Can you believe I almost wrote 2015 for the year? I'm so behind the times. This year is going crazy fast, although super long at the same time. Things I did in Jan and Feb seem like years ago. I have a feeling this is going to the best month of the year because Arashi concerts!Read More
I arrived in Tokyo and almost straight away caught a cold. This is becoming predictable. Why do I always catch colds as soon as I get to Tokyo? I know flying puts you at risk but I've caught a ton of flights lately and this is the first cold I've caught.
So, that's meant I've not done much. The TV in my Airbnb doesn't work that well so I couldn't even watch that -- and they were showing repeats of Hana Yori Dango on the weekend!
My Airbnb has been great though. I'm staying in Jiyugaoka. I actually changed my accommodation booking about 10 times. It's school hols and cherry blossom season so prices have been insane. I finally found this place for a reasonable (under $50 a night) price. The hosts are so lovely, they even left me some food when they found out I was sick. I wanted to rebook for when I return in June but it's already booked out, damn it.
I flew in on a Peach Airlines fight from Seoul that landed at 1am. Because transport is sparse at that time of night, I stayed at First Cabin at Haneda (an upmarket capsule type place). I'll do a full review later but tbh, wasn't impressed.
The main chore I wanted to get done here was sort out Arashi fan club membership stuff. I did that, even got a staff member who was lovely to do deal with (first time ever) and she gave me a Sakurai Sho poster. Woohoo!
Got to catch up with friends and even managed to get some karaoke done. Do you have any idea how hard it is to score a karaoke room when it's school holidays/public holiday? It's insane.
I was tempted to head to Shin Okubo to get me some Korean food, then realised I'm spending the next three months in Seoul.
In non-travel news, my sister and I have organised to have all our stuff taken out of storage and delivered to my Mum's place. My mum has had a mountain of bad health since I left the country (no connection, I hope), so my sister is staying with her much longer than expected. That means when I get home in July, all my stuff will be there. I'll have so many outfit chioices, I'll not cope!
A new "first" for me this week -- I drove a car in a foreign country for the first time.
I've never really felt the need to drive when I travel. Most places I go have great public transport and, since I travel alone, the cost and bother of renting a car isn't worth it. But, I'd been to Kochi before and knew it wouldn't be so easy so my sister and I rented a car. I love in Japan that you can rent a car for a short period of time. We booked it for 8 hours which meant no bother about finding a hotel with parking.
It was all pretty simple really, apart from me leaving my international driver's licence at the hotel and having to run back and get it.
Because we had the car, we could head out of town to the Sakamoto Ryoma wax museum. I'd not been there before because it seemed like a a lot of bother but the drive was easy. Well easy-ish. I was expecting it to be much more tacky than it was. Still, it's a wax museum and totally creepy.
The wax museum is in a place called ACT Land, which is a bunch of random museums in one complex. When we arrived, an old man with a pen light directed us down this very narrow road with a deep ditch on one side to the car park. Totally scary driving and, once we got to the car park, we could've totally entered from the main road. Plus we were the only car parked there. Note: there were at least three old men with pen lights working in the empty car park. So Japan.
As well as the random museums, the place had a weird playground thing going on and a bulldog!
That night, we went to a restaurant with katsuo and clacker dancing. Woohoo!
The katsuo tuna in Kochi is so super delicious. It's seared over a hay fire then served with yuzu, rock salt and other stuff. We ate so much of it I had a sore mouth from the salt and yuzu for days. But I'd do it all again.
We'd actually walked by the place the night before and seen photos of the clacker dance (not the real name for it and not the kind of clacker dance you'd get in some areas of Bangkok) so decided to go back. After a few hours, we thought we missed out and asked for the check. The staff told us to wait a little while.
I'm like a 5 year old child -- happy with anything that makes a loud noise. So, when they handed out the clackers to everyone, I was darn pleased.
The next day, we headed to Tokyo. For the first part of the trip - Kochi to Okayama -- we had the Anpanman train! Woohoo!
So, after many hours of travel, we arrived in Chiba. The Tokyo-Chiba leg was the worst part of the trip, which makes sense considering it wasn't on a shinkansen or Anpanman train.
So then we had the whole Airbnb nightmare. Because we wanted to get out of there, STAT, well, faster than STAT, I booked the first place I could find online. We ended up at the APA Hotel in Kudanshita which I cannot recommend highly enough. The only criticism of the place was that my single room was a bit squishy for a five day stay. My sister had a small double though and that was tops. The staff were awesome, the rooms were great and it had the most comfortable bed I've ever slept in. In future, all other beds will be judged by that one.
As a bonus, we were 10 minutes walk from Tokyo Dome for the Arashi concerts!
The Christmas Eve concert was tops. After being to concerts at all five domes, the atmosphere in Tokyo is a whole different thing to anywhere else. People are just more pumped and ready to have fun. In Fukuoka, I felt at times like I couldn't cheer too loud because no one else was but no risk of that in Tokyo.
We also went to the last night, December 27th. We'd debated going or not but the last night is always special and I'm really pleased I went.
So, after 10 concerts and 5 domes, I thought I'd be sad to see the end of it but I really felt like I'd had sufficient concerts. Not too much, just the right amount.
Then they announced an arena tour! The same concert (Japonsim), I think, but at smaller regional venues!
So tempting but I think the tickets will be VERY expensive. Very, very out of my budget. I am going to ballot for tickets through the fan club but, if I don't get them, I'm not going to make the scalpers rich. I will be in Seoul when some of the concerts are on so it's not like it's a huge distance to travel.
Anyway, after the concerts, we moved again. Initially, my sister and I had planned to stay in the hell Airbnb in Chiba while she was in Tokyo then I'd move to another place in Chiba once she left. But then she decided to stay for NYE so she is here with me. The second Chiba Airbnb is nowhere near as bad as the first one but still very disappointing. The listing did not mention the host lived in the apartment and just went somewhere else during our stay. The place is cluttered and grubby (is bad housekeeping a Chiba thing?) and it seemed like she'd just walked out of the place, leaving it as is. The fridge was full of her food, the bins were full.
We both have bad colds now so have not being doing much but sleeping the past few days.
Today I left Japan to spend a couple of weeks with my sister in Hong Kong. She's got a fancy apartment in the middle of the city - the photo above is the view from the balcony.
I've not really seen much except for the driver from the airport but Hong Kong is what I thought Tokyo would be like before I actually went to Tokyo.
So, this week's highlights:
- Meeting up with a friend on Wednesday to go to the Arashi bar in Osaka -- with okonimiyaki first, of course.
- Arashi concert on Thursday night. Awesome as always. You can buy Arashi MT in a different colour at each venue. I went early for the goods sales to get some -- it sells out fast. I waited in line for an hour then got around the corner of Kyocera Dome and realised I had at least another hour of lining up! Maybe two hours. I realised that I don't really care that much about masking tape.
- Friday I had one of the best massages of my life! If ever you are in Osaka, go to Bear Hug in Qs Mall. Not the cheapest massage around but you get what you pay for.
- Sunday, I went to a little izakaya near my apartment. I'd looked at the place a few times but hadn't gone in. Sometimes I just don't have the energy to play "gaijin". It was fantastic though. Cheese and chicken breast yakitori, cooking in foil (to keep the cheese in, I guess) -- OMFG yum.
I went to a co-working space this week. They are a great idea, in theory. I mean it's worth paying just to have a space with a proper ergonomic set up when I'm doing a lot of work on my laptop. That way I don't screw up my back. But then I think well I could get the same thing (without the free drinks) at the local library. Also, when you are sitting at a big communal table with a lot of random people, it's hard to write steamy scenes.
I flew to Hong Kong with Peach airlines. They are so cheap - it cost me around $150 AUD with the full options ticket (I'm sure it has some cutesy name) so I could take luggage and change my flight details if need be. I also got to select one of their "Pleasure" seats for free. I'm not sure where the pleasure came into it. I mean, it was an okay seat but I think the name sets up some expectations.
I quite like Peach airlines. They do sensible things like board people in window seats first. Since I always select an aisle seat and hate getting settled than having to unsettle myself, that works for me. One thing that irked me though is that they scan your checked bags before you check them. Not so bad in that I'd rather open and take stuff out of my bag myself than have some staff in the back do it. They are darn strict on batteries. Nearly an hour for bag drop, not check in just bag drop.
I left my little apartment in Tokyo (actually Kanagawa) on Tuesday for good. It was a decent apartment for the price but I don't think I'd stay there again because I hated the location. More specifically, I hated being on the Odakyu line. I hated that train line. It seemed much more aggressive than other lines in Tokyo and got so crowded.
I flew Peach airlines to Sapporo. They board the planes starting with window seat passengers and their companions. Why don't all airlines do that? It's so sensible.
I spent most of Wednesday trawling Sapporo for somewhere to work. It seemed to be impossibly hard to find a cafe with power outlets here. I ended up finding somewhere fantastic.
Thursday, I went to Maruyama zoo to see the polar bear. I didn't get to see it because it's giving birth. Actually the entire bear area was shut. Maruyama Zoo is vile anyway. DO NOT GO TO MARUYAMA ZOO. I've been to so many fantastic zoos while travelling that I'd forgotten how awful they can sometimes be. Animals in tiny little enclosures. The stupid thing is that there is all this space that is just grass you can't walk on. Get rid of it and make bigger enclosures for the animals. I wish I hadn't paid to go there.
After the zoo, I went to a temple and got to see squirrels running around in the wild. That was the second time I've seen squirrels. The first time was at Prague Castle. I love those little guys.
Friday, I went to see Arashi at Sapporo. I found out my friend was staying at the same apartment building as me so we went together. In Nagoya, both nights I sat on the left side of the stage but in Sapporo I had tickets for the right side in different sections.
Saturday night, concert again and I wasn't feeling it as much. I had a decent seat but I just wasn't 100% enthused. Then Sunday night, my third night at Sapporo Dome, I had an arena seat and all the love came back.
I did have a horrible moment before the concert started. I'd gotten my ticket from a reseller. There are always messages sent out saying that you'll be asked to show ID to prove you don't have a resold ticket but it never happens. I sat down in my seat, trying to touch my penlight on (the battery had gone flat -- it only lasts 4 concerts apparently). Then one of the staff came over and asked if I had a ticket. I nearly pooped myself.
It turned out I'd sat myself in section H6 instead of H3. Oops.
Just to explain the penlight -- all the penlights for the concert are WiFi controlled. There is a dot on the back of your seat and you "touch on" to the dot. Then, magic!
When I moved and tried my penlight again, getting a bunch of people and staff involved, one of the nice ladies beside me gave me some batteries (she'd brought spares).
So that was my week. Three nights of Japonism concert and a little work. Today, I have to work my guts out to get up to schedule and get my latest novel ready for launch.
Oh the other thing I did this weekend was piss-fart around because the heater in my apartment didn't work. I thought I was just being ditzy about the settings but the repairmen came to look at it and it was fucked. The whole unit needed replacing. Yah! Three nights in Sapporo with insufficient heating (it did work but would shut off after 10-15 mins). They came back to replace it on Saturday then a guy from the landlord's company came around to check it out and was so shocked to meet an Australian Arashi fan. He ended up giving my friend and I a lift to Sapporo dome. It's only a 20-30 min walk but that saved our legs.
Tomorrow I head to Osaka. Only one Arashi concert in Osaka since the tickets are so expensive there. I am going to try for a last minute ticket for one of the other nights to see if the prices drop dramatically though. I am looking forward to the warm Kansai weather.
Arashi concert week!
I headed to Nagoya last Friday nervous as hell. I'm not sure why but I get so nervous before concerts. I couldn't eat all day and thought I was going to be sick.
Nagoya is a quick shinkansen trip from Tokyo but I've never been there before. Because you have to go from the JR East area to JR (whatever, Central?) you can't pick the cheap travel passes to go there and, to be perfectly honest, I never thought it was that interesting. Nagoya didn't prove me wrong on that. I've always had the impression that Nagoya people were a bit nuts. That was also not proven wrong.
When I arrived in Nagoya, I wanted to drop my stuff off my Airbnb then head to the dome to buy goods. Easier said than done. I think they are doing a dodgy room sublet so the address details were all wrong. She did send me a doc with the directions but I'd decided to grab a taxi to save time. Big mistake.
By the time I got to Nagoya dome all the limited edition Arashi masking tape had sold out! Oh noes! I was going to go back early the next day to get some but then realised that I really have no need to for Arashi masking tape.
The concert was amazing. I have no words. I thought they'd never be able to top the Digitalian concert last year but they did. I'm not even going to attempt to describe it.
In weird coincidences, I met another Westerner before the concert from Geelong (which is about 50km from Melbourne) and we were seated together.
On Saturday, I felt sick. I thought I was getting a cold but I think it was just exhaustion from all the nervous energy of the day before. I didn't think I'd make it through the concert but once it started, I forgot all about that. My Saturday seat was right at the side of the stage so I got to see some bits really well and other bits not at all. I couldn't even see the screens that well. The bits that I could see up close made up for it though. The Saturday night crowd seemed to be a lot more fun too.
Argggh, with my continuing bad luck with Airbnb, the guy I stayed with came home late Saturday night, drunk and with a chick. They had the TV on really loud and I didn't get much sleep. I am never staying at places that aren't my own apartment again. It just feels awkward being in someone else's space.
So now I've moved out of Tokyo and am in Sapporo for a week. It's damn cold. The plan for the day is to get my next novel edited which might be fun before my "m" key is getting stuck!
I've decided to do a weekly update on my happenings otherwise things fly by and get forgotten. And, for a weekly update, this week has been a big one.
I started the week, well last Monday, which is technically over a week ago but whatever, meeting up with awesome Lucinda. Well before that, I got a JR East pass because I had to head to Sendai later in the week and that was the cheapest way to do it. I still have five days to use up in the next week, must remember to do that.
So, we ended up having lunch at an oden place. Not something I'd have chosen but it was open and looked quiet. It ended up being a great meal. I've been put off oden because they have it in the 7-11 here and it never smells good when you walk in. For those not in the know, oden is a type of Japanese hot pot with various things in it. The best of the ingredients was a cabbage roll type thing. Totally delicious.
We followed lunch with a few hours of karaoke and many classics were belted out, believe me.
Then Korean BBQ. Sorry vegos about the photo but pork belly with cheese is as good as it gets in my world.
So, Tuesday, I lazed about but since I had to be in Sendai early, had booked a hotel in Omiya. I live on the opposite side of Tokyo so figured it was worth getting a few extra hours sleep. It was there that I discovered that Tenya (a chain of tempura places) does mozzarella tempura. That is dangerous knowledge.
Wednesday morning, I got up early to catch the shinkansen to head to ARASHI BLAST IN MIYAGI. This was going to be a huge deal, including the logistics of getting to Sendai, catching a shuttle bus to the arena then another shuttle bus afterwards to my Airbnb. Surprisingly, everything worked like clockwork.
I wrote a long and rambling concert report on my livejournal but the short version -- it was awesome. Beyond awesome. It was the last night of the four concerts and I really wish I'd gone more than once.
The less enjoyable part of Sendai was another crazy Airbnb experience. I arrived to check in and the guy was all nitpicky. You get used to that here but it was like he just wanted to find fault in everything I did, including me not writing my address in his book big enough to fill the whole page! It wasn't a very comfortable environment. Then a huge bunch of Japanese women rocked up who'd obviously been to the concert too. They sat in the communal sitting room outside my room and screech at each other until about 1am. The old guy didn't say one word about that!
I left early the next morning because I couldn't sleep on the rock hard futon. I've slept on futons before and there are futons and then there are futons. This one was thinner than the doona on my bed. At least it was sitting on a thick mat.
I got back to Tokyo, every muscle in my body aching (from standing in queue for hours the day before, not just the futon) and my cold back in full force.
On Friday, I met with a friend to get my Minipresso. For some reason, I can't get mail delivered here (something to do with sub-letting, I bet) so I got it sent to my friend. We had a fun day of shopping including being Barbie-ized in a department store. Seriously, they had a camera set up and, when you walked past, you got turned into Barbie on the screen.
With all that running around, the weekend had to be devoted to some serious writing time. I barely left the house except to get snacks on Sunday. Oh yeah, and I booked a ticket to Thailand for the beginning of next year.
Then today, one of the most stressful days of the year. I found out if I won tickets in the ballot for the Arashi concert tour. That involved checking my email every 5 minutes. Even though I know they don't send out the mails until late afternoon.
And the result: defeat. Always defeat.
I am never, ever going to get concert tickets in the Arashi ballot. I was going to say win tickets but you don't actually win them, you just win the chance to buy them. I was pretty darn devastated because I take these things personally.
Then I was interviewed for the Rocking Self-Publishing podcast about my writing and travel - which will be available from Thursday. It was a fun interview. Well, it was for me because I got to talk about myself.
So, how was your week? What did you get up to?.
Yesterday was a special number birthday. Well, today still if you live in the States and the clock hasn't ticked past midnight.
Once the thought of another decade ticking over freaked me out but I'm pretty relaxed about it. Actually, to be honest, I tend to freak out more when I get to the '8s - like 28, 38... that's when the realisation that another decade is over hits. By the time I actually reach the landmark birthday, I'm well over it.
This year too, I feel pretty content. The passing of time hits you much hard I think if you're not living the life you want to live. If you hate your job or the place where you live or your life style then it feels like time is swirling down the plug hole like water after your shower, taking the sweat and leg hairs and stray pubes with it.
I have to admit, I'm happy with my life at the moment. I'd say 80% happy. Hell, I earn my living writing and I get to travel all around the world. That's pretty darn sweet.
The past three months in particular have been awesome. I got to hang out with lots of bears and that makes me really happy. I've been to a ton of places and eaten a ton of good food. That's the best.
The writing side of things could be better -- all this disruption to my routine has put me way behind schedule. It's not so much the planned disruptions that cause the problems but all the unplanned ones, like screw ups with accommodation. But I've done this enough to know that I will get back on track (I'd bloody better or I'll be living in the poor house).
But 80% happy means there is 20% that needs to be worked on. The main area where I need to pick up my game is my health. It gets put on the back burner time and time again. I've really noticed the decline in my fitness. I used to be able to walk for hours, hell I used to be able to run. Not any more. I get aches and pains. I've never been very flexible but that's getting even worse. I need to make it a priority and not something I should do but never get around to.
So how did I spend my birthday? All plans were tossed aside so I could spend the day in bed surrounded by piles of dirty tissues and hydrating drinks. I've been hit by a nasty cold (just in case "dirty tissues" made it sound like I was doing something more fun). I got woke up by someone knocking at my door. Yah! My birthday present!
My family all chipped in to get me new luggage. The bag I've been using was a small wheelie suitcase my sister got from Don Quixote in Japan for $30 about 8 years ago. It's done well but one of the wheels busted recently so it pretty much has to be dragged not wheeled now.
I looked at a lot of different options and settled on this bag because:
- If you are Australian and travel on budget airlines, you will never be able to not check a bag if you have wheeled luggage. With a 7kg allowance, you pretty much have about 3kg of that left after the weight of your case.
- It's convertible from back pack to duffel bag to suitcase style. I used to always travel with a duffel bag and find that the easiest but it can be a killer on your back so figure back pack style is best for walking any distance.
- It's expandable. This was a prime selling point for me. People on the internet always say to wear your bulkiest clothes on the flight. That's because they have not had to stand in a long queue to check in 40 degree heat next to the bloody automatic doors (which, of course, renders all air conditioning useless). I like having the option of packing my boots and my big cardigan and all that bulky shit so I don't have to deal with it.
I will do a full review after I've travelled with it a few times.
Anyway, even though I had a low key actual birthday, I have fun adventures coming up with the ultimate birthday treat in a week's time. Yep, my boys from Arashi are throwing me a birthday concert in Miyagi. Wasn't that nice of them.