I'm living in Kusatsu-shi, Shiga-ken for an undetermined amount of time and teaching English as a second language at a local high school. This journal is to document my experiences, thoughts, and to stay connected with others at home and abroad.

Wednesday, August 09, 2006

Two long days in Tokyo!

Hisashiburi (Long time no see!) Sorry for allowing my exciting updates to reach a stalemate. Things were really crazy since I arrived in Tokyo a little over a week ago. I was a bit under the weather after running around one of the world's largest cities from 6am-7 or 10pm back-to-back days. This of course required skipping almost every preparatory meeting that JET mandated, but I managed to get by without it. The one meeting I attended they gave everyone books on the following topics: US economics, US history, US geography, and US politics. It's hilarious that they expect us to teach our students all of the things we never learned ourselves––isn't that a kicker?!
So instead of being bored with guidelines and expectation I ran a full marathon each day exploring with Katie, who came to visit on a few days holiday. Here's a rundown of our travels. For those following on a map we stayed in the $400/night Keio Plaza Hotel in Shinjiku courtesy of the JET Program.

Imagine reading this without the English!

Tsukiji Fish Market
This is one of the largest fish markets in the world. I've included a link to the official site for anyone who wants more technical info. It was so much fun to wander around and see Tuna bigger than me being severed with hacksaws!! We had to wake up at 5am in order to get there in time for the good show––the gutting, the cleaning, and the eating! One fishmonger was so friendly and gave us an entire bag of sweet shrimp (amai ebi) FOR FREE! It was a dream come true! After going to a nearby grocery and purchasing some rice, wasabi, and shouyu (soy sauce), I was having the best raw breakfast of my life!!! I recommend it but watch out for flying fish and guys driving mean carts in a hurry to pick up fresh orders.

Harajuku - Ukiyo-e Ota Memorial Museum of Art
Ukiyo-e are the woodblock prints famous between the early-18th and mid-19th centuries. Katsushika Hokusai is one of the most renowned artists during this period. I have also added a link to this museum's webpage that can better describe and display the exhibit Katie and I visited as we were not allowed to take photographs. One thing I found interesting is how surreal and impressionistic many of the carvings are, and how this movement toward subjectivity commenced earlier in Japanese art than in the West. Also interesting to learn was that often paper used to package contrabands traded between Europe and Japan before the Meiji period (beginning in the late 1860s when the Emperor opened upon Japan to foreigners permanently) had ukiyo-e prints on them, and that these were prized by many western impressionist-oriented progressionists. Very interesting to see how these influences interplayed even when the gates were apparently "closed".

We visited the Imperial Palace as well. It was a nice respite in the city-core from all of the buildings and traffic. Very serene, very cleansing. I respect this attempt by the Japanese to balance metropolitanism with respect to nature and gardens. When my feet were tiring of the pavement I found a small forest to rest from mess.
The last mentionable sight we slammed into our days was a private dinner at the Ninja Akasaka. It was a somewhat goofy but entertaining restaurant full of magic tricks performed by real ninjas (WINK-WINK) and five or six courses (I lost count with all of the ninjas running around). It was a little expensive but a fun date. The food was light and very traditional, including sushi and nabe (a kind of curry soup with spinach). There was one part I'm still not sure about––an eggplant "shooter" in some kind of red sauce that was actually served in a shot glass. It felt a bit strange going down though, I thought it might be octopus or something less digestible. But we survived so it's safe.

Well, enough, but I will soon post details on school life and why it's keeping me too busy to write more.


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