Sunday, 20 April 2014

To Do List ~ The Update

So, in a couple of weeks, I'm about to experience my six month anniversary since touching down in this country that I currently call home. I can't believe I'm nearly at the halfway mark already; it seems like only yesterday that I was attempting to navigate my way around and get used to the customs and what have you. And to be honest, I'm still getting used to it. There's a new experience to be had or means to get accustomed to at every corner. I haven't even braved the hospital visit yet (and I'm hoping I'll never have to) but with every encounter, I learn something new and adding it to my arsenal of life experience is quite encouraging. 

And speaking of experiences, I recall making a sort of Bucket List depicting exactly what I wanted to do when I got here. I actually didn’t expect to get through it as quickly, granted my list was hardly difficult now that I think about it. Many an opportunity presented itself and while I haven’t fully completed it (I've yet to visit a Tokyo or go to a theme) – and then there’s the fact that there are more things I wish to do – I figured an update was necessary. So allow me to check off the items of my list, which I will write in the order that I managed to complete them in.


Locate a Love Hotel.

I hadn’t even been in the country three hours and low and behold I came across this little shindig. Granted, it wasn’t me that spotted it but it was within walking distance from where I was staying at the time and since then I’ve been able to spot Love Hotels a lot more easily. Seriously, they are discreet. In front of a regular hotel, you’ll find people heading in and out; you might even come across a doorman; lights are bright and the décor invites you in. At a Love Hotel, I have never seen anyone enter or exit one before. There is nearly always some sort of curtain shielding a great portion of the entrance and sometimes there’s something almost elegant and non-descript about it. I doubt I’ll ever see inside one but can’t say I’m not curious.

Eat Japanese food…and Japan

During my first week in Japan, I took the opportunity to visit a few restaurants. The restaurant that stands out to me most was this traditional Japanese restaurant in Nagoya. There was no English menu but I managed to ask the waitress what she would recommend. She suggested that I have this little concoction called 鳥そばろ丼 (torisobarodon) and it still stands as the best meal I’ve had in Nagoya to this day. I also visited an okonomiyaki restaurant, a ramen hut and a curry house among other places. I have got to say that I cannot complain. I just wish Japan was bigger on cakes as when it comes to dessert, nearly everything is always swimming in cream.

Go to a Karaoke bar

Once again, during my first week, I had to check this off. Myself and a couple others found a Karaoke bar and spent roughly the first twenty minutes trying to figure out how navigate songs utilising a primarily Japanese system. I remember it being quite expensive and wonder if the clerk might have ripped us off because subsequent visits to other karaoke bars suggested cheaper options with a greater variety of songs and all-you-can-drink options. Since living in Japan though, I’ve been to a karaoke bar quite a few times.  The best time seems to be going during the daytime in the middle of the week. (Becoming a member warrants even more discounts). These days I sing quite badly (and cry to myself as to where all that childhood talent went) but I always have a good time belting out old and new classics.

Ride the Shinkansen

Everyone who is anyone talks about the bullet train and how awesome it is. And it is really. You can cover about half of Honshu (the main Japanese island) in about four hours, most of which you can spend asleep. And similar to being on an aircraft, there’s usually someone wondering through serving food and beverages (you have to pay for it though). I’ve ridden the Shinkansen twice now and I’ve got to say that while it’s nice watching stuff whizz by at ridiculous miles per hour, it really was like riding in a plane which isn’t something I’m particularly fond of. Oh, don’t get me wrong – I’m not afraid of heights – but I do get the ridiculously annoying air pressure build up in my ears. And unless I’m wearing some protective ear-gear, it hurts like a mofo. So the next time I ride the Shinkansen, I will be prepared.

Paint the town red

After a gruelling two weeks of training, I was ready to hit the club scene. And while I haven’t been to many clubs in Japan – I always have a good time. The first club I went to included that famous all-you-can-drink option in the entrance fee. My colleagues were ecstatic but all I wanted to do was dance. The music was good for my tastes as I knew most of the songs. Nobody bothered me or tried to invite themselves into my personal space against my will which was doubly lovely. But what did end up irritating me in the morning was the extreme smokiness of the environment. Patrons can smoke indoors and so come morning, my throat was raw and I was miserable. Still had a good time however and I will be going back.

Befriend a local

Japan Guide has a Classifieds section
The internet has been a great way to get connected and I’ve certainly used it to my advantage when looking for friends. Despite Hiroshima being considered relatively small-scale in comparison to bigger cities like Osaka and Tokyo, I’ve managed to establish a few connections with people – both foreigner and Japanese alike. In Hiroshima, it also seems that the foreigner circle is very well connected. If you haven’t met someone yet, it’s likely that you’ve got a friend of two in common and that you’ll cross paths soon enough. Even now I’m still meeting people, whether it be online or in person and with the emergence of the LINE app, I can choose to keep in contact with someone without the awkwardness of exchanging telephone numbers which I consider to be a bit more personal.

Locate a Host Club

While I haven’t been able to procure photographic evidence of this endeavour, I am pretty sure I’ve come across my fair share of Host and Hostess clubs. In actuality, in Hiroshima, the most happening strip of bars, clubs and restaurants is a place called Nagarekawa. I’ve only been along there a few times but I actually went along there in the daytime and saw a couple of closed establishments that make me reckon they’re either Host clubs or Strip clubs. Will I be going in? Probably not. Host clubs require you to empty your pockets and I rather prefer the cheaper option.

Visit a Temple or Shrine

Inside the Gokoku Shrine at Hiroshima Castle
The very first shrine I went to was Aichi Shrine in Okayama. I didn’t actually do anything besides wash my hands at the purification trough (every time I go, I find myself having to relearn the method) and taking a few pictures. It was nice to behold however and as it was midweek, it was very peaceful. When I went to Miyajima however, I went to the Itsukushima Shrine there and tried my hand at a fortune. In Japan, fortunes come in five levels. My fortune at the time was second from the bottom and I was feeling pretty crappy at the time so I thought it was fitting really. Over time, my fortunes have started to get better however and I’ve had the opportunity to watch kannushi (or Shinto Priests) perform rituals. I tend to come across more Shinto shrines than Buddhist ones however.

Learn some Japanese

My Japanese is still quite horrendous. There are a lot of rules within the language that don’t exist in English but I can get around a bit more than I could when I first arrived. In actual fact, I’ve sort of made it a goal of mine to be able to hold a conversation in Japanese by the end of the year. In order to facilitate this, I bought a new book and joined a class which is hosted at one of the international centres here in Hiroshima. I also take part in a one on one class with a volunteer teacher and do a weekly language exchange with a guy in Shiga. I’ve still got a long way to go. I can’t understand informal Japanese very well and Kanji is just out of the question right now but I’m getting there…steadily.

Visit an Onsen

The Hyotan Onsen in Beppu
This actually happened later than I expected it to but there aren’t many onsen in Hiroshima to begin with so what did I do in the end? I decided to take a trip to Japan’s onsen capital – Beppu, in Oita situated on Kyushu island. It was an interesting experience considering that the onsen had a bit of a waterfall inside of it. There were 8 baths in total, one of which was outside and I found the contrast between the heated water and the open air quite relaxing. I also found that I didn't really feel awkward about walking around in my birthday suit despite one woman burning a hole in my back with her stare (maybe it was my tattoo...?). I left feeling relatively relaxed or what I like to call "a state of zen" which may have in effect been both a good and bad thing because I forgot to put my shoes back on at the genkan (entryway) and instead did so at my lockers. Doh!


So there you have it; my - for the most part - almost completed bucket list. And don't worry, both Tokyo and the theme park's coming. It's my intention to go to Tokyo some time in September. And I'm hoping to head back down to Kyushu for my rollercoaster fix in a couple of months because it has been far too long since my last adrenaline rush. I feel quite proud that I've managed to check these off though. I'm also fortunate to have been to so many places despite my short time here. So you can bet your bottom yen that I'll be setting up another to-do-list soon enough. Watch this space?

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