December 27, 2011

All I Want for Christmas Is...

The bounenkais were a lot of fun last week. We ate, drank, and lead by the professor we continued from the first restaurant to a famous restaurant chain in Nagoya, Yamachan, to eat spicy tebasaki chicken wings. And nothing is better than washing them down with some beer, of course. A few nights after was the time for our ultimate team's bounenkai, which ended in a karaoke bar. I was the only non-Japanese and also the only one singing non-Japanese songs. It was interesting to see what kind of music the Japanese enjoy and hearing them sing was quite an experience: they sang with such passion that I wonder if they still had vocal cords in the morning.

Bounenkai. Just before the "BOMB".

レミオロメン 粉雪 (Remioren - Konayuki) seems to be a popular karaoke song...

On Christmas Eve many foreign students gathered at Mauricio's place for Christmas dinner. Everybody brought more or less typical Christmas dishes from their country, so we had food all the way from South America to the Middle East, passing by Europe. Christmas Eve's dinner in Japan made no exception to the Finnish one and eventually I was on the brink of indigestion. Especially the numerous sweets and desserts at midnight were treacherous. The next day we had a small party at Alisson's apartment. We ought to have known better than so much as mentioning drinking games inevitably leads to the obvious outcome. Rumors say a merry party of one Japanese and two Finns was quite excited about the unexpected snowfall in the middle of the night...

Ok, so there is actually concrete proof of what happened.

The next day only one man was still standing.

December 18, 2011

Jazz & Shaking

The past two weeks I've been busy at the laboratory finishing a set of experiments and preparing a presentation about the results. I don't remember ever putting in so many hours in a week. Then, last Wednesday, just before the presentation, the tension was literally palpable. It started off as a little shaking and suddenly the building was swaying gently. It lasted for 20 to 30 seconds and, as suddenly as it had began, it also ended. I had just experienced my first earthquake. No need to tell you that after the tremor, the presentation was the easy part.

Our takoyaki party. Alisson behind the camera.

During the week I also received a very pleasant surprise from my parents, who had sent me a care package stuffed with chocolates, piparkakku, näkkileipä and warm socks. Thank you, Christmas came early this year! Speaking of Christmas, it doesn't really feel like it is at hand. Perhaps it is the lack of snow and cold. Or then, it is because Christmas is merely a popular day for romantic dates in Japan. Of course, many department stores have decorations in an attempt to exploit the commercial aspect of Christmas and boost their sells, but it doesn't have any deeper meaning to it in here. On the other hand, New Year is the most important holiday in Japan and it is the time when families gather to spend time together and visit temples. So the festive traditions are more or less the exact opposite of those in the West.

It's rare to see Christmas decorations in private houses, but these guys are
quite eager about it to say the least.

After all the sweating and shaking at the laboratory, last weekend was finally time for some fun. On Friday Viviane organized a takoyaki party. The takoyakis turned out delicious and it also came clear to me what some people were laughing about earlier that day, when I told them about the night's theme: it is usual to fill one random takoyaki with an excessive amount of wasabi to one unlucky person's delight. After eating, we headed to Sakae to sing the night away at a karaoke bar and took the first subway back home. Thanks Vivi for the great night!

Definitely no wasabi in that takoyaki just below the chopstick.

To put a perfect finishing touch to the weekend, we went with Joy and her friends to see Drunken Fish featuring guest stars from Jazz Dragon at Jazz Inn Lovely yesterday. The lead guitarist, who had been drinking something stronger than virgin Cuba Libres, engaged in spirited improvisations and solos to the surprise of some of the other band members too, judging by their laughs and expressions. You could see that the band was having fun playing together and the public was also entertained and amused, me included.

Drunken Fish feat. Jazz Dragon.

This week will be an interesting one and I'm looking forward to both our lab's and my ultimate team's 忘年会 ("Bounenkai"), the Japanese counterpart for end-of-the-year party and somewhat similar to pikkujoulut in Finland. The kanjis in Bounenkai actually mean "forget year party" and the aim is to leave behind the worries and troubles of the past year. In other words, it is an occasion to go on a binge and forget. Sounds good.

December 02, 2011

The Cardboard Dragon

Time to break radio silence! The blog is lagging behind, which you have probably noticed by the lack of updates recently. Some of you may have seen glimpses of the future blog entries in social media networks in the form of pictures, wall posts or location data. It's time to tell you what really happened.

Almost a month ago we decided to go to Spa Land in Nagashima. Spa Land is more than just a spa resort with outdoor pools and dozens of slides; it is also known for its onsen, japanese hot spring, and one of the biggest amusement parks in Japan. Our lionhearted group, consisting of Jana, Naoko, Noora, Viviane, Ankur and me, set on the arduous quest to tame the Steel Dragon (explanation follows, hopefully).

The last picture.

The weather forecast was cloudy with a 50% chance of precipitations at noon, increasing toward the evening, but it didn't discourage us. To the contrary, fewer people meant shorter queues and more time to enjoy the attractions. In our unfaltering logic, we decided to slowly build up momentum starting from the more easygoing and stomach-friendly rides, to finally culminate the day on the awe-inspiring and almighty Steel Dragon 2000, the biggest roller coaster in Nagashima and one of the biggest in the world as a matter of fact.

The almighty Steel Dragon 2000.

The traditional viking ship was the first attraction to test our guts (hehe, a pun). We also got rocketed sky-high and soaked in the overflowing chute just to be blow-dried a while later on the White Cyclone.
All slicked up, it was the perfect moment for an intense photo shoot in a purikura booth. The idea is the same as in a normal photo booth, but in purikura the goal is to strike cute poses and retouch the pictures with ready-made backgrounds, texts and items to make it as adorable and sweet as a possible.

Purikura. The definition of kawaii :)

Shortly after the purikura, the odds turned against us and it started to rain. The rainfall didn't stop and most of the attractions were shut down, thus we opted for some lunch. We had been to most of the rides, so as soon as the rain stopped, we rushed to the Steel Dragon entrance. We were fast enough to get on the second car and felt a surge of excitement. Finally, the big finale of the day! We were all laughing when I said let's take the last picture. As soon as we sat down in the car and the security belts were tightened up, all hell broke loose and spears of ice it started pouring and the roller coaster was closed. We weren't laughing anymore.

Next time your mine, Steel Dragon!

Fortunately, the day didn't end there. The hot waters of the onsen soothed our wounds and washed away the minor disappointment. Back at Nagoya, we were starving and decided to fill our stomachs with ramen. We were reborn. High five!