Monday, February 27, 2006

Sick students, the bane of any teacher's existence

Yes, by that title you may infer that I am in fact caught in the midst of another cold. I am assuming one of my students on Saturday was contagious and I came down with this Sunday night. Aaaarg! This mean that my one day off of the week was basically spent moping around my apartment, lovely... yeah I'll volunteer to work another Sunday real soon... right.

There was as always, my Yo-chan to let a ray of sunshine into an otherwise work\cold filled weekend. On Friday night we went to Cafe Praktica for dinner and had a fabulous meal as is always the case. Next time I go there I'll have the Borscht, haven't had it yet but stealing from others has shown me it is yummy!

Inspired by the song "Banana Pancakes" by Jack Johnson, I whipped up a batch on Sunday morning and they turned out quite tasty! I did a double dose of bananas, both in the batter and in a warm topping with the maple syrup that Rene got me when I left Canada... it was fabulous! Too bad we couldn't do like the song suggests and spend the whole day in bed, suited up shortly after breakfast and headed in to the office.


After work, I was picked up and whisked away to a great dinner consisting of Korean style rice, yuba (variety of tofu), a lovely broccoli salad and some gyoza... I really should stop taking pictures of my ugly meals and start taking pictures of her lovely meals.... mmmm. We then watched "Never Been Kissed" which though somewhat predictable was an enjoying movie nonetheless. I was also reminded of an incident last weekend that I'd forgotten to include on here. As dessert after the scallops, I had picked up some pudding cups which have an image of the molded pudding sitting pretty on a plate. After dinner, I promptly returned to the kitchen and my attempts to extricate the pudding from the plastic cup were in vain. I kept bashing banging it on the plate but it just wasn't coming out. It was at this point that my obviously more intelligent other half stepped up and popped a small piece of plastic from the bottom of the pudding cup, which opened a small hole in the bottom and plop, the pudding fell out onto the plate... yeah I looked real smart there... It's apparently called a "Pu-ching" pudding, based on the sound it makes when you flip the cup onto a plate (pu) and when you pull the tab (ching), quite the invention...

As I said already, today was spent lazing around... I was going to go walk with Scott but my grocery run left me feeling like crap so I cancelled. Instead, I cleaned up a bit and started on re-organizing my pantry a little bit... I'm tired of things falling through the cracks of the shelves I had so I picked up some containers today at the 100yen store and will store stuff in there. Not so much going on this week, may be heading down to Tokyo next weekend though, we shall see.

This following section is for Master Kobayashi, who keeps asking me when I'm going to cook for him every time I tell him of some meals I've created. Well tomorrow I'll be bringing him a container of banana pancake batter and some maple sugar, and since I'm not sure if he's made pancakes before (not exactly Japanese style cooking) here's a quick walk through. Since he is the Oconomiyaki cooking king, I'm sure he won't have any problems with this!

Heat up your pan and put some vegetable oil in it, then pour some of the batter into the pan. Swish our pan around so the batter spreads and you get a nice thin layer of it on the pan. When you see bubbles popping out all over the surface of the pancake, flip it over.


And voila, the perfect crispy edged pancake.... Let the other side cook for a minute or so and then put it in a plate.


You can then spread a little maple sugar on there, roll it up and enjoy!

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Friday, February 24, 2006

Ah Sunday Open, how I loathe thee....

Well I renewed my contract this week, and then promptly set the fuse which will set off my departure in February of 2007. I extended my contract for a further 6 months from the 3 months I'd already tacked on to my one year. In simpler words, I'll be here until the end of February 2007 and will have spent a total of 1 year and 9 months in Japan. The fuse I lit was telling the company not to ask me to renew my contract again, and letting it expire.

I have quite enjoyed my stay in Japan, AEON is probably the best of the large English school to work for out here. However, were I not involved with a certain young Japanese lady, I'm not sure I would have stayed more than my initial one year contract. I have a career waiting for me back home, and I'm eager to get on with the rest of my life. Unfortunately, opportunities in Japan are relatively limited for foreigners outside of the teaching field. Teaching is great, but not something I see myself doing for the rest of my life, so that means returning to Canada where I have multiple options to consider. Not that this is goodbye quite yet since I will be here for a whole year from now, which sometimes seems quite long.

One of those moments is right now actually. Getting ready for the busiest day of the week and knowing that I have to come in to work tomorrow for "Sunday Open" isn't helping me get too too motivated. I consider my Sunday to be sacred, especially since it's the one day off I share with my girlfriend, and am never pleased when I have to go in to work. Should be a good day nonetheless, one of our students is pregnant and moving to the US so she wants to learn vocabulary and phrases about pregnancy, should be an interesting lesson to give.

In Olympic news, the Canadian Men's hockey team suffered a disappointing loss this week against Russia in quarter-final play and was sent home early. These players, who are collectively making about $100 Million playing in the NHL were unable to score in 15 of their last 16 periods of play, losing 3 of their last 4 games by a score of 2-0. Things just didn't click with the team I guess. This is one of the problems with allowing professional players into the Olympics. They don't get to play together and form a bond. The team is thrown together at the last minute, shipped off and expected to become a working team overnight. Didn't happen this time around, but I think the motivation will definitely be there for 2010 in Vancouver. The US team also got the boot this week. Canada's medal count has improved to a record 20 medals with our curling teams winning a silver (women's) and a gold (men's) in the last few days. I don't think we're expecting any more but that is a nice number to have received. I was reading an article last night about how most of these medals have been won by women. 14 of the 20 have come from the ladies in fact... which is quite remarkable, including 4 medals from Cindy Klassen the speed skater. Canadian athletes also placed fourth in 10 events, giving us great medal hopes for their return in 2010. Japan won a gold in figure skating yesterday, as was expected.

Well I'd better get going, have to be in the office in an hour and a half to vacuum and get ready for today's lineup of lessons. One good thing about being so busy is that the day goes by VERY fast...

Oh yeah, and I'm nearing 10,000 hits on this blog, currently sitting at 9,995. If you are the one who turns the counter over (you can see it by scrolling down to the bottom of the page) take a screenshot and post a comment... I'll send you a Hello Kitty doll or something as a prize! lol


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Tuesday, February 21, 2006

Scallops with basil puree and black olive couscous

I find it quite interesting how replacing one coworker with another totally changes the discussions we have in the office. For a while there, the talks in and out of the office were decidedly raunchy... not that there's anything wrong with that... but have certainly cleaned up in the last few weeks. It's now interesting how the discussion seems to turn back to food, cooking and recipes. Case in point, I walked in to the office last week after hearing a good recipe over the radio and proceeded to explain it in detail to Scott and Matt... sounding quite effeminate while doing it of course, describing purees and coulis and pan searing scallops... lol I have no problem with that, being quite secure in my heterosexuality, but it is amusing nonetheless. Matt's right into the cooking thing, quite a bit more than I am in fact since he's already made a few purchases to beef up his kitchen. I didn't make my first kitchen related purchased for 3-4 months!

Anywho, so I had the little lady over for dinner on Monday and I wanted to prepare something a little different so I decided on scallops. Having never done any cooking with scallops, I thought it would be a good idea to research it a little and found out some interesting facts about how to choose and cook them. For example, when picking your scallops, try to find some that aren't white which means they've been soaked in water to increase weight. So I headed off to Nagasakiya and sure enough of the two types of scallops, one of them was white, the other pink-ish, so I decided to opt for the full scallops, not the ones already shucked and cleaned. I also decided to bite the bullet and pick up enough basil to make the puree, no matter the cost!

So after a little prep time in the kitchen, here was the beginning of a meal.

The basil puree was easy... just olive oil with fresh basil leaves in the blender. The smell in my apartment from the time I brought in the basil until some time yesterday was amazing! That is one strong herb, and throwing it in the blender obviously releases quite the fragrance. The tomato-olive coulis is also simple... just olive oil and tomatos, salt and pepper to taste and blend that up as well. You can also see in this picture the little space I have to work with here in my apartment. The fact that a close up shot of a few ingredients include my single stovetop burner on the right and my sink on the left makes any culinary act quite an accomplishment! Next came the scallop shucking and cleaning, which was relatively easy. You must make sure to remove a small muscle from the side of the scallop otherwise you'll end up with a rubbery part after cooking, and the scallops proved to be rather delicate, but all in all, that part went well. I then threw together the cous cous with black olives and set it aside, prepared two salads, and waited to be notified of my dinner companion's impending arrival.

The last minute preparations were what made this a relatively difficult operationdue to my limited space. I needed to heat up the couscous, heat up the tomato coulis, cook the scallops and arrange everything together before it got cold. I started by coating the scallops in milk and flour to help with the consistency a bit so they wouldn't break up during cooking. Then put some butter and garlic in the pan and started cooking. I was concerned about what I'd read that scallops were quite easy to overcook, making them all rubbery. They were much more forgiving than I'd thought, and are ready when both sides are lightly browned and the colour is opaque.

The last minute coming together was a bit hectic, but everything ended up ok. Since my presentation sucked, this is the best picture I've got of the couscous in the middle, with the scallops placed around, dabbed with basil and then the coulis poured over the couscous It was quite yummy!

And of course, the leftover basil puree and tomato coulis of Monday became the spiral pasta of Tuesday. I had never cooked with fresh basil either, quite the nice flavour.

So that was my cooking adventure for this week. I am quite happy with the way things turned out, though I would change a few things. Here is the recipe.

Basil puree
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
1 cup fresh basil leaves
Combine in blender until very smooth, refridgerate.

Tomato coulis
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oiil
1-2 vine ripenned tomatos
salt and pepper to taste
Combine in blender until smooth, warm lightly before serving. (see how difficult this whole thing was? lol)

Black olive cous cous
1 cup chopped black olives
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
Couscous
Make couscous according to package directions. Add olive oil and olives, stire well with a fork. Set aside.

Scallops
1 lb of scallops
butter
Melt just enough butter to coat the bottom of the pan, cook scallops for about 2 minutes on the first side or until browned. Turn the scallops over and brown the second side for 2 minutes. When the scallops lose their transluscence and become an opaque white, they are ready to go.

Serving
Arrange the couscous in the center or the plate. Place the scallops around it. Dab each scallop with the basil puree, then pour a generous amount of the tomato coulis over the couscous. Goes well with a white wine.... and voila!

Mitchamaphonomotto-sensei's modifications...
Add half a clove of garlic to the basil puree, and roast a clove and a half of garlic in the butter before cooking the scallops. Dip the scallops in milk and then flour them if you find them to be too delicate. Add a splash of white wine to the pan in the last minute of cooking the scallops.

So that's that for the cooking section... on to Hockey! The Canadian men's team seems to have finally woken up a bit by beating the Czech team 3-2 after 2 very disapointing 2-0 losses against lesser teams. I can only hope this gets them motivated a bit for the quarter-final match against Russia. It is important to note that the Czechs are playing without their star Goalie who was injured in the first game of the tournament. Which brings me quite the sense of dread for the return of NHL hockey next week. The Czech's goalie was none other than Dominic Hasek, Star goaltender for my beloved Ottawa Senators. He has now injured his groin again, and is questionable for a return to the ice any time soon. Hasek has been a large part of the Sens' performance this year as they currently sit at the top of their division and 3rd overall. I wonder if we have to honour his contract since he was injured while playing for a different team? If we can free up his salary, maybe we can pick up somebody else??? I dunno.

On a happier note, the Canadian Women's ice hockey team succesfully defended their Gold Medal win in Salt Lake City with a 4-1 win over Sweden. You go girls! This brings Canada's medal count to 14 so far with many events to go, which is great since we won only 17 medals in 2002. Our most disapointing sport has been skiing, finishing just short of the podium about a half dozen times. This bodes well for Vancouver in 2010 however since all these 4th place finishers were participating in their first games, and can be expected to be very well motivated to finish the job next time around.

So that's that, I'd better throw together some quick breakfast and get ready for work. Ciao!

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Sunday, February 19, 2006

Keizo is a God

I was humbled today. For the first time in recent memory, I said "I'm done" and packed it in before my co-skier was finished. Keizo, I apologize... you are a machine! That last run just plain killed me and it was just time for me to stop. I thought my skiing was pretty good, that I could take on most runs I could find out here and bounce back unscathed... I was right, my skiing is pretty good, but Keizo's skiing ROCKS! He's like got the perfect technique running down the hill, skis perfectly parallel, unfazed by such obstacles as piles of wet, cement like snow.... I guess going skiing at least once every weekend helps! Now I know why he's rescheduling from my Saturday class to Matt's Friday class, he's out hitting the slopes, lucky guy!

Had a fantastic day today, the weather was great, the company was fabulous and the mountain wasn't so crowded. I think ALTS can absorb the weekend crowd much better than most other places around here. We headed out from Utsunomiya at 7:30 or so and were skiing by 10:00 which is pretty good. I am now an official card carrying member of the ALTS club or something, which entitles me to a 500 Yen discount every time I go... pretty good deal since I just had to fill out a form on the Net to get it. Then again, that form was completely in Japanese and required 2 Japanese staff member to fill out due to some odd error message in trying to translate my highly un-Japanese name to Japanese characters... but thanks to Kobayashi and Ishikawa sans, it all worked out!

Here is a picture of the gang part way through our first run of the day. On the left is Sayaka-sensei, Keizo in the middle and Mayu on the right. The ladies are decidedly more genki in this picture than they were by the end of the day :-)


This is Bandai-san. It didn't really register last time I skied here that this was the same mountain which I was only able to describe as a "triangular darkness" due to fog and low cloud cover when I came here with Leah last August. Nice and clear in the winter though!


We skied lifts 1 through 4 for the morning before going into a decidedly more expert section of the mountain after lunch where I was for some reason quite uncomfortable. I don't know what the heck is wrong with me, (maybe I've become dependant on Alex's goading???) but I couldn't seem to get into the right frame of mind to take on the more advanced runs properly. I would get freaked out and I even took 2 tumbles coming down some of them!!! What the heck is wrong with me? Granted the conditions were not what I was used to, with the sun and high temperature, we were skiing in pretty wet snow. (Rene: I now understand what you mean by the "pushing wet cement with your legs" comment) That or I let the discomfort of the two ladies in our group affect me or something, I haven't felt this uncomfortable on a run since I discovered that the Canadian run at Camp Fortune (Expert run) had literally NO snow on it after I had already engaged it. Strange, I will make a point of tackling mainly expert runs next trip to get my confidence back up, this had got to change!

This was our choice of runs from the middle section of ALTS, which we had skipped my last trip here. It was a really nice section of the slope, not crowded due to the expert runs, and the snow was somewhat colder due to the lack of direct sunlight.


Here are the ladies challenging their first expert run. They did fine, I hit an accumulation of muck and was sent tumbling for a bit, during which time I remembered my shoulder... which hasn't yet quite fully recovered from my last ALTS trip... lol The run to the right of the moguls across the way was pretty good, Keizo and I hit it a couple of times, narrow and fast as heck.


The ladies hamming it up for the camera, I really need to find an image editor to zoom some of these in.


We eventually migrated back to the left side of the hill where the ladies took their leave and Keizo and I headed back up for what (we thought) was a last hour of skiing. The conditions were fantastic at the end of the day. The sun was hidden by clouds and the slushy snow of the day had turned to fine granular powder which was simply amazing to ski on. Unfortunately, the one run down we took just about killed me. My legs suddenly got quite tired and almost gave out on me once or twice. I made the right choice and called it a day, apologizing to Keizo for my pussing out with more than half an hour of lift time still available.

Great picture taken by Keizo at the end of the day with the mountain in the background.


Unfortunately, the smoking man we asked to be out photographer just isn't as good as I am... but here's the group after a long day.


Great big thank you for Keizo for taking us vehicle-less people out to the slopes today, and of course to Keizo and the ladies for the company, we had a most excellent day, as will be felt when we wake up tomorrow morning.

Tomorrow should be (I hope) an interesting day as it will be my first attempt at cooking with scallops. I'll be making a black olive couscous with scallops in a tomato and basil sauce, should be quite nice. The original recipe calls for a basil puree, made from a full cup of fresh basil which is then dabbed onto each individual scallop... but unfortunately for me, the basil here is sold for about 1.50$ for one measly twig... so I'll incorporate the basil into the main sauce and hope for the best. Wish me luck!

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Saturday, February 18, 2006

Another nice weekend shaping up

I guess I could make a quick comment about the Valentine's Day tradition here in Japan, since it is quite different then what we're used to. In North-America, Valentine's Day is sort of considered to be a day for couples to rekindle their love for each other with a series of non-spontaneous, obvious and practically scripted acts of romance. In the last sentence, I may have somewhat let my feelings about the holiday slip... Not that there's anything wrong with romance and flowers and candles and such, but I think those things should be shared all year 'round, and not necessarily amplified on February 14th. Anyway... here in Japan, Valentine's is even more commercialized than it is back home in that it was imported to Japan in the late 1950s by a confectionery company. They did add one interesting twist though... on Valentine's day, it's the WOMEN in Japan who must give chocolates to the men. And not just their significant other, but coworkers, friends, relatives, etc. Of course not so many people take it that seriously any more, but I did in fact receive chocolate this week from a student and a coworker. After over 20 years of one-sided choco-giving, the candy industry struck another blow to the wallets of the nation in 1980 by creating White Day on March 14th, a day when the men reciprocate and give chocolate to women. The reason it was called White Day was that white chocolates or marshmallow type candies should be given.

For the record, other than a quick email wishing each other Happy Valentine's Day and also Happy Anniversary (4 months on the 14th) my significant other and I did not partake in either the Japanese or North American style holiday... we had after all just spent a fabulous weekend together travelling to Yokohama and Kamakura... how can a box of chocolates compare?

On another note, I'm pleased to see the progress that the Canadian Olympic delegation is making at the Games in Torino. As things currently stand, we have 11 medals, 1 ahead of the US and just 2 off from leading Norway... not too shabby considering that in the 2002 Games we ended up with just 17 medals in TOTAL. It amazes me that a country such as Norway is at the head of the medal count, seeing as it's population is less than 5 million people... it is ahead of Russia, the US and Germany who each outnumber them at least tenfold. Just goes to show you I guess, it's not all numbers and money when it comes to the Olympics, it helps if your country stays damn cold for a good segment of the year... Go Canada Go!

And yet another detour here, there were some HUGE pileups in the Ottawa area yesterday after a flash freeze turned spring-like weather into deadly gale-force winds and cold. In one accident East of Ottawa near Embrun, at least 4 people were killed when over 30 vehicles (including tractor-trailers) plowed into each other. Similar crashes occured in the West-End of Ottawa and in the Montreal area. Drive safe folks, stay off the road when the temperature dives down like that. I am reminded of the day I bought my skis shortly before Christmas 2004. I heard the warning about the flash freeze coming and headed home as quick as I could. If memory serves correctly, the weather went from around -10 degrees, rose to over 15 degrees overnight and through the day and then plunged down to -20 or colder within an hour around 6PM... it was scary with all the water on the streets turning to ice. Anyways, I hope everyone back home is OK.

Also, a quick shout out to my injured compadres who won't be able to enjoy skiing for a bit. I'm not mentioning the one because he would be ashamed to have me recount his accident... but it's nothing serious.... the other is my cousin Matt who broke his leg snowboarding in the Quebec city area. Just goes to show you, boarders should stay out of the glades... Gambatte boys, get better soon!

On that note, I take my leave. I need to get to bed shortly and rest up for my 6AM wake up and departure for ALTS Bandai tomorrow with Sayaka-sensei, Keizo and Mayu! Should be a blast, calling for sunshine turning to clouds and a high of 3 degrees... lovely!

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Monday, February 13, 2006

Otsukare sama, a fabulous end to a fabulous long weekend

This morning, dragged my ass out of bed at the ungodly hour of 6AM, (for those of us working 1PM-9PM, 6AM is ungodly) got my things together and headed down to the Daily Yamazaki where I was to be picked up by Yuki for the trip out to Takatsue in Fukushima-ken. I was glad I headed out early to grab a bite to eat since Yuki and Noriko pulled up to the curb 10 minutes before the 7AM meeting time as I was halfway through breakfast! Loaded up the skis and headed on out. We stuck to the local roads, since the major expressways are coslty here, and made our way through Imaichi, Kinugawa and Kawaji before crossing over into Fukushima prefecture near the ski resort. Total travel time was about 2 and a half hours, driving through lovely mountains. As much as I complain about Japan and it's lack of environmental awareness and preservation, you don't think of it much as you're zooming through the mountains on your way to a day of skiing.

The forecast predicted a nice day, with about -7 degrees on the hill without a cloud in the sky. We got to the resort, parked within spitting distance of the front doors to the lodge (gotta love skiing on a weekday) and got ourselves locked and loaded for the day. For 4500Yen, I got a lift ticket and a 1000Yen coupon for lunch, pretty good deal! We quickly headed up for our first run. The skies were perfectly clear, we could see all the snow-capped mountains around, it was breathtaking to say the least.


The snow was nice, the sun was softening things up nicely and we knew from the time we got there that we would be having a great day. Here is Noriko hamming it up on the lift behind us. She was a bit nervous about having to use English all day, but opened up nicely... if I've said it once, I've said it a thousand times: "Do not be scared to use your English! Practice it as much as you can!" Lord knows I overuse my limited Japanese vocabulary, which was actually expanded today with saikou (great) and atchi (slang for hot) among others... thanks!


Here is Yuki (our resident snowboarding and forestry specialist) and I heading up on the lift. There are few students who are as energetic and outgoing about their English as Yuki, case in point he invited an English teacher into his car for a long drive and a day of skiing, which is great! He's quite the trickster out there on the slopes too, jumping around and dancing on that board of his like there's no tomorrow!


Here is the big man himself (or the skiing linebacker as Scott has so cleverly coined) out and about on the slopes of Takatsue. Snowboarders beware, do not cut in front of this guy...


As I mentioned before, Yuki is quite the boarder. Here's the proof, this is him getting some great air off a jump. Too bad it's so small...


As is usually the case, the genkiness wears off pretty quickly after lunch. My legs started to ache on the all too frequent flat sections, which is odd. You'd think I'd be tired from the actual skiing... We ended up packing it in at 3:45 or so, piled back into the car and headed on towards home after a most excellent day. On the way home, our excellent day was capped with good luck as Yuki spotted some mountain monkeys frolicking along the road. There were quite a few running around in the woods and this was my first encounter with them in the wild. Unfortunately, the picture turned out blurry... I think I'll turn off the "instant recap" mode on the camera... I was under the impression I took 4 or 5 pics, but I ended up with just 2 blurry ones. The lag is cutting in on my shots dammit!


So we made our way back through the mountains with the day turning dark and ended the day with Ramen at a restaurant on Keirinjo-dori. Quite tasty. Great big thanks to Yuki for the ride out this weekend and to both Yuki and Noriko for the company. Next trip is a go for next Sunday, heading to Alts with Keizo and Mayu. Just got an email today that Motoki may be joining as well in his car with another, which leaves space for 3 people which I'm sure we can fill up to help pay the highway costs. Alex would like to join but it will depend on his next assignment, he's still in Limbo... anywho, off to bed for some well deserved rest!

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Sunday, February 12, 2006

Yokohama and Kamakura

Well here I am, safe and sound back home after a whirlwind tour of Yokohama and Kamakura. Busy time, travelled through 4 prefectures in 2 days, and I'm about to add a 5th by going skiing in Fukushima tomorrow! We had a marvelous 2 days, though the weather was better Saturday than it was today... the sun did eventually come out and warm us a bit.

So Saturday morning, we departed on the 8:37AM train on the JR Shonan-Shinjuku line which would take us directly to Yokohama. Since we embarked at the train's first stop, we both got seats and watched the scenery of Tochigi, Saitama, Tokyo and finally Kanagawa roll by, with the Yokohama skyline finally coming in to view. Yokohama (the city depicted in the horrible CGI artwork of the old port in The Last Samurai) is to this day an important port, and one of the nicer major cities in Japan. I was quite impressed with the buildings and just the general vibe of the city, quite different than Tokyo a mere 20 minute train ride away. After dropping off our bags at our hotel, we walked to Chinatown to check that out.

Chinatown is a large area of central Yokohama which in essence houses restaurants and omiyage (souvenir) shops. The restaurants are in fact run (mostly) by Chinese people with a few Thai and others mixed in for spice.


The streets were quite crowded with people buying stuff all over the place. I inadvertently captured this young lady enjoying a butaman (Chinese steamed bun) while trying to get the chef in the background doing his thing... amusing picture.


Like most of the tourists milling about the area, we had our guidebook out to choose a restaurant for lunch. Of course, since it was in the guidebook, there was a lineup and let it be known that this is the first time I wait in line outside of a restaurant for Chinese food.... of all things! The line was moving quickly, so it was no big deal and we were quickly seated. While we waited for our dishes to be served, the automatic door behind us kept opening and closing with no one coming in or out. I finally turned around and glared out the window and there stood this lady, waiting in line with the rest of the crowd.


Every time she moved, the door would slide open, letting in a rush of cold air and making everyone in the restaurant turn around and glare at her. Of course, with the Japanese sense of politeness, no one said anything so this went on for a good 5 minutes or more with me giggling quietly at my table until she was finally let in.


The food was quite umai. We ordered Ebi-chili (shrimp in hot and sour sauce), Cha-han (fried rice) and the restaurant's signature yaki-soba (fried noodle) and everything went down very well, though for the record, while my chopstick skills are excellent, I still hate eating rice with the damn things.


After lunch, we continued on our way, heading through Chinatown to Motomachi, a major shopping district where all the main labels are. Of course, the streets were packed with it being a Saturday and the weather being so nice.


After checking out the shopping district filled with rich people taking their dogs for walks, we headed to the harbour to check things out. Caught sight of this interesting ritual, with one person hand feeding sea gulls while others try and capture a picture of one in mid-flight. Quite entertaining to see. You'll also notice some darker birds in the background.... crows you say? NO! Amazingly enough, there were dozens of sea hawks fishing and scavenging in the area... made me miss my Nikon SLR... may pick it up when I go home in May...


This is the lovely Yokohama skyline, major attractions being the Landmark Tower to the left, the Ferris wheel in the centre and the Intercontinental Hotel to the right. Lovely view.


Further along the shore, we encountered a full fledged skating rink, complete with Zamboni!


This area also has a few of these 100 year old warehouses built to store goods 40 years after Japan finally opened up to the world at the end of the isolationist Edo Period.


Another shot of Minato Mirai.


This is the Landmark Tower, Japan's highest skyscraper at 296 meters and 70 stories. This record will soon be eclipsed with the completion in 2010 of the Nishi-Shinjuku project which will tower 77 floors over Tokyo. The tower also houses Japan's highest viewing deck, at 69 floors high, a full 4 floors higher than the Tokyo Metropolitan Government building which I visited in August.


In the shadow of the Landmark Tower, you can pretty much always find these lads doing their thing. www.alleykatz.com were quite amusing to watch and listen to, although they were speaking in rapid Japanese. The guy on the left is actually a former NOVA teacher, nice to know that some of them survive to move on to better things...


After checking out their show for a while, we headed into the Landmark for the short ride up the 69 floors in the world's second fastest elevator at 750 meters/minute... and you can't even feel the acceleration! The elevator itself is shaped like an egg to minimize drag... interesting. From the top, we could see the baseball stadium next to our hotel.


You could of course pay 100Yen to look into high powered lenses, but I ask the age old question... why would people pay to come all the way up here and then pay again to look at things on the ground? Here you can see the warehouses on the shore, left of center....


Here's the Intercontinental and the Ferris wheel in the amusement park across from it.


We timed our visit to the tower perfectly, with our time split evenly between day and night views of Yokohama. Everything turned a lovely shade of blue as darkness descended.


This is looking off into the area of Yokohama Station.


While we had seen pictures of Mount Fuji around the building, it wasn't until it was bracketed by the sunset that we were finally able to catch of a glimpse of the 3776 meter behemoth, Japan's highest peak. Here is my first look at the famous mountain.


Finally, darkness fell and we could enjoy an entirely different view. The wheel again...


And Yokohama Station.


We spent a good hour at the top, for a short time enjoying the music coming from a rather pretentious wedding party in the observatory. Finally, we headed on back down to try and find a place to have dinner. Again, the Ferris wheel putting on a show.


We ended up at a so so Italian restaurant where the high point of the dinner was dessert with a nice banana cream pie. The pasta and pizza was ok-ish. Walking to the subway station, took one last shot of the "famous" Yokohama skyline.


So we hopped on a train, headed to the hotel and checked in. Being a typical business hotel, it was nothing to write home about... 2 twin beds, and a small compartment bathroom... but the price was right, especially for the location, and we got a good night's rest. This morning, we got up around 7, and headed out to Kamakura, a short 20 minute train ride away, to check out the sights there along the ocean. Our first stop was a little temple with an elevated graveyard which gave us a nice view over the ocean.


We also stumbled upon a nori farm, where people were at work hanging sea weed to dry.



We then hopped back on the train and headed to the main attraction for the day, the Daibutsu.


This bronze statue was built in 1252 and was originally housed in a large temple. A massive tsunami swept through the area in the 15th century and swept the temple away, leaving only these stones on which it was built. The power of water never ceases to amaze me... the fact that we are over a kilometer inland and up a slight incline the whole way.... wouldn't have wanted to be in the way of that one. The Daibutsu has been exposed to the air and elements since and has undergone a few restoration projects, the latest of which was in the early 60s.


Following our peek at the Daibutsu, we headed on down to the train again and headed back to Kamakura station, from where we walked to Hachimangu Shrine. On the ground of the shrine, we saw this neat black building... nice and clean, I'm assuming it's a vault for a sacred object or something.


We then had a lovely ten-don lunch before hitting the train again to check out Enoshima, an island off the coast of Kamakura. For a cheap 300 Yen, we hopped a ride on this old beater to the island...


This is Enoshima, with the tower standing in the middle.


Just as happened when I visited Matsushima in August, a dreary day cleared up when we hit the ocean... the sun started coming out a bit, giving us some much needed warmth.



This one's for Scott, he can use it as inspiration for a drawing... title it: "Power lines and Ugly Towers: today's answer to a quaint island".


Think I did pretty good with my little compact camera here, considering... these hawks were all over the place here as well. Very cool to see them swooping around.


After walking around the island, we headed on back to Kamakura station, picked up our luggage from the locker and prepared to bid adieu to Kamakura. Thankfully, I was with a Japanese speaker, otherwise I might still be standing on the platform. We got to our platform and couldn't find our train on the board when an announcement rang out overhead. Apparently, our train had been cancelled due to high winds in Utsunomiya? We're in Kamakura, how does the wind conditions in Utsunomiya affect our departure? So we checked with the conductor dude and were told there was a train that was leaving from Ofuna, just two stops down the line.... odd. So we hopped on a local and transferred there, took our seats and nodded off for the 3 hour trip back home.


So our first official trip went very well. With her language skills and my sense of direction, we are ready to take on any Japanese\English\French speaking country and bring it to it's knees. Once back in town, we picked up some veggies and I quickly made up some Pad Thai before escorting my lady to her chariot and bidding her aurevoir. A most excellent weekend so far, one more day to go! Tomorrow marks my return to the slopes after my shoulder crushing impact with that boarder last month. Should be a lovely day, not too crowded with it being a Monday and Takatsue's 1600+ meters should provide us with plenty of that white stuff we love so much. Now it's off to bed for my 6 hours of sleep... gnight!

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