Thursday, December 22, 2005

My Newly Buried Car sends a Christmas message...


It's snowing hard again - my once Unburied Car has become Buried again overnight. This time though I've left it at school, so it's the caretaker's job to dig it out, not mine -  mwah ha ha, that'll teach him for not lending me his snow mower.
But what am I saying? Let's banish such un-Christmassy thoughts! 'Tis the time for giving and making merry! I'm feeling full of festive cheer at the moment - I can't wait to get home and see my family and friends again. I hope they like the random stuff I've bought for them.
That's if I can get home of course - the heavy snow has been causing several train delays and cancellations, so it's a little bit touch and go at the moment. Fingers crossed the weather holds off...
Anyway, I'm not back in Japan until January 7th, so this will be the last post for a while. In the meantime...

Wednesday, December 21, 2005

Nyu High School: Cold.

It's Nearly Christmas...

I can't quite believe it's Christmas in four days... and in two days' time I'll be getting on a plane to fly me back home! What utter madness!!! What on earth was I thinking when I booked a flight back to cold, damp England when I could be in Thailand instead, lounging around on a beach sipping cocktails!? What a fool I've been!
But seriously though, it really is cold and damp in England, although technically slightly less cold and damp than my house in Asahi, since we have a thing in England called "central heating". This marvellous new invention means that houses can remain at a liveable temperature throughout the winter, which also means you can avoid the situation where it's actually warmer inside your fridge than in your kitchen. Yes, that's right, I'm now huddling up to the fridge for warmth. No need to worry though, I'll be in Thailand soon. No, wait, I won't will I? I'll be in England.
But seriously though, my kitchen really is that cold. When I got home from work the other day I decided to have a round of toast with Nutella to warm myself up, but I discovered that the entire jar of chocolate spread had frozen solid. I put it in the fridge to warm it up a bit.
But don't worry Mum, my legs haven't fallen off from frostbite yet, and I really am looking forward to coming home and seeing you and the family this Christmas. Just make sure the thermostat's turned up nice and high when I get back - I want to get a sun tan from the radiators.
And speaking of Christmas, here's a few pics from the Fukui JET "non-denominational festive gathering", also known as Festivus (although the event was sadly lacking an aluminium pole).

NEWSFLASH: I've just found a website where you can buy genuine Festivus poles. 'Tis a Festivus Miracle I tell ya!

Sam did a fine job of cooking the peas I brought for Festivus. Look at the pride etched onto his face.

Around 100 ravenous guests shovel down the turkey as Festivus gets into full swing. If you look very carefully on the right of the photograph you can see a classic piece of internationalisation, as a Japanese woman and a Western woman demonstrate their respective gestures for "myself". See, the JET Programme is worth the money.

The spread of food was amazing - everyone outdid themselves this year. And, of course, the peas were top notch.

Here's another one of Chihiro's origami letter creations (see the November archives). I just love what's written on the front, it really put a smile on my face!

Monday, December 19, 2005

My Buried Car - are there blue skies ahead?

Escape to Victory!

Welcome to the next thrilling instalment of "My Buried Car". Regular readers will remember that on Thursday night I was forced to give up after three hours of digging because my car became beached like some sort of crazy snow whale. I'd managed to deal with the defeat by drowning my sorrows in mint choc chip ice cream, but I came back on Friday afternoon with eyes blazing, my battered soul hungry for fiery vengeance. There was no way this pathetic white fluff would beat me - with the mighty mama-san dump at my side, I knew I was invincible.
All hail Lewis! The Fearless Snow Avenger! Shoveller of Driveways! Clearer of Access Roads! Wielder of the Dump!
Now read on adventurers, as we go back to the frozen Ice Kingdom of Fukui...

Here's my car at 2.00pm on Friday. On Thursday I'd managed to move it just over halfway along the road after 3 hours of digging - all I needed was one last push and I'd be free... Unfortunately, this time I had to do it without the miracle of David Bowie, since the rain made it too wet to use my CD player. So I just thought about Bowie instead, and that helped.

After over an hour of digging I'd only managed to move the car about 20 metres, and it had gotten stuck 3 times. Twice I'd managed to dig it out, but the third time was more difficult, since the car had skidded sideways into some deep snow. Things were looking bad.

I was getting nowhere fast, so I did what anyone in the same predicament would do - I had a tiramisu. Mmmm... you just can't beat a good tiramisu. Then I had a brainwave...

I suddenly remembered somehing I saw on "Ray Mears' Extreme Survival". When he was stuck in the desert he put some planks of wood underneath the tyres to give them some traction, so I decided to replicate the situation using the only thing I had at hand - a bread board. And do you know what? It worked! I knew watching that programme would come in handy one day.

Finally, after another hour of digging, I'd managed to carve a rudimentary path to the end of the road and used good old "mama-san" to smash my way through the piles of ice and snow dumped there by the snow plough. This is it - will my car be able to make it through the snow?

SUCCESS!!!!! My car has been freed from its icy prison! Fan-bloody-tastic! I quickly nabbed a passing student to document the moment of triumph forever... Snowboarding here we come!

Friday, December 16, 2005

My Buried Car on Wednesday afternoon.

The Continuing Saga of My Buried Car

On Thursday afternoon, for the first time in days, it stopped snowing. With the re-emergence of long-forgotten blue skies I decided it was the perfect weather for digging out my poor little snow-entombed car.
My car was rendered immobile by snow on Tuesday, and I've been living like a hermit ever since, only venturing out of the house to go to school or buy snacky treats from the Circle K. It's been hard, but on the plus side it's given me a bit of time to get re-aquainted with my seldom-used-in-recent-months Playstation 2. Oh, how I've missed thee.
However, a crisis is looming - the weekend is coming closer and there's a serious chance that I might not be able to go snowboarding if I can't dig my car out in time, and will instead have to spend the weekend eating sandwiches from the Circle K and hoping the kerosene for my heater doesn't run out. To make matters worse, I've finished all my Playstation games. The race is on....
To aid me in my Herculean task, I thought I'd ask the school caretaker to let me borrow his brilliant "snow mower", but unsurprisingly he was reluctant to let go of his favourite toy. Instead, he gave me what's known in Japanese as a "mama-san dump" - a great big sledge thing with a handle, so-called because it makes it easier for old ladies to move around snow. Not exactly the manliest tool, but it moves snow a lot faster than my old shovel, so I'm not complaining.
And so, it begins.

I cleared the snow off my car on Wednesday night, but by Thursday afternoon it was covered again. Beside it you can see my trusty shovel and the embarrassingly-named yet dead useful "mama-san dump". To aid me through my labours I decided to stick the Best of Bowie on my cd player - good old Bowie, perfect for every situation. The time now is 3.45pm.

By the time I'd reached track 6, "Starman", I'd made some significant progress. I felt the tuneful wailings of classic seventies Bowie had certainly helped in this achievement.

As I neared the end of CD 1 it began to get dark, but I'd reached the first of the trapped bamboo stems. Bowie espoused the foibles of "Young Americans".

Little by little, I managed to edge the car forward. This photo was taken shortly after I'd moved on to CD 2 of the Best of Bowie, as the sweet guitar riff of "Sound and Vision" buoyed my spirits.

Bowie was well into his eighties phase by the time I reached the halfway mark. Come on David, "Scary Monsters"? What's that all about?

Then disaster! As David decided to experiment with jungle music, I decided to drive my car forward a little more. All was going well until I beached the car, leaving the wheels spinning in the air. Despite some frantic shovelling, the car was going nowhere. At 6.45pm, three hours after starting and completely exhausted, I gave up for the night and headed to The Circle K to buy an ice cream to cheer myself up. And so the saga continues...

Wednesday, December 14, 2005

A view of Asahi this morning on my way to school. You can just about make out the high street.

Let it snow, Let it snow, Let it snow

The snow has been absolutely crazy here recently - I've never seen anything like it. It didn't start snowing till Christmas Eve last year, but at the moment we're getting more snow than we usually have in January! It started just over a week ago, and it's been coming down, on and off, ever since. You can see the awful road conditions in Asahi here, but even that's nothing compared to the roads up in Izumi to the east.
When I checked this morning the snow here was around 45cm deep, but it's been snowing furiously all day so it's probably much deeper by now. Don't get me wrong, I love snow, but it's making it really tricky to get around... To give you an example, I went to take out my rubbish this morning, and a five minute walk around the corner turned into a half hour battle against the elements as I fought my way through the uncleared paths, desperately trying to stop the snow coming in the top of my boots. On the way back I even saw a tree collapse under the weight of the snow, and when I got to school this morning I found the school secretary throwing a broom at one of the school's prized ornamental pine trees, desperately trying to knock the snow off so the poor pine wouldn't suffer the same fate. Although, arguably, throwing a broom at it probably isn't going to do it much good either.
However, by far the most distressing aspect of the weather is that my poor little tiny car has now become imprisoned in a tomb of ice and snow. Regular readers may remember a similar thing happening last February, but this time around the snow's even deeper... The trouble is that no-one ploughs my road because I'm the only one that really uses it, so even after digging out my car I have to run the gauntlet of driving / attempting to drive through 100 or so metres of knee-deep snow. I'm running low on food though, and I can't keep subsisting on egg sandwiches from the local Circle K, so I'm going to have to break free sooner or later...
On the plus side though, Asahi looks amazing in the snow.
AND, this weekend I get to go snowboarding!!! If I can dig my car out that is.

Somewhere under there is my car. It's going to take a lot of digging / reckless driving to get that out.

The second obstacle - the weight of snow has caused these bamboo branches to lean across the road. I tried shaking the snow off one and almost got a face full of twig as it sprang back upwards. I had fleeting images of being catapulted across Asahi in a Wile E. Coyote stylee.

To make matters worse, the snowplough which cleared the road up to Nyu High School decided to dump all the excess snow across the entrance of my road, which means that even if I can dig my car out and fight through the bamboo, I still have to dig through all this... Looks like I'm not going anywhere for a while.

Friday, December 09, 2005

Aaaaaah... so THAT'S where Fukui is...

Fukui's not exactly the most famous of prefectures in Japan - most Japanese people aren't even sure where it is. When faced with explaining exactly where I live I constantly run into difficulties... "Well, it's sort of north of Kyoto and on the coast... erm... it's famous for eyeglass frame manufacturing... and crabs... and nuclear power... and, errr, are you sure you haven't heard of it?"

Well, no more. It's time to put Fukui on the map. Literally. If you have a look at the bottom of the sidebar you can see a fancy new map thing I've created using the wonderful Frappr website. Go on, have a look. Cool isn't it? You can zoom in and out and everything.

Anyway, you can see the full size map by clicking here, and if you feel so inclined you can even add yourself to the map and leave a little message. It's still the beta version so a lot of the Japanese towns haven't been added in yet, but you can always send a request for them to be included, or do what I did and type in a town near to you that it recognises (eg. Sabae), then create your own Frappr page and move your "home" pin manually. Your position should then be updated on the group map.

Have a go playing around with the satellite imagery too (click on the middle white button written in katakana at the top of the map), it really shows you how the separate "cities" of Fukui, Sabae and Takefu are really just one big swathe of housing and factories cutting through the middle of the mountains.

Finally, I've created another map showing the locations of a few of the local sights, so if you've ever wondered exactly where the famous toast restaurant in Takefu actually is, now's your time to find out. You lucky beggars.

Wednesday, December 07, 2005

Mr. Yamada takes aim.

Glorious Defeat Part 2

Yesterday was the annual Nyu High School bowling tournament - straight after the end of school all the teachers trooped off down the local bowling alley and competed in that most gentlemanly, yet criminally under-recognised sport. And I was rubbish. Again.

Regular readers may remember my dismal failure in last year's tournament (see The Staff Bowling Competition in the December 2004 archives) where I came second from bottom. Well, this year I completely outdid myself in the terrible bowling stakes ladies and gentlemen - yes that's right, this year I leapt down one place to claim the bottom spot for my very own. I am officially THE WORST BOWLER IN NYU HIGH SCHOOL. And to prove it I was given a special booby prize consisting, bizarrely, of a 100 yen baby mask with stubble, a paper lantern and a free ticket to go bowling. The baby mask I can sort of understand, the lantern is a bit random, but the free ticket to go bowling is just taking the piss surely. Maybe it's a hint that I should practice more...
Anyway, despite my miserable performance I actually had a lot of fun - the teachers are a great laugh, and you should have heard the cheer that went up when I got a spare (one of only two spares I achieved in two games. I didn't get any strikes. Yes, I know, I'm rubbish - even the office lady who was rolling the ball with two hands did better than me).
Final score; 164 (1st game = 74 points, 2nd game = 90 points) The winner got 308. Whoops.

The teachers of Nyu High School proudly show off their bowling prizes.

Monday, December 05, 2005

SNOW!!! My (inadequately insulated) house this morning.

Glorious Defeat

Well would you believe it - after my last post begging for snow my prayers have been answered. This morning I woke up to find Fukui smothered in an unseasonably early covering of white - snowboarding season here we come! Roll on the weekend! If you want to see the snow for yourself then head to - if you click on a coloured part of the map, then click on a traffic camera you can see an (almost) live picture of the snow conditions in that area. I live in Asahi (now Echizen-cho, the pink area on the left), but check out the crazy amounts of snowfall in the mountains around Ono (the pink area on the right).
So anyway, winter has definitely arrived. It was two degrees centigrade in my bedroom this morning, and when I went into the kitchen I discovered that my olive oil had frozen. Yes, that's right, my olive oil had frozen . It's all very well having a big old wooden house all to yourself, but the big disadvantage of having a house against having a tiny flat is that you don't get to bathe in any of that lovely heat coming from your neighbours' apartments. It doesn't help that my walls are paper thin either. Or that my windows have big gaps between the frames and the window panes. Having said that though, the walls must be doing something, since when I looked at the thermometer by the side of the road it said one degree, which means the temperature in my house was double what it was outside. Hurrah!!!
In other news, I went to Nagoya yesterday to fail the Level 3 Japanese Proficiency Test. I didn't have a hope in hell of passing, since I've been far too busy with work to study, but it was nice to get away from Fukui for a bit. Plus I encountered lots of weird and wonderful new Japanese words and phrases I'd never seen before whilst taking the test, so I have an exciting amount of textbook-combing and dictionary-checking to look forward to as I endeavour to undrerstand what the hell the whole thing was about. Maybe next year I'll be able to approach the exam with a much more advanced strategy of actually knowing what the questions mean and being able to fill in the correct answers, as opposed to my current strategy of making pretty patterns out of the boxes on the multiple choice answer sheet and hoping for the best.
Following the glorious defeat we stepped out into the Nagoyan rain and headed for a bite to eat at the Hard Rock Cafe - my first time inside the mighty chain's hallowed doors. You get the feeling that the restaurant's glory days may have already passed it by - the novelty of hanging random things nailed up all over the walls surely must have worn off at least a decade ago. Indeed, I was transfixed by the decor as I strolled in, in much the same way as an Egyptologist might be when walking into a mummy's tomb: "Aaah, this is what restaurants used to look like... Fascinating."
Still, you can't fault the food - the veggie burger I had was absolutely amazing. You just can't get veggie burgers anywhere in Japan, so taking my first bite of delicious mush in a bun was utterly divine. I imagine heroin addicts have the same kind of feeling after going back on the needle after rehab (only veggie burgers are a little bit healthier than heroin, or so I believe). Yum.

Frozen olive oil in my kitchen this morning.

Nagoya station by night. Probably one of the ugliest buildings in Japan during daylight hours, it's transformed by neon as the evening draws in.

Rocking in the Hard Rock Cafe.

Dana and Brandon enjoy a generous portion of chocolate brownie.

Thursday, December 01, 2005

Hey look! It's not raining!

For the first time in three days the rain has held off and we've had
some glorious winter sunshine. It's still bloody cold (6 degrees in my
bedroom this morning - yikes!) but at least there's blue skies, plus
the promise of snow on the way. I bought a new snowboard last weekend
in anticipation of the coming season, and I just can't wait to get
that puppy on the slopes. Ooooh, she's a beauty! She's got fancy
see-through bits and everything!

Anyway, in celebration of the nice weather I decided to head up to the
top floor of the school and take some picks of the far-off
snow-covered mountains... Come on, snow more dammit!!!

This is the view to the south-east - the big sprawl in the distance is Sabae.

And this is looking east - you can quite clearly see the snow-covered mountains in the distance. Some students reckon you can see the outlines of Ski Jam in Katsuyama on a clear day.