Monday, August 30, 2010

Oya, Japan

Located just a few miles outside of the city of Utsunomiya is a giant Buddha carved out of stone. This statue was carved shortly after the Second World War. Its purpose is to commemorate peace. Though it's not the largest Buddha you might find in Japan. There are some quite larger.

Although this large Buddha towers over Oya, there are other attractions. Most notably, its the stone in the area that draws the tourists. Without the stone, this Buddha wouldn't exist.

Literally across the street from the Giant Buddha is a small garden that contains some koi fish, flowers, and everything stereotypical you might find about Japan. The only draw back is that there is an entry fee. See, to get a good look at the giant Buddha, for free. But to get a glance at this other famous attraction will cost you somewhere around ¥400.

This attraction dates back to the late 800's and as you might guess. Its something of another God, most likely from Shinto beliefs. Only this time it has a ton of arms and reminds much more of a Hindu God than something Shinto. Regardless, it was interesting to see. Sadly, you are banned
from taking any pictures of it. This was a totally bummer because after paying the entrance fee, you should fee justified taking a picture of it. It's either for a religious reason or maybe they just don't want everyone to know what it looks like. Keeping the curiosity alive. Not surprisingly, there are pictures of this Thousand Armed
Shinto God on about every piece of tourist information you can get. Go figure.

Nearby, by a short car ride, there is another attraction to see. This one is actually an old rock quarry that might still be in use. If you are visting this area in the summer months, its a nice change of pace. The temperature inside is at least 15 degrees centigrade cooler. Its strange walking from a hot humid atmosphere into a nice cool underground dungeon.

This place just like the other place requires an entrance fee. This one was more, about ¥600. I could tell you that, as nice it is to stand inside in a nice cool underground, I don't think it's worth your money.. Unless you are willing to spend it.

Moving along, I went to a nearby shrine. Of course, these are free. It had a lovely set of steps all the way up to the top


That is all I have to say on Oya, Japan. It's short and brief. Plus, I also was getting really frustrated trying to insert pictures and move them around. What a world.

Saturday, August 28, 2010


For the past few days I have been writing in my blog on a bit more of a consistant basis. Something that would resemble what it looked like upon my arrival to Japan. This is good because it gives more people something to read. For me its not too bad either. It gives me a place to write down my ideas. This is perfect so if I ever get Alzheimer's, I have a place to go and read the adventures of the past. Only problem becomes if I can't find it.

Moving along, I think I will try to find a few days out of the week where I will come here and spew garbage. All of these days will center around Japan, so if you're in the US; consider it a day earlier.

Tentatively, I think the days will be; Monday, Thursday, and Saturday. This does not mean however that I will lack content, with blank days. I will write as much as I possibly. Some days maybe writing two or three entries. Helping create a back log of work. Something I have been wanting to do with my video projects but that's much more difficult.

If I create a schedule of days when content is released, it gives everyone reading an exact day when content is posted. Instead of wondering when I will post another entry.

So, let's give this a try for the month of September and see how it turns out!


I have never seen a pet turtle that is this large. He must have weighed 50 pounds!

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Your neighborhood K9

The demeanor of a dog is determined by an owner. One who has a short temper or prone to anger might have an aggressive dog. A person who is scatter brained will have a dog that is overly anxious and difficult to train. What about the person that is very mellow? Well, the mellow person is going to have a dog you would confuse with a monk.

I don't want to divulge to far into stereotypes but the Japanese, as a whole, are very mellow. Which means they have the most obedient, patient, quiet, and loving dogs I have ever encountered.

The dog pictured in this entry is a dog who was tied up outside of a local super market. Of course the breed (shiba) is known to be a kind dog. It didn't care one moment for me. He was patiently waiting for its master. I could pet it, talk to it, try and get its attention but all it was doing was waiting for its best friend to come out with groceries in its arms.

Countless times I have seen this repeated. I would honestly say that most of these dogs could stand, unleashed, and the owner would never have to worry about the dog being lost...

Speaking of that, since I have been in Japan; I haven't seen one 'lost dog' poster. Whenever I was in the US, I always felt sick to my stomach when I saw a flier. I love dogs, so its hard for me to know if one was lost or maybe strayed to far and was hit by a car. On the other hand, rage boiled inside of me because a 'lost dog' might also mean 'terrible owner'.

If you love your dog, it loves you and will never run away. My last dog (God rest his soul) could patiently sit outside our house for hours waiting for our return (unleashed mind you). Routinely if members of my family left the house and I was still home, sleeping in bed till noon; he went into a howling fit. I could also leave a plate full of food lying on the floor and he would never eat it unless I let him.

This is what has surprised me so much about the animals over here. The dogs love their owners immensely, which says a lot about the Japanese. Toy dogs I once hated in the US have a different personality here. Its like someone gave all these pomeranians and terriers a bunch of drugs. They just watch you walk past their house without barking, give you a little wag of the
tail, and thats it. Actually, I haven't heard toy dog bark since I've been here.

Toy dogs are generally the worst in the US. Something I could set you down for a few hours and talk to you about. Overall though, dogs over here are awesome.

Of course there are differences but none of them are all that negative. There are fewer larger
breeds of dogs over here. You're less likely to see anything bigger than a lab. It all makes sense when you look at the bigger picture of SPACE. Who can own a husky and own the area they need to roam? I haven't came across a dog park either. Which is sad because it would be a great place to see dogs and get some digits.

I think that is all I have to say about dogs. If there is anything I would suggest. I think it would be to read the story about Hachiko. Japan's most famous dog. His story has a lot to say about loyalty, patience, and will make you cry your self to sleep for nights to come.


Saturday, August 21, 2010

Caffeine Addiction - TWJ BTS 28

When it comes to drinks, comparing the daily standard is quite different over here in Japan. In the US, coffee is the norm. People wake up from a nights rest and gulp down two cups before they get to work. While at work, they might consume about three more throughout the day. This essentially was my norm when I worked at FedEx for a year. Four or five cups of coffee made a huge difference in my productivity. Even the time I spent working on Coraline, in a days time, I might have consumed a cup in the morning then two or three throughout my day. It was really kind to me through out the long hours I spent in art school as well.

Coffee made me run. It made me think and kept me aware. Maybe that sounds like a bit of an addiction but I have came to realize this the past week.

Since living in Japan, my coffee consumption has gone down dramatically. In the same regard, I have also have had a harder time remember specific things, that at one point were simple to remember.

This country runs on tea. Its a far cry from coffee. Its good and has its health benefits, especially with all the varieties you can choose from but it doesn't have that kick like coffee.

This past week, I started to drink coffee more regularly. I nearly forgot how awesome it is. Its like an adrenaline shot in the arm. Amazing.


In other news, check out my latest episode, made with the aid of coffee.

-Jerry OUT!

Thursday, August 19, 2010

The little things..

In a nation surrounded by the sea, you would think that clam chowder would be popular. Surprisingly, it's not. Which is quite a shame.

The picture you see to the left is of a can of clam chowder. The price of the can was also fairly high, somewhere around ¥238. In dollars, that would be something like $2.60 or so. Though I have not yet ate this tiny little can (maybe 6oz), I can tell you that I am looking forward to it.

When you move to a foreign land there are things you suddenly realize you miss. Family and friends seems to be the most obvious before leaving. I didn't take much consideration into how much I would miss American food.

Something as simple as a good deli sandwich is hard to find. Hot dogs! Where are they? Well, they are sold at the Mini Stop (a convenience store) nearby. The price of the hotdog sits somewhere around $2.50 and the size is about the quarter of something you could find at your local 7/11.

Even the things I miss at 7/11 in America, such as; fountain drinks, slurpies, taquitos, chilidogs, breakfast burritos... I really need to stop because its making me hungry. But these items are not found here.

Out of anything I would warn you about moving to another country is, YOU'RE REALLY GOING TO MISS THE FOOD!

Even when you take it to something you can find over here, such as pizza... Not quite as good. It's tasty, thats for sure but there is something missing to it. Also the price really hurts the wallet. Its something like $12 for a pizza that feeds one person. Watermelons are outrageous in price, somewhere around $30 for a melon half the size you could get in America. Finding really good bread is also difficult. I miss my 'Dave's Killer Bread' tremendously... Even sourdough I can't find.

Don't get me wrong, I really love Japanese food. Udon, ramen, yakisoba, sushi, or curry I would eat in a heart beat. But I really just miss a meal that sticks to your ribs. Which speaking of ribs... You can't find those either!


Should the beard go?

Since the start of summer vacation, I have neglected to shave. Its been a few weeks now and I have a hardy beard covering my face.

I was planning to keep the beard, at least for a few weeks while I started school. Let the kids see what a beard looks like (not many people in Japan can grow a beard).

The problem is, I am taking the drivers test, another time and hopefully the last time. Since beards in Japan aren't as accepted as certain places of the US, I am considering shaving it off. Appearance might matter just a little more on this last occasion. This means that the kids won't see my beard.

Thats ok I guess. There will always be other opportunities.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

The value of 2nd Hand in Japan and the lack of space I have to accommodate it.

The hands on the clock are pushing two in the morning and I can't sleep. Tomorrow I'll be taking my third driver's test and hopefully my last. Although, I lack the confidence and expecting the xenophobia from the testers. Failing is more than likely, going to occur.

I just can't get passed it. Its difficult. If the testers had to take the test I took when I was sixteen; I would believe they might fail. Drivers in Japan aren't good, they're just polite.

But I digress. This isn't the point of this entry. What I want to talk about is the entire concept of 2nd hand in Japan.

Unlike the US, the Japanese place little value on something that is used. Lets take for example a guitar. In the US, if someone was to sell a used guitar and it was in good condition; even with upgrades (such as new pickups, ivory inlays, new pick guards, etc...) the used price might be close to matching the original price.

The Japanese on the other hand, completely disregard this train of thought. If its used, it lacks any value. This also means that second hand stores sell every item at about the quarter to an eighth of its value.

A few days ago I was in a local 2nd hand store looking at a variety of items. The guitars struck me as an item I would like to obtain while I'm here. Most of them, used were priced around $30USD. I knew by their brand and the condition they were in, that was far too cheap. The store should really be asking for at least $250 for most of these axes. Of course, its Japan and they see them as worthless.

Since I don't know how long I will be in this country and the lack of space I occupy; I'm conflicted with to purchase one guitar or two. If I get one, it becomes a battle between acoustic and electric. Then on either end it also becomes a battle of what style of each I might like.

Its been months since my fingers have touched a six string so I can't tell you what I'd like at the moment. Either has a lot going for it at the moment. The problem is 'What do I want to play?'

Its hard to play metal, ska, or punk rock on an acoustic. Then on the other hand, its difficult to make folk sound soulful on an electric. There is a disconnect between the two and its hard for me to pick. Considering the prices, I could scoop up both with little trouble to my wallet. But I know that when I got back home, it becomes a problem of 'do I want to bring these with me to the states?'

Can you see the problem?

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

DMV in America vs. Japan

Today was the second time I attempted a road test for my Japanese drivers license. It was also the second time I failed the driving portion. Though I don't need a Japanese drivers license, it would be handy to have if I ever need to get a job in a different area.

Upon failing the level of frustration began to rise inside of me. Its hard to explain at the moment because I lack so many pictures to aid in the story. I will do as best as I can to break down how the driving system works here in Japan.

If you are a native Japanese, you will have to go through driving school. Its going to cost you about $3,000. It will take you the course of a few months. When you finally pass the course, you have to take the test. Generally the Japanese government passes everyone on their first try, partly because they paid $3,000 for a stupid driving course.

Stateside, for me, a driving course was taken when I was 15 years old. It costs less than $200 and I passed my drivers test first time at bat; just a few months after I turned 16. Now if you are older than 18 in the US, there is no need for a drivers course. Just go in and take the test until you pass. Its so amazing how much of a privilege driving is in the US. Maybe my next entry I will have to talk about the difference between the roads here in Japan versus back home. Such a huge difference.

Now, if you are foreigner in Japan, getting your license becomes a pain. If you aren't from Canada, UK, New Zealand, or Australia: be prepared to take the course more than one time. Three times is generally how many people have to take it.

First what you have to do is get your license translated. That means you have to blow $35 to get things like your name or numbers put into Japanese. No you can't ask a Japanese friend, you have to have it officially translated.

Upon receiving your translation, you have to take it to the Japanese Drivers place (I don't know what its called) along with your passport, alien registration card, and drivers license from your home country. You have to arrive before 10am to sign up to meet with some one.

YES! You have to SIGN UP TO MEET SOMONE! There is no 'take a number' which generally results in waiting anywhere from two minutes or less to an hour. This 'signing up' means you are now put on a list of other foreigners and will be called in order. You then have to come back to the licensing place at 1pm to speak with someone.

Then they look over all your paper work to make sure you can qualify for a Japanese drivers license. If there is anything that might conflict with your passport or drivers license. YOU WILL HAVE TO COME BACK AGAIN! Luckily, it didn't happen for me. Although my drivers license address has my address from when I lived in N. Bonneville and my passport has my address from Vancouver, WA... I didn't say a thing. I didn't tell them that the drivers license they were holding was my renewed one I got when I was 20 years old. Essentially, its best to keep your mouth shut and let them ask questions. If they don't notice anything, then thats great.

Now once you have done the step of making sure you are eligible to get a license, you have to sign up for a time to take a written test. Which means you have to come back again. DURING THE WEEK. They are not open on weekends. This makes it a huge hassle for anyone, even the Japanese who have difficulty asking for any time from work off.

A few days later you come back to the DMV or whatever and take the written. You again have to go though the same process to make sure you haven't left the country. Then you have to take a eye test. Then comes the written... Somewhere around 11am... Its all common sense but you have to decipher all the strange English they use on the test. After that test is complete you can take your first swing at the driving course.

Now let me tell you about the driving course. The test is easy. It really is. The test in the States is harder. Parallel parking, backing around a corner, and actual traffic actual make it much more stress full. In the US, the course is so much more practical. Its if you were driving around the city on any given day.

In Japan, the test is taken on a closed course. Its like a giant parking lot with little islands you have to navigate through. The reason I say the course is easy is because its like jumping off a diving board instead of the high dive. BUT the judging is much more strict.

Again, think about diving. The American course essentially is a tripple summersault, double pike, half twist; from the high dive. Because its so difficult, the driving instructor will cut you some slack. The Japanese course is like jumping off a normal diving board and doing a boring normal dive. Since the dive is so easy the 'judges' or 'driving instructor' is like a mean old British Nanny. Strict beyond belief.

Enough complaining. Lets just hope I can make it through on this third time.


Monday, August 2, 2010

Mt. Fuji

Before moving to Japan, the idea of hiking Mt. Fuji always entertained my mind. I think the reason had to have been was that it shared something with my home mountain, Mt. Hood. Though I'm not from Oregon or live on the mountain, I call it home. The reason being is, I have spent the last fourteen years navigating every slope, ditch, bump, and tree on a snowboard. What it has in common with Mt. Fuji is that its a heavily trafficked mountain.

Fuji Yama or Mt. Fuji is the most climbed mountain in all of the world. Mt. Hood, has been bitting at its ankles at number of years. (Last time I checked however some mountain on the east coast, maybe Vermont has been a challenger. I thought they only had hills in Vermont but I could be wrong). When I think of Mt. Fuji, inevitably I think of Mt. Hood growing up and I always remember countless stories of stranded hikers or lost souls who decided to brave the elements in the harshest of conditions. This thought also crossed my mind when I was hiking Fuji. Although, I'm no defeatist, so calling in for a search party was the furthest thing from my mind.

Planning the trip took the greater part of a day or two. My friend Brian helped my figure out the train situation down there. There were a handful of transfers but making it to the foot of the mountain was to take about five hours. This went by quickly, partly due to flirting with girls and speaking with other lost foreigners. My job was to fig out what trail to hike and any extra thoughts on what to bring.

Before I mention to you the trails, let me first break down Mt. Fuji so it makes sense. From the bottom to the top, Mt, fuji is ten levels. Ten being the summit and one is supposedly where the original trails started, though that is so far from the truth; I can tell you first hand. As far as the main trails, most people start at level five and hike to ten. Few people go from one to five. I felt like it would be cheating to hike from level five so starting at level one was the plan.

Now there were four main trails to pick from; Yoshida(the most popular), Gotemba(the longest), Fujinomiya (the shortest), and Subashiri (heavily forested). The original starting point for each is quite a distance away. Tacking on the original starting point, on the Fujinomiya for example, ads an extra 14km. Making the total length of the trail somewhere over 20km. Since I saw that Gotemba was one of the least trafficked trails and that its original starting point was fairly short, I figured it would be best to do this one, as a whole,. Then once we got to the top; decide weather or not, to take a bus back from the 5th station. I was not expecting this to be a horrible idea.

The original starting point for the Gotemba trail is at a tiny little place known as the Suyama Sengen Shrine. Maps or any details about hiking Mt. Fuji are surprisingly difficult to find. There was no indication as to how long the trail was. The only information I could find about how long it took, said it was 5.5 hours. At a decent pace, you could climb that distance in three hours. I wanted to play it safe so I predicted six. In reality, this trail takes around eight hours and is totally gnarly.

At the end of my journey on fuji, I found out that there are three different variations of the trail markers on the mountains. One of them has to be the most retarded way I have ever seen someone measure climbing distance. It occurred to me when I was trying to climb from one hut to the next. The marker said 300 meters, I then looked at all the switchbacks leading up to the mountain and estimated it was around 800 meters to 1km in length. AS A CROW FLIES its 300 meters. The same level of frustration arose in me as I ran down the mountain at a brisk pace for about fifteen minutes to only realize I descended 200 meters. I could run all the way around the mountain in a day and only descend a foot. Just tell me HOW LONG THE TRAIL IS!

Anyway the journey began at 6am. Waking up and riding the bikes to the train station. Next was a train ride down to Gotemba which took around 5 hours. There was a short wait until the bus arrived to take us near the shrine. We ended up at the Sengen Shrine at about 1pm and began our trek. I figured if we went straight there, we would hit the top at sunrise.

The Suyama trail was a combination of walking on city streets and dirt trails that ran into the wilderness. For about the first two and a half hours it wasn't too bad. I thought we were halfway at this point, due to my calculations. We took a breather and some pictures. The mountain wasn't visible at all. the entire journey. It was just too cloudy.

After a short rest we went along our path. Everything was going fine up until the point we hit a golf course. The trail was eroding and a stream took its place. We talked with a worker on the golf course about the trail. I found that over the small solar powered electric fence that the trail was fine and continued on for a distance. The greenskeeper thought we already overshot the start of the gotemba trail and wouldn't meet up with it. Hearing this was a bit frustrating but we continued on. He warned of us about black bears on the trail. I got excited because I have never seen a black bear in the forest and was hoping we would see one. Sadly we didn't. We saw a deer though. Man, they're weird, follow you in pitch black, and make obscenely frightening noises at night.

I should mention that the sun went down while we were on the Suyama trail. It was also disappointin to find out that we finally arrived at station one after such a long time of hiking. This was at around seven o'clock (six hours in), right when the trail got extremely difficult. It was like I was walking up the side of a black diamond in complete darkness. When I saw some lights, I got excited, because I knew the huts weren't far away but they totally were. As we got out of the timberline (6,000ft), this steep path continued on. Luckily there was rope and I pulled my dead body up the side of Mt. Fuji until we hit flat ground. We were now at the edge of the Hoei Crater.

From my line of site were were around 2km away from the closest hut. I thought we were near the bottom of the Gotemba trail. Both Brian and I were exhausted. Since it wasn't cold, we decided to take a rest on the edge of the crater. The stars were out and it was clear for the only time we were on the mountain. I saw a few shooting stars. It was silent. You could hear all the other hikers in the distance. It sounded like they were right next to you.

I miss read my watch and thought it was 11:30 but it was actually 9:30. Luckily we got out of that messy trail. Its just too bad the time was so off. The plan was to stay on the crater for about two hours then continue on the hike. I drifted in and out of sleep for an hour then sprang to life after about 30 minutes, ready to take on the mountain. Sadly, I sprang to life to fast. A cold gust of wind hit my to hard and my body started to go into shock. After a few deep breaths and some Jedi mind tricks, I was able to calm myself down. I then put on a jacket and it was another rocky black diamond up until the path leveled out. Brian didn't seem affected at all by the lack of sleep and was a good 30 meters ahead.

When we made it over to the nearest hut, we found out that it was actually the 6th Station on the Fujinomiya trail. A wrong turn was taking somewhere and I'm not sure. Between the bad directions I spent hours searching for online and the terrible trail heads, it was hard to find who to blame. Regardless we took a bit of a rest. Both of us were nearly out of water and for a bottle on the mountain was outrageous. Price gouging is rough but it makes complete sense. The huts all run on generators, which means gas, which means a lot of money. Supplies to and from the huts are also expensive. Its like how FedEx charges more for packages flown to Hawaii or Alaska or even into Canada. When its more of a hassle to obtain something, expect to be charged more. I coughed up the 300 yen for a bottle of water. It tasted so good but was not enough.

While at the 6th station, I started to talk to a Japanese gal. When she replied in fluent English I was shocked. She had some words of encouragement because at that point I wasn't feeling so great and was about ready to give up. 'Gambatte!' She said. It means 'Do your best!'. I then turned into the Anime character I already am, so I bought a walking stick with some fancy wood burnt stamps on it. I can't read it but it sure looks awesome.

From this point we had only a little while left and if we had the energy we could have made it for the sunrise. We went at a decent pace from levels six to nine. Taking rests at about every other switch back. The lack of oxygen really gets to you past that point I was beat and remember saying weird things. At huts, we would stop for longer. Eventually when we got up to the 9th hut, the sun looked like it was about to come out but guess what also was out? Clouds! Both of us knew it would be pointless to go up just for some clouds so a much longer rest was underway.

We put up stop on that last hut for maybe twenty or thirty minutes. Both of us were sitting, with out backs on the the side of the hut. I got tired of sitting and then just decided to lay on my side. Some Japanese ladies started to talk about me but I didn't know much of what they were saying. I also didn't care cause I was so tired.

When we woke it was a quick trip to the top of the crater. I saw a guy in a Luchido mask and asked to take a picture of him. He was ok with that so I did. Awesome.

At the top of Mt. Fuji there is a little town. There is a shrine where I got another stamp on my walking stick. There is also a police box, post office box and a small area for expensive food. It felt refreshing to finally be at the top but at the same time, I was a bit disappointed. I didn't mind missing the sun rise but I felt a bit left out because of the clouds.

After a little while on top, it was back down. We thought going down the trail were were supposed to go up would have been a good idea…. No, it was a terrible idea. That trail has so many small rocks. At first it starts out ok. Three kilometers down it wasn't to bad. There were some switch backs and it wasn't too steep. And then it turns into about 7km of just straight rocky road. It was just steep enough that you wanted to run down it. Then you do and get rocks in your shoes. Its easier on the body as a whole just extremely annoying.

Once we got to the bottom of the 5th station at Gotemba, we got on a bus and were out of there pretty quickly. I didn't take much pictures on the trek but did manage to take plenty of video. There will be some posted later down the line.

The train ride back wasn't so bad. I was in and out of sleep. I am not like the Japanese though and can't sleep through much noise. Whenever a train going in the opposite direction passed, I would wake up scared.

Now, would I do Fuji again? Yes but I would start from one of the fifth stations. I would also start at an earlier time. Its just a shame that so many places to stay are so expensive. Hotel costs in Japan aren't by room but by how many people stay in them. So if there are two people sharing a room, it doesn't matter, both have to pay an arm and leg.

Alright, thats all for now. That was my second attempt at writing it.

Sunday, August 1, 2010

The Dragon that is Mt. Fuji (first attempt)

I just spent about 2 hours typing this then my browser crashed... Awesome.