Thousands of Miles from Home


All this time I've wondered where ET has been. Never thought to look at Iwakuni Station! 

My escort at the station 


Seriously considered purchasing these hats 

Me and my new friend, toastman 

MC McAngela 

Selene, birthday girl 

Angela and I, with new hats 

Rei, me, and Sarah 

Yeah, it wasn't a bad birthday 

Selene, and who I will refer to as "Coldplay Man" 

Jo, with Angela looking quite chipper 

Angela in Cute Pig costume 

Paul, as The Swan! 

Me, as little orphan Annie 

Looking quite Japanese 

The mother/daughter tagteam bartender duo at "Chew Me" 

Mean Jenny 

Laura, the first and coolest person I have ever met from "The Isle of Man" 

I feel like such an Ass(e) 

Birthday Celebrations Part 2

Back when I went to see The Killers in Hiroshima, and realized Club Quattro was quite excellent, I put some thought into seeing Jack Johnson who was coming in May. Angela was so nice as to let me crash at her place and said I could come again if I could find my way to her door. In the meantime the plan for getting tickets to the show fell through, but with rumors of a JET party night in Hiroshima I couldn’t help but spring at the chance.

And so, Friday after school, I rode my black stallion (the Shinkansen) to Hiroshima Station and then to Iwakuni in Yamaguchi-ken. Angela met me at the station, knocking me off my feet by sporting a blue dress and fauxhawk! Feeling a little underdressed (but amazingly sheek), Angela led me to a nearby restaurant for some Yakitori, exciting conversation regarding a trip back to the states, a deep dialogue on our personal lives, and no less than three parfaits split between the two of us. Gluttons, yes. But young, attractive gluttons.

The next morning Angela and I fled to the city of Hiroshima at the crack of noon for a little shopping before the big night out on the town. We ate lunch at Granpa, one of the best (and only) lunch restaurants in Iwakuni I have frequented, serving the most delicious bread this side of the Atlantic. Angela continued the weekend of gluttony by purchasing no less than four donut-like items at a bakery, and promptly falling asleep on the train into the city. At PARCO Angela and I both bought hats which is especially unusual for me because although I am rather impartial when it comes to cranium accessories, and I never seem to look great in hats.

Throughout the day I met up with the Yamaguchi JET clan/posse/gang at random shopping venues. Although I hear Yamaguchi has one of the smallest populations of JET teachers, it appears to have the largest total number of bloggers in any prefecture of Japan. Throughout my tenure in Japan I’ve followed their blogs (mostly through Angela, who I originally met over the internet), so it’s personally satisfying to meet these people in a non-electronic format. Some were going to the Jack Johnson show and others to a Beer Garden for dinner, but Angela and I decided to score fajitas and other Mexican delights at “The Shack,” a delicious treat after a long haul of Japanese food.

Around 9ish, Angela and I made our way to Club Quattro to meet a selection of Yamaguchi folks coming out of the concert. While I did not get to see Jack Johnson in person, I did get to hear him sing which is almost as good (and free). Meeting Bren, Sarah, and Chris, the five of us made our way to Molly Malone’s (Authentic Irish Pub) in downtown Hiroshima. The place was packed but we grabbed a side table before the crowd became too heavy. Other JETs arrived, and this is where I start to forget names.

There was Selene who was celebrating her birthday (which was the main reason most of the JETs came to Hiroshima). With her was Rei, who introduced herself as “Ray, like the plumber’s name,” also a North Korean spy (or LA native). There was Paul (soon to become a swan), Jo (who actually possesses a small face, it’s not smoke and mirrors), Ben and Osamu (who I never quite pulled off a conversation with but were roommates at Harvard), Laura (from “The Isle of Man,” coolest place in the world according to their flag), Jenny (who claims to possess an amazing ambidextrousness), Jeanette (who was an exchange student to Japan in her High School days), and Tori (who eventually ran away for reasons I still do not comprehend, but was a fun dancer if I can remember correctly).

After Molly Malone’s, and a sizable amount of liquid refreshment, Selene escorted the crew, along with a few stragglers that I haven’t mentioned, to MAC, a small bar with a large collection of all-request music. Sarah, who I soon realized was an incredible dancer, made my 19-year-old jaw drop to the floor while Rei, Bren, the Brittish crowd, and I “danced like Americans.” Angela pointed out that although I do not speak with an English accent, I am starting to change the pitch of my sentences without realizing it. Never expected to acquire an English accent in Japan.

The music requests at MAC spanned many genres and eras, but I was not in the best state of mind to remember all that was played. I do remember the “Macarena” being requested in lieu of “The Electric Slide,” along with some Beck, salsa, and a whole slew of “I don’t remember.” In retrospect that cross-section appears lame, but I promise it seemed like appropriate music at the time, with a little help from my friend, the Moscow Mule.

Sometime in the morning, Bren, Sarah, Chris, and about half of the Yamaguchi crew retired to their hotels to get some sleep. I couldn’t find Angela and was starting to get worried when she and Paul walked in dressed like a Cow and Swan, respectively. The first thought that crossed my mind was, “Where do you get costumes like that at 3 in the morning?”

Angela and Jo escorted me to the very location, a bar across the street called “Chew Me,” featuring the craziest bar staff (a mother and son) and patrons (most were passed out on couches) I have ever seen. I bought Angela and Jo mango juice, and made some friends while they returned to MAC. Around 4:30 I was rescued from Chew Me and taken to a small ramen shop for nourishment (ramen, surprisingly, is most delicious when completely exhausted). Selene, Laura, Paul, Jenny, Tori, and Angela moaned, groaned, and slept among the bowls of ramen before escaping to a late night Karaoke shop where no karaoke was actually sung but we did kill a good 30 minutes. After a quick stop at a Family Mart konbini with a seating area, the crew hiked back to Hiroshima station to sleep in awkward positions all the way back to Iwakuni.

At the station I bid goodbye to Paul and Selene before taking a bus with Angela to her place. I slept for a few hours before waking up, turning to Angela, and calmly saying something along the lines of, “they jumped in with their towels! My wallet and my phone!” That must have been one hell of a dream.

Angela took a shower, during which she apparently screamed her head off at a centipede the size of her arm which crawled up out of the drain (I was listening to music at the time and could not hear her cries for help)

Grabbing ice cream for lunch, and completing an amazingly sugar ridden weekend, I boarded a train back to Hiroshima and caught the afternoon Shinkansen to Okayama, munching on a delicious fish and egg salad sandwich.

Great to meet everyone this weekend, and a big thanks to all you Yamaguchi JETs (expecially Angela) for accepting the crazy 19 year old kid who should have been at home in bed like a good little exchange boy.


Getting a few pointers from the Bizen sensei 

I almost look like I know what I'm doing 

Some items I fashioned 

Me, and the Bizen pottery masters 

My ride for the day, Superliner Fujimaru 

A wedding ceremony on the cruise ship 

Takuro and I, shuffleboard masters 

Relaxing on the sundeck 

An Enka singer in Kimono 


Arguably my best birthday gift, French Onion Soup 

Saeki-san, Takuro, me, and my host mother next to the Fujimaru 

About half of the party people, and a wide array of foods 


Blowing out the candles in a very dramatic manner 

Kawai-san, Keoko, and my host father 

Janna and I 

Me, and some firework fun 

Tomoya, and his "fist of flame" 

I perfectly safe way to use fireworks 


Party people in the house 

Carter, in the weirdest sleeping position I have ever seen 

Let The Games Begin

My birthday in Japan was wildly amazing to say the least. Stretching over the course of one week and two weekends (time acts funny here in Japan) I celebrated what should have been a one day event.

(I’ll leave part two of the celebrations, “partying with the Yamaguchi crew,” until a later entry, and recap some of the highlights from the party at my house last week.

The day before my birthday my host mom Junko took me to a Bizen pottery crafting location in the mountains to make my own Bizen-ware pottery items. I have never used the spinny-wheel mechanism for making cups and vases before so this was a totally new experience, heightened by the fact that I was given literally no instruction but instead sat down at the wheel and did my best. I managed to fashion a mug and small vase, not bad for my virgin pottery skills.

On the day of my birthday I was surprised with two tickets to the Tamano Marine Festival’s Cruise Ship Lunch Tour. Conveniently scheduled for the 21st, my host mother and I boarded a huge ocean liner and were treated to a delicious lunch, magicians, Japanese Enka singers, and a wedding ceremony as we cruised for 5 luxurious hours on the Seto Inland Sea. The Saekis, who I lived next to in Tai, also bought tickets for the event and I met them on the boat.

That evening people came from far and wide to celebrate my birthday/get a free meal. In the way of Exchange kids, Carter, Janna, Cori, and Michelle showed up at my door, along with Kawai-san, Tomoya, and Takuro from the Tai area. The big surprise came from the kids at my school. I had invited two by the way of e-mail, and only one had actually replied to say he was coming. I had mentioned he could bring friends, but didn’t expect that to happen. To my surprise, when I drove to pick him up at the station I was met with about half the male population of my class at school. Awesome. We shoved as many as we could into the car, and shuttled the rest back to my house in Hachihama.

Kondo and Kawai-san had prepared a veritable feast with enough food and drinks to feed a small army. We all met in my grandmother’s house, situated next to our house, because it has a much larger living-room type area. There was eating, drinking, some singing, and general merriment before someone got the amazing idea to play Hide and Seek, or “kakurembo” in Japanese. My host mom, a volunteer policewoman, lent us her massive flashlight and we set out into the rice fields of Hachihama for one of the weirdest Hide and Seek games I have ever played.

When the game wound down we lit fireworks in a dangerous manner before the kids from my school had to go home. The Exchange kids (and Miwako who showed up after her trip to Kyoto) stayed for the night in my room which I lined with futons. More craziness ensued which doesn’t need to be mentioned in detail. Needless to say no one was (seriously) injured, but my grandmother might have got quite a scare.

Thanks again to everyone who came, and if you couldn’t make it you’re invited next year.


Me, a little bit too happy about this box of Birthday cakes 

My fantabulous Ikebana creation of last week 

The Japanese school crew 

Shoko's new TV...drool 

Silly Janna, Pocky is for Walruses Posted by Hello

Me, teaching English at Hibi Elementary School 

The girl who does not look Japanese is from New Zealand, doing a sort of elementary school homestay 

Kids kill me 

The cuteness! It burns! 

More "killing me" administered by children 

A great Hachihama sunset 

Hey There Mr. Blue

Today was one of those rare moments when the stars align and all of Japan conspires to make me fall in love with this country. I woke up to birds chirping and smiling children on the sunny bus ride to the city. People walking the streets seemed more cheerful than usual, in some sort of attempt to break my spirits and leave me teary-eyed on the day I must return home.

After Japanese school I shopped with Janna for a while before meeting Amanda by chance at the station, who I had not seen in ages. We both walked to OPA, a large shopping complex where I met up with my DJ friend Kobashi at the cool German shirt shop. He and his friend Yuki invited me to a club in June where Kobashi will be playing. I stayed and talked for about half an hour before taking the bus home where I witnessed an amazing sunset.

Yes, one of those days.

My birthday in Japan was “killer,” to say the least. Thanks to everyone who came. Pictures and a small explanation of the craziness to follow...

Here’s to the 20th year of my life.


Nagoya at Night 

One of the two Towers above Nagoya Station 

Micah and Fumiko 

The Plastic Factory 

Waiting at the gate to enter EXPO 

At the Mitsubishi Pavilion 

A robot manufactured by TMSUK 

Belle of the Ball 

Waltzing at Austria 

The counter wall was made of real ice 

Austrian sled ride! 

Welcome to Saudi Arabia 

This man was amazing on the flute 

A spicy Tango 

Flags of the world 

The ropeway at EXPO 

Nagoya Station by evening 


With Micah along for the show, Cori and took a leisurely stroll through EXPO for the rest of the day, stopping anywhere that caught our interest. Lithuania had a very interesting exhibit, as did most of the African countries. Toward the evening, Micah met up with his Rotary counselor, so Cori and I took a Maglev train back to Nagoya station to meet our respective Rotary members.

We checked into the Royal Inn Hotel, a fancy joint with real keys (none of that keycard business) and went to eat at a nearby Chinese restaurant. The Rotarians went wild, ordering plate after plate of Chinese food until the five of us were impossibly stuffed. Back at the hotel, they bid us a goodnight and we returned to our rooms. The Rotarians then left to drink at a local bar. I felt it was only fair for us to do the same.

Nagoya night life is amazing. Micah and I met up after dinner and found a place called “The Plastic Factory,” which believe it or not, used to be a real plastic factory. The bartender was Swiss and played the sitar. He met a Japanese woman in India and now lives in Nagoya. In our matching “New Kids on the Block” shirts, Micah and I were dressed to kill at The Plastic Factory.

The next day Micah and his counselor went sightseeing in the town of Nagoya, so Cori and I toured EXPO alone until Janna showed up in the afternoon. She didn’t win her Judo meet, but had a good time anyway. This day at EXPO was amazingly productive. To give a quick overview, we:

Tried to arrive at the park early to see the Toyota Exhibit, but were met with a crowd of 2000 people with the same idea. Instead, we caught an amazing “What if the moon didn’t exist” movie at the Mitsubishi Pavilion. The movie screen was 360 degree surround, with mirrors on the ceiling to guarantee maximum “wow” reaction. After Mitsubishi we listened to some music at the Austrian Pavilion and waltzed with real Austrians. At the Saudi Arabian Pavilion we caught a great ethnic dance which I almost felt like joining myself. The French Pavilion showed a depressing yet poignant movie, and was an all-around excellent display of world problems today. We witnessed a passionate tango at Argentina, and ate tacos at the Mexican Pavilion. While eating our tacos, I spotted a man walking around the park in a Ninja outfit. He kept climbing on fences, and “ninja crawling” his way all over the place. After a few minutes he was joined by a second ninja, and they ran off together. Strange.

I also got a chance to see the Robot Pavilion, which had some of the newer design models from TMSUK, the company who’s President I interviewed in Fukuoka. There was also a robot called PaPeRo, which could fart on command. Who knows when that might come in handy.

Overall, EXPO was a superb international experience that I could easily write about in much more detail (if necessary). If you happen to be near Japan this summer, don’t forget a trip to Nagoya.


A real life (kinda) Singaporean Rainstorm 

Quick, umbrellas! 

A giant Ferris Wheel next to the JR Pavilion 

The "Corporate Area." Note that the Hitachi building has a waterfall running through it 

View of the EXPO field 

The GAS Pavilion 

A very strong man and flexible girl 

This man was weaving by hand in the African Pavilion 

Micah looked quite surprised! 

The Lithuanian Pavilion, a complete surprise, one of the best places at EXPO 

This dance was amazing. Performed with horses made of straw 

There it is, terrible but true, ice cream, as well as matching "New Kids" T-shirts 

Intro to EXPO

The days are moving quickly here in Japan which means that the 21st, and my birthday, are right around the corner. But due to time zones and the general motion of the earth, I can’t pinpoint the exact time I will be adding another year to my life. In Fiji and Kamchatka (GMT+12) I might already be 19. But who would live in Kamchatka anyway unless they were hardcore fans of the game Risk. The same goes for Irkutst and Yakustk. But before any celebrating occurs, I’ll take you back to last week in Nagoya, for the EXPO World Fair 2005.

The trip began early on Saturday morning. I took a bus from Hachihama to Okayama to catch the 8:22 Shinkansen bound for Nagoya. There are two things absolutely guaranteed when you travel with Rotarians; staying in fancy hotels, and fast, efficient (albeit expensive) travel by Shinkansen. Because in Japan, as was pointed out later by all three (slightly intoxicated) Rotarians accompanying us on the trip, they can spend the extra money to feel comfortable. And I have absolutely no problem with that.

Two hours later, Cori, Aketa-san, two other Rotarians, and I arrived in Nagoya. Janna was attending a Judo meet with her school and would be joining us on the next day. The 4 of us took a newly constructed express train, and then a bus to the grounds of the EXPO 2005. A little background about the Aichi, Nagoya Would Fair:

The EXPO, officially being held in the Nagoya Eastern Hills, is a massive event expecting over 15 million visitors in 185 days. Before the EXPO location was announced two years prior, Nagoya Eastern Hills were 田舎, or “in the middle of nowhere.” Remarkably, an immense amount of buildings and exhibition halls have been constructed on site and when I arrived on the premises I was thoroughly impressed.

Once arriving in the park, the Rotarians told Cori and I to “go have fun,” and turned us loose among the throngs of people attending the EXPO. Amazingly, and by sheer coincidence, Micah was also coming to EXPO that day, but sometime in the afternoon. In the meantime, Cori and I explored.

The EXPO, which has a massive amount of exhibits, can be roughly divided into two categories. The first category is World Booths, which are constructed and run by individual or groups of countries. Examples include the France Pavilion, German Pavilion, Sri Lankan Pavilion, etc. The second category is Corporate Booths, which display the latest technology from companies such as Toyota, Mitsubishi, Hitachi, and Japan Railways. There are also various exhibits that don’t fit into either category, such as an 18,000 year old Mammoth Pavilion and a pavilion displaying the wonders of Natural Gas. Cori and I decided to tour the World Booths first because the lines were not nearly as long (if you don’t arrive at the park extremely early you won’t even get a chance to see the Toyota Exhibit).

Overwhelmed by the sheer scope of the park, Cori and I walked to the nearest “Global Common” area, dedicated to Oceania and Southeast Asia. I had been told Singapore had a great exhibit, so we waited in line for a few minutes before entering the exhibit and being handed an umbrella. I didn’t quite know what I needed it for, but I did like everyone else and opened my umbrella. The inside of the Singapore pavilion was designed like a rainforest, with a large television screen on the far end of the room. A video about Singapore began to play, with flyover images of the country and “wicked guitar riffs” playing in the background. All of a sudden the lights shut off, and with thunderclaps and lightning rain began pouring from the ceiling of the pavilion. Even though I was carrying the umbrella I still got pretty soaked.

After the rainstorm Cori and I headed to the second floor and in the back found the International Café which I heard was delicious. A man standing next to a selection of food asked us (in English) if we were feeling hungry, to which we replied (in Japanese) that indeed, we were. Thus began the ongoing problem of wondering what language to address various people at the EXPO. We later discovered that the man working at the food stand was indeed from Singapore, spoke very little Japanese, but was fluent in English. I happened to be wearing a “New Kids on the Block” T-shirt and he asked me “What happened to those guys?”

We ordered some Singaporean food (no meat for Cori) and sat down in front of three large TV screens in the café for a multilingual video about Southeast Asia. We ate our meals, which were delicious, and after we had finished I asked the man who had helped us order the food how exactly you get a job at the EXPO. He said he knew “The President of the Company.” He then asked me how much longer I would be staying in Japan, and if I wanted a job or not. I said “yes, of course,” and gave him one of my business cards. He said he was meeting his “friend” on the 30th of the month, and was sure I could be given a position. So perhaps I will be working at the Singapore booth in Nagoya sometime soon. Who knows? While we were having the conversation, another man who worked at the Singapore booth walked by, dressed in what I assumed to be a traditional Singaporean outfit. It looked quite interesting, and he introduced himself to Cori and me as well. In his colorful outfit I was expecting the man’s name to be something along the lines of B’wana Memsahib, but it ended up being closer to “William.”

After the strange meeting with the people at the Singaporean Pavilion, Micah called me to say he had arrived at the EXPO. And that’s when the craziness began. If only I could stay up to tell you the rest. Stayed tuned for part 2, and perhaps part 3 of:

Rocky and Bullwinkle’s (or Micah, Cori, and Ben’s) Great Adventure in EXPO, Nagoya Japan


Me, in a jacket of pins, and Kawai-san, in Kimono. With a lovely fire escape in the background 

This happens often, English words wedged between long strings of kanji 

Mulling around before the party 

All I can say is nice shoes 

Me with the two outbounds for next year 

Back to the Grind

Last Sunday, the respective Rotary Clubs of Tamano, Tsuyama, and Okayama threw a goodbye party for the three Rotary Exchange Students in the prefecture of Okayama. While I still have two more months left in Japan, Cori will be leaving “The Big J” on May 24, and Janna ships home on the 1st of June. The Outbound Japanese students who will be traveling to America next year almost made an appearance at the party, so Cori, Janna, and I filled them in on what to expect on their exchanges (I was a little late in arriving but made a grand entrance into the conference room at the Plaza Hotel).

Following the meeting teachers, host families, Rotarians, and bystanders off the street came together for a massive afternoon banquet. I gave my “farewell address” to the Rotarians, in Japanese, and didn’t make any horrible mistakes. I also gave Aketa-san, my counselor, a gift from Kobe which he thoroughly enjoyed.

After the party I came home, played a quick game of Mahjong, and promptly fell asleep for 14 hours.

Golden Week, two thumbs way up.


Waterfall at the Aquarium in Osaka 


I meant to take this picture of a diver and a fish to show scale, but both end up looking like they came from a tiny fishtank 


The Osaka and Kobe Rotary kids performing a traditional Japanese dance 

An exchange student from Belgium, I kid you not, David Vandepontseele 

Miria, who loves to get her picture taken 

Downtown Kobe 

View of Kobe as seen from 36th story bathroom window 

Weird lightball thing inside the club 

Inside of Tsurunoma 

DJ Moochy and accompanying polyhedron 

The ceiling of Tsurunoma 

A large elephant tusk, what appears to be a potted plant from the cretaceous era, and DJ Moochy 

The famous "Glico Man" of Osaka 

Golden Week Continues

Well, it seems as if I can’t finish one weekend of craziness without plowing right into the next, leaving scarce time to blog the outcome of either. But just to set the record straight, let me take you back to last weekend for part two of Golden Week Adventures. When we last left our hero...

He was bowling. A 168, which is not too bad for not having played the game in a while. Micah, in a terrible fit of rage and madness, had made another trip to Osaka (his second for the week) following the BBQ on Ishima. The venue was at a club called Tsurunoma, which was hosting an event called “7 days 8 hours,” at which one DJ plays an 8 hour set for a full week, with a different DJ every night. It just so happened that DJ EYE of the Boredoms (arguably Micah’s favorite band on the planet) was playing one night and Micah’s couldn’t miss that opportunity. I stayed in Tamano, for I needed a break after the grueling previous weekend spent in the big city and was planning my own trip to Kobe on Saturday. My host parents suggested I invite Micah along for the ride, and it just so happened that Micah’s cousin is now living in Kobe as an English teacher. To further spookify the situation, there was a large Rotary Exchange meeting being held in Kobe on the same day as our trip. Micah and I had to make an appearance. And so began the story of how Micah made his 3rd trip to Osaka in a little under a week and a half. That is terrible, yet somehow simultaneously awesome. Micah spent the night at my house on Friday so we could get an early start by car to Kobe the following morning. So on a Friday night we found ourselves bowling.

The following morning my host father, mother, Micah, Keiko, and I awoke at the crack of dawn and left for Kobe. It wasn’t a terribly long ride and we arrived in the city around 10. We spent the morning at the Osaka Aquarium (Kobe and Osaka are right next to each other) which was one of the places I didn’t get a chance to see on my last trip to the city. I was impressed by the entire venue, and needless to say I saw a whole lot of fish. The pictures do a better job of telling the story.

After the aquarium we ate some lunch and shopped at the nearby waterfront mall. It was there that I made a disturbing and completely unexpected discovery about my host mother. When I opened the trunk of the car to stash some items I purchased, I found two huge paper bags filled with books and videos. And not just any books and videos, erotic Japanese porn books and videos. I thought to myself, “What in the world is this treasure trove of erotic material doing in the trunk of my father’s car?” My host family, noticing my surprise, started laughing and saying something about “the police.” When the laughing subsided, I discerned that it is my mother’s job, as a volunteer policeman, to collect aforementioned erotic material from various “drop points” in Tamano to take to the Police Station for disposal. Sure, that’s what they all say.

After shopping, I wanted to meet the exchange students who were staying at a hotel on Port Island, and Micah wanted to visit his cousin. Micah’s cousin got off work at 7 and the exchange student seminar lasted until about the same time. If we waited until the evening it would mean returning to Tamano late at night. Instead of scratching the whole idea, my host mother suggested Micah and I take the Shinkansen back to Okayama (a quick 45 minutes from start to finish). By some stroke of extreme luck/coercion, Micah and I were able to stay the night at his sister’s apartment in the city.

My host mother came with us to Port Island, a manmade landmass off the coast of Kobe to drop us off at the exchange student convention. Port Island was nothing like mainland Kobe at all. The entire area was remarkably silent, with nothing but large hotels and trees lining every road. It was an amazingly nice day, and as the sun set I wondered to myself why more people didn’t come to the island to relax. Around 6 I met with Urte, the exchange student from Kochi City in Shikoku, and said goodbye to my host mother. Urte introduced Micah and I to the rest of the exchange students who were a little surprised to see us but happy nonetheless. I had not realized that so many students were living in Kobe and Osaka. The outbound Japanese exchange students for next year were also at the convention, which made quite a large group of kids. They were having a large banquet shortly and we didn’t feel like crashing that kind of party uninvited, so we left the island with the promise of 5-star hotel rooms if we needed them later that night.

Back on the mainland, Micah and I met his cousin Miria whom he had not seen since he was a kid. I suppose it was an odd reunion, meeting in a large Japanese city that neither had lived in for very long (Miria came to Japan one month ago), but we managed to find a small noodle shop and had a great discussion about life, Japan, what two Rotary exchange students were doing alone in Kobe, and where to get the best bagels in town (Miria said she can get them for free at the Synagogue).

Kobe is known as a city “on the hill,” so after dinner the three of us took a walk around the town trying to find a good place to view the city as a whole. We settled for a colossal tower attached to one of the stations and rode the elevator to the top floor. Sadly there was no observation booth but upon inspection of the bathrooms I discovered the most massive window I have ever seen overlooking a city (from a urinal). Micah and I said goodbye to Miria at the base of the station, and took a train back to Port Island.

We met up with the exchange students who were just finishing their banquet. Earlier in the day they had mentioned wanting to see the town of Kobe at night, but when we arrived the consensus had changed to that of wanting to stay in the hotel because the trains stopped running at midnight. They also wanted Micah and me to stay, but we were faced with a difficult and counterintuitive decision. On the one hand, we could stay in the hotel for the night and travel home in the morning, which would be easy enough to do. Or, we could take a train to Kobe and catch the last night of “7 days, 8 hours” at Tsurunoma, which Micah professed was an amazing club. I was also scheduled to give my farewell speech to Rotary the following day in Okayama. If we stayed in the hotel we might get discovered, and I doubted any Rotarians would be at Tsurunoma. And so, bidding farewell to our fellow exchange students, Micah and I fled Port Island for the safe haven of Osaka.

We just caught the last train into the city, and took a short taxi ride to Namba station. When Micah had come to the city three days before it took him all evening to find the club. This time we had a little better luck, but as is the usual case with Micah and I we walked around for a good 30 minutes before finding anything that looked remotely familiar (all the while munching on delicious konbini sandwiches).

Tsurunoma was hosting the last night if “7 days, 8 hours” featuring DJ Moochy. The clubs we had previously experienced in Osaka were pretty awesome, but Tsurunoma knocked their socks off in almost every category. The place was decorated like an underground lair, with sheets draped over cave-like walls being lit from behind by color changing lights. Near the bar was a Super NES/Famicom where people were playing Tetris, and couches were scattered all over the place. In the main dance room the ceiling was covered with chains and netting, and DJ Moochy was playing an amazingly trippy tribal beat when we walked through the door. Behind the DJ were three TVs of varying sizes being controlled by a VJ in the back. In front of and being lit by the TVs was a glowing icosahedron (20 sided cube-thing). In front of the DJ and separating him from the dance floor were two huge elephant tusks made of metal. This might seem like an amazingly weird club design, but everything seemed to fit together perfectly. Almost made me think, “well of course there should be large metal elephant tusks in front of the icosahedron, it’s only natural.”

DJ Moochy spun all night, while Micah and I took turns moving from dance floor to couch to Tetris. All the while the TV screens played the most trippy video selections I could have imagined. Clips of Disney’s 1963 “The Sword in the Stone,” played in slow motion and backwards while being mixed over a starfield. Everything was from the 80s and earlier; old videos of Fela Kuti, McDonald’s adds, and what must have been clips from Tron. Simply amazing, and DJ Moochy mixed tracks that were every bit as good as Richie Hawtin. The atmosphere in the club was so friendly, and everyone seemed to be there for the music and to dance. I remember dancing my way to the bathroom and feeling a little sleepy when someone offered me a drink; tomato juice, of all things, and just perfect at around 2:30 in the morning.

Sometime around 3 Micah and I took a quick nap on the couch and I awoke feeling completely refreshed and ready to dance. Micah trounced me in Tetris, but Tsurunoma remains one of the best clubs in Osaka, if not Japan. Micah and I exited the club around 7 in the morning and boarded a Shinkansen back to Okayama. At 11 I was showered, shaved, and looking sharp to give my farewell speech to the Rotary (even though I still have two months in the country).

But that is another story...


Happy Birthday Dad, and a late Mother's Day to you, Mom. Hope you're getting your share of romancing done since I've been out of the house. Love you 

A Birthday Surprise

Because I couldn't ship your gifts on time...


Micah and Cori, First Mate and Skipper on the S.S. Kondou 

My host mom, and navigator for the voyage 

Cori, on the way to Ishima 

The classic "picture of a picture" 

Looking dangerous with that anchor 

"I am not a crook" 

Our "basecamp" 

View off the coast of Ishima 

Wonderful weather for a BBQ 

Contemplating the nature of the broken television 

Me, spotting something on the horizon 

Yeah, islands rock 

Something kuh-razy was going on here 

Micah, nicely cooked 

Surf and Sun

On the Tuesday of Golden Week, I invited a few friends to come and have a BBQ on Ishima, an island off the coast of Tamano. My host father took the 5 of us out on his boat for a little fishing, and then we spent the day grilling meat and vegetables, exploring the island, and getting sun burns (which felt great after the long winter). I’ll let the pictures do the talking.


Osaka, the "Venice of Japan" 

Tennoji Temple, oldest in Japan 

Micah and I with the obligatory ice cream photo 

Next to a construction site in my new cool shirt 

The Osaka Pokemon Center; gotta buy 'em all 

Indeed, indeed 

The Osaka Science Musuem, situated directly behind the Museum of Contemporary Art 

Me, doing my best Einstein impression 

Inside the Science Museum, "The Father of Modern Chemistry," and also a pimp, Antoine Lavoisier  

The coolest escalator in Japan 

By these calculations, Japan is a lot closer to Cuba than I had previously imagined 

The Umeda Sky Building, which took us half a day to find 

Overlooking Osaka from the Sky Building 

The same shot at night, much cooler by my standards 

See, there really was a Cuban Festival on the top of the Sky Building 

Marc Houle and his KORG 

And there he is, in blurry splendor, Ritchie Hawtin 


Gardening Gloves and Cuban Cigars: A Journey Into the Heart of the Rotary Exchange Student Dream

Golden Week. Keyword: Gold. The stuff dreams are made of. This morning I woke up from a long, strange dream stretching hours, days, even weeks. On the hands of a clock no more than a few minutes must have passed, but this was a dream to last a lifetime. To all charges and allegations I will therefore plead the 5th, or whatever statue allows me to carry a firearm at all times.

With that stated, on with the dream...

Flash back (or slow fade) to a late afternoon train ride with my accomplice whom I will genially refer to as Micah, the exchange student from Kanonji. He escaped from the yoke of Shikoku to subsequently enter my dream and accompany me to destinations unknown. The bullet train rockets through Kansai, where a soothing British voice on the intercom informs us the train will be making a brief stop in Osaka. Good a place as anywhere to live the Rotary Dream.

We exit the train and enter Shin Osaka Station, built especially for access to the Shinkansen. Taking a subway to Osaka Station proper, we exit through large glass doors and into the magnificent city. The beginnings of another adventure. Taking time to walk the streets, we catch some late afternoon sights and get our bearings in the massive city. A back-alley Indian restaurant situated to the immediate right of an all-leather-jacket clothing store looks enticing, but the owner informs up he won’t be opening for another hour or two. We hop the train to Shinsaibashi Station, in the heart of the city, and stash our bags in a locker to find our destination for the night.

First we needed tickets for the main event the following evening, Ritchie Hawtin, who would be spinning at a club near Traingle Park aptly named Club Triangle. Triangle Park is a sliver of pavement and trees nestled among the signs, crowds, and flashing lights in the heart of what I will refer to as “the crazy part of town.” While walking around looking for Club Triangle we spotted outfits that would have seemed outrageous even in Tokyo’s Harajuku (although the atmosphere was noticeably different from that in Tokyo). Most vivid in my mind was a man walking down the street with the craziest, largest, most colorful Looney-Tunes type glasses I have ever seen, easily 5 times too large for his face, with a complete look of focus and concentration (as if he had lost a dare and knew this would be the price to pay).

Eventually finding the club, no more than a doorway and staircase, we scored tickets for the following evening (which will cost you double in America and must be purchased months in advance) then hopped a train to Tennoji to start the evening.

Compared with the hubbub of Shinsaibashi, Tennoji was a relatively relaxed part of town. In fact, the most happening place in the area seemed to be the temple. Micah and I originally thought we would make a stop and wish for a prosperous evening, but were greeted at the compound with raunchy saxophone music. Apparently some sort of “show” was being held at what we later discovered to be the oldest Buddhist temple in Japan (built by Prince Shotoku in 593 A.D., for all you history nuts). We peered through the bars of the temple, and sure enough hundreds of people were gathered to watch Kimono-clad women sing old Japanese hits.

Exiting the temple, we found a delicious yaki-tori restaurant where I received a call from Dave Rupert, who lives near Osaka and runs Howdy Mr. Nippon. He happened to be in Okayama with a friend and wanted to know where I lived in the Prefecture. We had a short conversation and he said if I ever found myself in Osaka again I should drop him a line.

Back at Shinsaibashi we walked around the Nanba area of town (feasting our eyes upon the famous Glico Man, among other sights on Dotomburi) before finding the most amazing Tako-yaki stand in Japan. Clearly accustomed to foreigners frequenting the stand, after we got in line behind a number of people we were asked (in English) to which we responded (in Japanese) the usual questions like “where are you from?” and “how is Japan?” When we told the man we were from America, he immediately replied “America is Mike Tyson.” Never before had a heard such an odd comparison, but I suppose being the youngest heavyweight champion in heavyweight history makes Michael Gerard Tyson at least a decent candidate for the American dream, if not embodying American itself.

From Nanba we came across a small Bar called Mojo, offering “drinks and music from ‘Once Upon a Time.’” This place was like The Beatles’ Lonely Heart’s Club Band album cover with a pulse. And a rhythmic pulse at that. Decked out with bottles of beer and Beatles’ posters from around the world, Mojo is one of the more interesting places in (literally) underground Osaka. We struck up a conversation with the bartender who had opened the place the previous year and learned all his English from the customers. In fact, he showed us a book of insults and slang from around the world (compiled by visitors to the bar) which would make a sailor blush. After a few drinks with background music by The Kinks, we made out way to Club Joule a bit before midnight.

To be honest, as is sometimes the case with dreams, Club Joule is a large blur in my mind. DJ Emma was having a CD release party, and the 3rd floor was packed with an amazing amount of dancers. The DJ was killer, and I was amazed we found the place almost at random in the sea of clubs and bars throughout Osaka (I did get a tip that this place was good when I inquired about a club “with lasers”). The 4th floor chill area provided a wonderful break from the intense strobe lights of the dance floor, but we easily clocked a good 5 hours of dancing with DJ Emma. The last thing I remember before stumbling back to the hotel with Micah was finding a table full of heart-shaped chocolates with my name written all over them.

We spent our evenings, or should I say early mornings, at the Osaka Asahi Capsule Hotel. Capsule Hotels are incredible, and certainly a godsend for late partiers or businessmen in Japan. First of all, they’re amazingly cheap. Most are under 30$ for the night. This buys you a change of clothes and a 4 by 7 foot “capsule,” not much more than a slot in the wall with a small pull-curtain to spend the night. But most amazing about the Asahi Capsule Hotel was the huge Onsen and Sauna located on the ground floor. After hours of dancing, what could be better than a long soak in steaming water to sooth the muscles? I woke up the next morning feeling like a million bucks.

The next day in Japan was spent exploring the daytime sights. And when I say explore, I mean completely on foot. Micah and I found a great coffeehouse for breakfast where I ordered French toast and the largest orange juice I could get my hands on. Our main destination was the Osaka Science Museum, but as a rule when Micah and I are together we can’t find anything without walking around for at least two hours completely lost. But this leads to better adventures so I don’t mind at all. Anyway, a map in Japan is just about as useful as carrying a globe.

The Science and Technology Museum in Osaka is a must-see, especially after a night of partying. There are so many exhibits which would not blow your mind on a regular basis, but are absolutely amazing following very few hours of sleep. I took my picture with a plaster cast of Einstein and played with unbelievably large magnets before viewing a hands-on show about batteries with a room full of 7 year old Japanese kids. We almost went to see the IMAX but that seemed a little excessive.

Our next stop was the Umeda Sky Building, on the other side of Osaka. We collapsed in a large park after eating lunch near the museum to rest our feet and do some extreme people-watching. The weather was impressive, and in the heart of the city the large green space was a welcome sight. Taking a train back to Osaka station, we walked around for another few hours before making a sustained effort to locate the Sky Building. I had no idea what the place looked like, only that it was large and therefore famous. I remember mentioning to Micah that the large building in the distance looked “pretty neat” and “if he had ever seen anything quite that odd shaped?” He said no and we kept walking in search of the Sky Building. We found Pokemon Center Osaka, which was filled with dedicated card-players of all shapes and sizes. All I wanted to buy was a small pin to prove I had actually been to a licensed Pokemon location in Japan, but the line of preteens stretching out the door made my think twice. I settled with a picture and a good laugh.

Finally, towards the evening, Micah and I realized that the large, odd shaped building I had commented on earlier was indeed the fabled Umeda Sky Building. If you were to trace our walking route on a map, you would most certainly end up with a Curious George type dotted-line monstrosity that crosses and recrosses itself several times. But how else can you explore such a large city than by blind trial and error?

The Umeda Sky Building, as suspected, proved to not be worth missing. While trying to find the main elevator we stumbled into a service lift and rode that demon as high as it would go. We ended up in what appeared to be a janitor’s closet on the 36th floor, and decided to try the 35th instead. This yielded an entire room, wall to wall, stacked with cases of beer. Reluctantly, we rode to the 34th floor, where I wouldn’t have been surprised to find a 3-ring circus in full swing. We were instead greeted with a nice observation window, but not quite satisfying for an entire walk through the city. On the 33rd floor a Japanese recoding began to play as soon as I stepped out of the elevator, and it was about that time we decided to try another lift.

Back on the ground floor we found the real entrance to the top floors, and paid the 5$ charge to take a high speed ride to the roof. Exiting the elevator, we were greeted with a magnificent view of Osaka with the sun beginning to set. By complete chance, the Umeda Sky Building was hosting an entire exhibit dedicated to Cuba, called the “Havana Club,” featuring a dance floor, Cuban music, and photos from that area of the world. Micah and I sat down to Coronas and watched the sun set over Osaka, just enjoying the Cuban atmosphere here in the middle of Japan. Micah leaned over and asked, “Do you think Fidel Castro knows this is going on?” Who could say? I could only hope so.

When the sun set we walked up another flight of stairs to the top of the Sky Building, and out into the Osaka night air. There was a breeze but the night was warm and the city’s lights spectacular. After we both agreed that this is what Rotary Exchange is all about, we left the Umeda Sky Building to dance the night away (but not before Micah bought a Cuban cigar, just for the story. How many chances are you really going to get?).

We paid another visit to Mojo before walking to Club Triangle for the “main event.” Club Triangle is three floors of thumping beats and writhing bodies. What I would call “cool” and Pope Benedict XVI would most likely call “an abomination.” Just my kind of place. The first floor was entirely a dance hall, with a bar in the back. Steps lead to the second floor, with a bar and some couches, and a large hole cut in the floor so you can look down at the people dancing on the first floor. In the back is a huge projection TV screen, playing video of the DJ, the club, and various trippy trance videos visible from just about any place in the club. The third floor had a jacuzzi, which I unfortunately did not get a chance to sample.

At Triangle, Micah made an amazing discovery by spotting an English teacher, Tim, from his town, Kanonji (the smallest town in the smallest prefecture of Japan), on the dance floor. At first he said there was no way it could be Tim. That would mean that at least three people in the room had been to Kanonji, a place that most Japanese will say they have never heard of. But yes, in the coincidence-ridden vortex that is Osaka, almost anything is possible.

Two Japanese DJs warmed up the crowd (and by that I mean played until 3 in the morning) before Richie Hawtin and Marc Houle walked right by me in the crowd to get up to the front (I didn’t know quite what to say, it’s not everyday you happen to see the world’s #2 Techno DJ standing next to you). There were already about 5 laptops on stage, for who knows what purpose, but Richie and Marc unloaded two more for their sets. Marc Houle also whipped out a KORG synthesizer and went to work with some crazy beats. By this time the dance floor was absolutely packed, and no one wanted to leave before Hawtin took the stage. Between the laptops, the turntables, the synthesizer, and the massive video screens, I was having a pretty killer time before Hawtin even touched the equipment.

But when Ritchie took the stage everybody went wild. The video screens were showing crazy video of the dance floor, edited over wacked-out Tetris video clips. I suppose there is techno and then there is good techno, but the atmosphere of the club also has a lot to do with the experience. But strictly music wise, you could not help but dance with these beats.

When the set was over, and I again found myself stumbling and dancing back to the hotel, I could certainly give this club the Gleitzman stamp of approval (a very much coveted award, at that). I took the most luxurious bath of my life at the onsen, and fell asleep as soon as my head hit the pillow.

In the morning, I wondered to myself what I was doing in a small box of a hotel room in the middle of the second largest city in Japan. Was this a dream, or one of those rare dreams within a dream? All signs point to yes. Micah and I hit the record stores that morning (after a stop at our favorite coffeeshop for another delicious breakfast and beast-sized orange juice), where I found Richie Hawtin listed in the minimalist techno section. Something odd about finding the CD of a guy you just met in the dance section of a Tower Records. But such is the life in Japan.

That afternoon, I was feeling amazingly drained. I took another lightning quick Shinkansen ride back to Okayama where Micah and I shared a bite to eat. Sushi, as always, in the Sushi and Jazz restaurant at the Station. I bid farewell to Micah, fully expecting this to be my last trip to Osaka. But then again, it was only Sunday. The whole of Golden Week still remained, and who knows what can happen in that magical length of time.

That was not where my dream ended, for in real life I was sleeping soundly back in my bed in Tamano. No, the REM sleep had not yet begun, and it would be hours till morning.

And so I slept...


Shoko, Micah, and I on a beautiful day in Naoshima 

Although no pictures were allowed, I snapped this shot of one of the exhibits in the Benesse Art Museum. Four neon columns, each featuring a series of verbs or colors and then "live" or "die." Each was set on a timer, and the words would flash and light up in various order 

Yajima-san, Micah, and I, as viewed from a hole in a metal boat 

These large pieces of metal are fixed on pivots and sway in the wind 

You can rent these pavilions on the island for a night. Seems like a great place for a concert, or a commune 

Micah and I on a neat looking seat 

One of the numerous "open-air" exhibits of Naoshima, this large spotted squash is an eye catcher 

Taking a nap 

Micah and Shoko in a field of grass. Hippies. 

Let's Recap

Golden Week is still running strong, but before I begin to explore the depths and lengths of this crazy hullabaloo to any extent, I’ll take a break and recap some of the trips and experiences that have composed the past few weeks in Japan.

Last month, Shoko invited Micah and me to the island of Naoshima, a short ferry ride from Uno Port. Her Spanish-speaking class was taking a “field-trip” with one of the students who currently lives on the island to function as a guide. I had heard some rather impressive stories about Naoshima, and jumped at the idea of taking a trip.

Naoshima, unlike various other islands in the Seto Inland Sea, has a long history of human inhabitance. Once, while running a high fever and with nothing better to do, I scoured the Tamano School Library until I found records dating back to the early 60’s citing children arriving by ferry from Naoshima (also an account of one man who had to “swim 20 miles, in the snow, uphill both ways”). These were the hay-days of Tamano High School, before newer schools like Konan and Joto drew the smarter children out of Tamano and into the city.

Contemporary Naoshima now plays host to an assortment of Art Museums from which the island draws most of its fame. In fact, and at first glance, the isle functions as an extemporaneous “open-air” art studio with pieces of sculpture hidden and scattered about the island. Upon further exploration, however, I found that the exact nature of the island had been carefully planned and constructed to lead the visitor on a treasure hunt that will reward even the most frequent of visitors.

After arriving by ferry with Shoko, I quickly spotted Micah (who had taken a ferry from Takamatsu) and met our guide for the day, a Naoshiman named Yajima-san. We had time before the rest of the Spanish class would arrive, so Yajima-san took us for lunch at a small café overlooking the ocean, and then to the Benesse Contemporary Art Museum. I cannot speak for the rest of the world, but Contemporary Art Museums in Japan always offer something to pique my interest in the art world. In the case of Naoshima, the subtlety and timing of many exhibits surprised me on multiple occasions.

The first came while viewing a wall-sized ocean landscape picturing a beach and two boats; one yellow with a sail, and the other black and upside down. In front of the massive piece of art stood two boats; one yellow and the other black, in similar position. The mixture of sculpture and canvas art made me think “well, that’s neat,” until I took a walk to the balcony to look out over the ocean. There, clearly visible in the distance, wedged in a small cove on the beach, stood two boats; one black and one yellow.


After the art museum, the four of us wandered around the island looking at pieces of sculpture until the rest of the Spanish class arrived along with Neil, the teacher. We then cruised over to the Chichu Art Museum on the other side of the island, newly constructed this year regardless of a record number of typhoons. This was a completely different experience from the Contemporary Art Museum, but just as overwhelming. At Chichu few artists are featured at a time, but each room seems to be tailored the fit individual pieces of art (as if to use more than simply the sense of sight). Long corridors connect each section of the museum, leading the visitor twisting and turning through indoor and outdoor passages before finally arriving at the next exhibit.

Although the whole museum was excellent, two of the rooms I can vividly recall featured Monet and James Turrell. You must remove your shoes for the Monet exhibit, and don slippers as you enter what appears to be a large tile swimming pool. Monet’s “Water Lily” series appears on large canvases, and the humidity of the room is adjusted to give the effect of being water-side. I was also very surprised to see James Turrell, who’s slightly spooky “Into the Light Series” I had a chance to view at the Mattress Factory in Pittsburgh. Again removing your shoes, you enter a completely neon blue room and walk toward the far wall until a sensor beeps. Turning around, the entire back wall, which appeared white entering the room, is now a bright liquid red. Reminded me of being on the set of “Tron.”

The rest of the day went smoothly, and we finished with dinner at Jacasse. If you ever find yourself in the Chugoku region of Japan, make sure to check out Naoshima Island.