Brace yourselves, this is going to be quite long since it’s been just about 5 weeks since I’ve written an update.  I’m going to write this update in sections to hopefully make it not so overwhelming.

The biggest thing that occurred in the last five weeks is that Steph and I found an apartment.  On the 9th we went to the Leopalace21 agency with our voluntary translator, Shigeko (a really nice Japanese woman from Steph’s church).  We were shown the two different styles of rooms, both the same size but different layouts.  We decided we wanted the one with the loft because the higher ceiling made it a lot more open.  After we got back to the agency we went over the contract and were told exactly what we were paying and why.  Since neither of us had the money right then, we told them we’d try really hard to get the money to them within the week but we made no promises.  The girl who was helping us seemed really hesitant to accept that but we had already filled out the contract.  In the end we were not able to get the money by the next week.  The agency told us that was “unacceptable” and I was really afraid that we would lose the apartment.  By the 21st I had the money and was ready to pay but Shigeko told me that they wouldn’t accept my money until Steph’s wire arrived in their account.  It made no sense to me but regardless put me in a panic.  Basically if I was unable to pay on the 21st we wouldn’t be able to fully pay until the 30th, a full three weeks after we had signed the contract and two weeks later than we said we would.  After many moments of worry Shigeko offered to pay Steph’s half in cash.  Both Steph and I were floored by her offer and gratefully accepted.  I met with Shigeko an hour later and after being told the procedures and proper care of the apartment we finally paid.  If it were not for Shigeko, we probably wouldn’t have the apartment and would have had to scramble to figure out a backup plan.

The apartment is fully furnished with a sink and hotplate, a washing machine (the dryer being the shower room, we put our clothes inside, close the door and turn the heater on), microwave, refrigerator, t.v., a tiny closet for each of us, a table and two chairs, a really nice window and futons for the loft.  We’re on the second floor, less than 5 minute walk away from Jeremiah and Geigy’s (Steph’s pastor and his wife), really close to the church and station, not in the middle of Tokyo but not in the middle of nowhere either and we’ve paid for four months from December 7 to April 5 so we don’t have to worry about monthly payments (it included utilities as well).  So nice to not have to worry about that anymore…

On the 10th after my morning class I and 4 other Photography students went with Shinya to Sapporo.  We took the monorail to the airport and it was an amazing ride.  We enjoyed the view of a wide river on one side and the city on the other.  The plane ride was only about an hour and from the air we were able to see Mt. Fuji in the distance.  After we landed we took another train into Sapporo, about 30 minutes.  Another enjoyable ride with a lot of open land and very beautiful greenery.

For lunch we went to a rotating sushi bar (they put the plates on a conveyor belt and when you see something you want, you just grab it and they give you the bill after counting your plates).  The guys ate a lot while Rozan and I watched in stunned amazement.  In the end they had about 60 plates along with drinks and soup and even though the plates are quite small, that’s still a lot of food.

We took a cab to the hotel and were surprised by how cold it was after coming from Tokyo.  The hotel we stayed at was a very nice, westernized place called “The Sapporo Prince Hotel” (actually it’s owned by the company that Masayuki works for).  It was amazing because with the deal Shinya got us we were each able to have our own rooms.  Two beds each with a spectacular view of the city out of each big window.  We were on the 19th floor and the building was a huge cylinder so that everyone’s view was slightly different.  Of course I took pictures from everyone’s window (except for Shinya’s).

The first thing we noticed when looking outside the windows was the ferris wheel.  We all decided without Shinya’s knowledge that if nothing else we’d ride the wheel.  Shinya took us to a gallery and afterward we told him of our plan and he agreed to go find it with us.  We stopped at the first train station we came to and got the directions.  We made it to the station closest to the wheel and looked around the shops in the station and after the guys bought some food (cheese, crackers, wine) we headed back outside.  After wandering around for a while and not finding it we asked for directions again and found where it was supposed to be.  We could see the reflection of lights on the buildings but the wheel was nowhere to be found.  Turns out it was on top of the building!  So we went to the 8th floor and bought our tickets for the wheel.  The entire ride took about 10 minutes and it was a really good opportunity for me to take videos and pictures of the city.  It was Shinya’s first ferris wheel ride and he told us it was “okay.”

After the wheel he took us to the “Think Garden,” a really cool bookstore/artist hangout.  The door was really hidden and if I had blinked I would have missed it.  We spent an hour there, had a nice dinner served to us by the woman working there.  From there Shinya, Rozan, and I decided to go back to the hotel and the guys went to do karaoke and clubbing until about 6 in the morning.

I had seen an advertisement for a lounge on the 28th floor (the top) where I could see even more of the city.  I told Shinya I wanted to check it out so the three of us went and found out that a table would be about $5 plus whatever drink we bought.  Rozan went back to her room and Shinya and I took a table.  It was totally worth it!  The lights went on in every direction as far as the eye could see.  Shinya paid and thanked me for the suggestion because he never would have gone if I hadn’t wanted to.

Sapporo is like Tokyo because there are a lot of business buildings everywhere but it’s a lot less crowded on the sidewalks and streets.  The ride to the hotel was beautiful because the sidewalks were lined with vibrantly colored trees of red, yellow, and orange.

On the 11th Shinya, Rozan and I enjoyed a free breakfast on the first floor.  We tried waking the guys after we came back upstairs to pick up our stuff and check out.  They were still sleeping so the three of us headed to the station and Rozan and I put our bags in a locker.  Shinya saw us off there because he had to judge a film festival later that day.  Rozan and I went to another gallery and then met with Shinya’s friend and colleague.  By this time the guys were awake and ready to go.  We stopped by the hotel to pick them up and then drove 30 minutes to a really cool architectural park.  I can’t even really describe it, you’ll just have to see the pictures I took in the Sapporo album.  Even though it rained the whole day and was a bit chilly, I had a lot of fun.

After we got back into Sapporo Shinya’s friend took us to his studio and we decided what to do next.  Alex, Rozan and I were leaving that day to come back to Tokyo so we didn’t have a whole lot of time.  We thought about walking around but since it was getting darker and still raining we decided against that.  We ended up walking across the street to a really nice mall to find something for a late lunch.  The mall had a lot of options but after walking through it we decided to walk through the courtyard to the old beer factory to see what was there.  The restaurant was really nice and we enjoyed eating and talking for a good hour and a half.  Shinya’s friend then took Alex, Rozan and I to the station and after getting our bags and warming up with hot chocolate, we took the train back to the airport.

The plane ride back was a little longer that time and the three of us talked for most of the ride.  We had a really interesting discussion about Christianity and Islam (Rozan is Islamic) and I can honestly say we all enjoyed it.

All in all the trip was really fun and I’m glad I decided to go.


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