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!

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Yep, I`m alive.

Yes--I KNOW--I`ve been in Japan for almost a week now and haven`t said so much as a word about it on this blog!

I promised myself I`d be better than this! So, for anyone who`s reading, sorry!!

However, it`s not like I didn`t think about it. It`s just that I`ve ran into some unexpected problems with my computer, with internet, and with time. The first night I arrived in Tokyo, my computer wouldn`t turn on. After freaking out for a few minutes, I realized that I WAS IN TOKYO!!, and my computer problems weren`t what should have been on my mind. So then I didn`t even touch it until the following night, and lo and behold, it turned right on like nothing had happened. So yeah, I don`t know what was going on there, but ever since I`ve been a little afraid, and have been hesitant to turn it on unless I know I really want to. I`ve talked to both of my parents on Skype, and uploaded some pictures, but really that`s about it. I also didn`t really have any time to be online, since very little of our time in Tokyo was spent in the hotel room!

However, the Tokyo tales will have to wait, because once again, I`ve run into a blogging roadblock, and won`t be able to share my pictures on the blog quite yet. (And I figure that a post just isn`t a post without the whole shebang.) On Monday, Kayoko and I came to her house in Kyoto (that`s where I`m at now), and they don`t have wireless internet. So I figured that instead of going through the hassel of hooking my computer up and getting it all set up (and probably spending more time than I should in front of it during my stay), I`ll just put off most of the important stuff until I move into the dorms this weekend. So right now I`m using Kayoko`s laptop to check up on a few things and fire off some e-mails (related: have you ever attempted to navigate a student webmail page completely in Japanese? I have a very, very limited grasp of kanji at the moment, dammit!). And besides all of that, we`ve been in go-mode shopping, sightseeing, clubbing, eating, and just exploring almost every waking moment since I`ve gotten to Japan, and when we get back to the hotel or now Kayoko`s house I`m just too tired to do much more!

I`m planning on making several entries about what I`ve done so far, because there`s been a lot of things! (And I have a lot of thoughts!) But sadly, they will have to wait until the weekend and next week. I`m hoping I`ll have some downtime after I move in on Saturday and before orientation starts to really work on this blog!

But anyway, I will say a few things about Japan (in bullet form, just because it`s easier for me to think that way). Some things that surprise me, some things that I`m really noticing:
  • First of all, my flight was good; I really surprised myself and didn`t get lost in any of the airports, and made it on to all of my flights just fine. I also managed to get some sleep on the big leap from San Francisco to Narita.
  • The food is agreeing with me! Study Abroad programs are always warning us of all these horrible bouts of disagreement we`re going to go through with the food when first going to a new country, but so far I`ve felt fine and, also surprising, really liked nearly everything I`ve tried! I guess I just don`t have that aversion to fishy or seaweed-y tasting things that it seems like a lot of Americans have. The only thing that`s strange is that I haven`t had much of an appetite since getting here, though I never feel sick or anything. But I can go almost all day walking around and stuff without feeling hungry. The only time I`ve really felt hungry since getting here, come to think of it, was when I was incredibly hungover our second morning in Tokyo XD. (At least it wasn`t a sick-y hangover!)
  • I`m realizing now just how limited my grasp of Japanese is--and it doesn`t help that it seemed as though many shopkeepers and such in Tokyo figured that since I was with a Japanese person, I must speak Japanese, and would always approach me doing so. Many, many gomennasai, hanashimasu chotto...`s. And Kayoko`s family doesn`t speak more than a few words of English! Though, of course, this means that I am learning many phrases FAST!
  • I got a Japanese cellphone! For the students reading this who haven`t come over yet and plan on buying one--first of all, you can`t without your alien registration (at least I couldn`t signing up with Docomo or Softbank), so you will have to wait until after you get it at orientation. Or, you could do as I did, and purchase it in a Japanese friend`s name. This is of course a little difficult though, since she will be recieving all of my bills, and I will have to give her the money and she will pay the bill for me from now on. You would have to have a really good friend I would say! X). (But we`ve been friends for a long time, and I know I can trust her with everything!) ALSO, I know that everyone recommends Softbank for international students to use, but my Docomo phone was about ¥5,000 cheaper, and I think the plans are better. I signed up for a 2-year plan, and will just break the contract at the end of my stay for about $90, rather than pay a ton of money for a pay-as-you-go phone--I really think this is a better deal, as I will most likely be needing unlimited texting. I also think the phones were better quality--mine is actually a brand new model, and was only around ¥6,400 to activate and for the first month, and then I will pay ¥5,400 each month after that. Of course, if you find a better deal, go for it! But we got mine in a giant department store in Akihabara with a ton of cell phone dealers right there, and this was the best we saw with a good-quality phone. *EDIT* Ok, now I understand about the student discount and the Softbank student pre-paid plan we have here on campus! So ignore all that about not getting Softbank, lol. I'm still keeping my Akihabara phone though.
  • They weren`t joking about the vending machines.
  • The people are so fashionable! I love it. I LOVE the clothes. And the girls are so skinny! It`s giving me serious thinspiration! XD
  • If I don`t lose weight from the food and the walking, it will be from the sweating--it is insanely hot and humid here! My poor new bangs...

I intended on writing more, but I was just told that we`re going out to kaiten-zushi whenever I get done on the computer! So I need to go now! Until this weekend!

Tuesday, August 17, 2010


It seems like everything went by so fast--tomorrow, I leave for Japan!

This is just going to be a quick entry, because, unsurprisingly, I've been incredibly busy getting everything ready the last few days. Time was strained a bit by a family reunion this past weekend, though I had a lot of fun at it and was glad I could attend and see family members from far away. But yesterday and today were pretty much spent scrambling around getting things packed, money set, last-minute things purchased (and sold--I ended up selling my old saxophone yesterday, so that's an extra $500 in my pocket I wasn't really expecting!), and goodbyes said.

I'm mostly nervous about changing planes tomorrow, and meeting Kayoko in Narita airport when I reach Japan. I think I go through customs upon entry into Japan, though I'm not completely sure. I found an app for my iPod that shows the layout of the Denver and San Francisco airports, flight arrivals, itineraries, and all kinds of SUPER useful things, so I'm really happy about that!

Tonight we're getting ready to go out to eat--my mom asked if I wanted her to make steak or something else really "American" for my last meal, but I wasn't really feeling steak, so I suggested we go out to eat. Since my brother's working tonight at the restaurant we both work at, I suggested we go there, and so that's what we're doing. It sounds kind of strange, since I work there and have eaten there a million times, but I don't mind, I really like the food :). And I don't want him to feel completely left out of our last meal together for possibly 9 months!

Anyway, even though I know nearly everything's packed and everything's ready as far as money and travel arrangements...I still feel like I must not be prepared! I finished packing 90% of my suitcase this afternoon (all that's left are some last-minute clothes I'm washing, a skirt my mom's mending, and a jacket)--we even weighed it, and it came to just under 40lbs, surprisingly (I thought my stuff would be way overweight!) Even knowing that I have that all done, and my carry-on almost packed, I still feel like I must be missing something. Hopefully this feeling will be gone by morning...

So, I guess that's that. The next time I blog, I'll hopefully be in Japan! :)

Thursday, August 12, 2010

My Spain

Well, here I am typing this blog entry, and now I'm not sure exactly what I was going to talk about.

This summer has been pretty boring for me, to be honest. (But it makes sense that it would be, wouldn't it? This is the time right before what will perhaps be the most hectic and engaging point in my life so far--living displaced in a foreign culture. The calm before the storm, I guess. The calm balances out the frenzy.) I'm living with my parents, 2 hours away from most of the friends I've made at university. I don't have many friends in town, because most of my high school friends have apartments at their own schools. I would be doing that myself if it weren't for my studying abroad; I would have been in an apartment last year if I didn't think at the end of my sophomore year that there was a chance I would be at KGU last semester. I ended up putting off applying until this year, for financial reasons mainly. I wanted a full summer to work and earn more money waitressing than I would at my job up at school, and I wanted to stay in Japan from fall to spring. I'm very particular about planning things, if you haven't noticed already...

Anyway, what I'm getting at with that, is that I've spent a lot of nights researching other KGU student blogs (past, present, and future). While I read, I see certain topics that actually really interest me, and I consider writing about them in my own blog, but then I figure that it would be stupid to since I'm not even in Japan yet, I may change my mind on the subject once I'm there, etc. Although there are a few things that I really feel like I want to get out, and so I'm gonna use this post to kind of dump them.

I've noticed, ever since choosing to study in Japan, that I get a very mixed set of reactions from people when they hear of my plans.

First of all, nearly everyone I talk to has a positive attitude about study abroad in general. I get a lot of "Wow, that'll be such a great experience!"'s and "It'll change your life!"'s. There are always some who say things like they could never do something like that, they're homebodies, they don't have the desire to travel or learn another language just for fun--and that's completely fine. Some people are just different; I very, very rarely get homesick, and absolutely love to travel places, whether it's 30 minutes into downtown Des Moines or hours and hours by Amtrak to St. Louis to visit my aunt. Don't get me wrong, of course I love my family, I just feel comfortable with being away from them, I guess. I can still call them up or talk to them on Skype or whatever else, so it's not a big deal to me. Anyway, I'm off track now. Maybe it's my location in the Midwest, the general friendliness of people around here, or whatever else, but people are generally very excited to hear about students studying abroad.

But then, they inevitably ask where I'm headed, and that's when the reactions can change a bit. I've never had a full-blown rude or vicious reaction to hearing that I'm going to Japan, but I've gotten a lot of people saying", I would never think to go there." or the raised-eyebrow look and "Japan? Really?". It also depends on the age demographic, I guess; obviously older and younger people have different preconceived notions about the country. Actually, it's older people who usually assume I must be really smart or something to be learning Japanese and going there to study the language; I don't think I must be smarter than the next person at all, hell, my GPA wasn't even that spectacular when I was accepted into this program (though my acceptance does still baffle me every day.) As for Japanese itself, I really don't think it's that much harder than any other language to learn--yes, it's easier for an English speaker to learn Spanish or French or German (because all these languages share common ancestries and are full of cognates), but I don't think it's technically much more complicated. (In fact, English is a very difficult language to achieve a full grasp on when not raised a native speaker--think of all the strange spellings, borrowed words, grammatical rules (and how often they are broken), and inconsistent pronunciations there are.) And so, I don't think it's really a sign of being super "smart" to want to go to Japan.

From my peers, there's really a mix of reactions. Many will instantly bring up how gross they think Japanese food is (maybe this is a midwest thing; I get this a LOT from older people too. Did I know they eat seaweed and raw fish over there? Wow, no sir, I sure didn't. Thanks for the tip. -_-) I've had people raise their eyebrows and get this sort of knowing look on their face, before asking if I watch anime or read manga. (And they are almost always surprised to hear that I don't, I just really like Japan.) But hey, I guess we are the anime generation--Japan's cartoons have definitely caused an explosion of interest in the country in Western culture, and I've gotten the feeling from reading other student blogs that that is the reason why many first became interested in Japan.

Even among my own group of friends, I've felt like some were quick to judge me for my choice. In college at least, I've always been really the only one in my group with an interest in Japan. Sometimes, I feel like they think it's a little bit of a novelty to ask me to say something in Japanese at parties, or for me to make friends with Japanese exchange students at our school. I always found this kind of strange, because several people in my group of friends were studying languages of their own (and even majoring in them--I've never even taken a Japanese class), and yet no one asked them to say something in Spanish or whatever else. (Though I will say, I have a friend who lived in Germany for a year, and she really, really likes Germany. Like really likes it. And it's cool to hear her speak German fluently. So I guess she was like me, only with Germany.) Anyway, I guess that Japanese is a sort of novelty, in that in my social circle, it wasn't something you heard about every day, and everyone knew that I really, really liked Japan. I'm sure some thought I was a little strange, but then again, I'm sure they had interests themselves that they were passionate about. (And if not...well, they must be pretty boring. :p) And I'm not trying to throw a pity party or something here--a lot of kids say they're jealous, or that they think Japan sounds way cool and trendy, or that it's just a unique place they wouldn't have thought of.

I guess what I've learned from this is that many people expect to hear names like "England" or "Germany" or "France" or, inevitably, always, always, "Spain" when I say I'm studying abroad, and they're surprised to hear "Japan". Even my own mom originally tried to persuade me to go the Spain route, and not Japan--and although I don't think there's anything wrong with these countries or wanting to study there at all (I would like to visit all of these places very much so, actually), I feel like one learns very fast just how unusual their choice to go to a non-European or South American country must be when faced with all of the reactions people have.

I guess I just think of Japan as a country like any other in terms of study abroad; I actually didn't think it was an uncommon choice when I first wanted to go until I actually went to the study abroad office and learned that only a few students go there from our school every year.

Though I doubt that many people will read this outside of other KGU'ers and maybe some relatives, I do hope, just a little bit, that this blog can be a way of showing that Japan is a very interesting and fun country to those who weren't the stereotypical Japan-loving anime kids. I'm going there knowing more Japanese people at the University than non-Japanese, something that I think is also a little atypical of the average KGU exchange student. I really want to try and experience life as a girl my age over there would by hanging out with Japanese friends, and not just as an American hanging out with other foreigners in Japan would (though obviously I will still spend time with my fellow exchange students!). I know there will be disappointments, and that I obviously do not look or sound even remotely Japanese, and will therefore be treated differently--but I actually don't mind that a whole lot, I think experiencing life as a minority will be an interesting journey as well. Though, of course, I can never know how things will actually go until I get there; these are all just predictions and thoughts. 4:15am thoughts, in fact.

Maybe I should stop talking, and really get some sleep. :)

Monday, August 9, 2010

Thunder and Rainclouds

Well, I don't really have much to say in this update, but I really felt like making a post, so I did! It's storming outside--one of my favorite noises--so I'm sitting in the dark in our dining room and watching the lightening flash in the windows and enjoying it. On to things I've been doing recently.

On Saturday morning, my mom and I got up super early (5 a.m., a time that I wasn't even aware existed until this weekend) and headed to the farmer's market in downtown Des Moines. All summer, I've been thinking of what things I can bring to Japan to give to people I meet, my host family, Kayoko's parents, my Japanese friends, etc. I've noticed that the Japanese people are very into gift giving, and I thought it'd be a good idea to bring some stuff to dole out. I thought that getting handmade, or Iowa-esque things would be a good idea.

Anyway, I've never been to the Des Moines farmer's market, and it really surprised me! It's huge! There was a ton of produce, and pastries and breads and a lot of jewelery, clothes, and other handmade goods. Lots of sweet ethnic food stands to try as well! I split some Indian breakfast fried potato pocket things with my mom (I forgot what they were called, but they were fried dough filled with potato chunks and spices and came with a really good dipping sauce), and got a shrimp spring roll later. I ended up buying some really great things to give as presents! I'm not going to write exactly what, because maybe Kayoko or other friends or my speaking partners will read this, but I hope they'll like them or find them useful. My mom actually offered to buy a bunch of the more expensive stuff, which really surprised me, but I didn't decline! :)

Speaking of money, it's been tight lately. Things haven't been nearly as busy as they usually are at the restaurant I work at--I only made 32 freakin' dollars on a DOUBLE shift on Saturday (usually I'll make anywhere between $70-$120 on a Friday or Saturday night shift alone!). Friday wasn't much better, I only made somewhere around $25 and spent it all at the farmer's market the next morning. Luckily, today's double shift was surprisingly good for a Sunday--we had a late rush tonight, and I made $75. I'm really wanting to make money this week, because it's my last week working (for...potentially 9 months, I can't believe it!), and I need to buy some things before I go. I've deposited all the money I've saved this summer in a savings account so I won't spend it until I take it out to exchange it, so I'm relying on this week's money for my last-minute things.

I'm considering getting a new suitcase to take over, just because the one I took to Italy in high school isn't made of the hard material like the new ones, and it's bulky. I'm super afraid of my stuff being damaged (and lost, but I guess I can't help that). I saw some good looking (and discounted!) suitcases at TJ Maxx the other day, so I'm going to look around there and some other places this week. That's my big purchase I'm looking at, and why I needed to make money this weekend--even getting it for a discounted price, I'm still looking anywhere between the $80-$120 pricerange for a good case.

Hmm, what else...oh, actually, right as I was typing this up I got my speaking partner assignment e-mails! (I've been checking my e-mail almost obsessively the last few days--I'm impatient!) I signed up for two partners, since they had a surplus of Japanese students sign up. Mine are both girls, and named Ayami and Azusa (Azusa is a name I've never heard before!). I'm probably going to e-mail them after typing this blog :).

I've had some experience with speaking partners before, I had to have one for my TESOL class last semester. Actually, my first speaking partner experience wasn't exactly a good one. I was partnered with a Saudi Arabian guy named Mohammad, and while he was really nice, I got the feeling he was being a little too nice--red flags kind of went up in my mind when literally the first question he asked me upon meeting me was "So, you have a boyfriend?" (>.<) He also informed me that he really liked blondes and wanted to meet with me as much as possible every week. Let's just say my time spent with Mohammad was very awkward! I talked to the speaking partner coordinator and was given another partner, a Saudi girl named Noor, who was MUCH better! She's incredibly sweet and we got along really well, even though our schedules wouldn't allow us to meet as often as I would have liked. She knew English pretty well already, so we mostly just talked about fashion, or differences between America and Saudi Arabia, or whatever else. I was kind of hoping that my KGU speaking partners would be girls, just because I think it's easier for me to get along with girls in situations like this, and we'd have more in common to talk about probably! (Uh...this part of my post was half-deleted for some reason when I first posted it, so it may not have made sense if someone read it right away, lol. Hopefully it's fixed now.)

Also, after some serious snooping around tonight, I've found some more KGU blogs to read! I even figured out how to put a widget linking to other blogs on my blog, so check 'em out if you want. I can't wait to get there and meet new people on campus :). よろしくね :)

(speaking of e-mailing my speaking partner--I just now got an e-mail from one of mine! Yay! I'm gonna read it and eventually get to bed sometime tonight!)

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Packing and Learning How to Do Woman-Things

I feel like I've finally gotten a lot accomplished today, so I'm gonna make a post about it!

This morning I organized my room (see: looked through stuff, without really moving anything from it's designated spot on my floor) and decided what things I'm going to ship over to KGU before I leave. Originally, I was going to send one big-ish box of clothes and a few dorm-things, but after asking around about shipping rates at the post office the other day I decided to just load up two smaller USPS priority boxes. It might be a little expensive because of the weight, but I was told it'll be less than sending a big box, so I can't complain. And it made me limit myself and really pick-and-choose what to send, which I needed. I had to keep reminding myself that I can still take things in my suitcase, it's not like everything needs to go in the boxes...

I got the boxes all packed and taped up, and am going to send them tomorrow morning hopefully (if I can get the online customs label thing the guy at the PO explained to me figured out...). I ended up getting in a good amount of clothes (you'd be surprised at how much things can compress down!), some jewelry, makeup, picture frames (was going to print out some newer pics to fill them with, but didn't get around to it), some computer things, and a few dorm knick-knacks that I wanted to take to make things a little more homey, I guess. I know that it's probably dumb to take so many clothes since I'm going to inevitably buy more there, but I don't want to spent too much money getting a new wardrobe, and I guess I have kind of an attachment to my clothes :x. I really did pick out only my favorites though. It just happens to be that I have a lot of favorites. :)

My boxes chillin and waiting to be shipped. See you soon, stuff!

And now on to my big accomplishment of the day: I learned how to cook dinner! (Okay, I learned how to cook a dinner. I know a few more, but they mostly involve tacos or some form of dehydrated noodles or Velveeta cheese.) Anyway, a little backstory. So, when my Japanese friends Hikari and Kayoko have stayed with me, each have made a Japanese meal for our family. Last summer Hikari made Japanese hamburgers and an Okinawan dish that I can't recall the name of (it had potatoes, vegetables, beef, and was flavored with hon-dashi, I believe; she said it's something that girlfriends traditionally make for a new boyfriend to impress them). Over Christmas break Kayoko I think made some type of noodles for everyone, though we made a bunch of different things for ourselves to eat during that time, and I can't quite remember what all we cooked x) (sorry! >.>;;) Anyway, because of that, and because I just think it'd be cool, I decided to learn how to cook some really American dishes so I can make them for Kayoko's family and maybe my home-visit family. I decided on chili and cornbread, since Kayoko and I both really really like them and the ingredients won't be too hard to find (besides the chili powder mix, which I think I'm just going to bring a few packets of over), and apple pie for dessert. And tonight I cooked them for the first time! And took some pictures to document this monumental event.

The chili was actually really easy to make, you pretty much just brown and drain the hamburger and add water and all the vegetables and chili seasoning, and let it simmer.

We put corn in our chili to add some more color. And oh yeah, it turns out my camera isn't actually broken--the battery just loses charge super fast and I had to charge it up forever to get it to stay on. :(

The cornbread was more-or-less a success too, though I used a pan that was too big and it ended up being really thin. But it still tasted good! I think cornbread is going to be one of the foods I miss the most in Japan.

The chili turned out really good--my mom, stepdad, and I ate all of it, with the help of a family friend who stopped in and was peer pressured to eat some too. Then I attempted my first pie, an event which my mom was super psyched about.

We made the pie completely from scratch, and it was very time consuming. I never realized that you had to use one of those dough cutter things to "knead" the crust dough, or why you did before. (For those not up on pie-trivia: it's to mix the shortening and dry ingredients so that the dough is made up of tiny little pieces of shortening covered in the flour/sugar mixture, and not just all mashed together. This is so when it's made into the crust and cooked, the shortening will melt away and leave little layers of crust, which is what makes it flaky.) I won't lie: rolling it nice and thin was a pain in the ass (apparently my dough was very soft, which also meant it would be really flaky and good, but fragile), transferring it into the pan, and later on top of the pie was a pain in the ass, and it was a pain in the ass to peel and slice all those apples. (I'm kind of hoping we can find pre-sliced and skinned cooking apples in Japan. Or I'll just start in like the morning.) Buuut it was worth it; nothing catastrophic happened, and my pie turned out pretty good for my first time!

Spoiler Alert: When I cook for Kayoko's family or my host family, I think I want to cut "apple" in hiragana into the top of the pie, so I tested that tonight. It came out okay; I don't know if I'm going to actually do it unless I can come up with a cooler design!

So proud of my ringo pie.

So, I didn't get done with making the dough and the insides and putting it together until like 10:30, so everyone was already in bed by the time I lifted my greatest accomplishment in awhile out of the oven. But I was proud, dammit, I was proud.

The text's a little warped and I need to work on my outer-edge design skillz, but I would say that's a damn good first attempt.

I didn't really want to just cover my pie up and leave it untouched until morning, and I was really anxious to actually taste it, so I went ahead and cut myself a piece. And it was good! The crust was super flaky (as much as when my mom does it or maybe even more, idk), and it tasted right. The only thing was that the apples weren't mushy enough in the center, so maybe I should have left it in a little longer. I'm going to bake a few more pies I think before I leave (I really want to get it down perfect!), and maybe even venture into the realms of cherry or blueberry. I'm either going to get really good, or way fat trying, or both in the next two weeks.

The only thing that made my cooking lesson better was the news tonight: Yay for California repealing Prop 8! Makes me happy to see us come one step closer to nation-wide equality. :)

Hmm, what else...last night I hung out with my friends Hannah and Clint, and we went down to Scott's man-cave to watch home videos we found, and it was great. Scott was ridiculous when he was little, and I was a mouth-breathing chubster. I'm going to miss hangin wit my homies while I'm in Japan. I'm sure I'll meet new homies, and will have my Japanese friends, but I'll still miss them! Maybe I'll make a post about all the specific things I'll miss about America/where I live soon. Hmm.

Monday, July 26, 2010

Thoughts, Motives, and Ice Cream

Well, wisdom teeth surgery went better than I expected. I'm not a rolling ball of blood and pain--well, there is blood, but only a little now and I actually haven't experienced barely any pain. The most painful part of my day so far was when I had the IV stuck in me. They didn't send me away with any crazy meds (which I was kind of hoping for, to be honest), just a bunch of gauze and instructions to take 600mg of ibuprofen every 4 hours. I'm kind of baffled, actually, as I'm not feeling any different really at all, besides the fact that my cheeks are swollen and mouth constantly tastes like iron. I am alternating an ice pack between cheeks every half hour to reduce swelling, so maybe that's keeping things extra-numb or something. Oh well, I get some sweet food out of it--ice cream so far, and pudding and soups. It'll probably hurt like hell tomorrow.

Anyway, on to what I was planning on writing about in the first place.

As I've mentioned, I've been reading some other KGU students' blogs, and have been getting some ideas for my own. I've noticed that there are a few things I wanted to discuss that were really some of the driving points to making this blog (besides posting pretty pictures of my Japan antics eventually). Firstly, my motivation for going to Japan in the first place.

To explain this, I'm going to give a few thoughts. (Hey, I'm pretty much bedridden for the next few days. I got a lot of time to think this shit up.)

I think that modern Japan is one of those countries that everyone has sort of a different opinion about. Of course, you hear this from anyone who has an interest in a country, even if someone who doesn't it may not know it from the countries surrounding it. I think that there are a lot of people (where I'm from, at least) who tend to lump the contents of the globe into "Europe", "Middle East", "Asia", "Africa", "South America", and, of course, "America" (and by America, they mostly mean the United States, it seems.) Though, keeping that in mind, I do believe that Japan tends to strike a bit of a different chord with many people, and what chord that is I think has a lot to do with the generation.

For older people, it may bring up memories of WWII--my own grandfather fought in Okinawa, and definitely has memories (some of which he brought home, but more on that later) of the Japanese. For my parent's generation, hearing their parents speak of WWII is probably a common memory, though I think that Japan's incredible post-war economic and industrial boom left some lasting impressions. I think that during this time Japan was able to rise above being lumped in with the other Asian countries as just another exotic Oriental land to Westerners, and be recognized as a serious world player.

For my own generation, I think that Japan is recognized by Westerners for more diverse reasons than ever, which is why it's difficult for me to pinpoint just one reason why I became interested in the country and culture in the first place. For some kids, it seems like a futuristic society of robots and magnetic trains and automated vending machines that is incredibly different from our own, and alien in that regard. You may picture girls from the Harajuku district of Tokyo wearing outrageously cute attire, and boys with dyed, spiked hair and top-to-bottom designer outfits. Others may remember learning about origami or tea ceremony, or a martial art from Japan, and may recognize the traditional culture instantly. There are, of course, the anime kids--they like Japan for the cartoons it produces, and aren't afraid to declare it loudly. Anime is indeed a very large industry in Japan; even Westerners who aren't a fan of the cartoons still may associate Japan with a mental image of Pikachu or Sailor Moon. Western Internet culture has taken this a step further, associating Japan with all things both freaky and super-cute, and jokingly regarding fans of the culture as "Japanophiles" or, dare I say it, "weeaboos". There are, of course, other stereotypes you might come up with (land of sushi? Those kids who study all the time and have to wear uniforms? Sumo wrestling and samurai?), but those are just some common examples I see.

So which one am I? What drew me to this culture? Well, it was a combination of few of those things, to be truthful, and other reasons.

To begin, one of the most stark memories of my childhood was visiting my Grandpa and Grandma, and watching Grandpa make his way upstairs to return with an old trunk filled with Things He Brought Back From The War. Apparently these were things that he didn't flaunt until later on in his years, when he had grandchildren; after all, war is not something I would imagine is easy to discuss for many. Anyway, contained in this box were many items that had been lifted from the Japanese he had encountered in Okinawa: an old Japanese flag, a yukata, wooden traditional shoes, a canteen (I believe it belonged to a Japanese, but it may have been an American), a wallet complete with yen and photographs of the deceased soldier's family, and a photo album, which was eerie to me in it's age, the stoic expressions on the Japanese family's faces, and for the mere fact that this was a family keepsake that belonged to people on the other side of the world. (Now, don't get me wrong here--I'm not blaming my grandfather for his actions. I think that he did what many, many other soldiers did, and that if in war killing the enemy is the target, then stealing some belongings can't be much worse in comparison, if that make sense. I think he took the things out of curiosity more than spite, and from either the dead or from abandoned areas.)
It struck me that these people were not much different than my own family--I've always found old (like, black-and-white-and-no-smiles-and-their-Sunday-best old) photographs from my own culture and even of my own family to be creepy, and I realized that this Japanese (or Okinawan) family was so similar in that regard. I'm not really sure why I think they are creepy, I just do--something about the expressions people used to use, and my strong fear of the image of the girl in the movie The Ring may have something to do with it (which is actually the image of a traditional Japanese ghost, for trivia's sake). Anyway, I remember thinking about that family as a kid, and who was and wasn't still alive; which kids were killed in the war; if they wondered about their photo album. I guess that's where my first interest in Japan came from.

Since highschool, I've also had a great interest in fashion. You will probably see this on this blog; I'm considering adding a "what-I-wore" or virtual closet or similar feature, just because it's something I have fun with. :) One of my biggest influences has been modern Japanese girl's fashion. I don't mean like maid or schoogirl outfits, though I do think the plaid skirt and slouchy socks look is cool. Just the fashion culture in general--oversized shirts, ruffles, skirts paired with leggings or colored tights, bright colors, accessories, heels and boots in every style imaginable. It's hard to describe Japanese fashion using just a few things, because it is so diverse, but still notably Japanese. It seems to me like Korea and Indonesia emulate Japanese style to an extent. I think it's cute, but not overly-so, not really immature. I also like the Japanese approach to fashion; with a society that is seemingly so strict and community-based (rather than based on the individual, as with Western society), young people can express themselves through their clothing and appearance. Westerners do this too, of course, but I've always felt like I've had to hold back, that I'm going to be judged negatively for wearing what I really, really want to wear. (Of course, having only lived in America, these are just my assumptions from afar; I'll report back on my fashion culture findings after having lived in Japan.) Anyway, yes, fashion has had a big impact on my interest in Japan, probably one of the biggest.

The other biggest reason is hard for me to explain. I guess I could sum it up with "girl culture", though that might bring some wrong ideas into people's minds, and that isn't completely it, so let me explain a bit further. My freshman year of college, I befriended a girl from Okinawa named Hikari, and that was when I guess you could say I began "researching" (though I use that term very loosely) how girls my age live and what they do in Japan. Hikari told me some of the differences between our cultures, and I found it interesting. I found the importance of fashion, of politeness, of going out and having fun at purikura or at the bar or karaoke or wherever else a way cool concept. (The Japanese do not throw down at house parties often, if at all; there isn't enough room! Even in high school kids will go to a shopping or arcade or restaurant area to hang out rather than crowd a small home) It could have been because of my upbringing in one of the lesser-populated and attraction-filled areas of the United States, or it could be something else. I don't know why, but I just love the obsession with fashion and cell phones and going out in a bigger city. Of course, since I've never lived it, I don't really know, but I know that I love the idea.

Now, having said all that stuff, I feel like I have to throw in one last thing; the language. I've been told I kind of have a knack for language. I don't mean to sound conceited; I personally think I'm incredibly lazy and would be a lot better if I ever, you know, practiced, so I would say that I have more of a knack for imitating noises and speech, rather than the whole correctly speaking thing. Though I do have a great interest in learning other languages. After I met Hikari, I decided I wanted to learn Japanese, because I was finding the culture interesting, and because I thought the language looked and sounded cool, and because I've always heard that Japanese is one of the harder languages to learn, and I wanted to challenge myself. So I started learning on my own, because my college doesn't offer Japanese and we couldn't find a real tutor. And so, everything I've learned of the Japanese language I've learned from a combination of Rosetta Stone, speaking with Japanese friends (many more of whom I met last year, but I will discuss that in my blog inevitably!), random other little things (going to JP websites, watching movies, shows, and videos, etc.), and, I admit it, My Japanese Coach for the DS (which is actually VERY useful for learning hiragana, katakana, and some kanji. I wouldn't be ひらがなをよんでとかいています nearly as well if I hadn't picked that game up!)

Oh yeah, and there is one more thing, one very geeky thing, that I feel like I should probably own up to and mention. (Then again, it's hard for someone to have a real interest in Japan, and NOT be at least a little bit of a geek, right?) I'll just say it. I've played some video games in my life. I'm not exactly that vocal about my gaming interests, but I pretty much grew up on Zelda, Final Fantasy, Metroid, the odd Mario game now and then, Sonic the Hedgehog, and, at the top of it all, Pokemon. The alarming and embarrassing thing about this is that I still play many of these games. I plan on working on my Pokedex in HeartGold on the plane ride over to Tokyo, and am anxiously awaiting news on the new Zelda at this year's Tokyo Game Show. And it is a great disappointment to me that I won't be able to get in on Metroid Prime: Other M or FFXIII (I know I'm way late, I was savin' my monies, dammit) until after I get back to the states most likely ;_;. ...Alright, who am I kidding, I'm not embarrassed. I love these games. I grew up fighting Ganondorf and running into Gary 5 step out of a cave with every dude in my team nearly dead. Although I will say that it's pretty much just these Japanese-made series I'm into. And so, because they are from Japan, they can't help but have Japanese influence in their design, plot, and other elements now and again. So I guess that, even if I didn't notice it until I played the game over as an adult, I was being influenced by Japanese things all throughout my childhood. I feel like many of the more futuristic settings in different FF's were influenced by Tokyo. The maps for the different generations of Pokemon games are straight-up copies of different regions of mainland Japan. The characters in Zelda and FFVII looked suspiciously anime-like. So, in that way, I guess that Japan was a big part of my childhood, even if sort of secretly.

Anyway, that was incredibly long, and props to anyone who actually read all of that. My head is becoming very cold due to the ice pack that I keep on one side of my face or the other at all times, and I think that I'm going to go back to reading this fantasy novel I'm working through (Wheel of Time, anyone? I've had this huge craving for classic fantasy lately.) In conclusion: Maybe it's all of those things that inspired me, and maybe it's just the idea of travel, of living on my own, and, most of all, of being a foreigner and a minority for once in my life. Or maybe I just want to chill with Kayoko and the other Japanese people I know in an entirely different setting. Who knows.