Monday, February 28, 2005

Snatched by vanity

I finally did it - I googled my own name.

According to Google, I'm the only Lewis Packwood in existence, but interestingly there's a town called Packwood in Lewis county, which is in Washingston state, USA.
Welcome to Packwood
As far as I can tell, it's a struggling lumber town with a high unemployment rate, but the countryside around it looks stunning. There's even a Packwood Lake.
Packwood town
It's smack in the middle of Bigfoot country too - apparently he's quite a regular in these parts according to the Big Foot Field Researchers Organisation.

Maybe I should go and live in Packwood. Perhaps they'll adopt me as their king, and I can while away my days chopping down trees and playing whist with Bigfoot.

Thursday, February 24, 2005

Love Jam

I just had to put up a picture of this album by Ai Otsuka. I haven't heard any of the songs from it, but I just love the cover and the title so much. What can I say? I really like jam.
Love Jam
If you want to know more about Ai, you can click on "Love Jam" above to go to the official website.

Tuesday, February 22, 2005

Strawberry Sandwich

I spotted this in a conbini (convenience store) the other day - a strawberry and cream sandwich. My common sense was kicked in the shins by my curiosity, and I was forced to buy it. Unfortunately, it tasted exactly how I imagined bread with strawberries and cream would taste. Posted by Hello

The snowboarding bug

It's official: I've got the snowboarding bug. I've suddenly realised that I now refer to winter as "the snowboarding season", and spring as "the end of the snowboarding season". It won't be long before everything I say will be "powder" this, "wipeout" that - it's an addiction I tells yah.

I thought that last week might even be the beginning of "the end of the snowboarding season", but over the past couple of days we've had loads of snow, so I plan to "rip up" the slopes again this weekend. I'm even thinking of going night boarding after school, which is very unlike me. Usually I spend my evenings drinking tea and eating chocolate biscuits.

Anyway, I'm definitely converted. I went to Ski Jam on Sunday with Flick, Sam, Sam, Laura and Tilly, and even though the conditions were terrible (dense fog mixed with ice), I still had a great time. Currently I'm learning to master the art of throwing snowballs whilst boarding, which I think is an important skill to learn, especially with a certain Mr Sam Baldwin about.

Is this the end of "tea and biscuits" Lewis? Posted by Hello

The sun sets on another day at Ski Jam.

Thursday, February 17, 2005

God's fruit

I've mentioned before that fruit in Japan is prohibitively expensive, but nothing prepared me for the shock of seeing the prices in one particular department store in Sapporo. The only reason I can think of for this fruit to be so expensive is that God himself must have picked them from his personal orchard, then sent them down to earth along a sunbeam in a golden chariot pulled by angels. Generally I don't think I'm mean with money, but I'd have to be dying of scrurvy before I paid 30 quid for a melon.

Twelve strawberries for the bargainous price of 4,620 yen - about 23 pounds. Posted by Hello

Individual apples for 735 yen each (about 3 pounds 70 pence). Posted by Hello

Yes, that's right, 6,300 yen for one (small) melon. That's about 31 pounds. Posted by Hello

Melon-flavoured sweets seem to be really popular in Japan, presumably because melons are so damned expensive. This is melon-flavoured chocolate. It tastes exactly as disgusting as you'd expect it would. Posted by Hello

Yet more Engrish

I saw some cracking examples of Engrish on my recent trip up to Sapporo. As a simple human being, these comical grammatical errors are one of my main pleasures in Japan; but as an English teacher, I'm weeping inside.

"We support your socks life". Spotted in a clothing store in Sapporo. Posted by Hello

This was on a box of souvenir cookies. "These milk cookies are made of some selected stuffs with an excellent technic. Please enjoy these rich taste." Posted by Hello

"Do! Ferry". Simple, and to the point. Posted by Hello

No Smoking!

There was a fantastic anti-smoking campaign in Hokkaido, so I thought I'd share some of the adverts with you. Sorry some of them are a bit blurry, I was on a tube train at the time.

My personal favourite is the one about personal ashtrays - a uniquely Japanese invention. Littering is a massive no-no in Japan, but on the other hand, public litter bins are an incredibly rare sight. The solution? The personal ashtray - a handy pen-sized cigarette butt receptacle that you can seal up and take with you anywhere.

"Would you stick a cigarette butt in the snowman that your child built?". Posted by Hello

"In the winter, my pockets are stuffed with portable ashtrays". I never leave home without mine. Posted by Hello

"Cigarette smoke is wider than a human body".  Posted by Hello

"A cigarette butt tossed in a puddle absorbs water and becomes hundreds of pieces of trash". Posted by Hello

"I moved to avoid him, but my smoke didn't". Luckily, the dog got away. Posted by Hello

Tuesday, February 15, 2005

Adventures in the frozen north

Last week I hopped on a ferry with about 17 other JETs, and headed up to Hokkaido for the annual Sapporo Snow Festival. Hokkaido has been number one on my list of places to see in Japan for ages now, and the trip was well worth it. The snow festival was amazing - there were hundreds of snow and ice sculptures, ranging from the tiny to the enormous, the comical to the awe-inspiring. I've stuck some photos of the best ones below, so you can see what I'm on about for yourself.

In hindsight, it may have been a mistake to book a ferry up there instead of a plane. The fare was incredibly cheap - 15,000 yen for a return ticket, or about 75 pounds - but the journey there took a wearying 21 hours. And that's without including the train and bus rides to and from the ferry terminal.

On the plus side though, it gave me time to finish The Da Vinci Code, so you could say it was time well spent (By the way, if you haven't read The Da Vinci Code yet, I highly recommend it, as long as you haven't got anything important to do for a couple of days. Once you pick it up, there's no way you'll be able to put it down. Bloody hell, now I sound like an ad executive... It's a shame no-one's paying me to write this).

Sapporo itself was an amazing city. It's relatively young in terms of history - Hokkaido itself wasn't colonised by the Japanese until the latter half of the 19th century - but it doesn't seem to suffer from its lack of historical buildings. There's no ancient temples or castles, but it doesn't really matter, because the city has such a good atmosphere. It reminded me a little of Barcelona - it has that same young and vibrant feel about it. Minus the stunning Gaudi architecture of course.

It was great to be back in a city again - I love Asahi, but the nightlife leaves a little to be desired: there's only one bar (Bar New Friend), which serves only whisky and water, and which harbours an exclusive clientele of karaoke-singing pensioners. Compared to the night life in Sapporo, Asahi may as well be on the moon.

I just had to include this photo to prove how cold it was in Sapporo! This was the temperature in the afternoon - it got even colder at night. Posted by Hello

Despite the cold, the weather in Sapporo was wonderful - really crisp and fresh. As you can see, the streets are permanently covered in layers of ice and snow at this time of year. Posted by Hello

Ishiya chocolate factory - I loved this place. Ishiya is a famous chocolate maker in Japan, and this factory looks like it's been built by Willy Wonka. There's even an animatronic music display with singing chocolate chefs. No Oompaloompas though. Posted by Hello

Another photo of Ishiya chocolate factory. It's designed to look like an English Tudor house, but it was only built in 1992. Posted by Hello

A motocross rider crafted in ice. Posted by Hello

Sapporo by night. Posted by Hello

The snow festival takes place in three main locations in Sapporo, one of which is the military base. It's a pretty strange feeling to walk right into a military base to look at snow statues - I can't really imagine that happening in Britain. Or anywhere except Japan really. Anyway, the Japanese Self-Defence Force (SDF) have been taking part in the festival every year, helping to build the giant snow statues and even taking photos for tourists. In fact, we got the chap in earmuffs below to take our picture. Unfortunately, this is the last year the SDF will be participating in the event, as the government has decided they should use the army for something other than building giant snowmen. Shame. Posted by Hello

A fan dance in the military base. Posted by Hello

The snowman army await their orders. Posted by Hello

This was definitely the best sculpture, in my opinion. It's a scale model of Nagoya Castle. Posted by Hello