Friday, April 30, 2004

Politcal Ramblings
I've mentioned before that I'm a reluctant supporter of John Kerry, still somewhat fuming on his vote to invade Iraq. Nevertheless, now that the Republican attack machine is in full swing, I'm troubled by the hypocrisy of many of the attacks against Kerry, particularly the attacks against his character.

Personally I've never been too concerned with a politicians "character." I don't care if the guy is a son of a bitch in his personal life or not, as long as he votes on the issues the way I want him too.

I suppose it all depends on how we view the concept of representative democracy. Do we elect good and wise men to make our decisions for us (like the kings of yore), or do we elect people who will faithfully represent our views.

Some people take a different view and like to make character an issue. And I can respect this difference of opinion, but what I can't stand is inconsistency. I am reminded of this Chimes article I wrote during the 2000 election.

During the 1992 election and throughout his Presidency Clinton was vilified by the right for his youthful experimentation with Marijuana and for avoiding service during the Vietnam War. During the 2000 election, Bush got a free pass for rumours of his own cocaine use, and for also avoiding Vietnam. I didn't know about the drunk driving conviction at the time I wrote the article, but that is also something that the right forgave very quickly. One can only imagine what AM radio and Newspaper columns would have been saying if Clinton had the same past.

Now with John Kerry, suddenly character attacks have become fair game again.

Of course I know this is all just politics as usually, but I think it's time the rest of us stopped playing along. Either character is important to these people, or it is not and they should stop wasting everybody's time.

Thursday, April 29, 2004

Life this past week, etc, usual update type stuff

First of all, this Saturday we observed Earth Day with a
Beach clean up
This was organized by the "Earthmen Club" in Oita City, which I have been attending occasionally on Thursdays. Last year for Earth Day we did a clean up on a park in Mount Kuju. This year it was at a beach on the Kunisaki peninsula. The event consists of picking up garbage in the morning, and then picnicking and play in the afternoon.

As with last year, I overslept and arrived after the clean up portion of the day was concluded, but just in time for the picnic. It was a pleasant day at the beach though. The Kunisaki peninsula is really beautiful in the Spring. And Greg and I went for the first swim of the year in the Ocean.

It was still a bit cold out for the natives. Our Japanese friends thought we were crazy, but Greg was saying that if the weather had been the same in England, everyone would have been swimming. I think the same would have been true in Michigan. Kyushu natives just have a different standard of what constitutes swimming weather.

Weeding day
Friday was weeding day at Fukami Junior High school. The schools don't employ janitors or ground maintenance personal, everything is done by the students. And Friday was "Go out and weed the baseball field day."

The students asked me to participate with them. Although the thought crossed my mind that they were just trying to get me to share the work burden, I like to think that they were motivated by the genuine desire to spend time with me.

Weeding occurred 6th period. I'm usually back to the Board of Education by that time, but it is somewhat flexible. After all I really don't do anything at the BOE, just show up at the end of the day to let them know I'm still alive. So I could have stayed later at the school if I wanted to.

It was a bit of a moral dilemma. Instinctively I told the students no at first, then felt bad about it afterwards because it would have been a good opportunity for interaction. And most of the promotional material for JET emphasizes things like becoming involved in the school's routine and interacting with students in their daily lives.

But then I thought to myself, "that's just the bullshit they put on the brochures." Any of my JET friends in the area, given the opportunity, would do the exact same thing as me and try to avoid weeding detail as well. I didn't feel so bad about it after that.

More Birthday stuff
Since my Birthday had been on a Wednesday last week, celebrations were muted, and I didn't really see most of my friends (although I had a nice party with my English class, see previous post).

This weekend I was given gifts and wished well by several people. (It made me feel a little bad because I haven't really given many of these people anything for their respective birthdays).

Eion treated me to a dinner and a video rental on Friday night. We saw "American Psycho", which I believe came out after I had left for Japan, but has become a bit of a cult classic among the JET crowd in this area. I was one of the few who hadn't seen it yet, so the gang agreed to watch it again for my sake. I'm curious as to how popular has this movie been back home, and if it has developed the same kind of following among any of your circles.

In other gifts:
Greg gave me a couple T-shirts, commenting that he was sick and tired of me always wearing the same "Christian Track" shirt. (In reality I have plenty of shirts over here, but I guess I have a tendency to just keep grabbing the shirts at the top of the pile).

Another friend gave me a dart board, which I hope to be able to use. And yet another friend gave me a cleaning set, with the hope that I would use it to get my apartment in order. (I'm developing a reputation over here).

Friday, April 23, 2004

Me and the Snake I Found Outside

The other day I found a snake outside. But before I go into that, I should admit this is not the first time I've been involved with snakes out here.

The first time was last summer when I found a snake in the hallway at the Board of Education. I tried to pick him up. The little bastard bit me twice, but eventually I got ahold of him by the neck, and then brought him into the office to show everyone.

One of my co-workers wanted to hold the snake, so I handled the snake over, giving the warning, "Careful, he bites." Alas, in my hurry to warn my co-worker, I blurted out the words in English, and he didn't understand. The snake bit him and he dropped it on the floor, causing a bit of confusion as several of us scrambled to catch the snake again. It also caused a bit of distress to the one female worker in the office, who stood on her chair and yelled at us to get the snake out of the office.

I've retold this story a couple times since to my JET friends, who usually shake their head and say something like, "Joel, you idiot." But in my defense, it's not like I brought the snake into the office from outside. That would have been stupid. But the snake was already in the building. All I did was bring him into the office to show the rest of the Board of Education what sort of things were slithering around in the building.

The second time was a bit more malicious on my part. I found a snake at the junior high school. Actually the students found it, but they called me over to see it. I put the snake it a plastic bottle, and brought it back to the board of Education. The woman in my office has a fear of snakes, so since my desk is next to hers, I teased her by keeping the snake in the bottle prominently displayed on my desk, and from time to time would open the bottle up as if to let the snake loose.

And then this week I was teaching at the elementary schools when I found a snake outside. In the Japanese schools, the gymnasium is located in a separate building, and requires a brief walk outside to get to it. Because my lessons in the elementary school usually involve a lot of games, I often use the gym. While I was walking back from the gym with the students, we saw a snake.

It was a big black snake, a lot bigger than the two previous ones I had caught. I was very tempted to catch it, but since I was with the students and in the middle of class, I decided it might be a bit unprofessional and just walked by. But the next class period, when I was walking to the gym again, the snake was still there and I was unable to resist the temptation.

I grabbed the snake, then told the students to wait for me while I ran to look for something to put it in. Having left my teaching duties in the middle of class, I felt under some what of a pressure to justify the snakes educational value. I had the students come around and look at the snake, and tried to get what mileage I could out of it's ESL value. "This is a snake. Repeat after me, snake."

After that, I decided to try and incorporate the snake into the game I had planned. The game was "Shark attack", in which I play the shark, and the students have to run to an "Island" before I can tag them. (Target English vocabulary for this lesson is "Shark" "Attack" "Swim" "Ocean" and "Island". Lessons at the Elementary school tend to be mostly fun and games).

Anyway, to make the game a little more exciting, I told the students that if I caught them, as a penalty they would have to kiss the snake. This really worked well actually. Usually with these kind of games there can be problems with a couple students who don't want to play, or want to try and get out (which takes the fun out of the game). With this added motivation though, the students were all running as fast as they could.

I guess anywhere in the world you can find people who are terrified of snakes. But in Japan the percentage seems to be very high. Even a lot of the young boys are very afraid of snakes. I think this might be because in Michigan there are many snakes, but almost no poisonous snakes, so we grow up not being afraid. But in Kyushu, there are several very poisonous snakes, and the children are taught to be cautious.

The kids in this 4th grade class were all terrified of the snake. But I think in a way they did enjoy the extra thrill of the game in the way that children sometimes like being scared a little. But the first boy that I tagged burst into tears immediately. I then explained he didn't really have to kiss the snake, but it took him a while to calm down. And even after this explanation, there was still some confusion about it, because the next girl who was tagged out also began crying.

Later that same day, another snake was found on the school grounds, this time it was a poisonous one. When the vice-Principle heard that I had no fear of snakes, she recruited me to get rid of the poisonous snake. However by the time she showed me where it was, the snake had already gone away.

I took my black snake back to the Board of Education, where I displayed it prominently on my desk and teased my co-worker with it.

Thursday, April 22, 2004

26th Birthday
Yesterday was my 26th Birthday, and my 3rd birthday now spent in Japan.
Although birthdays away from friends and family is always a bit of a sad affair, I feel like I've been taken good care of here in Japan the past few birthdays. My Japanese friends have done a great job of remembering.

Like my Adult English conversation class. Every year they remember when my birthday is, and are very eager to cancel class and have a party for me instead. (Actually, they seemed a little too eager to cancel my normal lesson. Hmmm....).

Of course Wednesday birthdays always suck. It's the middle of the work week. I was sleep deprived already from staying out too late the previous couple nights, and it is another few days of work before the weekend.
But I did have a fun time at the party with my class. Several of the mothers who attend brought lots of home made goodies, and we all had plenty to eat with lots of leftovers.

Tuesday, April 20, 2004

Pictures on-line
While I was at Greg's apartment this weekend, I was bugging him to put more of his photos online. Turns out they were online already, I just didn't know how to get to them.
Anyway, for anyone who is interested, these are pictures taken on Greg's digital camera almost a year ago now.
Two friends I knew in Oita city were interested in coming out to visit Ajimu. I called up Greg, and the four of us spent the afternoon visiting all the nice spots in my town of Ajimu. These pictures are all from that day.
Also on Greg's on-line collection is pictures of our hitch hiking trip to Hokkaido (I know I mentioned these before, but I never included the link).
You'll have to join Ofoto first to look at the pictures, but it only takes a minute.

Monday, April 19, 2004

My Weekend
This Friday I was invited out by one of my co-workers at the town hall to a “party.” Since Japanese people don’t usually do house parties like we think of them in the west, I had a suspicion that it was a group date, and that I was just being invited to round out the numbers. And this turned out to be correct. But I went along anyway and had a good time.
Group dates are pretty popular in Japan as a way to meet potential romantic interests. A guy will invite a few of his friends, and a girl will invite a few of her friends, and the idea is that everyone meets everyone’s friends and increases their potential dating pool. This date turned out to be me and three other guys from the Ajimu town hall, and four girls I had never met before.
They were nice enough girls. One of the girls was only 19, and the guys were all my age or older, but I’ve noticed age difference doesn’t appear to be a big deal in Japan. I have a feeling a couple of the girls might have been keen enough if I or another one of the guys had come on a bit stronger, but as it was no body really pushed anything to hard, and at the end of the dinner, we just called it an early night and went our separate ways. (I found out later one of the guys was actually married. I asked him if his wife knows he went on a group date, and he responded that he just told his wife he was going out drinking with Joel. I suppose I’m going to have to cover for that now if I ever met his wife.)
After the date, I and the 3 other guys went to a “snack bar.” These snack bars are pretty interesting in a kind of pathetic sort of way. A couple pretty girls work there, and the customer pays a lot of money just to sit and talk to these girls and have them laugh at your jokes and tell you how wonderful you are. As you can imagine, it is a popular place for lonely old men to hang out. But the night life in Japan is somewhat limited, so occasionally I find myself ending up in a snack bar even when hanging out with a younger crowd.
There were pretty girls there. And they did laugh at my jokes, and talk to me and make me feel pretty good about myself. But it’s a bit of an empty feeling knowing they’re paid to do it. And pretty damn expensive as well. We were in the snack bar for about an hour, I drank less than one beer, and the bill was about forty dollars. That, plus the bill for the restaurant earlier (which was largely paid for by us guys), plus the taxi ride home meant the whole night came close to $100 for me. Which is a lot of money to drop for a night out. Things can get expensive fast in Japan, especially when hanging out with other Japanese people who are used to paying such prices (not many foreigners would pay $40 to hang out in a snack bar).
Saturday
After sleeping in and lounging around my apartment, I met my friend Eoin for a late lunch in his town of Usa. At the restaurant, we ran into a group of Eoin’s high school students, six female seniors. Eoin said hello to them briefly, but then as we were eating at the restaurant we noticed they were paying a lot of attention to us, and trying to discreetly take our pictures with their cell phone cameras. Eventually a couple came over to Eoin and explained that they thought I looked cool and they wanted permission to take my photograph.
Ah…Japan. I’ve had a number of similar experiences over the time I’ve been here, all with girls that were too young for me to possibly consider dating.
I’ve been here long enough to know that the attention I received was because of the scarcity of foreign boys, and not because of me personally. I’ve also discovered that the easily won affection of high school girls doesn’t necessarily translate into success with women my own age. And yet all that being said, it did kind of make my day that they wanted my photograph. That put me in a good mood for the rest of the day.
In the evening Eoin and I went to visit Greg in his town of Kusu. We went to “D-styles” a bar in Kusu and sang karaoke all night. I didn’t drink but still had to pay the bar entrance fee (about $30 for all you can drink), but since I hogged the karaoke machine all night long, I thought maybe it was fair enough.
Since I don’t possess a voice like an angel, I was pretty shy about Karaoke the first year or so I was here, and would spend a whole night out with my friends and not sing a single song. I’ve loosened up a lot since then.
Karaoke is different in Japan than in the states. For one thing it is so central to the Japanese night life that everyone is expected to sing Karaoke whether you are good or not, and consequentially no one really cares how good you are. Also in Japan Karaoke either consists of a private Karaoke booth, or a small bar. Japanese bars are really small, usually no more than ten people at any given time. So it’s not like doing Karaoke in a club in the US, where you are giving a performance to a crowd of strangers.
And the really great thing about doing karaoke with Japanese people is that being able to correctly pronounce the English words in a song is seen as a great feat in itself. Nevermind about your voice. If you can sing “Let it Be”, and pronounce all the L sounds correctly, or just keep up with the English in a faster song, you’re a superstar.
Although I’ve been somewhat negating this advantage lately by trying to sing Japanese songs. I’ve been trying to make inroads into the Japanese music scene, and enjoy trying to sing the new songs I’ve learned. When I get to a Kanji character I don’t know, I just “la la la” over it, which I imagine is a bit painful to listen to, but I think it’s good for my studies to at least give it a go.
Also, just as in the States my taste in music leaned towards older stuff, I’ve really gotten hooked on Japanese oldies out here. I listen to a lot of old songs and CDs, and know a lot of old groups. This is always good for a laugh when we go to the bar. The Japanese people are really surprised at all the obscure old songs I know, and I am sometimes accused of lying about my true age.
Sunday
After a late night Karaoking, we spent the night at Greg’s house, and I missed church again. Upon returning to my own town, I got a visit from some of my recently graduated former junior high school students (now first year high school students). They wanted me to drive them to Nakatsu to go shopping.
As a JET, I think interaction with the students inside and outside of school is part of my job, and beneficial for building internationalization. So if I’m free, I usually try and accommodate any invitations I get from my students or their families. In this case though I felt like I was in demand not so much as an agent of internationalization but as a licensed driver.
Although I was reluctant to establish myself as the taxi service for the local high school students, I thought about it and decided it would probably be fun to go to Nakatsu this once. We all squeezed into my car, and headed off to the shopping malls of Nakatsu. We stopped in a couple stores, and then spent a lot of time in the video arcade, where I got some quality international video game playing in with my students (the first person shooter games were our favorite). Afterwards I took them to Tropicoco (my favorite Mexican restaurant in Japan), where I treated them to all sorts of exotic food they had never tasted before, such as cheesy Nachos, Tacos, and root beer. (And I did end up treating everyone, (high school students never have any money). Which added to what had already become a bit of an expensive weekend. But I’m hoping this act of generosity will result in a couple dinner invitations from their parents, which should even everything out.)

Friday, April 16, 2004

My week in Review
Sorry to everyone who I haven't been e-mailing recently. (Am I beginning to sound like a broken record on this e-mailing thing?) As always I hope this blog is keeping everyone updated who cares. And feel free to send me e-mails updating me on your lives. No fair holding grudges because I never answered your last e-mail.
Japanese Hostages
If you've been following the news, you know that the 3 Japanese hostages have been released, including Nahoko Takato, who is a friend of one of my friends in Sapporo. Thanks to everyone who was praying about the situation. My friend in Sapporo was pretty upset, so I'm glad for her that everything worked out.
Of course now the news is that two other Japanese nationals have been kidnapped in Iraq. Sigh. So it goes.
Easter Sunday
In Japan, Easter is a holiday that is notably by its absence. Most western holidays have been imported to Japan in one form or another. Christmas isn't officially celebrated, but the decorations are everywhere. Valentines day is arguably bigger in Japan than in the states. Halloween is a non-event, but Japanese people know it exists, and us JETs are usually asked do some sort of Halloween English lesson in October.
But for Easter, nothing. In fact the past two years, Easter came and went without me even realizing it.
This year since I've started attending Church again, I'm a little more attuned to these things. I attended an Easter Service, and was fed Easter dinner by the Church afterwards. (Although since it was Japanese food, it didn't feel like Easter dinner).
Cherry Blossoms
Sunday we caught the tail end of Cherry blossom viewing season with a party in Beppu. The flowers were just beginning to fall of the trees at that time. Now the flowers are gone completely, but it was a beautiful season whilst it lasted.
First Day Back to Work
First day back to work on Monday, and I overslept again. I was supposed to be at work at 8, but I was awakened by a call from the Board of Education at 8:30.
Not only was this the second time within a 2 month period, but it was the first day of work for me this school year. And you'll recall from my previous posts that in Japan everyone gets transferred around at beginning of a new school year. So there were about 5 new members of the board of Educations, whose first impression of me was that I overslept and had to be awoken by a phone call. (Maybe it's better that way. I can start things off by establishing low standards for myself right off the bat. "Right, I'm the American in this office. I come late, I leave early, I oversleep, and I get paid the same as you.")
Naturally I didn't do this on purpose. After 2 weeks of Spring Vacation, I had gotten out of the habit of waking up by alarm. I set my alarm the night before, but set it for 7 PM instead of 7 AM. I'm sure you've all done something like that at sometime. The danger of living by yourself is that there is no one to wake you up if you oversleep. I suspect perhaps if some of my colleagues at the Board of Education lived alone, instead of with their famalies, this might happen to them occasionally too. But as it is I'm the only one who oversleeps and has to get a phone call from work. And I do it on a roughly bi-monthly basis.
Entrance Ceremony
Japanese people love ceremonies. There is a graduation ceremony for graduating students, school closing ceremony before the start of Spring Break, opening ceremony at the beginning of school, and then Entrance Ceremony for the new students.
The entrance Ceremony is a lot like the graduation ceremony. A lot of speeches and bowing. Most interesting to me was the "singing" of the National Anthem. They played the National Anthem on the speakers, but hardly anyone sang along to it. I could almost hear the insects chirping outside.
The National Anthem is an interesting aspect of Japan's culture wars. It hasn't been changed since World War II, so many Japanese people refuse to sing it because of it's association with Japan's militaristic past. (Imagine if Germany had the same National Anthem). The Rightest Elements in the Japanese government have refused to give the song up, and have been trying to force it into the schools. But the teachers Union is controlled by the Socialist party, and most of the teachers refuse to sing it. If you're interested in Japanese politics (as I am), the whole issue is fascinating. I wrote up an article on it for the Tombo Times, which should be printed in next month's issue. I'll post a link when it gets published.



Sunday, April 11, 2004

Prayers needed
First of all I want to say thank you to everyone who's been e-mailing me lately, and sorry I haven't been replying. But I appreciate the mail, and once I get my act together around here, I will start e-mailing again. (That's a weasel way to get out of replying, I know, but I do appreciate the mail you've sent nonetheless).
One a more serious note: In my previous post I talked about a friend I made up in Sapporo this summer. Recently I've been getting e-mails from another friend I made on the same trip. This time it's a Japanese friend.
It turns out this friend in Sapporo is good friends with Nahoko Takato, one of the Japanese hostages in Iraq. (I assume most of you have been following this on the news). Although Christians are relatively rare in Japan, my friend from Sapporo is a Christian, and Nahoko Takato is a Christian as well. Therefore my friend is requesting prayers for the safety of the Nahoko Takato and the other hostages.

Wednesday, April 07, 2004

Spring Break
It's Spring Break over here in Japan, and yours truly was lucky enough to get the whole two weeks off (last year the board of Education made me choose between taking vacation time or sitting at the office doing nothing, but this year they were feeling more generous). So I've been doing my best to make the most of it.
The highlight of Spring Break was
A Friend's visit
When Greg and I were up in Sapporo this summer, we met another JET named Chris who we really got along well with. And it is a small world in the JET community, because we soon found out the 3 of us had a mutual friend. One of Chris' friends from University was one of our JET friends down in Oita prefecture. (His friend was also named Chris. It gets a bit confusing with two people both named Chris, but try and stick with me).
Anyway, for Spring vacation, Chris decided to come down to Oita prefecture and visit the three of us. He just left yesterday to head back to Northern Japan, but while he was here we did our best to show him a good time.
Onsen (naked baths)
Oita prefecture, and especially Beppu city in Oita Prefecture, is famous for its Onsen, or naturally hot spring baths. So we felt we had to make a day out of that. We went down to Beppu city and took in a couple, Onsens, including getting buried in a sand Onsen.
Fukuoka City
As Fukuoka is the biggest city on Kyushu Island, we felt we should show him some city life. Since all of us live out in the country, we took advantage of being in a big city to do things we don't usually get to do, like go to the movie theaters, or to an English book store, or get some decent Western food.
Mount Yufuin
And of course we did some hiking as well. We climbed up Mount Yufuin, which was a bit of a tough climb, but had a great view from the top.
Cherry Blossom Viewing
This time of year the Cherry Blossom trees are in bloom in Japan. These trees, although only in bloom for a couple weeks, are much beloved here in Japan. They are everywhere, and for most of the year look plain and boring, but for the two week blooming season, it is very beautiful. It is traditional to hold a picnic under the cherry blossom trees to enjoy the flowers, and so we attended Cherry Blossom picnics on Saturday in Beppu, and Sunday in Usa. Saturday night in Beppu was also the "Mountain Burning festival" in which one of the mountains surrounding Beppu is set on fire, and it was very amazing to see.
My apartment
I've developed a bit of a reputation out here for having a messy apartment. On the way out to Beppu one day, I needed to swing by my apartment to grab a few things. Both Chris and Chris had heard stories of my apartment, but never seen it in person. They were very amazed. I asked them afterwards what they thought, and Chris responded, "Have you ever had the experience where you hear stories about a thing, and you think it can't possibly be as bad as everyone says it is, and then you see it and you discover it is even worse than you imagined?"
(PS- I am planning on cleaning the place sometime soon).
Four Brits and Me
Chris, Chris and Greg are all from England. Eoin, who went to the same University as Chris and Chris, also tagged along on some of our excursions. So I was the odd man out on a lot of the conversations. And this week especially many British colloquialisms have begun to creep into my vocabulary, but this should hopefully wear off soon.
Other Spring Break News
We had a farewell party with the Board of Education, for everyone who was getting transferred out. I did my best at participating in the conversation, but all the old men at the Board of Education tend to speak Japanese in the local dialect, which is pretty unintelligible to someone struggling with Japanese as a second language. This, coupled with the fact that it is considered impolite not to drink Sake at these events, means I had quite a head ache by the end of the evening.
I had a couple free days before our friend Chris arrived in which I wasn't doing too much. Went hiking by myself for one of these days, which is always a bit lonely but good exercise I suppose.
On another day I drove my car up into the mountain side and just got out and walked around the mountain neighborhoods. Very beautiful in that area. The rice fields are cut into the mountains to form what looks like a series of steps, and the houses are all very old and traditional. I ran into some of my elementary school students, and we went to the river to try and catch tadpoles and crabs. They also showed me all sorts of things around the little neighborhood, like the local temple (hidden in the mountain side) or where their grandparents play gate ball (the Japanese version of croquet). It was a very idyllic afternoon.
Links and other random stuff
Since I'm not posting regularly these days, there is a lot of stuff going on in the news that I'm tempted to comment on but don't have the time to. But if you've been reading my Brian Bork's or Phil Christman's weblog, they've been doing a pretty good job of covering the bases. Also if you've been reading there weblogs, you'll have noticed they both referenced to Noam Chomsky's weblog, and Noam Chomsky's website can be found here.
Many people need no introduction to Chomsky, but if you are unfamiliar with him, I can't recommend him highly enough. He is polemic, but he since he brings up information ignored by the mainstream media, he deserves at least to be read and considered no matter what part of the political spectrum you find yourself on.
And on a completely different note...
Many of you have recommended to me a movie called, "Lost in Translation." I haven't seen it yet, because it hasn't been released in Japan yet. But you can read a really interesting article on why "Lost in Translation" is not going to be released in the major theaters in Japan.
And lastly: My friend Greg has posted an online photo album of the bike trip (mentioned in my previous entry). I'm not in any of these pictures, probably because I was in my car driving instead of biking. But if you want to look at these pictures to get an idea of what the trip was like, you can view them here. (You do have to log in and create an account first, etc, but it's relatively painless). And while your there, you can check out Greg's other online photo albums, and see pictures from the hitch hiking trip to Hokkaido that he and I did this summer.