! The restaurant itself had a weird 1950's America theme going on it, so I'm not sure what the "Beast" was all about.
After dinner we walked up a big hill with that was all lit up and had an awesome view of the waterfront, as well as being incredibly treacherous to walk on from all the ice, and made our way to the Hakodate Ropeway, which took us on a ride to the top of Mt. Hakodate. From here, we had an amazing (and cold) view of the entire city squished in between the ocean on both sides. Hakodate turned out to be a lot bigger than either of us expected. What was also interesting was seeing the lights of civilization spread along the coast for a very long way in either direction. It was also neat walking to the other side of the observatory and seeing the lights from Aomori across the ocean or channel or sea or whatever.
When it got too cold, we made our way back to SUPER HOTEL and relaxed, buying beer on the way (naturally). We even saw a little of the opening ceremony for the Olympics.
It truly wouldn't be a trip to Japan or a trip to see with Miwako without some kind of fantastic adventure involved. When Miwako asked what I wanted to do in Japan, the first thing I said was "go stay in an onsen", which is pretty much my favorite thing to do in Japan. Besides karaoke. And eating delicious things. And drinking in public. And going to shows. And CD hunting. And... okay fine, whatever, it's one of many things that I like doing in Japan. We tossed some ideas around, and then settled on going to Hakodate. I was excited about this for many reasons. Hakodate is one of the bigger cities in Hokkaido (I guess), and along with Otaru, one of the most attractive cities in Hokkaido to tourists. Yet, I had never been there. In fact, looking at a map of Hokkaido, that weird dangly peninsula-looking thing at the southwest part of Hokkaido is about the only part of the entire island [with stuff in it] that I haven't been to.
So we woke up grotesquely early and took the train to Sapporo, and then a taxi to the bus terminal (there are like.. 8 bus terminals in and around Sapporo station, so this was the first time I caught a bus somewhere else). I would like to mention that the taxi driver hung pictures of his cat up next to his driver permit license thing. Ready for an exciting 5-hour bus ride, we got on the bus and discovered that it was the least comfortable bus possible. Seriously... one row consisted of a single seat by the window, a foot-and-a-half-wide aisle, another single seat, a 2-foot-wide aisle, and the third seat, by the other window. We had reserved two seats together, and since they have assigned seating on highway buses of this sort, they placed us together. On either side of the wide aisle. Miwako sat in the middle so I could have the window. Then they placed another woman on her other side. Once or twice, the bus stopped to let other people on, but for the entire 5 hours, there was no one in the aisle in front of us, and no one in the aisle behind us. Not only was it the least comfortable bus possible, it was also the least romantic. We couldn't even hold hands. Jeez. Oh well, at least the scenery was incredibly pretty when we were awake to see it. We drove through heavy snow most of the way through rolling hills and mountains and tunnels, with snow-covered trees everywhere. When the mountains opened up, there were incredible views of the ocean and small towns on the coast. Getting closer to Hakodate, there was a very impressive double-peaked volcano that was solid white and dwarfed everything around it. When we got to Hakodate, I didn't notice much of the city because the bus took us straight to our onsen. I did, however, notice an amazing view of the ocean where you could see across to Honshu (aka mainland Japan). Nice.
After checking in at Yu no Kawa Onsen, we went to our room to check out the highlight of the place: we had a private bath in our room. I don't mean a bathtub... I mean a bath that is kept at a very high temperature, and is being supplied with water from actual factual hot spring in the area that also supplies water to the large community bath in the hotel. It's also located on our balcony. Fucking awesome (sorry Mom, I know you read this thing, too, but I can't think of a better way to express myself than with profanity).
We immediately changed into our Yukatas (aka "those things I stole from onsens many years ago that I often wear as pajamas") and... took a nap until dinnertime. I mean, besides being the most disappointing bus ever, the seats were uncomfortable and hard to sleep on. Anyway, just like how IDIOTS will go to a place like this and get a room without a private bath (though... I guess for families and stuff... whatever, they're IDIOTS), there was a banquet hall for IDIOTS. We, however, had our own private eating area in the in-hotel restaurant thing. There was a hot pot filled to capacity with tasty things (we couldn't eat it all) waiting for us, as well as various kinds of sashimi (Hakodate is famous for squid, and the squid we ate was AWESOME), and crap legs. There were also other random tasty things. Plus we had a sweet view overlooking the courtyard of the hotel, which was illuminated at night. The best part, though, was that right next to our dining room was the self-serve boozeohol room... and it was a nomihoudai. Miwako was ridiculously excited by this prospect, and before we even tried to start eating, she went and got us beer, then went back and got TWO things of sake, then went back again and got a thing of shochu. She's so adorable. So we ate a million tasty things, and drank a million tasty things, and it was great.
After dinner, we took some time to explore the hotel, which is one of my favorite past times. Considering that the place was filled to capacity, it was a Friday night, and there should have been a wave of tourists in Hakodate, it was pretty empty. Or everyone was in the bath or eating after we finished. We found a ping pong room that had no paddles, so we played with our slippers.
Then there was a game room where we proved to each other just how unskilled we are at games like Go and Shogi by playing Othello on the Go board, and Miwako's version of Jenga on the Shogi board. After exploring a kind of creepy wing of the hotel that looked like a museum's rendition of what a night life street looks like where we couldn't tell if the various establishments were just closed, or actually part of some weird exhibit, we took to the streets to find a convenience store to stock up on booze, and then hit up the hotel's actual factual baths. I feel like a jerk and a half for not secretly taking my waterproof camera into the bath with so I could show it to you, the viewer, because at first there was no one in there. It was also really steamy in the room and hard to see anything. There were only about four different baths, one of which was painfully hot. But the real draw was (of course) the rotemburo. I spent most of my time outside enjoying the cold air, the hot water, and the fact that I had an amazing view of Mars from where I was sitting. We didn't spend too much time in the big bath, of course, because we didn't need to. We met up and returned to our room, opened the windows on the balcony, opened our bottle of sake, and enjoyed our own private onsen.
Fucking awesome. Times a million billion.
While the main point of this trip was to see Miwakorn, what kind of a jerk would I be if I spent thousands of dollars to fly thousands of miles and didn't bother seeing my other friends? That kind of jerk. I had contacted a few people beforehand, but I talk to Kutchan on a semi-regular basis, so I let him know what was up and figured he'd do the work of organizing everyone else for me. Sucker.
Last summer, I spent a lot of time with Kutchan, and we traded girlie stories. While I was getting ever closer to tricking Miwako into dating me, he also had a girl whom he'd had a giant crush on for a really long time, Pigutan (don't worry, at one point after meeting her I learned her real name but immediately forgot it). He started dating she around the same time Miwako started dating me. I knew I wasn't going to be able to get Miwako to meet the whole Rising Sun gang, but she was at least up to the challenge of a double date with Kutchan and Pigutan (I had never met Pigutan, Kutchan had never met Miwako). But... because Kutchan was reliable indeed, he scheduled a get-together with 10 of our Rising Sun frieands, and not surprisingly, I couldn't convince Miwako to go along. DON'T WORRY, I did spend most of the day with her, though.
Once again, we took our time getting up, and for some reason her mom insisted on driving us to Sapporo, even though she's afraid of driving both in the big scary city and during winter. We went to one of my favorite music stores, Weird-Meddle Records, where I picked up the newest releases from my favorite Sapporo band qodibop (which is pronounced by saying each letter individually), and also picked up a CD by another Sapporo band that I had previously only heard of, olololop, which turned out to be totally awesome. We then went to Tower Records, where I picked up, among other things that I couldn't afford back in August, the latest by OOIOO to complete my collection of bands with weird names. Sadly, when we were looking for a guidebook to Hakodate, we discovered that the bookstore on the floor below Tower Records had gone out of business since last summer, which is weird because it was the book store I most frequently frequented in Japan since I was an exchange student.
After roaming around for a while, we ended up in Susukino, which was hosting its own addition to the Sapporo Snow Festival, the Susukino Ice Festival. Instead of big sculptures made from snow, the big sculptures in Susukino were made from fire. I mean ice. Whatever. Perhaps the most perplexing was the big ice sculpture of Gundam entitled, "Gundam in Odaiba". Why was it named after the life-size Gundam sculpture in Tokyo? Why didn't they just name it "Gundam", or "Gundam's 20th Anniversary" or something? Weirdos. Another awesome series of ice sculptures featured actual factual delicious sea creatures preserved in blocks of ice (see below). When I went to this thing with Mizue a million years ago, the weather was warm enough that the ice was starting to melt and the fish were starting to drip various fluids, but this time around all of the ice sculptures were intact.
After Miwako saw me off at the subway station, I randomly ran into one of my favorite people in Sapporo, Nao, in the subway station on the way to hunt down my frieands. We met up with everyone at an awesome yakitori place, where we ate many tasty things and enjoyed a nomihoudai (I already posted an informative link to that one, right??). It was weird not only seeing everyone only 6 months after the last time, but also in winter. Yet another thing that made me feel at home in Hokkaido. Among those present were Chihirock, Asami and Yochan (whose wedding this coming July I REALLY wish I could attend), Nishio, Natsu (minus Yusaku, sadly), Hiropon, and a girl from our Rising Sun group whose name I can't remember. Oops. Oh yeah, and Pigutan, who I met for the first time. It was fun catching up with everyone, but not feeling like I had been away forever. I got asked a million questions about Miwako, and everyone was disappointed that they didn't get to meet her, but we're all hoping that I can get my two friend groups to merge for the Rising Sun 2010.
After our nomihoudai time was up, Nao, Natsu, and Asami had to leave, but the rest of us went to karaoke. It was like a small version of my going-away party last summer. Once again, I stuck to the ol' standbys. I sang Unicorn with Kutchan and Yochan, and a million Fishmans and Polaris songs with Chihirock. This time around, I went all out with the high-pitched wailing on Yurameki in the Air and couldn't stop smiling the whole time. Alas, the kids kept trying to get me to stay, but I had to catch the last subway to the last train back to Zenibako. So I said goodbye, and drunkenly made my way back home. Next time I will trick Miwako into meeting my friends. Next time.
Today was our day of rest. For lunch, we walked down to a soba restaurant that Miwako had a part time job at for several years. She had a cold soba dish, and I had udon, which was another item on my list of things to eat on this trip. Miwako hadn't been back to that shop for a few years (in spite of it being about a 5-minute walk from her house), so all of the staff that was around came out to say hi.
On the way home, we picked up a selection of weird flavors of Chu-Hi that I'll never get to drink in The Americraine (by the way, I disagree with many things in that Wikipedia article, but I'm not about to do anything about it), and we watched Hachimitsu to Clover, a movie I've been trying to find forever that features a bunch of actors I like and a million others that I've seen in other good movies.
For dinner, we gathered with Maw and Paw and ate Jingiskan, one of my favorite Hokkaidoian foods. After dinner, Mom and Miwako and I went to an onsen in Asari near where I used to have a part-time job as a bartender a million years ago. Going into an onsen by yourself can be a little boring, especially when the women folk are on the other side (because they take longer, what with having to dry their hair and reapply their makeup afterwards, of course). There were 3 or 4 baths of varying temperatures inside, plus a smaller cold water bath (my favorite), a couple of therapeutic baths (one has you sitting on a bench with two super powerful jets of water dropping from the ceiling onto your shoulders, the other has you sitting in a bath in a cubbyhole-like section with underwater jets spraying at you from all directions), and two kinds of saunas (or maybe one was a steam room... they seemed very similar). But the main draw, and indeed one of the main reasons I've wanted to go to Hokkaido in winter forever was the Rotenburo. It was everything I had hoped for. It was really cold outside, and it started snowing big awesome flakes. The snow around the bath was carved into some character, and there were snow candles like in Otaru. There was even a nice (well, dark) view of the mountain behind the place. After a little while, the wind picked up, so there was a nice cold-ass breeze that felt awesome when immediately followed by a dip in the water. My hair even froze a little bit. Fantastic. I love Hokkaido.
An interesting side note, I didn't realize it until trying to find a link to information on what a rotenburo is, but we went to the very same onsen that gained media attention (sort of) for being discriminatory against honkey crackers like myself. The weirdo who sued the place even has his own Wikipedia article. I guess in the back of my mind, I knew about that case, and that it was somewhere around where we were going, but since they let me in I guess I didn't really think about it all that much.
Back home, Miwako's Mom of course wanted to drink with us some more. She had seen some of the various drawrings and painterings and such that I had given to Miwako in the past, and wanted to show off the art that she used to do. It was good, but she drew people and fashions to be used for newspaper advertisements, whereas most of my stuff is abstract. Then she challenged me to a drawing competition, where we each had one half of a big sheet of paper and went nuts. It was fun because her best attempts at being abstract kept failing because it's not something she does. I, on the other hand, like to let my mind go blank and just see what happens. Meanwhile, Miwako was trying not to fall asleep from the combination of bathing and beer. Eventually Mom went to sleep, though, so we could actually spend time talking to each other.