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航海日記 [Ship's log] A former sailor returning to life as a free man Tue, 04 Oct 2011 18:59:44 +0000 en 初詣 and a Hotel Tue, 06 Jan 2009 10:11:25 +0000 Jota New Years’ is the most celebrated of all Japanese holidays, and most companies take the entire week off of work. New Years’ Eve itself is quite the celebration, with many people staying up until dawn to see the first sunrise of the new year. And, since Japan is pretty close to the date line, it is one of the first places to see the sun rise over the new year. Hence, “Land of the Rising Sun,” eh? Anyways, I had duty on the 31st, so all I got to do was watch fireworks from the flight deck right after I got off of watch. I’ve heard some pretty wild stories from those who ventured out to Tokyo that night, none of which I care to relate here. Bitter? No, of course not…

Fortunately I was off work for both the 1st and the 2nd, so I took advantage of the extra long weekend by getting a hotel room in Shinjuku for a couple nights. It was pretty pricey, but I invited a couple friends along for the first night to help spread the cost. We met up with Bun at Tokyo station, and attempted to venture into the park around the Imperial Palace but to our dismay found that the entire area was roped off in preparation for an event the next day. Plus, my friend was already shithoused and difficult to keep track of so we went back to the room… lame, huh? But no, the night didn’t end there. We went to Roppongi of course, and along the way picked up a pack of five Indian dudes who were also heading there. On the way we walked past a Lamborghini dealership, which gave me a raging hard boner for the rest of the night. When we finally reached our destination, I was aghast to find it completely and utterly barren. Apparently, nobody was brave enough to venture out to the clubs after partying the night before. The few stragglers we did run into were almost all foreigners, and we added an Irishman and a couple Marines to our posse. It was a lot of fun, although the night ended somewhat poorly with my friend puking all over the outside of a cab and then trying to sleep four drunk people in one bed.

The inside of the temple was worse...

The inside of the temple was worse...

The next day I joined my friend Naomi in the afternoon for 初詣 hatsumoude, an annual ritual for the Japanese. It is the first shrine visit (although some visit a temple, like we did) of the new year in which wishes are made for good luck and prosperity for the coming year. We went to Asakusa Temple on the northeast side of Tokyo, and the crowds were amazing. It took about 45 mins to make it all the way down the avenue in front of the temple, and when were were finally allowed to enter and throw our coins, all hell broke loose. It was easily more crowded than a rush hour Yamanote train, and everyone was pushing to get to the front. I eventually gave up and chucked my coin into the pile from about ten feet back. I was so distracted that I didn’t even remember to make a wish!

After the ordeal in the temple we decided to grab some yakitori and get our fortunes. The fortune-telling apparatus is a little strange-looking, but here’s the gist of it: You shake a sealed metal cylinder full of numbered sticks until one of them slides out of the small hole in the end. The number on the stick determines which little drawer you open. Each drawer is full of slips of paper with fortunes on them, and you must take the top one from the drawer. I drew drawer number one, which seemed auspicious, and upon reading my fortune was delighted to learn that I had gotten the “luckiest” of them. Naomi agreed that it was doubly lucky. Her fortune was not so beaming… but at least she did not get the worst. Those unlucky individuals could be seen tying their foreboding slips of paper to wire trellises to ward away the bad luck.

A pleasant afternoon turned into a pleasant evening, and I went to bed that night in a big soft bed, the first one I have slept in since arriving on the ship. I don’t have trouble sleeping in my rack, but it felt wonderful to be able to stretch out and roll over without hitting the wall. And, to top it all off, I randomly woke up early in the morning, and peered out my window to discover that it was only minutes before sunrise. Being on the 18th floor, I had quite a view, and took in the awesome expanse of Tokyo at dawn.

International Friendship Party! Mon, 22 Dec 2008 10:19:51 +0000 Jota After several weekends of venturing all the way to Tokyo for entertainment, I decided to keep it a little closer to home this time and went only as far as Yokohama. I ventured out early in the day, and spent the afternoon exploring Harbor View Park, a pleasant little kouen with great views of the bay, and the Foreign Generals’ Cemetary, a unique and scenic hideaway that is the eternal resting place of people from 40 different countries.

I returned to base in late afternoon to go work out and change, and prepared for my evening plans–an “international friendship” party back in Yokohama. Unfortunately, I managed my time somewhat poorly and wasn’t able to leave as early as I wanted to. The party started at 6:30pm, but I didn’t get to Yokohama station until about 7:45… then, after waiting for my friend for another 20 mins, we hopped on the subway and arrived at about 8:30. That gave us a total of 30 mins before the party ended, so we decided to… sit at the bar next door and drink some beer instead. The entry fee was 3000 yen, and I wasn’t about to pay that much for a half hour of drinks.

Anyways, my friend and I spent the next hour munching on bar food and gawking as we watched the steady procession of girls leaving the party. The club reopened at about 10, with the same deal–3000 yen for nomihoudai (all you can drink). The bartender was from Chicago, and he treated us well by mixing our drinks light despite our protestations. This was a good thing because we were drinking for a good hour and half before the first people showed up. And, of course, they were guys. Over the next hour we stood by helplessly as the party turned into a downright sausage fest, and resigned ourselves to a night of drunken antics.

Fortunately, the night was not a complete debacle. I met a Japanese guy named Bun who was clearly a huge fan of America. Since I needed to make some male Japanese friends, in order to learn the masculine way of speech and avoid sounding like a schoolgirl, I decided this would be a good opportunity. My friend lived at the Negishi housing complex, which is a military installation, so Bun wanted to come back with us and step foot on “American soil.” We walked home, which took quite a while, and had some lively discussion in the meanwhile. Once we got to the base, however, we discovered that it was closed to guests until 7 in the morning. So, my friend went ahead and crashed at his house, while Bun and I wandered about in search of a place to eat, chat, and wait for the trains or the base to open. I can’t remember the name of the cafe we stopped at, but I vividly recall eating the shit out of a bowl of pork and rice. It was 400 yen and worth every penny.

We talked about all sorts of stuff, including a lengthy discussion of World War II. Later, as we were walking back to the base, I got Bun to laugh like a schoolgirl with a dissertation on the many uses of the word “fuck.” At one point I think he turned blue, probably after I taught him about splicing fuck into the middle of other words. He proceeded to do this with Japanese words as well, a la hajimefuckingmashite.

Of course, once we got back to the base, I discovered that the only identification Bun carried was a Waseda University student ID, which was woefully insufficient to gain entrance to the base. So, instead of crashing at my friend’s place, we… walked back to the station and rode the train home. Again. And this time I fell asleep and went way past my stop.

No tooth, no bite [part 1] Sun, 14 Dec 2008 10:24:27 +0000 Jota One of the greatest perks of military service is free medical care, but until recently I hadn’t really taken advantage of this. The only time I ever go to sick bay is for some sort of vaccine, like the flu or anthrax. However, due to an unlikely series of events, I’ve gotten several thousand dollars worth of intensive dental care within the past couple weeks, and it didn’t cost me a dime. I didn’t even have to schedule appointments. Anyways, it all started the day before Thanksgiving…

Finding housing is a very pressing concern for many of us who are new to Japan, because until we do so, we have to live on the ship. A girl who works in my shop was probably the first person I know to actually move into a new apartment, and as such she wanted the rest of us homeless sailors to have a place to enjoy Thanksgiving. The actual party was the day before Thanksgiving, and I made sure I had a good excuse to get out of work early–I was going to see a few potential homes. Time for a digression, because this was actually an interesting experience.

The real estate agent who showed me around didn’t speak the best English, so as soon as I revealed to her that I spoke a little Japanese she insisted I try to use it. The conversation was kind of broken, and I had to ask her to repeat herself indefinitely, but it was amusing. Somehow we got onto the topic of women, and I mentioned how I had met two Japanese girls so far. She asked me if they knew of each other, and as soon as I said no, she started punching me in the shoulder (jokingly) and calling me a “bad American boy.” I intuitively understood why she was doing this, but acted innocent, and she explained herself, “but if one girl falls in love with you, but you choose the other one, she will be so sad! Heartbroken!” Needless to say, I was highly amused by this, and so was she. I proceeded to give her a breakdown of the comparative advantages of each girl, referring to one as ‘A’ and the other as ‘B’.

The agent showed me two different houses, and much like the two girls, there were different advantages to each. One was a bit older and smaller, but had a cozier feel to it and was right next door to a convenience store. It was also cheaper, but the way that my housing allowance works, this is actually not an advantage. The second house, which is the one I ultimately chose, was very spacious and had an immaculately tended backyard. Afterwards, while riding back to the office, I called one house ‘A’ and the other ‘B’ in an attempt to make a joke… fortunately, she understood and gave me a few more playful punches.

So, having chosen a new home and started the process of getting a lease, I felt pretty damn good when I showed up for the party that evening. The hostess was notoriously flaky, and when we arrived at 7:00pm, the exact time which she expected us, there were about six people already there who had eaten all the food. So we take a walk to the local grocery store for victuals and beverages, and learn a very valuable lesson there: only buy alcohol on base. The prices on base actually seem kinda cheap compared to what I remember from the states, but at the Japanese grocery store we paid 4800 yen for a case of beer… which, at current exchange rates, is over $50. In any case, we kicked the party up a notch by starting a game of King Cup, but it became a debacle after two rules were decreed that required everyone to say “I like pussy” before every utterance and “in the butt” after. The punishment for violators was a drink, but it was more or less impossible to enforce, so everyone just started drinking constantly. That’s a recipe for a good time, right?

The trains stop running around midnight, so at about 11:00 we pack up and move the party to the Honch. More drinking ensued, and just before heading back to base to sleep it off, we decide to grab some pizza at New York Pizza. The guy who sits behind the counter is 100% genuine New Yorker, and likes to puff on a hookah with customers and shoot the bull. So, here I am, happily enjoying my slice, savoring the only form of tobacco I can stand to smoke, when I feel something hard in my mouth, like a pebble. I quickly realize that the hard object was formerly attached to my mouth as I frantically tongue the gaping hole in the front of my grill. Spitting it out into my hand, I realize that nobody seems to notice and tap my friend on the shoulder to show him. Hilarity ensues. We all decide that this would be a great time to return to base, and on the way I drop the tooth at least three times.

I assumed that there was no way I could possibly get the tooth worked on over Thanksgiving weekend, although I later learned that if I had walked into Dental with my tooth, even on Thanksgiving Day, they would have been obligated to do something. In any case, I go the rest of the weekend and in the process gain a few more nicknames… My father tells me that now I look more like a native Kentuckian, and probably fit in better amongst the jacked-up grills of the Japanese.

Haze grey and underway Thu, 04 Dec 2008 03:39:46 +0000 Jota After over a month without posting, I thought I might just let my blog die… I have a tendency to start projects full of vigor and then, after a single lapse of intensity, abandon them as worthless enterprises. But I’ve received quite a bit of encouragement from others, who have expressed enjoyment from my previous posts, so I shall continue to write. At the moment I’m mostly preoccupied with work-related diversions, so there’s not much in the way of “misadventures” to write about.

The only true adventure of the past month was the process of arriving on the ship, which involved an overnight stay in Guam and then a “carrier onboard delivery” flight aboard a C-2 Greyhound. The flight was uneventful until the end, at which point the intensity level reached that of an amusement park ride. After the extreme-G landing, I stepped out of the cargo bay onto a floating city. Four and a half acres of flight deck spread before me, I was both awestruck and intimidated. The euphoria quickly gave way to disorientation, however, as I struggled to navigate my way through the labyrinthine passageways while the incessant rocking of the ship induced a dull, cloudy nausea.

Meeting my shipmates and coworkers was a fairly pleasant experience, and the laid-back atmosphere of my shop helped to alleviate some of the anxiety and confusion. My nickname from Gitmo (as well as the legendary magnitude of my cranium) apparently preceded me, and I was being called “Heady” before I had even introduced myself.

Routine soon took over, as I learned the ins and outs of navigating the ship, locations of important facilities, and relevant regulations and instructions. Drills, originally exciting and novel, became everyday nuisances–man overboard, toxic gas leak, general quarters. And the job that I had been trained for five months to perform, calibration, was just a way to pass time during the work day. I understand that my primary duty is calibration technician, but at times it seems like the actual job takes a backseat to all the other noise.

By the time we pulled back in to Yokosuka, life had become a bit dull. And, now that I have actual work responsibilities, I haven’t done much in the way of exploring Japan. But, I am in the process of securing a lease on a cozy little Japanese home, and newly acquired responsibilities at work promise to make my job a bit more interesting, so hopefully I can shrug off this haze and get back to my conquest of the land of the rising sun.

Capsule surprise Thu, 23 Oct 2008 12:32:09 +0000 Jota Women make men do stupid things sometimes, and last night I fell prey. Despite my vow to avoid Roppongi until my bank account recovered, I found myself there again last night, irresponsibly enjoying the company of a female friend. And, once again, I was forced to pass the night after the trains stopped running. This time, however, I actually needed some sleep so I decided to try something new in the process.

The human beehive

The human beehive

My prime motivation was cost, and I knew a capsule hotel would be the cheapest option. There aren’t really any capsule hotels in Roppongi though, so my friend tossed me in a cab and told the driver to find the nearest hotel in Shibuya. He did not disappoint, and after a short ride I found myself standing on the curb in front of a narrow, unassuming 10-story building. The lobby was half carpet, half tile, with the divide running right up to the middle of the counter, and fortunately I had enough wits about me to stay on the tiled side. The nightly price seemed a bit high for a hole in a wall, but after exploring the building I understood that the fee paid for more than just a bed. I checked my shoes, and proceeded up to the locker room to undress. At first I just assumed I would sleep in my t-shirt and boxers, but inside the locker I found a simple cloth garment. I believe it was a yukata, although I’m not sure if that’s the right word. Essentially a robe, this particular yukata ended at about mid-thigh. On my way up to my capsule on the ninth floor, I checked out the showers and relieved myself in the most high-tech toilet I have seen so far.

Overall, the place was very clean and comfortable. The only thing lacking is privacy, which I was well-suited to handle. I did confront one surprise, however, when I walked into my capsule area on the ninth floor. I was greeted with a pungent odor when I stepped out of the elevator, and as I turned the corner I met an equally disturbing image–a big, hairy ass. A man had passed out in his own vomit on the floor in front of his capsule, and his short yukata failed to cover his nether regions. Unlike me, he was not wearing his undergarments. Averting my eyes, I proceeded to my capsule… if I spoke better Japanese I might have tried to help him, but I needed sleep badly.

The interior of the capsule was furnished with a convenient array of accessories, including an alarm clock and a radio with headphones. My only gripe is that there was no circulation fan, and it got a bit toasty after a while. The novelty of the experience actually made it difficult to sleep at first, but I was exhausted. I had to check out at about 5:30 in order to catch the trains back to base in time, so unfortunately I couldn’t take advantage of the amenities, but I will certainly make use of this uniquely Japanese establishment in the future.

A night which shall live in infamy Mon, 20 Oct 2008 10:53:05 +0000 Jota
One down, nine to go.

One down, nine to go.

I have only two pictures on my phone from last night, but they quite succinctly capture the essence of the evening.

While looking for places to eat in Tokyo, I discovered an excellent website: There is also a small blog for beer connoisseurs there, and I read about a pub in Ryogoku which has 70 beers on tap. Yesterday was the last day of their “OctoBEERfest” special, which featured ten craft beers from around Japan. I hadn’t had a smashing (the British kind) night of drinking yet since I got here, so I decided to make the trip. As a sailor, I also couldn’t resist patronizing an establishment named “POPEYE.”

Looking at the pictures, you probably already know what happened next. I intended to wet my palate with a sampling of the beers, but I soon realized that the special was all-or-nothing. Fortunately, it was a very good icebreaker with the gentlemen sitting next to me. I mean, the least I could do was to provide some lively conversation to make up for taking everyone’s bar space with my rack of beer. I learned several new useful words and expressions, such as okiniiri, and played the part of ambassador by handing out a copy of the CVN 73 manga. And I hate to boast, but I think I represented sailors well by holding my liquor. A man next to me literally fell asleep in his chair after polishing off an OctoBEERfest, and the guy I had been talking to said that this often happens.

Clearly, the beer has taken its effect.

Clearly, the beer has taken its effect.

I enjoyed myself immensely at the pub, and I was prepared for the steep price tag… Beer in Tokyo is not cheap. Unfortunately, by closing time, the trains to Yokosuka had stopped running, so I had to find a way to pass the night until the first morning trains. One of the men I was with recommended Roppongi, with the reasoning that passing a night in Roppongi is something of a rite of passage for foreigners living in Japan. I will not go into details, but suffice it to say that Roppongi had its way with me. You know those Nigerian bank scams? Yeah, I think Nigerians are the masters of relieving dumb people of their money. After six hours at the pub, I had become said dumb person. No regrets, though… it was a priceless experience. However, that is the last time I will venture into Roppongi alone.

Nippon! Thu, 16 Oct 2008 07:03:11 +0000 Jota Japanese sports fans are nuts! I went to the World Cup soccer match between Japan and Uzbekistan last night, and received quite a dose of culture shock. Our seats were on the Uzbek side, but needless to say there was not an Uzbek in sight. Instead, we were surrounded by what felt like the student section at a college football game. The cheers were led by a taiko drum group, which would simply start up a beat and the fans would join in with the corresponding chant. The cheers themselves were humorously simplistic, usually consisting of grunts and yells, with the only recognizable word being “Nippon!” Participation was near-universal. The opposite side of the stadium, however, was where the real action occurred. It was akin to staring at a Magic Eye picture while on acid… of the several thousand fans in that section, not a soul was standing still. Most appeared to be flailing wildly, especially when the drums started up. I took a brief video, although it’s a poor representation of a very visceral situation so I’ll refrain from posting it.

A lull in the action.

A lull in the action.

The journey to the stadium is a story in and of itself as well. We had very clear directions to Saitama Super Arena, and found it with no trouble. After grabbing a quick dinner of gyoza and chaahan, we arrived at the stadium mere minutes before kickoff. Unfortunately, the soccer game was not being held at Saitama Super Arena. After discussing this with a security guard, we learned that we needed to backtrack about 3 stations and then take a bus to get to the stadium. Another 20 mins later, after several more conversations with helpful Japanese, we arrived at the bus stop as our bus was pulling away. The next bus was not coming for another 30 mins, so we hopped in a cab. The cabbie spoke the most difficult-to-understand Japanese that I have heard so far, and even now I’m not entirely sure what he said, but he seemed very skeptical when we told him to take us to Saitama Stadium. I guess he was surprised that two random Americans would hop in his cab asking to go to a soccer game that had started 40 mins ago. Anyways, the cab ride was much longer than we expected, and ended up costing almost 2500 yen.

We didn’t get lost on the way home, and budgeted almost 2 1/2 hours for the trip, but still barely managed to get in the gate by midnight. Not a problem for me, but my buddy was a junior sailor and had a curfew. Unfortunately, the regulation also states that he must be in his place of berthing by midnight, not just on base, so that landed us in some hot water. Why was I in trouble? Well, because I was his buddy. Fortunately, due to the innocuous nature of this incident–only 30 mins late, no alcohol was involved, every effort was made to return on time–nothing became of it. But it was a poignant reminder that, especially once the carrier pulls in, every incident, no matter how insignificant, is treated with an iron fist. That is the reality for the American forces in Japan. For this reason, I resolve to spend as little time as possible on base once I get an apartment.

Falling in love Thu, 09 Oct 2008 19:09:56 +0000 Jota Each of my four days in Japan thus far has been better than the previous, not least because I’ve been getting over a cold, and I think this trend will continue. I truly fell in love with this place today, although in a few unexpected ways. The day started off well, with sunny skies and a cool sea breeze. Breakfast was fantastic as always; if you haven’t heard, then let me be the first to tell you that the galley here on base is unparalleled. I suspect it is due to the Japanese staff. The boiled eggs are just firm enough, and never dried out. There is a cornucopia of fresh fruit, which often includes blueberries (my favorite). What tickles my palate the most, however, is the fresh whole milk at the drink bar. With the government acting as the primary promoter of the low-fat bullshit dogma, most military dining facilities only have 1% or 2%, and skim.

Anyways, the galley had a hat trick today. Not only was breakfast outstanding as always, but lunch was prime rib. Now, I wouldn’t expect rare meat from a galley in any circumstance, but usually it is Grammy Howes-style well-done. For the uninitiated, that means ash-gray throughout. However, this particular cut was pink in the middle! It was pure pleasure. To top things off, I went back for dinner tonight and feasted on some Japanese-style shrimp curry.

The other pivotal experience of the day was my haircut. Yes, it may sound bizarre, but I felt dirty afterward… like I owed the girl more than just $7.50. It started with a quick hot towel massage to my scalp, which almost put me to sleep. She cut it exactly as I requested, and even gelled my hair back to how I had it when she was done. In fact, the quality was exactly unlike that which I received in Cuba. Those guys could’ve botched a buzz cut. Oh, I forgot to mention–this masterful cut was received at the barber shop on base, right next to the pier. And did I mention that it cost all of $7.50?