Japan current location8:52AM – Hakodate Plaza Hotel.

Yesterday morning, the day was filled with promise. I had a whole day to explore, I wasn’t in a rush to get anywhere, and generally I was in a good mood. Little did I know, that was all about to change.

The first sign that things might not go my way came to my attention as soon as I saw the weather. It was overcast, grey, and foreboding. Crud. After such beautiful weather the day before, this was a real let down. That’s okay, it’s just weather. I prepared my backpack for the day ahead, then set out for the station, stopping at the front desk to pay for another night. The only plan I had at that point was to get the logfiles ready from the last two days and upload them so people won’t think I’m dead or lying in a hospital bed somewhere Brian. I thought maybe in Hakodate Station, since that coffee house has rental PCs, and a rental PC alone really isn’t very useful, they most likely had wireless service. Whether it was open access or not, that was the real question. I walked into the lobby of the station and around the left to the little coffee house by the panya. My first thought was to look for a ‘consen’, an electric outlet. That way I could write my log files without using up any battery time, which I might need later. I didn’t see any off hand, so I wandered around the outer station some. I did find an interesting overlook of the trains, which of course didn’t exist before. Electrical outlets were nowhere to be found, however. Hrm.

One of the sneaky things about having a rail pass is that since it doesn’t cost you anything to ride trains, it’s almost like an all-access pass to every area of any JR station. You just flip it out, show it, and suddenly you’re a VIP and can pass through any entrance gate as much as you want. I thought I had seen some outlets by the phones in the long hallway by the trains, so I whipped out my rail pass and walked through the entrance gate. As I approached the phones, I still didn’t see any, but the phones have to get power *somewhere*. I walked up to the green phone and noticed a cable running in to a little box underneath. My guess was correct, it was just a cover, and underneath were the little two pronged power outlets.

One thing to know about Japanese outlets, they don’t have three prong plugs here. Gene and Lou’s house, since it’s on a military base, has them, but typically they’re just non-polarity, non-grounded plugs. American two prong plugs will fit, but if you don’t have one, you could be out of luck. My one bit of luck on this trip was that the power inverter I bought for the plane didn’t have a three-pronged outlet either; it just has one non-grounded plug. As such, it comes with a little adapter to convert a three pronged plug to a two pronged one! This has come in more handy than words can express. Another thing to note – they’re only 100VAC here (and in some places 50Hz, so clocks get screwed too as they’re expecting 60 and use that to measure time), not 115 like in the States, so while most electric appliances will work, they’ll run slower or will be flaky. Hair dryers, for instance, always take forever.

I plugged my two pronged adapter into the outlet and powered up. This was perfect. I finished up the first day’s log and pictures, then started on the second. What I realized after not too long was that one of the reasons I was trying to go to the coffee shop was to get *breakfast*. Doh! It seemed like too much work to pack everything back up, go back out, get food, then come back in here. Bleh. I just ignored my stomach for the time being. I got a brief phone mail from Yuriko, who said good morning and that she’d call me when she got done with work.

Scores of trains arrived, and many different people got on and off to and from different destinations. Hakodate is like Aomori, that is, every train arrives and leaves in the same direction. If we didn’t change trains here, we’d have to flip seats. I continued to work on the next log, but the task seemed really daunting, as we did SO much yesterday. On top of that, it was getting close to lunchtime at that point. Finally, I could stand it no more; I hibernated my laptop and walked out, at least to get food and come back. The only thingI checked was to see if there were any outlets I missed, since I thought I’d seen those covers elsewhere. Sure enough, there were a number of them, all upstairs though.

As I walked out of the side exit of the building, a chilly wind flew past me. Brrr! I debated for about two seconds, then pulled my jacket out of my backpack and put it on. Fortunately, I always try to be prepared for any situation. I walked across the street and over to the seafood shops that were at this time of day completely bustling with activity. People were calling out their various wares, displaying different sized boxes contains multiple types of seafood, and giving out free samples to try and tempt people to buy some. It all looked so delicious, and of course, I was starving, so that didn’t help. I meandered through a big area filled with mostly fruit, and came close to buying some; I’ve never had a bad piece of fruit in Japan. I was distracted by an area where they were selling live crabs and live shrimp, though, and ended up behind the place on another small street, packed with shops. As I got close to the end of the street, I noticed lots of people standing around who were all eating buns. A bun, or “man” is a small, chewy pastry that’s typically filled with pork, beef, or vegetables. In this case, however, they were filled with delectable crab meat. Whoa. I did a quick survey of the area, and sure enough, there was a little man warmer, filled with different types of buns. The front displayed the names – salmon, crab, sea urchin, and so on. As soon as I saw kani, crab, I bit.

“One crab bun, please,” I asked.
“Hai!” called out the older gentleman who ducked back to grab one.
The old woman nearby, who I’m assuming was his wife, said good morning to me, then asked, “Where did you come from, America?” I said I did. “HERRO, HOW ARE YOU?” she asked, in thickly accented English. “WELCOME TO JAPAN.”
“Nice to meet you,” I responded back in English.
”I don’t understand that at all,” she said, and shook her head. I told her what it meant, and then said it again.
“NICE MEET YOU,” she mimicked.
“Nice TO meet you.”
“Well done,” I told her, and the man brought me my bun. It was only 250 yen, a real bargain as far as I’m concerned. I thanked them, then walked a few steps away to indulge. I don’t know if it was just because I was really hungry, but that little pastry was one of the tastiest things I’ve ever put in my mouth. I had already walked around the corner when I thought about getting another one, but I had a different plan for lunch.

I walked down the same road in front of the Hakodate Kokusai Hotel, and stopped into the Lawson’s across the street to get an umbrella and a drink. It was really starting to rain, and I didn’t want to soak my backpack and all the expensive equipment contained within. Once the umbrella was opened and protecting my valuables, I strolled over to Hakodate Beer. Just for kicks I checked out the menu, but the same thought entered my mind; it’s too trendy. It’s like eating at PF Chang’s in some city you go to. It’s not bad food, but it’s just not very local. I guess Hakodate Beer *is* a little different; it’s actually Hokodate-based, but this wasn’t really why I was here. I went a block further to Hakodate Factory and back into the West Market Square building behind it. I was intending on doing the super-fresh grilled squid thing, and made my way to the lunch counter to do so. As I approached, however, a couple was talking to the woman proprietor who was telling them something about not being able to do something, and pointed them away from her counter. I made the assumption at that point that something was wrong with the grill, possibly, and walked around in a circle, scoping out the situation. Somehow I couldn’t bring myself to sit down at the other grill, even though there wasn’t anything more difficult about it. As I passed back by the original one, she was welcoming a pair of girls, and pointing to a small ticket machine next to her. I wasn’t sure whether it was for the grill, or the lunch counter next to it, and I had already made my mind up to go. I walked out into the street, popping open my umbrella once more.

It was a very dismal and dreary day, and the rain was varied in its amounts. I walked over the bridge and checked the menu at the Blue Moon café. This place also had pretty ordinary food, although it was easier to deal with ordering for sure. The rain was really getting me down somehow, but that still wasn’t what I wanted. I continued on to the other Hakodate Factory, and stepped inside. In the back were the little grills, and people was eating lunch. I saw the same ticket machine as in the other place, and in this case there was no question. I checked out the menu, and there was something with a whole squid for 1000 yen. I assumed this must be the thing, and so I bought a ticket for it. I also wanted some scallops, so I bought a ticket for 2 of them at 300 yen, plus a small Hakodate Beer to drink. I took a seat at the extreme right end of the bar, and gave the man my three tickets. He looked at them, then informed me something about the scallops, and I thought he said “after 7pm”, and then he asked if that was okay. I said it was, and he gave me back my ticket. I guess they didn’t have any? I didn’t see any on the grill, and nobody was eating any. Saa. That’s okay, the squid would be fine.

I broke out the laptop and continued work on the log file from the previous day. I still had a lot to go, so I figured I’d get it out of the way. He brought me my little 250ml aluminum bottle of Hakodate Lager Beer, which was pretty darn tasty, I must say. I always prefer microbrews anyway (outside of Sapporo, that is). A few moments later, the man put a plate down in front of me, and it wasn’t at all what I expected. It was an entire squid’s tube, but cut up as sashimi. I didn’t really have a problem with this, as I love squid sushi. Still, I was hoping to get the grilled one. Ah well. A moment later, however, he brought me a scallop shell filled with the tentacles from the squid, grilled, and put in some sort of tart sauce. After tasting it, I surmised it was possible it was made from either squid innards or scallop roe. I know that sounds really nasty, but it tasted pretty good, actually. I poured some soy sauce and began to dine on my gigantic just-was-swimming-and-now-is-now-on-my-plate squid. About halfway through the squid, a different man walked over and put a plate down in front of me; it was a grilled scallop! Cool! He said I had another coming, which he brought a moment later. I was confused – maybe that came with the squid? Or was it the other ticket that I bought? In retrospect I didn’t see anyone else who had that squid eating the scallops, so perhaps that’s what it was. I thought maybe I could come back later with that ticket and get some MORE scallops, but somehow I didn’t think that was correct. I bit pieces off the massive scallops, which were tender and cooked in a sweet soy sauce. Delicious. I finished off the super fresh squid and scallops, then put my laptop away and thanked them. I walked back out into the street, and it wasn’t raining anymore, thankfully. At that point I decided rather than risk embarrassment, I’d just ignore the ticket. In my mind, I’d already eaten what I paid for anyway, so it didn’t make any difference to me whether it was correct or not. When I took a picture of the meal, my camera was acting weird again, and kept giving me an error message, beeping, then shutting off. I thought maybe it was related to the batteries, but strange because I hadn’t really used that set at all. I changed batteries again, and the problem seemed to correct itself.

I was close to the freaky clown place at this point, which I didn’t risk looking at lest I be grabbed by oversized clown hands and placed into another dimension where I’d be forced into slavery to make Jack In The Boxes for the rest of my life. “Kowai,” I said as I passed. ‘scary’. A little further down the street were a bunch of upscale apartments, and I decided that this looked like the perfect place to find some unsecured wireless networks. I broke out the laptop, and sure enough saw a few. I was able to connect several times there, but never could get out anywhere. The signal just wasn’t strong enough. I think they must have been up a few stories. I decided to walk around a little more, and headed up the hill. I was across the street from Yuriko’s work again, and this time I was able to make a decent connection! I immediately started downloading my email, all the while basically standing in the middle of the sidewalk on the hill. I’m sure it looked a little strange, but I didn’t really care. It wasn’t very fast though, and the signal was low. I moved around some, and discovered the best signal was actually right in the middle of the street. Well that just wouldn’t do. I walked back across the street, aiming to sit down in the entranceway of a building that was unoccupied. However, right when I sat down, the signal dropped to nothing, so that wasn’t going to work either. I walked behind the building, and suddenly a new network appeared. I continued in that direction, and the signal got decently strong in a driveway. I connected up, and discovered it was a really good one! I put the laptop on top of a trashcan, and started an upload of my prepared logfile and pictures. It was disgustingly fast, in fact it was a faster upload than what I can do from my cable modem at home! Cool! This was THE spot. I finished the upload in record time, checked email once more, then got off. It had started to rain during that time as well, so I had put the umbrella up to protect the laptop, which I’m sure also looked a little weird.

I am a leech. A bandwidth leech. I said this to myself a few times, but I decided if people didn’t want me on their networks, then they should secure them. It’s not hard. Just proves my point about how important network security is. I was of course being totally benign, stealing a little bandwidth for my own private use. However, in the same way I probably could have raided their computers without any effort whatsoever, if I was an unscrupulous person. Keep that in mind if you run a wireless network anywhere.

I put everything away and started the walk back towards the station. I was running out of cash, and needed to exchange some more travelers’ checks. I looked on the Hakodate Guide Map, and they showed two banks nearby that were marked “foreign exchange”. The first of the two was open, but was very, very busy. The other was next door, and didn’t seem busy at all. I dropped inside, took a number and waited, briefly. When my number was called, I walked up to the counter. There are four kanji for foreign exchange, but for the life of me I couldn’t remember how to read them. Dagnabbit. “I ‘d like to turn American money into Japanese money, can I do that?” I asked the woman, since I didn’t see those four kanji anywhere.

“I’m sorry,” she said, “We can’t do that at this branch, but at a different branch you can. The one near the station is okay,” she informed me, then handed me a little Xeroxed map of how to get there with instructions in English. I thanked her and walked out. The station was a little far from the area I wanted to visit, but I decided I’d go there, take a short break at the hotel, then go back out. I walked quickly down the main thoroughfare towards the hotel. I mistakenly switched sides of the street, as I had misread the little map, but decided to just walk on that side anyway since I was already there. Shortly thereafter, I passed a different bank, and this time immediately recognized the four kanji in the window. I stepped inside.

Just inside the door there was a machine with two of the four kanji on it. I always make the mistake of thinking this is an automated exchange machine, but it’s not. It makes change, period. I stared at the machine for a moment, until the teller welcomed me and asked if I needed any help. I looked up at her and said, effectively, “American, Japanese, money in… want to change, from American money on the way to Japanese money, no, to Japanese money I want to change.” The reason for this was twofold; one, I was out of breath from walking really quickly with a big, heavy backpack, and two, she was jaw-droppingly attractive. Really beautiful women always make me nervous and suddenly I can’t speak, English or Japanese. Fortunately, she understood my slobbering gibberish, and she brought out a form for me to fill out. I got three hundred dollars in travelers’ checks out and entered the required information. She asked if it was okay to make a Xerox of my passport, then took it in the back and made a copy, which she showed me afterwards. She asked me to take a seat, which I did, attempting to regain my composure. I translated in my head how to explain why I couldn’t speak, but decided I would end up just being an annoying gaijin (foreigner), so I chunked that idea. I have no idea why it takes so long to change money. I mean, I know they have to look up in a big book the check to authenticate its validity and whatnot, but they check it, fill out some paperwork, calculate way more items than just exchange rates, then have to verify all of it with a manager, who always looks very concerned at it for a while before approving it. About ten to fifteen minutes later, she called me up to the counter and handed me my Japanese money. The exchange rate is slightly better than it has been; it was 113 to the dollar. I thanked her, then decided to find out once and for all what those kanji were. “Excuse me, but,” I started, in much better Japanese, “what are the readings for these kanji?” I asked, and motioned toward the big sign with “FOREIGN EXCHANGE” written in English underneath them.

“Eh?” she asked and tried to lean over to see. She then raced around to the front of the counter to see them. “Ah, that’s ‘gai-ka-ryoo-gae’.” She said.
“Gai-ka-ryoo-gaE,” she corrected.
“Gai-ka-ryoo-gae,” I repeated. She nodded. I thanked her, then she giggled, smiled at me, bowed, and went back behind her desk. I walked back outside, and started again on the path to the hotel. As I walked, I repeated, over and over, “gai-ka-ryoo-gae. Gai-ka-ryoo-gae.” I was not going to forget that again!

Near the station, I decided to take a quick gander inside the Wako Department Store, which is right near the hotel. It’s not what I expected; instead of a big department store with consistent styles, it seems to be more a collection of different stores, which all border one another. Indeed, there were sections that appeared to be stores that had closed down. I went up, past the American pop-culture store, which contained such items as Tom and Jerry and Simpsons memorabilia. None of the stores were really all that interesting, at least until I hit the top floor. The 5th floor was completely occupied by a store called Road Runner, which I’d seen advertised around Hakodate. It’s a teenager-type store, and contains entirely Western-style clothes, including jeans, t-shirts, and the like. As soon as I walked in, however, I decided Road Runner was entirely the wrong name for this place. A much more appropriate name would be, “The Store Where You Can Buy Lots of Hysterically Funny English Phrases On T-Shirts And Make Every Foreigner Crack Up When They See You Wearing Them.” Seriously. The store was completely filled with dozens of shirts and items that had English on them, and not once did I see a phrase that was right. I really had to restrain myself from busting a gut every time I saw a new one. I would have bought about half the store, except everything was also disgustingly expensive, to the tune of 4000-6000 yen for a boring cotton T-Shirt. It was like shopping at Guess or something. I snapped as many pictures as I could without being terribly obvious. I was about to take a picture of a Levi’s jeans ad which had Brad Pitt on it, when my camera again beeped at me and flashed the “E13” error message, then shut off. What the hell? I tried a couple of more times, but it always did that. I thought maybe the memory card was corrupt or something, and since I didn’t have access to the error messages, I didn’t have any clue what it meant. I put the camera back in its bag then took the escalators down and left the store.

Back in the hotel, I pulled the camera out of its bag and turned it on. E13. I pulled the memory card out of the camera, then tried again. This time, it worked. I guess it’s just the card, that sucks, since it’s brand new, I thought. I took a picture without the card, and it worked fine, complaining it couldn’t write it out, as expected. When I shut it off, however, it beeped at me again. I flipped the camera around, and immediately saw the problem – the lens wasn’t moving all the way back into the camera like it was supposed to. I turned it back on, and was presented with the E13 error again. Uh oh. I noticed a small dent on the automatic lens cover, and thought that might be the problem. There was a small pin hole on the bottom of it for opening the cover, so I decided to try and MacGuyver it. I popped the cover off, and unfortunately, outside of the tiny dent, it seemed to be okay. However, that cover was apparently protecting some itty bitty components that controlled the movement of the internal lens cover. Without it, the components slightly shifted out of place. I worked with it for a while, trying to get the cover back on, but was having a really hard time, due to the size and lack of tools. Finally, at one point, one of the springs, which was about 1/8” across flipped out as did one of the door components. Crap. I found all the pieces, but couldn’t get them back in. Well, I thought, I don’t need a lens cover really anyway. I tried turning the camera on. Same freakin’ error. The lens cover had nothing to do with it. Sunuva..

At this point, delicacy seemed to not be helping, so I chose the other route, attempting to help the lens go back in the camera when it turned off. However, as you might expect, I put a little too much pressure on it when it was struggling, and there was a “pop”. Uh oh. I tried to turn the camera on. Bzzt bzzt bzzt. Some random motor noises came from inside the camera, then it beeped and shut off. The lens was also slightly rotated, which it *definitely* wasn’t supposed to do. Crap-o-matic. MacGuyver took over again, and I used what tools I had available on my pocketknife to start taking the entire camera apart. I managed to get it apart, but the lens motor components are on a scale which is way beyond what the tools I had available could really fix. Plus I hadn’t ever taken anything like this apart before, which doesn’t usually stop me, but I was already having trouble trying to keep up with the various screws and whatnot on the PAISLEY bedcover. This was definitely NOT the place to try and fix this. I reassembled the camera, outside of the lens cover which was too small for me to repair. That’s it for this camera, for now. It’s kaput, toast, dead, owari, shinde shimaimashita. I got really pissed off, not just because it was broken, nor because *I* assisted in making it unusable, but mostly because now I would have to BUY ANOTHER CAMERA, something I really didn’t want to do here. I don’t have access to information (such as reviews) as easily, and the prices are slightly higher than what I can get in the US. Also, I was saving up for a really *nice* camera, and this wasn’t the time to buy it. Not to mention that it’s quite probably that the interface will be in Japanese, which is okay, but definitely not preferable. I thought briefly about trying to fix it here in Japan, as it’s a Japanese camera – Canon Powershot A70 – but I have no idea how long it’ll take to fix, how much it’ll cost, and I don’t know if I’ll be in one place long enough to get it fixed. Plus, I won’t have a camera at all during that time, and one of the major reasons I’m here is TO TAKE PICTURES.

Needless to say, I was completely pissed off at this point, and really wasn’t sure what to do. I finished up the logfile from the day before, packaged it, made a backup (which also wasn’t working right and frustrated me even further) then dropped back out into the night, attempting to locate an electronics store where I could at least *look* for a new camera.

The rain had started up again, and I opened up my umbrella again to try and protect my gear. As it turns out, however, this wasn’t going to be possible, as the wind was not only amazingly strong, but somehow was coming from every available direction. Just when I thought I’d got the wimpy little 1000 yen umbrella pointed in the right direction to at least sort of stave off the stinging droplets, it would whip up from some other direction, and flip my umbrella inside out. A block further I noticed something I’d hoped would make me feel at least somewhat better; I finally located a DDR machine in Japan. It’s in the arcade which is just two blocks away from the station, and it’s an 8th Mix Extreme version. I dropped off my backpack, removed my GPS and jacket, and plunked in a quarter. Nothing really seemed open after 7pm anyway, so it didn’t seem to make a difference, spending a little time working off some stress. I chose Dam Darriam, a song I knew really well and set it to Heavy, which isn’t a problem for me with that song. As it started, I was doing okay, then suddenly WHOA I nearly ate it due to the fact that my shoes were wet. That hadn’t crossed my mind when I started to play, but after I nearly broke my neck the third time and subsequently lost the game barely 30 seconds in, it only added to my frustration for the night. I snatched up my stuff and stormed out into the rain, embarrassed. Fortunately, nobody was watching.

After the tenth time of trying to fight the torrential rain and wind, I finally just gave up and closed the umbrella. The walkways were covered anyway, although the wind was so strong it was blowing the rain sideways into them. I walked a little further and confirmed my suspicions that all the stores were in fact closed by 7PM. Dagnabbit. I noticed a CD store up ahead that was still open, so I decided to stop in and find the Koda Kumi CDs I’ve been wanting to buy. Those are kind of hard to get in the US, so there’s a perfect excuse. Plus, in a bad mood, buying something makes me feel better, which is probably a bad way to be. As I walked in, I immediately saw the huge Anime soundtrack section which was bordered by album by the seiyuu (voice actors/actresses) and video game music. How cool is that? Nearby I noticed the J-Pop section, and located “ku” (alphabetical by Japanese alphabet) and started looking. When I didn’t see any, it suddenly occurred to me, oh duh, we’d already been putting her name in Japanese order (American style would be Kumi Koda) so I was looking in the wrong section. Plus Kumi is a given name anyway, so that should have been blatantly obvious. I moved a little further down in the J-Pop to “ko”. It hit me at that point, her name would be in kanji, and I didn’t think I’d ever seen the kanji for her name before! It couldn’t be that hard to figure it out, though. I located an album from a band with a romaji (roman characters) title that was ko-de-something, and alphabetically, that came after ko-da. I backed up and noticed a set of albums (and a small marker denoting a specific famous artist) that had the kanji for “da” meaning field and “mi” from “imi” in the second and fourth positions. That had to be it. _da _mi. Yup. I pulled out an album, and, written in Romaji, was Koda Kumi. There were about 12 CDs there, although most of them were singles. There were only two full albums, but naturally, the singles had remixes and things that I hadn’t heard before. Shucks. I ended up grabbing everything but the dual disc sets with the album and a short DVD. Those were slightly more expensive than their non-DVD counterparts. “I can’t get this in the US,” I reminded myself as I left a gigantic hole in the CD rack. I probably can, actually, but it’s going to be more expensive. As I checked out, I noticed that they had the Star Wars Trilogy on DVD, and were playing the demo video nearby. “No, *I* am your father…” says Darth Vader, and the Japanese subtitle pops up. Behind the clerk I thought I noticed a Koda Kumi poster, as her name was on the rolled up paper, but I didn’t ask about it, as I had nowhere to put it anyway. It ended up being over 20000 yen, ouch. Well, I never have new music anyway.

Back out into the street I went with my little bag full of nicely wrapped CDs. I’d have to rip them at some point and place copies on my MP3 player. The rain had stopped, somewhat, so I didn’t put up my fruitless umbrella. I wasn’t sure where I was heading, so I made for the Internet Spot, as I had dubbed it, to send my log. I figured it was right next to Yuriko’s work anyway, so I’d go there, send the latest log, then hang out and wait for her to finish at 9.

The rain was coming down again, and I thought the GPS had shut off due to lack of batteries, so I stopped momentarily in a 7-11 to get a coffee and put the CDs into my backpack for easier carrying. I also switched batteries in the GPS, which as it turns out, wasn’t off after all. It was complaining about it though. I kept getting annoyed with the umbrella, as it was really being annoying, flipping around like mad with every gust of wind. I couldn’t not use it though, or my stuff would get drenched, not to mention me. I set the GPS to track me to the ropeway, which was the closest waypoint to Yuriko’s work. It’s still really cool how it can calculate a route and tell you how long it will be before you get there. I could see the ropeway up ahead, but I knew I had to cut right some to get there, so I chose a random street and turned right. As I did, I noticed I couldn’t have planned it better; I could see Yuriko’s building up ahead. I walked past and looked inside, but didn’t see her, much less even know where in the building she worked, really. I crossed the big, steep hill street and went to my little spot o’ wireless, although the rain was really pouring on me. I decided the best place to be was close to the building next door and found a useful spot. I laid the backpack down, and opened the computer section, which is the space between my back and the rest of the pack (it opens from the back side). I hunched down on the ground, using the umbrella to protect the notebook, and enabled the wireless, which hooked up like a champ. The logfile transmission said it would take about 4 minutes, and I was chomping at the bit to have it finish. About a minute in I realized my brilliance; I had laid the backpack in a runoff river. CRAP. The entire front of the bag was drenched. I picked up the bag and moved it back to the top of the trashcan again, which was more obvious, and I was afraid people would get scared if they saw me being all covert in what was effectively an alley. Fortunately nobody was out though, on account of the weather. I kept telling the computer to hurry, and it was doing its best. I also downloaded my email at the same time, and when both were done, I hibernated the computer as fast as possible. I then noticed that the big notebook flap that holds the computer wasn’t covered by the umbrella and it, too was drenched. ARGH. I brushed off as much water as possible, and then closed the flap, hoping it wouldn’t do any damage to the expensive laptop contained within.

I tossed the bag on my shoulder, and hunched under the umbrella. The wind had picked up too, and now it was definitely not a time to be standing out in the weather. I thought briefly about trying the coffee shop across the street, but ended up just going back into the restaurant Yuriko and I had eaten dinner at the night before. The same confused man greeted me, and sat me at a table close to the entrance. I perused the menu, but really wanted to wait for Yuriko, so I just ordered a coffee, which is 400 yen, and a little pricey for one small cup of coffee. The young girl that Yuriko introduced me to yesterday brought me a hot towel, and I said good evening to her. “Oh! You… yesterday… Yuriko’s…” she said, surprised, then bowed, quickly. The coffee arrived next, along with a small vial of cream. He also moved the silver sugar bowl out next to it, hung the lid on the side of it, and asked if I needed anything else. I told him no and prepared the coffee. I realized what was weird – it was Japanese cream, and it tastes a little sour. It’s not, but it makes the coffee taste weird, that’s for sure. It was only about 8:00 at this point, so I figured I had an hour to wait until she called. I sent her a phone message saying I’d be at the restaurant when she was done.

The restaurant didn’t close until 9:30 pm, so I figured it would be plenty of time to hang out and just wait for her to show. I didn’t feel like getting out the laptop, the case of which I’d opened to try and dry out. I ended up just playing with my cell phone, and trying to figure out some of the features. I noticed in the profile that there were some things like “face” which I didn’t get, and when I checked it out, it was really interesting. Apparently, since this phone didn’t really support images, they opted for a “sketch” route, that is, much like a police sketch artist, you could create something that looked like your face, based on a good number of varying hair styles, face shapes, nose shapes, eye shapes, and mouth shapes. It was kind of fun mixing and matching, and I came up with something that generally looks like me. I also filled in my blood, type, birthdate (from which it determined I was an Aquarius) and a short comment. This fun of course only lasted so long, and I quickly found myself bored. 9PM rolled around, and I noticed the lights in the hallway adjoining Yuriko’s building and this one turn off, so I thought maybe she would show up. She didn’t. Time ticked away, and the last set of customers outside of myself walked up and paid. After that it was just me, and I started to feel bad. They wouldn’t say anything, of course, but I’m sure they were waiting for me to leave so they could close up. Finally, around 9:15 I gave in, sent Yuriko another text message saying I was headed back to the hotel, then paid and left.

The rain had died back down, fortunately, although the wind still picked up from time to time. I walked in the cool night, down the main road through town back to towards the Plaza Hotel. It was still wet around, and I kept dodging water as people, mostly taxis, drove past. I kept expecting Yuriko to drive up somehow, but she didn’t. I was sure she was just working late, but I started to get a little worried anyway. I kept myself company by singing to myself, and shutting up whenever I passed someone on the street. I made it the entire way back to the hotel, but just as I was about to walk up to it, my cell phone rang. Yuriko said she was finished with work, and I told her I had just gotten back to the hotel. She said she’d be there in a moment. I stood in the parking garage and waited for her. I debated running up to my room to drop off my stuff, but decided that was just a waste of energy; I’d be in her car soon, and wouldn’t have to carry any of it around anymore.

Yuriko drove up a few minutes later, and I got in. She said she was very tired, and that a client had made her stay later than usual. It occurred to me at that point that she never said that tonight she’d actually get off at 9, I just assumed because of the night before. I asked if she’d eaten, and she said no, and that she was really hungry. We tried to decide where to eat, and I asked about the tako yaki place, which I’d assumed was closed already. “Do you want to try and go? “ she asked, but I said I thought it wasn’t open anymore. “No, it should still be open,” she said, so we departed in that direction, which sadly, was right back by her work. How futile was that – I walked all the way back to the hotel only to end up right back where I’d started five minutes later!

We drove up the the hotel, and she cried, “Zen-nen! Yasumi da!” (oh no! It’s a holiday for them!) The place was closed. Ah well. “Well, where should we go now…” she said.

“Anywhere that you want to eat is fine,” I told her. The problem was, she told me, that it was so late ( it was already past 10 ) and pretty much everything was closed. Outside of Victoria, I thought, but we’d been there two nights in a row. She drove around kind or wildly for a while, and we ended up on the western coastline of Hakodate, which I’d never been to. She drove along for a while, passing closed restaurant after closed restaurant. In the rain, which had picked up heavily again, I saw a place with lots of cars out front up on the right. Sure enough, she put her blinker and started to turn in. She missed the entrance in the darkness however, and nailed the curb full on. WHAM!

“Ah! Bikkuri shita! Daijoubu?” (‘ah, that surprised me! You okay?’)
“Daijoubu,” I told her. I’m amazed that she didn’t get a flat, but the tires on her car are teeny tiny. We took a mini spot close to the building and she suggested we sprint inside. The building, by the way, was very, very strange. It looked like someone had taken driftwood and old boat parts and put a structure together, although in a manner that also made it look like someone was trying to make it *appear* that way, if that makes any sense whatsoever. We ducked in the entrance out of the rain.

She got someone’s attention and they took us back to a table in the far left corner. The place, as it turned out, is called “Bikkuri Donkey!” which as you might surmise from the previous paragraph means, ‘Surprised Donkey!’ Yes that makes no sense. It’s apparently another hamburger steak place, which Yuriko apologized for. I really didn’t care, as I was starving by then, and besides, I don’t eat them very often anyway. You can order big mugs of Donkey Bier! which I refrained from doing, and they have all sorts of bizarre names for their food, like opa opa beef and such. Now the weirdest part of all this, aside from the fact that the entire inside of the restaurant had a jungle/wilderness theme, with vines running everywhere and tree trunks in the middle of the room, is that you’d expect, with a name like Bikkuri Donkey!, the waitresses would have on themed outfits that would match the décor. Yeah, that’s just not the case. Our waitress came over to take our order (after calling her with the little call button on the table, I love those) and I swear she looked like she dropped by from Gramma Ethel’s Kuntry Kitchin’. She had lace embroidery on her flowered apron, and big poofy sleeves that looked like a bad prom date from the 50’s. One of these things is not like the other. Yuriko ordered me a hamburg steak with steak bits, and she got a curry steak with salad. I also asked for some spicy chicken, which appeared to be some sort of chicken nugget type device. The waitress typed all this into her little electronic pad, then bowed and rushed off, I’m assuming, to cook the grits before battling Mambo, the leader of the Jungle People. Yuriko said that normally, if it weren’t raining so hard, you could see the squid lights from the window. I hadn’t even noticed the window, as it was dark outside. The restaurant was right on the beach, and so out there I could see a decent surf crashing its way up to the restaurant. That really surprised me. She was right though; a few minutes later the rain cleared up again, and you could see, out in the distance, the ultra bright lights of the squid fisherman on the horizon. It really looks like a bridge out on the water or something.

A few moments later, the food arrived on a little wooden cart. He delivered the chicken first, then the two plates of food. Mine came on a sizzling iron skillet, which rested on a wood serving tray shaped like an artist’s paint palette, just like the ones you’d find in darkest Africa. The food was pretty tasty, though, in particular the chicken nuggets which were crunchy but not overcooked. I did have a hard time eating the creamed corn with chopsticks though, and it made me regret my decision not to take the knife and fork they offered me earlier. We finished up, and she asked if I wanted coffee. As usual I went for the latte, which she also chose. She’s really been getting into the lattes since I told her about them.

We got into conversations about all manner of things, not the least of which included Disneyworld, Austin, American History, different accents and dialects, not being able to stay home from school when we were kids, and roller coasters, which she said she absolutely adored. She described the situation by demonstrating how she handled them:

“WAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAH! Mou ikkai. (one more time) WAAAAAAAAAAAH! Mou ikkai. WAAAAAAAAH! Mou ikkai.”

I cracked up.

Each time I described something cool in the US, like cheap fruit prices, or other cheap but good things, she’d answer by saying, “ah, sooka sooka” (I see I see) or “Ii naaaaaa.” (that’s really great, huh) She’d also let me know she understood a difficult concept I was trying to explain, i.e. the Civil War, by saying, in English, “OK, I see.” All of these things were very cute, and very endearing. We got around to the topic of pronunciation, and I worked with her on the concept of words ending in consonants, which, being Japanese was a difficult thing to grasp. “it’s not ‘pi-gu’,” I explained, “it’s just pig.” I described the idea of a syllabic language, and how in Japanese, everything gets translated to syllables, not letters. However, to have a good English pronunciation (hatsuon), she needed to learn to drop the extra vowel sound that Japanisized words always had. She did really well with that. The harder thing for her to do was do a schwa – r sound, which doesn’t exist in Japanese. I told her, that’s why in Lost in Translation they have the joke about switching the Rs and the Ls in Japan. She tried really hard to do it, and occasionally got it right. I told her English must be way harder to learn than Japanese, and this was one of the reasons why. “Muzukashii!” (that’s difficult!) she exclaimed.

We really did have a grand old time.

After a while, she started to look tired, and asked if I wanted to go. We went up to the front, paid, and then got back into her car, this time rain-free. As we turned back out into the road, I told her to be careful of the curb, and she laughed. As we arrived at the hotel, she asked when I was leaving. I told her probably after noon. She said she had to work at noon, and asked if I wanted to get breakfast. Absolutely, I told her, and we decided on 9:30. We both said good night, and I waved good bye as she drove off. Inside the hotel, I had to get the attention of the guy in the back who yawned as he handed me my key. I realized that having spent so much time with Yuriko, my Japanese is back in high gear, which is really cool. I understand so much more now, and can express myself really well too. Absolutely fantastic, and I still have a week and a half here! I went to bed really quickly, as I planned on getting up early to repack everything.

Sorry for the lack of pictures this go-around, but I don’t have a camera anymore!!!

-- Hikaru