Volcano Erupts, Kills Canadian

•March 10, 2007 • 5 Comments

Before we get into the adventures and my imminent death at the hands of Mr. Volcano, I’d like to share 4 recent acquisitions that have made my life exceedingly better overseas. Stay focused and be patient, this will only take a sec:

1. dscn42660003.JPG Mike’s Handmade Rice Bowl

Finally, my rice-bowl is fired and glazed and ready to use. For those of you who doubted it’s inner beauty, take a good look…that is one fine-lookin’ rice bowl. This bowl has the power of making rice taste better, and it’s been used daily nightly since it’s inception for that exact purpose.

2. dscn41710001.JPG A Beer Chair

On this particular shot, our subject is caught using it as a morning coffee chair. You see, the beer chair has diversity and depth far beyond any other sitting mechanism, and all of it’s multiple talents raise one’s quality of life substantially. Whether it’s brilliantly designed cup holder is home to a coffee, a beer, or a kiwi cider, the beer chair keeps it steady and readily available for your next sip, and all with unmatched style and comfort.

 3. dscn42790004.JPG A Traditional Shochu Mug

With the imprint of the furious Mt. Sakuragima itself, this sleek drinking piece has the power of making shochu taste better. Works well when paired with the rice bowl.

4. dscn42330002.JPG Toe-Socks

For years I’ve wanted a pair of these fashion oddities, and now I’ve got ’em. Toe socks make me feel like a monkey every time I look down at my feet, and I love monkeys. The fit is a tad peculiar and takes some getting used to, but well worth it for that monkey feeling.

Now, on to the adventures. 

We have tried twice now to get our asses to Kagoshima, both times were unsuccesful due to weather and injury (in that order). This time, we were not to be denied. Wednesday morning breaks nice and sunny, and the little white bomb is loaded up with overnight supplies. The first stop is well past Kagoshima, a little resort town called Ibusiki, known for it’s one-of-a-kind sand baths.

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After 4 hours on the road, we finally arrive at the big ugly pink resort fortress for our sand bath. After walking through the maze of corridors, we eventually find the sand bath reception and are instructed to change into colourful thin robes called yukatas, since the sand will burn bare skin. After a short conversation with the guys shovelling sand over our bodies, we learn that the sand is heated by a natural hot water spring below it, the same spring that flows into the co-ed outdoor oceanside onsen pictured below:

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After about 15 minutes in the hot sand, my relaxed body is starting to feel a tad warm, so I end my sand bath by jumping into the outdoor onsen, sandy ukata and all. By this time, it was around 5:00, and the beach was covered by the shadow of the big ugly pink fortress resort. You know how cold your bathing suit gets when you get out of the water for a minute and the wind quickly chills it?…you know how you jump and squirm when the cold wet cloth sucks up against your flesh?…well, it’s a lot worse with a wet robe, trust me. After our outdoor onsen, we went up to the top floor to enjoy the gender-separated onsen with the grand ocean view (onsens are usually sex-separated due to the naked nature of the bathers) . Another 15 minute dip and we were feeling pretty good indeed, so we made our way back to Kagoshima City to book into a hotel and enjoy some dinner and karaoke on Tenmonkandori, the happenin’ main drag. Check out our pimpin’ theme room…it was wicked! FYI, Hana chose it, I had nothing to do with it…

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Some time later on that night, after much singing and wobbly pop abuse (all-you-can-drink for 2 hours for $11, Yippy-ki-yay!), Mike fell and split open his chin and chipped his tooth and almost broke his jaw. But we won’t talk about that.

The next morning was another bright beauty, and it was off to the volcano island of Sakuragima. It was about a 15 minute ferry ride there, and upon arrival we were greeted by some of the largest vegetables I have ever seen.

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The enormous vegetables were causing my jaw to drop, which really hurts almost-broken jaws, so we had to leave quickly. We made our way to the Arimura lava plains and got lots of pretty pictures of the big beast himself.

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Unfortunately, Mike got a little too close, and Mt. Sakuragima doesn’t like that, so he erupted in a great belch of smoke and covered poor Mikel in hot ash and molten rock. It hurt a lot, and unfortunately I won’t be able to post any more articles and pics for you guys, since I’m dead and all. Sorry about that.

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Little Blue Monsters

•March 3, 2007 • 2 Comments

Once again, our chapter begins on a (t)rusty steed of black metal and worn rubber. Incidentally, he’s been affectionately named ‘Rusty’, and I’ll dearly miss the beautiful black bastard when I’m gone.

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As you can see, I brought Foot along for a trip to the playground, since he’s been just a bundle of energy recently. He liked the slide the best, but I think he enjoyed hopping up the stairs more than actually sliding down. Look at the little guy waving from the top…he’s just so darn photogenic it scares me.

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He was tuckered right out after all that stair-hopping, so I brought him back home for an afternoon nap. Then I directed Rusty towards a big rocket that I’ve been wondering about for a while now. It’s kind of odd, I’ve passed enormous rocket ships imposing over the landscape on more than one occasion here in Japan. I’ll just be riding out in the countryside or driving through the forested mountains when *voila* out of nowhere appears a rocket, crowning the highest hill or towering over the nearby trees and farmhouses. I’m not sure what the fascination is for them, maybe they just had some extra rockets lying around that they needed to find a good home for, but it definitely appeals to the lego side of my brain.

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And yes, you can buy beer, smokes, and condoms from vending machines out here, which gives the average 10-year-old access to all the naughty pleasures of adulthood. Of course, the average 10-year-old goes to school 10-12 hours a day 6 days a week, so they don’t have a lot of spare time to waste on smoking, sex, or liquer. But if they want it, it’s there at their fingertips, no ID required.

Next up is a trip to the Miyazaki Prefectural Museum. There was a little model of white-robed guys at a burial cave, like the ones I saw in Hasugaike park. Looks like they’re just about to seal it up with rocks; notice the rambunctious dog in the corner, he seems a tad happier than the rest of the somber figures. They also had an excavated skeleton from the burial caves, and an array of bastard-masks. I’ve named them bastard-masks because there’s a Japanese ceremony where adults dance around and scare the crap out of young kids with them, even bringing them to tears. It’s supposed to bring good luck to the children. Bastards. Hana still gets edgy when she sees them; luckily she wasn’t along on this particular excursion.

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After the museum, I opted for the rural route home, and I stopped for a photo op with the messiest-haired goat I’ve ever seen. Correct me if I’m wrong, but does this guy not remind you of Steve and his lovely locks:

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Quite the stylin’ goat, I just had to preserve the memory. I also passed many a farmers field on the way back, and a few more lonely vending machines in the middle of nowhere. I guess they want to give Mr. Goat some options, in case he gets bored with the regular diet of weeds, boots, and dirt.

The days adventures were followed with an excellent night of eating and drinking in downtown Miyazaki. I am happy to report that I finally tried pufferfish, a very expensive sushi delicacy (certain parts of the fish are poisonous at certain times of the season, so if the chef doesn’t know his stuff, the pufferfish can get the last laugh). After supper with Toshi, Mayumi, and Gramma (Hana was hard at work once again), Toshi and Gramma went back home to relax whilst Mayumi and I headed out to a couple of Mayumi’s favourite watering holes. At this point, I’d like to mention that all Japanese pubs have karaoke…it’s just part of the drinking experience. So when a large group of Japanese business men walked into our first establishment of choice, the calm and quiet atmosphere was quickly transformed to one of a slightly more raucous nature. I was only too happy to join in with my own renditions of ‘Plush’ by STP and other *foreign* english songs, to the appreciative clapping and yelling of the business men.

After the dull roar reached piercing levels, we decided to try our luck at a second spot, where we ended up with only 4 other business men to join in the fun. This proved to be a much more pleasantly-volumed audience, and the remainder of the evening was spent singing and drinking brandy with these four fine fellows. They were very pleased to be partying with a Canadian, and I did my best to fulfill my role as an ambassador, which included such duties as singing the Canadian national anthem, speaking in loud simple english all night, and teaching them the high-five and the 3-motion handshake (now don’t get jealous dad, I’ll teach you when I get home). Unfortunately, I was having far too much fun to remember my camera, so you’ll have to settle for some pics taken a week ago in a karaoke room with Hana and Mayumi. Not quite as raucous, but lots of fun nonetheless.

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The following day was a bit of a lazy day, which is just as expected after the consumption of immoderate levels of brandy and beer. When I finally did get my lazy-ass out of bed, I decided to go adventuring in the densely populated areas around the train station. I had a few black spots on the map that I wanted to illuminate, so I climbed back on Rusty and headed due south. You can imagine my surprise when I ran into a pack of little blue monsters, all snarling and poised for the attack. The fact that they already had a fair supply of food amongst them was no dissuasion whatsoever, and I felt 40 eyes watching my every move, waiting for any sign of weakness. With weapon drawn (mon appareil), I slowly edged past them, making my body as large and menacing as possible. This was an  incredibly difficult task, since every cell in my body was screaming to run away from the evil eyes and their malicious masters. Confrontation seemed unavoidable, and yet, somehow, I managed to escape unscathed by the beasts. I live to die another day, having escaped the clutches of the little blue monsters, but I won’t forget. I can still picture them vividly with their terrifying coats of blue, their snarling fangs, and their piercing stares…an image that will haunt my dreams for years to come…

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A Day in the Life of Mike’s Tummy

•February 27, 2007 • 3 Comments

For today’s lesson, I’d like to give you a small taste of my eating habits over here (heh heh, pun intended). Our story begins Saturday night with supper at Gramma’s. The meal was prepared by Chef Toshihiro, with special pizza accompaniment by line-cook Mikel.

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The next morning, the sun shining outside is matched only by the brilliant yellow of the hollandaise sauce. I’m happy to report a much more pleasant result to the eggs-benedict-making procedure this time around; the feeling was mutual amongst *all* of the benny-tasting participants. 

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After giving our bellies a few hours to relax between workouts, we headed out to the Oriental Hotel to enjoy some Ramen noodles from the chinese restaurant hidden within the hotel walls. This was my second time to try this tasty place out, and I ordered the same dish as last time, the tantanmen. This time, however, I elected for a slightly less spicy version, due to the previous encounters assault on my tear ducts and tongue, and the fiery siege it laid on me a day later in places best not mentioned. I settled for the level #4, which was definitely a step below the #5, but still hot enough to burn the lips off a rhino. Mmmmm, Mikey likey.

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After another few hours and a trip to the local billiards/ping-pong/bowling alley, which I am happy to report was just as 70’s as the Canadian version, we settled into the evening with a few glasses of shochu (the local sake) and another damn fine meal. This one was a joint effort by Chef Toshihiro, Sous-chef Mayumi, and line-cook Mikel, with some additions provided by Gramma.

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I included a picture of the bowling alley…notice the Tron-esque multi-coloured in-action bowling-guy-on-black decor above the lanes. Ahhhhh, a little taste of home, and of the decade I was born. And so ends the days events as seen by Mikel’s over-stuffed stomach.

And now, to wrap-up today’s lesson, I’d like to announce the arrival of another page on my site. This one’s called Japanese Close-Ups, and it’s a tribute to a particular style of photography that Japanese tv seems to revolve around. You’ll notice a few shots repeated on there from todays post (just wanted to give you a little taste…heh heh heh), but from this point on, I’ll try my hardest to keep the close-ups out of my articles and on their designated page. I also have another arrival to announce…I’m happy to say that the world has been blessed with one more Teschke (as if one Ian wasn’t enough). Liam Reid Teschke, born February 20th, brings a new era to the Teschke household. Congratulations to Ian and Lisa; wish I could have been there for it. He’s a pretty cute little guy, must have inherited the “physical appearance” genes from the Christies on his moms side. I’ll let you be the judge…

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Cheezy, but Good

•February 22, 2007 • 4 Comments

Another sunny day spent at my favourite destination (within galloping distance), the park with the towering Heiwadai. I was fortunate enough to get a picture of Peace Tower just as an extremely loud airplane flew past and shattered it (the peace, that is, not the tower).

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I’m planning on kicking back on the netted edge of that big wooden towery thing with a few beers and watching the sunset in the very near future. Of course, knowing my luck, I’ll probably fall off and break my collarbone. I would try for a sunrise, but that’s far too early for beers…or for being awake. They were playing some odd form of mini-golf in a big field in the park, and there were kids sliding down a big astro-turfed hill on plastic sleds and chunks of cardboard. Weird.

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It’s refreshing to be in a country where they’re not so hyper-sensitive about safety and political correctness. I’m guessing the threat of lawsuits is not much of an issue over here. On my way home, I happened past the local Dodge dealership, so I snapped a few pics for you pops; notice the steering wheels. I admit, the last pic is a competing dealership, but look at that monkey…that is some *fierce* competition!

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This was all followed (a few days later) with a trip to the Art Museum. I’m really not much of a museum-type guy, but I enjoyed it, perhaps because it was fairly small. I took a few pictures of my favourite pieces. I even asked one of the attendants if I was allowed to take pictures…in Japanese! Broken Japanese, but good enough to get the point across. She smiled and replied “Picture…yes…frash…no”. I think they turned out pretty good, considering they were frash-ress.

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After I had my fill at the Art Museum, I went back to another local favourite…the Hasugaike park. I recently discovered that the caves were not, as I had mistakenly assumed, living/hiding places of ancient peoples. They are, in fact, burial tombs from around 500 AD, recently excavated, with the uncovered treasures displayed at the local Miyazaki Prefectural Museum. With all this new knowledge, I needed just a few more pics of the burial caves, inside and out.

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But wait…what was that…in the shadows…did you see it? It looked like…like…like…

dscn38950004.JPG …FOOT! Is it possible? Could it be true? Does Foot actually have descendants inhabiting dark caves on foreign asian islands? Is the heritage of Foot about to be unravelled in exotic tales from across the sea? Could the mysterious past of Foot be on the edge of elucidation?…

…Nope, I brought him along…and he seemed very happy to finally be back on his feet foot.

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And after a long day of biking (with a little foot-help on the pedals, of course), nothing goes down better than a nice hot cheese fondue..here I am enjoying my first ever (the shiitake mushrooms were my favourite).

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In parting, I’d like to leave you with something to mull over. I know this picture deserves a funny caption, but I can’t think of one right now, and I’ve done enough thinking already today, so I’ll leave it up to you hooligans; we’ll call it the Comic Caption Contest (alliteration at it’s finest…Mr. Yakimo would be so proud). I know there’s plenty of wit amongst my friends and family, so respond to this post with your captions, and I’ll bring home a little something special for the winner. And it won’t be raw…

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BTW, you don’t need to create an account with WordPress to make comments, just type and submit.

The Great Japanese Obsession

•February 18, 2007 • 2 Comments

What the hell is going on in Japan? Is it just the television? I doubt it…the tv plays what the people want. What do the Japanese people want, you ask? Food. Lots and lots of food. Talkshows about food. Close-ups on food. Gameshows about food. Gameshows based on food loaded with close-ups of food, and cooking food, and eating food, and making wild ecstatic faces after tasting the food that is put before them, and commercials about food when there is a break in the gameshow about food…with lots of close-ups. What’s going on here? Now don’t get me wrong, I like food. I would even go so far as to say that I love food. Just to prove it, I took care of the meals last Monday, and although the eggs benedict for brunch left something to be desired, the supper spread was wicked (complete with chicken and broccolli penne alfredo, salad, and a cheese tray with olives).

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Notice Gramma’s contented cat named “Tora”, Japanese for “Tiger”, and also the code for the Japanese fighters to attack in World War II. OK, where was I…ah yes, my *completely reasonable* attraction to food. I do love food. But I eat, I enjoy, and then when it’s done, I think about something else until the next time I’m hungry. This is not the case in Japan.

Come to think of it, this whole “life revolving around food” thing is not a concept unique to Japan. This is one of the major differences between the North American mentality and that of most other countries I’ve visited. In North America, we eat to fulfill our bodily requirements. We enjoy the little amount of time we spend eating, primarily because of the pleasure it gives our tastebuds, but our social life does not revolve around dinner. For the most part, we shut up, eat what’s on our plate, and then leave the table to “relax and socialize” afterwards. But in Japan…and France…and Italy…and almost every other country where I’ve stayed with friends and really experienced the culture, supper *is* the afterwards; the meal stretches out for hours. Just eating (slowly) and drinking and chatting and relaxing takes up the whole damn night!

The funny thing is, after all this ranting, I’m not really sure which way is better. Eating slowly is healthier, and it sure is fun to eat for hours…and with diversity; it keeps things interesting when supper isn’t just one plate of food, but 12 different small dishes with a variety of sauces for dipping and drizzling. And chopsticks are much more fun than the knife and shovel. And lets face it, food (eaten slowly) is conducive to good conversation and social atmosphere, hence the trays of hors d’oeuvres at social gatherings. But I do miss stretching out on the couch after dinner and relaxing in comfort while you chat…it just isn’t as comfy sitting (or kneeling) at the dinner table.

But to come back from the tangent of my tangent, one thing I’m sure of: these people are food-crazy, they’ve taken it too far. Even if eating is a pleasant passtime for the entire night, tv programming does NOT need to revolve around it for the entire day. It’s time for Mike to take a stand against foreign policies in broadcasting: NO MORE CLOSE-UPS…

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Stuck in the Middle (With You)

•February 15, 2007 • 3 Comments

I’d like to begin this post by making an announcement: I’m sure you will all be relieved to hear that in spite of my recent sickness, I’m finally back on raw fish.

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As you can see, I’ve also taken it upon myself to introduce the game of cribbage to the asian culture…and it seems to be taking quite nicely. Now if I can find a way to include betting, I should be able to make a living at it.

As far as the travels and tales go, life has been pretty casual lately. A few more trips to the already-discovered areas of the McKenna Realm, but no new steed-ridden landmarks to report this week. Hana and I did drive to a  little town on the outskirts of the city called Sadowara, which was new for me. We walked around Sadowara Park and I got caught in the middle of a playground trap…waiting for the pit spider to come and tear me apart…

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I was pretty damn stuck; luckily the contortion training with Dave and Simon from our highschool days came back to me, and I managed to work my way out before nightfall. While wriggling and contemplating within the depths of the yellow-webbed pit, I realized I hadn’t taken any shots of Hana for a while (what a bastardly boyfriend I am), so we took a few *really pretty* shots together shortly after my release:

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A few days later, we all went to Shimin-no-mori Park for a good old-fashioned picnic. The plum blossoms were in full swing, and I PROMISED Calfy that I’d take some more flower pics for her, so here’s what I came up with:

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Everyone else was all bundled up for the picnic, but my Canadian flesh didn’t seem to have much of a problem with the mild breeze…even the long sleeves seemed a bit warm for me. I’m sure in the middle of summer (when it reaches 40 Celsius), I’d be the one doing the complaining, but for now I enjoyed the mild weather. I also enjoyed finding the bumpiest trails possible whilst Hana rode lazily on the back of my black steed. Ah haaaaw, The Bastardly Boyfriend Strikes Back.

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Oh, I also changed my return flight yesterday, since the Japanese government only gave me a 3-month travellers visa. I now return to Canada on the 5th of April (1 day over 3 months…shhhhhh), just in time to watch the final few regular season Canuck games before we rip it up in the playoffs. I do enjoy listening to all the Canuck games (live at 10:00 in the morning) while I’m data-entering my ass off, but a coffee and a computer speaker is no replacement for a beer and a big screen.

And last but not least, one more blossom, with a big “Moooooooooo” stamped all over it. Sorry dad, I must be gay.

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Cleansing the Inner Ear

•February 6, 2007 • 5 Comments

Chapter 1:

Whilst exploring to the Northwest a few days ago, I stumbled upon a rather large park with lots of rather small caves. Lots, as in about a hundred or so dotting the forested hillsides, usually in groups of 4 or 5. The caves were maybe 3-5 metres deep and 2 or 3 metres wide, and upon closer inspection, I noticed one still had a skeleton in it. I can’t help but think that if they hadn’t blocked him in with that cave guard, he might not have starved to death. How inconsiderate.

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Now since I can’t read Japanese, I can only assume that these caves were the living places of some ancient Japanese peoples, perhaps offering the required protection during tornado season (this area of Japan gets hit by about 5 or 6 tornadoes every summer, causing the masses to stay home for the day with storm shutters covering every door and window).

I did eventually find a sign that had the park name in English: “Hasugaike”. Hasu is a flower and Gaike is park, so the translation would be “Hasu Flower Park”. The Hasu flower is a floating water flower, one that Buddha was thought to have sat on in some legend I really don’t understand (isn’t Buddha usually depicted as a big fat guy?). It’s also the plant from which Renkon Kimpira is made (one of my favourite Japanese appetizers), which will have special meaning for Eric and Asa. Anywho, I did take time to kiss a few statues in Hasugaike

dscn34380003.JPG dscn34250001.JPG, and just before I headed back home, I rode past another group of crazy ancient Japanese dwellings; these ones were not quite as dark and dreary as the caves. Feeling a tad tired and hungry, I tried to see if anyone was home.

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At last, after much knocking and shouting, I gave up and made my way back home, content with the days Northwesterly expansion of my realm. On the way, I stopped at my supermarket to buy snacks and beers for the Superbowl game the next morning…which leads us to Chapter 2.

Chapter 2:

8:05 Monday (yesterday) morning, Mike rears his big (tired) head and makes his way to the living room. Mayumi already has the game on and the room warm; all that’s left to do is get a coffee in my hand and an egg in my belly. 3 years ago, I couldn’t care less about American football…not because I don’t like football, but I only enjoy watching sports if I have a team to cheer for, and the nfl had no local teams to interest me. But that all changed. Many of you have met Joshua, an American from Indiana who was a room-mate of mine for 5 months in 2004-05. Understandably, Joshua is a big-time Indianapolis Colts fan, and his nfl enthusiasm was a bit contagious. So now, here I am, in Japan, glued to a tv at 8 in the morning, watching the Colts destroy the Bears (despite the opening kickoff return that put the Bears up 7-0 about 10 seconds into the game). So much for “Da Bearsss”. Your Colts made my morning Joshua…here’s to Peyton Manning and the 2007 Superbowl Champions:

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My only complaint was the lame-ass halftime show, featuring the artist formerly known as “$%*#” prancing around on his big phallic stage.

coltsprince.jpg The guy is like kindergartens class clown, just screaming for attention: “Look at me! Look at me! Here I am! Please, I’m still really cool…see…”. What an idiot. Moving on…

Chapter 3

After the game, and a few more hours of boring data-entry work, I decide that in order to maintain its symmetry, my realm requires expansion in the Southwestern direction. Armed with a camera and a bottle of fruit-veggie juice, I head off on my black steed (aka the black beater bicycle) and ride for the hills. About 6 kilometres and 20 smiling asian pedestrians later, we (my steed and I) stumble upon another (very hilly) point-of-interest called Heiwadai Park. Heiwadai is not made with cyclists in mind, and it’s many hills are not climbed with nice smooth trails, but with big steep long staircases. The result was Mikel carrying his steed through most of the park, up and down staircases, to the bewilderment of many non-english-speaking onlookers. This was tiring work to say the least, but the effort was not without reward. Upon one hilltop was a multitude of clay statues known as “haniwa”; these ornaments usually decorate an ancient grave or burial mound. Once again, the lack of Japanese symbol recognition has left me in the dark, so I can only speculate that due to the seemingly random spread of statues, these particular haniwa likely do not have dead bodies underneath. If I’m wrong, I hope they’ll forgive me for trampling their graves. 

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Notice the emu-esque haniwa…Nice. Atop the highest hill sits the Heiwadai itself, which I have been told means “Tower of Peace”. It was big.

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And finally, here I am making friends with the locals. It seems they find spiritual enlightenment in the act of ear-cleansing…who am I to judge…

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