Thursday, October 1, 2015

Silver Weekend (9.19 - 9.23): Japanland: Miura and More

Silver Week - a string of Japanese national holidays that only rarely forms a 5-day weekend like this - got off to a strong start: I finally accepted a job offer I was satisfied with a few days beforehand, and the Friday night leading into the holiday was my first day at my new part-time job. 

The place I'm working at a couple afternoons/nights a week (to keep my visa) until I also start another salaried contract in November just opened and kept changing everything around at the last minute, after hiring me only 24 hours before accepting their first students. 

So I had just made plans to finally meet up with Evanuska (for the first time since I went to visit her while she was living in Taiwan), who was about to leave Japan, when I got an e-mail about how this place suddenly wanted me to work that night. 

At first I was like WTF NO ARGH after an especially anxious week of juggling job offers within a very narrow timeframe, but then realised I could go teach a couple classes, meet Evanuska and her friend Brenna for a couple drinks, and still shoot all the way back home in time to have dinner at our new favourite neighbourhood Indian place with Hannes, because I was hungry.

So I went down to Hamamatsucho from this new place near the Yasukuni Shrine, and after some minor difficulties and an extreme amount of sweating in the unrelenting humidity, we all found each other and walked to Devil Craft, an apparently very popular American-style brewery and pizza place.

They did have chips and salsa that I snarfed, and their gin tonics are huge!

Brenna's faces are pure gold, right? The three of us all went to the same university and studied Japanese at the same time, but since I'd never actually met Brenna before and I was only staying for an hour and a half or so, Evanuska had me regale her with some of the better, crazier stories I've collected over the years since then. 
I felt bad about bailing, but I hadn't had a meal that day and still needed to pack a bag for our little beach trip. Plus, I know we'll see each other again.

I got all the way back to the other side of town and hurried Hannes out the door just in time to get to the restaurant before it closed, and we ate curry and papad and rice and naan and tikka chicken and salad until we felt like we might actually, literally die.

The guy who runs the restaurant is super nice and clearly having a difficult first few months, so he's massively over-appreciative of us and our business, constantly giving us freebies and being way too polite. We found out he agrees that the quality of life in Japan is garbage compared to Europe on our way out, though, and that only made us more fond of him.

Okay, so on to the weekend trip. 

We left quite a bit later than intended because I only realised that morning that the Airbnb woman whose room I booked didn't provide any kind of address, map, or directions anywhere at any point, and I had to message her multiple times to ask after them. 
I got enough information to get us to her nearest bus station and ran out of patience waiting for her to respond with how to actually get to her house, so we just left with her phone number and called her while waiting for a bus.

Ever since I saw an article about an aquarium that offered a cute otter hand-shaking experience a couple of years ago I'd had Miura in mind for a weekend beach trip, and since Hannes had had a particularly stressful and exhausting week of event planning and management for his organisation, a relaxing nothingy jaunt to the end of the public transit grid turned out to be well-timed.

He didn't want to switch to a faster train on the way to Yokohama, though, so it did take us 3 hours to get that bus station, but whatever.

The room was very spacious and clean. We quickly realised that the temperature and air circulation in it totally blows compared to the rest of the cool, crisp house - or doesn't, rather - but we had an air conditioning unit above us and were very comfortable.

The woman renting out this spare bedroom in her normal family home is very kind and is interested in learning bits and pieces of English from the people who stay there, but basically doesn't speak it at all. 

Luckily she understood when I explained to her in very poor Japanese about my food allergies (because we opted to pay a bit extra for home-cooked dinners; breakfast was already included), but my slightly overzealous and sometimes drunken complimenting of all her other lovely cooking on Hannes' behalf apparently led her to believe that I'm surprised by the fact that other people don't have a diet like mine. 
lol wut. 
Much worse lapses in cross-cultural communication have happened, though.

This perfect replica of weathered, West Coast American motel kitsch stood just across the street, charging more per night than we were paying for our sizeable room and meals. 
Prices in Japan, really.

Rogue pumpkin stand spotted while we were walking the mile or so to the beach nearest Sayuri's house. Because it was so late in the afternoon we'd decided it was very convenient to just head there instead of trying to make a bigger trip out to a bigger beach. Plus, we'd spent too long watching things blur by out train windows that day that we were both pretty dizzy and tired.

Huge soggy or lethargic flowers 
(that they also apparently have in Germany even though they look completely tropical!)

It's always hard to tell what you're in for with beaches until you're actually on them..

.. but this one turned out to be quite nice!

And the beachcombing here is amazing. 

The tideline was positively littered with seaglass and had a greater variety of ceramic bits, plastic bits, urchins, and the kind of nice, whole shells that tourist shops sell than I'd ever seen before.

This is after a few beers. 
Hannes made a promise to himself recently, that he's going to just go out and try more stuff that he doesn't usually do. He's never liked the beach or ocean (he doesn't even like baths) and prodding him into enjoying the whole experience over the last two summers has been a slow and delicate process.

I think he's getting it, though.

Hey, look! 
Something kept bumping into my ankles in the surf, and when I saw what it was, I lurked patiently until I had a chance to grab it. I'd never seen a live sand dollar or sea biscuit before! I mean, this one was clearly barely alive, because  - as I later learned from Google - they're a type of burrowing urchin, and he was just getting tossed around and washed up, but it was still super interesting.

After a minute or so some of his little sea star-like bristly bits started to grip on one of my fingers. Hannes was like, "Is that the asshole? Ew. Throw him back."

This convenience store chardonnay is surprisingly good, fyi

We headed back for dinner after watching the sunset.

"My parents don't realise how tropical Japan is, take a picture of the palm trees"

We stopped at 7-11 for more booze on the way back, getting pleasantly drunk on white wine, beer, and the warm sandy tired feeling the beach gives you while talking to the other couple staying in the same house that night: middle-aged Japanese cyclists who'd spent 10 hours biking down the peninsula from Yokohama that day.

Wtf. That is impressive.

The wife spoke some English, has been to Iran a couple of times, and was aware of the very good Israeli restaurant in our neighbourhood. Also impressive.

A simple salad with steamed rice and no seasoning other than this sea salt here is basically exactly what I asked for, because the chances of ending up with something containing seafood or swimming in a soy-based sauce were way too high. Sigh.

Hannes, on the other hand, did extremely well with the food. I think his was miso soup, salad, pickles, and a raw tuna rice bowl.

The next morning was pretty glorious for him in terms of breakfast, too. After I took this she also brought him a cute, tiny slice of carrot cake. As for me, I'm still too afraid to eat bananas and haven't for nearly ten years, so I just had some salted cabbage and fruit juice.

That was pretty fitting, though, because I was in an extremely bad mood. Hannes wasn't too amused, either. The reason? Well, aforementioned cycling marathon couple decided to get up at 5, and everyone in the kitchen, just on the other side of the apparently tissue paper-thin sliding door to our room, decided that 5 - 7 A.M. on a Sunday was a perfectly reasonable time to do everything at a normal, comfortable volume.

I swear to whatever you'd have me swear on that the sheer amount and variety of sustained kitchen noise being made was of a level that should only be heard when preparing food for ten or more people on Thanksgiving.

So there I was, livid, extremely groggy, awake for 4 hours already by the time Hannes got up - he'd been woken up a lot and griped each time but was able to keep falling back asleep - and gnawing on cabbage. It'd be one thing if we were staying for free or almost for free, but the two nights and meals were about $120.

While he was showering Sayuri asked how we'd slept, and I had to tell her. As best I could, I said, "Okay, well, the truth is, from about 5 A.M., it was a bit noisy," and she in turn said "Ohh, sorry about that! The other couple.." and so on. I was like, aww, yeah, it's okay, I'm just tired now.

And hungry. And in a state of homicidal rage.

BUT she was super nice, and all I could do was chuckle, the mystery of they'd managed to bang and clang that many pots, dishes, cups, and utensils receding to the dark comfort of a mostly-forgotten vault somewhere in a dusty corner of mildly unpleasant memories. 
I'm being dramatic, but I think everybody can relate, right?

When I asked her which bus we needed to take to get to the Keikyu Aburatsubo Marine Park (the one that used to have that special otter deal), she said simply and cheerfully that taking a bus was too much of a hassle and she'd drive us there.

This greeted us at the front door, and we totally lost it.
We also got big, fat French fries at the snack bar, and my transformation into a fully awake and non-homicidal human was complete. Day saved. Aww yiss.

Maybe I didn't achieve quite this level of "aww yiss", but you know, baby steps

For some reason that oft-badly-imitated sunrise song from The Lion King came to mind when I saw this penguin

I liked this guy because he glared at annoying small children the same way I do. 
Vacation spirit animal.

Pinecone fish are a thing. We all learned something today.

Lost it again

This place was such an outdated, uncool 80's relic that it's made the full circle back to being trendy again by unintentionally becoming seapunk. My mind was blown.

Going there and paying admission is almost worth it for this here view alone, though, seriously.

It looks clear, but in the area between this picture and the one above you should be able to see Fuji very clearly. Still extremely nice, either way.

"Man, my head is fucking huge! Why did you never tell me this?!"
"I tell you you have a huge head, like, multiple times a week."
"Damn it!"

Nope, couldn't see Fuji no matter how hard we tried

Welcome... To Jurassic Marine Park! -triumphant score in background-

So seapunk, I'm telling you!

After the marine park we headed to Jogashima, a fair-sized island just off the end of the peninsula.

That thing I said about going where the public transit grid ends? Yeah, that's not necessarily a good thing on a holiday weekend. I really wasn't expecting such perfect beach weather and figured Miura was a safe bet since summer's supposed to be over, but when the only road through to the end of the landmass is just one lane in each direction, I think you're gonna have a bad time regardless.

We had to stand most of the way to the island on the packed city bus, and when we piled on with the horde of other tourists, I made the shortsighted (har har) mistake of stepping up to the back, not realising the ceiling was too low for Hannes. So not only did we have to stand for most of the hour it took to get down there in the solid, meandering, bumper-to-bumper traffic snake of misery, but Hannes had to stand with his head awkwardly bent down. 

Eventually a seat opened up, and he had me sit on his lap.

As soon as these big conferences he's dealing with and our trip back to Seoul are out of the way, he's going through all the steps he needs to renew his international drivers' license as a Japanese one so we can rent and/or buy a scooter. Because damn.

Island's nice though, eh? Lots of people fishing all around the edges. I mean, you know. As you do. On an island. Fucking whatever, you get what I mean.

Slightly more proportionate-seeming selfie

Creepy old fishermens' shrine with an eerie ceramic deity standing guard

More lovely beach garbage

These rock formations are really interesting, right? I want to know what it's called when some of the Earth accidentally turns sideways and stabs out of the water at a sharp angle. This also reminded me very much of that trip to the northern tip of Taiwan.

"Here, take a picture of me"
"I already did, look"

We quickly went up a small set of stairs to what turned out to be the smaller and less relevant of the two lighthouses on the island (of course), but it was still interesting up there, the view was nice, and going back down the other side turned out to be a short cut through the single alleyway marketplace drawing all the tourists who weren't fishing or cycling.

Hannes took this one! Isn't it nice? He's not big on photos in any way, so I was impressed.

There was a weird, overgrown, Greek revival thing happening up there
The plaque says "A prayer to the sea"

Welp, that was fun!

Dinner that night smelled so amazing: I of course had a super bland salad and steamed rice (some days I just want Hannes to take me out back and Old Yeller me, for real), but everyone else had shrimp tempura, served with some spicy potatoes, greens, shoyu with tomatoes and onions, a lime wedge, herbed mayo, and eggy miso soup. Oh, and homemade shrimp dumplings that were apparently very subtle, fresh, and not fishy at all.

Brunch the next morning was really nice. This time my salad had a whole tomato and some cooked eggplant. Hannes and I wonder every time we see them how Asians make these delicious, sweet, rolled omelettes you see on the left, but I guess it's some kind of ancient Chinese secret like Calgon.

She has a guestbook in the room, but we didn't have a pen.

I'd told Sayuri that we were just having a relaxing beach weekend because she and her husband seemed surprised that we weren't headed to Kamakura or Fuji, until they started asking us if we'd already been to some of the various main places in Japan, and I kept saying "yes".

So, as we were getting ready to leave, Sayuri knew we were headed to the main beach on Miura and started cheerfully heading out to the car without even saying anything. We were really pleasantly surprised that she was driving us again, and she took our picture before heading down the extremely narrow, winding, Ponyo-esque little roads to the beach.

We were lucky enough to find and commandeer a tent!

My only goal for that day was to read on the beach, so I took a picture of the moment 
I unlocked said achievement

The other day I learned that selfies are now killing more people every year that sharks

Look, more interesting beach garbage!

Hannes has had an upset stomach the whole time he's been planning and managing a week-long conference / wine and dine for visiting German politicians and other prestigious people that's going on right now, so he wasn't feeling the beach nearly as much that day even though the weather was insanely perfect, but he was fine once he got a few more beers in him!

Finally got the manhole cover as we were leaving; I was worried because we hadn't seen one. #nerdalert

Just as we walked up to the station, we spotted Sayuri there, getting out of her car. She had driven all the way back down there to bring me my glasses! I'd forgotten them in her bathroom (super groggy me also forgot a new bottle of facial wash) and hadn't even noticed. It turned out her timing was impeccable; she came down just in time to see us walking up from the beach and had simply parked right where we'd be to catch us. What a great lady!

We got home mid-afternoon, spent some glorious time doing nothing, and then missed a show Tuesday because of Hannes' upset stomach. But there was an even bigger one on Wednesday, with bigger Western bands and a bigger price tag: the Bloodaxe Tour aftershow at Antiknock. We ended up having a great night, though, and I'm glad we went.

The Japanese bands that played were very generic and mediocre (quelle surprise), so we stood outside - well, not outside outside, you're not really allowed to stand outside shows drinking and talking in Japan - drinking, smoking, and trying to talk to people most of the time.

I was just looking up some information about Hundredth because I had originally thought they were all vegans because they fit the bill better than First Blood, and damn, we had no idea they were a massively Christian band with all kinds of zany conspiratorial ideas. 

This interview I found is really cringe-worthy; that their singer (who looks like a stuffed animal even with a throat tattoo) doesn't grasp the terrible irony of calling other people blind followers while subscribing to a ludicrous organised religion that discourages critical thought is really embarrassing. I guess it kind of fits that their merch guy had never heard of Seoul before.
Their lyrics are very positive and empowering and they've subscribed to and raised money and awareness for some worthwhile causes but, wow, I'm so glad we didn't talk to them. I think I'm just going to stick with The Ghost Inside when I'm in the mood for melodic, uplifting hardcore.

The guy from First Blood we talked to was pretty cool, though we were surprised that he was totally unaware of Japan, China, and Korea hating each other, and that they were about to go on a tour of China without having prepared documentation or visas of any kind. I checked their page before typing this and TIL you're allowed into China and can do whatever you want without a visa as long as you're a band, I guess?

As for that vegan thing, though, it surprised me a little, because they seem like pretty traditionally tough dudes. The guy I was talking to also insisted that they were going to have a much easier time finding things to eat in China than they had in the meat- and fish-laden culinary wasteland of Japan "because they're the ones who originally invented all the meat substitutes and stuff".


Well, they made it into the country, but like...

RIP, First Blood.

The whole point of this show ended up being a French metalcore band called In Other Climes. Actually, that's not completely fair; we didn't stay for First Blood in the end because we had work the next day and were tired of standing around the crowded venue. 
But In Other Climes owned the stage harder than any other band either of us has ever seen. I apologise for the shitty quality of my cell phone video; not only did I not catch their crazier and more energetic songs (damn it!), but I need to start carrying around my HD camcorder with really good sound again. 

They were so good that I became an instant fan and bought a shirt with a great design.

BUT WAIT, there's more. While we were transferring trains on our way home, Hannes was like, "Hey, wasn't that that Ladybeard guy?" After a minute of asking "Seriously, are you absolutely sure?!" I ran up the escalators and approached a large muscular man with earbuds taking up an awkward amount of escalator space with his unusual stance. As soon as he started turning his head as I said "Excuse me.." I knew it was him.

He was so freaking nice, but isn't allowed to take pictures when he's out of costume! Nooo!

I had forgotten the name of this here video after several drinks (it's Nippon Manju) but informed Ladybeard that I'd shared it the day it came out, and that, because of me, the newsroom at Metal Hammer Germany knew about him and really got a kick out of it. He was like "Ohh, cool, I've got an interview with Metal Hammer coming up, actually."

Ha, ha! Winning.

He signed this subway pamphlet for me with his own pen and gave me a hug. He's a great guy and I really want to see Ladybaby live at some point, or at least run into him again.

The cherry atop this glorious weekend was the box of fries and onion rings we got from Mos Burger on the way home, and ate with tandoori curry paste because we'd forgotten to ask for ketchup (fast food places in Japan never give condiments, you have to request them, and then they usually give you a single packet) while watching HIMYM. We're on the last season now.

At least we're finally starting to feel like we live here.