Interlude – Keef

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A tiny pub just opposite Hokkaido University, the sign outside reads Keef – Jazz, Rock and Blues. And it lives up to that name. The bar is fronted with a thick plank of wood, and the chairs in front are large, low and heavy. On the walls are number of artworks and at the end of the bar is a photo autographed by Keith Richards in 1999. And the wall of opposite the bar is packed with CDs, vinyl records and DVDs of various Jazz and Blues groups that I don’t have the faintest clue about. And the playback equipment ranges from a DVD player all the way back through a laser disc player to an amplifier from the late 1980s as far as I can tell

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All in all, it’s my kind of place. I’ll definitely be visiting here often.

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Getting in the Groove

I’m now well into my second month in Japan, and if anything I am loving it more than ever. The weekend was really great. For the first time since settling in I made a ‘to-do’ list, and did everything on that list. My memory is always a bit fragmented, so I’ll work backwards from the weekend.

Sunday was my day to explore. I went to a flea market first; I now, finally, have some pots and pans to cook food in, and dishes to eat food out of. I then wrote a couple letters; they are on their way to unsuspecting people. I went exploring around a couple blocks of town: I bought a maps of the city a few weeks back, and my goal is to identify every place of interest and mark it on that map so that I may visit it during my 3.5+ years here, either alone or with friends. Of note is this café named Keef that appears rather interesting. They do not appear to have a website, so I have no idea what exactly they serve, sell or market, but I will find out this weekend. I also window-shopped at an electronics store for various odds and ends.

Saturday was an interesting day. After doing the laundry and hoovering my room, I made my way to the Sun Piazza Aquarium to see an electric eel light up a Christmas tree. The actual event itself lasts about two minutes, but there are a ton of cool fishes in at the aquarium, and even four penguins and two seals. I also got my flat tyre fixed. It was easy since the bike repair area is part of the supermarket where I do my weekly essentials shopping run.

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Friday was notable for the Jazz show. Organised by the City council (I think), this month’s performers were a group called ビ一トサンセット (beat sunset). Very upbeat music. If I didn’t know it was Jazz, I’d have though it was ska. I even went so far as to by their CD and a sticker.

Beat sunset live at the Sapporo City Jazz
Beat sunset live at the Sapporo City Jazz

Tuesday was a luncheon for the international staff and students of the University. The food was delicious and let me just say that I will pass up an opportunity to eat free food. And to meet people. Last weekend I went to a friends, where we cooked takoyaki and okonomiyaki. I also tried natto, fermented soy beans. It’s supposed to taste horrible, but I didn’t think so. It is certainly an acquired taste, though.

There was one other thing i did during these last two weeks but it escapes me for the moment. One thing is certain. I should update in line with my experiences, rather to a fixed schedule.

A Month, and counting

It is now a little more than a month since I have arrived in Japan, and I am pretty much all settled in. Quite a bit has happened in this past fortnight-plus.

I finally was awarded my scholarship – both the certificate and the amount for the first month. This is by far the most important thing, since without money I can do naught.

In the 10 days following my last post there were parties galore. I attended and had fun. But my age has begun to show. Internally at least. I simply can’t connect with anyone more than a couple years younger than I, and it is showing.

I bough a map of the city. And some small post-its. Now I can walk around the city and mark all the places I think are interesting and want to visit again. In this vein I went to to a nearby ward to see a Halloween parade. It was really great, but I realised after I arrived that I had missed the bit about it being for kids. But that didn’t make a difference, since I only wanted to watch it, not participate in it.

I FINALLY got myself a phone. A smart-phone, my first. rather expensive, but very much worth it. Although I am STILL leery of sacrificing my anonymity.

I also tried using my Japanese at the Department store and the supermarket and an awesome ramen shop and the employees were kind enough to point out the items to me or to speak slowly so that I could understand. A small victory, but I shall take it.

And the last thing for now is the trip I went on yesterday. I wasn’t the happiest pokémon in Hokkaido, since we spent longer on the bus than seeing stuff, but we saw some AWESOME stuff.

Hell Valley
Jigokudani at Noboribetsu Onsen
Oonuyuma Lake
My grandparent are older than THIS mountain
Showa Shinzan, a live volcano
Usuzan
Usuzan
Lake Toya
Lake Toya

Two Weeks In

It’s been a fortnight since I got to Japan, and not much has changed. I still haven’t been out in the city, except for three visit, which I will cover here. I have seen a little more of the University itself, but not much.

First time I left the Uni campus was for a nomihodai. The best translation I can manage is food-and-drink-buffet at a low rate. It was awesome, but let’s just say I’m not yet used to having left Germany.

I visited the onsen, the communal baths, last weekend. It was quite the experience. Everyone is in the nude, but no one cares. Which is a welcome change from anywhere else. I’m a lot more comfortable with my body compared to any time before in my life, so I had no problems. And I have no worries about hygiene, either, since one is supposed to wash before entering the communal baths. Baths of all temperatures from about 50°C to 10°C or so, indoors and outdoors, even a sauna. I definitely want to go again!

The onsen

I can’t really say I did much else. I did visit the supermarket, and found some awesome things I definitely want to buy and try: both food and electronics (I’m really not a clothes guy. Unless it’s suits. Flashy suits). And there is such a variety of food! So many different things! I mean, most German supermarkets can easily match the quantity, but they fall short when it comes to variety. I saw tender coconuts and durians, obento (boxed lunches) and onigiri (rice balls) the list goes on…

Daiichi Aeon

Until next fortnight!

First Impressions – Japan

My very first impression of Japan was hurry. Not of people in general, but myself in particular. The flight landed on time at Narita, but I had to go through immigration and customs before I could take my connecting flight, so my first real view of Japan was of the tarmac of the Narita airport, while waiting to board the plane to Sapporo. Thankfully, the plane arrived early. Disembarking was a breeze, but I did stop to take my first good look at Hokkaido – unfortunately, it was of tarmac again.

First look at Hokkaido - Tarmac :P

Once out the airport, I was me by my student supporter, R. He showed me the ropes. We took the express from the airport to Sapporo, when I got my first real look at the cities and countryside of Japan. By the time we got there, I was famished! And so we ate miso ramen, the first real Japanese food I have ever eaten. It was delicious. And there was a LOT of it. I did my best to eat it all, but I had to leave a little. It was simply too much.

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Ahh, the land of Japan, What can I say? Well, it is a lot like depicted in anime and manga. The houses are built the same way, the kindergarten students and school students dress the same way; the ambience is different from Germany or India. But it’s a lovely place, this city. Not that I’ve been to the city yet. I have 1.9 square kilometres of University campus to explore during the week, before I step out into the city this weekend.

P.S.: I will update this post with photos as soon as I can