Tuesday, April 15, 2008
Although I have been to Hakone several times before, we got to check out some new things when D&M came to town.
Let's take a moment first to talk about the Hakone freepass and its wild inconvenience. The literature and information on it is pretty slim, and wholly neglects to give timetables or let you know that if you don't avail yourself of all the expensive local transport by 5pm, you'll be stuck on the bus and will have wasted the several thousand yen that is only worth spending if you get to ride the pirate ship and the ropeway both. Get an EARLY start or don't bother buying the pass.
The best thing about this time was the Hakone Open Air Museum. As the title suggests, this is a sprawling open-air sculpture garden with fabulous art spilling down the side of the hillside and sweeping mountain views.
Tuesday, April 08, 2008
We went to Guam, which is only a three hour flight from Japan.
Though Guam is a major tourist destination for Japanese package tourists intent on staying in Tumon Bay and in their fancy hotel rooms, it's also a lost place forgotten by most of the rest of the world. Hardly any other tourists bother coming here; it's a U.S. territory without voting rights (other than the occasional primary caucus); it's an island bunker for a bevy of military bases.
We visited great beaches like Ritidian Point with its clear clear water; we swam in lagoons; we saw wild pigs. We ate at the Jamaican Grill and the Seventh Day Adventist cafeteria, and went driving around the island in our rent-a-heap.
I went geocaching for the first time, and we went bowling.
Guam, a microcosm of the U.S.A. and a beacon in the Pacific. Landing there from Tokyo, it felt tiny, backwater. The middle of nowhere, lonely and distant. But it's the biggest game around, and for many in this corner of the world, it's the big city, with its airport and Taco Bells and world's largest K-mart. Talking to a Chuuk fellow from a small, nearby (600 miles by outrigger), overpopulated island, this was put in perspective for me. "Yeah," he said. "Chuuk is a lot like Guam. Except on my island" (not the main island of Chuuk, but one of the smaller ones), "there's no electricity."
We were lucky too to get a glimpse at the foundering Chamorro culture, with its matrilineal society and hybrid language. I heard old men chattering in the post office in something that had shades of Spanish. Our friend John explained that still, on Guam, if you wanted to have a good corner of land, you had to marry a Chamorro girl and then be really nice to her grandmother, who was the matriarch and in charge of parsing out the family plot.
Go for the beaches. But don't forget the crumbling Spanish churches, the majestic carved boats still navigated by starlight, the lizards, the Pacific melting pot, and the friendly native swine.
Thursday, April 03, 2008
My friend Dwayne cooks for Vege Shokudo every Wednesday. It's a quirky little vegan café, open only on Wednesdays from 1-8pm. It's the best deal in town - an all vegan set plate with rice, soup, tea, salad, and some kind of main for ¥65o. Organic Zapatista coffee and baked goods can be had for a paltry few hundred yen more. You can get healthily, deliciously full for less than ¥1000.
I also bake things for them occasionally.
I wrote it up over at happy cow.