The Daily Mumble June 2002 Archive
With four days off work and no money in hand, this weekend Adam and I decided to do a hitch-hiking tour of Hokkaido. Our initial plan was to get to Kushiro, about 6 hours eats of Niseko, but that idea was scrapped when we found ourselves being taken in completely the wrong direction by a completely wasted surfer-dood who loved to speak English.
Fireworks and Festivals
Adopting the view that "these things happen for a reason", we raised our thumbs once again and were almost immidiately picked up by a young couple who were on their way to a cherry-bloosom party in their hometown; Muroran. Once there, we were introduced to all the family, given super-bouncy-balls by a little girl, and shown where the beer tent was. The Taiko Drumming was really impressive, especially that done by some very small children who kept perfect rythmn with their huge drums. The festival continued into the evening, and was finished off by a fantastic fireworks display.
I was just calling the local youth hostel when our driver grabbed my phone off me, telling the chap on the other end that I'd made a mistake, and we wouldn't be needing a bed after all. Instead, we were to join him, his girlfriend and 7 other friends for a party at his huge apartment somewhere in the middle of nowhere. It was a great night, with food, drink and breakfast the following morning provided by our new friends. They were so kind - it's acts of selfless generousity like that that really make me smile and feel happy to be in Japan.
The Muroran gang dropped us off at a service area, and after waiting (thumbs extended) for a few minutes, we spotted our next ride as a huge 4x4 did a handbrake turn and almost rolled as it mounted the bank in front of us. What we'd initially though was an appalling driver turned out to be a very mysterious man who was so eager to give us a ride that he drove us for half an hour back to the spot where he'd started out from that morning. After offering many "arigatou gozaimasu"'s we escaped from behind the blacked-out windows and hiked for 30 minutes up a hill to where we'd heard there was a baby volcano bubbling.
It was quite an extraordainary sight. Houses half buried by ash and sludge. Street lamps poking out of black hillocks, some still with speeding signs attached. There was an overpowering sulphuric stench to the place which stemmed from the many vents that still produce copious amouts of steamy gas non-stop. The largest crator has a permenant cloud above it, and even on cold days the air is warm (and very smelly!).
On our way down the mountain we met a very loud English girl, who was there for the Italy-Ecuador match. She was very strange, and insisted on having her photo taken with me, although I have no idea why.
After a short bus ride, we arrived in one of the most god-forsaken places in all of Hokkaido. Our Lonely Planet guidebook made out that it was a happnin' town with loads going on all year round. However, we believe that that the write-up for that place in the next edition should read something like:
"On the southern shore of the large lake you will find the town of Tsumaranai, where it will undoubtably be raining hard. One of the resorts highlights (according to the town's brochure)is a trip on the 1970's boat that looks like it was a reject from Tokyo Disneyland. The boat makes regular sailings to the large island in the middle of the lake, where there is absolutely bugger-all to do other than buy a can of coke from the vending machine. If the boat doesn't appeal, the town boasts of having the largest collection of bears in a concrete pit this side of Bern, Switzerland. Watch their bored repetitive behaviour as they beg for food. The biggest miracle in all of Japan continues to go unnoticed in Tsumaranai: there is a youth hostel that continues to stay open despite being situated in the most dull town in the world. We reccomend that you avoid the entire area at all costs."
As car after car passed us by, we decided to tell the first driver who stopped "Doko de mo ii desu!" - or "Anywhere is good!!" That's how we found ourselves at a cheese farm talking to a couple of women who'd stayed at Milky House earlier this year. It was a good job we did meet them there, as it gave us a chance to be very vocal about what we were doing etc etc, and as a result of which the couple on the neighbouring table provided us with our next lift, taking us several hours north to Otaru, from where it wasn't far to Sapporo.
Party time in a world cup host city
Having checked in at a ridiculously cheap hostel with a very small door, we proceeded to the entertainment district of the city, which was buzzing on a Sunday night due the world cup matches being held there this week. Our night got off to a great start as we were shown to a fantastic restaurant where "Drink-as-much-as-you-like" only cost 666 yen for 1 hour (£4). In that hour we clocked up well over 20 drinks between us, before meandering along to a conveyer-sushi restaurant where we were the centre of attention for all the right reasons. After that we stopped off at a gaijin-run bar for advice, before setting up camp at a big place with lots of crazy foreingers (mainly Ecuadorian and Italian football fans). Usually I loath that kind of place, as they tend to be full of greasy gaijin trying to pick up Japanese girls, but that night the atmosphere was different - mainly due to the world cup. Adam and I led the singing and dancing from on top of the bar, although thankfully neither of us took our clothes off.
Despite the fact that our hostel was only 15 minutes from the bar, it took me over an hour to make it back - and Adam two - although he says that he spent a lot of that asleep in a coffee house.
Yesterday it was back home, although we found that our run of hitcher's luck had expired and we had to use trains and buses.
Adam and I have both learnt to speak Japanese over the past year, and it was this weekend that we revelled in our new skill. It opened so many doors for us. There was not a single moment when language proved to be a barrier for us, and for that reason I'm now going to get on with my studying!
Today Adam left, to continue his exploration of Italian and Japanese food in Tokyo. I'll miss him as he's the kind of guy who's instantly likeable and easy to get on with, and also he's got a great sense of humour which I thoroughly appreciated.
We went on a lovely walk today. Here's a photo for you.
I was almost speechless when this chap walked into Milky House tonight. Is that...? No, it couldn't be... ...it IS! It's a Hereford United shirt! That's my hometown! The fact that the last time I checked they were bottom of the bottom league makes it all the more surprising to meet a supporter over here. As I was introduced to his two mates, we discovered that I'd lived just around the corner from one of them in Torquay a few years back, and the other had been living in Switzerland as I've been doing.
Even stranger this week was when I recieved an email on my mobile phone from an email address that I recognised as that of someone who had made a reservation the previous week via email to the Milky House computer. When she arrived I asked her how on earth she had got a hold of my personal mobile phone's email address, and why she had sent me a blank message. She insisted that she had not emailed anyone for a week as she had not been near a computer, and that she didn't even know who I was before we met let alone what my phone's email address was. Bizarre. There is just no explanation.
Today's the day! Go ENGRRRAALANNNNDDD!!!
We'll thrash Argentina, I know we will!
I got pretty close to going to the game myself this morning... Well,sort of - I held a ticket in my hand for a few seconds which was quite exciting. All of Milky House will be behind the lads tonight, as can be seen in my June photo album.
Perhaps "thrash" wasn't quite the word... and certainly not one to be used when talking about yesterday's awful game against Nigeria. I'm surprised at how excited I am about it all. It must be the constant references to David Beckham and Michael Owen made by our guests. Beckham has become quite a celebrity over here since the Argentina match - I think it's his white shoes, yellow armband and tufty mohican that do it.
I haven't written for six days as I've just been sooooooooo busy. In between cleaning the toilets and driving over hidden bricks with the sit-on mower (shibakariki), I've been studying Nihongo non-stop. John Balsom, a photographer from London working on a World-Cup book for Umbro, provided me with further inspiration when telling how he learnt to speak pretty damn good Japanese in just ten months. He was saying how he just used to write words down everywhere, on his bedroom walls, at work and on his hands. As a result of that chat (which took place as we watched Japan triumph over Russia - nice one lads!) I decided to attack my arm with my shaver, as can be seen below.
This method does work: I've said the word "Ukabu" so many times today that I don't think I'll ever forget it.
Anyhow, my bed beckhams as it's 2pm, time for my daily 90-minute afternoon sleep. Must be getting old...
My body will be very relieved when this World Cup is over. At the weekend I started celebrating Japan's latest win even before I went out white-water rafting - the litre of beer made that all the more exciting. Several hours and another 3 litres of beer later I's decided I had to join the masses in the big city, and so in an almost legless state I set out to attempt the three hour hitch-hike north-east. After I'd walked a few kilometres, I was picked up by my boss's wife who found me having an in-depth conversation with a paraglider - she took me home - being just a little concerned about my welfare!
Thirty minutes later I was back on the road, and to my surprise got picked up pretty quick and taken all the way to my destination. A visit to a Konbini for more beer was followed by my joining the huge party in Odori Koen, with dancing in the fountains and all (quite a novel site for Japan!). I had a lot of fun, and sang far too much as my throat can now vouch for.
The next thing I remember is being woken at 6am the following morning by a waiter in a restaurant that I'd visited with Adam 3 weeks ago. I have no idea how I got there, or what I did. My bill only came to about five pounds so I guess I must have passed out at my table soon after sitting down.
I was still drunk at 8pm the following day, and even now by body is telling me that I overdid it. To top it all off I've got a picture of a jet-powered high-heeled-shoe-car bought by my teacher Roy Allen, stuck in my head. In fact he had two of them, one right foot one left foot, each seating three. That was in a dream by the way...
I'm writing today from my boss's good old bus, as we head back to Niseko having spent the day in Otaru (2 hours north of home) attempting to apply for my work visa. Having recently received my university graduation documents (I've got a certificate in Tourism and Hospitality management) I'm now eligable for one. The application process is quite long-winded, especially so for the employer who amongst other things has to figure out how much revenue my employment will generate for the Japanese economy.
The rice paddys are now a lovely fresh green colour. I like rice paddys.
II shouldn't have bought that carton of cocoa at the convenience store back there. I know what my boss's driving is like. I might be sick out of the window in a minute.
I spent the whole of yesterday afternoon singing Björk, Moby and Doves whilst strimming the grass around our tennis courts. It was such a relaxing experience. You know, cutting grass is one of those mind-holiday jobs, where you can completely switch off and daydream. I don't daydream much these days as I often have my Net MD (Minidisc Walkman) on - listening to my self-made "Learn Japanese" recordings. The owner bought me a new 4-stroke strimmer this week as the old one kept on overheating. This sexy machine won't take any nonsense - say goodbye to the forever-needing-to-be-replaced nylon cord, and say hello to the big steel circular saw! Cuts through anything, including telephone wires... woops...
Speaking of Björk: I wanted to tell you how much I love her. I only have a copy of Vespertime here at Milky House (copies of other albums warmly welcomed, address here ), but I find that listening to it really lets my mind off the leash. It reminds me that we are free. I also love Björk because she resembles my girlfriend, and I love my girlfriend very much.
Friday 21st June 2002 - 20:34(GMT+9) Niseko, Japan
I bought a new shaver today. The instructions for replacing the rechargeable batteries are a little confusing:
For a week now I've had a picture of Roy Allen's new car stuck in my head - ever since the image came to me last Monday in one of my many mad dreams (see above). Every morning I wake up and it's the first thing I see. When doing the washing up, the grease swirls around to create a perfect high-heeled shoe shape. The strimmer I've been using reminds me of the jet engine that powers my teacher and friend's fantastic new means of transportation.
There's only way out: I'm going to have to share my masterplan with the world.
Has anyone seen this shoe?
Introducing my new friend, Hanachan.
Hanachan, a 22-year-old 50cc moped, has been having the pleasure of carrying me around western Hokkaido recently. With a top speed of about 35kmp/h she really is not to be messed with. She even overtook a very slow tractor whilst going downhill at the weekend.
She actually belongs to my friend Eiko, who felt sorry for me as I was the only one in the house without a means of transport, other than the "Power Shovel" which only has a top speed of 4kmp/h. Thankfully in Japan the only documentation needed to ride a mean machine such as Hanachan is a standard driver's licence.
The thing that surprised me most as I explored the local area was just how many dead ends there are around here. I'd be going down some huge road expecting to roll into the next town, when suddenly the tarmac would turn into a field full of rice. Either that or a tunnel such as this one.
Don't I just look like the coolest biker in the world? I bet you wouldn't like to meet me on a dark night down some narrow lane...
Chances are if you did I'd be pushing Hanachan home having run out of fuel.
World Cup final day.
Last night I decided to do something I've never done before: gamble.
I mean, I've played various lotteries, I've bought raffle tickets and I've shaken dice in a bid to win a car, but last night was the first time that I've placed bets on the outcome of a game such as football.
Not really having a clue what I was doing, I placed 11 bets in all using www.tote.co.uk, the online betting company. Most bets were for either 5 or 10 pounds, and altogether they totalled 80 pounds. I'm hoping that after ninety minutes the score will be 3 - 3, as the odds on that happening are 80/1! Failing that, I'll have Germany ahead at half time and Brazil winning, or vice versa - the odds of either of those happening are 28/1.
I'm expecting to lose most if not all of the money that I gambled. I'll keep you posted.