Friday, May 6, 2011

Getting Out of Town - Kinugawa Onsen

As I mentioned in my last post, it's Golden Week in Japan, so a bunch of the Michigan kids decided to get together and take a quick two day trip. We headed to a place near Nikko called Kinugawa Onsen, 75 miles north of Tokyo and reachable in about 2hrs by express train. If you look at a map, you can see that it's just past where the massive sprawl surrounding Tokyo ends. We've been talking about taking a trip together for years, but this is the first time we actually managed to make it happen. I took way to many pictures to put them all in this post, so check out my flickr to see more.

There were seven of us in total: Mamiyu, Mikuni, Yuki, Emily, Mike, Peter T., and myself. It was the first time we've ever had more native English speakers than Japanese at a Michigan event in Japan, which was pretty interesting. Ignore the random Japanese people behind us.

Our first stop was at Tobu World Square, a good size park of 1/25-scale replicas of famous building from around the world. The level of detail was really incredible and it was a lot of fun getting in close to take pictures.

Later in the afternoon, we went for a walk just outside of town. Kinugawa Onsen is tucked in between to small mountain ranges and is beautifully green. It was really nice just to get out of the city, breath the fresh air, and be surrounded by nature.

In the evening, we spent a solid hour and a half just lounging around in an onsen, soaking in the hot water and relaxing. Onsen are definitely one of Japan's best luxuries and is travel-worthy on it's own. Once we had had our fill of onsen action, we swung by a convenience store to pick up party supplies for that night, then headed over to our hotel to check in.

Our hotel was picked on one merit alone: it was the cheapest hotel in the area. As such we weren't expecting much to begin with, but were pleasantly surprised to find that dinner was included in the cost. We arrived at the hotel kind of late, so we were the last group to eat and had the place all to ourselves. The hotel manager had told us the food there was really good and he wasn't kidding! He kept bringing out huge plates of amazing chinese food, much if it not normally included in the normal meal, and even gave us a bottle of chinese rice wine for free! It was a gigantic feast and we all ended the meal absolutely stuffed. The rooms were standard Japanese ryokan rooms, nothing special, but more than acceptable for our needs.

After dinner, we moved the party back to our room and proceeded to spend four solid hours having a great time. I honestly cannot remember the last time I laughed that hard. It will go down as one of my favorite memories for our Michigan group.

Day two started with a boat ride. Mike and I had been excited about the idea of grabbing some pictures from the boat, but became more than a little worried for our gear when we saw plastic splash guards on the sides of the boats. In the end, it turned out not to be that bad at all and we both managed to take some great shots along the way. The guide at the front of the boat provided absolutely hilarious commentary throughout the trip.

After the boat ride, we set out to find some lunch and settled on a place specializing in "Japanese slow food" that we were recommended by some locals. The atmosphere was laid back, everyone enjoyed their food and the view was great. Little did we know there were much better views yet to come.

We spent the rest of the afternoon hiking along the mountains and river nearby. It was breathtakingly beautiful, and not even just in a "I live in the city and it's awesome to see a tree" sense. Mountains and rivers, waterfalls and rock formations, mind-blowingly green leaves, it was an honestly stunning display of nature. I really need to get out to the country more often...

Tired but satisfied, we finally made our way back to Tokyo after two packed days of awesomeness. Perhaps the best way to describe it are in Mike's words: "These past couple of days were so full of win". Seriously though, everything went right, everything was amazing. If Golden Week was suddenly reduced to just two days, I still would have been perfectly content. High fives all around!

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Lessons Learned

It's Golden Week here in Japan, the deceptively named part of spring where everyone in Japan gets MOST of a week off. This year I've managed to swing it so that I only have to go to work one day this week (though I ended up working until 2am on that day) and am now liberated from all need to act responsibility for six straight days. Pretty sweet deal especially considering it was just a three day weekend!

All this time off has given me a chance to do some reflecting and thinking about how I've changed over the past few years. One thing that I am painfully aware of is the fact that I am a terrible procrastinator. If there isn't a deadline (and sometimes even if there is), I just can't seem to motivate myself to be productive. My two month absence from this blog (and the two months before that) is a perfect example. If I was content with life, with the way things are going, this wouldn't really be an issue. But I'm not, so I've got to figure out how to fix this problem or I'll be stuck in this rut forever and that's just not acceptable.

I've also noticed that there are still several things I still haven't learned.
-Lesson #1: Don't drink so freakin much-
In Exhibit A below, you will note a massive bruise about 1/3 the size of my calf. Brutal. This was accompanied by a pretty nasty gash on one of my toes, both acquired on a night of hardcore stress-relief drinking. How did this happen? Well, I'm afraid I simply don't know. Absolutely no recollection (though personally I suspect it was a vicious one-legged duel with a world champion kick-boxer or some such). Moral of the story: keep the booze under control.

-Lesson #2: Very few people look cool with facial hair-
Coming into Golden Week, I thought it would be cool to try growing out a beard, just to see how it looks. I didn't have anything planned until Wednesday, so if I just rode out one day in the office, I could let it grow for nearly an entire week with almost no damage to my social life. Wrongo pongo. I should have known from a start that I'm obviously not the type of person who can pull off a beard. Come Monday morning, three days in, I was getting ready to suit up for work. I took one look in the mirror and knew it just wasn't happening. Exhibit B illustrates how notably unimpressive the scruff was at that point. Clearly I have no future as a lumberjack (it's cool, I don't like flannel anyway).
I might have just sucked it up and let it be, except that that same weekend I had picked up a lean mean German face shaving machine. Look at Exhibit C. That thing is a beast. I can't believe I'm supposed to put that monster on my face. But man, did it show that scruff the business. Silky smooth domination.

But it's not all doom and gloom here. While thinking about my procrastination problem and this blog, I looked back at my first entry, written nearly two years ago. The recipe for Korean-inspired fajitas and I had coincidentally just picked up a pack of tortillas at National Azabu while in Hiroo for lunch on the weekend, so I thought I'd try recreating the meal. I've cooked dinner for myself 6-7 days a week for the past two and a half years I've been living in Japan, so I've learned a thing or two about cooking and have a pretty decent idea what I'm doing in the kitchen. This time around, I looked at the sauce ingredients from last time, ignored the measurements all together, and whipped together a kick ass sauce that was a million times better. I know it was that much better because I would definitely remember if I'd made anything even close to as good as this. It was that good. Also, if you look at the pictures from the post they are absolutely awful. Honestly, trash like that would never even get uploaded onto my computer these days. I've taken thousands of pictures since then and know how to take waaaaay better pictures now. Those original pictures barely look like food, but the I think the ones I took this time look every bit as delicious as the food actually was.

So, yes, I clearly still have plenty of growing up to do. I'm still just 25 years old and have lots to learn. But I take comfort in knowing that I have made progress in some areas these few years. If I can make sure that I keep myself moving forward, I think that's something to be pleased with.