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I went to the consulate and quickly turned in my papers. The lady behind the window told me to stop by between 4:00 and 4:40 that afternoon to pick up my passport and visa.

I had had enough sightseeing, so I designated Thursday as my shopping day. There were specific people on my short list whom I had to buy souvenirs from Japan. My oldest son, Dante, said he wanted some cool clothes, and I was in the middle of the Osaka version of Soho, America Mura. I went into all these punk and goth stores, looking for some cool shirts. There was one I wanted to get that had the Mississippi tourism logo on it with Japanese down the side, but the only t-shirt they had was on the mannequin. One very cool thing I saw was a goth/punk kimono that was done in black and red with a black leather bodice wrapped around the waist. I have come to the realization that a kimono is a very sexy piece of clothing on a woman.

Again, I broke my rules and had a cheeseburger for lunch at a place called Fresh Burger in America Mura. It was like a cheeseburger from home, though. Very messy and thick.

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After a brief stop at the capsule hotel, I headed out to find a special shopping street called Sennichimae Doguyo Suji. It’s not the normal tourist stop, but for anyone who knows me or my family, it was a necessary stop for me. It’s a street where restaurant owners get supplies, and I wish I had more money because I went nuts in there. There was only one other westerner in the whole area, and it was a Frenchman arguing over some bad-ass knives. (I think my brother knows what he’s getting for Christmas if he reads this.)

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They had all the cool unique stuff that was very Japanese. There were stores full of crockery, bento boxes, sushi chef clothing, little wax sushi and foods for restaurant windows, special grills…

I really wanted a sushi chef jacket, but it was outside my budget at $90. Instead, I found a deal on a curtain with a painting of a tsunami that restaurants use in their doorways and a little flag that tako-yaki vendors hang from their carts, which has a cute octopus on it.

By then my digital camera’s memory card got full. I had never filled it up before.

I walked down the humongous shopping streets beyond Doguyo Suji, down Shinsaibashi, for what must have been two miles. I then turned around and made it to the Korean consulate just in time to get my visa.

While there, a guy and some girls said hi to me. I greeted them back and got to know them better. The girls were heading off to Tokyo, but the guy, Peter, was sticking around Osaka until Sunday. My description of the capsule hotel intrigued him enough to check in to the hotel himself.

We had a few drinks at the British pub across the street from the consulate, which was not that good. They made us order overpriced onion petals that were limp and soggy.

Nonetheless, I was thrilled to have a dining partner. For some reason, I’m braver when I’m with someone who can help distribute the embarrassment.

After he got settled in the hotel, we headed out to Dotonbori Street to check out the restaurants. I showed him all the things I had learned in my short time there — the fugu restaurant, tako-yaki, the moving clown statue.

We entered the restaurant I had been eyeing since my first night there — the conveyor belt sushi place. It was 1,575 yen ($15.75) for all you can eat. When we paid, the dude told us the rules:

– Take all you want, but eat all you take,

– Eat some non-fish items every now and then.

That was basically it. We sat down on an end of one of the conveyor belts near the kitchen and filled our cups with green tea.

Then the competition began.

Peter and I kept a tally of how many plates we were stacking up. I was way behind because I was doing a lot of filming with the video camera. Passing by us was some of my most favorite and exotic sushis — sea urchin roe, raw baby eels, tuna, salmon, squid, salmon roe.

The Japanese on both sides of us communicated with us and joined in the fun we were having. I ate so much sushi that I was serious about to throw up. In the end, I counted seventeen plates while Peter finished twenty.

After completing the last culinary adventure on my list, my body started catching up with me. I had been having four or five hours of sleep a night and walking all day long all week. I was getting tired.

I still had to finish my shopping, but I knew exactly what I was going to get because I saw it the night before. We went inside the building with the giant Buddha Ferris wheel. I bought some unique items for my kids. Then Peter and I rode the elliptical Ferris wheel over Osaka.

That basically was it.

Back at the hotel, we just lounged around and drank beers.

I got up early the next morning to catch my nine o’clock flight. Peter told me to take the JR line to the airport. I went to that side of Namba station, bought a ticket, and waited.

And waited.

I figured out the train schedule and saw that the first train for the airport didn’t arrive until 10:30.

I tried to exit through the turnstiles, but they wouldn’t let me pass. I went to the officer’s window and told him I got the wrong ticket. He kindly refunded me the money.

I then trekked all the way to the other side of the station to get on the train that my initial instincts told me I should be on.

Nonetheless, I bought the wrong ticket and had the ticket girl upgrade my ticket at the train three minutes before it left the station.

I made it to the airport in twenty minutes. I stood in the wrong line to get my boarding pass. After fixing that, the rest of the procedure went smoothly.

I was at the airport so early, that they were just opening up the stores. I bought my last bit of souvenirs and, for breakfast, had my last bit of uniquely Osakan cuisine, kitsune udong — udong noodles in a rich beef broth with a slightly sweet and smoky piece of fried tofu cake.

The plane left at 9:40. I finally got to my beloved apartment at 2:00.

Lars, the new teacher, had taken up on my offer to use my place as a crashing pad until his place was ready. That was cool. The thing was that Anne didn’t tell anyone where she left the key. I called her up, and she said it was inside the apartment. She had left it unlocked.

We met up with Roberta the next day and checked out the apartment. It wasn’t as bad as we thought it would be. Lars and I immediately started bleaching the cabinets and walls while I had the dehumidifier running. Already the place was looking and smelling better. The trouble was that it was difficult getting an air conditioner. I did not expect Lars to live in the place until the air conditioner was installed.

I’m running out of time to type this because I’m about to meet everyone for dinner.

To put it succinctly, because of the almost constant rain or threat of rain, the air conditioner was not installed until this morning. So Lars has been living with me all week. It’s actually been okay since we found out we are very similar, and he is having a great time trying out new exotic Korean foods, including chitlins and a raw squid that we personally watched being taken out of a tank, sliced, and served to us still squirming.

He is fitting in well with our small group, and things are looking better here.

Let’s hope.

Roberta is leaving for the States next week, where she’ll be for three months. I’ll be basically in charge of the school until then. I’ve been doing a lot of administrative work this week, including revamping the report card system, doing the report cards, and implementing a discipline/reward system where each elementary student has a sticker board on the wall and receives and loses stickers based on behavior. I’ve also been working on the schedule for when Roberta leaves and interviewed a possible part-time employee, depending on how the budget holds up (please hold up).

Eun Jeong has been busy all this time. She’s currently working her old job of touring Japanese around Seoul, and it’s peak time. We still haven’t seen each other since I left for Japan. She’s funny, though. Before I left, she said, “Oh, please don’t get me anything. Save your money.”

Now she’s saying, “What did you get me? What did you get me?”

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