Friday, May 07, 2010

To Niigata and Back Again

**Warning, this post's a doosey. Feel free to skim :D Also all Niigata pictures here.

In the wee early hours on Monday morning Ishikawa-san and family stopped by my apartment to pick me up. We started in the middle of the night to avoid the insanity that is Golden Week traffic. So around 12:30 am we filled up with gas and headed North for Niigata.

It is always an interesting experience to sit in the passenger seat (left side mind you), but this time I got a front row view of Japanese freeways expensive-ways. Once you are on the highway you're really detached from all the other road systems, because, well it's basically a toll way. There are parking and rest stops on the way, but these babies are rest stops on steroids. Convenience store, restaurant, concessions, and all the vending machines you would ever hope for. The tunnels are quite amazing as well. It makes sense that there are plenty of tunnels seeing as though we're crossing a mountain range, but a 12km long tunnel was reaaally long. Anyways, after 350 km and 6 or so hours we finally made it.

We pulled into Ishikawa-san's friend Takashi-san's place in Niigata around 6:30, 7am, and his friend was nice enough to have fresh home made bread as well as beds (futon) waiting for us. So before we headed out for anything that day, we all got a bit of rest. They even had a futon for me in my own room, with extra blankets and such to accommodate for my freakish height if necessary. Seriously, I never cease to get done in by Japanese generosity.

So after a short break, we headed out to take a gander at the Sea of Japan (Niigata is on the north coast of Japan). The sea was really beautiful, and I'm still trying to stitch together a good panorama of the pictures I took.

After that we headed over to the supermarket to buy everything for a barbecue back at Takashi-san's with a couple more friends from the area. Yes, I did just do a barbecue two days prior. Didn't you know Japanese people barbecue at least 2-3 times a week mandatory??? (jk) Once again our Japanese barbecue seemed to outdo any American one in variety. Pork, Beef, Sausage, Shrimp, Clam, Mackerel, Onions, Asparagus, Mushrooms, Octopus, Kimchi... yum.

And then after the barbecue... Karaoke!! What you say? I could have barbecue'd and gone to Karaoke back home in Ebina?? Pish posh, I'm in Niigata. Its a nice place but ended up being more inaka (countryside) than I thought so... we hung out with friends.

The next day we got around to some more serious sightseeing. This time we came to downtown Niigata and went straight to my favorite - an observation deck. And this guy was even free! I love the view of the city down below, and I got some pretty cool shots, but unfortunately it was rather cloudy out, so we couldn't see Sado Island out in the distance. Oh well, maybe next time.

Nearby the tower we went to was an interesting fish market. They had fresh salmon, crab, clam, whale (never seen whale meat before), and other fish and such. Basically anything you could ever want and I'm too American BEEF AND PORK AND CHICKEN to know whats good among all this stuff. So I took some pictures.

Outside of this building they were cooking fish and other clams/muscles and such that you could buy for (apparently) rather cheap. We tried some and it was pretty good, but to no surprise my AMERICAN MEAT acquainted tongue had some difficulty adapting. One of these days I'll get there.

Next we had some Niigata Ramen. I got a giant bowl of Miso Cha Shu Ramen (Miso flavored ramen with pork). I don't know if it was because I had a larger bowl or what, but all the Japanese people I was with finished their ramen in half the time it took me to finish mine. Yeesh. Apparently I need to brush up on my ramen eating skills (I've got the slurping down already though).

After this we did some sightseeing in a nearby park and I found some Sakura (cherry blossoms) blooming, which I was pretty excited about. I got to Japan about a month ago now right when all the sakura finished blooming, so I missed out. We also found this interesting western style historical city hall type building. They main meeting room was open with no signs for "Don't Touch" or "Stay Off" so we had plenty of fun.

Finally we stopped at a Senbei (Rice Cracker) factory, got a few souvenirs, tried a few interestingly flavored rice crackers, and even got to cook some of our own. On the way home we stopped at a Batting Cage and took a few swings. (Yes, I went to Niigata and went to a batting cage. It was fun.) And that night we went to a local Izakaya (Japanese bar/restaurant) that's owned by a friend of Takashi-san (who by the way did I mention he looks like a Japanese Tom Hanks?). Then we got a few hours sleep for our 4:30 am start to head back.

As tough as it was to once again drive in the wee hours of the morning with little sleep, the plan was a booming success. We didn't run into any golden week traffic at all since the peak of the traffic is around 10am, and we go back to Kanagawa around 9, 9:30. In fact, we had some extra time to spare so we stopped at... COSTCO!! Yes there is a Costo in Japan, and it's surprisingly similar to the Costos (and Sams) in the US. They even had your super cheap hot dogs and pizza slices. And the hot dogs were large 100% pork dogs, and the pizza was real American-style pizza. They even had barbecue chicken pizza!!! And they had a giant bottle of barbecue sauce!!!!! What an amazing place. I must go back... (drool)

Oh yes, Niigata. Boy I had a really great time. When I first got to Japan a month or so ago I went straight to work so it hadn't really hit me that I was really here. Now that I got a pretty good amount of free time and was able to do some vacationing, its really starting to sync in. It was really fun spending time with Ishikawa-san's family too. Kotoko and Taichi (his younger two kids) were plenty cute a lot of fun as well.

I can't thank Ishikawa-san and family enough for letting me tag along. Doing something like that is a feat I wouldn't be able to do myself. Sure I could visit Niigata, but I'd probably be staying in a hotel, and doing the pure tourist thing. Even though Niigata was a bit more countryside than I expected, it was really nice to stay with a local family and take in a more authentic experience.


Anonymous Erik (Levy-san) said...

Several points to be made:

2) Little boy is adorable. Absolutely adorable.
3) What the heck was the room with all the numbered chairs and stuff? Court? Meeting room?

5/10/2010 9:36 AM  

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