Thursday, November 30, 2006

Show 211 Thursday 30 November

Watch today's show at YouTube or BlipTV.

Hi, I’m Sarah. Welcome to The Daily English Show.
Someone sent me a message asking about tatami and I’ve also read a few comments asking asking about tatami ... so I thought I’d talk about it today.
As it says in wikipedia: Tatami mats are a traditional Japanese flooring. Made of woven straw, and traditionally packed with straw (though nowadays sometimes with styrofoam).
It also says: Most modern Japanese homes still have at least one tatami room, the washitsu.
I really like tatami but not everybody does. One of my students built a house this year – and he said that they decided not to have any tatami rooms and I asked him why not and he said that he likes tatami but it’s kind of hard to look after so they decided against it.
And one of the things I think is interesting about Japan is that the measuring system for rooms is different. So, in NZ people talk about the size of a room in square meters but in Japan it’s by tatami-size.
For example my old room in Tokyo was a six mat room or roku jyou. It didn’t have tatami - it had a wooden floor - but you still talk about the size like that.


Kia ora in Stick News today while Americans celebrated Thanksgiving Day on another part of the globe thanks were also being given for the internet.

Thanksgiving Day was celebrated by millions of people in North America today. In Japan major celebrations were also underway after a package arrived at tdes studio.
The Daily English Show staff weren’t expecting to be able to connect to the internet until the 5th of December.
But a few moments after tearing into this box these magic lights signaled that tdes staff were back amongst civilization.
The Daily English Show’s producer especially enjoys the opportunity for intellectual stimulation the internet offers and rushed to catch up on the latest world news.

The Daily English Show is now scheduled for regular daily uploads. However the production team announced today that due to circumstances such as exceptional snow conditions throughout winter there may be occasional delays in the production of the show.
And that was Stick News for Thursday the 30th of November.
Kia Ora.

the snow report

Today it snowed quite a lot. We cleared the snow in the afternoon. I wrote tdes in the snow. The t was easy but the rest of the letters didn’t come out so well.
And this is my other great piece of art. I hope it’s not illegal to trample in the snow on someone else’s property.
I think the mountain is going to open tomorrow. Excellent!

conversations with sarah
#125 Do you have any rooms with tatami in your place?

Step 1: Repeat Luke’s lines.
Step 2: Read Luke’s lines and talk to Sarah.

Luke Do you have any rooms with tatami in your place?

Sarah Yeah, there are three. I’ll show you if you like.

Luke OK, thanks.

Sarah This room has 6 mats so it’s called roku jyo in Japanese.

Luke The tatami looks a bit old.

Sarah Yeah, it is. It’s not too bad though. There was one really bad one that the landlord replaced before we moved in.

Luke Wow, I wouldn’t want to sleep on that.

Sarah Yeah. Come upstairs. I’ll show you the rooms up there. We haven’t done any cleaning upstairs so it’s still pretty dirty. This room has 6 mats, so it’s the same size as the room downstairs, 6 jyo.

Luke Oh, OK.

Sarah And this one has 8 mats.

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Show 210 Wednesday 29 November

Watch today's show at YouTube or BlipTV.

Hi, I’m Sarah. Welcome to The Daily English Show.
When we went to Sapporo we bought a couple of heaters and I also bought this ... this is Totoro. Totoro is a character from the movie Miyazaki Hayao movie Tonari no Totoro. Which I think is called My Neighbour Totoro in English.
It’s one of my favourite Miyazaki movies. I also liked Sen to Chihiro no Kamikakushi which is called Sprited Away in English. And also Mimi o Sumaseba ... which I can’t remember the English name of ... and no internet to check.
Today’s questionanswer features Totoro.


Kia ora in Stick News today we bring you a special investigation into the real reason behind the relocation of The Daily English Show headquarters from Tokyo to Hokkaido.
Some fans have suggested the move was made to escape constant harassment from the paparazzi. However the truth may surprise you.

When The Daily English Show started the producer dreamed of scaling the dizzying heights of internet fame. Later the daydreams turned to world domination and untold wealth.
Scraping together pennies from English teaching, the producer hired a team of consultants to help realize her dreams.
After receiving well-researched but ridiculous advice the consultants were fired and it was time for plan B.
Due to budget constraints the billboard campaign was also scrapped and plan B ended up being walking around Shibuya wearing a hand-made cardboard sign.
The producer got this fantastic idea after seeing old men in Ikebukuro standing on street corners wearing sandwich boards.
Finding someone to film the promotional event proved to be a major obstacle. There seems to be a significant stigma attached to walking the streets wearing a sandwich board. Finally a cameraperson was found and the event was filmed without hitch.
The results of the promotion weren’t quite as expected.
And The Daily English Show producer decided to pack up her belongings and escape to the north of Japan where people still live in straw huts and don’t have TV or the internet.

Despite the dismal results of the sandwich board campaign The Daily English Show producer has kept the sign and is rumoured to be location scouting for second attempt.
And that was Stick News for Wednesday the 29th of November.
Kia ora.

the snow report

This morning it rained. Then it started to snow at around half past ten.
The snowflakes got bigger and bigger. They were about 2 centermeters in diameter.
By the evening there was a nice layer of snow on the footpath.

conversations with sarah
# 124 What on earth made you do that?

Step 1: Repeat Natalie’s lines.
Step 2: Read Natalie’s lines and talk to Sarah.

Natalie I can’t believe you walked around Shibuya wearing a cardboard sign. What on earth made you do that?

Sarah I just thought it would be kind of fun ... and it would make a good story.

Natalie Did people stare at you?

Sarah Maybe. I don’t know I was trying really hard to keep a straight face so I just looked upward and tried to think of boring things.

Natalie Did anyone ask what you were doing?

Sarah No.

Natalie How long did you do it for?

Sarah Only about 10 minutes.

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Show 209 Tuesday 28 November

Watch today’s show at YouTube or BlipTV.

Hi, I’m Sarah. Welcome to The Daily English Show. I have a copy of the Niseko Trail Map for this season.
The mountain is called Niseko An’nupuri and it’s 1308 meters high and there are four areas: An’nupuri, Higashiyama, Hirafu and Hanazono. You can buy passes for all the areas or just one area. I’ve never been to An’nupuri or Higashiyama because last year when we came we just bought passes just for the Grand Hirafu area which is Hirafu and Hanazono.
Today’s questionanswer is about Niseko.


Kia ora in Stick News today desperate times for The Daily English Show – the lack of the internet has forced the staff to work in the streets.

The Daily English Show has just moved into one of the most stylish buildings in Kutchan.
Newly refurbished, the studio now boasts flawless paintwork and a breathtaking instillation piece.
The furniture even features artwork by local up and coming artists.
Just moments after moving in, there was free-flowing gas, electricity and even water ... the only element missing was the internet.
In the following days tdes staff desperately searched Kutchan for a place to use the internet... finally finding what seemed like the perfect place to upload.
But staff were shocked when they returned the following day with laptops to find the bar had taken an inexplicable off day.
In a sterling show of dedication, the show’s producer then sat in freezing temperatures in the street to upload.

And that was Stick News for Tuesday the 28th of November.
Kia ora.

the snow report

Sadly, it didn’t snow today. It started raining at night time. This is the view from my bedroom window.

conversations with sarah
# 123 Where’ve you been uploading the show?

Step 1: Repeat Megan’s lines.
Step 2: Read Megan’s lines and talk to Sarah.

Megan So, where’ve you been uploading the show?

Sarah Mmm, various places. A hotel let us use the net in their restaurant one day even though we weren’t customers. That was nice.

Megan And you used it in the street yesterday?

Sarah Yeah, I found this bar that has wireless LAN so we went to use the internet – but it was closed for some reason.

Megan So you just used it in the street ...

Sarah Yeah.

Megan Was the connection OK?

Sarah Yeah, it was really fast.

Monday, November 27, 2006

Show 208 Monday 27 November

Watch today’s show at YouTube or BlipTV.

Hi, I’m Sarah. Welcome to The Daily English Show. So, this is the first regular show in this new place. It’s been almost a month since I’ve talked to the camera ... so it feels kind of strange.
It’s really cool having this great space after living in a tiny room in Tokyo for 4 years. And the place is looking pretty good I think. Thanks to the great second hand shop and also thanks to the landlord’s daughter ... I don’t know what her name is but she lent us some stuff like tables and shelves ...
I had a really good time on the trip here from Tokyo so thanks for watching the videos and thanks for your comments. And thank you for the happy birthday comments. And thank you so much Cristina for the video ... it’s awesome. I love it.
So The Daily English Show is going to continue in pretty much the same style as before ... with one addition: The Snow Report. When the mountain opens that’ll be the conditions on the ski field... but for now it’s just the conditions outside my window.
And we still don’t have the net ... so don’t expect any exciting international news this week. It’ll probably be just random news from the neighbourhood or my imagination.


Kia ora in Stick News today The Daily English Show has started broadcasting from its new premises in Hokkaido.

When the Daily English Show started it was produced in a tiny one room apartment in Kurihara.
From humble beginnings just seven months ago the show now has a massive international audience, a star-studded cast and has relocated to the booming snow resort of Niseko, Hokkaido. tdes beat out a pack of ruthless Australian developers to secure prime real estate opposite the North Kutchan post office.
With a google buyout imminent investors rushed to back the venture and poured millions of yen into renovating the classic building.
In the last week cleaners, designers and decorators have been working around the clock to prepare the tdes headquarters ready for the grand opening on December 1st.
Classic features like the old-school bath and antique lino still remain while fresh paint and tar removal have added a more hygienic dimension to the building.
Today the show was ready to start broadcasting.
On Friday doors will open to the public and fans will be able to meet the show’s presenter. Limited edition tdes merchandise will also be available later in the month.

Uploading of The Daily English show will continue to be irregular for another week thanks to the slow service of NTT and yahoo. And that was Stick News for Monday the 27th of November. Kia ora.

the snow report

It didn’t snow today. It was cloudy. There’s some ice on the part of the footpath that doesn’t get much sun and behind our house there is some snow because this place is always in the shade.

conversations with sarah
# 122 Have you been snowboarding yet?

Step 1: Repeat Kirk’s lines.
Step 2: Read Kirk’s lines and talk to Sarah.

Kirk Have you been snowboarding yet?

Sarah No, the mountain isn’t open.

Kirk I thought you said the season started on the 23rd of November.

Sarah Yeah, it does ... but there’s not enough snow, so the mountain hasn’t opened yet.

Kirk Oh. When do you think it’ll open?

Sarah I don’t know. Depends on when it snows.

Kirk Did it snow today?

Sarah No, it didn’t. And it didn’t snow yesterday either.

Sunday, November 26, 2006

#207 Day 26: Kutchan - Another Bar Crawl

Watch today's show at YouTube or BlipTV.

The Road to Hokkaido Tour 2006
Day 26: Kutchan

Last night we went on our second bar crawl to see how pumping Kutchan would be on a Saturday night. In Japanese bar crawl is hashigo. Hashigo also means ladder.

First we went to an izakaya called Samurai. We were the only customers. I liked their noren … but I didn’t think Beatles music really fitted the style of the place.

Then I saw a sign saying foreign drink ... which I thought was pretty funny so we went in there. The owner was a nice guy – turns out he’s a friend of our landlords. The bar has been open for more than thirty years. I think the place would be improved a lot if the bar stools were re-covered and the drinks were a bit cheaper.

Next we went to Exceed. Two guys were walking in just as we were and we ended up sitting with them. They were firefighters. Cool. One of them looked like Atsushi from London Boots. Atsushi is one of the first Japanese celebrities I fell for ...

The last bar was the most lively of all the bars we went to.
It was called Nozomi two and seemed to have hostesses and hosts. Interesting.

Today I did some more setting up. Thanks to this heater this room is now warm. And we even have a kotatsu ... thanks to the landlord’s daughter who lent it to us. A kotatsu is a kind of small table with a heater underneath. Comfy.

Saturday, November 25, 2006

#206 Day 25: Kutchan - Making Christmas Decorations

Watch today's show at YouTube or BlipTV.

The Road to Hokkaido Tour 2006
Day 25: Kutchan

Today one of our neighbours came over to say hello and she said she was worried that someone might have died because of our window display.
That’s when I learnt something new about Japanese funeral style. When someone dies people hang a kind of straw mat in the window with the dead person’s name on it.

I quickly took the straw mat down and we sorted out some better curtains. We bought a curtain rod and some material at the second-hand shop and some clips at the hardware shop.

I also made some Christmas decorations today.
I made some trees out of a cardboard box and some tinfoil.
I bought some Christmas lights and hung them in the window in the shape of a star.

Friday, November 24, 2006

#205 Day 24: Sapporo

Watch today's show at YouTube or BlipTV.

The Road to Hokkaido Tour 2006
Day 24: Sapporo

Today we went to Sapporo to pick up two heaters we bought on the net.

We drove through Otaru where we saw some people surfing. Surfing in the snow… crazy.

We had lunch at Shojin restaurant Yo. It was really good.

Just as we were leaving papparazi stormed the place with TV cameras. The staff must have tipped them off.

It was snowing heavily in Sapporo. Looks like some cars had been sliding around a bit. We bought this map book at the convenience store and managed to find our way to pick up the heaters.

Then we went to a few shops by Sapporo station and then it was time to come home again.

We had dinner at Pepesale. Pretty much standard Japanese Italian chainstore food ... although I’ve never seen cornflakes on salad before.

#204 Day 23: Kutchan - Clearing Snow For The First Time

Watch today' s show at YouTube or BlipTV.

The Road to Hokkaido Tour 2006
Day 23: Kutchan

I didn’t think the mountain would be open today – because there’s not enough show but I thought I’d ring and check just in case. I rang Grand Hirafu. I spoke English because I wanted to check how much English they could speak.
It felt kind of funny launching into English after she’d just answered the phone in Japanese – but this is a resort with lots of English-speaking tourists and I guess that’s what they do.
She answered my first question OK – I asked if the mountain was open and she said that it wasn’t. Then I asked when she thought it would be open and she answered something like: “No, it isn’t open today” ... so I guess that’s a bit of an indication of the level of English. Basic information is available ... and for anything more it probably depends on which operator you get.

Today it snowed in the morning and we decided to clear the snow in front of the shop for the first time. This is what the landlord said we have to do everyday – but before there wasn’t really enough snow to bother.

We went to a shop called Homac to buy a few more things for the house.

Then we decided to go and buy our season tickets. When we got there we found that if we’d booked the tickets on the net in August or September we would’ve got a big discount. Bummer. Ah well.

We also found out that we needed to show some ID when we buy the tickets and I forgot to bring mine. So the whole ticket buying mission failed miserably. Oh well ... it’s not like we need them yet anyway.

Thursday, November 23, 2006

#203 Day 22: Kutchan - We Are Not Alone ...

Watch today's show at YouTube or BlipTV.

The Road to Hokkaido Tour 2006
Day 22: Kutchan

I discovered a few things in the last few days.
Firstly, Kutchan has a t when written in English. I’ve been spelling it without a t for a while. I don’t think it really needs a t ... but it seems to be fairly well established so I’m not going to mess with it.

Secondly, the season doesn’t start on December 1st like I thought it did. It starts on November the 23rd. So, theoretically, we could be snowboarding from tomorrow. Although that doesn’t seem likely. There’s not enough snow.

The third discovery I made was when, suddenly, at about 8 o’clock at night, there was a knock on our kitchen window.
The man outside announced that he was living upstairs and could we please turn the music down. We were so surprised because we had no idea that anyone was living upstairs.
When we moved in the landlord explained that the shop next door was empty but he didn’t say anything else about anyone else living in the building. We assumed that there were two shops and that was it.
Because we thought our neighbours are mostly far away and are mostly shops or bars we’d started planning some great parties we’d have and had even bought some new speakers with extra strong bass. We’d been enjoying cranking the music too – thinking that we weren’t bothering anyone.
Well ... there goes our party plans I guess.

NTT came this morning and now we have a phone line. But yahoo are even slower than NTT and are going to take more than a week to give us the internet.
Mmm so slow.

We went back to the second-hand shop today to get some more stuff. The people at that shop are really nice and gave us some stuff for free.
Then I started setting up the studio. I decided I want a bit of privacy when I’m setting up so hung some material in the windows. Actually I might get some curtains because otherwise all the heat’s going to keep flying out the windows ... I also put a sign in the window: tdes studio and office. Opens from 1st December 2006.

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

#202 Day 21: Kutchan - First Bar Crawl

Watch today's show at YouTube or BlipTV.

The Road to Hokkaido Tour 2006
Day 21: Kutchan

There are a lot of cool bars in Hirafu because it’s a resort village. But most of the people staying at the hotels in Hirafu don’t come down to Kutchan so the bars here aren’t really aimed at tourists. And Kutchan is a pretty small town, so I wasn’t expecting much when we went out last night. Some izakayas, a few old snack bars ... that’s about it.
I was genuinely surprised by what we found ... there were some cool places after all.

A few doors down from our place we went into a building which had several small bars inside. The only bar which sounded lively was the Korean one on the third floor. But we listened at the door and the only sounds were of old men singing and young women giggling so it was a definitely a hostess bar.

Next door there was another building full of bars. First we went into Bagus café. This was an Asian restaurant. In Japan when people say Asian they usually mean what I would call South East Asian – Thailand, Vietnam, Indonesia etc with a little bit of whatever else that seems to fit the style thrown in ... Polynesia, South America ...
I liked the design of Bagus café but I think they need to study up on their l’s and r’s.

Next we decided to go into Vincent Valentain. The reason we went inside was because it said “shot bar” on the sign. Shot bar basically means it’s not a hostess bar, snack bar or izakaya. When I opened the door I almost shut it again quickly and ran away. It looked like it was a hostess bar after all ... but the bartender was male so maybe it wasn’t ...

The bartender must’ve smiled signaling that it was safe to enter because we ended up going inside and sitting at the bar.
I ended up really liking this place. It turns out it is a regular bar – just with very odd decorations. It looks like a love hotel but it’s so bizarre that I liked it. And I really liked the bartender – he was so friendly. He said the name of the bar was from a character in Final Fantasy number 3 I think he said it was... I can’t quite remember.

Next we went into Be.
This bar had the smallest and wonkiest pool table I’ve ever seen, a dart board, a screen playing a movie.
There were some other customers there too – but they weren’t very friendly and neither was the bartender.

And then by the time we got to the final bar I’d had too many drinks to remember to take any photos. But anyway, I’ll definitely go back there. The bartender was really nice and friendly ... she even gave me a birthday present. I was pretty happy about that.
I think the bar was called Eddy which she said means something about rafting.

And today I did some more cleaning. Some people on YouTube asked what cleaner I was using. First we bought this cleaner. It’s called “Magic Clean”. That quickly ran out and we bought this one called “abura yogore senzai”. It’s cheaper than “Magic Clean” but seems to work just as well. I didn’t actually look closely at the cleaner before I saw those comments on YouTube. My boyfriend just said “this is the strongest one” and put it in the basket. It turns out it’s oven cleaner.
As for being all natural ... definitely not. I think if I used these cleaners with the windows closed I would be dead by now.
Ideally the people living here before would’ve cleaned regularly and it wouldn’t need these strong chemicals. I think they might’ve been smokers and that stuff oozing off the walls is tar from tobacco. Mmm lovely.

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

#201 Day 20: Kutchan - More Painting and Cleaning

Watch today's show at YouTube or BlipTV.

The Road to Hokkaido Tour 2006
Day 20: Kutchan

Today is my 28th birthday. I celebrated by painting the studio and cleaning the toilet.

I suppose I could have taken the day off and chilled out – but this place is still too dirty to chill out in. I like relaxing in a clean house.
I wouldn’t exactly call myself a clean freak ... but I definitely like the layer of dirt in my house to be less than a centimeter thick.

We did the second coat of paint today. Luckily there was just enough paint. It’s not perfect and if a professional looked at it they might not be impressed ... but I think it looks pretty good ... and it’s definitely a big improvement.

Now the walls look good – but as for the floor ... mmm ... this lino is full of holes and really needs replacing. But that would cost a lot so I thought I’d just scrub it and see how it looks.

It looks OK scrubbed. Sweet. No-one looks at the floor anyway and at least we don’t have to worry about damaging the lino. We can drag the furniture about as much as we want.

I was pretty exhausted after a day of scrubbing and painting. Mmm nice clean floor.

We don’t have any friends in Niseko yet and it would be a bit sad to have a party with just two people, so we’re going to go on a bit of a bar crawl tonight and check out Kutchan. I don’t know how happening this town is going to be on a Monday night ... but I’m sure it will be fun.

Monday, November 20, 2006

#200 Day 19: Kutchan - 200th Show Special!

Watch today's show at YouTube or BlipTV.

The Road to Hokkaido Tour 2006
Day 19: Kuchan

Today we painted the studio ... shop ... office ... mmm not quite sure what to call it yet – anyway, we painted this room. This is the stuff we used.

I’m the most experienced painter out of the two of us ... but I’m still not exactly sure how to do everything properly ... I would have looked up painting tips on the net ... but we don’t have the internet yet.

Anyway I think we did a pretty good job. Yesterday we cleaned the walls and I filled in the holes. Today we sanded, put tape around everything ... then painted the edges with brushes. Hair kept falling out of the brushes. I wonder if this was because it was a useless brush, or because we should have done something to prepare it before we used it or because I bought the wrong kind of brush ... when I was buying the stuff it didn’t really occur to me that there might have been different kinds of brushes for different kinds of paint ... I just bought one that looked about the right size.

The room looks so much better even after one coat.

Tomorrow we’re going to do another coat. I hope we have enough paint because the paint shop is closed for the next three days.

After painting I did some more cleaning. I cleaned the space between the kitchen and the bathroom. It definitely needed a bit of a clean.

We bought a box of mandarins to celebrate the 200th show. Mandarins are called mikan in Japanese. Sometimes when you buy a box of mikan half of them taste bad.
But we were lucky this time – they were really tasty. Thanks to the efforts of these people.

I put some mikan in the blender with some ice and vodka. Cheers to 200 shows!

Saturday, November 18, 2006

#199 Day 18: Kutchan - Shopping and Painting Preparation

Watch today's show at YouTube or BlipTV.

The Road to Hokkaido Tour 2006
Day 18: Kuchan

Today we finished off the room next to the kitchen and moved the stuff from the shop in there. Then we started preparing the shop. We’re going to use the shop space for a studio and office.
I’m going to film the Daily English Show there. If anyone walks past they’ll be able to see me. Not that anyone really walks past here. Maybe one or two people a day. Everyone drives. It’s too cold to walk.
I have almost run out of money after not working over summer and then moving to Hokkaido so it’s time to start doing some work for money. I don’t think Hokkaido is a very good place to start living under a bridge.

The office is going to open on the first of December and I’m going to do some private English lessons – in person and over the internet as well as offer services like translating and re-writing.

I did a bit of translating and editing in Tokyo and enjoyed it – so I’m looking forward to doing some more of it.
And there seems to be a demand for it with all the Australian tourists in Niseko.
We’re planning to go snowboarding in the mornings and then be here working in the afternoons. So if you’re in Niseko this winter, please come in and say hello.

There’s a great second-hand shop in Niseko and we went there today to see what we could find for the place. We need a bit of furniture and some appliances. We came away with quite a haul.

Then we bought some stuff to paint the studio. I’m going to paint it pure white like the Aomori Museum of Art.
When we got back from the shopping mission I filled in some holes. Tomorrow morning is sanding time.

Friday, November 17, 2006

#198 Day 17: Kutchan - Extreme Filth!

Watch today's show at YouTube or BlipTV.

The Road to Hokkaido Tour 2006
Day 17: Kuchan

Warning: This video contains disturbing footage of extreme filth. Viewer discretion is advised.

Last night after we finished moving in it started snowing properly ... what great timing. We’re so lucky we weren’t house hunting or moving in the snow.

We slept in the kitchen last night because it was the only clean room. Today we took it easy after yesterday’s major cleaning effort. I caught up on some editing. But didn’t upload anything.

NTT owns all the phone lines and they’re major sloths. They take at least a week to connect the phone line. Then it takes about another 10 days for an internet company to set up a connection. So we won’t have the internet for a while.
Today’s cleaning mission was the room next to the kitchen. It was really filthy.

Thursday, November 16, 2006

#197 Day 16: Kutchan - Moving In

Watch today's show at YouTube or BlipTV.

The Road to Hokkaido Tour 2006
Day 16: Kuchan

After we checked out of the apartment we went to the supermarket to buy stuff for lunch and cleaning products. We ran into the owner of our new place who said we could move in anytime – even though we’d originally said 1pm. He’s a cool guy. I’m glad we have a nice landlord.

We went to the house and the gas man was there setting up the gas. He was really nice too and explained a lot of things to us – about the heating system and to how to empty the water pipes if you’re going to be away from the house for a few days.
My boyfriend is a city boy – born and raised in Tokyo so he doesn’t know about these things either. The guys laughed when he asked how to clear snow.

First we moved everything into the shop from the car. This is the mountain of stuff we brought from Tokyo. And this what bongo-chan looks like with no stuff inside.

This place has a shop, a big kitchen/dining area and 4 tatami rooms. It has a regular flush toilet which is quite nice ... some of the other places we looked at had long drops ... there is no shower, just this old school bath. You have to fill it up and then heat the water. Cool.

Usually when you move into an apartment in Japan you have to pay a lot of money in fees – but we didn’t have to pay any.
Although this wasn’t surprising given the place was really dirty.

At 2pm we started on the cleaning mission.
We spent 6 hours scrubbing one room.
We scrubbed the walls, the doors the cupboards and the floor.

The owner said the last tenant was here for 30 years – so this dirt was probably 30 years old … but I’m sure some of it dated back to the Jormon period.
The walls were a dirty light brown colour ... but I was amazed at how clean they came thanks to this magic cleaner and a bit of scrubbing.

Tomorrow’s mission is to attack the other rooms with detergent and scrubbing brushes.

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

#196 Day 15: Hirafu

Watch today's show at YouTube or BlipTV.

I don’t know exactly when or why it started but recently there has been an Australian boom in Niseko.
I came here for the first time last year. I stayed for two weeks over Christmas and new year. I was so surprised at how many Australians there were and how many businesses were run by Australians. In some of the shops we went into the staff couldn’t speak Japanese and the menus were English only which was quite bizarre.
We stayed at a lodge which was a reasonable price. But we walked past these expensive-looking apartments where Australian tourists were staying.
I was curious to see what they were like inside.
Before we got here this year I was looking on the net for a place to stay before we moved in to our new place and I thought I would check the price of these luxury apartments.

I was surprised to find that we could stay at the Fresh Powder apartments for 8000 yen a night – about the same price as a business hotel.
I rang and checked that it wasn’t 8000 yen per person. The apartment manager was really friendly – that was nice, and a bit of a culture shock too ... because Japanese hotel staff are almost always formal.
When I saw the room last night I instantly wanted to give in 10 stars ... even though my rating system goes up to 5 stars.
These apartments are amazing. I wouldn’t mind living here for the whole season. But 8000 yen a night is only the November price – and the mountain doesn’t open until the first of December ... so there is probably no point in staying there in November unless you’re looking for a house like us.
I think this kind of place probably wouldn’t suit a lot of people – if you stay in a resort hotel there is a nice bath and restaurants, bars, and shops .. so you never have to leave the hotel.
But for us it was perfect. We could cook, do laundry, use the net. And since we didn’t need to do any sightseeing it was a perfect place to relax for the day.

It ended up loosing points after I saw the dust in the corners, draws, window ledges. There was even a bug. Hello. Also the fan above the stove didn’t work – although the manager said we could just knock on the door if we needed anything ... but I couldn’t bothered since we were only staying for two nights.

The apartment seemed to be for English speakers only, since all the information is in English. Although, oddly enough, the no smoking sign was also in Chinese.

And “Australian Women’s weekly” was written on the bottom of the frying pan which I thought was kind of funny. The Australian Women’s Weekly is a kind of trashy women’s magazine. I wondered if the owner had got this in a free giveaway.

Still, this place gets 9 stars – the best place we stayed on this whole trip. Gold medal.

We relaxed at the apartment most of the day ... did some editing ... watched the construction workers opposite the apartment. I have a bit of a construction worker fetish so I was pretty happy about this.
They worked until about 10 o’clock at night so I thought they must be in a hurry to finish. This morning I saw the sign which said January 2007 open.
They had a meeting in the morning before they started work.
We talked to one of the workers. He was from Sapporo and he said that the owner of the land and the building is Japanese. Half of these apartments have been sold. Most people who bought them are from Hong Kong, Taiwan and Australia. You can still buy a 2LDK furnished apartment 35,000,000 yen.
He said there was a bubble in Hirafu and land is now selling for 4 times the price it was a few years ago.
I guess some people are making a lot of money right now ... but I wonder about the people who are left with these overpriced apartments when the bubble bursts.

We drove around Hirafu a bit and took some photos. It looked so different than when I came last year and everything was covered in snow.
The information center still had the same signs as last year.

Most of the shops seem to be opening on the first of December – the same day as the mountain. Can’t wait.

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

#195 Day 14: Kutchan to Hirafu

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The Road to Hokkaido Tour 2006
Day 14: Kuchan to Hirafu

Last night we stayed at Niseko Weis Hotel. It’s a 15 minute drive from Kuchan.
The ski season hasn’t started, so, not surprisingly we were almost the only people in the hotel. The room was nothing special – I liked the room at Towada better. I did like these pajama-type things they had instead of yukata.

The restaurants weren’t open – you had to ask in advance if you wanted to eat there - so we had to drive back to Kuchan to get something to eat.

The hotel was big and empty and outside was pitch black ... scenes from Hollywood movies started flashing through my head.

There was something slightly odd about two guys at the front. In Japan when you bow for a few seconds too long it stops being polite.
Maybe they were just nervous because we were their first customers. Or maybe they were cutting the phone lines as we were getting ready for bed ...

When I went into the bath there was one pair of slippers but the owner of the slippers didn’t appear for ages. It was raining and there was water dripping from the ceiling ...
It was kind of creepy.

But the lotenburo was great. There’s nothing like slipping naked into a hot bath while looking out at the snow.
We had another bath in the morning and there were no other people so we took some more photos.

Today we started looking for a place to live. We went to the information center, a few real estate agencies, the city office and drove around looking for posters on houses.

We stopped to have lunch and coffee by this potato field.

First we looked at an apartment. It was a 3DK for 64,000 yen a month. Next we saw a house. Before they would show it to us they asked us so many questions that I thought it must have been a really nice house and they were worried about the tenants destroying it.
But when I saw it I was like what… it was so run down that I was surprised it was still standing. House number three wasn’t much better.

Then I saw a poster on a shop and I thought “cool ... let’s live in a shop!” We rang the number and the woman on the phone said “mmm I don’t think it’s a very good place to live ...” but she was really cool and quickly came and showed it to us anyway.
She was right, it wasn’t a good place to live – it was just a shop, toilet, kitchen, no bathroom ... and no rooms out the back.
But it got me started dreaming about living in a shop. Hmm what kind of shop should I open?
My boyfriend told me to stop daydreaming and keep looking for signs because we were still homeless and the prospects weren’t looking good.
We were originally planning to live in Hirafu near the ski field. But according to the people at the information center – all the property in Hirafu has been snapped up by Australian developers.
So we changed our mind and started looking in Kuchan. Kuchan is about a 10 minute drive from Hirafu. It’s a small town with all the usual – train station, supermarkets, post office, banks ... Hirafu is just a resort town with bars, restaurants, and hotels... So it’s probably more convenient to live in Kuchan.
We got this list from the city office of people who have houses to rent. We rang them one by one and they all said full, full, full until one woman said her place wasn’t available but she knew one that was.

Thanks to her we found a place to live! And it’s a shop. It’s perfect. Just like my daydream. We’re going to move in on Thursday.

#194 Day 13: Hakodate to Kutchan

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The Road to Hokkaido Tour 2006
Day 13: Hakodate to Kuchan
Distance: 237 kms

Last night it was snowing in Hakodate.
As we braved the snow to search for food I saw from the all the big pictures of crabs and fish tanks everywhere that as I suspected Hokkaido is perhaps a kind of nightmare for vegetarians.
We headed for the Hakodate Brewery since I had spotted it when I glanced at a brochure. Unfortunately I had failed to check the opening times and we trudged all that way only to arrive just after last order. Oops.

We gave up finding an interesting place to eat and went into Warawara. Bad move. It only took a few minutes to realize that Warawara must be equally as bad all over the country. Warawara is a cheap, chain izakaya that I would recommend avoiding for many reasons. One of which being these terrible eda mame. I think I’m something of an eda-mame connoisseur since I almost always eat them when I go to an izakaya. And these get no stars. Not that all cheap chain izakayas are bad … I’m a Watami fan.

We decided to go home but then we spotted an interesting looking bar. It looked like it might have been a hostess bar .. but luckily there was a letter flap in the front door, so we could peek and check. Safe.
I thought it was a good bar. I was particularly impressed with the quality of the drinks. I’d only give it minus points for the tragic uniforms and the way the bar tenders shake shakers as if they are going to get fired if they don’t shake it exactly the same way as every other bow-tie wearing bartender in Japan.
But that is the norm in these kinds of bars in Japan … so maybe it’s just me. IMHO it doesn’t look cool.

We stayed at Toyoko Inn again. Wow, different picture. Toyoko Inn is cheaper on Sunday nights if you are a member, 5140 yen. To become a member it costs 1000 yen.

Today we drove from Hakodate to Kuchan.

I drove today for the first time today. I wanted to drive more but my boyfriend hates sitting in the passenger seat and he’s the owner of the car, so…. It was fun … you notice different things when you’re driving.

I decided to keep to the speed limit for several reasons. 1. It was raining. 2. I think driving slowly is an excellent idea and 3. being a foreigner the laws are always stacked against you so if I happened to be involved in a crash I think things would be easier for me if I wasn’t breaking the law.

It didn’t seem like anyone else was interested in sticking to the speed limit. Hundreds of cars and trucks passed me. The only time no-one passed me was when a police car also started following me.

We stopped at the Onuma Brewery and bought some beer.

We saw some people riding what looked like a series of large tricycles joined together. They looked like they were having a lot of fun.

We arrived in Kuchan at about 4:30.
Kuchan is our destination. Although the trip isn’t over until we find a place to live. That’s tomorrow’s mission.

Monday, November 13, 2006

#193 Day 12: Aomori to Hakodate

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The Road to Hokkaido Tour 2006
Day 12: Aomori to Hakodate
Distance: 27 kms

In Aomori we stayed at Hotel Universe. It cost 8580 yen, including the carpark. It was pretty similar Toyoko Inn except it was older, had less facilities, and the rooms were smaller. We were leaving I had a quick check under the bed to make sure we hadn’t forgotten anything and I noticed that it was filthy. Hmmm. 3 stars.

We went out to forage for food and were surprised at how lively the town was. Maybe it was just because it was a Saturday night. There seemed to be hundreds of bars in the few streets we walked down – although most of them were hostess bars.

We ended up going into this place called Hanbey because it looked cool from the outside. It turns out it was a chain and they have one in Shibuya – but I’ve never been there. I liked the posters and hats on the wall, the atmosphere and the enthusiastic staff. But I didn’t think much of the menu – except for the fact that the otoushi was all-you-can-eat cabbage and miso. I love cabbage and miso.

When we were packing up at the hotel this morning, it started to snow – the first snow of our trip. Luckily we bought the studless tyres last night. Good timing.
We were booked on the 2:35 ferry so we had a bit of time to do some sightseeing in Aomori.

There were a few museums including the Aomori Museum of Art. I was thoroughly impressed by the building from the outside and walking into the foyer. We had a coffee and that was great too.

My vote was to go inside and look at the art. But I lost out to the other option of going to the place next door to see old stuff from 5000 years ago, which I wasn’t too enthusiastic about at first because I’m generally not a big fan of traipsing around big museums to look at stuff like broken old plates.

But this turned out to be really good. I definitely recommend it.

This place is called the Jormon Jiyukan. They have stuff displayed that was dug up from the Jormon period. And replicas.

I learnt some of the language. This means I’m going to the sea.
Aba watani iduguribumu. Essential study if you have a time machine.

I tried out some of the tools they used. This thing was cool. It started smoking.

There was a wall of screens and they played a short movie to give us an idea of the Jormon way of life. It was really well done.

I think the Jormon people had a great sense of style, and I liked their clothes and the designs of their pots. Their houses were pretty stylish too.

We had lunch at Capriccosa (カプリチョーザ). This restaurant almost got five stars for its tasty food and great service. The staff said “bonjorno” when people walked in the door.
But it lost a few points for playing disco music. 4 and a half stars.

After lunch it was time for the ferry. It’s a four hour trip and we had a car – so I thought it would be really expensive. But when we booked the tickets last week, I was surprised at how cheap it was.
Then when I saw the boat I started to understand why.

I definitely wasn’t what I was expecting. It’s so small. Where are the windows? Looks like it’s going to sink. Are you sure this is the right boat that one over there looks better ...

Not that I was expecting the Titanic with glass chandeliers and Lionado DeCaprio – although that would have been nice. I was imagining something along the lines of the Interislander in New Zealand or Noryosen in Tokyo.
A simple restaurant or two, a movie room a souvenir shop, maybe even a bar ...

I certainly wasn’t expecting it to be as simple as this.
There weren’t even any staff directing us what to do.

We got a bit lost walking through big trucks with their engines still running and the drivers inside - scary - and eventually found these dirty old stairs.

It turns out all there was ... was this. A small room with no windows, a dodgy carpet, a TV, two vending machines, and posters of wanted criminals.
This sign told us to report dubious strangers, dubious items and other things strange.

At least we didn’t have to stress over the choosing from the great selection of entertainment options.
There was a spare plug behind the TV so I plugged in my computer and did some editing until the boat started to lurch around so much that I felt sick and decided to sleep instead.

We arrived in Hakodate at about 6:30.

Sunday, November 12, 2006

#192 Day 11: Towada to Aomori

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The Road to Hokkaido Tour 2006
Day 11: Towada to Aomori
Distance: 79 kms

Last night we arrived at lake Towada at about quarter to 5.

We stayed at Towada Kanko Hotel.
It was the first time this trip we’d stayed at a hotel that wasn’t a business hotel or a love hotel. I really noticed the difference. At this hotel they carry your bags. The rooms are really big ... there are yukata ... a restaurant, souvenir shop, nice baths, even two bars ... that weren’t open.
Usually these kinds of hotels are a lot more expensive than business hotels. But this one wasn’t that expensive. It cost 9000 yen.
Unfortunately, there was no internet. Well there was in the lobby area – but it was so slow they might as well not have bothered.
We bought local beer at the bottle shop opposite the hotel. This beer was quite nice – we also drank some apple beer ... I forgot to take a photo of it. Anyway, it wasn’t very good.

We went to have dinner at the only izakaya that was open. There were almost no customers and the woman serving us seemed really wasted and couldn’t answer simple questions like: what kind of nihonshu do you have?
She said it was her last night working so maybe she’d had a few drinks too many to celebrate.
We decided to leave asap but since there were no other places to eat we ordered a bit of food. I was worried about her cooking if she was drunk but the eda-mame and onigiri she gave us actually tasted really good.
As we were leaving she told us a long sad story about how this town used to be very busy but it wasn’t anymore.

There was one other bar open so we decided to check it out. It seemed like a kind of snack bar. A snack bar is a kind of hostess bar – the customers are usually men and there are women who are paid to talk to customers and smile and clap when they sing karaoke.
I’ve been to snack bars a couple of times – but I’ve always been disappointed ... I think they’re expensive and boring ... so I try to avoid them.
But this didn’t seem like a regular snack bar. There were other female customers, and the bartender said the charge system was just like an izakaya.

It turned out to be a lot of fun. Most of the customers were locals and we talked to them and sang with them. It was cool hearing people speak in Aomori-ben. I learnt a few words:

Wakyamai means wakaranai, I don’t know. Hondasune means soudesune, that’s right.

Near the end of the night this group of guys dressed in yukata called me over to talk to them. I thought they were just being really friendly but then they asked me if I was Russian and it turned out they thought I was working there. It was pretty funny being mistaken for a hostess considering my scruffy attire ... I really don’t look anything like a hostess.

I was asking them where they were from and in the process of answering two of them started having an argument for no apparent reason then half of the group abruptly left. The remaining two men – they were both in their 60s – proceeded to give me some fantastic advice: I should break up with my boyfriend, marry a very rich man and have children as soon as possible.

I usually don’t sing karaoke outside of a karaoke box because I’m shy about inflicting my singing on everyone in the bar. But I ended up singing a couple of songs. Luckily some people seem to think my out of tune singing and missing out kanji that I can’t read is more cute than awful.

The next day it was raining. We walked around the lake a bit.

It was really beautiful. The water was really clear. I thought it would be nice to swim in during the summer .. until I saw the soapy water flowing into the lake. Gross.

We bought a few things at a souvenir shop.

We walked into a restaurant to check their menu. We asked about the udon on the off chance that they would make it without the fish flavour. The woman said they wouldn’t do it because it wouldn’t taste as good. This didn’t surprise me at all after 5 and a half years of eating out in Japan. Most restaurants are very reluctant to alter any dish on the menu.
What was very surprising was that after we had said thanks anyway and started to walk down the stairs, she suddenly changed her mind. They made us udon with konbu dashi and soysauce. It tasted really, really good.

I think we were really lucky. I don’t think she would have done this if it was peak season – in May, August, October.

This restaurant closes tomorrow and most of the hotels, shops and restaurants all close in the next few days and stay closed until the end of winter.

She said it was a shame that we came when it was raining – because usually the lake is much more beautiful.
But I think we were lucky to come at this time because there were hardly any people and all the staff were relaxed because it was almost the end of the season ... so the atmosphere was really nice.

After lunch we drove to Aomori.
The weather forecast said that it might snow. We were really lucky that it didn’t because we haven’t got the studless tyres yet and we don’t have any chains.

Even though it was raining, the scenery was still beautiful. There were lots of moss-covered trees and rocks. And I liked the distortion effect the rain on the windows made.

Saturday, November 11, 2006

#191 Day 10: Morioka to Towada

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The Road to Hokkaido Tour 2006
Day 10: Morioka to Towada

We went out in Morioka again last night to look for something to eat. On the way we saw some buskers. This guy was pretty good.

And we saw a big apple.

I definitely recommend this place called Toribon. Great design, service, food, presentation.
This is local beer. It was good.

Today we drove from Morioka to Lake Towada.

I took photos of random things on the way.
By the looks of things God is bankrupt.
We thought about getting a coffee at Futocho, but it wasn’t open yet.
We drove through a snow shelter.

We cooked lunch by this old hotel. It looked like it had been closed for quite a few years.
We thought it was probably quite busy during the 80s when skiing was really popular in Japan. There were some old vending machines. Mysteriously, mountain was spelt in two different ways on the same can.
I found this kurumi daifuku in a local supermarket. Daifuku is a kind of sweet with mochi on the outside and anko on the inside. I’ve never had walnut daifuku before. It was really good.

We saw lots of signs for Fudo waterfall so we decided to check it out. It was a good decision.
According to this sign this waterfall is in the top 100 most beautiful waterfalls in Japan.
And apparently this park is the most picturesque spot in Iwate prefecture.
This sign says beware of bears. I didn’t see any bears.

Thursday, November 09, 2006

#190 Day 9: Morioka

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The Road to Hokkaido Tour 2006
Day 9: Morioka
Distance: 21 kms

Last night we went out in Morioka for a few drinks. The first place we went into had this gold cat out the front. It was great – the guy behind the bar was really cool. He recommended some places to visit and stay and told us about his travels in places like Malaysia and Indonesia.
The beer was incredibly tasty. Apparently it was because of the special attachment to the keg – I don’t know what that’s called.
And the food was excellent. We had these fried tofu pockets with natto inside.

The beer at the next place wasn’t so good… in fact I wouldn’t recommend this bar at all.

Walking home we saw some random Barbie dolls sitting outside a shop.

Today was an official daradara day.
Daradara is a Japanese word which means something like laze around and do not much.

We drove around Morioka and saw some red leaves.
We went to a supermarket called Big House and I found an interesting looking kind of mushroom that I’d never seen before.
I cooked it with some other vegetables in a park overlooking a dam.

There were some sculptures in the park next to the dam.

We drove for a bit and stopped in a small park to watch the sunset. The sun set at quarter past 4.
Then we played some hacky sack.

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

#189 Day 8: Sendai to Morioka

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The Road to Hokkaido Tour 2006
Day 8: Sendai to Morioka
Distance: 199 kms

We stayed at the same hotel in Sendai last night. This is the view from the window.
Today we drove from Sendai to Morioka.

On the way, we got the car washed. It cost 200 yen. It didn’t come out very clean. Oh well. I saw another car mat cleaner called beauty mat.

We made a great discovery on yongosen (this is the name of a road) just before Kurihara in Miyagi ken. This drive through coffee shop called Fullsail Espresso Coffee. The coffee was great, and cheap. And the service was excellent. I definitely recommended it if you’re ever driving along that road and you feel like a coffee.

We had soba at this restaurant called Kyougasaki. I thought the building was a really nice design. The staff were friendly too. Especially the man who asked us where we were from and ran after us with some sweets when we were leaving.

We stopped at a few shops in Kurihara. I wanted to buy something in Kurihara because that’s where I lived in Tokyo. Actually I didn’t really live in Tokyo at all … the closest station to my house was in Tokyo though. But my house was actually in Saitama – Saitama-ken, Niiza-shi, Kurihara 6 chome.

We saw a black bus belonging to a group called Nippongoushidoumei.
They drive around in this bus and tell people their opinions over a loud speaker.
For example Yasukuni Shrine should continue to be owned by the government.

I like this sign: welcome nicest people on a Honda.
We bought some mandarins from this guy on the side of the road.
We drove past Hanamaki airport.
And saw some electric pine trees outside a pachinko parlour.

We arrived in Morioka just after 5. Might have to see if there are any good bars in Morioka tonight.

#188 Day 7: Sendai to Matsushima to Sendai

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The Road to Hokkaido Tour 2006
Day 7: Sendai to Matsushima to Sendai
Distance: 60 kms

Last night we stayed at Toyoko Inn in Sendai. The room looks almost exactly the same as the room in the other hotels. But I think the picture on the wall might be slightly different.

We decided to go on a bit of a bar crawl. All three bars we went to were really good.
I don’t know if we were just lucky, or if Sendai is an awesome place. Maybe both.

First we drank Stella at nmc. The owner’s (nick)name was Nemochan. He was really nice and gave us a lighter each.

Then we went upstairs to a bar called Fed 16’s bar. When he was 16, the owner decided to open a bar. That’s where the 16 in the name comes from.
I can’t remember all the drinks we had here. This one was Balalaika: Cointreau, vodka and lemon juice.
Both the guys behind the bar were really friendly and the drinks tasted good.
We played darts. I’m pretty useless at darts. Sometimes the darts happen to land in a good place. And sometimes they don’t. The owner said I could have a free drink if I got a score of 450. One game I got 443. So close!

The last bar we went to was excellent too. We ate olives and pickles and I can’t remember what we drank. We thought about living in Sendai and asked the bartenders about the cost of renting apartments. Sendai is reasonably close to both the surf and the snow and there are at least three good bars. Mmm I’m pretty impressed with Sendai so far.

Today we went to Matsushima. Matsushima is “nihonsankei” which means it’s one of the top three most beautiful places in Japan. I don’t know what the other two are.

Matsu means pine tree and shima means island. In Matsushima there are a lot of small islands covered with pine trees. It was a beautiful place. Especially since it was a Monday and there weren’t very many people there. I don’t think I would’ve found it quite so beautiful on a weekend or a public holiday.

We had a cup of coffee at this café. The door and passage leading to the toilet were so small that I had to go in sideways.

It was raining when we got there and then it stopped raining all of a sudden and the sun came out.

I saw an interesting seat, some jelly fish, and a strange owl.

I drank tea in a souvenir shop and bought a souvenir. This is a keitai strap. It’s supposed to be piece of rice.

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

#187 Day 6: Fukushima to Sendai

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The Road to Hokkaido Tour 2006
Day 6: Fukushima to Sendai
Distance: 114 kms

We stayed at Toyoko Inn again in Fukushima. It was 5150 yen plus 500 yen for the car park. It was cheap because it was a Sunday night.

After we left the hotel we bought some dental floss at this pharmacy. I thought it would be funny to pull the I off their sign.

Then we went fruit picking. We wanted to pick grapes and cherries – but they were all gone. We could only pick apples and nashi. It was 700 yen each for one hours picking and eating. It was all you can eat – but they were so big I could only eat one apple and one nashi before I was full.

We stopped by the side of the road to have coffee and watch the shinkansen go past.

This is a bottle store in Zao. Otentosan means sun in the local dialect.

We arrived in Sendai at about 3:30. Sendai is a big city and we got a bit lost. It took about an hour to find the hotel.

Monday, November 06, 2006

#186 Day 5: Shirakawa to Fukushima

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The Road to Hokkaido Tour 2006
Day 5: Shirakawa to Fukushima
Distance: 209 kms

Last night we stayed at a hotel that Nyong Chun recommended called Toyoko Inn.
It was perfect: clean, reasonable price, fast internet connection in every room. I even got a present! It was like christmas. The only complaint I have is that the rooms are a bit small. 4 stars.

We did more sightseeing today. First we drove to Aizu. The scenery on the way was really nice.
We saw lots of rice fields, a waterfall, some daikon.
We stopped at a beautiful lake called Inawashiroko. We saw a snake. I was quite scared until I found out it was dead. I think it had been run over. Poor snake.
We had lunch at a place called Soba Dojo. It was next to this cool building. The soba was great! The kitchen had glass doors so we could see them making it.
This sign says don’t throw rubbish. Under the sign there’s a lot of rubbish. Hmm.
We saw a big statue. It was quite pretty but we didn’t think it was worth 500 yen to see it close up so we kept driving.

This is Mt Iimori in Aizu Wakamatsu. A group of young samurai part of a group called the Byakkotai killed themselves here. They were fighting in a war and when they saw their castle burning and knew that they had lost they decided to kill themselves.
Visiting this place made me feel sad.

This was their castle. Well, it’s been rebuilt because it burnt down. A woman was telling stories by the castle.

Next we went to visit a lake called Goshikinuma. To get there we drove on this road.
This lake is famous for being many different shades of blue. It was almost dark when we got there so I couldn't really tell. But it looked nice.

Then we went to Fukushima. We went through quite a few tunnels.

Then we got a flat tire. There was no place to get off the road properly and cars were whizzing past really fast so it was quite dangerous. I was on flashing light duty warning the cars to slow down.

The spare tyre was bit low on air so after the tyre change we stopped at the next service station to get some air.
I saw a car mat cleaning machine for the first time in my life and just had to try it out.

When we got to Fukushima we stopped at a tire shop to check the price of studless tyres. We’re going to need them when it starts snowing.

It was time for dinner so we found an izakaya near the hotel. It was called sunaba. I was really impressed by the friendly, helpful service and the food.

Saturday, November 04, 2006

#185 Day 4: Nasu to Shirakawa

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The Road to Hokkaido Tour 2006
Day 4: Nasu to Shirakawa
Distance: 30 kms

By the time we finished the onsen it was about 8pm. Then the next mission was to find a hotel. Unfortunately since it was a Friday night and a long weekend, hundreds of other people had the same idea. I lost count of the number of hotels we checked. We followed the same cars in and out of hotel car parks – then finally we found a love hotel with empty rooms available. Love hotels are reasonably cheap if you check in after 10. There were about 10 rooms still empty and it was 9pm and we hadn’t eaten, so we thought we’d go to a nearby convenience store and have something to eat and wait til 10 o’clock.

We went back to the hotel at 10 and what do you know – it was full. Other people obviously had the same idea as us.
So we were back to square one ... driving up to hotels only to see a full sign: manshitsu, manshitsu, manshitsu.
Finally, at 11pm we finally found a hotel with empty rooms. It looked completely dodgy from the outside – but it was fine and it was really cheap. 4500 yen. Wow. The room was nice and clean too.
It was classic old school love hotel style. Red vinyl couch. Brown velvet walls. Purple velvet bed.
The only downside was no internet. But love hotels usually don’t have an internet connection. 4 stars.

Yesterday’s hard-core sightseeing and hotel-finding mission was pretty tiring, so we decided to take it easy today.
We found a hotel nearby in Shirakawa and had lunch at this restaurant where we drank soft espresso and saw Miyazato Ai’s signature. She’s a professional golfer and one of my favourite Japanese celebrities. I don’t like golf, I just think she’s cool.

We hung out at this beautiful lake called Nanko.

Then we bought some petrol. And went shopping. I bought a new hard disk. My last one was a Buffalo so I decided to buy a different kind this time. I hope it lasts a bit longer than the last one did.

Friday, November 03, 2006

#184 Day 3: Nikko to Nasu

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The Road to Hokkaido Tour 2006
Day 3: Nikko to Nasu
Distance: 155 kms

In Nikko we had delicious curry for dinner and stayed in Hotel Viva Nikko.
It got points for being clean and spacious. And for the coffee in the lobby.
And I liked this poetic English: Please don’t smoke while strolling about the ryokan.
The only minus points were for the internet only being available in the lobby. And paper cups. I like glass.
Three stars.

The next day we did some sightseeing in Nikko. It was really beautiful.
It was really crowded because it’s a long weekend. Today is a national holiday called “bunka no hi” (culture day).

We went to Toshogu shrine. 1300yen. Mmm expensive.

We saw the horse. Its name is Koha. I wasn’t that impressed with the New Zealand government for sending this horse to Japan to stand here and have people take photos of it.

This is Tokugawa Ieyasu’s grave.
This is something he said just before he died: Life is like traveling along a long road with a heavy weight on your back so you shouldn’t hurry.
And this is a famous sleeping cat.
I bought an omikuji. I got kichi which means good, but not great.
It was pretty long so I couldn’t be bothered reading it – but it probably said I’m going to have a great life.

After Nikko the plan was to go to an onsen that we’d been to before. We went there once after snowboarding and really liked it.
We drove along some mountain roads and got kind of lost.
The scenery was really beautiful.

We eventually found the onsen. It’s called Tanakaya. It’s an outdoor pool by a river. To get to it you have to walk down 300 steps.
It’s a mixed onsen, so I could see lots of naked boys. It was quite exciting.

#183 Day 2: Oyama to Nikko

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The Road to Hokkaido Tour 2006
Day 2: Oyama to Nikko
Distance: 73 kms

As I said yesterday, the hotel we stayed in wasn’t too bad. It wasn’t too good either though. Especially in the light of day.
We stayed in room 508 of the Hotel New Kashiwa, which is just across from Oyama station. The room cost 9660 yen.
There were holes in the shoji paper and in the fusuma, cigarette burns on the bed and it wasn’t very clean.
There were only good things about this hotel.
We could use the net in our room and the speed was pretty good. And the staff were nice. Two stars.

After we checked out, we left Oyama. We drove for a while and then found a nice park to have lunch in.
We made some coffee and had some of the chocolate that Lena gave us when we left Tokyo. Mmm delicious German chocolate.

After lunch we drove to Nikko. We saw this big daruma on the way. It was protecting truck drivers.

We arrived in Nikko around 3 and found a hotel. Nikko is a popular tourist destination so there are a lot of souvenir shops.
A lot of the shops were selling yuba.
We bought some hot yuba mangu ... and ate it in the street. It was delicious.

We walked around a bit more and bought some yuba snacks and some Nikko beer.

I found some excellent strange English in the supermarket: In a shoplifter, the police is notified.

I’ve been to Nikko once before, I remember seeing a horse inside a shrine that was a present to Japan from the New Zealand government. I thought that was kind of bizarre. So, tomorrow I’m going to see if it’s still there.

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

#182 Day 1: Tokyo to Oyama

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I don’t think I’ve ever left anywhere without having a few goodbye drinks the night before And packing and cleaning with a hangover is never much fun.

The original overly optimistic goal that didn’t factor in sluggish brain speeds, was to leave by 10am.
By the time we ended up leaving Tokyo at 5:30, it was already dark.

The first stop of the trip was pretty exciting. We stopped at Showa Shell and put 10.7 liters of petrol in the tank. It cost 1338 yen.

We drove on Nikkokaido 4 until we got hungry.
We stopped at an Italian restaurant and ate pepperoncino spaghetti with salad, bread and coffee.
It cost 2866 yen.

The man who served us was nice and the food tasted good. But there were no other customers so it was kind of lonely.

We drove for a bit longer until we started to get sleepy – then we looked for a hotel. The first three hotels we checked were full. Then we found one that had a room and that’s where I am now. The room isn’t too bad. I’ll tell you about it tomorrow.