I know this post is long overdue, but hopefully I can remember all the best details from my stay in Nagoya, now one month ago. I am working on getting Internet at my apartment, so I haven't had the best conditions for blogging regularly.
Anyway, a photo album of the stories in this post is linked below!!
After my stressful, but fun, four days in Tokyo, I jumped on a bullet train and headed inland to the less crowded Nagoya city. Nagoya is known for being one of the wealthiest places in Japan since ancient times, so it is no surprise to learn that Kirin beer and Toyota motors both operate in Nagoya. In fact, Nagoya castle has two gold "dolphin" statues at the very highest points that have been targeted (unsuccessfully) by ninjas and thieves throughout history.
When I arrived in Nagoya, my friend was waiting for me at the station in his black salary man suit. Keisuke is a good friend of mine from my time studying in Japan three years ago. Now he lives in a studio apartment and works everyday at a typical overworked, underpaid Japanese business man's job. I am slowly coming to understand why it is that a working man/woman in Japan is willing to work 12+ hours a day for salaries considerably less than what might be found in the U.S. and not be seriously unhappy. Contributing factors include relatively socialistic values, the fact that cost-of-living is partially covered by the employer, and the family-like development that occurs between co-workers. I could write more about this, but I don't want to stray too far from my travel log.
Friday, my first full day in Nagoya, was spent entirely on my own since Keisuke had to work. I first found my way back into the heart of the city where the central station is surrounded by high class shopping and dining. Walking around, I took my lunch at a noodle shop where the staff were so well coordinated and efficient, customers were moving in and out like a well-oiled machine. But at the same time they were patient and friendly. It was at this restaurant where I discovered that I, too, can be patient with my own ability and ask for small favors, such as how to pronounce certain words, or to describe something I don't understand. Even now I'm learning what it is that people really mean when they say that I have 'very good' or even 'perfect' Japanese. I believe it is my pronunciation that they are talking about, so I shouldn't get frustrated with disappointment when I find myself unable to form my ideas into Japanese sentences.
Once I was full and ready for my adventure, I headed off in search of the Nagoya City Science Museum, next to the large 'white water' park downtown. The museum has 7 stories containing exhibits from different scientific disciplines, a planetarium, and a wonderful automated fountain display out front. I bought a general ticket for the exhibits as well as a planetarium ticket for the show of the month, "The Disappearing Rings of Saturn". The presentation was 50 minutes long and I learned in Japanese how every 30 years (one revolution of Saturn's orbit), the tilt of Saturn's axis with respect to the Earth gives the impression that its rings have disappeared. After the presentation, I continued to climb the many floors of the museum until I eventually got tired of science and wanted to get back to sightseeing Japan.
I walked many blocks back to the central station where I boarded a train that took me west of Keisuke's apartment to a large shopping mall and movie theater. I spent some time in the theater, amusing myself with the Ice Age 2 Japanese trailer before heading into the shopping mall. Shopping in Japan is especially fun for me because of how well the clothes fit me. When I'm able to find a shirt with wide enough shoulders, it really fits nicely over my slim, seemingly non-American physique.
Aside from clothes, other shops I found in the mall included a pet store, massage parlor, and a delicious restaurant that was at the time promoting a variety of matcha (green tea) desserts. The massage parlor was tempting since my feet were starting to hurt from nearly a week's worth of walking around Tokyo and now Nagoya.
In the end, I found out from Keisuke when he would be home from work and headed back on foot towards his apartment. In retrospect, I probably should have found a bus because the return trip took nearly an hour and I walked a stretch of a couple miles at least. My legs were ready for a night of rest by the time I finally made it to the apartment.
That night, Keisuke had his friend over and I enjoyed practicing my Japanese with the two of them. They were equally delighted to hear my native voice read the English that was printed on the label of a cafe latte that Keisuke's friend bought from a convenience store. And now, my promo video for Mt. Ranier coffee may very well be floating around on the Internet somewhere. Additionally, I discovered how to make Japanese puns, a.k.a. "old man gags".
The following day the two of us met up with a friend of Keisuke's from his college days, and a friend of mine from Rochester. The four of us first hopped on the train and headed to a restaurant that is known across Japan for having weird foods. This is where I got to try some spaghetti that tasted like sweet melons with wipped cream on top, and a red bean paste stew with rice pudding inside. Both tasted delicious in small quantities, but the plates were large enough to make it a meal.
Afterwards, we headed to Nagoya castle and made it 15 minutes before closing. The castle is tall enough to see across the city from the highest story, and other four stories contained exhibits from the samurai era. After a while, you start to see like you've seen it all when it comes to museums of the old like the ones in every castle. But this one also had a replica of the golden dolphins from the roof, which you could climb on and get your picture taken.
From there, we out into the rain and back downtown where I had my first Japanese movie theater experience. The theater was a small room with a big screen and the movie was called Oppai Volley - "Oppai" meaning breasts, and "Volley" being volleyball. The movie is based off a true story about a group of high school boys who had little to no motivation at anything. Then a beautiful new teacher joined and was put in charge of the volleyball team. The boys where then motivated when she said she would do anything to make them want to win, and they asked her to show them her breasts if they do win. It was a hilarious movie, and I had a pleasant time with as much Japanese as I could understand.
Sunday was another adventure as Keisuke and I hopped on the train again and rode south towards the bay. We met up with my same friend from Rochester, who drove us in his brand new car to his parents bamboo farm. The three of us plus his uncle and cousin walked around for a while digging up bamboo shoots, which were later boiled and seasoned for a delicious Asian treat. Keisuke and I also got to cut down some bamboo trees and Keisuke took some pieces home to decorate his apartment.
After the farm, we drove down to the fish market and ate some sashimi fresh out of the water. The fish was delicious, even though I nearly lost my apetite towards the end. Keisuke had ordered the shrimp (which comes as it does out of the water) and managed to eat most of it without incident. One of the last ones, however, thrashed in his hands as he started to split it open. But that didn't deter him from continuing to rip it in half and eat it anyway. That's a real raw diet!
From the market, the three of us when back to my friend's parents' home to enjoy the boiled bamboo sprouts. We also met some more of his aunts and cousins at a warm family gathering where they were making tako-yaki (breaded balls with octopus inside). Everyone was very friendly and curious about me. So I indulged as much as I could and turned to my friend for help with some of the translations. In the end, it was a nice homely way to come down from my stressful time in Tokyo.
The following day I got up early and caught a train to Kanazawa, my final destination. To see an album of some photos I took in Nagoya, follow this link.
But the adventure wasn't over yet! I only spent two days in Kanazawa before climbing a mountain to the snowy peaks with a group of other foreigners from the school. That's a story for another post that will involve some subject matter about gaijin syndrome.