03/23/2011

Life is Good

Chiba, Japan -


My wife, daughter and I live in a small, sleepy seaside community of surfers about an hour by express train outside of Tokyo. Most of the houses around us are an odd mix of weekend Architectural Digest-type getaways for upscale Tokyo-ites or spare apartment complexes for downscale surf bums. There's not much to do here, no social scene to speak of and my communication skills remain inferior but living and working in Japan for over 4 years now, I often like to try a regrettably unoriginal yet nevertheless fail-safe icebreaker whenever I'm stuck in a conversational cluster and we've unexpectedly arrived at one of those vaguely uncomfortable yet always lurking impasses that are unfortunately familiar to any cross-cultural wanderer anywhere. I ask-

If you could choose only one meal to bring with you to a desert island, what would you choose?

I like to think of this as an especially surefire spark in a sometimes reserved society that tends to discourage spontaneous social combustion in favor of a somewhat more controlled slow roast of comfortable, evenly distributed warmth and a more strictly scheduled, temperate enjoyment of same by one and all, in their turn and according to the parameters of the shared setting. Westerners, I suppose, generally consider the Japanese as a sort of single, like-minded entity moving in an unfathomable (at least to us) direction all their own and after 4 years I both understand why we trust in this stereotype and also can see through it into a vastly complex society of individuals whose layers of social interactions and labyrinth of responsibilities I can occasionally identify correctly then adjust to clumsily, but which I, instead, still most often willingly surrender my understanding to at the doorstep of their hospitality and near infinite patience.

But the food question rarely fails me.

The reason being that the one consistent universal I do find true in this land of plenty is the unabashed, unashamed, absolutely open and near decadent daily celebration of all things edible and everything culinary.

Please imagine for a moment, my Western Friends, the most dedicated foodie you know and love.
Got 'em? Good.
Now multiply that persons passion for their daily banquet by a factor of 5 or perhaps 10 and you're looking at the average Japanese citizen.
Yes, from the growing, harvesting, catching or sacrificing of their bounty to the intensely serious preparation to the lovingly meticulous presentation and incredibly gracious serving all the way to the near delirium of the actual ravenous partaking of their daily feast the Japanese, perhaps living up to another western stereotype, take their love of and devotion to food in all its many forms and combinations and transform that ardor, as is their way in other enterprises, into a vigorous epicurean industry of shameless obsession and evident satisfaction that simply cannot be rivaled in its passionate intensity or constant, compulsive focus by those even slightly less willing to sacrifice their energies to the Gods of Gastronomy.

Yet the desert island question often illicits some decidedly surprising responses from this Nation of severe Samurai chefs and determined, demanding diners.

“I'd take some onigiri (riceballs).” I'll very often hear with the reserved tone of one whose decision is absolutely final and, more importantly, correct.

Now onigiri does come in a variety of flavors and you can, and they do, add a list of ingredients to the basic snack ranging from meat to fish to vegetable stuffings with a few different condiments also commonly available but at its heart and the most popular type, to be found at any and every picnic, most lunch boxes or hurriedly purchased when seeking to quickly stave off hunger while on the run, is the simple, classic, tennis ball-sized, triangular-shaped, plain lump of sticky white rice wrapped in an edible, paper-thin, salty seaweed.
I can, now, faithfully attest to its functional utility (child-like fun to unwrap from its plastic preserver), its tactile wonder (a pleasantly reassuring weight with a very slightly tacky skin) and the absolute triumph of its modest purpose (it subtly satisfies both empty stomachs and neglected taste buds).
Yet in my first week when I made my initial taste-test of this Japanese staple it was to less-than-rave review.
This cheap little bundle that fit so easily into the palm of my hand was just so visually plain to my eye, so bland to my taste, so.....so............well................small.
How can this.....this insignificant morsel, this soft, squishy rice mash, you know..... work?

It took me awhile to appreciate the almost elegant simplicity and blissfully comforting convenience of this reassuring mini-meal but time and perseverance were, luckily, on my side. For my Native Friends it was certainly a different story.
They had, to a man and woman, grown up happily toting these gleaming white fistfuls of nutrition to school confident in their delicious delivery from the pangs of hunger, had eagerly devoured them while cramming for exams to sustain them through the long night, had religiously packed them with ease and pleasure for road trips and holidays and dutifully carried them to their workplaces in case of lunchtime emergency.
As simple everyday food items go, these sparkling stars of goodness were near sacred in their talismanic power to quell your hunger as they fortified your strength for all of life's battles which were sure to come.

Then last week one arrived.
The earth shook with a force to strain skyscrapers and when it settled a suddenly ominous ocean reared back and slapped at the land sweeping highways, houses, trucks, cars and concrete barriers away like toothpicks scattered across a linoleum floor.
Frail bodies of flesh and bone didn't count in this violent equation of Mother Natures fury as those that remained unconsciously prayed for relief even as they realistically braced for further loss.
I cowered with them in breathless anxiety and fearful anticipation of the earth's primal and heedless wrath.

The sea had broken open the best and worst that we had built and the most that we needed. There was no rest to be found and our errors multiplied as the rubble settled and the digging began.
Days crawled by and the land we stood on continued to bide the time before, once again and then again, rocking us to our knees just as we thought it might be safe to exhale and regroup.

Yes, it was We now.

The day after the big one I got on my bike and pedaled around the neighborhood to assess the damage and gauge our options.
I had already heard reports of gai-jan fleeing Tokyo by the thousands and native Tokyo-ites frantically rushing to the south and west and, it was believed, safety. In the days to come there was multiple reactor failures in Fukushima (about 170 miles away) and the emergency crews sent to the rescue seemed clearly overwhelmed and frighteningly unprepared. Video footage of the carnage to the North and the eerily quiet, empty streets of the capitol played repeatedly on every now 24 hour news cycle on all channels and did nothing to calm the fears that were flaring all around us.
As the multiple disasters worsened friends and family from home frantically facebooked me to-

“COME HOME NOW!”.

But as I rode my bicycle that day I witnessed sights that didn't fit this fractured frame.

My sparsely populated, weekend vacation neighborhood next to the ocean had clearly dodged a bullet. While we and 5 or 6 dozen of our neighbors had spent a few hours in an evac center the night before now the streets I pedaled along were, once again, calm, clean and mostly empty. There was some minor flooding near a river inlet about 10 minutes from our door and as I pedaled past the ramen shop we'd often visited I saw the Oba-san (Old Lady) who cheerfully ran the place sweeping out some debris and carefully asked her if they were alright.
She smiled brightly and heartily informed me that all was well, no problem. Her stout and fearsome looking husband/Ramen Master waved and smiled (the first time I'd ever seen him do so) also as I pedaled away to witness similar scenes throughout our area.
Old Grandmothers cleaning and gardening, children on break from school helping out, housewives walking their dogs, construction workers working and as I passed I saw cars parked along the beach (as I usually do) with their drivers watching the waves come and go.
OK, I thought, now for the true test.

Like many a seaside suburb we have our share of restaurants, surf shops and cafes here and there but these mostly close early and the true focal point of the area becomes the local Family Mart convenience store.
Brightly lit 24/7 and 365 it attracts the odd hour shoppers, the hungry truckers, the weekend surfers and the few neighborhood school kids from all around. There really isn't much of anything else open at night and I sometimes frequent it just as an excuse to stretch my legs and take the night air.
Spotlessly clean and staffed by an array of enthusiastic, energetic teens and twentysomethings it is generally a mild pleasure to visit with one corner of its space (as in all japanese Konbinis) faithfully dedicated to a smart display of rows upon rows of fresh onigiri in all their unassuming glory.
Normally.
But on this day the store gave every appearance of having been emptied in a hurry.

Not looted exactly, because there were still the sundry junk items familiar to any convenience anywhere, make-up and magazines, plastic toys and styrofoam coolers, candy and chewing gum and surprisingly, at least to me, there was plenty of beer, wine and cigarettes but as to any real food of any type...nothing.
Most shockingly of all the onigiri display was picked absolutely clean and scotch-taped to the front was a hasty, handwritten, sad little sign apologizing and asking for patience with the resupply.
The 2 girl day staff, usually so bright, vivacious and eager, seemed dejected and embarrassed as I walked out empty-handed.
They weren't the only ones.

The days that followed were filled with eruptions from the earth of diminishing intensity but equilibrium shattering regularity. The news from the North spiraled downward as a wounded nuclear giant loomed over us all. Embassies emptied, train service stopped, rolling blackouts commenced and the shelves remained as barren as our forecast of the future as we hung on and hoped for a break.
Yet each day I saw Grandma's gardening, housewives strolling, workers working, children playing and the Ramen shop was open for business. The mail was delivered, garbage hauled away and the blackouts weren't all that difficult of an adjustment.

Then yesterday I walked over to the Konbini for the exercise and just to look around and there it was.
The onigiri corner wasn't fully stocked but there was a selection with plenty to choose from and the sad little sign was gone. Maybe it was me but even the girls looked happier and more confident.

If asked to describe me at a glance most people might use words like- stern, somber and stoic and although I myself might laugh at that appraisal perhaps they'd be more right than wrong.

But standing there in that store I felt like bursting into song and dancing down the aisles.

There was onigiri and that was enough.
We had food, we had life and right there neatly stacked on that convenience store shelf was all the proof I needed.

Like everyone around me, I don't know what going to happen in the days to come and I'm not at all sure what the right thing to do is or even if there is a right thing to do. The foreigners who fled to their homes seem prudent and I know that my friends and family mean well with their understandably panicky admonitions to run.
But my neighbors are still here and I suspect that many don't have anyplace to run to nor any desire to do so.
They're home.

For now, and the fragile land beneath us continues to assure us that this is all we have, so are we.
The mail is delivered, garbage hauled away, children are playing and grandmothers smiling.
There's onigiri on the shelves so I am too.
posted by Billy at 17:47 | Kyoto (Japan)

09/26/2010

STOKED!

Well Sports Fans, I woke up this lovely Chiba Sunday to discover that some of the best Surfers in the world had decided to use my backyard for their playground.
The Event?

The Billabong Tsurigasaki Pro Surfing Championship

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So I shoved some eggs in my face, whipped up a thermos full of hot Joe, jammed my camera in my pocket and hustled over to my neighborhood Beach to catch the action and there was no shortage of it.
Damn fine of those Surfer Boys to share their skills with the Locals and mad S-K-I-L-L-S were indeed required in order to be out on the water today because the surf was rough, unpredictable, uncooperative and sometimes downright nasty so hats off to everyone who braved the waves, fought the tide and rode the ride!




A damn near typhoon had blown past the day before and consequently come Showtime the surf was still stirred up and ready to rumble but the Men from OZ were more than equal to the task (placing 3 of the 4 finalists although American Surfer Edrick Baldwin made a heroic effort in the quarters and semis) before Aussie SurfStud Davey Cathel finally took home the trophy and the sweet $12.000 that went with it.




I don't know much about Surfing.....
but Brothers and Sisters, I'd say everybody on a board earned it today.
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Arigato and Omedeto to the Australians and all those riders of the wild waves!




posted by Billy at 17:15 | Kyoto (Japan)

09/08/2010

Mo' Chiba!

Well Faithful Readers (all 3 of Us) it has been said that all good things must come to an end and so, adhering to that ancient wisdom, last week I bid a bittersweet farewell to K-Town and everyone in its confines then hit the road (actually boarded the Shinkansen) and made haste to the Land of CHIBA!

Why, you're probably not asking?

What are you a f*****g Detective?

CHIBA, Baby c'mon.......just say it 5 times fast and it makes sense, hell it rolls off your tongue like ice cream and bounces past your lips like a juicy burst of deliciousness & Love!

Chibachibachibachibachiba

YOU know what you're feeling, I know what you're feeling, it's all good and you know you want some...ne.

Anyway the new HQ is ever so slowly organizing with all hands on deck reporting for Duty thus I thought that for today, in the midst of the chaos, I'd just share a quick vid of the new Neighborhood and some of my new Mr. Rogers neighbors so I walked 7 mins from my door, reached into my pocket and shot this.



Not quite Kyoto anymore Boys & Girls but.......

Once more into the breech!
(or should that be "beach")?

Anyway, you're there, I'm here, surf's up and the breezes are CHILLY.

Come on Up!


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posted by Billy at 18:07 | Kyoto (Japan)

08/09/2010

Beer Garden Anyone?

Yes, K-Town is currently in the grips of its typical sweltering Summer Heatwave (A/C's pumping non-stop, folding fans swinging everywhere, towels preferred choice of male headgear, etc.)
so on Sat. night Team Kyoto joined a rowdy crew of coolbreeze surfers/Brew aficionados and rode that heatwave into-

The Shin Hankyu Hotel Beer Garden
http://www.hankyu-hotel.com/

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You want convenient Location? OK.
Locate Kyoto Station, go to the Central exit closest to the Buses, lift your head up then look across the street to the left of Kyoto Tower.
Walk across the street and in about 30 seconds, congratulations 'cuz you're there!

We bumrushed the joint with a gang of 20 on Saturday and if you decide to visit on weekends reservations are highly recommended as our Crew had made them well in advance yet still encountered an annoying redtape delay at the rooftop entrance as the somewhat overwhelmed seating coordinator struggled to get his bearings while scores of thirsty customers with cash in hand waited patiently in an uncomfortably sweaty bottleneck before Mr. Magoo finally got in the game and got the line moving.
(Don't know why but we can't blame this one on the language barrier as I was the one and only non-Japanese on the roof)

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(if you made it this far...you're IN)

But onto the Good News which was very, very Swell-

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The Grub was fresh, abundant, tasty and, of course, All-You-Can-Eat!
And eat we did.

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The Beer was draft and icy-cold delicious and the good people at Hankyu were also serving just about any Adult Beverage your little heart could desire-

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(My man Sang at the wheel and in control)

Chu-Hi, shochu. wine, whiskey, if you wanted to drink it, they had it and served it up CHILLY!


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(your humble reporter engaged in diligent research)

While the rooftop space may not be anything to write home about, the all-natural, beautifully cool and satisfying breezes blowing through the smiling faces on Sat Night must surely have been sent by the Weather Gods and a more relaxed, satisfied and blissful crowd would've been difficult to find outside of your bedroom.

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(Gangtas talkin' Gangsta Shit)

Hankyu has a sliding scale for the Garden so we paid 3900yen for the evenings festivities but all-in-all I'd consider it a K-Town bargain and I'm damn sure everyone else did too and while we had the slight delay to begin, closing time was handled graciously as everyone drank leaisurely past 10 then filed out in a relaxed, happy fashion. having ate and drunk their fill and laughed away the heat.

Beer, Booze, Eats and Lively Vibes.....

Go get you some!





posted by Billy at 12:38 | Kyoto (Japan)

07/25/2010

Another Day at the Beach...

Well, sorry K-Fans but President Obama (my fellow Yankees may refer to him as the ObamaLama*) recently got me on the horn and requested that Team Kyoto jet down Okinawa way to assist in any way possible in alleviating any lingering tensions that may yet exist between our 2 great Nations.
(You may or may not have heard but due to reasons both historical and present-day, it appears that certain Americans in Uniform are much less than welcome on the Island)

So our elite Team of Negotiaters flew down to shake hand, slap backs, pour drinks and smooth any ruffled feathers but I'll be damned if we could make any headway despite, or perhaps because of, our best efforts so we got tired of banging our heads against the wall and decided instead to hit the Beach!

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Sure The Prez was less than pleased to hear the news but he's just so damn cool he took it in stride and assured me he wouldn't hold it against us.

At least I think he did.....

We frolicked, snorkeled, bodysurfed and generally made merry before repairing to some of OkiWowa's finest Izakayas and downing heroic amounts of Orion beer and Awamori shochu.

We also motored over to a tiny spit of sand off the shore for some private beach time.

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This is the Big Island from there.

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What can I say.....
If you can't have fun over there...

Check your pulse 'cuz you may be dead.

And I also got to meet

The Girl from Okinawa!
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dee de dee, dee deee de dee dee de, dee dedee,,,c'mon you know the song.

All's well that ends well!



posted by Billy at 13:07 | Kyoto (Japan)

07/24/2010

Mt. Ibuki...Suki!

Well last Monday was an absolutely glorious Summer Day around these parts and it also happened to be one of many unique National Holidays in J-Land- Ocean Day!

So what did our Elite Trio of Kyoto Kommandos decide to do for this salty Sea celebration?

Why...climb a Mountain, of course.
Specifically this one.

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(a view from the road)

This is Mt. Ibuki (Ibukiyama to you) and for the uninformed this intimidating cloudbuster, topping off at 1377m, is the highest peak in the Kansai area and an inviting challenge for local hikers and outdoorsmen of all ages, genders and stripes and last holiday Monday with its spectacular weather surely brought out some of the best.
If you Happy Travellers out there happen to be feeling fresh, strong and in need of some clean, cool mountain air to go along with some very, very vigorous exercise then look no further. About an hour from Kyoto by train and bus (we roadtripped in our hi-tech Kommandomobile) it's always best to start at the beginning and this is it.

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Pleasant, smallish, traditional and unassuming this peaceful welcome to your climb will doubtless add a smile to your pack and a bounce to your stride.
Our Crew met a group of Seniors here who were full of good cheer and words of encouragement as we said goodbye then bent our backs into the trail, bursting with enthusiasm and pumping energy along with our elbows.




About 90 mins, later we straggled, weary and ready to drop, at what, for my money, was the real beginning of the hike so if you've made it here.......
you've just begun, my Friend!

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Yea it says 880m which surely is more than halfway there, but as we dropped our packs, chugged our water and collapsed at the rest stop we were forced to crane our necks up and squint our eyes as we attempted to locate the the teeny, tiny specks of humanity that were our fellow climbers nearing the peak.
I realized at this point that what we had done so far was simply a lovely uphill stroll in the forest compared with what we had in front our our rapidly sobering, novice faces and feet.

But we soldiered on (along with everyone else) and tackled the more challenging 2nd half of the hill (while enjoying copious water breaks) before fighting our way up the most challenging final steep, harsh, rocky, rocky path to the finish line.
Wait......
Did I just type soldiered, tackled and fighting?
Sorry.....
I meant- wheezed, hung on, and struggling.

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(the previous pic was looking up, this is looking straight down at where we were)

So as we gratefully, finally, after around 3 and 1/2 hrs of pleasure/pain, reached the peak, this being J-Land, what were we greeted by you may not be asking?

Why, mobs of tourists, crowds of sight-seers, clusters of food stands, beer stalls and souvenier shops and all manner of J-Land Holiday thrill seekers of course.
Well, to go along with a grand panoramic view of Lake Biwa and all of Kansai!

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(if you look reeeaaaal close you can see my house)

And the Ice Cream was DeeeeeeLiiiiiCiousssssss!

Turns out you can take the back door and actually drive all the way to the top, park in the spacious parking lot then stroll around at your leisure and snap photos with your friends family, GF's, BF's or perfect strangers.

Who knew?

Anywho...

We got down in around 2 plus tough hours but along the way we spotted a group of guys who had figured out the best way to get down the Hill!

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Mountain breezes just don't get any cooler than that and they got skiing in the winter too!




posted by Billy at 15:40 | Kyoto (Japan)

07/07/2010

Love Shack, Bay-a-Beeee!

Yes, it's hot, it's steamy, sultry, sweaty so you must be in the mood for.....

LOVE!

So in our continuous quest to locate the Perfect Palace of Passion, Team Kyoto recently stumbled across-

HOTEL SARI
http://www.big-group-kj.net/sar_kyo/

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Basically directly North of Sanjo and due East of Shirakawa this somewhat upscale rendezvous make take a few minutes of twists and turns and a false start or two before you actually arrive on its private, somewhat secluded shores but will likely be just what your Doctor ordered at a price that is proper for your whopper.
She will undoubtably feel relaxed, refreshed and pleasantly pleased by Sari's comfortable yet refined elegance and You will certainly enjoy the relative splendor of the Hotel's almost luxurious beds set inside their mostly spacious, tastefully decorated rooms allowing maximum freedom and plenty of space to stretch out after you two do the voodoo that you do so well.

One very special attraction for you TV Fans-
The Hotel offers the standard list of J-Land AV (Adult Video) Channels (in case you lack creativity or just need a breather) but also provides the intriguing bonus of an all Jules Jordan Channel!
For those in the dark J. Jordan is an All-American Porn Producer(and sometimes Performer) and, in our Research Team's humble opinion, his production Company currently makes the very highest quality Entertainment available in today's, admittedly shallow, ocean of Adult Spice.
Gonzo (no storylines), Natural lighting, Fun Fetish Gear, Beeyooooteeful Girls, and good, clean (dirty?) All-American Fun are the ingredients in the Jordan oeuvre and they consistently deliver the Baddest of Bads that ought to put at least some ideas into your naughty little minds and some spark into your.....hearts.

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Don't know how or why the Management at Sari choose this channel for your particular pleasure but, WELL DONE Sirs!

Kudos!

The Hotel also has a fairly extensive Menu and they will deliver to your doorstep promptly but I might suggest enjoying your Dinner before you arrive as the food is average in every way.
It won't knock the smile off your face but.....why take chances.

I you happen to be driving they offer a spacious, free-of-charge parking lot and if you're hiking they have three (3) convenient, and very private, entrances.
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Beat that Heat with some of your own Boom-Boom!


Summer.....Love, it doesn't get any better.

posted by Billy at 14:15 | Kyoto (Japan)

06/25/2010

You Gotta BELIEVE!

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The Boys in Samurai Blue showed up in South Africa last night (early morning) and took it to a feisty Denmark squad with passion, precision, guts and with the Chance to Advance on the line.

Well.......Welcome to the Round of Sweet 16 my J-Land Friends, Neighbors and Futbol Aficionados!

The final tally was 3-1 and it was worth every scintillating minute of it (and I, like many around these parts, woke up at 3:30 in the AM to watch the contest so this time I know whereof I speak) as Team Japan outhustled, outworked and ultimately decisively outplayed a huge, physical Denmark Side that was determined to put the muscle on the smaller J-Squad.
Yea, you can measure Size and calculate Skill but you can't quantify Heart and the Men from Japan proved last night that the best things came in the smaller packages.

Suicide Blonde Keisuke Honda was undoubtabley the Man-of-the-Match as he started off the party by absolutely nailing a confident freekick (from 37m out) and went on to be a constant thorn in the Denmark side, consistently breaking loose and wreaking havoc around their goal.

But there were no shortage of Heroes on that chilly night in Cape Town-

Yasuhito Endo made it 2-Nil with a brilliant strike of his own and Shinji Okazaki finished the scoring (with a nifty assist from Honda-san) with a crucial 87th minute insurance goal and final dagger to send the Denmarkers back home, 3-1.
Last and definitely not least, Eiji Kawashima was a Madman in goal and ferociously stoned a dangerous Denmark offense time and again frustrating the Men-in-Red and giving his Boys the rock-solid back-up they needed to go along with all the confidence they wanted.

C'mon my J-Land, K-Town Friends.....A little LOVE...at last?

Tues Night. Bring on Paraguay!

In it to WIN it!
タグ:SOCCER
posted by Billy at 06:20 | Kyoto (Japan)

06/09/2010

World Cup Fever.....Catch it!

OK.

This quick (got 3 minutes?) little post has absolutely nothing to do with K-Land or Jay-Pan.

It's just CRAZY, STOOPID, COOL!

Check it.



Maybe you ain't a Soccer (futbol to the rest of the Planet) Fan but.......

C'mon.......admit it, at least to yourself.

You know you liked it.
posted by Billy at 15:33 | Kyoto (Japan)

06/02/2010

Got Ramen if you want it!

You say it's not exactly Ramen Season right now?

I might agree (although for most J-Folks Ramen is a 4 Season Dig) as I prefer my hot noodles when the wind is blowing cold but.....

A kind Neighbor (Thanks Marika-san) and I were recently comparing Noodle Notes and she (with Gold Stars and Smiley Faces) highly recommended,-

Tonryu
http://www.tonryu.net/

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And so Team Kyoto hustled down (up) to Kita-Shirakawa, grabbed some seats and got our Ramen on.

A genuine K-Land Original, Tonryu, turned out to be a treat it ain't gonna be easy to beat!

Cozy, comfortable, spacious and serene the efficient Staff delivers the Goods with a minimum of fuss and a maximum of efficiency that is sure to ring your Ramen bell!

P1010555.JPG (don't forget the Gyoza)

And the Bill won't hurt you either as everything on the menu is very reasonably priced.

Since first visiting 3 weeks ago the Team has landed on the Tonryu's shores on several occasions (due to the somewhat unseasonably cool nighttime weather around here) and always to our great satisfaction.

Each time we've been there they bring it-
HOT
GOOD
and
FAST!

And if there's a better Ramen formula than that, I've yet to discover it.

This may be a rather unique Kyoto Delight as, for example, their Chu-ka Soba(Chinese noodles)
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definitely favors a more super-fresh, clean, subtle and perhaps milder flavor than your average Run-of-the-mill Ramen emporium which may lean towards a more spicy, oily, semi-greasy, smack-you-in-the-face style.
This Ramen soooooooothes.

And please trust me I'm into Spicy but Tonryu's wholesome noodle goodness will no doubt please your more Adult palate and leave you satisfied spiritually as well as physically.
Please be warned the Servings around there are on the smallish side so don't be shy about asking for "Kaedama" (an extra helping of noodles only) if you're not completely full at the bottom of your Bowl, it's a bargain and the gracious Staff don't mind!
If you require more grub than that then.......
Slow down, Oprah! You've had enough!

Word to the Wise-
Not so conveniently located, Tonryu might be a haul if you aren't in the area and when we made it last Sunday Night the Joint was jumping like Grand Central Station but don't let that discourage you because they got plenty of seats and an Army of Chefs whipping up the Goods at a ferocious rate so that your stay there will absolutely be stress-free, easy-as-pie and with no waiting.

Your belly feeling lonely?
They got the Deeelicious Company!
posted by Billy at 16:53 | Kyoto (Japan)

05/30/2010

Good Day.....Sunshine!

What can I say (type)?

Every Once-in-a-Lifetime an Artist creates a vibe of such energy and Emotion that we all stand back and gaze in rapturous Awe/Wonder.

Every 3rd Blue Moon a breakout Performance completely captures all that is Good, Vital, Righteous and Cool in this Game we call L*I*F*E.

Yea...Sometimes someone just comes along and RINGS YOUR BELL, Baby!

And sometimes (praise 'em) they get it On Camera.

So Ladies and (especially) Gentlemen, today I give you the lovely gift of Shiori Kutsuna (Straight out of J-Land, Kid) Shakin' that MoneyMaker for Pocky Sticks!

Enjoy.



And for you Older Gentlemen.....yea.......it's OK if you feel just a bit pervy right now but please try not to think those thoughts when you're looking at my Future Ex-Wife.

Thank you.

And May the Gods Bless J-Land and all their glorious CM's (commercials to you)!
posted by Billy at 15:23 | Kyoto (Japan)

05/23/2010

Saturday Night Fever (COPS Version)

So I was slowly but steadily pedaling my way home from a delightful Party on Sat. when I was accosted by the Fab 5 of what was surely the most Elite Crimefighting Unit in all of K-Land.

IMG_0569.JPG(For some unknown reason they were tremendously camera shy so sorry... I tried but they kept ducking and dodging)

What was their purpose in stopping me?

Well, other than the general annoying, petty harassment that most inadequate Men-in-Uniform seem to take such pride in, the Po-Po in this neck-of-the-woods actually (believe it or not) take an active, aggressive role in the pursuit and prosecution of Bicycle Thieves and, yes, that is an accurate measure of the prosperity and peace in this Great Nation.

The Lawdogs around here, seriously now, spend much of their very valuable idle time (of which they have plenty) chasing around inappropriate bicycle users.
They got no time for thugs, arsonists, rapists, terrorists, organized crime or random murderers baby, they gotta flag down them bike knockers!

Ya Gotta Love It!

So on that warm and wonderful, lovely, lovely evening Officers Dipshit, Needledick, Closetcase, Asshead and Shitforbrains stopped me, surrounded me and swallowed up about an hour of my life with their meandering and absolutely pointless pursuit of a goal known only to their tiny little minds.
Unfortunately, for them, my ID, passport and bike registration (no kidding) were all in order so, sadly, they were unable to jail and/or deport me but that sure didn't stop them from trying!

Well, what can I say, a fellow Gai-jin (and dedicated Canadien...and no, I don't hold that against him) and I were recently comparing Stopped-by-the-Cops stories and I mentioned my 5 near ridiculous encounters in 3 years with the J-Land Boys-in-Blue.

He tallied up at 7 in the same period of time!

And while this might possibly make sense if you saw me in a dark alley (think American History X but with a bit more anger) one glance at my Canucklehead associate would most likely remind you of that harmless, helpless, hapless and blandly handsome, Generic White Guy from any Hollywood Rom-Com.
Allow me to explain that this is the kind of Guy all Nice Girls (no...I personally don't know any but I do know lots of Good Girls) dream of bringing home to Mom.......I mean he looks about as dangerous as Justin Bieber and the local flatfoots been dogging him like he was Dillinger!

Go figure!

So as our little cross-cultural experience ran along on Saturday evening I treated those upstanding Officers-of-the-Law to some valuable lessons in Idiomatic English Phraseology and Homegrown Slang and they, in turn, treated me to a ride in their very nifty Batmobile.
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(please forgive the shaky camera work but I did say I was returning from a PARTY...didn't I)

No Charge Baby!

Unfortunately we finally had to part company as they had to spend their evening hotfooting after confused and confounded bicyclists (yes, I later witnessed them doing same so we can call them lots of things but we mus'nt call 'em lazy) while I had some Very Important Drinking (VID) to do so, at last, we bid each other farewell.....they with their very best extremely insincere apology and I with a single-digit salute.
I'm certain we'll all be exchanging New Years Postcards.

Back Home, right about now, I would most likely be slowly recovering in a cheap hospital while handcuffed to the bed but here in J-Land.....I'm chilling and typing!

DIG!

posted by Billy at 18:36 | Kyoto (Japan)

05/19/2010

6 Random Reasons to love Japan

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1.) No Fat Chicks!

I know what you're thinking..... surely this must be an exaggeration, right?
Well, in a word- NO.
Yea if we get all technical/statistical with each other then yes...yes.....yes, the blimp-sized female does certainly exist in the Land of the Rising Sun but this bovine breed, ubiquitous in the West, is so incredibly, and gratefully, rare here in J-Land that I can go weeks, sometimes months without spotting one (and consequently have completely forgotten where I stored my harpoon) so please trust me, when it comes to all forms female, I got keen vision and a discerning eye.
Put it this way- If your a chubby-chaser then, brother, you came to the wrong place!

2.) Cops.....Shmops!

Allow me to illustrate.
In most cases (and I'm talking 98.9% of the time) you can stagger around the streets drunk off your ass with an open container of whatever pleases you in your fist, walk up to the nearest Badge, wave your booze in his face and yell,

“Go F**K yourself, Lawdog”!

At which point said Officer-of-the-Law, rather than smashing your skull with his lead-lined nightstick while cuffing you as he and his associates throw a stomp party on your prone, semi-conscious body before then providing you an evenings accommodation as a Guest-of-the-State, will most likely apologize to you for rudely interrupting your evenings revelry as he hurriedly hails you a cab and then bow solemnly as you make your intoxicated getaway while flipping him off and maniacally cacklilng like the Joker from the Dark Knight.
Ain't J-Life grand?

3.) Gametime is On-Time!
Ever need to get where you're going?
Well you can throw your watches away because all you need to check here is the train schedule right in front of your eyes because, Brothers, Sisters and all Others, that Choo-Choo will be EXACTLY on the dot, and I mean the DOT! Believe it or nay, if that timesheet says the train is going to pull up in front of your toes at 9:52 in the AM then you can close your eyes, wait for the sound of the doors opening then check your timepiece if you want but I guarantee it's going to be reading 9:52 and not a minute later. BET!
And I mean every single time, 24/7 with their only breaks coming after midnight and before 5 in the morning when all righteous people already ought to be where their supposed to be anyway.
How do they do it?
Beats me but who cares, just kick back and stow your worries away because you will be there on the button with no excuses. Sorry.
Hell, even the buses arrive on schedule. Miracles do happen!

4.) Mr. Taxi Driver (Kyoto version)

Clean, competent, friendly and efficient, K-Cabbies are a throwback to a much more gentile time in this most modern of J-societies.
Truth- They all sport fresh, pressed uniforms topped off by a nifty chauffeur-style cap and pristine white gloves (I shit you not), they ride in immaculate machines that are almost certainly cleaner than your home (inside and out and they take no small amount of pride in this simple fact), if/when you feel like lifting your baggage into the trunk you're definitely going to have to race them to get there first and please don't worry if you don't exactly know how to get where you're going because they will therefore your only responsibility will be to sit back and enjoy your ride.
Strange but true.
And somehow, miraculously, their cabs never smell like a bad mixture of pimp-oil and curry.

5.) Free Iphones!

I was conversing recently with a friend from the Land-of-the-Free and commenting on the worldwide economic collapse (thanks Wall Street) and its impact on the planet, or more importantly, me when she cut me off with a curt,

“Well, you can afford an Iphone so you must be doing OK!”

Au Contraire!
We're broke like a joke just like so many but last year here in J-Ville Softbank (the cellphone company with exclusive Apple marketing rights in J-Land) wisely decided to offer the Iphone absolutely gratis (that's right FREE, along with a lengthy contract...) in its introductory campaign in order to crack the rock-solid, hardcore Japanese cellphone market.
Don't know what you paid back in the States for your space-age gadget and don't care because the absolutely innovative 3G device I got humming in my pocket didn't cost me a dime.
God Bless J-Land and the O/C Keitai Generation!

6.) Mini-skirts and High-Heels

OK, technically that's 2 reasons but these two should always and forever go together.
Yea, J-Gals got 'em and they ROCK 'EM! (please refer to Reason #1)
Fellas, if you plan on visiting in the Summer time (hell, even in the Wintertime, God bless 'em) then you may want to invest in a swivel for your skull 'cuz you're gonna need it!
Allow me to assure you that if you walk the streets around these parts your head's gonna be spinning like a Tilt-a-Whirl as you try to keep up with all the feminine action and glory.
No, you ain't dead Brother, but you have gone to some lovely version of Heaven so put your tongue back in your mouth, try to look cool and, for F**K sake, quit gawking!



Well.............it's a rainy day so I'm just spitballin'.
Why 6?

Why not, Poindexter.
posted by Billy at 17:19 | Kyoto (Japan)

05/02/2010

We are Devo!

On our last lovely Thursday Team Kyoto thought it might be wise to finally visit the renowned Kyoto Manga Musuem

http://www.kyotomm.jp/english/

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A former elementary school transformed into a stately house of worship for all things Manga.
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Easy to get to, affordably priced (\500), accessible to all and user-friendly, this interactive space is a comfortable home away from home to all formerly closeted Comic Book aficionados everywhere.

A celebration of the contribution from the French
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And, as an added attraction, on Thursday we accidently wandered into one of the most uniquely bizarre (and arguably original) of J-Land phenomenons-
Cosplay.

Short for "Costume Play" Cosplay devotees dress in the outfits (uniforms?) of their favorite Animae characters and then.....

well.......

I don't know.

Take photos of each other?
Because that was the only activity on the menu for that sunny afternoon as the Cosplayers vigorously engaged themselves in an non-stop flurry of Kawai posing, idiot grinning and shutter snapping in an all-out, geeked-up, masturbatory photographic frenzy.

I, myself, unfortunately do not speak SuperNerd so I was unable (praise all Gods) to communicate with this most rare sub-species of J-Land Youth.

Good News?
The costumed crowd was about 99.9% female, most of same under the age of 30.
Bad News?
The costumed crowd was about 99.9% female, roughly half of which dressed as......a...... type of male.

So, you do the math but suffice to say that heterosexual Men were not strictly on this breed's list of party requirements and, although I made no official inquiries, visual evidence suggested that very, very few were in attendance and those lonely soldiers were about as welcome at this event as the Flu.

But those gregarious gals in costume weren't about to let a little thing like procreation slow them down!
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I guess if you wanted to join in you had to bring your own get-up then pay a small charge for use of their lockers to.....wait for it.......

TRANSFORM!

So, as always in J-Land, if you happen to be a socially retarded adolescent or evolutionary reject whose life's goal and biggest fantasy is to dress in a pink, day-glo dress, a green wig, and heavy make-up while wielding a plastic toy sword as the other dweebs flock around you and beam....

Welcome to Japan!

And who knows...maybe the After-Party RAWKED!

posted by Billy at 17:41 | Kyoto (Japan)

04/22/2010

Behind Enemy Lines

On Tuesday night the Mission was to infiltrate enemy territory, probe their defensive systems, disrupt any and all lines of communication then, hopefully, return safely with the best intel my Team could manage.

So we moved into the den of the Beast to reconnoiter Osaka Dome
and the wildly popular (and widely despised) Defending Champions-
The Yomiuru Giants.

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Yes I'm a Hardcore Hanshin Tigers Fan (HHT, Represent!) along with a huge aficionado of Koshien (the home park of same) and after our visit to the Land of the Self-Righteous I can safely say I am now, officially, even more passionate than I was before concerning Tigers baseball.

The Dome?

Well......if you happen to be a big fan of shopping malls then this is probably your kind of place.
Modern, functional, convenient, comfortable, climate-controlled, clean, safe and with about as much soul and warmth as a pre-prison Martha Stewart on the worst day of her period.

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Of course the simultaneously over and underwhelming presence of legions of bloodless, lifeless, listless and near useless Giant Zombie Nation (GZN, booo) contributed to the otherwise dreary atmosphere and no doubt subtracted greatly from any allure the Dome itself may otherwise contain.
Imagine being trapped among thousands of upper-crusty retirees, sedated by decades of success and bloated by the sense of their absolute superiority, who arrive late, leave early and spend more time fiddling with their keitais and glancing at their watches than they do following the action on the field before they bolt for the exits and their very,very important lives.

And did they run out of beautiful Girls in Osaka recently 'cuz i saw fine examples everywhere getting there and back but sadly there were precious few in the stands that lonely evening.

Food?
Yawn.
P1010434.JPG
Leave it to GZN to line up for KFC.

Drinks?
Boring. i was stunned to learn that they serve only Beer in the stands and finding the beer girls wasn't exactly easy!
I had to trek for some minutes until I finally located what must have been the only stand that sold Chu-Hi (a soda/shochu blend) and in J-Land this must certainly be some cruel form of joke and definitely societal sacrilege.

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All in all a dull game punctuated by a duller crowd framed in a generic Mallmosphere for the polite if distracted enjoyment of a grossly spoiled fan base.


Yea,yea,yea. The Giants won 2-1.

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Hooray.
タグ:baseball
posted by Billy at 14:22 | Kyoto (Japan)

04/17/2010

Cheap Eats in Gion???

Yes.....

It's TRUE!

This most rare of K-Creatures does exist and is named-

Chikyu-ya!

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Located a stones throw West of the Kamo River (go to the Hankyu Department store, hang a left) and 3 corners South (one more left) of Shijo (perhaps not exactly Gion but close) this low-cost, low-rent, low-down, feel-good joint should be easy to locate no matter who you're riding with, what you're riding on or what condition you may happen to be in when you get there.
Last Saturday was Gentlemen's Evening Out around here so me and an outlaw Amigo saddled up as Butch and Sundance then hit this saloon with a hunger to match our powerful thirst.
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Now I've seen cops handcuffing criminals who were friendlier than the greeting we received upon entrance and our waitress was almost as bubbly as the guy who wands you down at the airport but before you scratch this one off your list and head for the exit please check the menu because the prices come in 3 very basic, easy-to-understand categories-



1. Cheap
2. Cheaper
and
3. CHEAPEST!

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Food?
Suprisingly decent if infinitely forgettable. And with a very commendable selection of chow.
No, you won't be writing home about this one but just keep aggressively pounding them drinks and the dishes will keep getting better and better.
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If you happen to be over the age of, say...25, you may feel somewhat out of place as this is primarily a student/backpacker hangout but I can assure you that the other tables will not care and will likely steer most clear.

Business dinners, Families meals, Ladies Night Out?
Uummmmmmmm.....No.
Definitely NOT a date place (unless, perhaps, you don't enjoy getting laid) I'm not even sure if grown women are allowed in here (although sexy young girls are sprinkled in liberally) so what, you may be asking is your incentive?

The Check!

On Sat Sundance and I greedily slammed around 6 beverages each (beer, sho-chu), scarfed an equal number of dishes, closed the place for the night (yes, perhaps frightened away the other diners is more accurate) and our tab for the evening?

\5090 BABY!

And in the Gion area, not to mention this economic climate......If you can beat that, I'll eat that.

On our lonesome ride off into the night we ran into a couple of friendly fellow patrons- "We're Japanese PUNKS!"- and exchanged restaurant opinions along with our most solemn philosophical beliefs.
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Turns out we agreed on Everything!





posted by Billy at 12:55 | Kyoto (Japan)

04/13/2010

Party.....Over.

Well, faithful readers and bold adventurers, all good things must come to an end so please join in as Team Kyoto bids farewell to this year's wondrous Cherry Blossom beauty.

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This was after Midnight on a gorgeous Saturday Night Time at Maruyama Park and these were the only lights still shining, the blissed out crowds still drawn to the splendor like Sakura moths to their very last flame.

The food stalls were shut, the shops shuttered, the lights dim, the adults had gone home for the evening and rowdy, reckless, heedless, glorious Youth was served.
Mobs of partiers had the run of the park and the cops wisely stayed at a safe distance like grateful squirrels at a hungry Lion party.

You gotta love J-Land.

Yesterday the skies opened up and poured buckets all day and half the night so if there's any Blossoms remaining around these parts they're certainly, and only, to be found on the ground.

Adios, Sweet Season and thanks!


posted by Billy at 10:10 | Kyoto (Japan)

04/09/2010

The Party Clock is ticking!

I was most graciously enjoying the economic downturn yesterday (hey, somebody has to) along with the perfectly, wonderfully warm, inviting Spring breezes and so I was blissfully carried along to Maruyama Park.

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A traditional gathering spot for Young, Old and In-between, the park is a genuine, original K-Land gem centrally located, easily accessed, absolutely free and open to all manners of Hanami Parties
Sakura Season is ON!

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This shot was snapped around Noon so as you can see...
It's free but it ain't gonna be easy!




The crowds may have, and likely will, beat you to the Hanami punch but don't be discouraged because, despite appearances and for at least once in your Kyoto Life, there's plenty of room for everybody.
Yes, K-Towners get there early, often, ready, willing and definitely most able to Party!
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A better time cannot be found (not with your pants on anyway) anywhere else inside the City Limits in this very Cherry Blossomy time of the year but as you may be able to tell by the pics, you have to move fast because the Season (both Party and Cherry) is fleeting so fire up your cameras, oil up your smile, lace up your drinking shoes and dive in!

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It's come-one,come-all and get in where you fit in so don't be shy or overwhelmed because (and I almost never say this in J-Land) no one else is and big happy smiles are everywhere.



And I sincerely don't wish to crush anyone's buzz but if you're reading this you might already be too late so your Standing Orders are-

1. Drop what you're doing...NOW!

2. Gather your Posse.

3. Obtain food, booze and whatever else makes you happy.

4. Double-Time over to Maruyama.

5. Hit it, don't quit it and don't stop 'till you get enough!

You're Welcome.



posted by Billy at 17:40 | Kyoto (Japan)

04/04/2010

Peaking!

Got Cherry Blossom Fever?
Here is Dr. Billy's prescription-

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Now is the Time...
Kyoto the Place.

Sharpen up your elbows, bring your walking shoes, don't forget a warm wrap and remember to stretch those camera fingers before flexing and after shooting.

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Optional- Blue plastic tarps, booze, foodFoodfood and any number of rowdy friends willing to assist your gang in maintaining precious elbow room and the elusive piece-of-mind.
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Good Luck to one and all and
GET OUT OF THE WAY!
posted by Billy at 12:07 | Kyoto (Japan)

04/03/2010

The Baseball Gods smile upon us.....kinda, sorta.

Until yesterday I never realized that my post-analog, near rainman-like obsession with reading newspapers would ever bear any positive fruit but, lo and behold, I opened the Sports page only to most unexpectedly discover that the good people from the Daily Yomiuri had treated 4 of us Basesball geeks to some very decent seats for the games of our choice.

ticket.jpg
That was the Good News. Thanks Daily Yo!
Better News?

The Tix are Tits!
Right behind the plate and absolutely 1st Rate! (and considering that it actually took me longer to text my entry then to complete the Q's and I don't guess it was any different for my other 3 lucky compatriots, it's a baseball windfall indeed)

Less Good News?
Somewhere I miscalculated and thought we were all vying for the Tigers (think Cubs/Red Sox) games but...it turns out the hated Giants (think Yankees) were the only Osaka Dome option and I picked the wrong door.

My bad but there's little sense in looking a gift horse in the mouth so it's off to Osaka to get my drink on and abuse the Legions of uppity Kyo-jin (Giants) fans that will no doubt be in attendance.
You can't beat fun at the old Ballpark!

Go BayStars!


posted by Billy at 18:09 | Kyoto (Japan)

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