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.

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Housing and Wisdom Teeth

2 things!


I got my housing information late last night! I'm going to be in Seminar House 2, which was my first choice! :) I don't think there are any major differences between Seminar houses 1,2, and 4, but in the description for 2 it said "balcony of each room", so I'm hoping that means a real balcony I can go out and stand on. Unfortunately, I can't find a video tour of this seminar house, but judging by the pictures on the KGU website it looks nice.


I'm getting my wisdom teeth out tomorrow morning -_-. Actually, I'm kind of excited for this, or at least relieved that it's finally being taken care of; I was told I needed them out, like, 2 years ago, but I've been super nervous about it so I put it off until the last possible moment pretty much. I've heard horror stories of swelling and dry sockets, okay? But over the last year I've been getting aches back there in my mouth more and more, and two have erupted above the gum. Two of them are impacted, and one top one is coming in almost completely sideways and digging into my cheek pretty bad. So I'm glad that all that will finally stop. It does bother me that I'll have to miss work for most of next week, and my fitness classes, but hopefully this'll be a chance to get some reading and other things done.

And booo, my brother and his friends are making brownies right now, and I'm not allowed to eat anything tonight because of the whole anesthesia thing tomorrow morning.

Let's hope for oxycodone.

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Getting Prepared and stuff.

I'm bored tonight and waiting for my friend Kayoko to get on Skype so we can discuss what we're going to do when I land in Tokyo, so I think I'll do some posting on here!

The other day I got my Japanese Visa in the mail! It wasn't as complicated to get as I figured it'd be--the process was actually very smooth. I was super nervous about sending my passport in the mail to the Japanese Consulate in Chicago (even using UPS), but I got it back in just 2 days with this shiny new thang stamped inside.

Check out them cherry blossoms:

It's probably not a big deal to most people to get a visa, but I think it's way sweet! And sorry for the bad quality, right now I'm stuck taking pictures with my phone, as it looks as though my digital camera has called it quits for good. Oh well, it served me for a good 4 years, which I consider legit for electronic devices. I thought about asking for a new one for my birthday this summer, but then remembered that I'm going to pretty much the motherland of all things electronic pretty soon! It'll have to be one of my first purchases when I get there!

On August 18, I'm going to fly to Tokyo alone and meet up with Kayoko, then hit the town. I'm actually not too nervous about flying--though I've never flown alone, I've been in a few airports in my time, and last year I negotiated several Amtrak terminals by myself (including the Chicago depot, which was a little crazy). These of course are much smaller than airports, but I think as long as I ask around and be careful I should be fine!

I've been looking up videos and blogs made by other KGU exchange students lately to try and get a feel for what I'm in for. There's a girl who goes by Brother Annie who was over there last year and makes both Youtube vlogs and keeps a blog. Her videos are pretty awesome and cover a wide range of topics dealing with Japanese life.

There are also some great videos on Youtube showing off the seminar houses (which I will be staying in) and the university campus. This is a pretty cool video tour of seminar house 4; I found it surprising that we have a place to put our shoes outside of our rooms! I guess it makes sense, being all in Japan and stuff. But still, don't students ever have their shoes stolen? I really like the setup of the kitchen, with the lockers and shared fridges--I plan on using the kitchen often, partially to save money by cooking my own stuff, and to learn to cook Japanese food. The rooms look very simple and cozy--is it sad that I'm excited to sleep on a Japanese-style futon? I hope I get a good roommate. I signed up for seminar house 2 as my first choice, and 1, 4, and 3 after that in order of preference; seminar house 3 is actually an apartment-style dorm you live in with several people to an apartment, and while that could be cool, it also costs more per semester. If I'm put there though I won't complain!

Here's a video showing off KGU's campus. It looks super nice and the students are so fashionable! (Is it strange that that was one of the first things I noticed?) The cafeteria definitely looks like it has better food than at UNI (though you can't really beat hot wing and crab ragoon Fridays or crepe day in the Rialto...). But in all seriousness, I'm really glad that it appears that black tights were in style last fall, and I can only hope they still will be at least a little bit this fall. I'm a big fan of leggings/tights+skirts+layers! In the video they also mention the breakdancers performing in the amphitheater--my friend Masa is part of the KGU breakdance team, and I'm wondering if I will see him perform there this fall! He's way good, I've seen him dance at UNI. I think street dancing is popular in Japan, I know a guy from my high school who lived in Tokyo for a few years working as a street performer.

In my video search, I came across an interesting interview with a female KGU student regarding gender and Japanese society. I find it fascinating that although you always hear certain ideas and takes on Japanese society from westerners, it seems like they have a lot of the same problems and ideals that we have over here. This girl's thoughts aren't too different from what I may have answered if asked the same questions about being a female in society...and her comments on fashion are interesting as well. I think that I will maybe have more to say on this once I've experienced living there, and living there as an American, at that. I think it's funny that she talks about Nicole Richie; sure, many people here know who she is, but that isn't the first celebrity that would spring into my mind to talk about (especially if we're talking about fashion icons)! I guess that her fashion line (which I believe is House of Harlow, though I could be wrong) is pushed more there. Maybe it is here too, but I just haven't noticed it living in Iowa. Anyway, I'm going to try and embed the video here.

Well, I'm getting tired tonight, and it doesn't look like Kayoko's going to get on before I go to bed--after all, it's 4:30 pm there, and she's getting back home from a trip today, and is probably not home yet. I hope these videos informed or entertained someone, or at least killed some boredom! :)

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

First Post

Finally, I have decided on a title and design for my travel blog--let's hope I don't change my mind! I'm sure "The Elle Word" seems pretty cheesy, but whatever. (EDIT: Changed the title, and I think I really like this one now! :p) The idea of a travel blog (especially the old gaijin-living-in-Japan schtick) is a bit cheesy in itself! :)


This year I'm studying abroad at Kansai Gaidai University in Hirakata City, Osaka, Japan. I've decided to make this blog to document my travels and my thoughts, and to show what it's like to be a 22-year-old American girl living in Japan.

I'm leaving on August 18th, so this blog has been made a bit prematurely; however, getting everything ready for travel is still important I guess, and I'm incredibly impatient, so I felt like I should go ahead and start my blog now. :)

I don't really care how many or how few people actually read this. It'll probably just be me, my mom, and whoever I pester to take a look on Skype; and that's perfectly fine, this is as much for my own benefit as anyone else's! A diary is for one to look back on when the adventure is over, isn't it?