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Welcome back... back...
Hey, welcome to the new j0hn.jp, or ƒWƒ‡ƒ“.jp as the new domain is called.

The new design may be less the perfect in terms of practicality (mainly because of the huge header), but I like the way it came out. Be sure to let me know if you have any problems with it; I'm sure I overlooked something.

So enough about that. People (2 to be exact) have been asking what I've been doing for the past 3 weeks since my last post. Well, a bunch of stuff.

This is going to be a long post. Definitely the longest yet. Sorry. If you find yourself drifting off to sleep or something then feel free to skip this post. Seriously.

First was my end of term test at school. Once I had decided to stay on for another term at Naganuma School I realised I'd need to do well in the test, which involved revision. Much of it intensive and last-minute.

To progress to the next term we needed to score at least 60% in the test. Less than 60% and you retake the test, less than 50% and you retake the term :-o

Luckily I ended up with about 80% across the writing, reading, speaking, listening and kanji tests (thankfully the kanji test only counted for 5 out of 300 marks), which means I am now studying the 2nd part of the course :-D

Soon after the end of term I was due to move out of my old apartment. This involved a lot of tidying and cleaning, again, too much of which was left too late, but in the end I got only 2000yen taken off my 20000yen deposit, for limescale in the bathroom. As far as I could tell, the bathroom was a lot cleaner when I moved out than 3 months ago when I moved in - I remember being pretty surprised by dirtiness of the bathroom when I first arrived...however I didn't feel like arguing and I was happy he didn't notice I forgot to clean the AC filter.

I was happy to be out of the cockroach place, but slightly worried about where I was going to sleep. I had made a reservation for the same night at the capsule inn in akihabara, but I was effectively homeless and wasn't sure what to do from the next day.

I met up with Manolo in Akihabara and we talked for a long time about both of our futures in Japan. Basically we don't have them, at least not for a long time and without a lot of difficulties. Then, when it was time to leave I headed for the inn.

It was an interesting experience. The Akihabara Capsule Inn is the only capsule inn in Akihabara. The concept of a capsule hotel is to provide the bare minimum space required for a person to sleep the night, with the most convenience and least cost possible.

This particular inn has 169 capsules, in roughly the same space as, say, 30 very basic hotel rooms would need. It costs 4000yen (just under ’20) per night to stay, including the capsule and access to the public bath and washrooms. The clientele seem to be about 30% foreigners and 70% Japanese salarymen who were out drinking and missed the last train. As I stepped out of the elevator on my floor the first person I passed was an old Japanese man who made no effort to hide his sigh of frustration that the place was overrun with gaijin.

The capsule is not quite as small as you might think; while I couldn't lie with my legs totally straight, the height of the capsule was about half my height, and the width was about the same as a single bed. It's reasonably comfy and the capsules have TV, radio, clock, light, mirror etc, although there is no door, just a semi-transparent blind to pull across the opening of the capsule. This becomes a problem when people start snoring, and when the salarymen who have to get in to work early start getting up at 5am. For these reasons I guess it could become stressful to stay multiple nights in a row, but it was cool for one night and I'd definitely go for it again if I missed the last train in Akihabara.

The next morning I got up just in time to use the inn's free internet access for 15 minutes before the 10am checkout time. It was a fairly frantic 15 minutes of finding out whether, if I went to Kyoto, I'd have anywhere reliable and affordable to stay that night. I quickly found as many ryokan (traditional style Japanese hotel) as possible and e-mailed the contact details and maps to my phone.

Then I had some thinking to do. I went and sat in Starbucks to work out what I should do next. I had 40000yen cash (about ’195), and 4 days until I had to be back in Tokyo, at Tokyo station, to check into my new apartment. I wasn't entirely sure where I wanted to go but all (15 mins) research I had done was for Kyoto. It was also somewhere I'd wanted to visit as soon as I thought of coming to Japan. I starting trying the phone numbers of the ryokan that I'd found on the internet. A few of them were fully occupied, or only had double rooms available. Others had only one room but wouldn't reserve over the phone without a credit card. Eventually I phoned the awesomely friendly Ryokan Kyoraku, who couldn't 'officially' reserve a room but told me that if I went there that day, chances are there might very well be a room reserved under my name.

So I went to Tokyo station and bought a one-way ticket to Kyoto by Shinkansen (Japanese Bullet Train) (13000yen ~ ’63). I took the next one to depart, which was just 15 minutes later. Traveling by Shinkansen was a really cool experience, and even though it's more expensive than traveling by bus, or other rail lines, it's anywhere from twice to 4 times as fast, and it's something everyone who visits Japan should probably do once. I got to see some rural Japan, and some smaller towns and cities, and it felt good to finally be getting out of Tokyo, as much as I love the place.

I arrived in Kyoto and found the ryokan pretty quickly, about 8 minutes walk from the station. When most people think of Kyoto, the first image that comes to mind is probably of old Japan, traditional temples and shrines, etc. All this stuff and much more can be found if you know where to look, but when you exit Kyoto station the first thing you see is this:

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And for a second you wonder if this place is so different from Tokyo.

So I checked into my room at the ryokan.

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It was a small, family run place, and even thought I kind of wanted to practice my Japanese, they spoke really good English and our conversations seemed to be about 50% each language. My room was really nice - as with all ryokan (I think) it had traditional tatami and futon, for a fair price (about 5000yen per night, not so much more than the capsule inn).

It was about 6pm by this point so I decided, my my 11pm curfew in mind, to just explore in and around the station for now. Kyoto station is one of the stranger pieces of architecture I've seen, and there's a bunch of touristy stuff to do.

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I took the time to visit a tourist office and find out where I should go the next day.

The next day, still with no clear idea of where would be best to go I decided to head to Arashiyama, location of the highest mountain in the Kyoto area, and a quiet and beautiful...I guess town? It's officially part of Kyoto city but it doesn't feel at all like it's a part of a city. The scorching hot sun and (at this point) dry air, along with the distant mountains and small narrow streets kind of reminded me of Madeira.

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I started walking, trying, but not incredibly hard, to head for the site-of-historical-importance temple in the area. I did want to see it, it's just that the relaxation of walking in the sun with no map and no schedule was more important to me at that moment.

I saw a monkey sanctuary, and decided to take a look. After walking up a long but gradual track up the side of a big hill, I came to the first clearing, where a lone big monkey, which I didn't even notice until I was standing right next to him/her, was sitting in the sun. I continued up to the top where I came to the feeding station, and...well...a lot of monkeys. It was great to see them this close, not in cages, and not from the 'safety' of a car. When I was walking back down the track I had a really close encounter with a monkey, as well as a slightly scary experience with a snake sliding down the hill and across the track a couple of meters in front of my feet.

After leaving I once again had no idea of what to do. So I decided to keep walking. I didn't know exactly where to, but I was walking alongside a river and it seemed like a nice place. A motorbike came past me one way. I stepped aside and kept walking. The same motorbike came past the other way. I kept walking. A guy came running after me, speaking in English "excuse me, where are you going?".

"Reasonable question", I thought; "err, I don't know really..why?"

He explained how there was nothing that would be of particular interest in the direction I was walking, and asked if I'd rather go somewhere that might be more interesting for me.

And that's how I met Masa, the kindest, friendliest person I've met my whole time in Japan (and I've met a few). Studying at university, his part time job is as a rickshaw driver around the area (hand pulled carriage). Over the next 2 days Masa showed me all around Kyoto, some of the most popular tourist destinations, and some of the better kept secrets. We visited the Arashiyama Bamboo forest, then went for a walk around the area. Later we went around the more central Kyoto area.

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At night we found a bar with 100yen beers :-D I arrived back at the Ryokan at 10:59pm.

The next day, among other places, we visited Kinka-kuji Temple (The Golden Temple)

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and the Fushimi Inari Shrine (with its hundreds of toris, and long, hilly walking route). I saw too many places to describe in words, but I took a few photos along the way and I'll never forget these places.

My last day in Kyoto I spent the morning on my own, visiting Nijo Castle

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and the Kyoto International Manga Museum, with its 350,000 (and counting) manga books. In the afternoon I met with Masa again and we went to the Ginkakuji area, where we climbed part-way up a mountain to one of the most amazing views I've ever seen.

That night we met with Masa's girlfriend and best friend, and went to a nomihoudai (eat and drink all you like). It was a great night with really nice people.

[pic3]

The next day I returned to Tokyo by bus. Not only is bus a lot cheaper (less than half the price) than Shinkansen, but I since I'd already experienced the journey by Shinkansen I wanted to try something different. By bus the journey takes 8 hours compared to the Shinkansen's 2.5 hours, but it was a pleasant journey and I got to catch up on some sleep too.

That came in handy the next day, when I had to move my stuff from Marion's apartment (thank you so much for keeping it for me!) to my new one. Since Marion was moving the next day and it was already night, I had just one journey - 25 minutes walking and about 25 train stops with 2 transfers - to get all my stuff moved. It took the experience of moving to realise how much stuff I've accumulated since coming to Tokyo. I came here with one nearly full-packed suitcase and a shoulder-bag. I moved with a very fully packed suitcase and shoulder bag. Plus 3 large extra bags of clothes, a dreamcast (yep...whoops), and assorted heavy stuff. I never would have done it without Marion's help, and managed to go the very last stretch by myself (station lockers were closed due to terrorist alert here right now so the (okay, Marion's) clever plan to leave a few bags there and come back was foiled)).

Anyway, I eventually made it here, and it's a great place. I may end up having to travel quite a long way to get to a supermarket which sells essential stuff like, say, vegetables (I'm serious, the local one doesn't sell them), but apart from that the area is nice, convenient, and the apartment is great.

On Tuesday I started the new term at school and so far it seems good. The pace is definitely faster, maybe because the term will be much shorter, but I'm still in the same class as my friends from last term, so, yokatta ^_^

Unfortunately Manolo, who was my neighbour for a couple of weeks back at my old place, and has been a great friend (and bro) to me and Marion for over 3 months, is leaving Japan in a few days. Tomorrow we're meeting with him to say goodbye, not forever, but just until we all return to Japan, or at least until I end up going to Mexico or he comes to England...heh.

So that's what I've been doing for the past 3 weeks. Now I just need to sleep for the next 8 hours so I can be up in time to meet Manolo in Akihabara.

If you're still reading then I'm really very impressed. Your name must begin with M, D or G, or you just really like punishing yourself. Either way, thank you for reading ^_^

Until next time~

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Comments
The only thing your site keeps doing is not recognising the web address as it is in Japanese, so I keep getting the thingy popping up at the top of the page (activX or whatever it is). I know - I'm showing off my huge computer knowledge again!!!!
by Mare

Yep - I'm one of the M's - really missed your posts - great to have them back. xx
by Mare

Or with an E..... Good to have your posts back Jon-nathan :-) xxxxx
by Ellie