Visiting Maine

I think it's too late to write this entry, but I visited Portland and Boothbay Harbor, Maine in this September. I watched a musical play Carousel at Kokugakuin Tochigi High School performed by its musical club a few weeks before. Carousel is a musical that features a love story of a young girl and a barker in Maine, filmed in 1956. That inspired me to visit this state and, if I could, eat some lobsters and clambakes.

There were no direct flights from Tokyo to Maine, so I chose flights from Tokyo (Narita) to New York (JFK), and from LaGuardia to Portland (Maine's largest city). All flights were Delta Airlines.

DL172 to JFK

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My second visit to England

I visited the UK again in September as my first visit there in February was very nice. This time I went to Folkestone, Kent, where it was taken place by the musical “Half A Sixpence” I watched at Kokugakuin Tochigi High School, via Brighton, Tunbridge Wells, Hastings, Rye and New Romney.
I flew Aeroflot to Moscow, where I changed the plane to London. At Heathrow Airport, I had usual strict inspection at the immigration counter. Being asked why I was going to Folkestone, I answered the plain truth that I had been impressed by “Half A Sixpence” I had watched several weeks before and it had encouraged me to visit there. I told the cab driver who took me to the hotel from the airport the same thing, and he said, “Oh really. Enjoy your trip to Folkestone.”

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Changed a garage

I found an open-air car park near my flat and signed a contract for it at the real estate agency. I use a lift parking within my flat so far, but my car is supposed to be stowed underground so it’s too much trouble to lift up my car to the ground, bring my car out of the gondola and lift it down again every time I drive out. Besides, the monthly fee for the new garage is lower than the annoying automated garage!
As the contract took effect on 1 March, I moved my car to the new garage. Now I can open the bonnet to check the engine oil level and brake fluid level before driving. I couldn’t do it at the old automated garage.

Deep in England

Last weekend was happy days for me because I deeply experienced a British taste last Saturday and Sunday. From the beginning I preferred the USA to the UK or other English-speaking countries, but my affection has been shifting to England for years since I happened to read Kaoru Mori’s Emma, a romance manga of a maid in England in the Victorian Era who falls in love with a member of the gentry.
Gate of Cultural Festival
On the first day, the first thing I did is to see Oliver! by the Musical Club of Kokugakuin Tochigi High School playing for the school’s cultural festival held in this weekend. Oliver! is, as you may already know, an English musical based on Charles Dickens’ novel Oliver Twist. It’s the story that Oliver Twist, who has missing parents and is in a workhouse, is forced to get out of the workhouse and gets involved in a group of pickpockets. He tries to pick a pocket of a well-off lady, who finally takes him in and brings him up, and then he gets happy.

As I already wrote in this blog many times, I’ve kept in touch with Mito Saigusa. She is a choreographer teaching dance and choreography to the students of this club. I come and see their performance for the cultural festival every year in order to see her too. Of course she was well this year as well.
This year’s show satisfied me much more, because its scene was in England in the 19th century so it was just for me. I was very happy with that.
After seeing Oliver! I left the high school to drive to British Hills, the educational facility located in Fukushima Prefecture operated by Kanda Institute of Foreign Languages, with Medieval British-style buildings in a 50-acre land. Each building is furnished with the fixtures modeling the era of the building. From the beginning it was only for the students of this Institute, it’s been open to public for several years. More than a half of the staff working there were non-Japanese, ranging from Englishmen, Australians, New Zealanders, Canadians and more. As the official language in this area is English, even a Japanese attendant talks to you in English, because British Hills is for teaching English to guests.
A two-hour drive from Tochigi took me British Hills. It was almost on the top of a mountain, more than 20 miles far from the nearest motorway exit. Once entering into the site of British Hills, almost all traffic and informational signs on the road suddenly turned into English, just like crossing a national border into a different country.
British Hills Directory British Hills Bump

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I’ve got a car again

Peugeot 307 Style
I’ve made up my mind to have my own car again. Two years and nine months have passed since I parted with the last car in May 2008 and then moved to a house much closer to central Tokyo after I did it. The place where I currently live is so convenient that you can live without owning any car. Nevertheless, without a car it’s difficult to go on a slight outing late at night, to buy bulky goods from Costco, or to drive a car aggressively to get rid of your stress! 🙂 To do them you can hire a car at a nearest rental car shop, but it’s less convenient than having a car you can do as you like. That’s why I’ve decided to get my own car even if it’s much more costly.
To find an appropriate car, I checked Yahoo! Japan, Goo-Net or other websites listing up used cars and shops after I got bonus last December. Of course I had no choice to have a brand-new car. I wanted to have a small-sized, 5-speed stick shift car instead of a large automatic saloon, because I wanted to do as Englishmen did (most of them drive stick shifts rather than automatics) and I thought that manual transmissions were better for small cars giving more pleasure to drivers, and that it would be the last chance for me to drive a stick shift as almost all cars to be released in future would, petrol or hybrid, have automatic or continuously variable transmissions.
In the end of last December I found a car that I felt to be nice at a small used car shop in suburban Tokyo. It was 2002 Peugeot 307 Style (1600cc petrol), costing just 380,000 yen! I decided to buy it without hesitation.
It took much time from the purchase to the pickup. In Japan, you must register a car you buy to the government before owning it, and before the registration you must settle a parking space and have the garage certificate from the nearest police station. To have a garage, you must sign a contract with a local real estate company offering car parks in the area where you live. The trouble is that the real estate company and the police station open only in weekdays, so I had to take a day (or some hours) off to do those things.
An average parking space rate in the area I live in was about 30,000 yen per month, but I found a car park renting a parking space for 26,500 yen per month.
Anyway, all of the procedures to have the car had been done and I picked it up today.

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Abandoning my car

I’ve made up my mind to quit keeping my Honda Accord I got last year. By Japanese law, every car must be inspected every two years by nationally authorized inspectors. In the case of My Accord, it should be inspected by May 7 this year. Inspectors have a checklist and the inspected car should pass all of the items of the checklist to drive on the street in the following two years. In one of the checklist, a car should have clearance of more than nine centimeters. According to the inspectors, My Accord does not have clearance of nine centimeters, so I should have it repaired to pass the inspection. It costs more than 100,000 Yen to do it. I can’t afford. That’s why I have to dispose of the car.
All I can do after abandoning the car is to move to a new apartment with full of public transportation modes and convenient enough not to rely on cars to move around. I’m going to search for a new room in the downtown area of Tokyo when I get a bonus in June.

Snowing!

When I woke up and opened up the entrance door in the morning I was surprised to see the HEAVY snow covering all over the area…. The weather forecast was saying that it had been snowing very much in the Kanto Plain.
The heavy snow piled up on my Accord, too. It was the first time to see my Accord covered with such heavy snow. I ripped the snow off the windshield with my hands and drove to the nearest car service shop to buy a snow brush with a window scraper.
The lessons I learned today was that the snow chains I bought this winter was useless because it was too hard to be installed, and that it was okay to drive without chains or snow tires as long as driving on the street with moderate traffic.

Navigation

garmin_nuvi250.jpg
Last week I bought a portable navigation device (Garmin nüvi250) for my car because I had bonus this month and I did "holiday shopping" like an American. Although many cars in Japan have in-dash HDD car navigation systems costing over 300,000JPY with a receiver for Vehicle Information and Communication System (VICS), they were too expensive for me to afford. Nüvi250 has only a GPS receiver and power cables to be connected to a cigar socket or PC’s USB port, so it’s very cost-effective, costing only 38,500JPY! (about one tenth of the prices of traditional HDD car navi) More than that, it is not only sold within Japan but used worldwide, because Garmin is an American company. Nüvi250 is widely distributed in UK, European countries and the USA (in the USA, nüvi200 is sold instead of 250).
This device is simple and does not provide traffic information to avoid jamming routes, but GPS reception accuracy is very good. It displays an accurate position of where you are driving, keeps track of your driving routes, and calculates routes to destination very fast. Road maps are very simple, and easy to see while driving. It is very useful for 38,500JPY navigation device, as long as you use it just as a navigator.
As it is removable from your car, you can carry it with you anywhere, on the street or on the train, and you can install it to a rental car in a district far from your home town or even in a foreign country, just by plugging the power cable to its cigar socket. When you leave your car, you can put it off the car and in your pocket. There are no risks to be stolen.
Navigation is navigation. No functions more than navigation are necessary. PNDs are the most reasonable navigation system of today and more and more devices will be released in a few years, because you have only to pay the reasonable prices for necessary and sufficient capabilities.

Getting a new car

I sold my Toyota Soarer that I’d owned since October 2001 and got 95 Honda US Accord Wagon. Today I drove the Soarer to the used car shop where the Accord Wagon was waiting and I said good-bye to my "pal" that had accompanied with me everywhere for five years and a half.
Parting from a car gets me down as much as parting from a friend. I felt sorry to part the Soarer never to meet again.
soarer_1.jpg

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