Monday, October 25, 2010
I'm back!
I sort of took an extended break from blogging for a while, but I hope to start posting again soon! Just wanted to let people know that I am still around.

A few exciting things have happened since my last post. First, I am no longer working as a JET. The Board of Education I worked for decided to do away with JET and wanted to switch to a private dispatch company. After getting a few ALTs from the dispatch, prior to my JET contract expiring, the BOE then decided they'd just prefer to hire me privately so I accepted the offer. I also moved house and am now sharing an apartment with another ALT closer to the 'main' district of my town. Everything has been great so far and I look forward to trying to keep on top of my blog once more.

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posted by am at 7:51 PM | Permalink | 0 comments
Wednesday, April 21, 2010
Kamakura Hiking and Yabusame Festival
Seeing as I was in Yokohama for the Lady Gaga concert anyway, I opted to stay at a hostel in the area and go hiking in Kamakura the day following the concert. Kamakura is a really famous tourist spot in Japan, especially for students. Pretty much all of mine have had at least one school trip to visit the many temples in the area and to get their pictures taken in front of a very large budda statue. Oddly enough, as I was contemplating what to do with my time in Kamakura, I received an email from the Tokyo Gaijin group about a Kamakura hike and festival day trip on the very day I would be there and signed up. Tokyo Gaijin is sort of a social club that hosts various events in and around the Tokyo area. I've gone on several trips with the group, including a ski trip to Yamagata and snowshoeing in Gunnma.

The day got off to a bit of a rough start. The instructions said to meet at the station exit and that there was only one. Not true. There were very much 2 exits and I decided to wait at the wrong one. Luckily, I wasn't the only one. There were 2 other girls there who were also part of the trip and working together we managed to figure out that there was another exit and found the rest of the group.

The hike ended up being pretty fast pace and in the end I sort of wish I had simply done my own thing. Because the end of the trip was watching the Yabusame Festival, a festival where archers on horseback test their skills firing at targets, we were on a tight time schedule. Because the group was so large, I think we weren't moving as fast as the guide wanted so time spend at temples had to be shortened. The hiking trail was also really muddy due to it having snowed the day before. My shoes and the bottom of my pants were caked with mud. I'm thankful that I didn't fall though like one member of the group as he spend the rest of the day with a huge mud stain on his ass and let's just say it didn't really look like mud..... I didn't mind having to rush at the temples though as I've gotten tired to seeing temples all the time, but I do wish we could have spend more time enjoying the hiking part rather than rushing to get to the next temple.

We stopped at 5 different temple during the tour, including one where you wash your money in order for it to double and the temple that houses the big budda statue. The last temple was where the archery competition was held. That was pretty interesting, but hard to watch to do there being so many spectators. After that, I headed back home and ended up on the same train as my friends I had gone to see the concert with which made the 3 hour train trip back home much more interesting.

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posted by am at 10:31 PM | Permalink | 0 comments
Lady Gaga
Continuing with my concert adventures, I attend a Lady Gaga concert last weekend in Yokohama. Scored 4 tickets from my favorite ticket selling site for only a bit more than the face value of the tickets for me and some friends. We got pretty lucky because soon after I bought the tickets the prices increased and soon most were selling for more than double the face value cost. I was also extremely lucky to get 4 seats. Lucky as in I've only ever seen 4 ticket sets sold on that site maybe 3 times since I started using it.

Anyway, I hit up Yokohama a bit early and chilled in Chinatown before the concert with my friends. When we got to the concert the first thing we noticed was a bunch of cosplayers. They had set up a roped off section for those who dressed in costumes and people would like up and take pictures of them. Pretty interesting and there were plenty more people dressed up wandering around inside the arena as well. The most prominent fashion accessory of the day? A fake bow made of hair. So many people had one that, even though I think they look stupid, I still wanted one.

According to the tickets, the concert was set to start at 6pm, but having been in Japan for too long, I forgot that most western artist start with an opening band. So we had about an hour to wait before the 'for real' concert started. As I had no interest in the opening act, I headed for the goods line. Took pretty much a hour to get through it and, to be honest, the goods available were disappointing. Mostly T-shirts. I was hoping there would be a keychain or strap as they are staples at concerts here in Japan, but no go. I ended up just getting a pamphlet, which also ended up being a big disappointment because all it contained were a bunch of photos, no set list, no interviews, no words of any type whatsoever. Boo.

The concert however was great. Lady Gaga's music is very upbeat and dancable to which is why I like her in the first place. Seats were kinda crap and in the way, way back but they were cheap, so, yeah. I spent most of the concert singing the songs and jumping up and down. I was also greatly amussed when she did her MC parts as I am pretty sure a good 90% of the audience had no clue what she was saying. However, everyone would always yell after she said the words Japan or Tokyo (but that was funny too as the concert was NOT in Tokyo at all) so said words were liberally sprinkled throughout any talking parts.

I did get into a bit of trouble at one point though. During the concert a bunch of people were filming and taking pictures of the show. Like, pretty much everyone, include full on flash pictures. I didn't see any no photo signs or anything so this led me to assume that photos and filming were okay. Apparently not the case as I was yelled at by one of the security guys. However the security people must have been having an off day because I got the warning during the second to last song and had been filming and taking pictures throughout the show (along with everyone else).

Anyway, it was a great night with friends. At the time I got my tickets, I didn't really realize how popular Lady Gaga was. Apparently its really hard to find tickets for her shows in the States. Sorry to everyone I made jealous! Haha. My friends and I finished off the night by hitting up Bubbys, a New York style, limited time, restaurant. What's a limited time restaurant you ask? One that is only open for a year or so before it will close down. Probably explains why it was so packed because Japanese people love limited things way to much.

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posted by am at 10:01 PM | Permalink | 0 comments
Monday, December 7, 2009
Arashi! Arashi! For Dream!
My j-boy band obsession is coming along quite nicely. After a summer full of KAT-TUN concerts I decided to switch it up in winter and try out an Arashi concert instead. Arashi (aka. Storm) consists of 5 members: Mastumoto Jun, Sakurai Sho, Ninomiya Kazunari, Ohno Satoshi, and Aiba Masaki. While I prefer KAT-TUN's music over Arashi's, I like Arashi as a group better. They all seem to get along and have a nerdy/fun sort of image. I'm also a big fan of their dramas. Particularly those starting MatsuJun and Ohno. Good stuff.

Anyway, this year is Arashi's 10th year anniversary and thus they have been everywhere. On TV, in magazines, and all over the radio. They are the preferred band of pretty much every female student I teach and are considered the most popular band in Japan right now. In fact, I just watched a show last night that was recapping the most popular songs and albums from 2009 and Arashi was at the top of both lists.

I'm sure you can imagine how difficult tickets to this show would be to get. Arashi is a Johnny's band just like KAT-TUN so only those in the fan club can apply for the lottery to get tickets. I am in KAT-TUN's fan club and managed to snag tickets that way, but I am not part of Arashi's and didn't really have an interest in them until after the balloting was complete. Thus, my only option left was the blackmarket. And boy was I shocked when I started to looking for a ticket. For KAT-TUN you could get a fairly blah ticket for around the $150 mark. For arena level they usually started around $300-400. For some of the worst seats in the Tokyo Dome the starting price for an Arashi ticket was a whopping $500. Arena level? Try $2,000 plus. And no, that's not a typo.

I knew 2 other ALTs in my area who also wanted to try and get tickets as well so we made plans to try our luck the day of the show. I also wanted to pick up some concert goods even if we didn't manage to find tickets. However, I was worried that as a group of 3 we wouldn't be able to find anything or get stuck in an awkward, we could only find 2 tickets, situation. So I kept checking all the ticket selling sites and eventually bought a pair of tickets for $400 a piece. It was the best price I saw listed from the time I started looking till the day the concert started. I talked to the two other girls to see if they wanted the other ticket and if so, who would get it and decided I would sell it if they weren't interested. One of them ended up taking the ticket, but I probably could have sold it and made some money. But, it was nice to help out a friend and I was looking forward to actually sitting with someone I knew rather than a bunch of strangers.

The day before the concert was absolute crap. Pouring rain from the morning till the evening. Luckily, the day of the concert was gorgeous. I got into Tokyo a bit later than I wanted, but I started off by hitting up the goods shop. I walked away with a concert program, a bag, an Ohno uchiwa, a notebook, and pic sets of Ohno and Aiba. I really wanted one of the charms they were selling, but by the time I arrived they were sold out. Then I met up with Katrina, the girl who bought my extra ticket. She had spent the morning with Jennie who was still trying to get one. I was worried that she might not be able to given that there was a literal sea of girls with 'I want a ticket' signs. Together, we headed to Shinjuku for lunch and ice cream and got back to the Dome about 20min before the start of the concert. During this time we received many updates about Jennie's ticket finding exploits.

One thing to note about finding tickets the day of is that you can pretty much guaranteed to find one. It's really just a matter of how much you'll pay for it. There are always shady yakuza looking guys who have several to sell, but they were wanting $1,000 dollars for a crappy seat so Jennie had to pass. She also had someone approach her and told her to go to some shady host club to meet up with a woman who was selling a ticket. That was a no go to. She was approached several times and eventually ended up with a ticket in the same row as us, just on the other side of the Dome, for $500 which, while expensive, was the same price that most were selling for online before the show. I was actually surprised by how many offers for tickets she got. I wasn't expecting anyone to approach her, but apparently the other J-girls around her were actually getting jealous with how many people offered her tickets. Guess it helps to have blond hair and blue eyes. But, I also suspect those j-girls wouldn't have paid anywhere near what she did to buy the ticket. Ticket sellers are pretty smart. They know the gaijin will probably pay more than most and take full advantage....the bastards.

Anyway, the concert was amazing! When we got to the dome, we snapped some pics and headed to our seats. Normally I'd remember to stop by the 7-11 to pick up some drinks and snacks but I forgot this time. I ended up getting a really expensive orange juice box and Katrina got a soda and some type of potato snack. Our seats were pretty far back, but not too terrible or anything. I managed a quick and crappy shot of the stage, but it really wasn't much to look at.

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posted by am at 7:10 PM | Permalink | 0 comments
Sunday, November 15, 2009
A Corteo Kind of Weekend
Went into Tokyo this weekend to celebrate Janet's birthday. We started off with a few hours at the new H&M flagship store in Shibuya. Love it! It has huge fitting rooms and there was even a 20% off everything sale happening at the time. I picked up 3 new tops and a pair of dangle earrings. From there, we headed to Pierre Herme, a fancy macaroon and chocolate shop, for some birthday cake and general chocolate overdose. I also snagged some of my favorite rose macaroons.

After that, we headed off to Alice, a theme restaurants based on the Alice in Wonderland tale. It is part of the Diamond Dinning theme restaurant group. I was a bit nervous about it, because the last Diamond Dinning theme place was Princess Heart for my birthday and it wasn't the greatest experience. However, Alice was definitely a step up from Princess Heart. Great atmosphere, good food, and interesting drinks.

Before calling it a night, we did a 2 hours Disney/Christmas song marathon karaoke session. Awesome, though I fail at remembering the names of popular Christmas songs!

The next day with hit up harajuku and went to an all you can eat desert place called Sweets Paradise. Got caught up in a huge line too, but not as huge as the one that had formed when we left the place. Then we hit up forever21. I'd never been before, so it was an interesting experience. The store was jam packed and I didn't really like it. I found a few things I was interested in buying, but the cashier lines were so long that I gave it a pass.

Then it was off to the main event of the weekend, Cirque du Soleil's Corteo. There was a bit of a panic in the beginning as we couldn't figure out where in the world it was at, but after than mishap, it was smooth sailing. Before the show we picked up some food stuffs, including some rather tasty and fresh melon pan. The show itself was interesting, if a bit confusing. Many of the acrobatic feats I've seen before at acrobatics shows in China but Cirque du Soleil takes them to the next level and with much nicer outfits and a loose story line. One of my favorite parts of the show was a midget who was attached to huge balloons and sort of walked and floated over the audience. It was surreal.

After the show it the plan was to head straight back to Yamanashi, but we ended up at the newly opened Uniqulo shoe store. Both me and Janet enjoy Uniqulo clothing and this shoe store is the first of its kind. I really hope the build more! Its the first shoe store in Japan that I've actually been able to try on my size shoe in all the patterns and colors rather than just a select few. I walked away with 2 new pairs of boots that ended up being 20% off of an already killer good price.

Then, along with my massive number of shopping bags, it was off to home.

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posted by am at 4:10 PM | Permalink | 0 comments
Tuesday, September 29, 2009
NHK's Nodo Jiman
Nodo Jiman, or I'm Proud of My Voice, is a television program that has been airing in Japan for around 50 years. It is a karaoke competition that takes place in a different prefecture each month. I found out about it from one of the wonderful ladies working in city hall. She heard me karaoke during the samurai after party for the Takeda Shingen Festival and told me that I should enter. So I did.

The process is really simple. You just have to send in a postcard with some personal information and the name of a song. Then, the Nodo Jiman people pick 200 contestants from all the postcards received. The only requirement is that you are a resident of the prefecture they are auditioning in. It was very difficult for me to pick a song, but Tsunoda-san, the one who recommended that I try out, really wanted to hear me sing Utada Hikaru's First Love. It was because she heard me sing that song that she said I should enter, so I did end up choosing that song. It shouldn't be such a difficult decision, but the song is in Japanese and even though the show is a karaoke type competition, there is no screen to read off the words. You have to have the song memorized. Not a easy feat.

Eventually I got a postcard back from NHK saying I made the 200 person cut! I am contestant number 65. What this means is that I've earned an audition spot, not necessarily a spot on the show. This weekend I, along with 199 others, will audition by singing 60 secs. of my chosen song for the judges and they will choose 20 to appear on TV. I have been practicing almost everyday for the last few weeks. So much so that I'm almost sick of karaoke at the moment. But, I've improved a lot and have the song (mostly) memorized. I'm still a bit worried about singing in front of a crowd....

Anyway the audition is this weekend and if I make it, the taping for the show is the following day. Wish me luck! I'll update next week.

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posted by am at 6:15 PM | Permalink | 0 comments
Monday, September 28, 2009
Sports Fest, Pub Quiz, and TGS, oh my!
Let's just say I had a busy weekend.....

It started off with visiting one of my old elementary schools. I no longer teach at the school, but all the students bar the 1st graders have had me as a teacher and I currently teach their older brothers and sisters. I went to watch their sports festival. The festival was not so exciting. They get a bit old hat after watching two or three, but I really enjoyed seeing all the kids. As the saw me, groups of them would yell out my name and wave like crazy people. It was really cute.

After spending some time at the festival and talking with some of the kids, it was soon time to head to Otsuki for a pub quiz. While I suck at answering the trivia questions, its nice to get to see people I don't ofter get a chance to see and to meet some of the new people who I haven't had a chance to meet. Was a bit disappointed by the table I was assigned though. It was mostly people I already knew. I was also quite peeved at the fact that I was in the bathroom during one of the few questions I knew the answer too and my group ended up getting it wrong. Nooooooo! The pub quiz had a few interesting new rules/categories this time. There was even a physical challenge. All in all a good time. Never did end up figuring out who won as the quiz ran late and I had to catch a train to Tokyo.

Spend the night in Tokyo at one of my favorite hostels. The Sakura Inn in Jimbocho. Always a nice place and me and Janet ended up having a 4 person room all to ourselves. It was a quick stay though. We got up early the next morning to head to MakuhariMesse in Chiba for the annual Tokyo Game Show. It's been tradition over the past 2 years that me and Janet attend the show together. It's normally held during a 3 day weekend in October, but was held a bit earlier this year. Luckily I checked the website a few weeks in advance or we would have probably missed out! This year we wanted to attend 2 days instead of just 1, but due to the sports festival and pub quiz, it didn't quite work out.

Anyway, the game show was a good time as always. We got there about an hour and a half before the venue opened. Most of the game show is spent collecting 'swag' aka. various free things passed out by different companies either for doing nothing or playing certain demo games. Last year Janet manged to walk away with a decent sized stuff Sonic. Other goods from past years include key chains, mouse pads, cups, bouncy balls, and a ton of game demo CDs. This year it was clear that the swag was a bit lacking. Not as many giveaways and most of the giveaway stuff was fairly average. We did manage to pick up some jewelry, headphones, and a really cool multicolored pen/highlighter. No free game giveaways though, and the demo disks were also really scarce. There also seemed to more people and fewer vendors this year, which meant that most of the good stuff was gone exceptionally fast.

Didn't have much time to spend grabing swag though as I cosplayed this year. I went as Beatrice from 07th Expansion's Umineko no Naku Koro Ni series. I got a ton of compliments on it and had a ton of people ask to take my picture. One person even asked me if I was working for 07th Expansion as their 'booth babe' aka person who passes out fliers for a company while in costume. This got me all excited because I didn't think they'd have a booth, but in the end it turns out they didn't. I even got interviewed by 2 different TV stations. One of which was from Spain. I also managed to meet up with an online friend from Singapore who recently moved to Japan to attend school and was cosplaying from the same series as me.

I also ate at the show for the first time and was impressed by the food selection and quality. Everything but the drinks, which were going for 200yen a bottle, was really cheap too. I got 2 large chicken legs and french fries for 500yen. Couldn't even get that kind of deal at a fast food place and the food quality was significantly better than anything you'd find at a KFC. I'd even go as far to say it was sit-down restaurant worthy. Yum!

After considering stopping in Tokyo for dinner for a brief moment, we decided to head straight home. It was a very long weekend and neither of us were looking forward to work the next day.

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posted by am at 5:39 PM | Permalink | 0 comments