Monday, 8 October 2007

Sapporo Underground

I really like the Sapporo underground train system. Sapporo's not actually that big, so it never takes long to get anywhere; the trains (as they are everywhere in Japan) are very clean; the carriages (as you can see here) are exceptionally spacious, and there are no doors between them! This means that you can sit at one end and just watch the train weave and bend as it makes its way through the tunnels. They run on rubber tyres too, rather than rails, which means that they're quiet on the approach (but they're pretty loud when you're on them if the windows are open).

Anyway, I took this picture a couple of weeks ago and forgot to upload it. Feast yer eyes baby.

The Pentavirate in North 24

Originally on Facebook October 6th.

One night, walking back from North 24 to Asabu, a figure loomed up behind the glass - hands twisted and ready to strangle! To choke! To Crush!

I had to post this picture here, because it seems to be no problem to do so, but it seems to be a big freakin' problem to upload any photos to the actual "Photos" section. It's a vista thing I think. Give them a few years to let everything bed in ne?

And is it weird that I think it would be quite fun to get one olf the new Zunes? Does that mean I've had an aneurysm without realising it? Am I right now propped up in a hospital bed somewhere in a coma, drooling, thinking: "Hmmm, new Zune? Doesn't sound like a bad idea..."

More on this glorious photo: taken by Tara, and there's a fibreglass Colonel outside every single KFC in Japan, which is fine but I find that pose somewhat sinister. And at night, when he's dragged in off the street and caged up behind glass where you don't notice him until you're right next to him. Perhaps I screamed like a little girl. Perhaps.

Stuart Mackenzie: Well, it's a well known fact, Sonny Jim, that there's a secret society of the five wealthiest people in the world, known as The Pentavirate, who run everything in the world, including the newspapers, and meet tri-annually at a secret country mansion in Colorado, known as The Meadows.

Tony Giardino: So who's in this Pentavirate?

Stuart Mackenzie: The Queen, The Vatican, The Gettys, The Rothschilds, *and* Colonel Sanders before he went tits up. Oh, I hated the Colonel with is wee *beady* eyes, and that smug look on his face. "Oh, you're gonna buy my chicken! Ohhhhh!"

Mountains / Lakes / A High Carb Diet

Originally on Facebook Sept. 27th. Sorry!

Watching western movies dubbed into Japanese is pretty interesting. The Japanese voice talents really go for impact: there's probably a lot more frantic breathing in the dubs than there is in the original, and when they dub tough guys - they dub them TOUGH. Ving Rhames and Sean Connery in Entrapment, was like watching a rusty steam locomotive trying to face down a submarine engine. Sylvester Stallone and Brian Dennehy in First Blood: a seismic event vs. the song of two planets slowly grinding together.

But enough of that. The electronic music last weekend was great. Generally clocking into the beat heavy IDM range? I liked it and I met a lot of great people, but I may have crashed my brain trying to talk so much Japanese, and I only got home around 8am. That said it was well worth it to look up as the sky was becoming light, and realise that there was a freaking mountain outside the window all night that I hadn't been able to see before.

Monday was another National Holiday here, so I was able to take a road trip to Lake Toya. It was the first time I'd been out of Sapporo into the Hokkaido countryside, and it was gorgeous! Tara loved it because it reminds her a lot of where her parents live, but I don't think many Americans probably appreciate just how much British people love dramatic scenery. I'm a city boy, and have never visited the Highlands (probably the only place in Britain that has mountains worth a crap) so I can just drink it in for hours. And the snow is still to come! Tara's friend Akira (yes!) drove us, which was awesome, and the point was mostly the road trip since we didn't really spend long in Toya once we got there. We stopped often for views, snacks and other sites of interest...

First there was the truck stop where they sell a local delicacy that consists of three battered deep fried potatoes on a stick. It's about four hundred times more delicious than it sounds, and it started us off on what would turn out to be a fairly carb heavy day. Deep fried potatoes, sweet potato chips encrusted with sugar, kabocha (squash) croquettes, and most awesomely, wakasaimo from Toya itself. Wakasaimo is a popular Japanese treat, sweet bean paste formed into the shape of a potato. So yes, that is starchy carbs formed into the shape of more starchy carbs. And again, several hundred times more delicious than it sounds. And no, I have no idea who thought that the potato would be the ideal shape for a sweet treat.

Later we stopped at Kyogoku, a town famous for a natural mineral spring that people come from miles around to help themselves to. It was beautiful, and the water was pretty freakin' refreshing and incredibly cold. I have a bottle of it in the fridge right now, which I would dearly love to send down to the lab for the boys to take a look at. Lots of people were just like me, emptying other 500ml bottles to fill them with beautiful crystal spring water, but some people were taking it seriously. On the approach were stalls selling spring water receptacles from flask size to small-lake-refill size. Some people were heaving trolleys loaded with hundreds of gallons of spring water back up the hill to their car, which, as you can imagine did not look like fun.

And from cold water to hot water. Toya is a huge lake that was formed a gazillion years ago when a volcano went totally OTT and collapsed in on itself, making a big hole in the ground. There is still one big active volcano nearby (with two smaller, support volcanoes attached to it) that erupted recently enough to destroy a crucial road connecting one side of Hokkaido to the other. And of course there are hot springs, including some small hot springs that act as footbaths. We chilled (or warmed) for a while in one of those. It was beautiful, relaxing and quiet (except for the group of four kids picking on a fat kid) and I took a lot of pictures of Swan Boats. I now believe that Swan Boats might be one of the best things to take photos of in the world. Something about the white with black highlights, the shape, the way there's always rippling water in the back ground. Try and take a bad picture of a Swan Boat, I challenge you!

The other notable thing about Toya is that it's going to be the site of the G8 summit next year. Wikipedia sez:

"On April 23, 2007, the town and its surrounding area was announced as the site of the 2008 summer G8 summit. Japan's prime minister Shinzo Abe reportedly chose the area because of its proximity to many famous sightseeing grounds, such as Lake Tōya and Tōyako Onsen."

I would say he chose it because it is going to be IMPOSSIBLE for any protesters to get anywhere near the place. Toya itself is a tiny lakeside town surrounded by mountains, nowhere near any major population centres. The hotel where the summit is actually taking place is on top of one of those mountains, accessible by only one road, and from the lake it looks like fucking Doctor Doom's mountain fortress, or perhaps an untapped Bond location.

This week I got to be a J-Pop super-fan too, since the band that have rapidly become one of my favourite Japanese groups released their new album and it's just as awesome as I hoped it would be. I bought it on the morning it was released (since I work three doors down from a record shop) and I will be writing about them soon, so I won't shoot my mouth off yet.

And Jesus, Entrapment in Japanese is every bit as bad as Entrapment in English.