Thursday, August 21, 2014

Vacation Days 4 and 5: Trains and USJ

There's really not much to say about the day of trains. We saved a lot of money by taking the normal trains from Fukuoka to Osaka instead of the bullet train. Remember on the bullet train it took about 5 hours from Shizuoka to Fukuouka. It took 12 hours from Fukuoka to Osaka, and after that is still 5.5 more hours by normal train another day. Why do this? We saved lots of money. There's a special ticket you can buy during school breaks that allows you to ride JR train lines for 5 days for about a hundred bucks. You can also share it with someone. Since we needed 2 days a piece, we each paid about 50...and I could sell the remaining day for money back. The bullet train down alone was 200. Yay money saving! So we rode trains and got to our hostel/hotel in the evening (we weren't staying long, so we stayed somewhere cheaper).

The next day was the big event! USJ! Harry Potter! One Piece! It was time to party. We awoke and jumped on the train for the short ride to USJ! (We made sure our hotel was nice and convenient so we didn't have to get up too early) This time, we knew where the McDonald's was and got ourselves a hearty breakfast to prepare for our adventurous day. We were still ready to roll before the park opened, but we figured we might as well just head over anyway. And it was a good thing we did, because soon after they were letting people in. We were confused but we weren't going to question it; we just followed the people towards Harry Potter. We were even more confused when we saw people running (actually flat out running) towards it. Why? It wasn't going anywhere!

Well, after we followed the people, we found out why. Because it is new and crowded, there was a timed entry system set in place for Harry Potter area. You were allowed one ticket per day, and they will run out if you don't get a ticket soon enough---especially since this was the most traveled week of the year in Japan. This is also why they opened the park early. Luckily our tickets were for 9:10, so it's not like we had to wait very long. Actually, as we sat waiting for our time to enter the workers saw us and waved us through anyway (what was the point of the timed entry then? I don't even know whatever) so that was cool.

Happy Potter world in USJ is....identical to Harry Potter world (pre-Diagon Alley) in Florida! Yay! We made our way over to the awesome castle ride immediately and it was awesome. Then it also let you out into the most crowded gift shop ever. We were considering coming back to buy things later, but it was a good thing we didn't because there was a huge line to get into the store. Gah. 

Then! We feasted on butterbeer! And I made a stupid mistake. I wanted to take a picture of my butterbeer with the castle in the background, and so I dropped my bag like a foot off the ground to the ground, and there was a mug in there--that I remembered as soon as I heard the clink! of shattering glass. (One horrible thing about USJ: they refuse to give you a plastic bag with handles unless you pay them money for it, so we were stuck with crappy paper horrible bags all day) So I had to go back to the store. Luckily (luckily) they let me cut the line and the lady at the cash register was super nice (and also a Gryffindor) and I didn't have to pay for a replacement. Good job Me.

Anyway! We decided it was a good time for some food...well, it was a good time to get in the line for food. They said it was going to take a bit over an hour, but luckily since we opted to eat at the outside seating it went faster. And they had some nice food. Beef! Pastry! Oh it was so good. Very happy campers. 

And then we...didn't really want to do anything else. We fought our way into some stores before lunch, but it was so crowded and overpriced we didn't really want anything else. And the main gift/candy store had a wait that was literally 3 hours. Longer than the rides. Absolutely not. Jeez Japan.

So after exiting that area we ran into another problem: we wanted to ride Backdrop, the awesome coaster that goes backwards. However, it appeared that because it was crowded that day they also sold timed release tickets for that as well. No one ever told us this, so we were right pissed. But luckily we could ride single rider (the whole time we never saw anyone really go through the real line so what was the stupid point of the tickets but whatever) later that day so that was...acceptable. At the time we just rode forward instead, but still. Gr.

The other main event of the day was of course, One Piece! USJ's One Piece Summer Event! Lots of One Piece goods! The main event was that night, but during the day there was a small water street show with Luffy and Usopp that was really cute (and I was actually allowed to film part of it). The Marines were looking for Luffy, and Usopp (and the kids in the audience) were trying to distract them and everyone was shooting water guns and it was really cute. We were also literally inches away from getting soaked with a fire hose so that was lucky. 

And that night! The main show! This time we had forgotten to read / translate the plot summary teaser before hand, so extra Japanese practice! If you don't know what One Piece is, feel free to skip the next paragraph:

So the timeline of this show was set as an additional island they stopped at before Dressrosa, so the gang was still with Law and Caesar. An island famous for fireworks was taken over by the Deluxe Marines, who apparently have some big names working for them (such as Hordy, Boa Hancock, Kid, Crocodile, I can't even name them all). SO of course the Straw Hats stop there (despite Law's protests) and have to defeat them. It was super confused until it was revealed that the right hand man of the leader of the DX Marines (who was a plasma user) had some ability that enabled him to make copies of people and use their abilities (including Law) so all of these big players were fakes of the real people. But they still needed to be defeated, and Luffy was up to the task using Grizzly Magnum (which was pretty cleverly demonstrated I might add) to defeat the leader. Also heavily featured was shirtless! and breakdancing Sanji throughout the show. It was a very good time haha. I wish I remembered more, but I should have wrote this when we got back instead of a month later in September. -____-

And then afterwards we made a bit stop at the Jump Shop because goods and had just enough money to make it home the next day...which was Obon, so no rest was needed as we arrived home, geared up in yukata and headed out to the festival! THEN I slept very well that night.

All in all an excellent, excellent vacation :D


Kyushu Day 2: Perfection at the Beach

Our next full day in Kyushu, Tuesday, was considerably more relaxed. No alarms set, (although we still got up at 9), just plans to hit the beach. And I had directions to a nearby beach, so we were set. We leisurely made our way to Seaside Momochi Beach Park and set up shop in a corner of one of the giant umbrella tents set up for public use. Here's what we did for the rest of the afternoon:

1: Get hot. Go in the water (the thankfully jellyfish-less, only slightly dirty water).

2. Get cold. Go sit on the towel and tan/dry off while listening to music.

Repeat haha. We did also hunt for seashells on occasion. And of course, the entire time we admired the glorious view that the beach provided. It was a good day.

Before heading back to hole up in the hotel again, we ate an early dinner of a famous food in Fukuoka: tonkotsu ramen. Different regions of Japan have special ramen flavors. This one was good, but not my favorite.

Then we went home and loafed and watched anime, because we had a big day of transportation to prepare for the next day. Allll the trains!


Close Enough Kyushu: Day 0 and 1

Vacation time! My friend Sam and I were considering going to Okinawa for vacation this month, but for a variety of reasons (one of which being I didn't want the skin to melt off of my face) we decided it was a better idea to go to Kyushu, one of Japan's southern main islands (where Nagasaki is, if you recall). Only this time, we were thinking more about beaches instead of museums (and One Piece..but more on that soon ;) )

With saving money for the important stuff always in mind, we made our plan. First, Sunday: getting there. Since we were going to stop in Osaka on our return and take normal trains then, we decided to use the bullet train (Shinkansen) to get there. Even travelling at 300kmh it took about 5 hours (we were going through some typhoon remains, so we had to slow at points). We arrived in Fukuouka around dinnertime (which we then ate) and eventually got to our hotel (after walking in the exact wrong direction and making a big circle, because how else would we get there). But it was still only around seven, so what did we do? Oh, just go see the Rurouni Kenshin movie again <3 It was just as beautiful the second time... Next time I'll actually pay attention and take vocabulary practice notes.

So, first full day! Game time! The goal? Huis ten Bosch. Thousand Sunny. Does that sound familiar at all? Well, when I went to Nagasaki I wanted to go to this "amusement park" (that's super boring) so I could ride the pirate ship from One Piece, but I got tied up searching for the correct bus to the Penguin Aquarium and it was sold out by the time I got there. Well that wasn't happening this time; I was determined.

Continuing our money saving, we left really early so we could take the cheaper, slower trains there. (sidenote: we charged our train cards before we left so we could use them, but the park was so far out in the countryside that it wouldn't accept them...I was super ticked at the accidental misappropriation of money, but I was able to use it elsewhere) We arrived a bit before 10; then we needed to determine how to get to the free area (where you paid by ride instead of admission) where the ship was. Turns out we needed to take a bus that was leaving in 15 minutes. Okay, fine.

Well that bus was 15 minutes late. And poor, traumatized Rosie was freaking out that we didn't get there early enough and it was going to be sold out again. The bus finally came (one of the Japanese people also waiting even called the bus people, because seriously) and took us to the area, and...we got tickets! I was slightly beside myself. Finally. Eeeeeeeee

Then we of course did some One Piece shopping. I was slightly saddened, however, that the One Piece area had shrunk since I was there last time. But we were still happy campers. And Huis ten Bosch is in Sasebo; since we came so far, we figured we'd eat some famous Sasebo food for lunch. Sasebo lemon steak was way too expensive, but we got Sasebo burgers! Yum!

Then we started home and arrived around dinnertime. Then we holed up in the hotel with ramen for dinner and went to bed at 10. Why would we do this you ask? Well we did get up at 5, for one. But the last day of our vacation was at USJ, home of Harry Potter and One Piece. We had to pace ourselves!

But the merriment had only just begun!


Wednesday, August 20, 2014

How It Should Have Been: Fuji Take Two

So after work I took advantage of the forecasted clear weather on Mt. Fuji and made my Tuesday night ((August 5th)) into a mountainous adventure. There was an initial panic the day before when I realized that both my friend and I misread the bus schedule and I couldn't take the bus straight from Shizuoka station, but I managed to figure out a route through Fujinomiya that I could still make after work and still be free to get a return bus home the next morning at anytime. So I arrived at Fujinomiya 5th station around 8:30 (to jog your memory: there are 10 stations, and sane people start climbing from 5). I waited about an hour to get acclimated to the oxygen drop (writing postcards, eating food) and we were off! The mission? Get to the top before sunrise at 4:52, and considering it took us about 9 hours last time, I thought I was pushing it.

A note; when I say 'we,' I mean me. I decided this time that I would climb by myself. And I assure you that although lots of big groups climb Fuji, climbing alone is not overly abnormal. Nor was I ever truly alone, as Fuji is a busy place. And you know, I think I was better for it. But I'm getting ahead of myself.

So the climb to 6 is barely worth mentioning because 5 and 6 are practically on top of each other so no problem. I even stayed on the path this time. It was the path up to New 7th that was terrible (annd I strayed from the path a bit, even though I was following someone). It was supposed to take a half hour, and it took me an hour. It was also a lot more windy right off the bat than last time. Needless to say, I was pretty discouraged. How did I do this last time? I'm alone; there's no way I can do this...what am I doing here?

But I wasn't going to give up or anything stupid like that; I still had cell service at the time, and after some encouragement from my friends I was (reluctantly) off! I was ready for the worst; 7th was 50 minutes away, and it had taken me double the expected time to get to New 7th in the first place. So I started my climb...

And it only took about an hour. I was shocked. For some reason, after that the climb started being a lot easier than last time. I know I'm not in better shape, so I think it's because I was alone. Being alone, I could set my own pace, so I only really stopped between stations once or twice the whole time (whereas last time, we stopped about a zillion times). The only real delay was stopping to let other groups pass me so I wouldn't feel chased. (also stopping to pee; but at least I wasn't dehydrated this time?) It was cold with the wind, but I brought enough layers that it was only mildly uncomfortable. And when I was moving, it wasn't uncomfortable at all, so that worked. And even starting later I made it to the top with time to spare before sunrise! Also I had an ear of my favorite music the whole was almost fun. Almost.

So I sat for about 40 minutes on a sharp rock on the summit of Mt. Fuji freezing my ass off waiting for sunrise (there were people climbing on pretty dangerous parts of the rock too; I was like what are you doing).

I was not disappointed. No rain!! Woo!! I could see things!!! I trust you've seen the pictures. I was a very cold, happy foreigner. 

A very cold, happy foreigner that now had to climb back down the stupid mountain. It took about 4 hours to climb down last time in the rain, dehydrated, and missing a lens of my glasses. This time I was pretty optimistic that I could make it in at least 3. (Can I also point out that I had cell service the whole time? Lol) I was able to progress more rapidly by using my gloves and sliding my free hand along the guide rope for most of it. And towards the end, I made even better time when I realized I was about to miss the once-an-hour bus. So with a burst of knee-destroying speed, I made the 9:30 bus. My descent took exactly 3 hours.

I made it home around noon, and immediately threw everything (including my clothes from the work day before that smelled like nasty water) into the washer. I then passed out for like 6 hours. But the day was not yet done! For that was the day of my friend from college's arrival in Shizuoka, so I got on my bicycle once more to take her to dinner. And I was very very sore for the next few days.

And I'm probably jinxing myself somehow by saying this, but I will say it now with absolute certainty: I will never, ever, do that again.


We Danced and Rode Cardboard Canoes: Shenanigans

((written around August 20, 2014))

So before we go on vacation I figured I should briefly the merriment that happened before vacation. The first weekend in August was Minato Matsuri in Shimizu, a summer port festival that actually honors a mafia guy that made the port but shhhh. SO festival! Food, fireworks, dancing! Dancing?

On the Saturday night of the festival there is epic dancing in the streets for like 2 and a half hours. Like, 50,000 people epic dancing. And for me, it isn't fun unless I know what I'm doing, so the week before was super practice time (we kinda didn't sign up until a couple weeks before and lost track of time). Dancing every night was a pain in the ass, but I learned them. It was hot, but lots of fun! Not a lot of people in our group knew what they were doing (poor exchange students basically thrown into it), but there were enough knowledgeable people to follow. Did I mention our group leader was dressed as Spiderman? So I danced in the streets with Spiderman, and I think my friend and I were pretty good. A drunk man even came by and gave me a nametag that said いいね, which means nice! And I wasn't that sore, which was good for what was coming the next week...

But before we get into that, on Tuesday I actually did some work at a summer camp...riding cardboard canoes.

Cardboard canoes.

I was pretty skeptical, as were my colleagues. Us, some exchange students, and some junior high schoolers spent a couple hours taping the shit out of some cardboard and covering it in duct tape. I wasn't going to ride in it, but then I figured why not sink and we gave it a go. It held two people. I was very impressed. It even held my over six foot tall coworker (alone though). And then right after that, I hurried home to get on a bus to my next big adventure...Fuji.