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31 May 2009 @ 11:56 pm
The Japanese word of the day today is...

飛行機 It means airplane. It's spelled "hikouki" and pronounced "hee-koe-kee"

Ack, Southwest Airlines I've got a bone to pick!

So here's the story. First of all, My flight itenerary was as follows: flight from Osaka to Tokyo, five hour layover in Tokyo (!!!), flight from Tokyo to Detroit, almost no layover in Detroit (was about an hour from landing to boarding of my next flight), then Detroit to New Orleans. Awesome. So, the first problem with this was that there were actually three flights from Tokyo to Detroit that day. One of them had basically no layover (just like the detroit one, it was about an hour of time before the next flight boarded), another had about three hours of layover, and the third (mine) had a 5 hour layover. Almost all of the people I knew from Kansai Gaidai who were leaving on the same day left on that first flight. Of the people who were left, almost all of them left on the next flight. So on the final flight, there was one person that I actually knew: a girl from my spoken Japanese class.

Our flight from Tokyo to Detroit was delayed for about thirty minutes because they wanted to fix some problems they were having with the lighting and sound of some of the areas of the plane. They needed to wait for some part or something. Well apparently that wait did them little good, since at the end of the flight they announced that the people who had trouble with their lighting and sound systems could get some vouchers for their trouble. Awesome.

After that was customs time. Joy. I sat in this enormous and seemingly immovable line of people, watching the time tick away. My flight had started boarding before I even got to the initial checkpoint. By the time I got to the baggage claim (I needed to grab my bag and re-check it in for some reason), my flight had left me behind. Super duper. They told me at the baggage claim, where I had to show my boarding pass, that they would reschedule me to another flight that went to New Orleans...and that I could either choose a 3pm flight or a 7pm flight. The next day. So I was stranded in Detroit for a night.

The good news is that I have relatives here. My uncle drove 45 minutes to pick me up, for which I am quite greatful. Thank the powers that be for family. I had a couple beers with him and we watched the end of There Will Be Blood, which was on TV. I also managed to get a shower, which was nice. Staying on a plane for about 11 hours makes you feel dirty...

In waiting to be picked up, I met a girl who had also been stranded for the night from missing her flight. She got extremely lucky to find a man who was waiting for his wife to pick him up, and who offered her a place to sleep for the night. I know, I know, that makes warning bells go off in your head, it certainly did for me too, but honestly I trust the guy. For one thing, he made sure that she contact her parents and tell them where she would be. The address, his and his wife's names, everything. Also, one of the reasons I say that she is so lucky is that, while she was away going to the bathroom, he told me that since he and his wife travel a lot, they had actually put in their wedding vows that their house would always be open to travellers. Talk about a lucky break on the girl's part!

And now here I am. I should be back in New Orleans by four something pm today. I can't wait to see the people I know in New Orleans, but I am happy to have been able to spend some time with my other family, which I typically see only once a year.

Furthermore, just to say it because in order to get it down in case I forget it at some point, takeoff from Tokyo was beautiful. I wish I had a window seat. I managed to see from where I was though. There was the thickest fog I've ever seen over Tokyo that day. I was watching planes take off before I even got on my flight, and they vanished almost instantly into the milky haze. When we were taking off, it was even more incredible. We were maneuvering to the strip we were scheduled to take off from, and apparently the sun had just started peeking up over the horizen or something, because there were strips of golden light through the fog. I could see hazy shapes of all the other planes waiting their turns to fly, illuminated by the light. Everything was gold, brown, and/or sepia. It really was breathtaking, even for the banality of the task at hand. A fitting last image of Japan, I think.

30 May 2009 @ 03:56 am
The Japanese word of the day today is...

終わる It means "to end." it is written "Owaru" and pronounced "Oh-wah-roo"

Well folks, Japan time is coming to an end. As I sit here writing this I've got about three hours until a taxi cab comes to get me and my luggage to whisk me off to where I'll be catching the limosine bus to the airport. I decided that for this journal I would comprise a list of the things that I would miss about Japan, so here you are:

1) Fantastic public transit! I love the fact that in Japan you can get basically anywhere with the buses and/or trains, it's so convenient. We need some of that in America.

2) Suntory C.C. Lemon. I know that I told all you guys that Melon Fanta was the shit, but seriously? C.C. Lemon takes the cake! This soda, which boasts "70 lemons' worth of Vitamin C in every bottle," was the love of my life here. I will miss it dearly.

3) Drivers that you can actually trust. Japanese roads are narrow. Frequently there isn't even a sidewalk, making you walk on the shoulder of the road. That said, though their drivers are fantastic. After the first few weeks or so I wasn't at all afraid to walk down the streets, even with cars zooming by a few inches away from me. Japanese people can drive, I only wish some New Orleanians would take a leaf from their book =P

4) Obaasan's. Technically, this restaurant was actually called "Sandoru," named after one of the dishes it served. I cannot tell you how many meals I had at that place. I know I talked about it in a previous journal, but just to reiterate, it had food that was cheap, delicious, and with good portions (for Japan). That and the woman who ran it was just so adorable! This restaurant is just the best of all worlds...it will certainly be missed dearly.

5) Kappa Sushi. Speaking of restaurants...Who can say no to conveyor belt sushi?? I mean seriously, come on! And it wasn't bad on the pocketbook either, compared to sushi places in America. In fact, I think I'm gonna go ahead and say that I'll miss "cheap sushi" when I leave Japan.

6) The kyukyu. Kyukyu literally means "nine nine" in Japanese. It was the 99 yen store, and I sunk plenty of money in it. It was like a mini inexpensive grocery store! Well, with a limited selection. It did sell bentos though, and I got those on more than one occasion. Mmmm...Japanese bentos...

7) Japanese snack foods. I'm sure that once I return to America I'll pine for those Japanese snacks which actually had, you know, flavor as opposed to just salt and/or sugar. 

8) All the awesome people I met here at Kansai Gaidai. Seriously, I've made some good friends here and I hope to keep in touch with them. A couple have even hinted they might come down to visit New Orleans sometime, so maybe I'll be able to meet them again at some point. When all else fails, of course, there is the internet =P

9) The Japanese culture. Oh hell yes it was evident, and since I find it beautiful I'll miss seeing it everywhere. From the simple elegance of the traditional architecture to the occasional shrine on the side of the road, I'll be missing this aspect of Japan I'm sure.

10) Sleeping on a futon. I've grown so used to it I can't remember what a bed is even like! I'll probably get used to the bed again, sure, but I certainly liked that futon...

11) Heated toilet seats. Will my hiney ever know the warm kiss of that electricly powered throne again? Hopefully. It certainly sucks to have to warm the seat yourself >.<

12) using chopsticks every time I ate. I've gotten quite good at them. Flies beware >=3

13) Japanese hospitality. Yea, it exists, though it has quite an official and formal feel to it. Whenever you walk into a shop you are greeted with a warm "Irashaimase!" Also, employees tend to be far more official and professional feeling than American ones. I've never found a rude Japanese employee, I don't think they exist. In America there's always that fast food drive through window attendant with an attitude or something, but in Japan they'd probably be fired immediately. Kudos to them, I think that that would be a pretty good policy in America too. Well, maybe not a "No tolerance" kind of thing, but at the very least a "three strikes and you're out" policy =P

14) My figure. I've lost weight in Japan. It's probably due to all the walking I did combined with how Japanese food is on average pretty good for you. I'm gonna try to keep my figure when I go back to the states, but who knows if I'll actually be able to >.<

And, to round it out, I'll include stuff that I'll be happy to be returning to in the states:

1) ALL MY FRIENDS AND FAMILY! I can't stress this enough. You guys have no idea how much I missed you. There are people here who seem to be sad to be leaving Japan. I'm happy, and it's not because I didn't like it, I loved it, it's because I missed you all so much. I can't wait to see you all again!

2) Decent inexpensive fast food. They have some fast food chains here in Japan (McDonalds and KFC being the most notable), but it's all extremely overpriced and not as good a quality to boot.

3) Steak! Oh man what I wouldn't give for some juicy beef...you just can't find it in Japan. Or, rather, you can't find any that doesn't cost your arm, leg, and first born son to purchase.

4) Waffles! Ohhhhh man you never know what you've got until it's gone, and there are no waffles in Japan! D=

5) Spacious shops, roads, houses...well, spacious everything. Everything in Japan is so tiny, so compact, so...cramped. It can be difficult to impossible to maneuver around people in, say, a grocery store aisle. It gets aggrevating...

6) Cigarette regulation. They don't have it in Japan...people smoke everywhere, and it can get annoying at times.

7) All my games. Not only just my video and computer games, which were missed less than I expected them to be actually, but also all of the tabletop RPGs and board games I played with all of my friends. I can't wait to jump back into them.

8) My two dogs! Oh I'm sure they'll be ecstatic to see me...I can't wait to give them each a good petting X3

9) My job. Oh sure, it's work and work sucks, but I like the people I work with and will be happy to return to it.

10) Zot'z, Neoz, Hana's, Elmwood Theater...all the hangouts that I frequented.

11) Scifi parties! Oh you better believe I'm going to be hitting up every single one I possibly can!

Welp, that's all for now kiddies! So, without further ado...

Sayounara Japan,

Ohio America! Isashiburi desuyo!

18 May 2009 @ 01:03 pm

The Japanese word of today is...

悪い This word is written "warui" (pronounced "wa-roo-ee"). It means "bad"

Alright guys, I know that I haven't posted much lately and I'm sorry for that. Here is something that I couldn't not post, however, as it took me completely by surprise...

So today I was taking my Japanese Reading and Writing final. It was near the end, only me and two other people remained in the room (and there were a heck of a lot of people in the beginning too, since it wasn't just my class it was all classes). All of the sudden, the intercom came on. "May I have your attention please," it said. And then it proceeded to say...well pretty much the same thing that appeared in this email I found they'd sent me while I was taking the exam. Here it is:

"We are sending this message to inform you that the University has
decided to cancel all classes starting from 1:30 pm today, May 18,
until Sunday, May 24, due to the outbreaks of the H1N1 flu in Osaka and
Hyogo prefectures.  This decision has been made in accordance with
advice from local authorities and Japanese government.

The university will be physically shut down during the above period.
Accordingly, you will not be able to take further final examinations as

We will meet with faculty members this afternoon to decide measures on
grading of the courses, and will send you a message as soon as they are

We will also inform you of the procedures to follow regarding the
following items:

1.  Refund of General Deposit
2.  Return of library books and LL materilas

We must also inform you that the Completion Ceremony scheduled on
Saturday, May 23 will be cancelled.

There are many issues that have to be addressed.  We will continue to
communicate with you via e-mail as soon as the university actions are

We would also like to urge you to stay at home/dormitory and avoid
going out.  When you have to go out, please make sure to wear masks.

I would like to ask for your cooperation in dealing with this difficult
situation calmly and patiently.  We deeply regret, as much as you do,
that we must finish the semester this way, but hope you will understand
that we are trying our best to secure the safety of our students.


Hajime Yamamoto, Dean"

Holy fuck guys. I'm...I don't know what to think about this. I'm in shock, actually. On the one hand I guess it's cool, since now I apparently don't need to take any exams and they were unlikely to change my grades favorably...but damn. I...don't even have anything to say. Wow.

01 April 2009 @ 01:04 pm
Because this is going to be a long journal, I'm going to include two Japanese words of the day today.

The first is 東京 This is pronounced "Tokyo" and is the kanji that is used for that city.

The second word of the day is

春休み which is written "Haruyasumi" (pronounced "Ha-roo-ya-soo-mi"). It means "spring break" (or, more accurately, "spring vacation")

We had to wake up early on Monday in order to get to Tokyo in time. This is because we opted to use a cheap but very time consuming method to get there: the train network. We basically purchased the ability to ride the trains unlimitedly for a day in order to do this, and it took us some ten hours of train riding in order to get there using this, but it also saved a significant amount of money, so it was totally worth it. Still, we were in train stations or on trains all day long, transferring here and there, sleeping a little, the works. It wasn't so bad, really, especially when we managed to get the trains with good seats. Japanese trains, you see, are not all created equal. No sir. Some of them are quite a bit more comfortable than others. Not to say any are downright uncomfortable, in fact they're all fine for me, but some are just worlds better than others, and when you're riding for ten hours, that's a plus.

When we finally got to Tokyo, it was already dark. We wandered around trying to find the hostel we had booked rooms for. After finding it without too much trouble, we went up to our room (a dorm room with four bunk beds in it), claimed our beds, and dropped our stuff down, and went exploring briefly before returning back to the dorm to catch some sleep.

Some people, before I left, had told me that Tokyo was disappointing, that it wasn't as impressive as they had expected. Ladies and gentlemen, they were wrong on all counts, in my opinion. I'll go through Tokyo by area we visited place by place and say my impressions on them.

Asakusa: This is where our hostel was, so we saw a fair amount of it. As a view outside of the window outside our room we could see...a theme park. That's right, right next to the hostel. It wasn't bad, mind you, it wasn't too noisy because it wasn't too popular, it was just interesting, especially since many of the rides were simply build on top of the surrounding buildings. There's Japanese space management for ya. There was a pretty good touristy shopping area here, which we checked out for a while. There were also some good restaurants, including some cheap but tasty ramen shops and even a shabu-shabu/sukiyaki place. Now, for those of you who are unfamiliar with those two things, they are methods of preparing food, but here's the twist to it: cooks don't prepare said food, you do. That's right, you go to these places to cook your own food. Now that may sound silly, but I'd recommend it actually. We did it, you see, and there are two major reasons that I enjoyed it: 1) cooking the stuff is easy, you just basically put a bunch of meat and veggies into a shallow pot filled with a special broth and eat when it's finished cooking, and 2) it was all you can eat, which is rare in Japan, and it included meat (beef and pork to be exact), two things which are often fairly expensive in Japan. Not to say the meal was cheap (it was about twenty bucks, twenty five with drinks and rice), but it was cheaper than it probably would have been if we had purchased the same amount of meat at a different restaurant. Speaking of food, specifically, "cook your own" style food, we also ended up visiting a Manjo place, Manjo being, basically, okonomiyaki, but prepared yourself. In this style of restaurant, you sit at a table that has a heated iron cooking...thing built into the table. You order the ingredients, and they are brought to you for you to pour on the hot plate thing and cook yourself. You eat it with a special tool, which you use to basically scrape the concoction such that it sticks to the tool, then eat it. Of course, the waitress showed us how to do everything. She cooked the first batch of it for us (we had six peoples split up to two tables, three people each, so we had three batches each table). And, of course, she was perfect at it, and we sucked. Thankfully, it's pretty tough to screw up "pour ingredients on hot thing and eat when they're cooked" so we still had food and all, and it wasn't bad.

We also managed to stumble across a Denny's while we were there, or what we thought was a Denny's at least...but upon inspection of the menu we found out that this was instead an imposter wearing the name of Denny's like Hannibal Lector would wear someone's face. We left this horrible Not-Denny's upon discovery of this fact (though we never actually went into the place, we just checked out the menu they had outside).

Akihabara: Akihabara Akihabara Akihabara. This is where it was at. To the point where we ended up spending a little more than two out of our five days here. It was just that awesome. In fact, we spent probably about four hours one day on one floor or one of the major stores there. Granted it was the floor with all the video games and figurines on it, but still, it was a substantial amount of time. Akihabara just has so much technology, anime, arcades, video games, and, of course, X-rated stuff that it was easy to spend a whole day there just browsing shops. The friends of mine I was with all bought some models, mostly Gundams. I'm not much for them, but I did buy some stuff at the behest of a friend who has promised to pay me back for it when I return. He'll be getting some nice stuff, I think he'll be pleased with it.

Things in Akihabara are, like in most of Japan, built up rather than side to side, and most stores are far taller than they are wide. Also, the prices of things are very weird in many ways. First of all, prices in Japan seem to fluctuate almost randomly, even between stores in the same area. There were, for example, stickers about the size of a small bumper sticker being sold for about ten dollars. Ten dollars! For a sticker! I mean, it had better be laced with crack cocain or something to justify that price. Other times you could find exactly the same product at two different stores within a block or so from each other with significantly different prices. It was just maddening, it made purchasing things difficult simply because you had to wonder if you'd find it in another shop for less. It's that way in most of Japan actually, not just Akihabara, but it's most evident there because of all of the stores in close proximety to each other, especially the numerous figurine shops.

I didn't manage to go to one of the (in)famous "Maid Cafe's" (where the waitresses dress and speak like anime maids), mainly because a friend of ours had been to one before and said that they were kinda a ripoff. Oh well, maybe I'll go to one in Den Den Town before I leave. I'll check the prices, but it seems like quite a thing to do, as a tourist and all.

Shibuya: Those who complain about America's rampant consumerism haven't seen Japan's. In particular, they haven't seen Shibuya. This place was described as "the birthplace of many of Japan's fashion trends," and when you consider the fashion industry coupled with Japan's odd and flashy sense of fashion you may get what I'm talking about. We wandered around some of the fashion stores, looking at clothing that was so expensive it made me actively fear that I would somehow break it and, thus, need to pay for it. We found some clothes in some of these shops that were marked down as much as 70% and were still too expensive. Yea, it was that bad.

Shibuya had some redeeming factors to it, however, most notably the Hachico Exit intersection and statue. The intersection is quite a site to behold. You know those flash mobs you see all over the internet? Where a bunch of people suddenly run into some place, do something, and then run out? Well this intersection is like that every time the pedestrian lights turn green. It's about five different corners of about five different blocks, and each one has people swarming from it. It's quite a site. The statue was the main attraction though. It's a statue of a dog which is from what I can only assume is a true story. According to the story, there was a good doctor who had this dog, and the two of them were very good companions. Every day, the dog would wait for him at the train station for him to get back from work, and every day they'd greet each other joyfully. One day, however, the doctor had a heart attack at his work and died. The dog waited at the station to no avail. Each day, he would come back, waiting for his master to return. The people living around the area took pity on it and fed it so it wouldn't die or anything. After it finally did though, of old age, they built a statue of the dog at the train station, forever waiting for his master to return. Touching, no? Apparently they're even making a movie about it. Ironically, this movie is an English film, not a Japanese one. Go figure.

Shinjuku: We visited this place only briefly, and as a result I have very little to say on it. What I do want to point out, though, is that Shinjuku Station is supposed to be one of the busiest stations in the world, and it certainly lives up to its name. Imagine seas of people. That is Shinjuku Station. And that was at later hours, not even the busiest time...

The one other thing that I can say about Shinjuku is that, while wandering the shops, we came across a hunting shop. Inside the hunting shop was the most adorable dog ever, probably the friendliest too. We went into the shop, probably mostly because of the dog, and it sort of shyly came up to us for pets. It was so cute, I can't even properly describe it. We asked what its name was, and the shopkeep told us it was named Kuro, which is Japanese for "black." Appropriate, because it sported a coat of black fur. That dog made walking around in Shinjuku worthwhile, I think

Tokyo Tower: Of course we had to visit Tokyo Tower. It looks a fair amount like the Eiffel Tower, except that it's actually bigger, which isn't immediately apparent. We paid 800yen to go up the elevator to the observatory. There was also the option to pay an additional 500yen to go even higher, but we decided that the current height was enough for us. Tokyo really is beautiful at night, from anywhere really, but from Tokyo Tower you can see the buildings glittering like stars, and the cars headlights like comets streaking away on the roads below. It's got a sort of celestial beauty to it all.

Shimbashi: We passed this place often on our train journeys around Tokyo, but if memory serves we only actually went there once: for an Anime Fair. I thought that this was going to be an anime convention, but it turned out to be more of an anime expo. No problem at all. It was incredibly impressive, there were booths everywhere showing off everything from new anime to video games. In fact, me and Zack got dragged into a booth dedicated to some popular soccer anime by a smiling employee. There we played the DS game of said anime, then went over to try this sort of board game of it. We were sort of herded around by the employees. Also, we were easily the oldest non-employees at that booth. There were some cosplayers at the fair, but way more common were people who were dressing up as anime characters for booths (i.e., their job rather than just for fun). Off the top of my head, there was someone dressed as Naruto, Sasuke, Lelouche Lamprouge, the two main characters from that soccer anime, a lot of girls dressed in the uniforms from Full Metal Alchemist, and more, including plenty of anime characters that I simply didn't recognize. The event was held inside the Tokyo Big Site, which is a very famous convention center apparently, especially for anime cons. There was a massive room we were in, and I mean massive, to the point where it had enormous balloons shaped like various anime creatures floating over everything, the same kind you see at Thanksgiving parades, but, of course, they were all divided up by booths and things like that. Many of the booths were dedicated to existing shows, and were giving information on where the show was going to be going, or showing short clips from the new season, or any manner of things. There were also some booths where you could go up to a microphone, watch a short clip from an anime (I don't know if the clips were new, old, or what, since I didn't know any of the animes they did this with), and then after you saw the clip for the first time, they would remove the voices and you would dub it yourself. Of course, there was an audience there to watch you fail, and most people failed...heh. I can only imagine how poorly I would have done, since the whole script was in full Japanese, including kanji. There were also plenty of people selling art and similar things, and there was a section for souvenires from the convention and just anime related stuff, but it was all very overpriced. There was, however, tons of free stuff that employees would just give you. Some of it was catalogues and other stuff like that, but some of it was actually good stuff. I got a manga handed to me, for example, completely for free. Also, there were these special bags that we saw people walking around with, large bags with anime/manga art on them. They were being given out for free, but we never got any, I think that they were all out by the time we got there since we arrived significantly after the fair started.

The anime fair was the last thing we did in Tokyo, really. After that we took the long train ride back to the dorms, arriving Saturday night. And the fun didn't stop there, there was a relatively cheap comic convention (comicon) in Osaka that we were planning on going to the next day. I knew about it because the manga professor had told the class about it. Chen was also going to be coming, he was going with his sexuality class. Why the sexuality class? Because this was, apparently, a doujinshi convention.

I was also going to be meeting one Josh Yager there. Some of you might recognize the name (maybe), but for those of you who don't he was a hilarious guy who was in my Japanese I class at Tulane before he went off on the JET program, a program that he is still currently on, hence why he was in Japan and all. It had been a while since I had last seen him, so it was good to reunite and all. Josh had messaged me saying that he would be in Osaka on the such and such a date, which just so happened to be when I'd be going to the comicon, so I told him he could meet me there. Thing is, he assumed that this would be a full out anime con with cosplayers everywhere, and while there were cosplayers at the convention they were very rare. Josh, then, arrived with a special contact lense changing one of his eyes to a sort of gold color and, I kid you not, a cow suit. Josh, regardless of what other people might say or how awkward you felt, you are awesome, no joke. Before we even got into the comicon, Josh was asked for a photo by an excited Japanese guy, and whenever anyone pointed out his costume he would hold the his udders (yes, the costume had udders) and say "miruku ga oishii?" which can be translated as "is milk delicious?" (the nuance being "do you think milk is delicious?"). Unfortunately I was sick for this trip; I had a mild fever. And since Josh didn't seem to be having a very good time and I was tired, achey, and hot, we left early, me going back with a girl from my seminar house named Megan since I didn't trust myself to navigate back to Makino alone with a fever and I had lost Chen and Karl, the people I had come in with, before even entering the con. After sleeping very well Sunday night, my fever went away and I was fine. Which was good, considering the week after spring break was exam week.

That, by the way, is one of the major reasons I am so late in getting this journal done. Sorry about that guys, I'll try to be more punctual in the future, but I do have an excuse this time at least.

I'll cover my exams quickly since I've already rambled on enough here. The Spoken Japanese and Written Japanese were the only classes that I had exams for this week, the exams for my history and ethics courses being held the week before spring break and manga not having one. These two exams were divided into two parts: both tests had a written part and an oral part (each part was held at a different time), but how the oral part was handled was different for each. For Spoken, we had a conversation type thing, but it was more rigid than I would have liked. There was a computer that had a little figure representing the teacher and one representing you. When the prof was speaking it would have "listen and understand" or something to that effect in a speech bubble near his figure, and when you were expected to speak it would have a speech buble near the one that represented you with, in English, what you were supposed to say. I thought that I did pretty bad on it, since I stumbled over a lot of things and I am pretty sure I said some things wrong. I'm normally not terribly good at speaking, but I think I was significantly worse here than normal, probably because I was nervous. Thankfully, I made 15 out of 20 on it I think, so I didn't do as god awful as I thought I did.

The Written class had us read a passage that as written in full Japanese (i.e. kanji, kana, the works). Thankfully the passage read would be chosen from one of three passages we had already read in class, so I just needed to study those. I think I did fairly good on this one, and in fact I think I got maybe 18 out of 20 on it.

Now we're all done with exams. I'll give you a quick update on what's going on with me now and we'll leave it at that for the next journal:

In ethics class we're reading the Bhagavad Gita, which is an interesting book but I think its wisdom goes over my head sometimes. In the manga class we just finished reading To Terra (or "Terra-e" in Japanese), and it really was a pretty damn good manga, I liked it much better than Appolo's Song. In History I'm starting research for a paper I need to write: a biographical essay that's supposed to be like journal entries from a famous person in Japanese history in the time periods we've been going over. I chose En no Gyoja, who was a slightly eccentric Buddhist priest hermit who would go out into the wilderness to gather nature's energy by, say, meditating under a waterfall or something, then come back and give it to the people through blessings. In non school related news, me and a bunch of friends (Kira, Kim, Chris, and Zack for those of you who have been paying attention to names, as well as two new people: Kraker (his last name, which I know only because he's in, like, three of my classes) and a friend of Zack's that I can't remember the name of) are going to be starting a Dungeons and Dragons 4th edition game. I really wanted to be a player in order to try out the Wizard class of the new edition, but since no one else could really be the DM (everyone else is pretty new to DnD in general actually, only Kira and Chris have prior experience) I'm stuck with that job. It's not so bad, I'm sure I'll have fun with it. Story building is always fun for me. I am a writer, after all. For anyone who might be interested for one reason or another, here is the party lineup I'll be dealing with:

Zack: Halfling Aerialist Rogue
Chris: Windsoul Genasi Aegis of Assault Swordmage
Kira: Half-elf ranged Cleric
Kim: Bladeling Bow using Beastmaster Ranger (with a big cat animal companion which she has flavored as a "dragon cat")
Kraker: Half-elf melee Bard
Guy who I don't remember the name of: undecided, though he'll be filling the controller role for us

Furthermore, one more thing: I've figured out how to take videos with my camera! As a result I have several videos now, which I will be posting onto my Youtube account at some point, Subscribe to me if you want to be notified when I post new vids! Because I probably won't say I'm posting them =P

Here's my Youtube account: http://www.youtube.com/user/MoonlightWolf714 There are already a couple of vids up there, so enjoy

15 March 2009 @ 12:53 am
The Japanese word of the day today is...

面白い This kanji is spelled "omoshiroi" (pronounced "oh-mo-she-ro-ee") . It means "interesting"

Side note: I briefly considered calling this journal "Hiroshima was the bomb!" But thought better of it.

Well, what an interesting weekend I ended up having! I was scheduled to go to Hiroshima with some friends of mine on a class trip, which meant I had to wake up extra early. I set my alarm and everything, but I ended up staying up too late...so when the alarm woke me up I accidentally pressed the "dismiss" button instead of the "snooze..." Thus, I woke up to my cell phone ringing at 7am (the time where I was supposed to be meeting my friends to catch the bus to the station). I rushed out as fast as I possibly could of course, catching the next bus and following as closely behind my friends as I could. The series of events I needed to go on in order to get to Hiroshima, however, were complicated. First I needed to board the bus and get to the train station. No problem there, I could do that on my own. Then, however, I needed to go from that station to a station I had never been in in Osaka, which is where the bullet train (called the "shinkansen" here) left. I managed to find a girl also from Kansai Gaidai who was in a similar situation to me on my way there, and we helped each other get to the correct platform on time.

The shinkansen is more like a plane than a train in its interior. One thing it has that planes don't, however, is the ability to shift the direction its seats face, enabling six seats to face each other. Utilizing this wonderful bit of technology, I manage to sit together with a few KG students I had never seen before as well as the professor of the class who was heading the trip. It was only a few hours journy, and the conversations I had helped it go quickly (even though a very common subject for those conversations was food, bad since I hadn't had anything to eat that day and was pretty hungry because of it). The final stop came quickly enough, however, and we all filed out and got together with our respective groups. Mine consisted of Jasmin, Stephanie, Larry, and a girl I had met once before who was Jasmin's suitemate: Mariska. The first thing we did was find the hostel that most of us (not Larry) would be staying at and check in. After that, we went to the designated meeting place for the atomic bomb survivor talk, which was the basement of the Hiroshima museum. The talk was a fairly touching one, and the woman who gave the speech seemed to be very sweet and kind, particularly after the speech when people came up to her to ask questions or whatnot. The speech itself focused on not just the day of the bombing but the time after it. The government never did anything to help the bomb victims, so they all had to fend for themselves. And on top of that, after the incident she was treated with fear because of the radiation she had endured. Her English was not so good, and sometimes it was difficult to tell what she was saying, but for the most part everything was understandable.

After the talk, me and my friends checked out the small basement area of the museum for a time before going up to the bottom floor. Me and Larry were each very hungry, so we decided to go grab something to eat while everyone else went to the museum, then meet up with them later. Unfortunately, we took too long finding a place to eat and actually eating there, so after we ate we needed to go to the train station so that Larry could catch the shinkansen home (he was leaving earlier than the rest of us) which meant that I couldn't go see the rest of the Hiroshima museum. We got there in time for Larry to leave and I hung around the station waiting for my friends to catch up. There was a multi floored mall attached to the station, so I decided to check it out while I waited. Unfortunately the mall was clearly geared towards women since every shop if it was either a restaurant or a very girly shop, usually selling clothing, jewelry, or random trinkets, so with each floor I ascended I felt more and more awkward...

Finally my friends arrived. They were all hungry, so we decided to eat somewhere. One of them mentioned they were craving pizza, and since I had just perused the entirety of the train station mall I could tell them that there was a place there that had pizza in their display window. So we went there. Everyone got pizza but me; I got an omelet since it was cheap and, while I wasn't too hungry at the time, I knew that I would be hungry later if I didn't eat now. Omlets are done differently in Japan, as is pizza.

After finishing up our meal there, the girls wanted to shop for a bit. I indulged them, and it was actually more fun than I expected it to be. Jasmin got a cute little demon pillow for 500yen, Mariska got a watch that looked like it was from the sterile environment of a scifi spaceship, and Stephanie got a little pineapple-shaped plate. After the shopping, we went back to the hostel to crash for the night. We had to book two separate rooms: two of us (Jasmin and Mariska) got a private room (more expensive) while the remaining two (me and Stephanie) got a dorm room, which had a total of four beds in it. The other two beds turned out to be occupied by two Australian guys (jeeze, there are so many Australians in Japan) who were traveling together on vacation. The beds were bunk futons, by the way. It was very nice actually.

We woke up bright and early the next day, since this was the day we would be visiting Miyajima. We grabbed some quick breakfast at a local bakery/restaurant similar to La Madeline's (if you're familiar with that place), then got to a port and traveled to Miyajima by ferry, which was a pleasant, if a little cold, ride. When we got there there was one major thing that we noticed: deer! There were deer everywhere in the city, just wandering around! They payed no mind at all to people, not even caring if you went up ant pet them. They were the most nonchalant deer I've ever seen, and I found them adorable.

We soon made our way down to the outdoor temple, from which we could get a nice view of a large, lone torii constructed out in the water. We were in luck when we got there, for there were two separate parties getting their traditional Japanese style wedding photos done there. All of the garments worn were so pretty; the guys all wore simple male kimonos, the bridesmaids wore beautiful floral print kimonos (each one different), and the bride herself wore a white kimono that had this beautiful simplistic elegance to it. It really was an experience.

We didn't stay at the temple long, resolving to come back later when the tide came in in order to get a better spectacle. We then went to what the main attraction for us at this island was to be: climbing to the top of the mountain there. There were stairs there of course, we didn't have to actually grapple up the side of the mountain, but still, it was a grueling climb. It just kept on going up and up and up and up, and just when you thought it might be slowing down it went up some more! Eventually we did make it to the top, however, and there was certainly triumph that came with that, not to mention a breathtaking view. After many photographs, we went to catch the cable car down to the bottom of the mountain. On our way to the cable car (which, by the way, involved more stairs, hooray) we saw (guess what?) MONKEYS! Yes, monkeys. Real live ones. And we could get quite close to them too, within two feet at least. They, like the deer, payed humans no mind, and while we were waiting for the cable car they'd even scurry around us on the paved walkway in order to get to other trees.

After we got down to the bottom of the mountain, we took a free bus back to the city itself. Let me tell you, that was the scariest time I've ever had on a bus. The driver wasn't reckless or anything, it's just that the terrain was so hazardous, or seemed as much. Remember how I said Japanese streets were narrow? Well this was no exception. And it was a dirt road with, basically, a cliff on one side. It seemed barely big enough to hold the bus, and there were some turns that were incredibly sharp and that had us driving in a direction that was, like, 90-180 degrees different than the one we had been in before. I was happy to get out of that bus. Even moreso when I noticed that the sun was setting. I don't think I've ever seen a more beautiful sunset than the one at Miyajima. As the sun disappeared behind the distant mountains, its last rays stretched out, long and orange, to the point where you could almost hear that sun, heavy with fatigue, yawning before pulling those earthy covers up over itself. Furthermore, the torii gate was breathtaking as the daylight ebbed. They had spotlights on it in such a way that you couldn't quite tell where the light was coming from at first glace, making it look as though the torii itself was glowing, and it made its reflection in the water that much easier to see as well. There were also stone lanterns (filled with electric lights rather than candles, but good all the same) which lined the edges of the water, reflecting their own lights like will-o'-the-wisps in the dark water, and across that water you could see the tiny glistening lights of Hiroshima flickering like stars in the night sky. Truly, it was a place of beauty.

We left for Hiroshima soon after that, hoping to find somewhere to eat. We ended up returning to the same place we had eaten before, the one where everyone else had gotten pizza. I was the outlier this time too, buying some pasta (which was fantastic, by the way). After our meal, we went to a local McDonalds to wait until our night buses got there. McDonalds is a curious thing here in Japan; apparently it is trying to push itself as something other than a fast food restaurant, something more like a trendy cafe. That was the environment this one's insides were like, and that's what people have told me here. I suppose it shouldn't be much of a surprise that the fast food restaurants here are doing different things. In fact, KFC had something even more interesting with regard to them: it seems that KFC advertisements suggest that during Christmas, Americans go out to eat at KFC. Well, I don't know anyone who has that annual tradition, but many Japanese think that that's the case, and I've heard several stories from other people here of Japanese being shocked to learn that Americans don't eat KFC during Christmas.

In any case, we all either did homework, read, or talked while we waited for the buses. Stephanie went off first, she was on a separate bus than us, but it wasn't long before we boarded ours. Night buses are an interesting mode of travel. I find them very comfortable. It wasn't difficult for me to sleep in them (though it would have been easier if they had supplied a pillow), though it was a little hot in there and I found myself strongly wishing I had a drink. There were curtains around the windows and curtains that separated the driver (and windshield) from the rest of the bus, so as to give everyone a nice peaceful darkness to sleep in, and I managed to catch some shuteye on the ride. We reached our destination at 5am Monday morning. Unfortunately, that destination was Kyoto station; we still needed to take a train and a bus to get back to the dorms. Groggy as I was, those rides were surreal. I eventually got back to my dorm at 7am Monday morning...and I had to get up at 9:30am in order to get to class at 11am (remember, it's a long walk from the dorm to campus, and I need to eat breakfast and everything as well). I managed to be pretty awake for class, and thankfully it was my only class of the day, which allowed me to shuffle home and catch up on sleep.

The rest of my week was spent preparing for a couple exams as well as a separate test. One of the exams, the ethics one, was one of the most interesting ones I'd ever taken. It came in two parts. The first part listed all of the readings we had to do for the class, and asked us to circle "Skipped it," "Skimmed it," "Read it," or "Devoured it" for each one. After we turned that sheet in, he gave us a second one. The first question on this sheet was "did you lie on the first part of this test?" If you did, you got four philosophical questions to answer in which you needed to cite some of the people we'd read. If you didn't, you got four different questions that followed a similar pattern. For a test that I didn't know what to expect on, it surprised and pleased me. This would be yet more kudos to the professor.

Now that week is done and spring break is upon us. I will be going to Tokyo with Chen and Zack (and possibly meeting up with Chris while we're there) on Monday, and getting back on Saturday. I absolutely know that I will have a blast, and I can't wait for it. This also means, however, that I won't be dropping another journal for at least another five or six days (surprise surprise). Look forward to it when I do, however, because Tokyo is going to be quite an experience, I can feel it!
06 March 2009 @ 11:46 pm
The Japanese word of the day today is...

留学生 This word is spelled "ryuugakusei" and pronounced "ryoo-gaku-say," it means "foreign exchange student"

Alright everyone, so I've been wanting to do a journal that's just a review of all of my classes; their ups and downs, what we're doing in the, how they're going, etc. I decided that now would be the best time to do it since this weekend is going to be spent at Hiroshima with some friends of mine, so I want to be able to devote a journal to that when I get back without having to have this one hanging over my head. So then, without further ado...

Spoken Japanese: It seems logical to start with this one, since it's the only mandatory class we have to take and it's also the reason I'm here really. The class is progressing very well, I feel like I'm learning the material. It helps that at this stage it seems like we're mostly just learning ways to say things that are done simply by playing around with verb forms and adding things on to the end of the sentence. Some examples of things we've learned in this manner are saying things like "I want to [x]" or "I need to [x]" or "you should [x]" or things of that nature. Though we also just learned a new form for verbs: the potential form (that is to say, saying things like "I could [x]"). It's fairly confusing, especially since it entails converting the verb into the potential form, and then, in order to use it properly in a sentence, converting it to a different form after that.

The professor is still good, he seems to be a nice guy. Animated too. His classes are usually pretty fun, and he keeps the students involved in the class by calling on them, or playing various little games. HE also often has us converse with each other with recently learned verb forms and vocabulary, which is helpful. Speaking Japanese is getting easier for me, but I still stumble through it a lot. My Japanese is very halting. I think that I just need to start speaking it more often. From what I've been told, the Japanese students will be returning after spring break (they're on extended vacation now, as par the Japanese school year), and then I might be able to get some more chances.

Reading and Writing Japanese: This class is an informative one, and I like the teacher as a person. Her lectures can be somewhat dry, but in general they keep my attention at least. They mostly consist of handouts being given out, activities being worked on (which can include doing worksheets, reading passages with kanji in them aloud, and/or conversing with other students in Japanese using prewritten sentances with newly learned kanji written in them), though we also do some powerpoint slides with kanji on them that involves her going around the room and asking for the pronunciation of kanji as they would appear in a sentence (i.e. a single kanji, a single kanji with some kana after it, multiple kanji, multiple kanji with kana, etc. etc.). The fact is, I like learning kanji, so I have my own incentive to doing the work for the class anyway. I will say that the textbook we use ("Genki") is way better, at least with respect to kanji, than my previous textbook ("Nakama"), and I'm glad we're using it. It progresses somewhat quickly, but that's exactly what I want. Nakama was a slow textbook, which is good for learning the basics (to a degree at least) but now that I've got those down I want to cram as much Japanese into my head as I can while I'm here in Japan.

Manga: Alright, so this class is actually sort of disappointing. Don't get me wrong, I like it and it's interesting (And will certainly be an easy grade), I mean it's difficult to dislike a class on manga, but it certainly has its faults. Every single class so far has been the professor showing slide after slide of manga and explaining little things about them. A lot of the time this is fairly interesting, but there are several problems. Firstly, he has a monotonous voice. He doesn't really drone, par se, because he does have these interesting little nuances with his speech, but he certainly doesn't have the kind of voice that draws you in and gets you interested. Second, the lights are always off in the room, since he's using the projector. This combined with the fact that the heat is on so the room is always nice and warm, combined further still with the fact that this class is in the very last time block of the day (4:00pm - 5:20pm) makes it very, very easy to nod off in the class. Finally, there's the fact that the way the class is structured most of the stuff he says in the lecture as well as most of the readings we are supposed to do are largely irrelevant. The grade for this class is based on four written papers. We've had one so far, and the assignment was to get a weekly or manga magazine (in Japan they will have magazines that come out monthly or weekly that are usually pretty cheap with several single installments of ongoing manga inside of them) and write a three page analysis on the cover of it (which is usually very busy, cluttered, and designed to be eye catching). Some of the things he said in class pertained to this paper, but not everything, and the things that he said that didn't pertain to it are almost definitely never going to be useful as far as our class grade goes, and probably with regard to other things as well. Most of this is just artist names (which he mentions a lot) or various pictures he shows us merely so that he can talk about them. Furthermore, the readings we have to do for the class seem to have almost no benafit. They're on the same topic, sure, and some of them are really interesting, but they aren't even really what he's talking about in the class, and I doubt they'll pertain to any of our papers, except, perhaps, for the manga themselves. I was actually fairly disappointed with the class today, since today is the day that we were supposed to have one of our manga, Apollo's Song, read by, so I assumed we would be having a class discussion on it, but instead we looked at more slides, mostly slides by the guy who made Apollo's Song in the first place, many of which were from a manga the artist had written about his own life and how he got into manga in the first place. The whole thing would probably have been more interesting if I had liked the artist's drawing style, but it was just too cartoony and cute for me. For those of you who are familiar with the anime/manga Mighty Atom (called "Astro Boy" when it was brought to the United States), that is the same guy who did Apollo's song, and that is the art style I'm talking about.

Now don't get me wrong, the professor certainly knows his stuff. He's probably studied manga for a long time, and he seems to understand it through and through. The problem is that he just talks and talks and talks about it, and most of the information he gives us seems irrlelvant. He asks for the opinions of the class occasionally, but they are way too few and far between, to the point where it's relatively common for him to go through an entire class period without doing so. Many of my friends in the class don't really like it all that much, and one of them, Kira (if you remember me mentioning her), called it the most boring class she'd ever had. It really is too bad, because with a more active prof the class would just have been so much better.

There's another thing that has managed to spin off from this class: I've found a couple of Japanese friends from it. Their names are Ayaka and Youko (that last one is pronounced "yooh-ko"). I've seen them around a lot, and have eaten with the on a few occasions. They're fun to talk to, though I haven't been speaking in Japanese with them yet. I'll need to try to do so at some point. Both of them have pretty good English, though they say it's difficult to learn, hehe. Youko has told me that one of the most difficult things she finds with English is the plural/singular stuff, since in Japan they don't really distinguish much between many things and one thing. She also said that she's looked on Engrish sites in order to see if she could tell what was wrong with the English on some of the things, and for a few of them she can tell but for others she says she can't. So I offered to tell her what was wrong with them if she was to bring them to me sometime. So hopefully she'll do that, cuz I like seeing Engrish anyways, and would be glad to help her with her English.

Intro to Japanese History: If I was back at Tulane, this would probably be one of my most interesting classes. As it stands now, however, with me taking things like Japanese and Manga, it is easily my least favorite class. It's sort of boring (although it manages to hold my attention surprisingly well) and confusing, especially since many of the names seem to sound the same and most of what I'm learning is completely 100% new to me. I find it kind of difficult to take notes in the class since I'm not entirely sure what of the multitude of information he gives us will be important in the long run. He gave us sheets with keywords we should know on them, but it's difficult to keep all of them in mind when listening to the lecture. I'm probably going to end up relying on my friends in the class to study with (and I have a fair amount of them, a few of which are in my seminar house) and perhaps looking things up on the internet. There's also a paper due for the class next month that I should probably start thinking about...

Still, for all its faults the class is still interesting. Learning about Asian history is a breath of fresh air from all of the American centered history lessons I've been taking my whole life, and it certainly is cool to see how the Japanese empire was shaped. Besides, the stuff we've learned so far has contained plenty of political intrigue, assassinations, Buddhist influences, and even a Rasputen like character. So it isn't all dusty old tomes and ancient laws and stuff.

Ethics East and West: I purposefully saved this one for last because it is still probably my favorite class. I like the professor more and more with each new day. I even see him in the halls and stuff, and when I do he'll always at least wave to me if he notices me if not downright start conversing with me. Most of the time I'm on my way to do something though (like attend a class or do some work in the language lab) so I can't really talk, but I'd like to at some time, definitely.

So far we've had two written assignments, both short papers. The first, I think I may have already mentioned in a previous journal, was a list of ethical questions which we were to answer with our own views. That one was given to us on the first day, and apparently one of our last assignments will be to review our answers of the various questions and choose one to either state why you changed your opinion with regard to it based on the material you've learned in class or to state why the material learned in class has strengthened that opinion (why you still hold onto it). The second was a short (1-2 pages) paper relating two of our readings to each other. The readings, by the way, are plentiful and interesting. So far we've read some of the Bible, some Plato, some information on Islam, some poetry by Rumi (well known in Islam, his poems are really really good fyi), some Kant, and, more recently, some Mill (namely his stuff on Utilitarianism). The class has had plenty of wise words in it, and it's made me think, a whole lot in fact, about some issues that I've previously taken for granted, so to speak. It's also had some stuff in the discussions that's surprised me. For example: one class session we spent entirely on the religion of Islam. And the way the professor handled that session was to let all of the muslim students in the class (there were about five or six of them) lead the discussion. Most of them were more moderate Muslims, as in, they didn't follow the teachings and restrictions to the letter. There were varying levels of faith in Islam present in the Muslims in the class. The lowest level was a girl who was not a practicing Muslim (but who had been raised that way and who had Muslim parents), then came the middle people who tended to follow the rules of the religion but didn't let it terribly inconvenience them (they didn't, for example, do their five prayers in Japan because it was too difficult for them to do so), then, at the highest, there was another girl who was a self described fundamentalist. Now, those of you who know me well, or heck some of you who just now me a little, should know that I absolutely loathe fundamentalists. I kept myself civil of course, but it was something of a shock to have one right there in class. Anyway, the class went on, and basically consisted of people asking the Muslims questions about their religion. I kept quiet, mostly because I didn't think that I could trust myself to not unintentionally insult their religion. Religion is a touchy subject after all, and questioning it, as I tend to do, can lead to anger. Near the end of the class, however, I decided to ask a question of them. I asked, basically, whether they thought that people who weren't Muslim would be going to hell when they died merely by virtue of them not being of the same religion. Guess who said yes. Go on, guess.


It wasn't the fundamentalist. It was the most liberal of them actually, the one who was a non practicing Muslim. Or, rather, she said that her mother believed that. Wanna know who was the one who said no? The one who said that people who weren't Muslim could get into heaven? Well you've probably caught on by now. Yea, it was the fundie. She sited stories from their holy texts that told of people who hadn't been Muslim who got into heaven after they died.

Maybe it's just the fact that she's female, but this fundamentalist is not the kind of thing I expected at all. Fundies, in my experience, are Bible (or holy book of choice) thumping people who use the threat of eternal damnation to try and convert people into their rigid and archaic (not to mention hurtful and progress hampering) ways. This one, on the other hand, was timid and self conscious. She didn't try to tell anyone thath they would burn in hell or anything, nor did she try to appear superior in any way to us, another trait I've seen in fundies ("I alone know God's will, so heed my words!" and all that). Perhaps I've had things wrong about them. On the other hand, my experience in the vast majority still points to them being everything I've mentioned above. I won't be changing my mind until I see more examples of this one's behavior.

Well that's it for classes, though I do have a small bit of other information to dispense: my Spring Break plans. Originally me and some friends were planning on going to Hokkaido and making our way down to Tokyo, but we've since decided that that would be too time consuming and expensive. As of now the plan is for us to spend most of our time in Tokyo, though we will probably be visiting at least one other place as well (though we haven't decided where yet).

Well, that's that, my next journal will have information on the Bullet Train (which I'm going to be taking to Hiroshima) as well as Hiroshima itself. So stay tuned!
01 March 2009 @ 02:08 pm
The Japanese word of the day today is...

趣味 This is written "Shumi" and is pronounced "Shoo-me," it means Festival.

Alright, so it's been a while since I posted one of these, sorry guys. Fact is, school has actually been picking up so I've had less time. But I'm still gonna try to keep updating this as regularly as I can, never fear!

So, to begin, last weekend was a fun one. I had originally meant to go on a trip with my Japanese history class to Nara, but then in my Manga class I heard about another thing that I thought would be more fun, and some of my friends wanted to go to it too so I wouldn't be fairly alone as I would on the Nara trip (though there were some of my friends in the Japanese history class, I knew some of them weren't going on the trip and wasn't sure if the others were or not). So instead of taking a trip to Nara (which I intend to do later anyway) I went to Kyoto again to a flea market festival kind of thing. Zack, Chen, and Chris all expressed their desire to go, but since the festival was pretty early (it started at I think 9am and ended at about 2-3pm) Chen and Chris overslept, leaving me and Zack to go alone. It was still plenty of fun though. IT was actually almost nonstalgic, since it reminded me of some places in the French Quarter where people had their wares laid out for sale. It was different then that in a whole lot of ways, however. For one thing, the stuff on sale tended to be either higher quality than the average in the French Quarter or antique, and for another there were food stalls everywhere selling takoyaki, okonomiyaki, yakisoba, the works. I was looking for stuff to buy as souvenires or gifts, but unfortunately everything that was good was also too expensive for me. The only stuff I bought there was food and drink: some okonomiyaki, some yakisoba, and a drink that I can't remember the name of, but which had a marble in the bottle, fwee! It was also the cheapest stuff they had for sale; 200yen.

The festival itself was inside of the walls of a large temple complex thing, and while we were there we visited a few of the Buddhist shrines around the area, which was interesting. There were monks performing rites there as well, some chanting, some stoking fires, one of them wearing a cardboard money collection box around his neck. When the festival was nearing its close, we also went to visit the To-ji temple Gojyunoto, which was a five story Buddhist temple. We were only allowed on the first floor though. We were taken around by a tour guide who spoke only in Japanese, so we didn't get much from his speaking, and the first floor of the temple was small, maybe the size of our dining room at home but a little wider, and it had a pillar and statues and stuff in the center of it, so we circled around it. Photography was also forbidden in it so I took no pictures...although there was a Japanese guy that snuck a photo or two while the guide wasn't looking, hehe.

Outside of the temple was this beautiful quiet little area with some trees that were just beginning to bloom and a stepping stone path through a lake into a tiny quiet island in the middle of it. It seemed like an aazing place to meditate, it you're into that kind of stuff.

After the temple, we went back to the train station, stopping at a fairly standard resteraunt on the way to eat. A thing about Japanese resteraunts, by the way: most resteraunts I've been to have a little button at each table. If you push the button, your waiter/waitress comes to you to see what you want. So no more waiting until they see you're ready to order, or sitting around wishing your glass of water was refilled, just push the button when you're ready! That's not to say they don't come around periodically to refill your glass, or that they won't notice you sitting down with the menues closed and come over to see if you're ready or not, they just have a far ore efficient system to bypass that. There are restaurants that don't have that, like Obaasan's, which I mentioned in an earlier journal, but the ones that don't are usually very small, so you'll always be seeing your waiter/waitress anyways and it isn't a problem. And when I say small, I mean, like, a single room. Sometimes less than that. I've seen a restaurant that was just a bar squeezed up against the wall.

It was this weekend (I believe) that we started watching Firefly. Now, those of you familiar with the show know about it, but for those who don't it's an absolutely amazing show that can be classified as a "scifi western" (though I don't much like westerns, and I absolutely love this show, so don't let the "Western" aspect throw you off any). The writing is just genius for the show, and each character is really in depth and perfectly portrayed by their respective actor/actress. In any case, Chris had the full set of Firefly episodes on DVD (the show is now over because Fox cancelled them. and when Fox cancels a show you know that show must be good), so we started watching them because Zack and Chen hadn't seen any of them, I haven't seen all of them, and he and his roomate wanted to watch them again. We didn't get past where I had stopped watching, and still haven't, but I'm going to try and get him to show the rest of the episodes tonight or something.

Anyway, skipping ahead to next (this) weekend because nothing much of note happened during the weekdays, it was an Australian friend of mine's birthday yesterday, and we had a party for her on Friday since she was going to the onsen (Japanese hot springs) on Saturday. The party was to be held in her suite. See, she lives in seminar house three, which is the most expensive of them all to live in because a certain amount of rooms (can't remember the exact number...4? 6?) are linked to a common living area which has a kitchen, TV, VCR, DVD player, showers, sinks, bathrooms, etc. Seminar house 3 is the only one to have that, all the other dorms are cheaper by 30,000yen and don't have the common area. This was to be my first time being checked in as a guest in another seminar house as well. Now, just to reiterate something that I think I've already said in a previous journal: the seminar houses are each run by a different husband/wife couple, who we are told to call otousan and okaasan ("father" and "mother" respectively in Japanese). Otousan and okaasan in seminar house 4 are fairly approachable and lenient, but in seminar house three...otousan and okaasan there are scary o.o. They're very strict, and they have more rules there than any of the other seminar houses, ones that they made up themselves for many of them. For example: guests are not allowed to eat in seminar house three. We violated that rule of course, but honestly, wtf? Why do they have a rule like that? When Jasmin (the birthday girl) checked us in, otousan asked us if it was our first time in seminar house three. When we said yes, he imediately whipped out a laminated piece of yellow paper with all of the rules on it and was like "read this." And he just, like, stared as us as we read it. He had a bad vibe, it was sorta creepy.

In any case, we went up to Jasmin's suite's common room, which she shared with people who had become her friends. Some of them I knew, but others I was introduced to for the first time. The party was to be a spagetti party: that is to say, they were making spagetti and spagetti sauce and stuff for everyone to eat. Me and Chen contributed some stuff that we had bought at the grocery store before coming. I got soe udon noodles and he got some ramen (we thought it would be amusing to eat spagetti/ramen/udon with tomato sauce), though those weren't used. I also got two packages of what I thought were meat cutlets but what eneded up being shake-and-bake powder, and Chen brought some extra tomato sauce. While we were chatting and having a good time and stuff, there were a couple people watching TV as well, a Japanese samurai drama. Or I think it was about assassins actually. It seemed pretty cool, and I could understand some of what they were saying too.

Otousan and Okaasan came into the room a few times, I'm not sure if it was to check on us or because they had been called there, because apparently someone was showing them a problem they were having with something in their room. One of the RAs also dropped by to check on us. All of the RAs, including the ones in sem 3, seem very friendly, but we've heard that they report everything back to otousan and okaasan, so we abided by the rules to the letter while she was there. Once she left, however, the guests (myself included of course) dug in to some of the spagetti. It was pretty good, especially since I hadn't had spagetti and tomato sauce for, what, has it been a month already? Later, we had some cake, which was homemade by Jasmin's roomate Stoja, who's from Austria and is very kind. It was delicious, it was sort of a shortcake I think, with fruits and whipped cream and stuff on it, plus little cookies on which she had used icing to spell out "Happy Birthday Jasmin!" There were two cakes made, actually (the portions coming out to be about one cake in America, since the two cakes were smallish) and each one had one candle on it, since it was Jasmin's 20th birthday (which is, by the way, a super big deal in Japan). Although it's tradition for the one who's birthday it was to make the first cut into the cake, Jasmin didn't want to because apparently in Australia the superstician is that if you tuch the bottom of the plate that the cake is on while cutting it then your wish won't come true, so Larry cut it for her instead.

After eating the cake it was about time for us to go, since it was almost 10pm and that was the latest guests could stay (and we certainly didn't want to cross otousan and okaasan on the matter). So we said our goodbys and were brought down to sign out by Jasmin. When we returned to the dorm, we found some of our friends watching Little Miss Sunshine in the lounge. I stayed to see the rest of it, but Chen, who had never seen it before, went back to the room instead. That movie is even better the second time around.

The next day was rather bland, although we ended up breaking another seminar house rule: no booze allowed in the seminar house. What bad gaijin we are. Me, Chen, and Zack went to Frescos, which is a 24 hour grocery nearby, and each picked out a different drink to try. I got some sweet wine, Chen got something called "Half Moon" mainly because of the way the bottle looked and felt, and Zack got something called "Japanzch Zachi" or something like that, it was some odd Germanified English. He got it mostly because of the hilarious engrish on it, as well as the fact that it had "Zach" on it. We all let each other try a little bit of ours just to see how it tasted. Mine tasted, unsurprisingly, like sweetened wine (which is a flavor I like, by the way), wheras Zack's tasted like a sort of weaker vodka, and Chens's was the best out of them, it tasted sour! Like, lemon juice or something! I dunno, that's great in my book. We got a little tipsy (but certainly not completely wasted) and played a free for all (melee) game of starcraft with a couple other people. Surprisingly, I managed to win! This is even more surprising when you consider that I eliminated Chen early and, after that, everyone allied against me for some reason. And I managed to wipe out two of them and drive the last one to quit (so I guess I eliminated every single player in that game o.o). To be fair, they certainly weren't on par with me skill wise, but still, I was drunk in a 3v1 game where 2 of the other players were not drunk and one of those two was halway decent, so I think I did pretty good.

Today me, Chen, and Zack are planning on going to a conveyor belt sushi place for dinner. We might try to get Chris and Emma to tag along if we can (Emma, by the way, was in homestay but her host mother was sick and felt that she was not doing an adequate job as a host, so Emma was transfered to the dorms and now resides on me and Chen's floor in seminar house 4). More on that in the next journal!
20 February 2009 @ 12:39 am
The Japanese word of the day today is...

毎日: This is written "mainichi" (pronounced "ma-ee-nee-chee"), it means "every day"

So I've been here almost a month now, and things are starting to fall into a routine. I'm still super excited to be here, but I'm getting used to living in Japan as well. My daily activities are no longer new and adventurous, they're routine. That isn't to say, however, that I don't still do new and adventurous things. Just going to Hirakata-shi, a place that I don't go too all the time but that is still relatively nearby, is still an adventure as far as I'm concerned. And in fact last weekend me and Chen tried to walk there (it's a place one usually takes the bus to get to, due to the distance) we managed to fail by trying to take a "shortcut."

It wasn't a complete waste, of course. We managed to get a pretty good idea of what was in the area we managed to get to at least. It was more city-ey rather than, like, houses and stuff, which is what it's like closer to the dorm. There were a lot of shops around there, restaurants, groceries, supermarkets, etc. We actually stopped to eat at this ramen restaurant that seemed like it was a combination of Western restaurants and Eastern ramen stands. It was a massive building (by Japanese standards anyways) whereas ramen stands in Japan are typically very small: little more than a bar and a kitchen. Many of them don't even have doors, just awnings and flaps. The one we ate at had automatic sliding doors, a pretty big set of them, and hanging over them were the traditional flaps for a ramen shop, except they were also incredibly big.

The ramen we ate there was delicious. It was more pricy than the ramen at the school cafeteria, but it was a bigger portion and it contained more meat. It was quite salty, but that's really my only complaint, it was a very satisfying meal, particularly since I was starving at the time.

That was on Sunday, so we had some classes after that. On Monday I only have one class: Spoken Japanese, which is held every weekday. When I was walking to class, I met up with Kim (you may remember me mentioning her before, the genki Canadian). We both had class at the same time, so we travelled to campus together. She mentioned she was volunteering at a school for disabled kids here in Japan on Mondays. I had wanted to get involved with some of the schools around here if I could, partly because I'm sure it would look good on a JET application and partly because I thought I would actually like it, so when she suggested I tag along I accepted.

Anyways, when I got to my class I saw written on the board that we had a vocab quiz today. Well awesome, I hadn't checked my schedule so I didn't know that. With maybe ten minutes until class started I whipped out the vocab sheet and tried to cram as much of it in as I possibly could in the short amount of time. Surprisingly, I only missed two or three out of ten, and it was almost all words I hadn't seen before too. See kids? Cramming is a useful skill!

After class I went to meet Kim to go to the school to volunteer. There were a few other people coming as well: Cassie, an Australian who I knew, and Jessie, Kim's roomate (from Texas) who I had met once before. Cassie had volunteered here before but it was Jessie's first time, like me. We took the bus to Hirakata-shi station and the train from there to...somewhere, I've forgotten. We met up with a Japanese girl about our age who was there to help us get to the school. She talked with us on the way there, her English was pretty good too, certainly better than my Japanese. Riding the trains in Japan is always cool, you get to see the landscape of Japan rushing by through the windows. It certainly has its charm.

Soon we arrived at the station which was our destination. After departing, our guide called one of the teachers at the school to tell them we were here so that they could come pick us up in their car. She told us, however, that they didn't have enough room for all of us (partly because Kim is wheelchair bound, which makes it tougher to transport her by car) so one of us would have to walk with her to the school. I volunteered, I don't mind walking anymore really, and Jessie came along as well, she said she could use the exercise. We got to see more of the surrounding area this way too, which I liked. It was both similar and different to what I was used to with regard to Japanese residential district: it was different from America in all the same ways, but it was also different from the residential areas I was used to here. I am really liking all of these new experiences.

We got there some time after Kim and Cassie did, and met one of the professors who was just getting ready to leave. He seemed to be a very nice man, I expect that most people who would work at a school for the disabled would be. We were brought inside shortly after (taking our shoes off at the entrance and replacing them with slippers they had for guests, slippers which didn't even nearly fit me I might add) and were brought to a conference room where they brought us green tea (tea is everywhere in Japan by the way) and told us what the kids were to be learning today in their English lessons (which is what we were there to help out with). It was fruits and vegetables mainly. They also gave me and Jessie, since it was our first time, gifts. We got a couple of brochures and stuff about the school (all in Japanese, so not much I could comprehend at least, Jessie is in a much higher level of Japanese than me though so maybe she could decipher them) and, randomly, clothespins. I know it sounds weird, but this was actually a good gift; it was something that I was going to have to buy anyway because the driers at the dorms do not work, not to mention they and the washers are pretty costly (200yen for the washer 100 for the dryer), so most dorm residents just run a clothesline through their room to hang their clothes on and crank up the heat when they leave for class. But I'm getting off topic.

We were then brought out to meet the students we were to be working with. We (thankfully) had to remove our slippers in order to go onto the carpeted area that we would be interacting with them on. Almost all of them were in wheelchairs, most were physically deformed, and I think that all of them were mentally handicapped as well (though with a few of them it was possible they were just shy). We started with introductions: they introduced themselves in English while we did so in Japanese. Then they asked us some questions in English (simple ones like "What sports do you like?" Or "what's your favorite food?"). Most of them also had what seemed to be a personal assistant: a teacher who knelt beside them and encouraged them or helped them out, and there was also a teacher who led the class. Also, everyone had nametags with their names written in English (well, I use the term "nametag" loosely: they were strips of white colored tape writtenon with permanent marker) while we got nametags (the same kind) with our names written in katakana. After the questions, they mixed us up into the group so that each one of us had a student on either side of us, and they brought out some fruit and vegetables. They asked the students how they were said in English. Some of the time the students would answer correctly, other times none of them would know, but in that case one of them would prod one of us and ask, in English, "what is that?" to which we would respond in English. The hilarious thing is that some of the things were fruits or vegetables that were probably native to Japan, because maybe one of the four of us would know what it was. Though we'd consult with each other across the collection of tables we were sitting at so that everyone could give the answer. There was even one thing that none of us knew...I thought it was a leek, but they showed a leek later on, so it couldn't have been.

After that, they brought out some flashcards and scattered them on the table. The game then was for the students to ask us what the cards were in English. A few of the cards were things we had just gone over, but many of them were animals or everyday objects. After that the class was over. We said our goodbyes and were brought into the conference room again, where we had a lengthly discussion with what might have been the principle of the school, or maybe it was just another teacher. The discussion was held entirely in Japanese, and as the person with the lowest level of Japanese in the room I stumbled a lot, and sometimes had to ask my friends to translate for me. Still, it was satisfying when I managed to actually say something that contributed to the conversation.

After being thanked profusely, we left. Our guide walked with me an Jessie again while Kim and Cassie took the car. The best thing about volunteering here was how much everyone seemed to appreciate it, both the teachers and the students themselves. I'll be honest, I'd prefer to work with more mentally capable students, but this certainly wasn't a bad experience as well. These children might have been handicapped, but they had their own personalities and everything as well. One of them had one of the brightest most heartfelt smiles I've seen, in fact. I'm going to be doing this again next Monday.

Well, more stuff has happened since then but it seems I'll need to play catchup with it since it's currently 2am. I'll try to post again tomorrow but I make no promises. Until my next journal then!

12 February 2009 @ 11:20 am

Today's Japanse word of the day is...

病気: This word is pronounced byouki (byo-kee), and it means "sickness."

Well guys, I suppose it was only a matter of time before I got sick in Japan, and perhaps it was best that it happened early on. Yea, I came down with some 24 hour illness, no biggy really. And it was, I suppose, at both the best and worst time that I had it. I was actually feeling it most on Tuesday, which was hell for me, cuz that's my busiest day, nonstop clases from 11am to 3:50pm. Add to that a burning fever, a sore throat, and a desire for nothing more than to be asleep in the warm, comfy futon in my room and you've got yourself an unhappy day. Add to that the fact that it was a chilly day, one that I needed to walk for 30 minutes in in order to get back to the dorm, and it becomes even worse. I was shivvering like an epileptic the whole way home. Once I got back to the dorm, I found my roomate already there, asleep, with all the lights off. He was feeling ill too. He's probably where I caught it from in fact. After a groggy checkng of email (I'm addicted to email in the same way crackheads are addicted to crack) I fell into a sleepless slumber. The reason why this was both the best and the worst time for me to get sick is because the next day was a holiday, so no classes. IT also meant that all my friends were going out to Kyoto where there was to be a festival, though, and since I was recovering from sickness I couldn't wake up in time to go. My roommate did though, so I was all alone in my dorm room. It wasn't so bad, but it does mean that I have very little experiences to relate to all of you. So instead, I will be using this journal to coment on some of the things that I noticed about Japan that are different from America. Many of these are things that I merely forgot to mention in previous journals. I might do another one in the future to catch even more of the things I've missed. Well then. Ready kiddies?

Sicknesses: It seems fitting to start with this one. In Japan, since the rather large population is cramed into such a tight place, disease and illness is more of a problem. I expect that this is why their culture is so antiseptic and clean. For example: Everyone's seen those SARS masks that everyone was wearing when that bird flu was going around oh so long ago. Well those aren't uncommon to see in Japan. It's not that people are paranoid of illness (though some people do wear them merely so they don't get sick), it's also so that you don't get others sick. See, in Japan, if you're sick and need to go outside, it's common courtest to wear one of those masks so that you don't get your germs all over everyone else. Furthermore, if someone in your household is sick, it's also common courtesy to wear one, and not just when you're around that person either, you wear them in public too. This is so that if you managed to catch the disease even with your precautions, but don't show any symptoms, then you won't pass that onto other people. I, of course, didn't wear any mask when I was sick because I didn't have any. Who knows how many hapless people I've infected?

The food: Japanese food, as many people may very well know, is considerably more healthy than American food. They have a lot of noodle soup dishes, primarily ramen, soba, and udon, as well as a whole lot of (surprise!) rice dishes. I've noticed, as well, that these dishes seem to follow a sort of pattern: you get a bunch of broth (or some sauce) as well as a bunch of whatever the main "meat" if you will of the dish is, almost always noodles or rice. Then you get one big thing that makes the meal different, such as a piece of tempura or a couple slices of meat. Then you get one, or sometimes a few, little treats which are a different flavor than the rest of the meal. These are almost always thin cuts of fish (at least I think it's fish...it's a very seafoody taste but the texture is kinda rubbery). These cuts often have patterns on them in different colors, usually a spiral. In addition to that, food here tends to be rather cheap. A good sized bowl of tempura udon is, if I remember correctly, 220yen. Onigiri rolls range from 100yen to 130yen. Even at actual restaurants (rather than the cafeteria) food rarely gets to 1,000yen in price. At the cafeterias, they have forks, knives, and spoons as well as plastic reusable chopsticks and those large plastic soup spoons you see at Japanese restaurants. Sure they have McDonalds, and their McDonalds is just as bad for you as American McDonalds, but over here McDonalds is quite expensive, so it's more of a treat than something you would eat all the time. Furthermore, Japanese restaurants usully serve (surprise again!) Japanese food. It's actually pretty uncommon to find a non-Japanese restaurant in Japan. I've seen maybe one, and know of two: There's an Italian restaurant in Hirakata-shi and a Korean one a little ways off campus. There are probably more if you really look, but Japanese restaurants are by far the most common. Also, to my delight, their snack foods and sweets tend to be more flavorful Than American ones. Where American sweets and snacks seem content to just pile on the sugar or salt, Japanese ones are very mild in the sweet and salty catagory so that they can actually put some flavor in. They also have some unique stuff. Red bean paste for one thing, which is something they use in a wide variety of sweets. It is a very mild tasting sweet paste, and I find myself liking it a lot. I've also seen what appeared to be a sweet bun with corn on top of it. I'm going to have to try that some time.

Pets: The Japanese have pets just like Americans do. I've seen plenty of Japanese people walking their dogs on my way to and from school, and while you can't see people walk cats I've heard of families owning them from my friends talking about their home stay and home visit families. One of those families even has a ferret. I notice differences in their dogs, however. In Japan the small dog breeds seem to be preferred. This isn't always true, and in fact I've seen this one guy on more than one occasion walking his truly massive white dog. Seriously, that thing is about as big as he is, maybe even bigger. But in general their dogs ar small. Most Japanesedogs are Shibas "The "Shiba Inu" as they call them) Which are very small and quite cute. I've seen a fair amount of Corgies though, as well as a beagle or two. Another thing that's unique about the Japanese dogs, however, is that roughly 60-70% of them are clothed. That is to say, their owners have put slothing on them. This is way different than the way it in in America though, since the clothing that I've seen thus far has been simple unelaborate sweaters, so clearly it serves a practical purpose (keeping them warm in the cold weather) rather than the flashy attention whoring one that it seems to serve in America.

While I'm on the subject of pets I might as well mention the difference in aminals as well. First of all, I don't think I've seen a single insect since I've been here. Now granted it's cold out, so they're all probably laying low, but coming fron New Orleans where insects are just everywhere, even in the cold months, it's certainly a difference. Furthermore, their crows are enormous, to the point where a friend of mine thought that they were, in fact, ravens. They really are massive, and I daresay pretty, birds here. Additionally, I haven't seen a single squirrel yet. I think that they have thm in Japan, but I don't think they're around my area. Also, there's the tanuki, or raccoon dog. I actually saw one of these once so far in my stay here! It peeked its head out from behind a wooden fence while me and Rory were coming home from our Kyoto tour, scurried out onto the sidewalk, decided that the street full of insane Japanese drivers zooming by at top speed was too dangerous (a decision that I can sympathize with to be sure), and darted back behind the fence. There was a sort of small foresty area behind that fence so it's not like I could really pursue him, which was a shame because I didn't get my camera ready in time to snap a photo of him. Next time though, next time I'll get a picture. It really was a pretty cute animal. I want one, heeheehee.

Weather: The weather in Japan is different from that in New Orleans. Wheras New Orleans it rains with all the fury of the heavens for (usually) a fairly short period of time, Japanese rain is far more passive-aggressive. It will rain lightly, just a tad more than a drizzle, for, like, half the day. This is preferable if you don't need to go outside much, but when you need to walk for thirty minutes you get cold and wet. And you curse the rain gods. It's also been fairly cold here these past few weeks, and though it's started warming up a little it's still rather chilly. Japan seems to have pretty constant weather, the only real variations are the rain that comes in every now and again and the degree of clouds, which influence the temperature a little bit, but apart from that it's been pretty much the same.

Cars: Japanese cars are interesting to say the least. Apart from the fact that the driver seat is on the right side and you alway stay in the left lane (how backwards!), they also tend to differ from American cars in that they are often very very small. Some of you may have seen pictures of small European cars. Well those certainly exist in abundance here. I have yet to see an SUV (and honestly I doubt one would even fit on the roads here...). Their pickup trucks are about the size of a small car in America. There are also no eighteen-wheelers in Japan. Delivery trucks are usually the size of the smallest U-Haul moving truck. The largest vehicles I've seen here have been the ones used for transporting the constuftion vehicles. They are maybe about the size of a tow truck, maybe just a tad longer. Speaking of the construction vehicles, Kim, the friend I mentioned in a journal past, had told me about how the construction vehicles play quote "happy music" when they perform some action. I pass a construction yard on my way to campus, so I thought I'd listen for it. After hearing nothing but the beeping noise they use for backing up, I started to wonder if maybe Canada (where Kim is from) doesn't have that beeping noise and that was what she meant by the "happy music," but today I heard it. I dunno what action triggers it, but yes, the constrution vehicles play happy music sometimes. I can't really describe it any other way. Back to the subject of Japanese cars in general, you know how in America there will be those who "pimp out" their cars? Gold rims, spinners, sound systems, crazy paint jobs, etc. etc.? Well they ain't got nothin' on Japan my friends. When the Japanese pimp out their cars they go for the gold. Their paint jobs areincredible, and while they may not do much with their hubcaps, they do a whole lot with lights. To the point where some Japanese cars are like rave parties on wheels. It's also very common to see cars that aren't fully pimped out, but have one little aspect of them that are really cool, usually something with regard to lights. Often, they'll have that some lights that are that techy deep electric blue color, or licence plates where the characters on the back glow a deep but intense green color. It's really pretty cool

On a similar note, the traffic system in Japan. There are lights just like in the US, but they seem to change a lot more often. Also, they have a more elaborate pedestrian light system thingy. They have the green walking man and the red standing man just like in America, but they also have sounds associated with both lights (I suppose this is for the sight impared). Now, I've heard that america has similar things to this as well, but I've never actually seen them. There are, however, and I'm not joking here, no stop signs. I'm not really sure how they manage without them, but there it is. Furthermore, I've already mentioned how narrow the sides of the roads are and everything, right? Well a recent ordinance has apparently banned bikes from riding on the sidewalks. Not all sidewalks, just the smaller ones it seems. At the same time, that's one more reason why I don't want a bike. Driving in the road is dangerous. I like not being street pizza.

Size: I've touched on this already, but it's actually a much broader catagory. Things are just smaller in Japan. Restaurants are often about as big as the dining room in your house. Standard stores are usually smaller than in America too, and the really big tores are usually built up rather than just having a large plot of land. Bathroom stalls are maybe half the size as they are in America, you're usually right up against the door when you sit down on the toilet. Meal portions are smaller, but still filling, as they should be. I've even seen pictures of Japanese soldiers on the news. Their backpacks are maybe one fourth the size (if that) of American backpacks. Similarly, Japanese schoolbags are usually more along the lines of small messenger bags, the backpacks that you often see in America are considered enormous and bulky in Japan. Although it was pointed out to me by one of my Kyoto guides that, while if a Japanese person were to have a bag like that it would be seen as ugly or unseemly, an merican with the same bag would be sen s cool for his uniqueness. Also, while on the subject of school, the system of textbooks for the Japanese seems to be much better than the American one. Most of the "books" that I've got so far have been professor made scans of articles, other books, manga( for the manga class) and other things like that, but the textbooks themselves seem to also follow an efficient pattern. You know how when you buy a texbook in America, it's like a hundred dollars at least and you use maybe a tenth of the material inside it for your class? Then, after it's all over, you scramble to sell the bulky book in order to recoup your losses. Well in Japan, books are smaller and released in more volumes. So they are way cheaper and you tend to use all or most of the text in your class. Or that's the impression I got anyway. Everything in Japan sees so neat, tidy, small, and efficient. Except, hilariously, for the phones. Japanese phones seem to be, on average, considerably larger than American phones. Though I did see one that was about as big as a beeper...but it was an outlier.

Mass transit: The Japanese mass transit system is fast, efficient, decently priced, and comfortable. Which is very good, sonce I plan on using the trains often in order to explore the country. Before I leave I will have visited Kyoto, Nara, Osaka, and Tokyo at least, hopefully I'll be able to find even more places to explore.
I'm greatly looking forward to it, it's a lot of fun to be in a new place, a new culture with new ways of doing things and new ideas and values. It's incredibly refreshing, especially since I crave the unique and abnormal. America has its charm, but I've lived there my whole life and, with my first time out of it being to Japan, a place that is wildly different from America, I'm in a constant state of wonder. I almost find myself in a state of reverse homesickness: I am totally comfortable here and, in fact, am already mourning that I'll need to leave some time. It's not that I don't miss my friends and family, I do, but it's more that I don't so much wish that I was there with them as I wish that they were here with me, sharing in this wonderful experience.
09 February 2009 @ 08:04 pm
The Japanese word of the day is...

鳥居  This is pronounced "Torii," it is what they call the large gatelike things that appear in many traditional Japanese temples (you can see pictures of them on my Facebook)

Alright, first things first: my manga class. So far, it seems to be really interesting. The first class was little more than an introduction, but I've had one other class since then. In that class, we were basically shown slides and slides of manga or various manga related things that the sensei had personally scanned himself and talked about things such as art style, cover art styles, age of the manga, common themes and types, etc. etc. I get the impression that most of his classes will be like that, but I'm pretty sure that in addition to that we will have discussions on the manga that has been assigned to us to read. I bought all of the course books but one, and I've already started reading them, I even finished one of them: Apollo's Song. I wasn't really too much for it, but that's mostly because it was of a genre that I tend not to delve into too much: romantic tragedy. The one I'm reading now however, To Terra, is pretty good. It's a scifi one. We'll see how all that turns out in the future.

I should also mention that I now have a cell phone, which is pretty nice. I will probably be mostly using it for texting since texting is free (or, well, 300yen a month gets you free texting, email, video share, picture share, etc. etc.) and an easy way to communicate with people. It's a slick phone too. Even though it's the cheapest one they had it's probably about three times as good as my current phone. I hope that I can find a way to make it work for a different plan when I get home...it has a SIM card and everything, so maybe it's possible...we'll see.

Onward and upward from there then. Last friday a group of friends and I went out to karaoke (because that's just what you do in Japan and we wanted to see what it was all about). We had wanted to go to a karaoke place called Big Wave, which, according to our sources, had an all-you-can-drink alcoholic beverages deal where you pay 1,000yen (approximately $11) and get unlimited drinks for an hour. Unfortunately, there was some miscomminication amongst our group and we ended up going to Ring, another karaoke place but one that didn't serve alcohol. At first, I lamented the fact that we went to Ring instead of Big Wave, since, I reasoned, how could I possibly make a fool of myself without a lot of alcohol being involved? Luckily, that didn't turn out to be an issue. Songs that I ended up singing include NSYNC's "Bye Bye Bye", Backstreet Boys' "I Want it That Way," Michael Jackson's "Beat It," O-Zone's Dragostea Din Tie (or the Numa Numa song, yes they have it in Japan too), and there may or may not be a video of me singing "Oops I did it Again" by Brittney Spears floating around somewhere...There were also a few Japanese people there with us (you paid for a large private booth thing so they must have known one of us to get there). One of them was better at singing songs in English than any of us, hands down. It's humbling when a foreigner schools you in your native tongue, let me tell you.

Basically, what I learned is that the Japanese actually do know how to party, and you don't even need alcohol to enjoy it! Whoda thunk it? I had a great time with all of my friends, even though I'm pretty awful at singing. I actually hope to do it again sometime; I can certainly see why the Japanese favor it as a pastime

Saturday was a lazy day, me and my roommate barely did anything. We didn't even leave the dorm building I don't think, which was too bad because I was itching to go visit somewhere. Luckily, however, I ran into another friend who was in the same dorm as me. He had come back from a really exquisite flower garden, I think in Kyoto, and he was planning on going to Kyoto the next day in order to visit a temple. He suggested that I tag along and I was more than happy to oblidge. The next day, then, I met him at about 1:30pm in the dining room. We waited a bit for another friend of his, a guy who I recognized as being in my manga class, and then we were off.

Quick aside for a second: the guy who originally invited me is named Zach, he's the one who reminds me of Evan. The other guy who I just met, named Chris, reminded me of a more subdued Ben Walker in otaku form. Those of you who I hang out with at scifi events will understand these analogies, to everyone else it will probably go right over your heads. Alright then.

The first thing we needed to do was get to the train station. There are two train stations close by that both run the same line: Hirakata-shi and Makino Station. We went to Hirakata-shi since it was the closer of the two. That wasn't too difficult. Then we needed to interperate the train charts. It's a good thing we had some experience with them, because they can be intimidating at first glance, but once you get used to them they're pretty easy to navigate. So that wasn't much of a problem either. Although we couldn't take an express train to get to where we wanted to go, but that was a minor setback.

Upon arriving at the station and walking a ways, we were greeted by a long line of shops stretching all the way to the temple itself, selling everything from hot buns to various molded and sculpted chocolate to figurines, etc. It was pretty cool, and I found myself wanting to buy a snack or something just because they looked so good. I restrained myself though, and soon we got to the temple. It wasn't difficult to tell it was the temple, there were these enormous gatelike things called "torii" marking them. That wouldn't be the last torii we'd see that day either, ooohhhh no. There were thousands upon thousands of torii. Their size didn't matter. Entire pathways were enclosed by them. That is to say, torii after torii after torii, one after another, built around the path to the point where you might as well have been going through a tunnel. It was amazing. We were at the temple for hours and hours, going up and down torii paths, seeing a lot of really cool stuff. Such as kitsune statues. Kitsune, for those who don't know, is the Japanese word for fox, but it carries another connotation with it much as the tanuki (raccoon dog) does. The kitsune are kind of trickster spirits in Japanese lore, the tanuki are too (and more so than the kitsune I think...I'm not an expert on this stuff). There were a LOT of kitsune statues, probably more so than anything else they had there (except, of course, torii). The path we took was a winding one that went here and there, through torii and to clusters of private shrines, past shops and even houses, and then finally to the top, where there was a spectacular view of the city below. It really was a pretty wonderous place (not to mention a good workout, though my legs hate me for it).

After we finished going around the temple, we went back the way we came: through all of the shops. Surprisingly, a lot of them were already closed, and others had even packed up and left. It was only, like, 6-7pm. We managed to find a resteraunt though, and I had a tasty dish which I chose purely based on the fact that it looked weird. It was a soup bowl with broth and soba noodles in it, as well as what looked like a whole fish minus the head, tail, and fins. It turned out to tast very interesting, not fishy at all, almost sweet even, like teriyaki. It was pretty good. After that we took the train back to Hirakata-shi. We lingered at the station there for a bit, eventually moseying on over to a place called Mossburger. Folks, do not let the name fool you. That is some of the most delicious burger you'll ever have. And they had melon fanta. Which I still want to bring back to the US.

After that it was back to the dorm by bus for us. I stayed up with Zach and Chris and watched Silence of the Lambs for the first time (Chris insisted I watch it when I told him I hadn't seen it before, he had the DVD with him). We also studied Japanese (or me and Chris did, we're both in level 2 whereas Zach is in level one) both before and after Silence of the Lambs, since we had the review test the next day, and if we failed it we'd be bumped down a level. It turned out to be very easy, but I still need to beef up my vocab and make sure that I get some of the forms down better. I'll keep that in mind for my next test.

After I took the test on Monday, I had something scheduled with my speaking partner. We were going to go watch a movie. She brought a friend of hers with her as well, and I brought Chen since he had an enormous class gap and wanted to do something. We went to the library, where you can check out movies to watch right there (you can't remove them from the library). They had headphones and good TVs though, so I'll probably be going back there sometime. We ended up watching the original Men In Black. Neither my speaking partner (whose name, I have forgotten to mention, is Asuka Ono) nor her friend had seen it before. At the end of the movie it seemed they liked it.

After the movie, my speaking partner and her friend had to leave, and my roomate had class, so I went to go get something that I would need in order to play Starcraft: a mouse and mousepad. I knew of a place that sold them and had been given directions on how to go there, so I went out the front gate of campus and walked there.

I've already mentioned that walking is a very common mode of travel in Japan. There are a whole lot less cars here than there are in the states, it's not even a close number at all. It's because there's so few parking spaces in Japan. So, people who don't have a car but still want a motorized vehicle get motorcycles or motor scooters (there are a lot more of those than there are in America). And people who can't afford those just get bikes, which are also incredibly more common here than in the US. Those who don't get any of those will just walk and/or use the public transit systems. and honestly I'm getting more and more used to it. In the beginning my inner thighs would chafe because they'd be rubbing together so much. Now that doesn't happen anymore. I can walk miles without flinching, and I've only been here for about a week.

Eventually, I ended up at K's, an electronics store. I had been told about this place from the people who had given me directions to it, but it's one thing to hear about it and another thing entirely to experience it for yourself. Folks, K's is probably the brightest store on the face of the planet. You walk in and are greeted by the whitest most flourescent light you've ever seen. They have rows and rows of high powered flourescents on the ceiling, and them more of them to light the display. On top of that, they play this really happy, trippy music. It's the same song, which is maybe 1-2 minutes long, repeated over and over again...I definitely hear the words "happy" and "genki" in it multiple times. It is indescribable. It doesn't fit the store at all really. I got my stuff there and, after a brief stumble through a conversation with the cashire, made my way back home.

That's it until next time folks!