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The things you can do on the net! July 16, 2007

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I have just discovered Facebook and am having hours of fun. This guy here is supposedly me, can you see the similarity?… You can find me at http://www.facebook.com/p/Steve_Penney/667306803

My Meez

And he’s back! June 23, 2007

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Well for crying out loud, it’s been well over two months since I last updated this blog, and I have absolutely no excuses. Hmm, except for being exceptionally busy with the (not-so) new job.

So here’s a run-down of the last nine weeks:

– Family birthdays: my mother (8th May), my twin nieces (6th May), my sister’s partner (30th April – I think… sorry Micky if that’s wrong!!)

– Friend’s birthdays: Emma (also 8th May), Andy (13th April – again, I think, and apologies if it’s wrong), and quite probably three or four others that my memory did not allow me to remember (including Robin probably, as I never seem able to recall when that is…..)

– Weddings: Joannie and Ben – CONGRATULATIONS!!!

– Job going well, moved to a new office, got promoted to Manager,  placed 5 people in new jobs (one of whom has since been sacked though!…)

– Found THE most humungous spider in the kitchen a few weeks ago, which I since found out was a wolf spider (look it up on Wikipedia, it’s a bloody monster). That was NOT a good day.

Apart from that, not much else has happened really. I’ve become a bit of a recluse what with having to work so many hours and all, so no one has seen a lot of me recently. I am incredibly relieved that I left my last company when I did though, Nova has been headlining the National newspapers with tales of corruption and lying to customers. They have been banned from signing on any new students for the next six months,  existing students have been apparently quitting in droves, and several branches are being closed down) including Toranomon and Shibuya Miyamasuzakashita for those who were here and remember such things.

I’ve shaved my head because it’s summer and very hot so I look a bit fearsome at the moment what with the goatee and all. People are not wanting to sit next to the great big hulking 6’4″ skinhead on the train, which is understandable I suppose. I’ve toyed with the idea if wearing a sign saying, “I’m actually a big ol’ softie”, but I’m not 100% sure how to translate that into Japanese.

And that’s about it really! Apologies for the unnecessary lack of contact with everyone. I’d love to make my usual promise of vowing to write more often, but you all know what I’m like by now.

Don’t forget me! 🙂

Cherry Blossoms April 1, 2007

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Did you know that the majority of the Cherry Blossom trees in Japan don’t actually go on to produce any cherries at all? This weird revelation (which I only discovered this year) makes me wonder how they can actually be classified as cherry trees… hmm.

Cherry Blossoms

Anyways, the whole world knows that the Japanese LOVE their cherry blossoms (sakura in Japanese). The one weekend a year when they are in bloom results in hoards of people flocking to their local park to drink beer, eat snacks and generally act the giddy goat. This year was no exception for me. Myself, Masaru, Ben and Kazu headed off for Negishi Shinrin Koen for a spot of hanami (literally “flower viewing”). Started off wearing a T-shirt, and ended up wearing a hooded sweater and a jacket by the end as it became colder and colder. The festivities ended with that other great Japanese tradition. Karaoke. James Blunt is very difficult I have discovered.

Paddy’s Day March 24, 2007

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Japanese go Irish

St Patrick’s Day Parades. Do they actually have them in Ireland? Well anyway, they have them in the UK, in the US, and also (bizarrely) in Japan also. Not sure exactly how many Irish there actually were, but the flavour was decidedly Japanese, as shown here by the green rickshaws. Also lots of American military bands, some representatives of the local Irish pubs, and a giant inflatable Guiness.

Good day out though!

Yuki-Matsuri in Sapporo February 12, 2007

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Arctic PalaceHokkaido “kani”The Ice Bar

I have just returned from the Snow Festival in Sapporo. This is a festival that I have wanted to go to ever since I came to Japan, and finally this year I did it. Sapporo is right in the north of Japan in Hokkaido, where the below minus temperatures ensure a winter full of deep snow. And they create a whole range of absolutely incredible ice sculptures and display them in a long street-like park called O-dori koen. About two million people visit each year (the festival is only a weekend long), and it really is worth it. I wanted to put a lot more pictures here, but it’s difficult to know which ones to choose. So I’ve put what I thought was the most amazing one, the Arctic Scene. This isn’t actually the best picture of it, but I wanted to show the scale of the thing, it is gargantuan. There were also sculptures of castles, palaces, comic book characters (including three Thomas the Tank Engines), animals…. hundreds of stuff.

The food was also out of this world, including the famous Sapporo kani (crab) and the Genghis Khan barbeque (lamb cooked on a hot griddle at the table). And there were even bars made out of ice to have a drink at after. I am so glad I went, and am also so glad I didn’t go arse over tit on the ice, which was a distinct possibility.

Thank you SO much Masaru for taking me!!!

Where’d he go?! February 12, 2007

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Sorry! It’s been weeks since I added anything to the blog! I’ve been very wrapped up with work and various other shenanigens since the New Year, and there really hasn’t been a moment to sit down and write about anything! OK, a very belated New Year’s resolution. A Chinese New Year’s resolution maybe. I WILL write more often.

Starting now.

Osaka January 2, 2007

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Umeda Sky BuildingNorthern view of OsakaOsaka Castle

This being Japan’s second city, I always felt it was somewhere I should visit one day. So this year, I decided to take an impromtu visit seeing as one of my friends was already taking a holiday there. Only two hours and twenty minutes away by shinkansen (the famous bullet train), it’s a large and impressive city on the Kansai coast. I was staying in the Umeda district in the north, where you can find the Umeda Sky Building. You travel by glass elevator to the 35th floor, then tale an escalator through a glass tunnel to the 39th (that’s what those two diagonal tunnels are at the top of the building in the first picture). If you refer right back to my Hakone stories in September you’ll know I am not good with heights, and the thought of this was frankly terrifying. It wasn’t actually that bad though. And the view was worth it.

I also visited Osaka Castle (which if truth be known was the only landmark I actually knew of before visiting the city). Most temples, castles and shrines in Japan have been destroyed over the years by earthquakes, wars, fires, typhoons etc., so a lot of what you see today is a “modern” reconstruction. This Osaka Castle was reconstructed in 1928. It’s a beautiful building regardless. The grounds also contain a Time Capsule that was buried during Expo 70. It’s designed to be opened in the year 6970, and is said to contain over 2,000 artefacts from around the world representing culture in the 20th century. Don’t think any of us will be around to see that being opened!

Kyoto January 2, 2007

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Kyoto StationCorridors of San-ju-san GendouMain Hall of San-ju-san Gendou

Kyoto’s just half an hour from Osaka, so on New Year’s Eve we decided to stop by. It was my second time there, the first time being six years ago. Very little appears to have changed! The area around the station, with it’s modern architecture and heavy traffic, certainly contradicts the tranquil “old Japan” marketing the travel bureaus put out. But once you leave that vicinity there are literally hundreds of temples, shrines and gardens to visit. This being just a quick day trip (and having seen them all in my last outing there) we decided to visit just one this time – my favourite, San-ju-san Gendou.

It is a beautiful place, with the traditional orange-red pillars and gates, bamboo gardens and small shrines. But San-ju-san Gendou’s main attraction is the 1,000 buddhas contained within the main hall. Quite spectacular to see.

A British Christmas December 29, 2006

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LeftoversMince Pie

Seeing as I wasn’t able to get home for Christmas this year, I decided I wanted to have the most Brtish Christmas possible at my place. I had three friends over – one Australian, one Canadian and one Japanese – and rather selfishly banned them from requesting anything vaguely resembling food from their own countries. They were also banned from the kitchen while I was cooking under threat of pain. I made:

– Whole roast chicken (a tiny one the size of a sparrow sadly, and not a turkey..)

– Roast Ham

– Roast sausages in parma ham

– Savoy Cabbage

– Brussels Sprouts (could NOT believe I found them!)

– Garlic mashed potatoes

– Roast potatoes

– Buttered baby carrots

– Chocolate Fudge Brownies

– Mince pie with brandy sauce

– Mulled wine

Plus there were chocolates and shortbread all over the place, alongside Baileys, Brandy, champagne, wine and beer.

Tell you what, it’s bloody exhausting!! However my mother and, in more recent years, my brother do this for 10+ people is beyond me.

And here they are! December 10, 2006

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The finished products

The finished products. I have to say I didn’t actually glaze them, somebody at the centre did that. Nice, ne?