Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Nothing to see here.. Just a bunch of guys taking a bath together..

(Photos not included)

Hello everyone!
I made it back from the ski trip alive, but bruised and mangled. I want you all to know that.

The Scenery
The great thing about Japan is that there are mountains everywhere. I took a ton of pictures as we were driving up into the resort town of Karuizawa (near Nagano, where the 1998 winter Olympics were held) to our cabin. I was like a child in a candy store.. remind me, again, why my state doesn't have mountains..

The drive was breathtaking. The Japanese interstate system is, at least, a little bit familiar.. it sort of looks like the states, except that everyone is driving on the left, but that's nothing new. Oh, and there's tour buses everywhere.. full of tour guides dressed like flight attendants.

Did I mention I saw an active volcano? Asama Volcano (not with an "O".. sorry US Forces) is basically over the mountains and through the woods from our cabin on the way to the ski resort. It is an incredible sight that commands the entire area. I was staring at it for the whole drive. Photo engage in 3..2..1..

It hasn't had a MAJOR eruption in 120 years, but it sometimes will dump ash on the countryside. And later in the day I saw smoke pluming from the top. Sleeping giants...

Bathing with Strangers
Our cabin was very comfortable. Once we got settled in, I experienced something I never would have guessed I'd enjoy so much.. taking a bath in the nude with a bunch of other men. (no, I don't have pictures for this entry) It's not weird. It's Japanese style. It's called an onsen.

Okay, to be fair, it's not really a bath.. you shower outside the pool, sitting down, at one of a dozen or so shower stations, and it's rude not to fully bathe beforehand (or worse, to get soap in the pool water). It's also generally considered dishonorable to "cover" yourself (according to my travel book), but lots of people still do it.

The funny thing is, nothing is weird about it. Just a bunch of guys sitting around enjoying a pool together. Most, if not all, onsen are separated so there's not interaction between men and women (unless it's "European Style?"). First, you undress in locker rooms. Then you shower next to the pool. Then you relax and soak in the steaming hot water. It's really cathartic.

The best part is the feel of the water at a good onsen. The one we went to was a natural mountain spring. I may never sit in a hot tub again (or wear swim trunks?). The feeling of non-chlorinated, natural mineral water without chemicals is truly wonderful and healing. It's hard to describe, but you can definitely tell the difference, and you don't feel like you just walked out of a radiation scrub afterward.

The onsen we attended in Karuizawa was incredibly nice. It was rustic looking, with a "mountain cabin" feel, but very clean and classy. There was an outside area with large boulders to recline against, and even a small waterfall. A sauna was at the far end of the outdoor walkway, and there was a cold pool separated by rocks to use as a cool-down area. One old, scrawny, but astute looking guy spent 15-20 minutes in the sauna, then promptly walked out into the cold and plunged himself into the (near freezing) cold pool. He then proceeded to hop up and down on one foot, tilting his head side-to-side, to get the water out of his ears. He must know several things I don't know.

One unusual event that happened while I was there is that one of the double doors separating the inner and outer pools were broken by someone who slipped. That is extremely unusual. There was broken glass everywhere, and I had to wait for them to clean it up (since I was outside at the time) to meet up with Paul. Oh well. More pool time for Michael.

Onsen are a really significant, and ancient aspect of Japanese culture. These natural springs are all over the island (though not all onsen are natural, some are artificially heated), with heat fueled by volcanoes (has anyone tried harnessing THOSE for energy yet?). The various minerals are advertised for their different healing properties, so if you need sulfur for your skin condition, you know which onsen to find. Business deals are conducted at onsen. Friendships are made, and broken. Laughter can often ring forth among friends. Or just quiet relaxation after work (with 12 hour work days quite common, I can definitely understand).

It would be super awkward if I tried to do this in the states. "Hey! Guys! After work, want to go over to the YMCA and shower together and chat!?" ... good thing I'm not in the states.

My travel book mentions that tattoos are a public taboo in Japan because they are often a sign of Yakuza (Japanese mafia). Generally, this can make problems for many westerners who try to attend onsen and have tats. Fortunately, yours truly doesn't have to worry about that.. but, if you're planning on going to Japan, you might want to hold off on that mega-siiick butterfly tattoo until your next birthday.

Okay.. I've never skied before. Unfortunately, we weren't really on a beginner's slope.. and let's just say I didn't have any ski lessons. But, I'm a good sport! Paul and I rode the lift up the mountain.. When I got to the top and awkwardly shuffled off the lift, I saw this:
THAT'S skiing!? Isn't this supposed to be fun..

Yikes.. That doesn't look good.

It didn't feel good either. Turns out most people can't just "pick up" skiing on the first try. Oh well. I got down the mountain by skiing back and forth across the slope and turning myself by jamming my canes into the ground (never did figure out that whole "turning" thing..). Note how Paul is totally "Aspen Extreme."

Hooray for life!
In the end, both Naomi and I made it safely down our harrowing mountain rides without dying. We each had bowls of ramen and took a photo to celebrate (life's too short, guys).

This photo was taken in the so-called-lodge-cafeteria-whatever you call something that is uncomfortable and reminds you of sitting in the airport.

In the end, I'm more about the image than the sport.

Soon after, we took a long gondola ride up another side of the mountain, and it was quite a sight..

After the gondolas, Naomi and I made the mistake of "trying" snowboarding. The lady at the lodge was "kind" enough to switch out our skis for snowboards. She then even went the extra mile and had a friend of hers "teach" us how to board down a tiny snow mound by the lifts. This was difficult since we didn't speak the same language. In the end, I think we got the idea.. snowboarding involves falling down a lot for fun.

So we took it to the bunny hill. After three or four bruising attempts, I quietly succeeded in making it all the way down without falling.. (until I had to stop, then I fell). No one witnessed, no one cheered, but I walked away vindicated and empowered and bruised.

All in all, it was a successful trip. I think I did surprisingly catch the winter sports fever. I see a trip to Colorado in my 365 day calendar right now.. It would be fun to be able to actually snowboard. I know it.

Today, I'm sore, exhausted, and back to the rat race. But what a great weekend with my Japan-family! Thanks so much to Paul, Nancy, and Naomi for having me on your family vacation..

I'm just getting warmed up, kids! More stories to come..

Michael out.

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Church House = House Church?

Hey friends!

On Thursday, Paul and I traveled to Ome to pick up some books. Ome is only about an hour down the road northwest of Tokyo. The great thing is that Paul has really interesting friends, so it turned out to be an awesome day trip.. The first place we visited was a house.. church. Let me explain.

Japanese often have very ambiguous religious ties, and may often mix and match different rites and traditions, namely Buddhism, Shintoism, and even sometimes Christianity. This hodgepodge has led to some interesting trends. The saying goes that Japanese are often "born Shinto, get married Christian, and die Buddhist."

Even though few Japanese claim any association with Christianity, they often like to have Christian weddings. No one I've talked to knows exactly why this is popular, but it's in demand to the point that special chapels are often built for the wedding business (much like Las Vegas). In our case, they built THIS one:

Some of Paul's friends actually turned this former chapel into their home. It's spacious, and it has a commanding (and beautiful) view of the countryside. This kind of space generally sells at a premium here in Japan. But the church's location was so poor and business was so lousy that the company sold the chapel for the same price as a tiny Japanese house would sell for (still expensive, but you see why they chose the chapel).

Not only that, but the place has real marble floors! It's basically a mansion. I wish more people would do this sort of creative stuff with their houses. The only downside is that utilities are fantastically expensive in Japan, and this chapel is expensive to heat. The Paul's friend informed me they were surviving the winter by "wearing lots and lots of blankets."

Worth it? I think so.

Later that afternoon, we visited Paul's other friends Graham and Yasuko. Graham is an artist and Yasuko is a dance instructor, and they live in a comfortable house in Ome with their three children. They were very kind to us, and, more importantly, Yasuko made us homemade sushi. Yum! Just another example of the awesome stuff I'm doing that it's impossible to do in Nebraska. You're welcome for the reminder.

In other news, my Japan family and I are going skiing tomorrow! Woo-HOO! I can't wait. Major thanks to Paul, Nancy, and Naomi for including me in this experience.. I know I'll love it. I'll be out of touch for a couple days, so don't miss me too much.

We're also getting very near the completion of our first major project, a fund raising document for Persimmon. I'm getting pretty excited for this to be finished and to move on to something else. Also, my Japanese is coming along swimmingly. Watashi wa Michael des. Watashi wa ni joo yon! (My name is Michael. I'm 24!) Baby steps.

If you're praying for me (if you're the praying type), please pray that I will be determined to immerse myself fully into my work here. Also, please pray that I'll make connections with people. And pray that my support comes in. Let's stick to those three for now.

I don't want you guys to worry about me. I can take care of myself.. mostly.. Also, if you see Alysondra, give her a big hug for me and tell her "Mike says thanks for the care package!" But don't kiss her. Too far, guys, too far. Josh.. I've got my eye on you. >8-|

Welp! The stew's up! Until next time...

Michael out.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Now hold on just ONE Shi-mo-no-sek-ond!

I broke my land-speed record the other day. I'm going to have to go faster than 200 mi/hr if I ever want to do THAT again.

That's right, I rode a shin-kan-sen (speed train) all the way down to Shimonoseki in Western Japan. These intense trains are expensive, but they are a super-smooth ride that feels sort of like you're riding a ground airplane. It looks something like this when you really get going.

It's a 5-hour shin-kan-sen ride from Tokyo to Shimonoseki, but we stopped at a very special castle along the way.

It's called Himeji Castle, the White Heron, or the White Eaglet. The castle gets its name from its many It was build in the 1300s by feudal warlords, and has been expanded upon and gifted to various shoguns ever since. By the time of it's glory days in the 1700s, this place was MASSIVE, and it looked something like THIS:

Three layers of gigantic walls and moats line the fortress. The ramparts are lined with hundreds of tiny holes for archers to shoot down, and offered a commanding view of the countryside.

There is only one path up to the keep. Gatehouse after gatehouse protected this winding path from attackers. As we walked up the winding pathway to the top, crows circled overhead, cawing at sightseers below. It definitely added to the warlike menace of the place.

Every inch of the castle was inscribed with elaborate and artistic designs and emblems. Each roof tile was made of clay, and actually had its own insignia engraved on it. The elements of design were astounding and artful. 14th Century Japan was way ahead of 14th century Europe in technology, sanitation, and organization.

It was truly breathtaking. Unfortunately, in the most disappointing tourist event of my life, the main keep was actually closed off. Yes, they build a scaffold around the entire castle to do renovations. I really couldn't see any part of it or go inside.

Bummer, man...

I'll recover.. but I'm going to be sad for a while. And I don't like how that little steamy-bun is so smug about the whole thing. Who is he kidding!? Where are my castle hat and cherry blossoms!? How come HE gets to look so stylish.. >_<

I guess you could say we visited during the Hi-MEJI RESTORATION. (Gyaa ha ha ha! History joke mixed with a pun.. major kudos to myself) At least they were nice enough to paint a picture of the original castle on the side.. thanks guys! That really helps my imaginary view of this historic monument!

After the Hi-MEJOR excitement (lawlz), we moved on to Shimonoseki, where I attended a lovely Valentine's Day dinner that was graced by a Japanese Gospel Choir (Yes, "Gospel" as in Sister Act, not as in the Gathers). There was one boy in the choir. He was actually a Buddhist priest. I guess he knows 'where da ladiez at.'

The choir was talented, no doubt, but my more distinct memories of the town include seeing Akama Shrine.. a very famous shrine dedicated to a young emperor who died in the battle of Battle of Dan-no-Ura in 1185. This was one of the most significant events in Japanese history.

I have too many pictures of this shrine to post on this blog, but it looks something like this:

These guys are pretty neat.. they are carved out of solid stone, and the ball locked in their mouths is carved out from the inside and cannot be removed. They may look like lions, but they're actually 'guardian dogs'.. AKA guard dogs. They watch both sides of any given gate, so where there's one, there's two. Oh, and they only obey commands from the spectral plane, so don't even try to get them to do a trick. Trust me, I tried.

Sometimes one pup's mouth will be open (ah) and one's will be closed (mmh). This is because in the Japanese syllabary "ah" is the first sound and "mmh" is the last, signifying the "beginning and the end."

Oh, and did I mention these crabs (sold as "good luck charms") have faces on their undersides?

Yes, those are real crabs. Yes, they're creepy, but you have to admit.. they're pretty cool.

I also found out the "spirit world" has doorbells. You learn something new every day.

What I mean by that, is that when you come to consult a "spirit" at this very functional Shinto-Buddhist temple, you're first supposed to "wake him up" if he's sleeping. Once you do that, he enters the mirror at the back of the room and you can walk up to the box behind the bell, clap, bow, and drop some coins in. That is the word on the street, anyway. I didn't ring it... I was out of girl scout cookies that day.

After that, we went to the harbor nearby and explored some local delicacies. The following photo shows me taking a LIFE THREATENING RISK:

Yes. That's pufferfish sashimi. I also had pufferfish soup! Shimonoseki is sort of known for pufferfish, so it would have been rude not to at least try some, right? Pufferfish is poisonous if not prepared correctly. I was playing a dangerous game of life and death.

Needless to say, I am no longer with us.

But I didn't die. I'm just in Japan for a while.

The pufferfish was okay.. not really anything spectacular. Some of the OTHER sashimi, however, was quite good. This includes the eel in the lower left corner of the picture to the right (it looks like a banana slice.. kind of tastes like it, too).

 After I ate the pufferfish, I made sure to have a chat with the rest of his family.

Ugly buggers, aren't they? Don't worry, some of them are cuter and more cuddly.

After the pufferfish sushi, my friends and I enjoyed some sea urchin ice cream (no joke!)...

Sea urchin ice cream... tastes like ocean, coral, and blueberries!
All in all, I'd have to say it was a pretty good trip. If you're ever in Western Japan, I recommend dropping by Shimonoseki..

Well, friends, I guess the time has come once again for me to sign off. To those of you who've made it this far, thank you! In return I would like to offer you the following words of advice:

Read the sign. Do what it says. That strategy has worked pretty well for me so far.

Michael Out.

Friday, February 11, 2011

Shrines, Snow Temples, and Flowering Cabbage

Oh.. HEY! Sorry compadres.. Didn't see you there. I was understandably distracted, slurping down this delicious, hearty ramen.

It snowed today in Tokyo.. *sigh* and I thought I'd gotten away from it all. Even so, it made everything really gorgeous, and it was a good day for taking pictures, so I put on my mittens and hiked over to the little Buddhist temple nearby my house. No doubt I'll go back over there again once the flowers and trees start budding, but a snow temple sounds equally exciting right now. It's really incredible having this kind of aesthetic beauty right down the street.. I mean, it's no Wyuka or anything, but it'll do. *sarcasm* ... *you got it? ok, well... good.*

*******But first, a budget update.*******

I want to start by saying "domo arigatou, gozaimas" (thank you very much) to all of you who've contributed to the cause thus far. It has been a true blessing to have so many friends rally around me as I trust God on this journey. Through the help of some very generous donors, I have about $4200 toward this trip.

I am still $1800 short of what I need to reasonably live on. This is due to a number of factors. First, the exchange rate is bad right now, so whatever is donated to me in the states is automatically cut by 20% once it gets to Japan. This has hit all missionaries very hard (not just me). I also found out that because of the exchange rate, my apartment is about $1,500(US) just to live there for two and a half months. That is discounted from what would be more than $3000, but it's still very expensive for me.

I know tax season is coming up..  If any of you find it in your heart to make a tax-deductible donation to me as I go on this journey, please do the following:

-Go to <>
-Select "Give online now"
-Select "Give Now"
-Select "Projects by location"-->"Japan -- Christian Arts Network"

I would really appreciate it. Otherwise, I have a 5 kg bag of rice I can be eating. And, I promise that if you give enough to keep me here, I'll keep sending you pictures.

*******Okay... you can look at my pictures now =)*******

The Best Bakery in the Universe
I go in and all the friendly Japanese ladies say "hello, welcome".. then I pick out my delicious, reasonably priced goodies. Today, I got a shrimp, egg salad, pesto, lettuce sandwich on wheat bread. The best part? This was only Y250! Oh, and you get a free cup of coffee every time you buy something. Though, American coffee is considered to be weak in Japan, as demonstrated by the photo to the right (I guess they don't think we're good enough to be listed under "coffee").

You can even sit outside, and there's space heaters and cushions to sit on. Needless to say, they put other coffee shop/bakeries deeply to shame.  

La Policia
While I was walking today I came upon an opportunity to show you all what a Japanese police car looks like. I'm pretty sure they got there design from a mix between "Robocop" and "Back to the Future."

There are actually quite a few police in Tokyo (it's a very safe city). Safety is a deep-seated Japanese value (along with order and organization). As I said before, they even have time to check bicycle ownership.

Keepin' It All in the Family
Another fun thing I found walking today is this fantastic little shrine.. peeking over the fence of somebody's back yard!! Notice the small house within the pagoda, paper lightning bolts(?), candles, and dog-like statues. Apparently this ancestor is going to be living it up for a while.. with some guard dogs and a lightning storm for protection.
Street Decor
The streets are just prettier here. Please note the man-hole to the left.. a flowering tree is imbued on the cast iron. Practical? No. Expensive? Yes. Better looking? Most-definitely.

In general, the citizens of Tokyo do a lot with the little space they're given. And they even find plants that will flower in the middle of winter to keep things looking nice. Behold this delicious basin of KALE.. yes, that's right. Cabbage. You may have accidentally eaten it off of a plate where it was used as a garnish (it's inedible and waxy unless cooked properly). Turns out, it makes for a good decoration on more than just salad buffets.. these beautiful flowers lined the street next to my station.

And, of course, sometimes a tree just decides that now is its time, and its calling is to bloom. When that happens, we all just have to look on at that brave, lonely tree in pity and pride, knowing that it doesn't care whether it's snowing outside or forty degrees. It's GOING to bloom. Nature finds a way.

In general, all the apartments here are fairly ugly and dreary looking. Really, that only adds to the confusing nature of Tokyo, since none of the streets have names and all the apartments look the same no matter how long you stare at them. You have to be really rich here to have a unique-looking house. But the local values seem to be focused more on the use of nature within confined urban space.

Then again, sometimes people have BOTH.. the photo to the right is a house I saw the other day whilst walking through a neighborhood in Mitaka, an important commercial district. My guess is that because of the district, land values, and design, the house in the picture would be worth $2-3 million. You could get quite an estate in Nebraska for that much, but things are different here. Also note the fantastic trees in the front yard.

Ye Local Temple
Last but not least, check out this slide show of the temple I mentioned earlier.. this is just down the street from me! Enjoy!

Paul and I leave for a conference in Shimonoseki tomorrow.. Shimonoseki is a city on the southwestern tip of the main island of Japan. We're going by speed train.. I promise we won't have TOO much fun together. The trip holds the potential to be epic, including I-don't-want-to-spoil-it-but-maybe-a-trip-to-Himeji-Castle (The White Heron).. pictures and videos of this trip available in a couple of days.

Much Love. Michael Out.


Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Bicycle Cop, Sensei, Bar Brawl (One of these is only to get your attention)


Tonight I had my first language class. And it went... awkwardly. The administrator sensei (that just means teacher) was explaining everything to me, literally reading my language packet to me, word for word (even though it was in English). As he asked me questions about what Japanese I knew already, I watched him marking off categories of learning with his pencil... Kanji? no...*circle*... Spoken?  no.. *circle* *scribble* *circle*.. If he was a government agent trying to figure out if I was a spy, he'd be sleeping soundly tonight.

The class only meets 3 times a month, on Tuesdays. That gives me a total of eight sessions counting tonight. My sensei seemed perplexed and baffled that I would attend class to learn Japanese for only two and a half months. We reached an arrangement where I get photocopies of the textbook, and I don't have a permanent tutor.. since it takes two months to find a volunteer and there are already three people on the waiting list.. So I just get a tutor if someone doesn't show up. I'm the runt of the litter. At least I can do my homework (as if I'm excited about it or something)..... ..(Yes, I am excited about it).

Afterward, I went to the store with my neighbor and classmate, Damon. When we came out, a policeman was looking at my bicycle. It didn't have a lock on it. I showed him the lock I just bought in the store, and he laughed and kept inspecting. My friend explained that every bicycle in Tokyo is registered and has a built in lock, so if it doesn't have one they assume it's stolen. I felt a lump in my throat. I grasped for my phone for safety like Frodo grasped at the ring in his pocket... would I have to call Paul to explain that I didn't steal the bike?

Nope. I didn't. I know. There was a lot of suspense there for a second. Damon explained the situation stammeringly, and the policeman smiled, radioed on his talkie, and moved on. Good job, Damon. A year and a half of Japanese has served you well. A week and a half of Japanese has served me... not at all.

I guess I'd better get to work.

Michael Out. (Dewa Mata.)

PS. For a (free) VIDEO TOUR of my apartment, go HERE.

PPS. I had sushi for lunch again today.. I just thought I should remind you all how often I eat sushi. Literally, it is like Japanese fast food.. except.. it's amazing. Muahhahahah. You're welcome.

Friday, February 4, 2011

Indian Food, Shibuya Station, and Little China (everyone has one).

Pretty much the best Indian food ever for under $10.
I've had a whole five days now in Tokyo to get used to everything, and I have to say, I'm really starting to enjoy my life.

In the course of the last few days, I've accomplished some pretty big things. I figured out how to get from my house to my uncle's, the station, the school, and the bakery! I got signed up for and a small tutorial on the Tokyo train system. I have groceries, a TV, a recliner, and a desk. I've started working on two projects for my uncle already, including an important document related to Persimmon. And I've been taking lots of pictures with my camera (thanks sis!). Oh. And I made new friends. AND I ate the succulent Indian food you see above.

Yesterday was my first day out on the town! I made a new friend (Casper), who was kind enough to invite me to hang out with him and his friends in Yokohama, about an hour South of where I'm staying. We used the train system. I'll try and post some pictures of what it's like in the terminals and on the trains, but, it was definitely one of the most confusing and scary experiences of my life. Seriously, Boston, Chicago, and Washington have absolutely nothing on Tokyo (I haven't been to New York yet, so I guess we can't compare). There are a myriad of different lines owned by a variety of companies, each with its own list of stops on trains of different speeds. Really. I almost had a panic attack yesterday when I had to find my last train by myself. More on that later.

Another thing about the trains: personal space is non-existent. Sometimes guys try to feel girls up on the train, so Casper told me he holds the top handles with both hands when it's really packed so no one will accuse him of anything... I think this is sort of a good idea. At least I found out that everyone is annoyed by this situation, not just me. Hey, I don't want my junk on some other dude's trunk any more than the next guy. And neither do Japanese people... it's just necessary. After a long 12-hour day of work (more on that in future posts) and a congested train ride, many Japanese go home and keep to themselves, finding whatever sacred space is left for them. I can't say I blame them. Though with a bit of rap music and a few drinks, a subway train car could be a pretty racy club here in the states. Just sayin'. (Copyright Michael Hennings, Jan 2011)

So Casper and I made our way to Shibuya Station.. the famous Shibuya station. Basically any movie you've ever watched with footage from Japan probably has footage of people walking across the street at this busy shopping plaza. It's basically a huge station next to a GIGANTIC outdoor mall. (All these photos and more are available on my Picasa web album)

The 2nd floor Starbucks (in the building to the right, top photo) is a pretty famous tourist spot, and we went up there to take a couple pictures/video. The curious thing about this place is just how chaotic it feels, especially to foreigners. In many ways, this is not indicative of the entirety of Tokyo. In fact, many stations are not nearly this busy, and each has its own reputation and subculture (for instance, the girls at Shibuya station are known to be "hussies/hoochie-mammas"). Shibuya station is really just an example of the western perception of Japanese life.

There's also a statue of a dog (Haichiko) in the plaza, which is a popular meeting spot. It is said that when the dog would wait faithfully for his master to return from work every day in the same spot, and when the  master died of a cerebral hemorrhage in 1925, the dog came to this same spot at the same time every day for the next nine years, waiting for him to return. Or so the legend/Wiki goes.

Anyhow, the dog statue was nice, but we weren't the only tourists taking pictures next to him. There were some Chinese people taking forever to snap half a dozen photos next to the pup. A kindly old Japanese man offered to take a photo of Casper and I with my camera. As the Chinese tourists made us wait, the old man looked up and remarked with a sigh, "ehhh.. they're Chinese."

I chuckled.

After that we went down to Yokohama to meet up with Casper's friends Myra and Kevin. We met up outside the train and instantly went over to Chinatown. That's right, Chinatown. I guess every large city has at least one. It was supposed to be Chinese new year, but, unfortunately, for some reason, no one was out celebrating. I was looking forward to noisy dancing and frivolity, but instead I satiated my lustful desires (dramatic, oui?) with a nice can of Qoo. It's a tasty can of apple juice. And yes, the can has a cute kiwala/bear/pikmin/monster type thing on it. Needless to say, it was very refreshing.

After that, we walked a few blocks down to the dock where Commodore Perry first landed in Japan. I'm not going to bore you with what I perceive to be the exciting historical nuances of this event, but the main point is that before Perry landed here on a U.S. steamship in 1854, Japan was entirely closed to the West. After Perry insisted that Japan trade with the U.S., Japan's merchant class burst forth to usher in a new era of technology, prosperity, and Western-ism. And, in a backwards way, this set Japan on a course that eventually led them to WWII. But that's a long story.

The dock is just beautiful. It looks out over the huge Bay of Japan, and downtown Yokohama is visible from here...after seeing which, I could NOT stop snapping pictures. Maybe I was temporarily on LSD, but I thought the bright, glowing Ferris Wheel was completely mesmerizing. Yes, tourist Mike "came out." This will not be his last emergence.

The old warehouse building has recently been transformed into a massive and surprisingly tasteful, tourist/date location. Outside, was an ice skating rink where many Japanese couples were happily skating away. This is where I learned that Japanese couples find it VERY embarrassing to make physical contact in public. This led to a string of jokes about Japanese dates, and secret locations where Japanese couples go to actually touch each other. We did see some extreme hand holding, I guess.

Inside the warehouse was a delicious (and not too expensive) restaurant where we enjoyed the fine candle-lit atmosphere (it was quite dark). But you could sit on either a chair, a couch, or a BED to eat sushi. A BED. Hello awesome date location. There was a whole wall of bed for the sitting. We sat in chairs and couches, but I did get to hear some familiar music (Passion Pit). Also, my new friends and I shared some delicious California Rolls.

After a short jaunt through downtown (me snapping pictures all the while), we all parted ways, and Casper and I headed back on our train. It was his job to make sure I got back to Hagashi-Kurume Eki before the trains stopped running at midnight. This is a very early time for trains to close, but part of it seems to be to force people to head home instead of irresponsibly staying out all night and drinking. It's probably a good idea. I had to walk alone through the station to my last train. This led to a panic attack, as it was midnight already, and I couldn't read which train was mine!! In the end, due to some helpful people, I ended up safely on my way, packed into a car full of people who were falling asleep standing up and who smelled like alcohol.

All in all, a successful day. This morning I woke up and went to the bakery. Yum!

I'm happy and enjoying my life in Japan so far.. did you think I wouldn't? Stay posted! There are more pictures on my online album, and I update it a couple times a week!

Here's to new friends: 

Please continue to pray for me. Believe it or not, I am doing a lot of work, and the challenges I face every day (by the grace of God) are very great. I love you all.

Michael out.