Thursday, November 30, 2006

An update at last

I've been wanting to blog for a while, but haven't really been able to (easily) get my laptop connected to the internet lately. Resultantly there is a fair bit of stuff for those of you who want to read it. But first, some random photos for those of you who don't want to read much.

Genbaku Dome, Hiroshima

Itsukushima Shrine (Floating Torii), Miyajima

Christmas Lights on Heiwa-doori, Hiroshima

Universal Studios Japan, Osaka

The bigest christmas tree in Japan (Apparently)

More Christmas decorations, Osaka

And for those of you who need your daily dose of my ramblings, enjoy.

26.11.06 1.50pm
This is another shinkansen blog. I just left Hiroshima and am now heading for Kobe. Hiroshima was quite an interesting little town which would probably throw up a lot of cool little places if I had a little more time there. Funnily, the city is perhaps the most Melbourne-like Japanese city I’ve come across so far. There’s a couple of rivers running through it which feel a bit like the Yarra; there’s trams; and the place isn’t as busy and bustling as the bigger cities like Tokyo/Osaka.

Probably the most interesting thing for me was taking a number of strolls through the Peace Park which contains 原爆ドーム (the atomic bomb dome). The dome was pretty much directly below the epicenter of the blast when the a-bomb exploded over Hiroshima back in August 1945 – and probably as a result was virtually the only thing left standing in the immediate vicinity (I think the shockwaves radiating outwards tended to cause more destruction than the shockwaves radiating vertically down). It is now a World Heritage site – more for what it represents than its physical appearance, but even so, the skeletal ruin that is the dome is sadly beautiful in its own way.

I also managed to make a trip to 宮島 (Miyajima) which is where the ‘floating’ shrine is. There are probably some very nice hiking trails up the mountains there, but the actual shrine and surrounding town is unfortunately little more than a massive tourist magnet. Meaning the place just reeks of gimmicky souvenir shops. But I still enjoyed just walking around in a place that wasn’t full of cars and salary men.

The hostel I stayed at (J-Hoppers Hiroshima) deserves a little paragraph of its own too. I booked it because it was run by the same people as a hostel I enjoyed staying at in Kyoto. When I arrived, it turned out that it had only just opened less than a month ago, meaning everything was in pristine condition. It was probably more comfortable than some of the business hotels I’ve stayed in here in Japan. But the best thing about it was the people. The owners are awesome (and remembered me from when I stayed with them in Kyoto ahha) and I met another Aussie from Cairns (Gary) and an American from North Carolina (Matt) on my first night there. The three of us somehow got along pretty well and we spent quite a lot of time hanging out in the lounge – as well as wandering around the city together (not to mention eating okonomiyaki). Somehow, Gary and Matt reminded me of my exchange buddies Ben and Aaron respectively. And, walking around with the two of them, I went back to being mistaken for the Japanese friend/tour guide everywhere we went, which really made it feel just like my exchange days haha.

[Ben: if you read this, Gary really had a thing for おでん at the time so we were constantly stopping at convenience stores which reminded me so much of you – but don’t worry, you’re still the 本物 haha]

Anyway, if I ever go back to Hiroshima I will definitely try to stay there again.

26.11.06 8.55pm
Finally here at the hostel in Kobe. Not quite as fun (so far) as J-Hoppers but nice nonetheless. It’s got a very homely feel here. We’re all sort of sitting in the lounge/common room watching TV/eating/reading at the moment.

I really don’t know what I’m going to do with myself in the next couple of days. Perhaps I’ll just sleep in and wander around the city for the day tomorrow and hope that Yoko has some interesting places to take me after I meet her haha. It sounds like the JR station is quite a walk from here, so at least that will take up some of the time – although the weather has turned bad lately so I’m not sure if I’ll really feel like walking.

Speaking of which, today when I went to Hiroshima station with Gary (we were both leaving Hiroshima at the same time), it really started pouring. And we had decided to walk to the station. It’s been a while since I got that soaked haha. Maybe I should have invested 150 yen into that tram ticket after all – but I suppose we both dried quickly enough and it was kind of funny to be dripping wet while you walk past all the Japanese people carrying umbrellas (who looked at me like they’re wondering what sort of weird Japanese person I am).

29.11.06 8.26am
It’s already Wednesday and it feels like I just arrived in Kobe. I’ve been heading into Osaka the last couple of nights so I’ve hardly seen Kobe at all. Takako and Yoko took me to a nice izakaya on Monday night which had a very traditional Japan feel. And was extremely cheap (I think it ended up being less than $15 a head). We just wandered around the north end of Osaka for a while afterwards until it was time to head home.

Yesterday we went to Universal Studios Japan (USJ) which was unexpectedly good. Some of the rides/shows were a little bit tacky, but there were plenty of other things to see (including Japan’s biggest Christmas tree).

I got a call from Sayaka yesterday too, which reminded me how much I want to go back to Tokyo and see everybody there. But it’s weird because at the same time I want to spend a little bit more time to catch up with people down here in Kansai too. If only there was more time…

Saturday, November 25, 2006

More happenings

24.11.06 10.44am
At the moment I’m on the shinkansen bound for Okayama (where I will change to another shinkansen to take me the rest of the way to Hiroshima). Which is actually very very lucky. At the station gate this morning I managed to drop my shinkansen tickets along with various other important documents (like my plane ticket home) without realizing it. But Japan being Japan, the ticket gate operator picked it up and followed me all the way to the platform to give it back. I think I shall always remember this trip as being the epitome of luckiness if such a thing exists.

Anyway, my time here is definitely going too quickly already. While I was on the plane here by myself, I was thinking 3 weeks might be a bit long to spend by myself in Japan. I’m starting to realize it’s not even enough to really see half my friends properly.

I hadn’t planned very much for yesterday at all when I got up in the morning. Of course there ended up being more than enough to do in the end.

The only thing I had originally decided on was to go see Yuri perform as part of the Keio Unicorns (cheer/song leading circle) as part of the annual ‘Mita-sai’ festival at Keio Uni. I’ll try to stick some pictures up from the performance which was pretty awesome later on.

While I was waiting for the performance to start I took the opportunity to have a proper look around the rest of Keio Uni. Must say it really hasn’t changed all that much from last year. Although, unlike the time I came to Mita-sai when I was on exchange, I actually had a look around the rooms inside and was treated to some pretty good musical performances – ranging from j-pop style female vocalists to jazz groups. While foreigners tend to enjoy poking fun at Japanese uni culture for its lack of rigorous academic focus, I think most Japanese students more than make up for it with the level of co-curricular involvement. At least from my experience, Australian university students on the whole are generally incredibly uninvolved in any sort of club/society/interest group while at university. Which really is a shame. At Mita-sai the number of stalls/circles that are set up and run by the societies is really quite amazing. I mean there’s enough that they fill up a lot of the Mita campus (both inside classrooms and outside in the courtyards).

Anyway, after Yuri’s performance and some takoyaki from a stall named ‘EcDonalds’ (complete with a red sign with the golden arches turned sideways), I decided to go visit my old club while I was on exchange, the Keio badminton-bu – without really telling any of them I was coming. I somehow managed to pick the day when both the 監督 (kantoku: manager) and quite a few OBs (‘old boys’: guys who have finished their time at the club because they’ll soon be graduating/have graduated) happened to be at training. The 監督 only comes once a week usually, and most of the OBs don’t turn up to training very often at all so it was quite a coincidence. I really can’t explain how 懐かしい it felt being back there yesterday.

The other completely out of the blue thing that happened there (yes, I know, my blog for the rest of my trip looks like its destined to be full of these) was I found out one of the ex-members is probably coming to Melbourne Uni next year. Really looking forward to having some Keio-sei back home again…

After training most of the old crew took me out to have shabu-shabu at モパラ in 自由が丘. I wish my Japanese was better when I was on exchange because it’s only now that I’m starting to understand all the jokes and insults that fly around when we eat together haha. Being ‘all you can eat’ I think we all ate way too much. And we somehow decided to end the already huge meal with a chocolate parfait for dessert (which was soooo good). Ah I’m going to miss the food too.

Oh and that reminds me why I was so annoyed with the average level of service back home when I got back form exchange. There were about 11 of us there last night, and when we all ordered the same thing for dessert they ran out of ice cream to make it. But unlike the regular ‘I’m lazy and only working for someone else (and not being paid enough)’ attitude that is the norm in Australia, they sent someone out at 10.30pm to go buy some more ice cream so that we didn’t have to change our order. That is service.

That’s probably enough blog for today. Till next time.

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Blogging from the land of the rising sun

21.11.06 11.04pm

Wow. This is the first time I’ve opened this file (my ‘blog.doc’ file) to write a blog offline for over a year. There’s net access downstairs but some guy has been hogging the laptop port so I figured I might as well just write my blog here first while I wait. Anyway, where to start…?

After a rather late night spent ‘packing’ (read: procrastinating), the sound of my alarm got me up out of bed ready to face the world. Still having a few odds and ends to stick into my bag, the hour or so I had to get ready went by all too quickly. And so too did 7am which was the time I was meant to head to the airport. After being resultantly stuck in morning peak hour, I was finally lining up to check in for my 10am flight. Only, when I got to the counter I was promptly told that I was in the wrong place and needed to go to the Qantas desk. Even though the desk I was at had a big screen above it reading ‘Qantas Flight QF…’. Sigh. Ok that was probably my fault for not checking the boarding info screen properly. Anyway, desk-lady tries to think for a bit, realizes she can’t really remember where the real Qantas check in counters are, and directs us to counter thirty-one. Upon arriving there I was pleasantly surprised to see it was in fact the ‘real’ Qantas check in, but unfortunately it was the Qantas check in for Qantas Club – of which I am not a member. Great huh. But anyway after a bit of grumbling about not having anyone else to check in anyway, desk-lady-no.2 checked me in there.

Things went better from there. What I was most pleased with was the fact that the flight was relatively empty – meaning I had plenty of space to put my bags and stretch out… Flight itself was fairly uneventful. Slept a bit. Watched that Pirates of the Carribean movie. Watched half of the latest x-men without sound. On the girl in front of me’s screen. She had her seat reclined so I happened to be able to see while I was listening to my ipod. I think I worked out most of what happens without having to hear the dialogue. Which I’d say is probably not a good sign for plot complexity. I also happened to meet this guy from Monash Uni sitting behind me who was stopping over in Tokyo for a couple of nights with some friends. Funny thing was, when we arrived and got our luggage, one of his friends turned out to be Hubert who recognized me as being from IGS haha. More random was the fact that apparently they were planning to stay in the same hostel I’m at now. Only, they had a couple of friends who weren’t so keen on the hostel thing so they ended up in some hotel somewhere.

Oh and there’s a funny story with the hostel too. After following all the directions and arriving at minami-senju station, I turned left to walk down the road that was meant to take me to the hostel. And walked straight into a team of night workmen who insisted that I could not walk past them (even though they seemed to have a pedestrian path lined with witches-hats). No problem, I’ll just take the detour they recommended and get back to that same road two blocks down. I thought. Somewhere the along the way, the detour became a bit more complex than I realized and I managed to lose my bearings completely. So I decided to backtrack until I could find the station and start again. In the process I got myself more lost, and ended up just heading for the nearest main road. And when I did I somehow managed the end up on that street I was meant to be on from the beginning, and found the hostel. How’s that for luck. I was quite annoyed by that stage though, but after some gourmet instant noodles (I’m serious: there were 5 seasoning sachets in there!) and some onigiri I was feeling much better. And I also met a cool Japanese salary man who was staying in the bed opposite me. I had quite a long chat with him about half way through writing this – which is probably just as well or else this might have been even longer than it is haha.

And on that note, I think I will call it a day.

Monday, November 20, 2006

The end of five years of uni

Well the end of my fifth year as a university student has finally come around, and somehow i've managed to still not be graduating. I know the 'real' end of the year isn't quite here yet, but for me, the year really feels like it's over once university finishes. So i think i'll just do my end of year post now and leave the official new year to bring what it may.

I have to say that, unfortunately, exams went relatively poorly this time around so it wasn't quite the end to fifth year that i'd hoped for. On the bright side i have one more year to try to make things better haha.

The year in all i think was a good one. Through all the ups and the downs, I had a lot of interesting experiences, met a lot of interesting people, had my eyes opened to a lot of new things - and, on the whole, somehow managed to have a lot of fun too. And i think that's the most important thing. I always enjoy skimming through my blog to see the posts i write when i'm happy. When things aren't going so well, looking at your own blog has to be one of the best things to remind yourself that things will get better (unless, of course, all you do is write about how depressed you are - so if you do, stop it). Because, after all, memories are really all that we have at the end of the day.

Anyway, that's enough self-centred blogging advice for now :)

I'm off to Japan tomorrow morning for 3 weeks. It's strange that it's come around so quickly because i honestly thought i'd be looking forward to it more than i am - but maybe it just hasn't really sunk in yet. My plans are still kind of unconfirmed, but i'm hoping to be more of a tourist this time (as opposed to being an exchange student there) which, promises to be another new experience. Maybe it will even inspire some extra blogs from yours truly haha.

I've rented a phone there so if any of you reading this happen to be in Tokyo in the next couple of weeks at at all, drop me an email and maybe we can meet up:

And on that note, i should get started on my packing. Hope everyone enjoys what's left of their 2006.


Monday, November 06, 2006

Exams here we go

It's almost 2am and i just finished reading another chapter of my law stuff. It's amazing how much sense things make when i actually read the cases. The eternal question is still why i just never seem to manage to do that during semester. But then, maybe that's what makes uni fun.

Ah the joys of being a student.

P.S. Happy Halloween '06. Even if it is a little belated.