Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Buying a Car

The following shots are from my 5:30AM walk to a bridge in Hirosaki where both the Hakkodas and Iwaki can be seen in relatively good perspective. I have scattered them throughout the post.

Since my last post, the most prominent daily concern for us has been purchasing a decent car. Initially, we had come to Japan with the idea of getting our hands on a little old banger that would see us through a year or so until we had a bit more cash for a newer, flashier one. Our budget had been unrealistic though, and after we came to realise that the way we had previously envisaged procuring an old banger was not an option, we slowly came round to the idea of raising our standards and taking out a healthy loan with the local bank. Healthy, that is, because of the low interest rates we will have to commit to.

So it is, then, that we are now looking at a Mitsubishi EK Wagon. They are a 'kei' model, which meet certain small-car regulations introduced after the war to boost the motor industry. Kei model cars basically have a smaller engine and are much cheaper to run than normal vehicles. The annual tax bill is around 6000 - 8000 yen (£40ish) and the shakken (Japan's infamous version of the MOT) is much more reasonable.

The one we are planning to go and buy from a shop in Iwaki machi today is a 7-year old car, but the mileage is at 40,000m and it's in really good nick. It falls within our price range because it's not 4WD, and the vast majority of cars sold up this way have to have 4WD to be able to grapple with snow on the roads. For us though, it's not essential because it doesn't ordinarily snow outside of the mountains where we will be living (Tochigi) and I am pretty sure a 2WD will do.

Besides cars, I was happy to make my first trip to Hakkoda on Sunday with Aussie Chris and taste the sweet delights of its deep powder snow. Indeed it was sweet, after it had snowed quite heavily the night before. I was on a lift ticket budget though, and, like the good old days I was forced to whip out my snow shoes and climb up to the top station - twice! It was hard-going, but I was happy to be there and managed to eventually get in three good runs (I payed for one sneaky ride up in the ropeway!! - don't tell the missus!). Forgetting to wax my board meant that I stayed pretty close to the direct course most of the time. The one time we both went off the course, I was very lucky not to get stuck on the flat with a sticky old piece of wood under my feet. There were times when I thought I might have to employ my ski poles to give me a push.

Incredible to be back there though, and it was good to meet up with old ski buddy Ward, who is still a committed back country enthusiast there. To finish the day, Chris and I met up with Ward and his compatriot at a nearby onsen (Fukuzawa) where it was like walking back in time to an old collection of stuffed tanukis and fire wood - quite an impressionable place. Didn't take the camera though so no Hakkoda shots this time.

The two shots above are from a recent display of calligraphy at the Bunka Centre in Hirosaki. This one was done by my niece, Nagisa. I thought it was really good!

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Snow, snow, and then a bit more snow

The following pictures are from this last week. It's been a good week, with lots of things going on. We've got ourselves some mobile phones, which has kept us busy working out how to use them. We've also been car shopping, trying to work out what we can get with our money. We haven't bought anything yet though.

I've started a routine of running, physical training at the gym and studying in the afternoon. There's a good place to study on Dote-machi, the main street in town, though the wireless network is only available if you are already a member of NTT's 'flet's' network. Things like that are a bit different here and it'll take a while to get used to it, but we've got plenty of time.

These fugu were at the docks, where all the local fisher men and women were bringing in their catches.

These fish were not fugu, but they were good to eat. We went to a noodle place in Itayanagi and they were just stuck there in front of us. I had to have one.

I had a light cold, and on my Mother-in-law's advice I prepared myself for bed.

On the evening after the visit we made to the fishing ports, we went to Cafe Lemon's new location for some live jazz. They were good, and my favourite number of them all was a rendition of Norwegian Wood, by The Beatles.

I felt sorry for the octopus, being very much outside of its comfort zone. The Angler Fish beside it was alive too, and was equally as ugly as its eight legged friend.

The following shots were from the local snow festival. I met up with Andy Russell in the late afternoon for a beer. We went to Cafe Zilch and I was lucky enough to bump into a couple of other familiar faces there as well. From there, I went to the park for the festival and met up with Aki and her family. It was the usual gig, but more people were there this year. I'm not surprised since tourist advertisements for Aomori are plastered all over the train stations in Tokyo. It needs the business as things are generally looking slow up here compared to Tokyo and Utsunomiya.

This one I took at Yayoi. I went to the mountain trail with my snow shoes and managed to get about halfway up. I had no intention of a full mountain climb today, as the snow condition is way too unstable, and the weather is a bit changeable as well. I felt a bit sorry for this old shed though, which stood among the apple trees at the bottom.

Sunday, February 06, 2011

Return to Hirosaki

I've been in Hirosaki for five days now, and funnily enough the weather's been fine. It's plain to see that before I came the weather was quite different though.

There has been a lot of snowfall in recent weeks, but now the temperature has risen and things are heading in the opposite direction. Lingering still, are the huge mounds of snow that people create when clearing snow from the roads.

Besides the weather there have been other super-cool, interesting things going on. We went to a very nice sushi restaurant and had a spot-on selection of fishy treats. Among which, I myself ordered two different varieties of shellfish. Though I now can't remember what they were.

And apart from all of the paperwork that goes hand in hand with immigration to Japan (the health insurance, alien registration, pension avoidance etc.) we've not been up to a great deal. After all, the overall strategy for the next two months is to live as cheaply as possible until I start to earn some money. It will come though, eventually. It's just difficult to wait that long having already seen how nice the place we are going to live is.

I'll end this post with a brief selection of photos from our daily adventures. And, hopefully by the end of next week, Biffa's blog will have its first display of mountain diary shots. I feel like I've been here before!!