Saturday, September 8, 2007

Living in Hamamatsu...

Here are a few photos I took this summer with my new Fuji FinePix F40d digital camera. The first one is my bedroom in my new apartment in urban Motohama-cho. I live on the 5th floor of a 10-story highrise apartment building. I have 2 rooms here, not counting my toilet and shower rooms, plus a sturdy balcony with a view of some busy streets.

The first room is the entryway, which is a narrow hallway containing my kitchen. You step down into the space you see in the photo, which is comfortably sized and very pleasant. It has the feel of an urban dance studio. I feel like I should put full-length mirrors and a railing on one wall.

The neighborhood isn't as pleasant as Sanaru-dai and its tree-lined streets and little coffeeshops. On the other hand, it's convenient. I'm about 8 minutes by bicycle from work, 6 from the main shopping areas of downtown Hamamatsu. Plus, there's a small park nearby with play equipment and bums sprawled out on the benches at all hours. I call it the Bum Park. As a bum hotel, it stays vacant of children. Bums and kids do not and should not mix.

But the first week I lived here, there was a lively neighborhood festival or fair going on there, with little food booths and pretty little lanterns and lots of happy musical noise and families milling about. That was a pleasant site to behold as a new Motohama-choian.

The second photo is a twilight shot of the famous Act Tower, Hamamatsu's only skyscraper and navigable landmark. Look at it... it dominates the downtown view, and can be seen from miles away, as far as the beach at Nakatajima. It's shaped a bit like a harmonica, because Hamamatsu is Japan's musical city.

There are restaurants and shops galore inside, plus professional-quality performances spaces where world-class musicians give concerts and local chorale groups and school bands and orchestras do likewise. This next place is the building where Popeye Media Cafe resides, the place where one of my best friends here works a part-time job that frequently consists of 50 hour work weeks. But does she get overtime? Of course not! She's a part-timer!

The Denny's just below Popeye is interesting. The decor is pure and bland Americana, but the menu is Japanese through and through. I once ate a Christmas dinner of spaghetti there, though. Spaghetti of all kinds is a popular dish here. But this Denny's has various noodle dishes, and Japanese soups and things like ton katsu on the menu.

Big Boy's opened here recently, too. It looks like an American Big Boy's, although Big Boy himself is somewhat scaled down and resides just outside the door instead of on a tall post in the parking lot. The fare is almost exactly the same as the local favorite Sawayaka, a "hamburg" restaurant. Hamburg is a ground beef dish like a hamburger without the bun. Big Boy's specializes in several kinds, and also something called "chicken steak," which is just a grilled boneless chicken breast. They have the most delicious shoestring fries I've ever tasted, though... hot and greasy in a basket and quite reasonable at 210 yen.

Last, but not least, is my Place of Power, my clubhouse, my hangout. It's Ohgiya, on "Mall Street," right near the Denny's. On Fridays and Saturdays- come to think of it- this is a lively, bustling place. It's frequently hard to get a seat. The stocky, spiky-haired guy on the grill is one of the hardest working people I've ever seen, and his nightly show is worth watching while you wait for your yakitori (grilled chunks of chicken on a stick). He keeps the various skewers in order and cooking away, adding charcoal sticks, only stopping on those rare occasions where the almost-as-hardworking wait staff are so busy they can't come pick up an order and he has to take it to the diners himself.

Which is kind of ridiculous considering how hectic just working the grill must be on a busy night. Anyway, the food is cheap and delicious, and the beer is one of Hamamatsu's best bargains. Maybe the giant daijoki at Tengu is a better value, but not by much.

That's Hamamatsu. It's not the largest or most special city in Japan, but for its size and sprawl, it's a very livable place. Plus, it's almost exactly halfway between Osaka and Tokyo, so you couldn't ask for a better gateway into central Japan.

I've enjoyed living here and getting to know its places and people. I had my first beer in Japan in this Ohgiya, I've lived in three very different neighborhoods here and had times both fine and terrible


Todd Brown said...

Hey my wifes family lives in Motohama-cho! Her mom owns the pink hair salon at 105.

I can't wait to go back and visit during the Christmas break. I really haven't gotten to see much of Japan but I like Hamamatsu. I wouldn't really want to live in a bigger city... and like you said if the itch comes around Tokyo or Osaka is only a train ride away!

I like your blog because it allows me to see more of Hamamatsu.

Joel Bryan said...

Hey- local people, huh? That's cool. Thanks for the comment... I'm going to add your blog as a link on the side if you don't mind. I looked at it and enjoyed it but when I have time I'll go through and really do some reading there.

maria masuzawa said...

Good Pm Joel!im a looking for a part-time job when accidentally read your hamamatsu stories.and i was impressed by your also living in motohama cho,perhaps some footsteps away from you.but it was 5 years ago since youve wrote this.hope you are still living here in are a very good writer!

Joel Bryan said...

Hi Maria--

I'm living in Higashi-cho now. Thanks for the nice words! I hope you're enjoying Motohama-cho. It's such a great neighborhood! Take care and thanks again!