30 September 2007

New Phone & Bike Ride Pics

Yawn... should be in bed, but got carried away tinkering on my new phone. These new fangled devices have many bells and whistles these days. I chose a phone which costs 1 yen on a two year plan and 3 months of compusory sign up to extra services at 1500yen/month (which I'll cancel as soon as I can). It's a P903i signed up with NTT DoCoMo. It has a GPS (yes, that's right!), you can swipe your phone to purchase items at shops or train stations etc, it has a barcode reader, text reader, email, web, and all the usual guff (camera, video, music, calender, txt, phone). Some phones had your regular TV (free-to-air) but I wasn't bothered with paying extra money for that. My new Japanese mobile phone number is here: bradwarden.com/contact

The Japanese phone system here is quite different... but one thing remains the same... complicated! There's the three companies (NTT DoCoMo, AU KDDI, Softbank Vodafone). Docomo = Telstra (big, semi-government style operation). AU = Optus. SMS is "old hat" (not really used that much here). Almost everyone uses mobile email addresses (which emails to and from normal email addresses... very well integrated). i-mode is used for this email service. Costs are charged per data packet (per kilobyte). In my opinion, I think mobile costs here are still quite expensive, which was different to my expectations. But, one thing that did meet my expectation, was the "advanced-ness" of the mobile networks here.

And, the 100 or so pics from our bike trip are uploaded (thanks to fast internet here): http://picasaweb.google.com.au/bradwarden/JapanHamadaBikeRide

27 September 2007

Hamada Bike Ride Videos

Yes, YouTube.com strikes again...

View downhill and tunnel bike ride videos, and also traditional Japanese Autumn festival clips from our last bike bike ride (4 new videos):


We cycled about 150 km over last long weekend. Sunburnt, bit sore, but definitely not sorry... it was a blast! (read previous blog posts)

24 September 2007

No injuries... not dead

George and I arrived home safe and sound just an hour or two ago! Thankfully, we're not dead. Thoroughly enjoyed the 4 day trip! May attempt a few more bike rides in Japan.

This morning, we checked out, went to a nearby beach. It was quite a nice beach! So, we swam in the Sea of Japan. Not really good waves, although there were quite a number of surfers trying to have some fun. Waves quite small and irregular.

Tried to find the onsen close by, but ended up being over 12km away! Rode bike back to centre of Hamada in the rain. Looking like drowned rats, we tried to get our bikes on the bus. One lady said we can't. Then another man said we can. We got both bikes on, then they said there was no room for us to be passengers on the bus. Language barrier again... they were kind to let George go on the bus, but they said I had to catch the next bus, which I was happy with. It gave me time to eat lunch, and the next bus left about 1 hour later... that's ok.

Found Georage at Hiroshima Bus Centre, packed up and rode home in the rain (again). Now, time for shower, unpack, dinner, relax, bed, and then back to work tomorrow!

Don't worry, photos will come :-)

23 September 2007

Definitely NOT routine...

... that is, going for a 120 km bike ride across Japan without training... but, that's what having a long, long weekend gives the opportunity for.

Just in an Internet cafe in Hamada now. Tried a bit of super-broken Japanese (like: "intarnetto" etc) to ask if I could use one of the computers. There are not many English speaking people this part of the country. Have been using 'one-word' Japanese most of the trip. Let me share a few brief experieces before I write the more detailed one at home.

Low down: Friday AM 9:00 left Hiroshima, headed north to get out of Hiroshima. Followed Route 191 along some beautiful rivers out of the city. Magnificent mountains, much steeper than the Aussie variety. Lunch by the river after a swim (hoping the locals wouldn't mind). Easy riding until this point (about 40km out of town).

Tough up hill, ascending about 800m, not really knowing where we would stay. Had sleeping bags, but no tent, no real idea what accommodation lay ahead. Just an our before Sabbath, we finally got to an onsen (hot spring) place, and it did have accommodation!

Long story short, one of the kind Japanese men who worked there gave us twin for price of single, then offered us his home for the second night! Friday night and Saturday relaxed... sooo nice. Spent some good time reading "End Time Living" by Mark Finely. Good spiritual, devotional book. Perfect opportunity to think about life and direction, etc.

At the Geihoku Oak Garden (where we stayed), there we went to the hot spring, and did the whole Japanese onsen style (read about it somewhere else). Beautiful surrounds, trees, grass, moon, stars, air con, kimono, tatami, futon... very nicely Japanese. The people are very polite and accommodating. You can't really repay them.

Saturday night... traditional culture. The kind man took us there and showed us the Autumn festival (end of harvest, Sep 22). Many cultural dances, rituals, shinto icons, priests, and very authentic. I left the sake alone, but enjoyed trying to talk with the locals. Amazing!

Bike ride almost all down hill today! So much fun. Clocked 61km/h. Rode through road tunnels. Arrived Hamada. Booked bus (ensuring our bikes could go on as well). Found accommodation and relaxed.

Tomorrow, bus back to Hiroshima. Hope to not stay so sunburnt. Legs ached yesterday when I woke up, but, hot spring, relaxing, light stroll, good food and Sabbath rest helped revive us for the last 30 km today.

In the morning, George and I will see some sights around Hamada. I hear there a beach, a hot spring, some ice skating, and some cultural things, so we'll see what happens. After a hot, sweaty bike ride, it's nice to be clean, cool and calm.

21 September 2007

Big Bike Trip

George and I are just about to leave... for a bike ride across Japan!

Being such a narrow country, it's less than 100km (as the crow flies) across, but it's very mountainous, windy roads, tunnels and hilly. We have from Friday morning to Monday night to pedal hard and make it to the Sea of Japan.

We're aiming for either Hamada or Masuda. Hope to try an onsen (hot spring) along the way, see some 1200m mountains, some waterfalls and whatever else there is. Here's the rough outline of our trip:

Routh 54 north
Routh 191 west
Routh 186 north to Hamada OR Route 191 west to Masuda
Return to Hiroshima by Monday night

Google Maps (we won't be going off this map): http://maps.google.com/?ie=UTF8&ll=34.608345,132.19574&spn=0.809286,1.439209&z=10&om=1

We've got a map... we've prayed... we hope it will not rain too much! I have a camera... you'll see the results. Ja mata!

20 September 2007

New Bike!

Bought a new one today (push bike, or bicycle, with no motor). Feel like a little kid at Christmas time! Good price. It will be well used this weekend. Speedo included :-) [I'm so excited, I've got my bike inside the apartment... hmm... bringing a bike inside... not very Japanese.]

18 September 2007

Into a routine

Another week... There are quite a few public holidays this time of year in Japan. Just had "respect for the aged" day (holiday yesterday) and next Monday is Equinnox public holiday. Planning on going away next weekend for a few days to see some more of the Chugoku region which is the south-western portion of Honshu, the largest island in Japan. Hiroshima is the largest city of this region. Might head up to the mountains towards to north of Hiroshima.

Yay! Got my gaijin card on Friday. This enables me to not carry my passport everywhere and is an official document to prove I am an alien in Japan :-) Opened a bank account so I can get paid... nice. Spent some time looking for a new bike (push bike, that is... the one on which you have to work hard to get places). Also looked a getting a phone. Mobile phone costs here are similar to Australia and maybe a tad more expensive. Phone plans are a bit different. Emails on mobile phones are used instead of SMS here. Phones have fancy features... GPS, TV (normal free to air TV), Internet and email (of course!), swipe your phone to pay for shinkansen ticket, camera, and you can even use a phone to talk to someone!

Weather still hot and humid. The sky is the clearest I've seen it yet (after rain and cool change). The skies I've seen here in Hiroshima (and few days in Singapore and Tokyo) are quite hazy (dusty, smoggy, cloudy or something). The real blue sky is not that common, at least this time of year. I kind of miss the deep cobalt blue skies of a clear Toowoomba day in winter.

The night sky does not present very many stars. Probably from the haze and also city lights. I see the odd bright star, but don't recognize them much, since I'm familiar with the southern skies. The sun is in the southern sky here, too, not in the northern sky, but I'm mostly used to that now.

Things here in Japan are packaged very well. Inidividual straws (and sometimes, toothpicks) are wrapped. When I bought one small bottle of herbs, it was placed in some fancy papery/cardboard bag. Many things are packaged, and packged very presentably and attractively. It's creates more stuff to throw out when you get home, but, I suppose, it's nice... people take pride in things, and things have value (not cheap junky stuff).

And... things are also very small and compact (except the usual bread slices which are twice the size!) 6-foot doorways (bang your head), 7-foot ceilings, tiny carparks, small cars (of course, the medium cars are there too), narrow streets, smaller food packages, shorter beds, tight apartments, many things very close. It's the Japan way. Space is valuable. How else to you fit 127 million people (6 times the population of Australia) in a country smaller than half the size of NSW (most of which is uninhabitted mountains)?

And, the slipper rule. Usually when you enter a house, office or somewhere, you take off your shoes and put on some slippers. Then, in some places, you take those slippers off to enter. Then I found that there is a special set of slippers in the toilets. So, change slippers there. And, when I walked into the kitchen, again, presented to me, were some different slippers. If you come to Japan, try to get shoelaceless shoes.

As an aside, there are trams here. And since I ride my bike a lot, the trams and bikes remind me of Melbourne :-)

Things are ticking over well. The language being the most difficult things... mainly when the washing machine breaks down, or trying to microwave something, going shopping (especially for complicated mobile phone plans, or finding vegetarian food... can't read ingredients). Would really like to be able to talk more with the people at church, esp the youth. A handfull of people speak English, so that's nice. When shopping, it's rare to find a good English speaker. Opening bank accounts, getting gaijin card, buying a phone, anything like that, you really do need to have a translator (or, just learn the language!). So, the incentive is there for me to learn Japanese. Have been practicing writing hiragana, have pretty much learnt to recognize all hiragana and katakana. Time for kanji, and learning more vocab and grammar.

12 September 2007

Contact details and Shinkansen Video

View my current contact details and Google Map (street map or satellite image) location of where I'm staying:

Pics from Shinkansen (bullet train) trip 2 weeks ago (Tokyo, Yokohama, Nagoya, Kyoto, Osaka, Kobe, Okayama, Fukuyama, Hiroshima):

Two videos form Shinkansen (YouTube.com):

10 September 2007

Pics from Yokohama, Tokyo

Here are some pics from a week or two ago of Yokohama, the Japan SDA Union Conference Office, where we stayed, the new English teachers, some training classes, and Tokyo suburbs: http://picasaweb.google.com/bradwarden/JapanYokohama

A bit more...

George (the other English teacher here at Hiroshima SDA English School) and I live in a nice sized apartment about 2km south of the city centre. We live in Naka-ku (central ward or equivalent of "inner suburbs"). It's a short 5 to 10 minute bike ride to the city. School is on the southern edge of the city and only a 5 to 10 minute ride away also.

We live on the 9th floor of a 10 story apartment building (very common right across the city) and have a nice view overlooking one of the 6 or so rivers that flow through Hiroshima. The river is tidal, and many people exercise along the path next to the river. We can see up to the nearby mountains, and have nice night city views reflecting off the river.

My room is about 3 by 4 m and has a door to the living area and another door to a balcony (where the washing gets dry) facing west over the river. The floor is made of 6 tatami mats, which are mats made from rice staw, about 1 by 2 m each and are firm but they have a certain softness to them. I sleep on a futon on the floor which gets folded and put away during the day. The living area (kitchen, dining) is about the size of 2 bedrooms. Kitchen is quite normal. Bathroom is another story.

The toilet is quite fancy... it's a western style one with the normal Japanese additions (heated seat, backside washing functionality, etc). The other Japanese style toilet is another kettle of fish and is quite common. If you want to know the details... http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Japanese_toilet

The weather here is quite warm. It feels tropical. I didn't think it would be this warm! A typical day so far has been 23 degrees minimum up to 32 degrees (sometimes more) with plenty of humidity. One night at 9pm it was almost 30 degrees still. Have with no covers since leaving Australia except for 1 or 2 nights. Today is slightly cooler and less humid. But, winter is cold. Average temperatures in mid winter are min 0 and max 8 degrees. Usually snow in the city here.

Last Friday was a nice day. Met up with Mari and Fukuyo from Tokyo who I'd briefly met in Australia last September! It was great to catch up and was quite a coincidence they came to Hiroshima for a holiday just after I arrived here! Also, last Sunday, I caught up with my Mum's cousin, Jim, who is an English teacher from Ube city (about 1 hour from Hiroshima). He's the first person I have met in Japan who I previous knew! Nice to have some family here. He's been in Japan more than 10 years. I learnt a lot about Japan from him. We had a nice lunch meal together at Sunday Sun. We'll catch up again sometime.

Skype is excellent. Very cheap to call family back home (3 yen per minute). I also think of my previous work at USQ and my colleagues. Wonder how things are. Also of my friends from Melbourne and what they've been up to. Even though I'm in the northern hemisphere, techonolgy makes Australia seem not so far away at all. Family and friends are family and friends anywhere. And, no matter where I am, God is still there as well. He's always there.

After 10 days...

Just between classes now. Taught my first week of classes last week. I have one class on Sunday mornings, then about 7 classes each day from Monday to Thursday. Friday and Saturday are days off.

I usually have 2 primary school English classes each morning or early afternoon. Then about 3 or so small English classes of between 1 and 5 kids. During the week, there I'll teach 2 Bible classes in the evenings, and also a few adult classes each week.

The kids classes are fun! It's like being on Play School :-) only without the TV cameras. Many games, activites, sounding out letters, words and sentences. They're lots of fun. The adult classes are great too. I get to learn a lot about Japanese culture and build some good friendships with some of the people here in Hiroshima. I look forward to growing the numbers at the Bible classes.

There are so many bicycles here! Most bikes ride of footpathes and share crossing with pedestrians (different to Australia). The traffic flow of cars, bikes and pedestrians is less "aggressive" and more "polite" you could say. Not as hectic. I don't think "helmet" is in the vocabulary of the people here in Hiroshima. No-one wheres helmets. Often you see bikes with umbrellas attached to handle bars to give shade or keep the rain off. At night, bikes usually have one white head light, but I haven't seen a red tail light yet. It's quite relaxed. Haven't felt stressed.

And, I think I need to moderate the frequency of my visits to the hyaku-en shoppu (Hundred yen shop). It's like Crazy Clarks or Silly Solly's, but the 100yen shops are better (in my opinion). Unless priced otherwise, everything is only 100 yen (or about one Aussie dollar). Items range from towels to food, electical cables to seeds, chopsticks to hammers. It's great! (but I've been spending too much there). Good cheap maps of Japan and Hiroshima, kids books for me to learn Hiragana, writing paper and plastic containers are some good things I've bought. But there's one catch... the first time I bought only one item from the 100yen shop, I handed over a 100yen coin, and the shopkeeper looked at me funny... then I realized that 5% sales tax was added to the price... so in actual fact, everything costs 105yen. I highly recommend shopping there.

Went for a great bike yesterday with George! I thought it was time to head towards one of the many mountains that surround Hiroshima. It's very mountainous here (actually, all over Japan). We rode almost half way to Miyajimaguchi (west). We rode through some quite neighbourhoods. Everything is so compact. Parking is a headache if you don't have a pre-planned position. But, really nice Japanese homes. Quiet. We rode part way up a mountain and got a good view of Hiroshima. Then found our way back home following Route 2. There are so many rivers, islands and bridges in Hiroshima!

Church is interesting. Have been twice so far. Not so many youth. Mainly older people, some families, and some children. Met some youth already, and look forward to making some good friends here and inviting more people to come. There are about 100 to 200 people here. It's all in Japanese, and sometimes some translates for George and me. The songs here are hymns that I know in English. I don't understand the words, but I know what the words mean because I know the English words to them. I can read the Hiragana and sing along in Japanese (as long as the song is not too fast) but I don't understand the words. The members here are very friendly, often wanting to help. They share their food with us and make us feel welcome and supported. Sachiko (Director of English school) and Daniel (her Australian husband) are great friends.

Shopping for food is fun. Not really knowing if something is soy sauce or some aloholic beverage. Most written in Japanese. Prices in Japanese. Can't read ingredients, so I make good use of pictures. I can read some of the katakana which has helped a few times (eg. ハンドソオプ = hunddo sorpu = hand soap). Daniel and Sachiko helped us out yesterday and showed us where a few really good cheap import shops. The import liquor shop had some great stuff... actually, I don't get alcohol there, but very cheap rice (2500 yen for 10 kg... normally about 4000 for 10 kg... so much more expense for rice here in Japan), and cheap other western type foods. Also tucking in some Asian foods... okinomiyaki :-) Prices for foods here are more expensive, but other material things can be cheaper (elecronics are cheaper, some furniture and household things are cheaper). Petrol is about 140 yen per litre.

Internet here is comfortable... to say the least. 4 Mbit/sec is a basic connection and we have this speed at home. It's relatively quite cheap here compared to Australia. Unlimited downloads. Not meaning to make anyone feel envious or anything...

The people here are nice. Quite polite and decent. I'm looking forward to making some great friends, learning Japanese, and appreciating a different way of living.

Time for class...