Japan current location10:19AM, Misawa.

Yesterday morning was a little sad; it was the beginning of my last few hours in Hakodate. I woke up early, at 7:30, so that I had time to repack my suitcase, which looked someone had put a landmine in it. Somehow it’s getting larger and larger, although I haven’t really added very much to it. I quickly showered, gathered my things, and crammed everything into the slowly shrinking extra space. This was not good – I didn’t even have very many gifts or things from Japan yet, and my CDs were still in my backpack. I got the idea that it would be easiest if I sent some stuff home via a box. I’d wait until Misawa, since I could use the US Post Office on base anyway.

It didn’t take too long to get everything ready, so I worked on the logfile from the day before until about 9:20, then picked everything up, double-checked the room, and walked down to the lobby. I gave back my key, and my phone rang. Yuriko was downstairs, so I got in an elevator and went down to the ground level. Once I got down there, I realized I was going to leave my bag, but forgot to ask. I ran up to her car and asked if it was better to bring it with us or better to leave it here, and she said leaving it was a smarter plan. I went back inside and got in the elevator. As the doors were closing, I saw a reflection of Yuriko as she came inside. I stabbed at the green Open Door button and then called, “Yuriko!” since I didn’t see her. She had started up the stairs but popped back into the elevator with me when I called. Upstairs, I asked if they would hold on to my bag, and told them I’d be back around 11:30 to get it. Yuriko chatted with the older man (who was the guy who was sleeping the other night, I’m sure, and used to be her co-worker) about the new kid who took my bag. He was basically doing her job now, and she commented about how young he is. “Ganbatte, ne,” she told him. (do your best)

We left, and got into her car. “Where should we go eat?” she asked. I mentioned to her about the excellent kani-man I’d had the day before and asked if we could do that.
“If you’d like to go somewhere else, we can,” I told her, but she said that was fine, as she wanted to try one too.

We drove near the seafood stands, and attempted to find a parking spot nearby. There really wasn’t anything free, so we took a spot in a lot about halfway to Hakodate Beer, which is only a few blocks from the shops. As we walked back, I took off my jacket – the weather was gorgeous again – and showed her my Hogwarts t-shirt. “That’s so cool!” she exclaimed. We approached the seafood market, and immediately smelled all the delicious items that abounded. It’s easy to eat around there as there are many little stores and shops that will cook things right in front of you. They’re very friendly to foreigners, and will practically drag you off the street to have you try something. Yuriko said that normally, they way they were hawking everything and bugging you as you passed, that’s really exceedingly rude. Since this place was a little different, though, it was okay.

“Hey, sister, how about a souvenir?”
“Why don’t you come and try some of this, it’s tasty!”
“Delicious things over here!”

After she said this, I noticed that they really kinda did get in your face somewhat. What was interesting though is that for some reason Yuriko always seemed to respond to them when they called her, while I just chose to ignore them. I don’t know if that was a Japanese thing to do or just something she did. I led her over to the place where I found the kani-man yesterday, and we asked for two of them.

“Ah, I’m so sorry, but we’re out of regular kani-man. We do have potato and crab buns, however, would you like some of those? They’re ‘totemo creamy’.” (very creamy) Yuriko and I looked at each other and said it was perfectly fine. He brought out two of them and we paid him 500 yen. Yuriko seemed to think this was expensive, and I guess when you can get buns at the convenience store for 120 yen, 250 is pricey. On the other hand, these are crab-filled, and that you can’t get from a conveni. The man pointed us to a little bench nearby, which we sat down at and started to eat.

“Oishii!” said Yuriko. (delicious) I bit into mine, and the flavor was somewhat different, kind of like crab chowder, but still very good. I told her I was very happy, and munched down the steaming item. As I put my wallet away, I noticed the other omiyage I had meant to give her (I’d given her an Austin shirt and Texas calendar when I first met her again) – a 2004 Texas quarter. I explained how they were putting out the state quarters, and told her that the Texas one was new. I reached into my backpack and located a Kentucky quarter, a dime, a nickel, and a shiny new penny, which I also gave her. I always think foreign currency is cool, so I figured she might like some US currency as well. She thought they were neat, and asked me what the pictures were on the back. When I told her the Lincoln Memorial on the penny, she said, “Oh, like in the picture.” She remembered the pictures I had showed her from when I was in Washington, and also recognized the Jefferson Memorial as well.

When we finished, we walked further down the road towards the station, and I was really regretting not having a camera. I need one, gosh darn it. There were so many opportunities to take shots that I was about ripping my hair out with frustration. At the end of the little road by the station, we each bought a slice of cantaloupe, which was incredibly sweet. They were selling each of these melons for at least 4000 yen (about 40 dollars) and I asked her if she knew why they could sell just a slice for only 100 yen. We surmised it was a sampler, and this convinced people they wanted to buy a whole melon. Although one melon for what could be used to buy a nice meal for two people is just something I could never do. Of course, melon is cheap in the U.S. though. On the other hand, these are 100% remarkably good melons, which you may not get if you buy one in the U.S. As we walked back past the bun place, we noticed that they had replenished their supply of kani-man. We asked about them, but he said they were probably still cold in the middle and it would be about thirty minutes. We told him we’d be back. We wandered a little, past a super fresh dairy place and saw a big tank full of live squid. Those things are really fast! We both thought it was really neat.

Yuriko said she was a little thirsty now, and so we walked in the direction the station. As we turned a corner, a woman interjected, “Hey, over here, it’s cheap!” Yuriko waved her off as usual, and a second later a man from the shop next door said, “My stuff is cheaper!” Yuriko stopped, turned around, and while smiling, pointed and said, “Bad!” in English. I laughed. She then stopped, and went, “Ah, kaniman!” There was another little container at his store with steaming crab buns contained therein. We ordered one (ikkoo), which he said was 310 yen. “Very expensive,” she complained in English. Yuriko asked the man if he could do us a favor and cut off just a little, which he agreed to. It was then 300 yen, and as he went to retrieve it, she told me, “very nice man,” in English. She had a little conversation with him about counters while I savored the smell of my extremely hot pastry, and learned that while normal people order crabs in “pai” increments (ippai, nipai, sanpai, which is not the same as ‘pai’ for glasses of liquid), professional crab sales people count them in “bai” (ichibai nibai sanbai). We thanked him and I burned my mouth eating it on the way to the station. I don’t care. It’s too damn good to care.

We went into the little coffee shop that had refused me from using their network and took a seat. We both ordered lattes, although she got hers iced. I always get sugar and salt mixed up (satoo and shiyoo) and I recalled the story she’d told me about how she’d accidentally flipped them when she was working at a restaurant and didn’t know until the patrons complained. I asked the waitress for a little more sugar, which came in a little tube. I also noticed that there were dozens of consento everywhere, so I easily could have plugged in my laptop. Heck, I probably could have found a way to lift the network key too. Well, now I know.

We walked back past all the shops, and she said she was running short on time. I told her I had a little favor, which was to drive by Hakodate Factory one last time and get more squid rings. She said it wasn’t a problem. As we walked, I told her, “once again, I have to leave Hakodate, and I don’t want to go. I really love this place.” She told me she was glad I liked it. We paid for the parking, got back in her car, and drove to the West Market Square center, which was just another few blocks away. I had her wait outside so she wouldn’t have to pay to park, and ran inside to get three more bags of wonderful squid rings. The process barely took a minute, and she said, “that was fast,” when I got back in the car. We drove back down the wharf, and at the end she pointed out the scary clown hamburger place.

“Sayonara, scary clown,” I said, and waved. She giggled.
“Ever since you mentioned that they clown was scary, all of my friends, too have admitted they think it’s scary too!” she informed me.
“Well of course, that’s because it *is* scary,” I told her. As we passed the building, the clown dejectedly watched us drive off as he never really had a chance to filet my liver.

We were right up the road from her work, and she said that she had a little more time, so what should we do. She drove me again past the tako yaki place, but once more, they were closed. “Zannen desu ne,” she said, “it’s really rather whimsical, because they never ever close.” We drove one more block over from the tako yaki place and she pulled into a driveway. “This is parking,” she told me in English. I said it was rather far from her office, and she agreed, but there’s not really much empty space around downtown Hakodate. As we got out, I told her I had lots of time, so I’d walk her to work. It occurred to me that I’d told them that I’d be back at 11:30, though, to pick up my suitcase. I mentioned this to her, and she said it was fine and that they’d hold it until whenever. We stopped briefly into Hakodate City Hall to use the restroom, which is a really nice, recently built place. A block or two over, Yuriko and I entered into a small grocery store where she wanted to get some snacks for work. There were plenty of happy things there, and I pointed out the little boxes of chocolates and things that Molly and I used to buy at Momoko in Austin. They also had those horrid chestnut things that Gene bought, and she told me that those were really popular in Japan! I picked up another Amino drink of some sort, which looked to be peach-flavored, and checked out.

We walked around the corner and up the steep hill that leads to the ropeway. As we approached the corner where the restaurant was, she said “This is the entrance to my work,” which was behind the restaurant. She turned, took my hand, and said, “well, take care, okay?”
“You take care of yourself, too,” I told her. “Try your best to come to America, anytime.”
“I will. Sayonara.” We bowed, and she turned and walked in to work. I turned the other way and walked back down the hill. It was a little sad, since I knew I wouldn’t see her for a long time. She’s really fun to be around.

I took the main road back towards the hotel, but made a slight detour; what the hell, I thought, when am I going to be back to Hakodate. I retraced the steps back to the seafood shops and returned to the original kani-man place. The same salesman was there, and he didn’t seem busy anymore.

I walked up and said, “Do you have kani-man now?”
“Absolutely!” he exclaimed.
“One, please,” I requested.
“Ikkou, hai!” He went behind the bun warmer and returned with a steaming pastry, this time with a brown stamp on top instead of the red one from yesterday. “This one is a different size, and has a slightly different type of crab in it, so it’s a little more expensive, sorry about that. It’s 300 yen.” I pulled out three 100 yen coins and handed them to him.
“I can’t eat these in America, so this really is a special thing,” I explained, as I’d had two from him today.
“Ah… thank you very much.” He stuck out his hand, and I shook it. He said, “o genki de,” which means ‘be well’ and I nodded. He looked more sincerely at me, shook my hand again, and said it one more time.
“O genki de,” I responded, he nodded, and thanked me. With kani-man in hand, I meandered down the street of terrific food items and pointed myself towards the hotel. I stopped briefly in the little omiyage shop across the street from the station, but outside of that made a beeline for the Plaza. I didn’t know when a train was coming, so I wanted to make sure I had plenty of time.

I got the bag from the hotel, and apologized for the weight. It’s dang heavy. I trucked it to the station in record time, and stood in line in the Midori no madoguchi behind some Korean tourists. I noticed I had been sweating profusely though, what with all the weight and a backpack and all. I was a little embarrassed as my back was completely soaked. The next train wasn’t until 12:51, and it was only 12:22. Plenty of time. After stopping into a convenience store to buy some drinks, I took my time and went to the track in a casual pace for the first time ever. I passed a kiosk on the way to my car, which of course was on the opposite end of the train, and returned to it to buy Gene some Sapporo Classic beer, which they only sell in Hokkaido. I found the car, the last one, and put my stuff on board. I was a little nervous since it was so early that perhaps this wasn’t the train at all, and they were going to take my stuff away when they switched it. I was confident that the electronic sign was telling the truth, however. I stepped back off the train, bought a Kirin Fire Milk Taste coffee from a vending machine – they had all the Kirin Fires here – and walked around the platform, trying to dry out my shirt. It was a really pleasant temperature, and it felt good to not be in a rush to not get anywhere. I did call Gene and Lou though, to let them know what I was going to arrive. They didn’t answer, so I just left a message on the machine.

It took the entire remaining time to get my shirt mostly dry. I got back on the train about 4 minutes before departure, broke out the laptop, and tried to catch up on my logs. As the train rounded the bay, I could see on the GPS that the train was running alongside the road Yuriko and I took to Matsumae, and was a little nostalgic. The train ride was uneventful. I moved my bag in advance in Aomori, and rotated my chair too. Getting better at that. I put the laptop away about 5 minutes before the GPS said we’d be arriving at Misawa, and took my things to the end of the car. It was dead on; I got off right when it said I would. I lugged the heavy-as-all-get out bag up the stairs, went through the exit gate, and down the final staircase.

They weren’t there.

I called the house again, and got the machine once more. Where could they be, I wondered. Maybe they went out of town and I didn’t know, and I’d be sitting there for hours. There was no way to contact anyone as nobody has a cell phone, and I didn’t know Gene’s work number. If I took a taxi, I wouldn’t be able to get on base. Nuts. I took a seat on a bench and took out the laptop once again. Fortunately, they must have gotten my message, as they showed up about fifteen minutes later. We lugged the suitcase into the rear, and I took a seat in the back seat of the SUV.

I told them about my camera, and asked if we could go look for a new one. They wanted to go to a grocery store, so it wasn’t really all that hard to find somewhere. We first drove to Sanwado, but as I discovered I had two inherent problems: a) I needed a camera that took compact flash cards since that’s what I have and b) I needed one that took AA batteries. My A70 has worked flawlessly until the last two days, so I wasn’t unhappy with it in the slightest. Inside Sanwado, the perils of my plight came to light as I realized that the Japanese camera market has all started switching not only to SD and XD cards (which are smaller) but also to proprietary lithium ion batteries. I was having a hard time swallowing buying another camera here, and buying memory cards and a second battery on top of that just grabbed my spleen and started twisting. Not to mention that all the cameras at Sanwado were all well over 350 dollars. Again with the twisting. I followed Gene and Lou around while they looked for random things, and finally we went back out to the car. I saw, at the pet street across the street, a little black pug in a kennel outside. Poor little guy. It wasn’t remotely hot outside; it’s not much above 70 degrees typically now, but it was kind of a smallish-kennel width wise. He was standing up on his hind legs on the fence trying to get to the people walking by. I just wanted to go steal him and run off. This of course made me miss my Kira and Mao an awful lot.

We drove over to Yokomachi, the grocery store, and all went in search of food for dinner. Lou got some things from the bakery, Gene picked up some fresh chicken breasts, which they can’t get at the commissary (only frozen), and I got some fresh gyoza (dumplings) and ingredients for the sauce. I also picked up some salmon sashimi, a crab salad, and a small container of deep-fried squid. We took all this back to the base, where we stopped into the commissary for a last few items. Lou really wanted spring rolls, so she got whatever brand they had there. She was trying to save a little money, so she hadn’t bought the ones at the Japanese store. While they were shopping, I raced over to the Exchange, which really is a mini Wal-Mart, and checked to see what digital cameras they had. Brilliant. They had not only the A80, but also the A75, which is the slightly newer and slightly better camera than my A70, and it was not too expensive. More so than in the States, but the best I probably was going to do here. The S1 IS was too much – well over a hundred more than what I could get it for in America, and the Digital Rebel, well, although it was probably reasonable for what it was, it’s just more than I need to spend. I walked out debating whether to get the A75, which was essentially what I already had, or the A80, which was a 4 megapixel model with a cooler flippy screen, but cost $70 more.

We returned home, and I heated up the squid right away as I was really hungry. Lou made me promise to eat it outside, as the smell was most certainly going to get to her. I grabbed a pair of chopsticks and walked out front. Lou and Gene had mentioned to me in the car that their neighbors had been asking about me; apparently an American that can speak Japanese is in really high demand around here! I ran into their new next door neighbor, who had asked about help figuring out the GPS system in his “new” Honda Vigor. We showed me that it was letting him move the map around, but when he tried to zoom in on Misawa, it showed some error message. I looked at the message and map, translated, and surmised that he didn’t have the correct map for the area. The maps he had were for the Tokyo – Kobe – Nagano region, and we were way up north. We had no idea how to add maps, and he didn’t have a manual for it. He said it really didn’t matter, but it was kind of neat to have. Plus he could use it as a video screen as well. He mentioned that he and his family just got back from a nearby national park, which he showed me pictures of on his digital camera. He tried my squid and said it was really good. I complimented him on his attempt to soak up culture; he and his family were planning on going a lot of places, ate as much food as possible, and were going to take survival Japanese class next week. He was not a scaredy cat, like some of the people on the base. Lou came out and said the spring rolls were almost ready and asked about the gyoza, so I raced inside and pan-cooked them like I always do. I also made a simple sauce with rice vinegar, soy sauce, fresh ginger, and a little hot chili oil for spice.

The appetizers were all ready at once, and we all sat down to try them. The gyoza were utterly fantastic – I’ve only had fresh gyoza once in my life outside of this. My crab salad was good, but I realized it was surimi – fake crab – and Lou about hurled when she tried some. It was too fishy for her sensitive tastes. The spring rolls were just overall not good. They had a weird flavor, they needed sweet and sour sauce, and they had baked them as they had no way to fry them. We ate all the gyoza, but ended up throwing out most of the spring rolls. “Well,” said Lou, “I tried to save some money, but now we know better.” She vowed to get the Japanese ones next time.

The chicken was ready in short order, although all of us were pretty full at that point. She had some leftover mashed potatoes as a side, and also some zucchini and squash. It was all still very good, but we got really stuffed really fast. The sashimi I shared with Gene, but it wasn’t all that great. It wasn’t bad, but they didn’t cut it correctly, and some of the tough parts were still attached. This made it a little chewy in parts. Well, what do you want for 390 yen… Oh, the gyoza, we realized, were like 120 yen for 24. Now THAT’S a bargain.

The rest of the night went quickly; Gene and I played a quick round of Halo, and I worked on the rest of the log after they went to bed. I did get a few messages from Yuriko with the pictures from earlier in the day, and thanking me for coming.

-- Hikaru