Did you know that living in the Portland area means you’re in the middle of one of the largest wine-producing regions in the US? This unique area is located virtually at the center of Washington State and Oregon, the 2nd and 3rd largest wine-producing regions in the US, respectively. What does this mean for you as a wine-lover?
Back in the air now after 10 days in the Philippines, I finally have a chance now after a busy ten days to reflect a bit and write. Thankfully my iPad is loaded with a fair amount of music, and the Kings of Convenience (as always) provide a languid and contemplative soundtrack to the goings-on around me. I swear this duo’s music just gets better and better with each listen.
The free (?) WiFi here in the Mumbai (Bombay) airport waiting lounge seems to work well if a bit sluggishly. To get access I had to enter my keitai number into a form and then they sent the login details by SMS email. I’m on my way down to Trivandrum in Kerala to meet with a development company from whom I am thinking of renting some developers. First time to India and looking forward to the coming week very much. The trip is taking much longer than I expected (mostly due to skimming the itinerary) and I’ve still got a three hour wait and a two hour flight ahead of me. Its been about 17 hours just getting from my door to here. Blech. I think I’m gonna go find a beer and a stratolounger…
Funny how age can creep up on you. There I was, minding my own business as a thirtysomething, when suddenly the 16th rolled around and forty-fied me. WTF? Had I been paying more attention I might have ducked or something, but along with the typical surprise and alarm, advancing age also brings with it an unfortunate dulling of the reflexes. Now look at me. Makes me think of that great “Glass” piece by Eric Bogosian where he says:
And suddenly one day you realize your hair is starting to fall out, and that your stomach isn’t as flat as it used to be, and that your dick’s not as hard as it used to be, and from that day forward that’s ALL you can think about. All you can think about is how your hair is falling, your stomach’s drooping, your dick is limping, and basically it just gets worse and worse and worse until you’re incontinent, mindless and drooling, stuck in some fire-trap senior citizen’s home on the edge of an interstate highway where your big thrill of the day is when they’re serving strained peaches.
You get the idea. Funny, eh? Ha! Anyway, now I can’t keep saying “I’m not an oyaji!” and mean it. I’ve become one. Blech.
So what better to do than visit Fukuoka and catch some sumo? Exactly! And that’s what we did. I had made plans the previous month to join Seattle friends Mike and Larry (now living in Kumamoto) for a day-long foray into northern Kyushu, and was much looking forward to it when the day arrived. Larry pulled a ドタキャン (sudden cancellation) that morning, looking fit but citing a sniffle, so it ended up being just Mike and I. We somehow managed to have a good time without him… (Bad Larry! Bad!)
Fukuoka is a GREAT city, all spic-and-span and sporting wide streets the likes of which you just don’t find in Tokyo, and with friendly locals and a great nightlife to boot. We had a good time exploring the downtown area and enjoying lunch before the Main Event of the day. The 16th was also the day the “ban was lifted” (解禁) on this year’s selection of grossly over-hyped Beaujolais Nouveau, so we succumbed to the intense media pressure we had been enduring the previous week and sampled a couple of glasses of the variety the Spanish restaurant we enjoyed lunch at was promoting this year. Surprisingly, it was quite good! Must be something to that whole “gotta get to it fast” thing.
We got to the sumo event space, a massive sports arena-type affair located downtown near the waterfront, paid for the cheapest tickets we could buy (30 bucks) and sat in seats much closer to the dohyo at the center of the arena (priced at 400 bucks). The area was sparsely populated at that point, but after about 10 minutes the “owners” of said seats showed up and we had to beat a hasty retreat. One row back. I tell you, we gaijin really have no shame…
Outside we had seen a few of the athletes (called 力士, or rikishi) heading back to the stable (they really say that) and I was surprised at how absolutely massive they are. They’re all around six feet tall or better, and horizontally huge as well. The three shown here actually warped space-time, just standing there waiting for a taxi. Crazy.
Anyway, inside it was what you might expect. An afternoon of these giants hurling themselves at each other, massive bodies crashing together and fighting to toss the other to the ground or out of the ring altogether. Mike is a big sumo fan, and had started off by choosing his picks to win for each match and then followed up with running commentary on many of the competitors. It was almost like watching it on TV, except for the hawkers selling overpriced chestnuts and the 800 foot ceiling.
After the sumo fun we went and enjoyed dinner downtown, somehow ending up at one of the two (count ‘em!) Global Dining restaurants in the city. Go figure. However, the food and wine at the QUALITA location were first-rate, and we totally lost track of time as the evening wore on.
As we meandered back to the train station I got to get a taste of the city at night, and was very impressed with both the beauty of it and the wonderful “island of yatai” (open-air street food stalls) that occupies a large swath of downtown, wedged between two forks of the river that runs through the middle of the city. To have only had more time to explore! I can’t wait to go back for another taste.
Finally, beyond the yatay we ventured back through the hot tourist spot known as Canal City, a kind a urban playgound-meets-mall located in Hakata Ward. Passing through earlier in the day we had seen a wonderful fountain performance with a few dozen high-pressure water nozzles shooting spray into the air in a deliciously choreographed production. At night, however, the place had become even more glorious, with spectacular “illumination” to rival the best of what Tokyo has to offer.
It was a great finish to a great day in a new city. Till next time, Fukuoka!
I made my first trip to the Pacific Coast in Chiba Prefecture just east of Tokyo. The chosen destination was the semi-remote town of Onjuku, home to Onjuku Beach. (Listed here in group 3, or you can click on the approrpiate block in this map for a close-up of the beach area..)
I had been jonesing to get out of the city and into some roiling surf for months, but invariably ended up either disappointed with muddy Kanagawa beaches or cancelling altogether at the last minute due to poor weather or oversleeping. I wanted to get onto a real beach without having to go all the way down to Izu, so I thought, “Hey, why not Chiba?”
The main why-not was not ever having been there, and not knowing if it was actually worth the trip. As it turns out, it most certainly is, and thanks for Brent and Andrew for giving me the basic knowledge to get me moving in the right direction.
To get to Onjuku I bought an express ticket for the Wakashio (特急わかしお) train out of Tokyo station. It leaves from the Keiyo (京葉線) tracks at the far end of the station, and gets you all the way out to and down the coast in a whopping 79 minutes. An open seat ticket (自由席, jiyuu-seki) will set you back 3,192 yen, and you may have to stand the whole way. Alternatively, you can pay an additional 700 yen for a reserved seat (指定席, shitei-seki) which–as the name implies–guarantees you your very own seat all the way.
Once arriving in Onjuku City it was a short 7-10 minute walk to the beach. I was immediately struck by how perfectly beach-like it was. コレこそまさにビーチだぞ！ (Now this is what I call a beach!) was the first thing out of my mouth on seeing the long expanse of white sand and frothy, crashing surf. Blue skies over a forest of colorful parasols, and thousands of mostly-yound Japanese out in their darkly-tanned best.
I grabbed a boogie board from local surf shop and spent the afternoon riding some respectable waves and working on my first good sunburn of the Summer. The waves aren’t quite as big as those in Shimoda, perhaps, but they were more than adequate for me on this uncrowded strecth of rock-free sand a mere hour-and-a-half from home.