John Hawkins



Dr John Hawkins

Welcome to my bit of the Maison de Stuff, home to a huge load of pictures, and my daily blog.

My email address is as above - I've put it in an image in a vein attempt to reduce the amount of spam I get.

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Recent Entries:
More Girly Time
Out with the Girls
The Bukuro
Thursday
Out for the evening
More Indeciseveness
Decisions, Decisions
Miyajima in the Rain
Back to Hiroshima
Sendai to Mukomachi
Sendai
Morioka to Sendai
A Miracle in Morioka
Shizunai to Hakodate
Shizunai
Volcanology for Beginners
Sapporo
Yoichi and Otaru
On a Boat
Oarai
Tokyo
Waterfall
Solar Powered
Gaijin Bars and Cafes
Another Rather Dull Day
A Very Short Trip to Tokyo
Google Sightseeing and Izakaya
Hair Cut

More Girly Time
[Sunday 28th August]
Had lunch with Chie's friends again - this time at "Afternoon Tea" - a cafe chain in Japan which appears to be very loosely based on the great English tradition from which it takes its name. I wondered what other people in the cafe must have thought about me - a single male gaijin with a group of five Japanese girls. When I quizzed my dining partners the general consensus seemed to be that people would probably think I was an English teacher, and these were my students, or I was on a "home stay" - an exchange student staying with a Japanese family.
Spent the afternoon doing a spot of shopping, and towards the end we all went our separate ways. Chie and I went on to an izakaya near Shinagawa station where Chie's sister has a part-time job, and had dinner plus a few drinks there with an old work friend of Chie's.
We left the izakaya around 8ish, to head over to Tokyo station. Chie and I have a constant power struggle when it comes to travelling around Japan - I typically want to travel by the most expensive, and therefore safest, quickest and most comfortable means - so generally this equates to the Shinkansen (bullet train). Chie on the other hand seems to value price over all other criteria, and so is happy to travel in the most cramped and unpleasant conditions, taking forever to get from A to B, just to save a few Yen. In the interests of international diplomacy, I thought I ought to give in for a change. So rather than returning to Hiroshima by Shinkansen, I'd agreed to go back by night bus with Chie.
It was, in the words of Oscar Wilde, crap. Even though I somehow managed to get probably the best seat on the bus - at least on our level (it was a double decker), I was still pretty uncomfortable and barely slept at all during the 12 hour journey. I just can't sleep in a seat in a moving vehicle, after having tried and failed on a number of occasions I just need to accept this fact now. Being in a coach full of Japanese people who could seemingly sleep even whilst cycling I found this quite frustrating - they had all dozed off within about a minute of getting on board, and slept soundly throughout. 12 hours on a bus with no view (it was dark and we had to close the curtains) and no-one to talk to did not make for a fun experience! However, on the plus side, at least next time we have the argument (sorry, I should say discussion) about travel I can at least say with some authority that the night bus is just not suited to people like me.
[5 comments]

Out with the Girls
[Saturday 27th August]
Chie came to Tokyo a day later than me - she had got the night bus, which meant she arrived in Tokyo around 7 in the morning. So we met at my hotel quite early in the morning. I'd had a rather heavy night out the previous evening, and my relatively short sleep marked the start of a trend over this weekend - I averaged less than four hours each night. Chie and I killed time for a bit in the morning in a cafe in Ikebukuro, before meeting up with the girls - lots of Chie's old university friends - around 11ish.
The first item on the agenda for the day was lunch. It turns out there is a Pizza Express in Tokyo (for the non-English among you, this is an English chain of slightly upmarket pizza restaurants). It seemed somehow natural that we went there for lunch - I recall on a number of occasions going there with Chie's university friends back in England. It was a great venue - just like being back in England - even the staff looked the same! Plus it is always so heart-warming for me to see the word "vegetarian" on a menu in Japan!
Spent the afternoon generally mulling about and chatting, and in the evening the main reunion type event took place. Hiromuchan had done a lot of the organising. We were going to have two nomikai (Japanese for "drinking party"). The first nomikai was at a Spanish restaurant / tapas bar. There were about six of us to start with, but another three of Chie's friends joined us during the course of the evening. So we ended up with quite a large (and rowdy!) group. The second venue was a slightly posh bar nearby (the waiters had bowties, if I recall correctly). Hide-san joined us there, and the Guiness was flowing quite freely. The evening was rounded off back at Chie's friend's flat, where more alcohol was consumed, I appeared to fall into my standard rant about the English class system, and I don't think I got to sleep until after 4AM.
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The Bukuro
[Friday 26th August]
We'd planned to go to Tokyo for the weekend, as Chie had a sort of university reunion thing on Saturday night. I went a day earlier than Chie, as I needed to visit my future employer. Yes, today I signed the contract, so I suppose that's it then - the decision is made. I'll probably be starting at the beginning of October, although this of course depends on the visa application process, etc. Who knows, maybe there are already too many gaijins working in Japan, and I'll just be told to go home.
I'd arrived in Tokyo around 3, and was all done with contracts etc by about 5. So here I was in one of the world's biggest cities all by myself, and some sort of celebration was called for. So I went to my favourite district of Tokyo - Ikebukuro, or, as I have now come to know it "The Bukuro". Had dinner at the always excellent Rohlan, and had a nice chat with the woman there (possibly the owner?) - it turns out she too is a vegetarian. I took this as a very positive sign about my decision to take a job in Japan - one of my major concerns about coming to live in Japan was that it was so difficult to be a vegetarian here. Just hours after signing the contract I had, for the first time ever, met a Japanese person who is a vegetarian. Actually, in reailty, she may actually be Taiwanese (Rohlan is a Taiwanese restaurant) - but it's close enough for me. She was really lovely - when I said I was from England she told me I looked like Prince William! I can see myself becoming a regular at this place...
After this I went to another of my "regular" 'Bukuro hangouts - the equally excellent Quercus Bar. Had some great single malts, including an SWMS Rosebank, a Caol Ila and a Miyagikou (Sendai). Had a bit of a chat with Watanabe-san (the owner), and also got chatting to Osawa-san - one of the regulars there who was very friendly and a pleasure to spend time with. There was something deeply comforting about being around people who really understood whisky. On every visit to Quercus I've been the only foreigner in there, and yet somehow I don't feel homesick at all during the time I'm there - quite the opposite. I guess it is sort of like a litle piece of Scotland in Tokyo. It was my first time to go on a Friday, so there were a lot mroe customers than there had been on my previous visits, but it wasn't any less enjoyable.
Anyway, all in all I had a really great night out - I can't imagine enjoying a night out by myself in England that much, but something about being an "alien" in Tokyo makes people want to talk to you or something. I pretty much made no effort myself, but everyone else seemed to be keen to start conversation. I'd like to think that the Japanese think foreigners are sort of fashionable or something, but perhaps they just felt sorry for me as I was by myself, or maybe they had the same kind of fascination they would have for a zoo animal... Either way, I didn't care that much, and had a great night out regardless!
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Thursday
[Thursday 25th August]
Spent the morning with a fairly fierce hangover following the previous evening's excess. In fact despite what regular readers of my journal may think, I don't generally drink that much in Japan. Perhaps I drink more often, but it is usally a more modest amount - this is the first time I can remember having a hangover of any real significance during my time in Japan this year.
Anywho, my hangover began to subside in the afternoon. A friend of Chie's Mum came round for a bit, and we also spent some of the afternoon planning our trip to Tokyo this coming weekend. As I thought it was a good idea to pop in to see my potential new employer (yes the cageyness is deliberate here!) I was going to go a day earlier than Chie. Don't remember doing very much in the evening... but I probably didn't drink anything!
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Out for the evening
[Wednesday 24th August]
It had been a taxing week thus far, wracked with indecision over my future career and so on. After several days stuck in the house I decided I was quite determined to get out, so in the evening I went out with the whole family - Chie, her parents and Yuka too.
Started off at Molly Mallone's, the Irish pub in Hiroshima, which is in danger of becoming a bit of a local for me (I think the guy behind the bar recognises me now). After this went to Gindaiko, a robata-yaki place I'd been to once before. I'm not sure of the exact meaning of robata-yaki, but it seems to involve grilling stuff somehow. Oh and rather superbly the chef hands dishes to you on a giant sort of paddle thing, looks a bit like an oar from a rowing boat.
After this Yuka and Chie's Mum headed home, whilst me, Chie and her Dad went to a "snack" place. This is a style of Japanese bar which is typically ran by a hostess - in this case a rather charming middle aged lady. She put me in mind of the stereotypical English pub landlady - absolutely nice as pie most of the time, but you're frightened to death of getting on the wrong side of her. This kind of bar relies heavily on repeat customers, rather than the casual "wandered in off the street" type. So it transpired we were actually in Chie's grandfather's regular hang-out, and indeed he even had his own bottle of Sho-chu behind the bar. The other thing I learnt about this type of bar is that you don't seem to have much choice over what - or how much - you drink. The hostess just suggests drinks to you, and I for one was too afraid to disagree. My glass was constanly being refilled without me asking at all, and as a result, particularly as I'm relatively inexperienced with sho-chu drinking, I became quite fiendishly drunk by the end of the evening. I had the distinct impression I'd had a little too much to drink, and was staggering a bit on the way home. Still, on the plus side at least it stopped me thinking about my career for a bit! I am beginning to understand why the Japanese are such big drinkers...
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More Indeciseveness
[Tuesday 23rd August]
Pretty much the same as the previous day - didn't really leave the house all day except for a brief trip out to do a spot of shopping. Spoke to my potential future employer over the phone in the afternoon, but found the exchange pretty unfulfilling, and was left afterwards more or less as unsure as before about whether or not I wanted to take the job.

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Decisions, Decisions
[Monday 22nd August]
Chie went out with her family in the daytime to an onsen or something but I stayed in by myself. I was supposed to be having a chat over the phone with my potential future employer, but in the end they put it off until Tuesday. I didn't leave the house all day, and spent most of my time in two minds about whether I wanted to take the job or not. My mood would change hour by hour - for a while I'd think I ought to give it a go, then a few minutes later I'd be thinking I would rather just give up and go back to England.
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Miyajima in the Rain
[Sunday 21st August]
Spent the day doing touristy sightseeing type stuff on Miyajima by myself while Chie, Yuka and their parents went to visit relatives on the island. It was absolutely pouring with rain all day, but this didn't actually spoil my day out at all - in fact it was nice to see Miyajima in a different light... It was also great to have a break from the scorching heat of late!
I started off at the famous Itsukushima Shrine, and from there wandered up the hill a bit to the Daisho-in Temple. I'd not been inside either of these places before - what with Chie being almost a resident on Miyajima I don't normally get an opprtunity to do the more touristy type things. I particularly enjoyed the Daisho-in Temple, and made a point for once of really reading through the leaflet thing properly, and at ltrying to know the name and significance of each building I was looking at.
We heade back to the mainland just before 7, and went for dinner in Miyajima-guchi, the little port town from where the ferry to Miyajima goes. Got back to the family's flat around 9ish, and I spent the rest of the evening trying to get my pictures and journal up to date...
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Back to Hiroshima
[Saturday 20th August]
Our journey of almost two weeks finally came to an end today. Our final leg took us from Kyoto/Osaka back to Hiroshima by local trains again. On the way we stopped off in Ako to see a castle, which neither of us were particularly impressed by. Got back to Hiroshima around 6ish, and I spent the evening trying to get up to date with emails, etc.
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Sendai to Mukomachi
[Friday 19th August]
Headed off in the morning from Sendai, and went by local trains as far as Tokyo. After that I decided I'd had enough of local trains, and we got on the shinkansen from there. We decided that rather than go straight back to Hiroshima, it would be nice to go and see Dale and Erina in Mukomachi (near Kyoto) on the way back.
We left the girls chatting in Dale and Erina's flat, while us menfolk went out for a few drinks and a manly chat. This was absolutely great - it seems like ages since I've been able to have a decent conversation with an English friend, in fact I almost certainly haven't done this since I was last in England. The location was also pretty nice - we went to Dale's "local" - a bar next to the station which he sometimes pops into for a beer after work. The bar was pretty was pretty western in style, and the crowd were all very young and friendly. Stayed out until gone 2 o' clock, and I was probably pretty drunk by the end of it. Really fantastic!
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Sendai
[Thursday 18th August]
Took a bit of a break from our travelling today, and as Junchan had the day off work, we spent the day in and around Sendai with her. The daytime was chiefly occupied with going to visit Matsushima - one of the "scenic trio" of Japan, which also includes Miyajima. The weather was pretty grey so we probably didn't really see it at its best - the pictures are mostly a little grey and disappointing. The weather matched my mood really, having had my recent job offer faxed through to Junchan's house the night before, I had a lot on my mind.
Had dinner with Junchan's family in the evening, back at her house. Spoke to her Dad, who is a dentist, about what is good and bad for your teeth, which is quite entertaining. I found him far less intimidating than I had imagined I would! Also learnt some Sendaiben (the local dialect) and drank plenty of sake.
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Morioka to Sendai
[Wednesday 17th August]
Spent the daytime travelling from Morioka to Sendai. We had much less distance to cover than the previous day, and the train network had got pretty much back to normal after the previous day's earthquake... So this made for a significantly less stressful day of travelling! We stopped off en route around Hanamaki, to visit some museum or other, which I didn't really understand.
We arrived in Sendai around 5:30, and met up with our friend Junchan, who we were going to be staying with for a couple of nights. Went to an Indian restaurant for dinner, which was quite nice, and then after that went back to Junchan's house.
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A Miracle in Morioka
[Tuesday 16th August]
I had began to wonder if Chie and I were really that well suited to travelling together. We were fine on the way to Hokkaido - the ferry ride was just plain luxurious and we both had a wonderful relaxing time there. On the way back though we had opted for the train, today was going to be the second leg of our journey, and it proved to be putting something of a strain on us. On a ferry you just get on at one end, and get off at the other, and you've no need to do anything in particular in between. Given that the train alternative was going to take several days, there was all the added stress of changing trains, and working out where to stay, where to eat, and so on...

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Shizunai to Hakodate
[Monday 15th August]
I don't like planes, you know. In Japan if you tell people you're going to Hokkaido, they will straight away assume that you're flying. I think I read somewhere that Tokyo to Sapporo is the world's busiest flight route. Although I find that hard to believe, I guess there are still quite a lot of flights between the two cities.... but this sort of travel is not for the likes of me. No, I was determined we would get to and from Hokkaido by more conventional means. On the way there we'd taken the ferry, which was great. On the way back we'd determined to do it by train... but not a nice fast sleeper train or anything, no, we were going to go the whole way on the cheap - using local trains only.

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Shizunai
[Sunday 14th August]
After the previous day's rather long journey, we thought it best for all concerned to stay in the local area around where we were staying today. So Mikikosan took us for a bit of a drive and a wander around Shizunai. This included a trip to the small Ainu museum there, which I found very interesting. The Ainu are the indigenous population of Japan (the Japanese are all immigrants!), and in a country where gaijins like me stick out like a sore thumb, and are often treated very differently, I find some comfort in knowing that, bizarrely, the original indigenous population of Japan are actually genetically closer to me than to the bulk of the Japanese.
In the evening we went to the Taniguchi family's farm for dinner. The family farm is a pretty huge estate - a stark contrast to the gardenless shoeboxes most Japanese people seem to live in. The family breed racing horses there. It was a very nice evening, the family were very courteous and welcoming and I felt really comfortable and relaxed there. Spoke almost entirely in Japanese all evening, helped no doubt by a fair amount of beer.
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Volcanology for Beginners
[Saturday 13th August]
We were staying with Keijisan and Mikikosan - friends of Chie's family - I suppose in England they would probably be Chie's godparents. Today Keijisan kindly offered to take us somewhere, and asked what I would like to see. Without a moments hesitation I said "kazan" - Japanese for volcano.
It turned out to be rather a long drive - at least 3 hours each way, and I couldn't help but feel a bit guilty about making Keijisan do all that driving on his day off! I am really grateful though - this was my first time to see a real volcano and it was great. In fact, there wasn't just one, we saw about four. We were in the area of Showa Shinzan, where it seems they have an eruption every 30 years or so, and each eruption generally results in a new mountain and a few less trees.
There weren't any visible lava flows or anything, and I wasn't showered in volcanic ash, but there was plenty of smoke about, and the last volcano we saw definitely had the look of the sort of terrain a James Bond villain might have a secret hide-out in. It was great.
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Sapporo
[Friday 12th August]
Spent most of the daytime in Sapporo, having a bit of a general wander around. Did a bit of sightseeing, but I wasn't really in the mood - I think I'd caught a bit of sun stroke the day before on that crazy coastal walk around Shokotan, so today I was feeling somewhat under the weather.
Went on to Shizunai in the afternoon/evening, where some friends of Chie's family live. Had a nice quiet evening in with Mikikosan and Keijisan, was treated to some very nice Hokkaido vegetables for dinner, followed by some Yoichi whisky I'd brought along as an omiyage.
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Yoichi and Otaru
[Thursday 11th August]
Spent the day around the South West of Hokkaido, not too far from Sapporo. Spent the morning in Yoichi visiting a distillery, the afternoon on the Shakotan peninsula on a coastal walk, and the evening going out in Otaru...

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On a Boat
[Wednesday 10th August]
Almost the entirety of today was spent on a ferry - 20 hours from midnight up until about 8 in the evening. I was slightly concerned beforehand it would be a bit on the dull side,@but actually the time seem to pass really quickly, and I would have been quite happy to stay on for another 20 hours. It was just really superb travelling by ferry in this way - it harkened back to a golden era when travel was exciting and glamorous, not the uncomfortable ordeal it has become thanks to the proliferation of air travel...

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Oarai
[Tuesday 9th August]
We'd both been wanting to go to Hokkaido for some time, and having dithered about how to get there and so on for what had seemed like weeks, we had finally comitted to getting a ferry from Oarai, a port not too far from Tokyo. The ferry didn't leave until midnight though, so we had a whole day to kill. We'd thought about hanging around in Tokyo, but it was really hot, and we thought perhaps if we went to the sea it might be cooler.
So we left Tokyo just before lunch, and got the train to Oarai. Oarai, it turns out, is not a wholly fascinating place. After arriving we had a bit of a wander, then went and sat on the beach for a bit. We then went back into the "centre" of the town, if cou can call it that, and had some dinner at a slightly frightening noodle/tempura place. It was a bit like the kind of place where the saloon doors swing behind you as you enter, and the piano player stops. We then went to a supermarket to stock up on supplies for our trip, and headed over to the ferry terminal, where we finally boarded our ship some time around 11.
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Tokyo
[Monday 8th August]
We had planned to go travelling for a bit, and the first leg of our journey would take us to Tokyo. This was handy as it meant Chie could go to an interview on the way through, and I could also enjoy some very nice whisky...

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Waterfall
[Sunday 7th August]
Went out for a bit in the afternoon to go and see a waterfall, somewhere north of Hiroshima. I often moan when in Japan about the lack of "proper" countryside - scenery which doesn't look man-made, or at least man-managed. I am pleased to report that this place was pretty much free of concrete, there wasn't a handy vending maching next to it, and there were barely any electricity pylons in sight. The waterfall was some way up at the head of a valley, and as such it was a little cooler than it was in the city, made better still by being able to go for a bit of a paddle in the water. This made for a very nice afternoon's outing.
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Solar Powered
[Saturday 6th August]
The main highlight of today only actually occupied about an hour, perhaps less, but the rest of the day was fairly uneventful - mainly messing about on the computer, so I will instead focus on my brief foray into solar power...

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[4 comments]

Gaijin Bars and Cafes
[Friday 5th August]
Spent most of the day out, and most of it in not particularly Japanese bars, cafes, etc. Started off with lunch in Subway, with a friend (plus a friend-of-a-friend) of Chie's that she'd met through her recent part time jobs. One or other other (or both) of the people we had lunch with was training to be a Japanese teacher, or something... Apparently they need some work experience before they can get a job (a bit of a chicken-and-egg scenario) so they had decided to do some volunteer teaching - and I was therefore a handy test subject. I think Chie has arranged for me to go off and have some lessons with them or something, I have to admit to not being entirely sure as to what was going on.
Having already got into the centre of Hiroshima, we couldn't really be bothered to leave, so meandered around for some of the rest of the afternoon. I had found a place on the web called Chinajia that I wanted to go and have dinner in, but after some extensive searching round the streets of Hiroshima it appears it may have closed down. By this point we were a bit tired of walking about, so stumbled into the nearest bar for a sit down and a drink. We went into a place called The Shack, and American style bar and grill, which I think is a sister bar to a place we went the other day (Kemby's). Seeing vegetarian options on the menu (such a rarety in Japan) I was somewhat overcome with excitement, and we decided to eat here too. The food was actually very good - I had a kind of tofu burger and Chie had some vegetable fajitas. It was probably all pretty unhealthy but I didn't care, it was great.
Following a couple of beers in The Shack, we then decided we might as well go the whole hog on the gaijin bar front, and go to the Irish pub across the road - Molly Mallone's. Had a couple of pints of expensive, but jolly nice Guinness in there, and then decided to head back home.
On the way back home we went by way of a shop selling lots of booze, which had a very respectable whisky selection. I bought a bottle of Caol Ila Cask Strength, and then proceeded to drink a fair amount of it with Chie's Dad when I got back to the flat.
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Another Rather Dull Day
[Thursday 4th August]
Didn't leave the house at all all day, with the exception of the now usual trip out in the evening to buy ice creams. This time for a change we decided not to let them melt on the way back home, and instead sat on a bench to eat them. This was probably the highlight of the day! So really not that exciting.
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A Very Short Trip to Tokyo
[Wednesday 3rd August]
Today I had my fourth - and apparently final - interview for that job I've been applying for over the last few months. However it didn't actually end in a job offer as I was hoping - apparently the final decision still has to be made, so I will probably hear one way or the other by post.
On previous trips to Tokyo I've stayed at least one night, and tried to do something fun whilst there, but this time for a change I did the journey there and back in one day. It is four hours each way from Hiroshima to Tokyo, so as you can imagine I spent rather a long time on the train all in all! This was fine on the way out, but in the way back it really seemed to drag. To resolve this I had a bit of a chat with my neighbouring passenger (I'm sure there's a better word for that). I'm not really sure if talking to strangers on the train is the done thing or not in Japan, but I was too bored to care! I was very pleased with myself - I managed an entire conversation in Japanese, albeit perhaps a rather superficial conversation about which places we'd visited and so on.
In fact, given that I'd gone to Tokyo by myself for a change, and had bought things in shops etc whilst there, and also spoke a bit of Japanese in the interview, this has to rank as one of my highest Japanese usage days ever.... I am rather pleased with myself.
[4 comments]

Google Sightseeing and Izakaya
[Tuesday 2nd August]
Spent a large part of the day on the computer, having become temporarily addicted to my new hobby of Google Sightseeing. You can see the results of my efforts here.
As Chie's Mum was out for the day, the task of preparing dinner for Chie's Dad full to us. So predictably we cheated and decided to eat out instead. We went to an izakaya not too far from the flat called Kafuji. It was nice and traditional inside, and had the feeling of a family run business about it. Had a beer and some nice sake, as well as a few bits and pieces to eat. That's about it really, didn't do much else.
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Hair Cut
[Monday 1st August]
During my first spell in Japan this year, I can't help but think I wasn't really doing things properly. I made a number of small changes to my lifestyle to fit in, but I didn't go far enough, in hindsight. Chief among these things was that, despite needing a hair cut towards the end, I decided to wait until I got back to England to have one. OK, I'll admit it - I was afraid. I'm quite happy to buy things in shops - the dialogue required is very limited ("I want that one"), however getting a haircut seemed like a significantly more complex venture, in which the consequences of getting it wrong could have been catastrophic.

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