Friday, November 5, 2010

Halloween and Windy Vintage Party

That's right! Two posts in two days! Don't poop your pants!

Two weekends ago, I went with some friends from my seminar house to a 50's/Rockabilly themed party in Shinsaibashi (downtown Osaka). One of my friends, Sarah, (who has a freakin' sweet Youtube channel with a ton of Japan videos!), is really into vintage fashion, and styled us all for the event. We looked foxy as hell! (By the way, a bunch of these pictures were yoinked from other people's facebook albums--hope that's alright! I DID take pictures this night, but on my Polaroid Instax, so I can't share them here.)

From left to right, that's Karolina, Sarah, me, Nancy, and Marie-Lor. We're hot!

I will say, the Japanese know how to throw down with the subcultures. Everyone is so serious about portraying what they're into, and this was no exception. At the party you could dress in both vintage Japanese and Western style, and so there were a lot of people in vintage kimono, as well as attire that was more familiar to me. It was held at a small cafe ("The Garden", if memory serves) and it was perfect--clearly a vintage-inspired place itself, with low lighting and squishy chairs to take a break from the dance floor in. Besides us there were only a few other gaijin there, so we got a good amount of attention. But the real stars of the show that night I think were the characters we met. First of all, there was an okama, or drag queen, present. She was fabulous and very elegant!

Then there was Little Bird. There really isn't much to say about Little Bird other than he is a little old man dressed in a schoolboy outfit with a bird pin and a bird ring, and he's always singing/talking to himself and dancing around gaily. I choose to believe he goes about his daily life in this manner as well.

And there was this guy, Mr. Miyawaki. According to his facebook page, he enjoys Japanese army reenactment. He was very serious the whole time, even for photographs. Later in the evening he changed into a sort of maitre 'd or bellhop outfit.

The music was fabulous, a mix of American and Japanese 50's swing music. At one point, the okama (who's name was Miss Olive, I later discovered) got up and danced and lip-synced to some songs for us. It was amazing! I didn't know the words, but it seemed like most everyone else did, so it was a really fun environment and a great group of people. We had such a blast!

And of course, last weekend was Halloween! Because midterms were that week and it just seemed like everything had been incredibly busy, I sort of threw together a last-minute Marylin Monroe costume on Thursday night (but luckily was able to find a perfect white dress at a vintage store, so it actually turned out pretty good!) I didn't end up going out on Friday night, because I had to get up early the next morning for a field trip to see Takarazuka Review (which deserves it's own post, so I won't go into detail quite yet.) On Saturday night, I went to a rave in Shinsaibashi with some of the same people from the vintage party. It was insanity! The event was actually called the "Yabai Halloween Party" and was at the King Cobra club.

I had always heard from Japanese friends that Japan isn't too big on Halloween unless you're a little kid. Apparently those people had never been to Amemura on Halloween eve. A TON of people were out, and everyone was dressed up. There were a lot of foreigners around (downtown in one of the biggest cities in Japan, so no surprise there), but the Japanese people seemed just as enthusiastic. It was really cool to just mingle and see all of the people in Triangle Park. I had people asking for pictures with me--kind of strange, considering my costume was nothing compared to most of what we saw. A lot of people thought I was Madonna, too--I guess they were getting the names mixed up, since Marylin isn't a hard character to guess. Another thing I found funny about the night was that a lot of guys were whistling and making comments about my low-cut (authentic!) dress as I was walking by, when just about every other girl in the area was wearing about 75% less clothing than me. Seriously, you wouldn't believe the number of asses I saw hanging out of skirts/hotpants. I'm by no means a prude, though--my philosophy is that if you've got it, flaunt it! I just thought it was funny that I got so many comments.

Unfortunately, I don't have any good pictures of my costume; I forgot my camera that night, and I can't find any on facebook. This shot of us girls waiting for the guys at the train station is as good as I can get--and you can barely see my dress!

This is me attempting a Marylin face. It's kind of goofy.

And now I need to get to bed, since I need to get up at a somewhat decent hour tomorrow.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Oh, you again.

Here's the thing about blogging--it's very fun, but if you forget to write about one big thing, and then another, and then another, and then put it off some more and tell yourself "I'm giving myself a free day this weekend; I'll get around to it then!", it ends up piling up so much that you just don't want to go through the process of recounting everything anymore. There are so many new things I want to write about, and then I think that I need to talk about stuff I did over a month ago first, and it just gets too frustrating.

So, I'll just keep it simple.

"My life in Japan so far."

My life has become great.

I've made some awesome new friends, and settled into a sort of routine. I've discovered frequent haunts in this area. I've learned quite a lot of Japanese, and can somewhat feel comfortable getting around on my own. My wardrobe has changed dramatically; I feel like I need to make a separate post about this though. I feel like Japanese life is no longer shocking to me in the least--I guess it never was really shocking, but it's becoming the new "normal".

Some new great loves I have--

Yakiniku. This might go into the category of one of my greatest loves of all time, anywhere. A little backstory: I don't eat much meat in Japan. The cafeteria does have some beef dishes and pork tonkatsu, but I'm not a fan of the latter and the beef is generally not very high grade. The chicken is also not my cup of tea. The food at the on-campus McDonald's is pretty much the same quality as in America, but since I'm not much of a fan of McD's anyway, I very rarely eat it. So seafood or no meat at all it is, most days.

But then I discovered yakiniku.

Yakiniku literally means "grilled meat" (if you didn't read the Wiki link), and that's pretty much all you do. I've been to a yakiniku restaurant at Hirakata station twice now (it's a blossoming love, I guess), and the general procedure is as follows. The meat is all-you-can-eat; you pick one of three "sets", which range in price based on the quality and types of meat in each set. I've only ever gotten the least expensive, which comes to about $22 US per person. There are a variety of different cuts of beef, as well as pork, chicken, vegetables, and I think some seafood in the first set. Each set also has a variety of non-grillable sides like kimchi (which I am fond of), potato salad, rice, miso soup, lettuce (to make lettuce wraps), etc.

From the first time I experienced this wonder.

Basically, you order whatever you want within your set, and as much as you want, and they bring out little platters of the sliced meat or vegetables raw and you grill it yourself at a small, circular grill in the center of the table, before dipping it in one of several sauces and reveling in the yakiniku goodness. Part of the fun for me is the new, er, parts of the cow that I've tried (and enjoyed!). At the place I've been to, they start you out with these very thinly sliced, seasoned cuts of beef, which turned out to be tongue. Besides the standard steaks and beef strips, other notable cuts were stomach lining and intestine, which are chewy, yet surprisingly very flavorful. At first, you can't help but feel like you're eating a big hunk of gristle, but when you get over it and realize that the fat can actually add a lot of flavor, it's pretty good. I actually am quite a fan of cow stomach now. (At least the way that it's prepared at yakiniku). I would highly recommend this dining experience to anyone at anytime (unless they're a vegetarian or something unfortunate.) There's nothing quite like gorging oneself on so much protein that you can barely walk comfortably afterwards, after living on wimpy rice and seaweed and various sea fare for so long. I think I seriously crave yakiniku every night of the week. I'm craving it right now, and I just had it last night.

I love hookah. I never went to a hookah bar or smoked it otherwise in the States, but thanks to the very conveniently close Cafe Istanbul and it's smoking and drinking specials, my friends and I have gotten really into it. It's funny, that a large group of these exchange students studying in Japan have found a local hangout in a Turkish-themed cafe smoking a traditional Middle Eastern flavored tabac pipe, but I guess that's just how it goes. I've even learned to blow smoke rings. I'm pretty much a sheesha pro. I'd love to buy one for myself when I get back to the states--it's relaxing, and not as potent (or smoked as often) as cigarettes, and tastes much better. And I still need to fulfill my declared personal dream of blowing a ship just like Gandalf does in Lord of the Rings. It's going to happen someday, people.

I love false eyelashes. And yes, I know. The thing is, it's an accessory that isn't quite appropriate to wear in public in the United States, but is pretty much commonplace amongst girls here. I know that the Japanese obsession with makeup and fashion is somewhat of a point of argument amongst Western observers--but I can't help but just love it. Finally, I can have eyelashes! My real ones are so wimpy and short and feeble, I've always envied those with long, full lashes. It's something that I don't really think I could get away with when I get back home, so I feel like I just need to do what I want and wear what I want while here. Some kids here spend their money on manga and figures and games. I like eyelashes.

Yakiniku only has one rival as far as new loves for food goes--and that is curry. I don't mean the Japanese curry crap they sell with rice in the cafeteria. I'm talking the real deal at one of the two Indian restaurants conveniently placed directly across the street from campus, complete with naan bread and a mango lasse to finish. Chicken curry is my favorite, especially made with squash that they sometimes have for the curry of the day--this post is seriously making me hungry. At least this is something that I could probably acquire pretty easily back in the states. My friends and I have become regulars at New Dehli, and thankfully it's cheap (700 yen for a GIANT set including soup, salad, a small spiced chicken dish, curry with the biggest piece of naan bread ever, and a mango lasse and ice cream at the end. Thankfully they have doggie bags.)

I would write about more loves, but it's getting late and I still have homework to do. And it's Kansai Gaidai festival this week! Which pretty much just means a ton of stands selling various foods (90% of which seem to be either takoyaki, yakisoba, some variation of hot dogs, or udon, curiously) are set up around campus, and the different clubs hold events throughout the days. It goes from today (Thursday) through Saturday, and is mainly just for the Japanese students to participate in (there's a separate International Festival coming up for the exchange students.) But anyone can certainly walk around and enjoy the food and all that, so that's just what I did today. It was fun!

Actually, I'm sort of technically "participating" in one of the events on Saturday, the beauty contest. They have 10 girls who are the actual finalists for the show already picked out to walk during the event, but because this year's theme is based on the popular idol group AKB48, they gathered 48 pictures of girls around KGU's campus to show in a slideshow (from what I understand) during the event. My homevisit partner's friend is on the judging committee and asked to take my photo, so that's how I got roped into that (it's that "brondy girl" power, I swear.). Though from what I understand, I don't actually have to be there since they're just showing my picture, so I'm probably going to end up going on a field trip to listen to a Buddhist monk that day instead.

So, anyway, I need to get started on my homework so that I can get up and not be late for class tomorrow (as I was today--that yakiniku wears your body out to digest, is my excuse.) I really want to make a post about Japanese fashion soon, so expect that! (and I promise that I WILL UPDATE MORE!!!!)

Friday, September 24, 2010


Hello, friends. It's me again.

The more I see other's blogs, and watch my roommate blog every night, the worse I feel because I update so infrequently. The truth of the matter is, I never really feel like there's much to say. I've been this way with blogs I've had in the past, too; it's not that I never do anything, because I've been doing a lot here, it's just that I sort of feel like the things I do aren't incredibly important, or worth re-capping. Like, I've visited various cities and have gone shopping; I went to some temples in Kyoto during orientation week; I've hung out with friends, new and old, and have had a lot of fun. But I sort of think all of these things seem just so normal--of course I would see shrines in Kyoto, of course I would go to big cities to shop, of course I would hang out with my friends. So I guess I shouldn't feel so bad about not blogging, if I didn't feel the need to.

I'm also not incredibly big on taking pictures, as I've said before--I have taken pictures of things, but more often than not I tend to forget my camera at home, or just not feel like taking a picture. This seems a little bit selfish now, like I'm not sharing what I'm seeing and doing with everyone back home. I'm going to try and make an effort to keep my camera on me more, and take more pictures--it's my new goal!

I've felt, these last few weeks, like things haven't really started yet. Yes, classes have started, and I've made new friends and have done things with them--but the majority of the Japanese students don't start class until this Monday, and it feels like the campus is just so full of other exchange students, and all of the Japanese students that are around are just so interested in meeting and speaking English to us, that it's starting to grate on me a little bit. When I think study abroad experience, I think of being one of the few foreigners amongst a sea of natives--I guess that so far, I've felt so surrounded by other exchange students (especially other Americans...), that it doesn't seem quite like I'm fully living my study abroad experience yet. And I knew it would kind of be this way--I've read other KGU student's blogs, and listened to these exact same complaints before. I feel like this is a great exchange program, and I definitely enjoy it and would recommend it to others, but there is something about the way the CIE has all of us lumped together in one building, and just about how there are so many exchange students at this school, that I think makes it a little annoying at times.

Maybe this is just a sort of delayed culture shock--though it isn't the Japanese culture that is shocking me, but more of just the student life culture, or something. I feel like once my old Japanese friends are on campus, and fall rolls around, I can get more in the sync of things, and I'll feel better about everything. I'm not having a bad time by far, I've met some students who are actually having regrets about coming here, but it's usually because they don't mesh well with the Japanese culture, or can't make friends, or something; I'm getting along fine, but just get frustrated with being in the CIE all day with all the other kiddos, sometimes.

It'll get better.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

A little bit of this, a little bit of that.

Alright, now I'm gonna try and keep on schedule with my posting!

I, uh. I really like bullets. So here's some of that.

  • It feels strange to say, but I really like school. I guess I like the set schedule of getting up every day and going to campus, and having class, and eating with friends, and all that. The Japanese classes I'm taking haven't ended up being very hard for me at all--I think that learning all of the hiragana and practicing over the summer really paid off. I already know most of what we're learning in the speaking class, though there are a lot of vocab words that are new to me. The reading and writing class is very easy--we've been doing hiragana for the last week and a half, and just now started on katakana. I'm pretty sure I aced the first test today, so that's a plus! Though I feel bad bragging about my skillz--I feel like a lot of the international students try and brag about how much Japanese they can speak or what level they're in (or feel like they're supposed to be in), and to be honest it's a little annoying to me. I don't really care what level I'm in, as long as I learn! Maybe it would be different if I was majoring in Japanese or had taken classes before. I feel like maybe it has something to do with their personalities, or everyone's just trying to one-up the other one, or something. It really doesn't seem like that big of a deal to me!
  • I've found that having a bicycle in the city is really, really convenient. In the states, I never really considered riding a bike as an actual method of transportation. But here it's almost necessary, it seems. I think I'm starting to fall in love with biking; I wonder if I might start using my bike I have at home when I go back to school next fall. Another thing that I thought about, is that if I do end up using a bike in the states, I'll have to pretty much re-learn how to drive in a city setting, as the traffic goes the other way here and I'm pretty sure there are different rules about riding on sidewalks/in the street.
  • The traffic. And the cars. The cars here are pretty much how I imagined them--smaller, and boxy looking. They have to be; a big SUV from the U.S. wouldn't be able to fit down a lot of the tiny residential streets. Another thing I've noticed: pink cars. You barely ever see a pink car in the U.S., but here I notice at least one every day. A lot of girls drive pink scooters, too. It's kind of cool. It seems like the traffic goes a lot faster in the cities (and certainly on the highways) here, but it might just be an illusion because of how much smaller the cars and roads are, or something.
  • This is such an incredibly expensive country to live in, it seems. Actually, things aren't priced really that high. It's just that the American dollar is very low right now in comparison to the yen, which means that I lose a bunch of money (several hundred when I exchanged my first large sums) just to the exchange rate. The way things are priced over here, if you moved the decimal point over twice to the left it would be about the same as in America (so ¥100 becomes $1.00, etc.; a large can of Pepsi in the vending machine in my seminar house is ¥100, similar to how much it would be at home.) However, because $1 isn't really equivalent right now to ¥100 (today it says $.85 to ¥100, but last week I heard it was $.80...), I'm spending an extra 15-20 cents for every ¥100 I spend here. So yeah, that adds up. I can't wait until I get my meal stipend; I've been living off of the cheapest things in the cafeteria and a few meager things I got at the supermarket last weekend. I'm actually excited to shop for whatever foods I want, and cook every night.
That's all for now, since I have homework to do before getting to bed. Phooey.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Beautiful, Beautiful, Beautiful, Nice Guy, Nice Japanese Guy.

Finally, a time to write again!

I was going to do a lot of entries about my past travels, but figure that I'll just keep getting more and more behind and won't want to take the time to catch up, so I'm going to just start focusing on what I'm doing now and maybe write about some adventures when I get in the groove of classes and start having more free time.

My first week and a half of classes are over, and I'm finally starting to feel organized and like I have a schedule. My homework isn't too bad so far; there's a good amount of reading for Zen Buddhism and Pop Culture as Social Practice, but it's interesting stuff and the classes are only twice a week, so it's very do-able. My Japanese classes have some written work pretty much every day and voice recording to be done every week, but I think it's fun--I'm very eager to learn the language, since it's pretty vital to my life right now!

This weekend and last weekend I had some adventures. On Saturday, I met up with one of my new friends, Grace, to go shopping. She lives with a host family in Kuzuha, so I agreed to ride the train from Hirakata to Kuzuha...and even though Kuzuha is only like two stops away and should have been very easy to navigate my way to, I still managed to get on a train going the opposite direction and ended up taking an extra half-hour to get there. Luckily we weren't pressed for time or anything, and I realized my error within one stop. I consider this a learning experience...

But finally, I arrived at Kuzuha-eki, and our shopping adventure began! It seems that in Japan, train stations are usually a shopping and entertainment hub as well (this information is based on...3 stations I've seen so far), and so I wasn't surprised to find that a newer looking shopping center was right there when we walked out of the station. We spend pretty much the whole afternoon and into the evening in the mall. It was big! I'm actually pretty proud of myself, I managed to limit my purchasing to sale and "love-at-first-sight" items.

After shopping, we traveled back to Hirakata-eki to find an izakaya to hit up. I texted another friend, Marissa, and she texted a Japanese friend of hers who knew of an izakaya at the station, and then he showed up with a guy from New Zealand that we hadn't met before, and we became a group. The izakaya we went to was sweet, and I wish I had had more time to spend there, but unfortunately I am limited to the bus schedule, since Hirakata station is too far away from the Seminar Houses to walk (especially after a night of drinking). So I could only stay about an hour.

But what an hour it was. The joint was pretty packed, and we just managed to squeeze into a booth in a corner area. I noticed the couple at the table next to us stop talking when we sat down, and I figured it was because most of us are foreigners--we get stares almost everywhere we go outside of the school, it's something you just get used to. We ordered our drinks (I decided to go for a pineapple-y drink that Marissa's friend Yu suggested instead of beer), and as we settled in for the evening, I noticed that the lady had walked around the table to sit on the bench right next to me. I looked over to say hi, or at least see what was up with her, and realized that this lady was not only leaning in to stare about 3 inches from my head, but was also completely trashed and had the biggest smile in the world on her face. She reached over, grabbed my arm, and, wobbling and blinking hard, proudly proclaimed: "Pree...ty. Preety. Pretty girl." This lady's name was Kanako, and she learned some English in middle school, and has been waiting 15 years to finally use it on a real live foreigner. Her day had come.

And so our evening went, with us drinking (and Kanako hovering around us and proclaiming "Beautiful!" or "Nice guy!" to the girls and guys at the table intermittently). I think I really like izakayas! One thing that I noticed about the drinks I was ordering, though, is that they didn't seem nearly as strong as what I'm used to. They were girly, fruity drinks, but even those have a kick to them usually in the U.S. I had 4 drinks and didn't feel anything. So next time I think I'll stick to beer. I wish I could have stayed at the izakaya longer; next time, we're going to try and hit up the one that's closer to the seminar houses, so I won't have to catch the last bus.

(And yeah, it just took me pretty much a week to write this post. I would start, then get bored and start to do something else and save the draft, then start up again, etc. I'm gonna try and make better posts from now on. My roommate has been updating her blog pretty much every night, and it makes me feel guilty!)

Monday, September 6, 2010

Tokyo Tales Pt. 1--the Suite Life

Alright, I'm going to start talking about the traveling I've done since getting here.

It's been...2 1/2 weeks since I flew into Tokyo, and I haven't even talked about the city yet!

So here's the first Tokyo post.

My first impression of Japan when Kayoko and I walked out of the airport was damn, it's humid. And coincidentally, this is the same thought I have when I walk out of the seminar house every morning. (Although today it wasn't that bad. It was tolerable.) We took a bus for about an hour from Narita Airport to Tokyo, and passed through Chiba on the way. Finally, I was seeing a Japanese city!

Our hotel was located in Roppongi Hills, a district of Tokyo known for sprawling shopping areas and nightlife. Now, before I go any further, I need to clarify a few things. Those of you who have been keeping up with my pictures on facebook probably raised an eyebrow or two at the pictures of our room at the Grand Hyatt Tokyo, and figured I was incredibly loaded or something. Well I'll give you a little spoiler: I'm not loaded. Just really, really lucky.

I actually kinda debated even writing this, and instead having everyone just assume I was living some extravagant dream while in Tokyo (well...I kinda was for those few days, but I'll get into that). But I also realize that I need to make a good impression on the other exchange students, and for whatever reason, people tend to judge those who come from money; they absolutely must be spoiled, right? And so no, to set the record straight, I'm not rich, and every yen I've spent during my time here was my own hard-earned, er, yen!

What happened was, through a series of very lucky events, it turned out that Kayoko's boyfriend's (very rich) dad was living in a very, very posh hotel room, but would be out of town that exact weekend that we were staying in Tokyo. So he offered the room to us, and since it was already paid for, we would be staying for free. I didn't actually realize how nice the room was until we got there...I'll drop a few pics. :)

Main room--the windows had remote-control shades that could come down.

Front room view from next to the TV, you can see our "dining room" area.

Guests we entertained while in Tokyo included Diddy, Gaga, DiCaprio, and Watanabe. :p

Hidden kitchen that we never once used.

Our bedroom (+ Kayoko)

The shower and jacuzzi (you can kinda see this little enclosed garden area that could be viewed from here and the bedroom. The room didn't joke around.)

When I first walked into the room, my jaw hit the floor. Then I saw the dining room and kitchen. And the bedroom. And the bathroom. And the fact that just by staying in that room, we had access to the VIP lounge on that floor (fancy food buffet and drinks fo' free). So yeah. For that short time, we were kind of living a dream!

Here's a pic of my plate the first time we went to the lounge to eat, just because I was so flabbergasted by this whole fancy ordeal and it was super tasty!

We ended up eating in the lounge for dinner a few nights, since it was free, and the food was better than what we would probably be willing to pay for in a restaurant! I always felt so cool going into the lounge--it was always full of a mix of rich businesspeople or tourists from various countries, and it must have looked like we were a couple of trust fund-y's out on the town. :P I couldn't believe any of it!

But anyway, enough about the hotel. Despite how nice it was, we actually didn't spend much time there during the day. We had one of the biggest cities in the world to explore! And explore we did. Though I will say, we sort of stayed away from the major tourist-y things in Tokyo. I requested that we just sort of do what we want, and shop and find things at our leisure, since that's just how I like to experience things. I figure that if I return to Tokyo with other exchange students, we'll hit up the common attractions; I wanted to see what the city life was all about.

So, the first night, we just stayed in, since it was already evening when we got to the hotel and I was jet lagged. Bright and early the next morning, we made our way to Akihabara, a district known for being the electronics, video game, and anime goods capital of the world. I requested that we hit up Akihabara not because I wanted to buy manga or any electronics (besides my cell phone, which I did purchase there), but because that I feel like even if you aren't into those sorts of things, Akihabara is just something you can't ignore. The gigantic cartoon advertisements, the girls dressed as maids at every corner, the flashing signs advertising arcades and purikura--it's an image that I think a lot of people conjure up when thinking of modern Japan. At least many younger people.

I still can't really get over the incredible overt cuteness on display just about everywhere in Japan. Characters stamped on buildings, on ads everywhere, making average commercials look as though they are geared towards children, on the packaging of just about any product you would ever want to buy. I would like to explore this idea further, and maybe make a post about it in the future!

A creature heard about previously in only folklore and myth...a real Akihabara otaku!

Idol Groups like this are very popular with Japanese youth, especially those who frequent Akihabara. This one was called "AKB 48", and has, wait for it...48 girls. There were ads for them EVERYWHERE, and their music blared in just about every other shop we went into. Underneath this picture were pictures of some of the girls in bikinis, with short bios on each. They all appear to be high-school aged.

Kayoko and I did some purikura! Purikura, for those who don't know, is the Japanese version of a photo booth, on steroids. It's just something you have to experience. You select how many pictures you want, what backgrounds, and then quickly pose in various ways as a high-pitched, disembodied voice (something I've heard at a lot of places while here, come to think of it) jabbers away about what I can only assume could be poses and smiling. When you're done taking the pictures, you leave the tiny photo room and go around the machine to a little kiosk with screens where you can manipulate your pictures however you'd like. Add writing, add hearts, characters, icons, whatever you can think of, change the background, make it look as though you are glowing. Another feature is that it digitally makes you look better--your skin looks smooth, eyes are enlarged and darkened, and colors are given a higher contrast in the pictures. It's pretty sweet, in my opinion! I still feel like I need to work on my "purikura face", including my smile and poses, in the future--but here's a pic that Kayoko had sent to her cell phone so that she could put up on facebook. There were more that I have in sticker form, but I can't get them onto my computer.

I can't imagine what Akihabara must be like for actual anime fans who know all of the characters and everything to visit. I always try to think about America, and if there are any entertainment industries that we have that could compare to some of Japan's, that we would pretty much devote an entire ward of the capital city to the merchandising of. We do have the biggest movie industry in the world--but I don't feel like we market it to this extent. I'm excited to start my Popular Culture as Social Practice class, and learn more about this phenomenon.

While in Akiba (as the Japanese call Akihabara), we visited Don Quixote, a very popular chain department store featuring very cheap merchandise. Here I purchased the first charms for my phone (a MUST to have on every phone over here), about a million fake eyelashes that came in a pack for 600 yen, and a few other little knick-knacks that I felt as though I needed. Here are some of the more stunning products of Don Quixote.

I dunno, I thought they were funny.

After getting back that night, Kayoko and I decided to hit the town. There was one bar that knew of close to our hotel, that her boyfriend's dad had recommended that we go to. So we got all done up and made our way to the club, feeling like a million bucks--only to discover, once we had paid cover (2,500 yen...!) and gotten into the club, that we were surrounded by middle-aged people! Great. This would only happen to us, right? It was like it was out of a movie. But we got two "free" drink vouchers at the door (I guess that's where the steep cover comes from?), so we figured we might as well use them before hastily exiting and finding a new place. got better.

So here we are, standing around the bar, trying not to be overtaken by the mob of sweaty olds crazily dancing on the floor, when a bouncer makes his way over to us and starts speaking to Kayoko. I freak out a little bit, wondering if there's an age limit in this bar or something and if we're going to be kicked out, when she pulls me over and shouts into my ear that some people want me (just me, no Kayoko) to come join them in a private room. WHAAAAT? Really? ME? Kayoko and I look at eachother, and then I shrug--might as well! But I wasn't going alone, so I tell her to ask the guy if she can come too. He disappears for about a minute, then comes back nodding and escorts us to the room. I'm pretty much freaking out at this point! Is this really happening? It's becoming more and more like a movie every moment...

Inside are an array of salarymen and women, and a group of men start yelling excitedly and throw their hands up when we enter. I couldn't believe it! They all get up and let us choose where we want to sit, and then sit around us and ask what we want to drink--anything, it's on them. So--rum and coke it is! I AM a little worried, about why exactly they would want us to come drink with them, but they explain to us that it looked like I was a foreigner (dur), and we were the youngest people in the club, and they figured that I could speak English, and they wanted to practice. And so they, well, attempted to, but I left most of the communicating to Kayoko and mostly stuck to just drinking my drinks and smiling and nodding myself! They gave us their business cards--one was the vice president of an advertisement company that worked for FujiTV--and generally ended up being a fun bunch to drink with! I wish I had taken more pictures, but by the time I got the idea to get my camera out, I wasn't exactly in the best state to be capturing quality photographs. Here's the two that I actually did get of our experience in the VIP room.

I wish I had gotten a picture with them--I do remember Kayoko and another guy taking pictures, but I think in my drunken state I decided that they were not good pictures of me and deleted them. I do that a lot when alcohol is involved. Hmm. One thing the guys really liked to do was tell us how old they were, in English, and then strike a very proud pose, as though we should be extremely impressed. The guy with the glasses, he was FORTY-FOUR years old, and the one with Kayoko was THIRTY. Can't even believe it. As the night wore on, I began to get a little paranoid about being the only young girls with all of these older guys--I think that if I had been completely sober, it would have been different, as I would have realized that we weren't giving away any information about ourselves, that there were some other women in the room as well, and that they were openly saying they were married and what their job titles were. Looking back, I honestly think that they were just wanting us to have a good time in the bar with them, since we were looking so alone being the youngest people (and me being obviously not from the area). We finally left, before we could get too drunk to not make it home or something bad, and went back to the room to collapse and wonder about how these things happen to us.

And that was my first full day in Tokyo! I'll make some more posts about the other days, but no more tonight--I feel like it took forever to write this! So until then!

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Home Sweet Home

Oh, hi. Yes, I've been really bad at updating this week. Yes, I moved into the seminar houses, got my classes all set up, explored several new cities, and did a ton of exciting things...and never blogged about any of it.

But I was so busy!

I felt like every day, I had to travel to campus and spend pretty much all day there attending various meetings, filling out paperwork and turning it in, meeting people, and registering things, and then when I'd come back, I'd find people to go out to eat with, or would travel with people to the train station to shop or to another city. But now, on Sunday, I finally have a day to just relax and stay in my room as much as I want! So I'm going to do some mega-blogging today. I'm going to separate things into several different posts about different topics. In this post, I'll talk about the seminar houses and my first impressions of KGU in general.

...I actually wrote a really long post very, very late at night a few days ago talking about the checking in process, my first encounters with the other exchange students, going out to eat, etc., but now that I've looked over it, I think it's waaaay too long and detailed, and a shorter post about my impressions of things would be better. I don't want this blog to be a diary where I write about what I did every day, but more of a place for my thoughts and certain observations about living and studying in Japan. So I'm going to keep it simpler.


Last Saturday (the 28th), I moved into Seminar House 2, which is where I'll be staying all of this semester. I have a roommate, Laura, who's from Finland--I've never met a person from Finland before, so it's exciting for me to live with her! She's super nice and has a cool accent. I think it's fun to listen to her talk to her parents and friends on Skype in Finnish.

At first, I thought that the seminar houses were just dorms, and so I called them that--but now, I realize that they're actually different from the dorms at my old school, or from dorms at most schools judging by the other student's thoughts. Some of this may be because of differences in the Japanese way of life, or because of the specific program we're on, or because that's just the way it is.

The biggest thing that I've noticed that's different is that it seems like I'm living in a community rather than just in student housing. Students are always in the lounge, because it's the only place we can watch TV or movies and the only place we can eat besides the kitchen. If we want to eat anything or access our fridge, we have a big kitchen and dining area, which people are always in. I think we're expected to cook our own things (or go out) at night, because it would be too far to go to the dining centers. The kitchen is actually really, really convenient; they supply all of our dishes and cooking supplies, and we all have fridges that we share with a few other rooms (but it's plenty of room for each person's things). Each individual room has their own locker with the dishes, western utensils, and a teapot (I'm so excited that we have a teapot!). There are stoves, broilers, ovens, microwaves, and rice cookers for us. I definitely am going to take advantage of the rice cookers--rice is very inexpensive and obviously can be used for many Japanese dishes. I'm going to try and learn to make onigiri so I can take it to school for lunch sometimes instead of buying lunch every day.

The seminar houses are also very, very nice, or at least much nicer than the dorms I've stayed in before at UNI! We have nice tatami mats on the floor, sliding partitions to separate the desks from the area where we sleep or sit at the table, and a balcony!!! I took a picture of our room (the first time it's been actually somewhat clean and the futons have been rolled up!)

It actually is bigger than it looks in pictures, especially once we put our beds away. This picture was taken standing right inside the door. Behind the screens are our desks, and the sliding door in the back goes out to the balcony. Every night we unroll our futons to sleep, and then we roll them back up and store the bottom mat in the closet in the morning. Something interesting I learned about futons today: we're supposed to put the bottom mat out on the balcony to dry every week or so, because it absorbs so much moisture from our bodies during the night that it can get moldy if just left inside. Weird, huh? I'm not really sure why this happens. Also if we leave our futon unrolled all the time, the tatami mat underneath can get moldy, so that's why we put it away every day. I guess the tatami mats are very expensive and if they get wet at all they may need to be replaced, so that's why we're not allowed to eat in the room.

Here's a pic of Hirakata City from our balcony. You can see mountains in the distance!

Actually, one thing about Japan that really surprised me is how mountainous it is. Maybe I just didn't pay very much attention in geography class. But you can see mountains on the horizon from pretty much everywhere. One of the reasons why the cities are so compact and populated is because they're all built in the only places that are habitable, and the rest is all too mountainous to build on. I'm not sure if that's the exact reason, but it's what Kayoko told me, and judging by what I've seen I believe it.

As for the Kansai Gaidai campus and facilities themselves, it's all so nice! The campus is very new-looking and easy to navigate. It's certainly smaller than my home university, because it's in the middle of a city, but I was actually surprised at how big it seems when you're actually walking around it. I need to take pictures of campus sometime, but maybe I'll wait until the fall when it's prettier and less hot. The HEAT is insane here--I'm pretty sure I've lost 7 or 8 lbs just from sweating when I'm outside every day. The seminar houses are about a 20 minute walk from campus, but this week I bought a BIKE!!!!, so that cuts the time quite a lot. It's VERY convenient to have a bike in the city, and most seminar house students get one. Mine is light blue and super cute...I'll have to take a picture of it too sometime!

I'm really liking the city of Hirakata, and have started to memorize where different points of interest are and how to get there. There are a lot of little restaurants around the seminar houses and university, and I know where a few grocery and convenience shops are (there are actually a lot of convenience shops, because they are EVERYWHERE in Japan, it seems like.) I've located a sort of department store, Midori, where I can buy pretty much anything I would need, from electronics to groceries to clothes. There are also two cheaper clothing stores pretty much across the street from the seminar houses, so that's very handy (and dangerous for me). If I want to experience more nightlife and shopping opportunities, Hirakata Station is about a 10 minute trip by bus and has a ton of cool shops, restaurants, karaoke bars, arcades, pachinko (a popular gambling game in Japan), and pretty much whatever you could want without journeying into Osaka city or somewhere else bigger. I've noticed that at night, young people like to play music and dance for change around the station, and it really adds to the atmosphere and is just awesome.

I'm really excited for classes to start, mainly because I like having a set schedule and I think that they're going to be really interesting for me. I did take the Japanese placement test, but regardless of if I learned on my own, if I've never taken a Japanese class or had an actual instructor I have to be placed in Level 1--which is fine with me actually, because I know there will be new things I'll be learning and it will be a good review. I've gotten my class schedule all figured out already! The language classes are taught in the morning, so I have Spoken Japanese every day, and Reading and Writing Japanese 3 times a week. The lecture classes are during the afternoon and evening, and I only have mine on Wednesdays and Fridays from 3 to 6:40. The two lecture courses I signed up for are Zen Buddhism, and Popular Culture as Social Practice. Actually, Popular Culture as Social Practice was a 2nd choice for me, and I really wanted to take Onna to Otoko: Gender and Sexuality in Japan, but I guess that class filled up fast. This other class I got sounds very interesting though; it sounds like it deals with the way that media images, popular tv shows, video games, and all that stuff influence Japanese society. Zen Buddhism is also something that I would like to learn about while here, and that I have been interested in but just haven't gotten around to learning a whole lot about before. I heard some things about it, and I guess that there are some field trips and we actually practice meditation and some of the Buddhist rituals in class--so cool!

Well, I'm getting really hungry (all I had for lunch was a few bites of these bad instant noodles earlier--it'll help a lot when I can actually read the labels before buying things). I think I'm going to go to the grocery store and get some things since we finally have full reign of the kitchen, and then I might make another blog about my travels to Tokyo and other places later tonight. Until then!