Japan current location11:53 PM Ė Misawa.

I slept in relatively late this morning, around 9am I think. I decided to get up and take a shower, so Iíd be ready for once, instead of having to take one later. A few short minutes later, I was showered and dressed. As I walked into the kitchen, Gene, nicely dressed, was eating a bagel. He told me Lou was already at church, and he would be leaving momentarily to meet her. No problem, I said, Iíd just hang here and get some stuff done I needed to anyway. My latte was quick in the making. I wish my espresso machine steamed like that.

I got on the computer and realized I needed to look up a few things Ė one, my host parentsí address, which I didnít bring with me, and two, Kati really wants me to go eat dinner at La Rochelle, Iron Chef Hiroyuki Sakaiís restaurant in Shibuya. I know exactly where it is, as Molly and I dropped in, briefly, last trip. I need to call and make a reservation for myself, so I found their website again, and saved the number. It was too early to call though. Iíd call later today or Tuesday, as theyíre closed on Mondays. This also made my decision easy; Iíd have to go on Saturday or Sunday night as Iím leaving Tuesday the 5th.

This thought process also made me work out where I was going to go for the rest of my trip. Tuesday, Iíd take the train to Kyoto, and stay until Friday. Thursday morning, while Alex is working, Iíll take a quick (well two hour) jaunt to Hiroshima early and Miyajima, drop by the Okonomiyaki place, and return to hang out in the evening. Friday morning, Iíd go to Osaka (maybe) and just check it out, then Saturday night Iíd end up back in Tokyo. It was a day earlier than Iíd intended, but in order to get in time with Ken, my host parents, and got to New Rochelle, Iím going to need it I think. I might be able to stay elsewhere until Sunday morning I guess, which is the last day of my rail pass, but it seems a little brisk.

I also found out from Bianca that Chika and Sho (a couple who used to live in Austin) now live in Niigata, not Tokyo anymore, and it would be next to impossible to visit them. Nuts. Weíll see though, I do have that extra day or so, and Iíve never been to Niigata before. It would be a lot of last minute travel though. I need to send them an email.

Gene and Lou got back a little while later and Gene and I went to the Exchange to see about the camera. I decided on the A75 as it was the cheapest of the three I was interested in, was a reasonable price, still had 640x480 movie mode, and was closest to what I already had. I could have gone with the A80, but outside of the rotating, flip out screen, it didnít get me anything but higher megapixel for $70. We purchased the camera, and went back out to the car. Lou wanted some wine to marinate some steaks in, so we also went to the convenience-store type place. Gene picked up some Yellowtail Cabernet, which, being a Japanese wine, was really cheap. I played with my new camera and started to discover the differences, not the least of which is a bigger screen. Cool. It also seems faster and has a new ďScene ModeĒ that understands what youíre trying to do in several situations and adjusts for it. I realized as well that I apparently never checked the resolution setting right, and Iíve been saving pictures at Fine resolution this whole time, which puts a few digital artifacts (fuzzy gunk) into the pictures. When I set it to Superfine, my cameraís remaining picture count dropped by about 40%. Shoot, I didnít realize that. I was getting 273 pictures on my 256MB cards, but not I only get 170. Heaven forbid. Still, I was glad to have a second memory card.

We dropped the wine off with Lou, and Geneís and my debate about how far we were from the US was settled with a quick GPS check; we were about 6250 miles at their front door from my sisterís house in Austin. Neat. With the aid of the Mapple, basically a Key Map for Japan, we departed for Hachinohe.

We took the road past the Shimoda Mall. Gene said you could take the Tohoku Expressway spur to get there, but this was scenic, and more importantly, free. After a long while, we realized we didnít know where we were on the map. Gene drove, and I did the navigating. With some discussion, though, we were able to find our position. We had taken a slightly incorrect route, but overall it was fine. This changed soon after, though, and we got lost again. We made some weird turns, and even a U Turn, but finally were able to determine our position. Gene had me find an area on the map that seemed to be the fish market, which is where he wanted to go. We saw a sign that read ďFish Market #2Ē and pointed right, so we took a right turn.

ďOh wow, Toys ĎRí Us!Ē exclaimed Gene as we passed a big shopping center on the left. It looked cool. We drove on some, but didnít see any more signs for the fish market, and I couldnít find it on the map. I realized like a big dummy I read only the English on the sign, and didnít bother to check out the kanji, which most likely would have been on the map. Good job. We followed the map behind the shopping center to where I thought the fish market should be, based on the kanji represented on it.

Well, I was wrong, but it was a nice little harbor, so we got out of the car briefly and took a few pictures. Behind us was a big, new Japanese-looking building, and I realized it was actually a public bath. How cool! If it wasnít like 1PM, I would have wanted to drop in. To the right of the bath was a big electronics store, and we both wanted to check it out. We parked underneath it and went inside the entrance.

It was absolutely glorious; cool tech as far as the eye could see. A huge area was to the left of us that contained every cell phone carrier in Japan, and each one had several sales people walking around hawking phones. The Au company had their ďcell phone girlsĒ in orange outfits. To the right, there were really nice camcorders, one of which was a 3CCD model with a built-in 4 megapixel camera. Totally bad ass. Gene found the camcorder he just ordered, which was $300 more expensive than what he paid. I located the digital cameras and discovered I easily could have gotten a cell phone away from the exchange; all the Canons have about 8 languages in their firmware, which you just choose and go. Handy. Fortunately the camera I just bought was $100 more expensive here, so while I could have gotten it, it would have cost me. No regrets.

The computer stuff also was cool, and apparently they use magneto optical discs here still, which you donít see in the States. They donít make a lot of sense in my opinion, since theyíre rather expensive, and only have about a CDís worth of storage. I guess itís similar to a Jaz drive, or a recent Zip drive. Not worth it though. I took a brief gander at kanji dictionary computers, trying to find something cheap that would mimic the functionality I have now with my 10 year old computer I bought in Tokyo. I was trying to find something that would let me look up kanji by stroke, since thatís the only thing this computer has over everything else, but only with the extra card I didnít bring. Itís handy if you have a kanji you donít know how to read. The only ones we could find for under 10000 yen didnít do that though. Ah well, it wasnít really important. We checked out the Japanese DVD section, and they had lots of various movies in their Japanese releases, like Kill Bill 2. t.A.T.uís ďNot Gonna Get UsĒ was playing on a CD player nearby, and I sang along, in Russian. I canít stand the English version, but the Russian one is one of my favorite songs.

We looked at all the TVs, massagers, rice cookers, toasters, microwaves and whatnot that they had to offer. Some were really nifty, but a lot of them just seemed overpriced. Interestingly enough, they had Chevrolet brand *bicycles*. The Heartbeat of America. Gene found something really cool he wanted to get for Lou; it was this air bladder thing that would compress your feet and calves. He thought it would be great for her swollen extremities, but it was really rather expensive. Nearby I located an air machine. Yes, a machine that makes air. For breathing. It comes with a convenient headset with a tube that runs under your nose to provide you with such air. Iím dead serious.

I left Gene briefly to examine the collection of video games they had. Biohazard Outbreak File 2 was at the top of the top seller list. I saw a number of games that would be really cool, if I could play them. Playstation discs are all region-coded like DVDs, and so Japanese games wonít play on US Playstations, and vice-versa. This wouldnít be a problem except that there are dozens of games that wonít sell in an American market, so they never bother to bring them over. Unlike Cloyce, I canít bring myself to pay $200 for a Japanese PS2, so Iím basically just screwed. They do have ways to mod Playstation 2s now, but I havenít done it, so I just flat out canít play em.

Gene found me, and we decided we were done checking out coolness. We took the escalators down to the exit. Across from us was Ito Yokado, what appeared to be a big shopping plaza. I asked Gene if we could check it out, since I was really hungry. We crossed the parking lot and went inside; itís basically a gigantic Super Wal-Mart, with a grocery store on one side and clothing and things on the left. Nifty! As we walked in, there was a small food stand to the right that sold okonomiyaki *and* tako yaki! I almost had us stop there, but thought we should look around first. There were some people in animal costumes greeting kids, who were having a great time. One of them really tried to get our attention for us to wave, I guess foreigners are cool. :)

As we walked out of the opposite side of the store into a small indoor mall area, we immediately noticed the big food court on the left. Nice. They had a place with tako yaki on the left, a Mister Donut, a panya, McDonalds, and a ramen-curry place. Gene and I both decided on the curry place, and he got the regular curry. I was really hungry, and didnít want to choose, so I didnít Ė I got the Curry Set, which comes with curry rice and ramen on one tray! Geneís was ready immediately, but they had to make my ramen, so they gave me a little pager. We got some water then found a table and waited. The pager went off; it played ďItís A Small World After AllĒ. As we ate our food, I was just giddy. ďI LOVE Japanese food,Ē I told him. The ramen was the best Iíd had since Iíve been here, which just seems wrong for a random food court in a mall. We had also gotten some inari to share, which is sweet tofu skin around sushi rice. Also delicious. Gene practiced his katakana on the McDonaldís sign.

We walked back through the big store after lunch, and stopped at the okonomiyaki place, Poppo, to watch a woman making imakawayaki, a round pastry made of pancake-like batter filled with either vanilla pudding type cream or sweet red bean paste. I also pointed out the tako yaki, which were semi-automated. Theyíd shake and slightly rotate the tako yaki, but the woman kept flipping them by hand anyway. A guy was cooking okonomiyaki to the left, which had pork, squid, and shrimp in them. Yum yum yum. I decided I wanted a cream imakawayaki, so I ordered one. They werenít ready, so she gave me a number and said sheíd call it when it was ready. Fascinated, we watched them make the various baked/fried goods. After a few minutes, she called my number and handed my the warm confection. I took a bite and then let Gene try it. Wow. That was so good! I nearly burned my mouth from time to time, but it just was too good to leave in the package. I really wanted another one. Gene took a picture of Toys ĎRí Us, and then we got back into the car. I was going to be cool and take a picture of the gaijin and his frontward facing car, but every car around him was mysteriously facing in as well. So much for that theory!

We returned to the road from whence we came, and turned right. I flipped back and quickly got the kanji for the fish market. Ah HAH. And it was on the map, too. We made a U turn one more time, and retraced back to the big shopping center, but drove past it like we did the first time. We just hadnít gone far enough. We turned left a few streets down, and there, on the right when the street dead-ended, was the big fish market. Gene drove in, but we realized immediately that it was Sunday, and it most certainly had not been open today. Shucks.

We followed the road next to the water behind it, and watched all the people who were fishing in the wharf area. We didnít see that anyone was catching anything, but there sure were a lot of people trying. Gene pulled over briefly to take some pictures, then we decided to drive through town. Up ahead we turned right and followed what looked to be a big road on the map, but really wasnít. Initially it was just a bunch of random stores, but after a brief cut through a neighborhood to avoid a one-way street, we found more of the primary downtown area. This was much busier, and had some really interesting Engrish from time to time.

We drove straight through, and I directed Gene on how to get to the expressway back to Misawa. He wanted to take it back to see whether it would make any difference getting here, as he definitely wanted to bring Lou back to those big stores. A small amount of navigational finagling later, we made it to the expressway. Gene took a ticket, and we entered the high-speed area of a spur of a major highway. This, of course, is sarcasm. We barely broke 50MPH most of the way, and Gene was mad that this car didnít do the ďpin-pon pin-ponĒ noise that the SUV makes if you break 100Km/h. Well not really, but he wanted to show me. The entire trip took all of 10 minutes, and we ended up paying 350 yen when we got off, which is pretty expensive for that short a drive. He determined it wasnít really worth it in the long run, since it still deposits you so far from base. When Lou and Gene came back from Tokyo with Jasper, they apparently had to pay about $174 at that exact toll gate! ďYeah, but itís a long freakiní toll road,Ē I told him. ďItís like driving from Atlanta to New York.Ē

We wiggled through town some, as Gene just wanted to get a slightly route down in his head. Itís a really small town though, so even though he missed a turn, it really didnít hurt at all. Back on base, Gene and I tried to get his Halo to recognize more that 32 servers (mine is picking up over 400). As we were doing this, an extremely loud jet engine noise filled the room. This isnít abnormal; during they day, jets are always taking off from the nearby airstrip. However, this one was exceedingly loud, and sounded close. I threw open the door and walked out just in time to watch a red, white, and blue F-16 streak past their house, only a few hundred yards away. ďHoly crap!Ē I yelled, ďItís the Thunderbirds!Ē The Thunderbirds are the Air Forceís stunt flight team, and theyíre here in Misawa to do a show on Thursday, which unfortunately is after Iím leaving. This was a really cool break though, and I spent the next few minutes with my jaw open watching four F-16s rip around the base, practicing, and coming really close up. That was just too freakiní cool. When I was really excited initially, I had sprinted outside with my camera and tried to snap some pictures. Jasper took this as an excuse to come play, and had taken off full speed around the yard. I didnít really think about this because I was too busy oohing and aahing about the Ďshueií planes. Jasper trotted into the house, his feet covered in mud, which Gene didnít notice either because he was playing Halo. ďOh nuts!Ē I said and we yanked him back outside and Gene wiped off his feet. Lou came in freaking out, mostly because Jasper was yelping as Gene cleaned his feet. All three of us worked on cleaning up the mud, which fortunately wasnít as bad as we thought.

Gene and Lou made dinner, which consisted of wine-marinated steaks, corn on the cob, and asparagus with hollandaise sauce. It was really yummy overall, in spite of the fact that the steaks were somehow overcooked by the grill, even though they werenít on very long at all. Wasnít a problem at all, I thought. We all talked for a while, then Lou went to take a bath and go to bed. I realized at that point she must have thrown my Kirin Fire can away (I collect Japanese drink cans) and I ended up digging through the trash to find it, which fortunately I did. Gene came down again, and we played a few fun games of Halo, although my laptop was really struggling at one point.

Iím not sure what Iím going to do here tomorrow, I might just wander some. Iíve mulled the possibility of renting a car too, as I have an international driverís license. I might as well use it.

-- Hikaru