Tuesday, October 25, 2011


Checking out a baseball game was pretty high on my Japan to do list so I was really happy to catch one of the last games of the season this past Thursday.  It was a Hanshin Tigers vs Yokohama Bay Stars game at Koshien Stadium near Kobe.  Koshien Stadium is the oldest baseball stadium in Japan, dating from 1924, and 1 of 3 natural grass fields in Japan.  It has the only dirt infield in Japan and is considered sacred ground.

There are really two teams in Osaka, The Hanshin Tigers and Orix Buffaloes.  Unfortunately, this year both teams have losing records.  The Tigers are by far the more popular of the teams and are known to have the rowdiest fans in Japanese baseball.  When the Tigers visit opposing team’s stadiums their fans sometimes outnumber the home crowd.  When the Tigers won the Japanese Series they celebrated by having a team of lookalike players jump into the Osaka canal.  Since they didn’t have anyone who looked like Randy Bass (Japanese teams are allowed 4 foreign players), they used a statue of Colonel Sanders as a stand in.  Since then, the team has had to endure the “Curse of the Colonel” supposedly means that they will not win another championship unto the statue is rescued from the canal.

The Mascots

I met up with Julian at the stadium where we bought some bento food outside the park.  Apparently you can bring in outside food, but there seemed to be a lot of good, if expensive,  food for sale inside the stadium.  I gotta say that the beer girls are much cuter than the dudes handing out beers at AT&T Park.  Since the Tigers are well out of any playoff contention the stadium was mostly empty except for the cheap seats which were packed with fans.  The fans continually beat plastic bats together, blow horns, and chant the Tigers fight song. It was pretty impressive considering that this game meant nothing.

The Fans

When we bought out seats we had no idea where we would end up, but we found that we were just outside the cheap seats area and unfortunately couldn’t cross over.  If I ever go back, I’m making sure to get one of the cheap seats since it looked like a lot of fun.  When it came time for the 7th inning stretch, instead of “Take Me Out to The Ball Game”, fans blew up a bunch of balloons and released them at the end of the fight song.  The game was fairly exciting, but the Tigers never recovered from the 5 runs they gave up in the 3rd although they legitimately had a chance up to the end.  I’m kind of sad the season is over.  I could really get into this if there were a few more games.

 The Cheap Seats

 At Bat

Friday, October 21, 2011

The Gold’s Gym Debacle

Before I left for Japan I wasn’t sure what I was going to do about exercise.  A weekly workout has become part of my routine and if I don’t get it, I start feeling sickly.  I’m a member of Gold’s Gym in San Francisco and to my surprise there are three Gold’s Gym locations in Osaka.  I checked with my home gym and they gave me a Travel Pass which is supposed to be good for 14 visits to any Gold’s Gym location for the duration of the travel pass.  Awesome!  This meant I wouldn’t have to put my membership on hold or anything.  Everything should just work out.

When I first arrived at the Umeda Osaka gym they were very friendly and accommodating, showing me the lockers and the equipment.  However, on my 5th work out session they told me that my card was only good for 14 days, not 14 visits.  The wording on the card itself is a little ambiguous so I thought I might have misunderstood the travel pass rules.  I asked how much it would cost to work out for the day.  It turned out to be a whopping $40 for one workout.  That’s the same price as my entire monthly membership in San Francisco.  I had already taken the subway over and was geared up to workout so I ponied up the money and stayed as long as my muscles could bear it, figuring this might be my last chance to get some good exercise.  When I got home, I promptly emailed my home gym asking them to clarify the situation.  The next day I got an email stating that I was right.  I should be able to use each gym 14 times.

When the next week rolled around I went back to the Umeda Osaka gym and attempted to explain the situation.  It’s a little difficult to explain these kinds of things with such a large language barrier.  The desk lady wasn’t sure what to do, but promised to have a manager call me.  She also let me work out for the day.  After the workout, I got a call saying that my travel pass was invalid in Japan.  They said I could come back for one more free workout (instead of giving me a refund), but that was it.  I was a little peeved.  I wasn’t necessarily mad at the Umeda, Osaka gym, but I felt like I needed some kind of definite answer.  Someone was obviously wrong, but I wasn’t sure who.  When I got home, I went to the Gold’s Gym corporate website only to find that they don’t offer any contact information.  There is no e-mail address, no phone number, but there is a feedback form.  I filled it out with my situation and sent away.  I have yet to receive a response from the feedback form.  I emailed my home gym with my updated situation.  Although I checked up again in a week, I have yet to receive another response from my home gym.

I searched around on the internet for a corporate Gold’s Gym phone number and found several complaints about how it was super hard to find.  Eventually I found a post with a couple numbers they claimed were customer service lines.  I tried a few of the numbers without success, but finally found one that connected me to an automated robot answering service.  I sat around studying, on hold for 30 minutes before they hung up.  This is a little frustrating since I have to make these calls after midnight my time.  The next day I called back and actually got through to someone.  I was transferred around a few times and finally found the right person.  I explained the situation, but they didn’t seem well informed and told me that they would have to get back to me.  Five days later, I got a response and it was real simple.  Foreign locations will only let you have four workouts.  Well at least I got a definite answer.

I figured I would try my luck at one of the other Gold’s Gym locations and went to the Nakanoshima, Osaka location.  When I got there I spoke to the desk lady and showed her my travel pass.  She told me that I didn’t have the right travel pass.  I talked it over with her and she agreed to give me the updated travel pass which is good for 14 workouts.  So it turns out that this was the problem all along.  Gold’s Gym just updated the “Travel Pass” program to a “Travel Passport” and I just needed the newer document.  They were so much more helpful at the Nakanoshima location than any other Gold’s Gym outlet and they didn’t even speak my language.  I don’t know why my home gym and the corporate office couldn’t figure this out or why it took them so long to come up with the wrong answer.  The Osaka, Umeda gym was also less than helpful, but I can chalk it up to language issues.  It just seems like such a cut and dry problem and everything was made extremely difficult until I went to the right gym.  I don’t know why it was so hard to figure this out, but I’m glad I saw it through.

Sorry for the long and somewhat boring story, but the whole thing was rather frustrating and I needed to vent.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

I'm a Marine

I guess this blog has been a little neglected, as all blogs tend to be after a while.  I’ve been busy with my school routine and I keep doing things which I’ve already discussed so I figured I wouldn’t repeat them here.  

Studying Japanese has its ups and downs.  Some days I feel like I’m not making any progress and I get so frustrated that I want  to give up, but other times I’m amazed at what I can understand and what I can say.  I guess if I want to stick with it I’m just going to have to realize that it’s going to take a lot of time.  I enjoy learning the grammar because it makes me feel like I can say things more accurately and it has a system of rules I can follow, but I find vocabulary extremely difficult.  I have a really hard time memorizing things and when there are 15 new words to memorize a day, I get overwhelmed very quickly.  The writing thing also makes things difficult.  If there was a roman alphabet I could reinforce what I’m learning by reading signs and menus, but as it is, I’m clueless at reading.  I do feel like I’m improving.  I definitely know how a bunch of new verb forms and I think I understand what’s going on a lot more, but I still can’t really communicate at all.  It would probably help if I wasn’t hanging out with foreigners all the time, but being around people I feel comfortable with has really helped improve my stay and helped me experience new things.  If they weren’t around I may speak better Japanese, but I might get lonely and depressed. 

Last week I decided that I was overdue for a haircut.  For some reason getting a haircut in Japan made me anxious.  I wasn’t looking forward to the awkward explanation of what I wanted and I was afraid it might come out all weird.  I asked around and Glen told me about a place called “Cut and Mist”.  He said he never understood the mist part since all he ever got was a cut.  Since Glen needed a cut too, he offered to show me how to get to the place which was close to the JR Namba station, about a 20 minute bike ride away.  When we arrived, I bought a 1000 yen ticket from a machine handed it to the haircutter guy and told him 4 on the sides.  It actually turned out ok if a little short.  Surprisingly, with my short hair, I keep getting mistaken for a marine.  I guess I’ll take that as a compliment?  I haven’t seen any marines in Osaka, but there are certain areas in Japan where they have a bad reputation for starting fights and being overly aggressive with Japanese women.  I guess this means no one will mess with me.

After the haircut, we went next door to a Subway restaurant which is apparently very rare in Japan.  Since the Japanese don’t really do sandwiches this was my first sandwich in Japan.  It was absolutely delicious.  I think it was probably only a little better than American Subway, but my sandwich craving made it like heaven. 

Last weekend Jullian invited me to a go-kart place.  It was an adventure just getting there.  We took the subway to Umeda, then two trains, and finally a bus to an island in Osaka bay.  It was kind of weird getting out of the city to somewhere with real open spaces.  The go-karts were pretty serious and might have gone up to 35 mph or so.  You had to wear a helmet and gloves.  The track was pretty cool with a straightaway and a couple of hairpin turns.  I kept trying to go as fast as possible which resulted in lots of uncontrolled spinouts.  Somehow, out of the five of us, I was consistently in second place.  Osaka’s Universal Studio park was near the go-kart track so afterward we walked around Universal City just outside the park.  It’s basically a bunch of restaurants and gift shops.  It felt a little dirty walking around an imitation version of America.  I was happy to leave.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Tennoji, Tako, and MC Hammer

This past weekend I biked 30 minutes or so to an area called Tennoji just south of my neighborhood.  Tennoji is known for a pair of temples, Shitennooji and Isshinji.  Shitennooji is one of the first Budhist temples founded in Japan.  It’s very large, open, and quite spread out.  I wouldn’t exactly call it attractive, but there were some interesting features including a five story pagoda and a turtle pond with tons of turtles.  The temple contains a few cemeteries which feel a little out of place surrounded by Osaka’s urban offices and apartments.  Shitennooji ‘s garden is supposed to be beautiful, but it is under renovation so I didn’t get to see anything.  While Shitennooji felt nearly empty, the smaller grounds of Isshinji felt very crowded and the air was heavy with incense.  It was a much livelier atmosphere.

I think Teenage Mutant Turtles have forever burned turtles into my brain as one of my favorite animals.


There’s an area near Tennoji known as Shin-Sekai.  It’s filled with street food and pachinko parlors giving it kind of a carnival feeling.  It’s also home to the Tsuutenkaku tower which used to be Osaka’s tallest building.  Now it’s famous because it’s the setting of some Japanese TV drama.

 You're supposed to rub his feet for good luck.

 Shin-Sekai with Tsuutenkaku tower in the background.

Sometimes it's better not to ask.

I bought a stuffed Octopus in Shin-Sekai and I named him Taco (Octopus is Tako in Japanese).  He sits on my unused TV.

The local shopping arcade started playing “Halloween music” over the past week.  “Halloween music” seems to be an infinite loop of the theme from the Halloween movies, The Adams Family Groove, the Ghostbusters Theme, and The Time Warp.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

On Japanese Beer

Beer is the most popular alcoholic drink in Japan.  Japanese beer is great if you like Kirin, Sapporo, Asahi, or Suntory.  Otherwise, you’re screwed.  Well, that’s not completely true.  I’ve seen a couple Heinekens and Coronas available in a few bars, but there are not a whole lot of options.  I’ve heard rumors that there are microbreweries in Japan, but you sure don’t see their brews available in stores.  Japanese beers aren’t really available in bottles.  Everything comes in a can.  You may have heard that you can buy beers from vending machines in Japan.  That was surely the case when I was last hear six years ago, but I haven’t seen any beer vending machines this time around.  Apparently the government is phasing them out due to underage drinking concerns (duh).  You can buy alcohol at any time and drink it pretty much anywhere in Japan.  You can buy a beer from a 24 hour convenience store, stand outside the bar next door, and drink that beer in front of the bouncers for half the price you would pay for the beer inside.

While there isn’t a whole lot of beer variety, Japan does have something that’s missing in the rest of the world, low malt beers.  Japan taxes beer at an extremely high rate.  Half the price of a Japanese beer goes to taxes.  That’s over 10 times the tax rate of America’s beer.  However, Japan defines beer as water, hops, and at least two-thirds malted barley.  This leaves a low malt “beer” loop hole.  These low malt “beers” are called happoshu (usually labeled 発泡酒).  They contain less than 66% malt and usually add in some sort of liquor as a substitute to make up the difference.  This results in a higher concentration of alcohol at usually 4.5-6%, but also a higher rate of mind splitting hangovers.  About ten years ago the government actually raised the tax on happoshu using 26%-66% malt, so brewers responded by lowering the percentage malt in happoshu to under 25%.  In recent years, brewers have removed malt from the process altogether to create an even cheaper beer.  These beers are called dai-san no biiru, or the 3rd beer and use some sort of malt substitute such as pea or soy protein.

Sapporo uses 100% malt (real beer), 188 yen or $2.45/can

Kirin Green Label uses 25% malt (Happoshu), 130 yen or $1.70/can

Note the 25% and the characters 発泡酒, designating this happoshu instead of beer

Sapporo Draft One uses pea protein instead of malt (dai-san no biiru) 100 yen or $1.30/can

When I first arrived, I looked at beer price, and not knowing any better selected a 6 pack of happoshu.  I soon regretted my decision.  As you can guess, low malt beers are gross.  It didn’t take long for the other guys to explain why my beer tasted so bad.  I guess on the upside, happoshu beer is cheap and it gets you drunk fast, but most of the time it’s really not worth it.