You broke my watch!

Yesterday I went to Tokyo to buy back the sunglasses I had lost on a snowboarding trip some time back. On the way to Omotesando, I dropped by the Swatch store in Shibuya to get my watch bracelet widened – something about drinking too much beer and putting on weight…

So I show my watch to the chick at the counter, tell her it’s too small and pull out the extra pieces I had brought with me. She takes the watch and starts disassembling the battery and checking the charge, showing me it’s good. I think “ok, this must be standard practice” and watch her as she struggles to put back the battery, scraping the shit out of it with a mini-screwdriver. Once it’s back together, she shows me the ticker that is not ticking any more and tells me proudly that it’s broken and she can’t repair it so I should buy a new one…

my new watch

WTF? I start telling her that she fucked up, it was moving before, she broke it. After making a big ruckus, the store manager comes out and I have to explain again with my broken japanese. The girl is almost crying, the guy finally understand what happened and start apologizing profusely. Apparently, the chick didn’t unserstand what I had asked her and thought I came because something was already wrong with the watch.

He ended up calling all the Swatch stores in Tokyo to find me the same watch, but since it would take at least a week to get there, I finally chose a new one on the spot and left with it for free with all the staff bowing and seeing me out with a few dozen 申し訳ございません.

Touring the ponds of hell

The second day of my trip to Beppu was spent on the 地獄巡り, literally touring the hells. What they call hells are 8 remarkable hotsprings around the city, spouting 99°C water and throwing huge plumes of steam in the air.

Some of them have cobalt blue water, another called 血の池地獄 is as red as a pool of blood, the one in the photo below is called 鬼石坊主地獄 for the bubble of boiling mud that resemble the shaved heads of earth demons.

oni ishi bouzu jigoku

There’s also a geyser that spouts for 6 minutes every 20 minutes. They built a sort of mini-amphitheater around it so tourist can sit and wait for it to spurt out. Typically japanese…

me in front of the geyser

With all this steam everywhere, the area around the spring in noticeably hotter and more humid than the rest of the city. In this micro-climate, they planted tropical plants all around and brought in tropical animals: there is a zoo with an elephant and a hippo bathing in hotspring water, they even breed crocodiles, caymans and alligators in one of the “Hells”.

enjoying the sound of the waves

After a very sweaty visit, we went back to the hotel and I had to take one last dip in the hotel’s public bath. It was empty so I could take some photos of the place. Then we grabbed our bags and headed back home with the 新幹線.

Big earthquake this morning

20 minutes ago we felt a big earthquake at work. The shook for a good 20-30 seconds and the building rocked a good deal. I checked out the earthquake report and it was a magnitude 6.6 quake in 新潟県, some 200km from here.

quake map

It was a 6 Low on the Japanese scale, which is the third highest level you can get. From what we felt here, so far from the epicenter, it must have been huge over there. I’ll see on TV at lunch but there’s probably going to be a good deal of destruction over there.

Hotel Seikai in Beppu

I came back yesterday afternoon from Hiroshima, barely escaping the closing of the airport for cause of typhoon closing in. The trip was short, but well-packed with fun and relaxation. I will split the story of the trip in several post to keep the not so photo intensive, and I’ll start with the hotel.

As I said previously, we arrived in Beppu in the afternoon for just one night and we spent this first half-day recovering from our long-long trip. We ended up with the square bath room in the end, but everything was just as perfect as in the brochure, I was thrilled.

our bath with the  sea view

After soaking up good and taking a little nap, we headed for the hotel’s restaurant for dinner. In a Japanese 旅館, the room always come with a special Japanese style dinner that is usually the highlight of your stay (at least for the locals, I’ve kept my european habits and put more importance in the quality of the room).

the menu was tooooo long

The dinner was excellent, with more courses than I could count. It kept on coming and coming: seaweeds, sashimi, japanese beef, monstrous shellfish, 唐揚げ, etc… We had to stop the guy at one point, we were stuffed. After a good glass of a fine local 日本酒, we headed to the hotel’s bar to take our dessert facing the beach with a couple glasses of 梅酒 and Whiskey.

The next day, we had requested our breakfast at 8:30 (the checkout was at 10AM) but never woke. The reception started calling around 8:45 and we ignored them, then some guy came around 9AM to hit relentlessly on the door until I finally opened.

Hotel guy: Your breakfast is waiting.
Me: I know, were not hungry.
*slams the door back shut*

I hate when people can’t take a hint… Anyways, apart for the breakfast obsessed reception guy, Hotel Seikai in Beppu gets my seal of approval and I recommend it to you if you’re ever in the vicinity.

Short Kyushu escapade

Still jetlagged from the US, I’m already back on a plane: I just bought my tickets to Hiroshima for next week. My girlfriend has 2 days off Wednesday and Thursday so I’m taking the opportunity for a little R&R.

And since I’ve pretty much seen all there is to see around 広島, we decided to head down to 九州 for a night in an Onsen in Beppu. Just look at the map and see why this is going to be interesting…

map of my trip - will take around 6 hours

Yep, all of that traveling for one night there. Next day we’ll head back to Hiroshima see the family and on the 3rd day I’ll be heading back to Tokyo. Long distance relationships… しょうがない!

very very nice onsen hotel

At least, for all our trouble, we booked a really nice hotel with a really nice room. Check out the website, we’re getting the F-type room, hopefully with the round bathtub. 別府 is renowned as the 温泉 town, with the largest number of hotsprings in Japan and the second largest volume of hot water (behind Yellowstone, thank you Wikipedia).

I didn’t want to renew last year’s fiasco in Kinugawa so we decided to forget the budget this time. Be on the look out for some great photos next week.

Surfing in Shonan

I’ve got a new hobby. One of my friends with whom I went snowboarding in Hokkaido this winter lives in 湘南 in a cool house 300m from the beach, right in front of 江ノ島.

surfing in front of Enoshima

Since the last month I go surfing there almost every weekend. I can check the weather / wave size on Yahoo! Weather and hop on a train. I got my mother to send me my wetsuit from France by mail, so all I have to pay is the ¥3,150 daily rental fee for a longboard and off I go riding the Pacific’s waves.

Sumo beer cup

I went to see Sumo 2 weeks ago for the second time since I’m in Japan. This time around, I was sitting in the boxes on 1st floor (really just a tatami with 4 thin cushions) instead of far out in the poor people’s late gaijins’ cheaper seats on 2nd floor.

sumo beer cup on flickr

Of course, I had to take some stupid photos while I was there. Later we went to eat ちゃんこ鍋 close to the sumo stadium. This is the traditional food of sumo wrestlers, specifically designed to maximize protein intake, i.e. make you fat! I have to say it was quite good but eating this everyday is basically long-term suicide…

4 days in Hiroshima

So I’m back from Hiroshima as you must have seen in the little Twitter column on the right. Had good fun with the girlfriend, here’s a quick roundup:

Friday – arrived at 4PM, saw Spiderman 3 (was kinda lame), ate Italian
Saturday – went to Iwakuni to see the 錦帯橋, nice bridge, ate yakitori and drank 日本酒 in an izakaya near 本通

kintaikyou in iwakuni

Sunday – picnic by the riverside with homemade bento from Aiko’s mother, dinner with family for Mother’s Day, ate stuffed duck neck (French food I received last week)
Monday – walked around 平和公園 and Namiki-dori all afternoon, my flight was late so I missed the last train home and had to sleep in Tokyo

Yasukuni Black Suits

Last week was Golden Week, a bundle of national holidays all packed in the same week: Constitution day, Green day, Children’s day and the new Showa day. This last one is in honor of the previous emperor’s birthday and is a big hit among Japan’s extremist population, which I like to call the Black Suits.

Last year I witnessed a huge delegation of black vans shouting propaganda in Shibuya. So this year I thought it’d be cool to go see what happens in Yasukuni Shrine on that day.

entrance of Yasukuni Shrine

I was a bit disappointed, the shrine itself is a lot smaller than I thought and there were no black vans to be seen, nor threatening crowds. However, while waiting for a friend to arrive in front of the entrance, I finally spotted a group of a dozen black suits with their token buddhist bracelets. Two of the elder ones split up and came straight at me and my friend:

Old black suit: Do you speak english? Do you speak english? (with a more or less threatening tone)
Me: Yes I speak english, 日本語でも
Old black suit: 本当?? (with a smile on his face)

They got much friendlier when I replied to them in japanese. They asked us why we came to 靖国神社 and I replied that it was very famous, hearing about it all the time on the news, so we wanted to see for ourselves. I didn’t bring up the fact that we came just to see people like him though… They said “Have fun!” and left.

Huge rice scooper

Here is my girlfriend in front of the biggest しゃもじ in the world:

bigass rice spoon on flickr

If you ever go to 宮島, you’ll see those wooden rice paddles everywhere. They are used to scoop the rice out of the rice cooker, at least before the wooden type was replaced by newer plastic, non-sticky ones.

Souvenir shops sell big lacquered and engraved versions as a goodluck charm since anything can be turned in a lucky charm here in Japan. I guess one of the store owner wanted to be very lucky so he made that giant one and displayed it in the street.

Hiroshima Report

I’m back home, in good old Saitama. As usual, the trip went like a breeze, I arrived 20 minutes before my flight, checked in, passed security and boarded my flight all in one stride. Not the shadow of a line anywhere, a wonder for french guy used to american and european airports. Then once I got to Haneda, I still had 2 hours of train to reach the hell-hole of Saitama where I live… まあね、しょうがない!

a-bomb dome in hiroshima

In the 4 days I had left, having lost 3 to the flu, here’s what I managed to accomplish:

  • Visited 平和公園 and the Peace museum, as seen in the attached photo of the A-bomb dome.
  • Went to 宮島 and got to see all the sights. However I missed the monkeys at the top of the island since the ropeway was not open yet and the fast road by foot had been destroyed by a typhoon and they were rebuilding it.
  • Checked out the Hiroshima Museum of Contemporary Art.
  • Shopping in 本通, the little Shinjuku of Hiroshima.

You might say “It ain’t much!” but the purpose of the trip was to spend time with my girlfriend who moved out 2 months ago, not sight-seeing. That mission was accomplished. I’ll post more photos of stuff I saw in the coming week.