Introduction: This journal is written for the sake of the next person coming to Japan from St. Cloud State, in the year following the year in which it was written. I strove to write in this journal daily, but many of the entries were written at a later date rather than the date under which the events appear. Because of this, the tense in which they are written is sometimes confused- I'm sorry.
The journal is written about my experiences in Japan, both public and personal. I have tried my best to keep strictly personal things out of this composition, but here and there they have wormed their way into its workings. As a result, I request that any information about me as a person or anyone mentioned herein be unused as evidence against that person, or in any way used in an unfair manner.
I only request that whosoever shall read this tale try to learn something from my experiences, at least as I represent them in this work.
I am always open to questions you may have, or any feedback about anything concerning the content herein. Drop me a line if you feel so inclined!
Tyson Roberts, 11/16/1999 (firstname.lastname@example.org)
* Dates are given in Showa numbers. (Showa year 11 = 1999)
Day 1 (05/10/11) Wed
- Added FE #1
- Added IP #1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11
- Train departure onward
Well, we arrived in Narita 1:30 late. We breezed through immigration and customs, being asked only 2 questions: 'What is your occupation?' 'Do you have anything to declare?' After that, May and I together made our way out of the terminal to meet a man holding a sign saying 'Akita University' in English. From then on we ran. Because we were so late, we had missed the Shinkansen (bullet train) from Tokyo to Akita. Therefore we had to take another style train (which I have forgotten the name for) which is basically a sleeping train.
- The Sleeping Train
There are 4 beds in each room, complete with covers, sheets, bedroom slippers (which were WAY too small for me, with size 13 feet), and a Yukata (kind of cotton, informal kimono-style dress that's easy to wear, and very comfortable).
- Struggling for meaning
During and before the sleeping train, I was already a little sick from all the travel, and being on a train didn't help me much. The plane flight from Minneapolis had been 13½ hours long (should have been 12, but we were low on fuel and stopped in Sapporo for 1½ hours to refuel), and now I found out that the train ride would be another 10½. Keep in mind I was sort of pissed off about this because the Shinkansen would have been a 4-hour trip. That 1 ½-hour delay cost us over 7 hours of travel time. Grr!
Total trip time: 25½ hours.
May and I together struggled to figure things out about where we were, what we were doing, etc. basically the whole trip from the nice Japanese man who had picked us up. It was very difficult, both of us having little experience in conversation previously, and the fact that he spoke very quickly, and not very standard Japanese at that. Anyway, we ate rice cakes and sandwiches and went to bed.
- The room
Sharon had shown me pictures of the dorm/apartment where I would be staying before hand, and I had been less than impressed with the accommodations. Not that I was disappointed, I just didn't have my hopes up. As it turns out, I got more than I was asking for.
I myself was put up into a new dorm for international students. In fact, I was the first student to stay in the room I am now living in. Only 3 of the international students coming over on the Monbusho/AIEJ programs were housed in this dorm. After seeing the other dorms first hand, I feel even luckier. Keep in mind, the dorms are very similar. In fact, the rooms we got are slightly smaller than the others are. However, the fact that these places are brand new, clean and really convenient more than makes up for it.
/-| | Burner \ Kitchen
Bathtub |*| | Sink / Area
Toilet |=\ = Refrigerator
Bed / *** | Pantry \
& < *** | > Desk and Shelves
Drawers \ *** | Heater /
Glass Door ---
|___| Clothesline and Balcony
The kitchen area contains 1 gas burner, and one sing with some area in-between to work with. It has a light and an exhaust fan. Pretty basic, but clean. The fridge is decent size, with a good-sized freezer as well. The bed was there for me, which is nice… I didn't want to have to purchase a futon. I did, however have to purchase bedding. The desk is nice and large. It spans as long as the bed long, and is a decent amount deep. It came complete with office-style chair, so I'm not complaining. There is a phone in the room, which I am yet to be able to use, as I have not signed a contract with the Phone Company. The balcony is cool, and has a nice view of… a tin roof. That's right, the tin roof across the fence. This has to do with the fact that Japanese houses are so close together. I shouldn't have expected anything else. Anyway, the primary purpose is for a place to hang laundry anyway.
- The wait
We left in sleeping train about 9:30 PM, and arrived in Akita at about 7:00 am. We were then picked up by Mr. Murakami who took us to our rooms. This is when we realized that May and I were in separate dorms. She to the old, I to the new. Anyway, this put me in a bit of a spot. I was now supposed to wait in the room for 4 hours until they came to pick me up and go to a spot where we would be filled in.
- The TV Lounge; Meeting Kaku
My first meeting with Kaku-oneesan (as I now call her) was in the TV lounge downstairs. The TV Lounge is very nice, with a cool Sony Trinitron monitor with a 16:9 (theater style) ratio. It also had a really nice Sony VCR.
Anyway, I was checking out Japanese TV for the first time when Kaku walked in. I had passed her once before in the day while she was walking outside. In the awkwardness of neither of us knowing anything, we ignored each other that time. This time, communication commenced. I learned that she a recipient of the AIEJ scholarship from China. It took some time for us to figure out that her age in Japan/America would be 20 and not 21 as the Chinese do it. After a few sort-of icebreakers, we got along very well. She speaks fluent Chinese (obviously), VERY advanced in Japanese (so far, I've seen her understand most of what she's been told, and is able to respond at similar speed), and speaks a little English (though not enough to follow conversation. Oh, and she's really cute.
- International Phone calls, Nick
One of the professors from Akita University came to pick us up much earlier than we expected. It turns out, he wanted to help us make calls home to our families. We did so (with some difficulty on my part, having never made an international call in my life), and then returned to the dorm. This is where I first met Nick.
Nick is the other Monbusho scholarship recipient, him coming from Australia with another girl Brea (who I met later) who received an AIEJ. We got along really well, Nick and I. We share the same sort of sense of humor. Though, even there, there are some communications problems. For one, our styles of speech are different. He doesn't always pronounce all his letters, and I tend to have really hard pronunciation of some things. We have argued about this for hours so far.
A while later, Mr. Murakami showed up and took us to the old international student house, where most of the students stay. Then, we went on to meet each other, and go out to a soba house. Also, Sato was there.
I knew Sato for a while he was studying English at St. Cloud State. He is a very outgoing guy, and fun to be with. As it turns out, Sato and Tatsuya helped us immensely over the next few days.
- Store shopping, banking
We went to millions of stores in the next few days. Really, all in all, Japanese stores are not that much different, if you get by the quantity vector. It seems, at least from I've seen so far, is that there is on average a 10 store/city block density.
Banking is a little different, however. The main difference you see is in the way in which the customers are handled. When a customer walks into the bank, they take a number and then sit down. No big surprise. After their number is called, they bring up their money, paperwork, etc. to the cashier. The cashier then gets whatever information they need, and asks the customer to take a seat. The customer then sits in the waiting area until they are called to complete the transaction, however that is accomplished. All in all, it is much better than standing in line.
- Cafeteria, campus
They walked us around campus, and we got to see the buildings. I must say this: in general, in America, any campus with buildings looking this bad would be bankrupt. The buildings themselves are filthy on the outside as well as the inside. I've seen god knows how many spiders with bodies as big around as quarters, and there are mice (and cats) living abundantly.
My impression so far is not great, but I'm not going to be stuck up about it. I intend to go here and do what I set out to do. It really doesn't bother me all that much, after all. I'm not sleeping in the buildings.
- Streets and driving
If you think America is bad in the field of driving. Come to Japan, you will be blown away. Japanese roads are narrow as hell, and most residential streets don't have enough room for 2 cars to pass side by side. Combine that with scooters, pedestrians, and bicycles, and you have one hell of a scary ride. I'm making a prediction that if I die suddenly in my year here, it will be the fault of a car. Oh, and if anyone didn't know, they drive on the left side, and driver's side is right.
- Kogyaru: Part 1, uniforms.
Okay, for those of you who don't know: All Japanese schoolchildren, up to and including high school are required to wear uniforms. Often, these are specific to the school, and make it easy to distinguish students from one school from another. In the case of Akita, all Jr. High School students have the same uniform.
For boys, it's usually a blazer style jacket, usually dark blue, with dress slacks and shoes. Very basic.
For girls, it's a little different. The upper body clothing can range from a navy blue suit top with a red tie, and white undershirt, to a vest-style jacket of varying colors, to a white blouse that looks like a sailor's shirt (hence the term often used, 'Sailor Suit'). The skirts can be of many different colors, but usually match the upper body's color, navy blue. Though, occasionally you see plaid ones, I'm told.
Note: most kogyaru in Akita that I have seen do not wear their uniforms, but very stylish clothes and platform boots about 3 inches or more tall.
- Kogyaru: Part 2, loose socks.
Most girls of Jr. high school age onward wear loose socks. These socks are long and baggy on the legs, and bunch up at the bottom. They look kind of like legwarmers from the 80s, but are cuter because of context.
- Kogyaru: Part 3, makeup
This last part is the thing that truly differentiates Kogyaru from all the other girls you see. They wear an INCREDIBLE amount of makeup. This wouldn't be so bad if it wasn't so badly used. Rouge and an excessive amount of blue eye shadow make them appear to be more of a clown than a girl. They are downright scary looking at first glance.
I'm told other things about Kogyaru, but I'll get to those later.
Karaoke is a very interesting pastime. In Japan, it's a little different
than what has been seen in the states. From what I have seen after one
time going, my impression is that what you need is the following:
Honestly, though. It's really strange. My first experience at karaoke was with Nick, Sato, Tatsuya, May, and Brea. All of them, except I drank beer.
It pretty much started out with Sato getting up and stealing the stage. We sang, with the exception of one Ricky Martin Song by Sato, entirely English songs. Tatsuya tried a few, and Nick, Brea and I sort of formed a singing group together.
How it worked was this: The room is fairly small. There is a table, several chairs, a TV, two microphones, and 2 karaoke machines. On the table, sat two very thick books with a ton of English and Japanese songs. You used the remote at the table to input your selection, and that song would play. Complete with subtitles and cueing. Some songs also have their own videos to accompany the song. If not, a default video that fits most songs plays. It's fairly long, so you don't get bored if you watch it, but after a while, it loops. The singer has his own video teleprompter.
My recommendation: if your Japanese friend asks you to go, GO. Even if you suck, nobody cares. However, be warned, you may be asked to do English songs if you speak English!
- Japanese men and drinking
Wow. I'm going to write about two people here. There is a big stereotype about Japanese men and alcohol, and from what I tell so far, it's at least partially true. Sato, who accompanied us to karaoke, is a wild man when he's had a few beers in him. He went wild at the karaoke machine after the first beer, and it got progressively more wild as time went on. However, the fact that he was wild after 1 beer, albeit huge (as Japanese beer cans are), it strikes me as one of the following:
1. It was somewhat an act (because he was drinking beer, he should/was allowed to be wild)
2. Sato is just nuts
The first would seem to somewhat explain the stereotype. The second is quite possible as well from what I know of Sato.
Tatsuya, on the other hand, was unaffected. He was also pretty shocked by Sato's behavior. Not disgusted, just somewhat amazed.
Day 2 (06/10/11) Thu
- Added FE #2
- Japanese Pizza
What kind of ingredients are these?!?! Japanese pizza is one of the curiosities that I was aware of, but did not really truly appreciate before I came.
Oh, they have the usual pepperoni and sausage… that is, of course, if you mean entire sausages and pieces of pepperoni thicker than your finger. You also get your choice of about 4 different sauces, straying from the normal tomato sauce, and giving you a choice of curry, soy, and some other I can't remember at the moment.
- Drinking Games
Drinking games are usually designed so that the drunker a person gets, the harder it becomes to play the game. This is true of Japanese drinking games as well.
The first we played was a memory game. Someone picks a topic, and names an item for that topic (i.e. Fruit, then Apple), and then the next person says the first person's item (i.e. Apple) and then adds one (i.e. Banana). And it continues.
This one didn't work well because of the multiple languages involved.
The second one was a simple counting game. You go around in a circle, counting in order except on every multiple of 3 (i.e. 3,6,9,12,15…), or number containing the number 3 (i.e. 13,23,33,43). This game went over a little better, but did cause me to get a bit of beer in me, and Sato to become wasted.
When someone has to drink, there is a chant you do. Everyone else yells "Seiro, sore, sore, sore…!" etc. until every drop is gone. Although I don't know the exact meaning, 'Sore' usually means 'there'. So it's approximately equivalent to 'go! go! go!'.
Day 3 (07/10/11) Fri
- Added IP 12
- More on Shopping
We've been shopping so many times in the last 3 days, I'm becoming sick of it. Whenever you enter a store, bank, or anywhere else where you might conceivably spend money, the clerk, hostess, whatever (although usually a cute girl), will shout 'Irrashaimase!' (~ 'Welcome to our store').
The only real difference in the stores is the way the checkout is accomplished. The clerk will usually count out the price as they ring things through the register, and then when they are done, they tell you the final price and begin bagging everything immediately. This gives you a chance to go through your pockets to get whatever money you need out and ready. It's really nice in that way. It's kind of nice to be in a place where they have everything ready and wrapped for you, before you pay a single yen.
Also, Japanese stores seem very noisy to me. There seems to never be a single moment when you don't have someone yelling 'Irrashaimase!', or a loudspeaker doing the same. There are in some places, especially supermarkets, I've noticed, people or loudspeakers yelling to tell the customer some information.
- Meeting Hatsumi
I met Hatsumi while walking home. She was on her way home from school, the path of which passes in front of my dorm. We talked for a short time, but nothing became of it. She was studying for a big test on Tuesday… I probably should, too.
Day 4 (08/10/11) Sat
- Added IP 13
- The School Festival
The school festival was an interesting experience. You walk down the streets on campus, and from every direction are offered some sort of exotic food, or to take an advertisement (you pick up a lot of tissues this way). Foods I saw included yaki soba, cotton candy, French crepes, okonomiyaki, and a few others I didn't know.
- Meeting Hiromi, Aya, Kayo, Yuka, Tomoe, Maiko
I met the group out in front of the front gates of Akita University. Aya and Maiko I first, during the festival, and the rest came later at the appointed spot. We had fun, we went downtown, and took purikura shots. They came out great, and I put one onto my electronic dictionary.
- Purikura! Purikura! Purikura, cha cha cha!
Purikura are little pictures you can take in these little picture booths you find all over Japan… and I do mean everywhere. You get your choice of frames to take the picture with, and then you take the picture. You get three shots, and afterwards can choose which one you want. The picture is then brought up on the screen for you to manipulate electronically. It has various drawing tools, and you can do little things like draw hearts on things, etc. Then, you can choose what size you want, anywhere from one huge one down to twelve tiny ones (the most popular choice). The pictures are printed in full color, onto a self-adhesive backing, so you can stick them most anywhere. And believe me, you will see them everywhere.
Day 5 (09/10/11) Sun
- Meeting Satomi & Miyuki
Satomi met up with the group yesterday, and wanted to meet with me today, so I did. We met at the same place as the other girls: the front gate. Miyuki came also, which was an added bonus. We went around the festival for a while. Then, because both of them were in the Tea Ceremony club at their school, went to experience the Tea Ceremony available.
- Tea Ceremony
It was done well, in a full Tatami room, complete with Shoji. Two women performed it, very well I might add. I followed Miyuki's lead, as she was first in the serving order. I only messed up once, as she put the cup down in front of me, and said 'o-saki ni' ('To go before' in Japanese), which I misinterpreted. She stopped me, but there was a slight giggle in the room when it happened. Afterward, my feet were fairly asleep.
- Japanese Cars
You can see mini everything here: cell phones, roads, rooms, buildings, breasts… but the most obvious is the cars. Flat. That is the only way to describe the cars here. Both in front and in back, almost all of the cars are flat to reduce their length. It looks almost as if someone cut them off with a knife. With parking the way it is here, it only makes sense, but it's still really strange to see. Also, all of the cars have names that you've NEVER heard of. Nissan, Toyota, every Japanese car manufacturer that makes a line in America has at least four back home.
Day 6 (10/10/11) Mon
- Added Funny English #3, 4
- Vending Machines
Vending machines sell everything here… juice, cigarettes, beer, all in both great and small proportions. Even, so I'm told, some in Tokyo sell porno and used girls' underwear (picture is extra). But given all this, there is yet one thing for them to sell that I have not seen: FOOD! At least from what I have noticed, there has not been a single piece of food in any of the vending machines I've been to. It's not really a big deal, though. The number of convenience stores within 30 seconds walk more than makes up for it.
Day 7 (11/10/11) Tue
- Added Funny English #5
- The Test
What a self-esteem blower. First of all, we get in the room, and the teacher announces that we will be starting with the speaking part of the exam. Of course, I'm first. I kind of blew it, saying only rudimentary phrases in describing myself, and not being able to come up with anything interesting to say during my introduction.
The second part of the test was a killer, though. Despite the fact that we got the EASY test (some of us), I still managed to pull a 'C' out of it. Oh, well. I did do the best out of everyone in one department, so I'm happy.
Our 'catch-up' class begins tomorrow for many of us. Oh, well, though. After a month, I'll maybe be good enough to be in the same league as some of these people studying here.
Day 8 (12/10/11) Wed
- First day of classes
Well, we finished class today just now. For the first day of class, I feel we did quite well. Although we didn't understand everything, I'm keeping a list of words we missed, and intend to study them very carefully and diligently. I plan to go to MSUA tomorrow if we can figure out how to ride the bus from Tatsuya. If not, I'll bum around and study… I have a feeling I'll be doing a lot of that.
Day 9 (13/10/11) Thu
- Added Funny English #6
- Depressed (only a little).
I'm feeling a little depressed right now. I really want to meet some more Japanese people, but it is very difficult to do. The obvious one is the language barrier. It's difficult to speak, so it's difficult to talk. The other is the fact that I'm always around Nick and the others. I want to meet people, but I think a group might intimidate people, especially when we speak English, which everyone stubbornly does. I really want to stop it all together.
Day 10 (14/10/11) Fri
- The missing day
Frankly, I don't know how this day exists, because according to my records when I went back and put the days of the week in for reference, I found that there is an extra day in here. Perhaps this is the day I lost when I came to Japan.
Day 11 (15/10/11) Fri
- Getting lost
Nick, May and I got lost around May's house for about 45 minutes today. This was mainly due to the fact that most residential streets in Japan look the same, and almost none of them have names. This leads to an incredible amount of confusion when you get into what we refer to as simply 'the maze.' Addresses are assigned in the order in which the buildings were built in the neighborhood, so there's really no way to find an unknown house without a map or directions. Also, while in the maze because of the width of the street, you stand a chance of being run down by cars, motorcycles, scooters, bicycles, and marathon runners…
Day 12 (16/10/11) Sat
- Night at Tatsuya's
Like we've done so many times before, I spent this evening at Tatsuya's place where we ate, talked, drank (except me), and watched a movie or two. Interesting note: most of the deleted scenes from "Austin Powers" in the American version are present in the Japanese. Other than that, today was boring.
Day 13 (17/10/11) Sun
- Far from unlucky day
Today it rained like hell. All day. Having nothing else to do, I made my way over to the other dorm. There, there was a party going for many, many hours. The group all sat in the Tatami room and talked for hours. I met many people from the other dorm. I'm beginning to become a bit jealous of those in the other dorm because of the people there, but I'm all right. At least I don't have to deal with cockroaches. I met George. He's great, a student from Albania who likes computers a lot. We talked for a long time. I really made a connection there, and I'm happy. I think I will be spending a lot of time over there in the future. Before I left, George gave me a bicycle to use from now on. Lucky!
I also found out how famous a gaijin who goes around with a group of high school students becomes: very.
Also, something that has been bothering me. Everyone I talk to thinks (or rather, I should say SAYS) that I am really good at speaking Japanese. I do not really believe this. Also, to me it feels like a little bit of an insult as I feel that I can speak the least out of almost everyone I know. Assuming everyone is not just being nice, there are only two reasons I can account for them saying this:
1) The fact that I can speak some Japanese after 1 year of study, while most Japanese study English for at least 6 years and still can't speak (which is an unfair comparison given the language structures).
2) I really try to say what I want to say, and don't give up at it.
I think the second one is truer. I'm fairly stubborn at trying to get people to understand me, no matter how long it takes. No matter how badly I embarrass myself with my lack of grammar. I think people by the end of the conversation probably want to tell me that I was able to get my meaning across, but don't think I'll understand any other compliment than "You're good at Japanese."
Oh, well. I'll just have to study and make them really mean it, right?
Day 14 (18/10/11) Mon
Frankly speaking, arcades in Japan kick much more ass than those in America. For one, fighting games are usually played with opposing cabinets. That is, each person gets their own screen and cannot see or hear the other person. This has sucked for me, actually, because I realize that I have been unconsciously all this time listening to the person press buttons as part of my play style. In addition, the buttons are much higher quality, as well as the controllers. The controllers gave me some difficulty at first, because they feel much different than their American counterparts. They're a bit shorter, and the ball on top is always able to rotate. Also, you sit down when you play, which is really nice.
They're also really expensive. Most games are 100 yen, which equates to about a dollar. I don't know; I still prefer them.
Day 15 (19/10/11) Tue
Orientation for foreign students at Akita University can be broken down into about 3 separate parts.
Part 1: Twiddling thumbs
A long, very long, boring section in which the students sit and listen to about ten or so speakers talk very fast in Japanese, which I could understand maybe 10% of. We are handed booklets with tons of information in them (luckily with English translation), and a map of Akita and the surrounding area (finally, I know where I am!). I pretty much read from the book (discretely, of course) while they spoke.
Part 2: Counting sheep
Walking from the campus to my dorm, where the next part was to be held.
Part 3: Sniffing the paint as it dries
For the third part, we were all seated in the TV room of the new dorm (mine!). There we were fed bento (a boxed lunch meal, essentially), beer, sake, and orange juice. Then, all of the students stood up, introduced themselves, and said something in Japanese to those gathered (some more than others… some in English). Mine was: "Watashi wa Robatsu Taison desu. America no Minnesota no Seinto Kraudo Daigaku kara. Yoroshiku onegaiitashimasu. Mada, jozu nihongo no tango ga nai dakara owarimasu."
In English this is more or less equivalent to "My name is Tyson Roberts. I come from St. Cloud University in Minnesota, USA. Please look well upon me. As of this moment, I don't have any appropriate Japanese words, so I'm going to finish now." (Keep in mind, this was probably much less elegant when I said it)
One good thing did come out of it though. I sat next to Ihon-a bastardization of her Chinese name, which by the way I can't pronounce-who helped me quite a bit with the people in suits who sat across from me at the table. They were all older men; hence I could not understand them (more later). Later, we went up to my room, and we talked for quite a while. Then she forced me to teach her how to slow dance, which VERY difficult to do in my room (by the way, the song was "Eyes on Me" from FF8 ^^). Then we went bowling, but played only one game, Ihon having managed to hurt herself on the walk there. Then we went up to her room and I taught her English for a while.
She really wants to come to America. When I asked if there was anywhere in particular she wanted to go, and she said "Minnesota," but I'm not sure if she was just humoring me. I can't think of any reason she would want to go there, honestly.
The lessons were basic conversations. She understood the meanings, but really wants me to help her with pronunciation, which I understand from hearing her. She's been studying on her own, so has no real experience listening or speaking, so she's very slow, but she seems to be a good learner. Funny note, she could not for the life of her pronounce "Taste", instead pronouncing it repeatedly as "Testes"… we'll really have to work on that one.
During the lesson, another Chinese girl, can't remember her name, came in and listened in. This girl has to be the tallest Asian girl I have ever seen. She stands about 5'10" and just towers over Ihon. Her English pronunciation is superb. I was amazed at how well she could read and recite things, but she's not really trying to learn English right now.
- "A Chi Chi A Chi"
Music in Japan seems to be everywhere. More so than in America, music and bands seem to be EXTREMELY popular. Karaoke parlors are everywhere, music videos play all the time on network stations, singing contests are often showed on variety shows (of which there are many, more later). The current popular song seems to be that annoying Ricky Martin song (you know the one I'm talking about). However, people don't sing the English version, they have a translated version of which the refrain is heard to say "A Chi Chi A Chi!" It sounds really strange to English ears.
Day 16 (20/10/11) Wed
- Beginning to understand
I am actually beginning to be able to have somewhat productive conversations with people. While I can still not very well understand people who speak to masses (they speak very fast, always), or male speech (they tend to omit a lot and slur, especially older men), I can when sitting down with a person communicate to a fair extent. I just had a telephone conversation with Mamiko, which lasted almost an hour.
- Bicycles, piranhas of the street
I rescind what I said before about dying ala car. I realize now that bicycles are the real terror in Japan. They are far more numerous, and much more insidious as well. They can attack you both from the front and behind, on the sidewalk and on the street, and they have no concept of 'personal space' (not that the cars here do either, but I haven't had any close encounters with a car while walking on the sidewalk… yet). This is especially bad when it rains, because bicycles crowd the sidewalk, and Japanese have perfected the annoying ability to carry an umbrella while riding. Something I don't even want to attempt.
The bicycles are all the same, standard (in American terms "girl's") frame, a large kickstand, and usually a basket, a bell and a light on front. It's essentially the case that if you leave your bike somewhere, you might as well take the one next to it when you return (this actually happens a lot, I'm told).
Riding a bicycle is not much better. You have all kinds of traffic to deal with, both car and pedestrian. There is also an added danger in Japan: the roads themselves.
Japanese roads, as I have said before, tend to be extremely narrow. Especially in residential areas. Some of them are so narrow as to allow for one car to pass at a time. Now, this may not seem so bad, but you have to understand. When I mean for one car to pass, I don't mean there's room for a car and a bicycle, or a car and a person, or a car and a one-legged midget hopping on a pogo stick. I mean ONE CAR. In addition, many residential areas have an open drain system. This drain system is usually directly next to the road on both sides, about 4 feet wide, 6 deep, sometimes filled with water, sometimes not, and filthy. To say the least, playing chicken vs. a car is bad news.
Day 17 (21/10/11) Thu
Umm… well, I saw one. People told me that provided a Japanese man has been seen drinking, and it is nighttime, this behavior is permissible. Well, it was night, and the guy was next to a bar, so you can draw your own conclusions.
Day 18 (22/10/11) Fri
Day 19 (23/10/11) Sat
- Chance encounter: Mami
I met up with Mami while killing time waiting for the other three girls. It was a chance encounter; we met in a department store. We talked for a little while and parted ways. Nothing special.
- Meeting Sakiko, Mamiko
I planned to meet the girls at the train station at 1 PM. Unfortunately, because of my poor Japanese, the location wasn't clear, and so we wandered around aimlessly until we finally met up. Mamiko and Sakiko at first, Hitomi was going to meet us later, being delivered by car. Our destination: MSUA.
MSUA is about 40 miles away from Akita-machi. We took the train to Wada station, and from there took a Taxi (otherwise we would have had to wait 2 ½ hours for the MSUA bus, and we just aren't that patient). The taxi was 1450 Yen (~$15). We got out, to be met by a mob of children when we entered the first building.
It was kids day of the festival, and as such, kids were of course, everywhere. Once we adjusted to this fact, we went about our first order of business: Finding Sean. Sean was a mentor in the schoolgirl scandal of '99.
We met him, caught up on things. The excitement paled in comparison to that which I felt when Hitomi arrived.
- Hitomi, a.k.a. Athena
When Hitomi arrived, I immediately reached for my Jaw. I remembered Hitomi as a small, cute girl with black hair and a nice personality. What I saw before me was a small gorgeous girl with differently styled BROWN hair, light eye makeup, two pierced ears with nice earrings, and three inch platform boots (which really don't do anything for me, but I thought I should mention it, because a lot of girls wear them). The more important thing was though, was at that time, I did not recognize her.
That news forced me to clean my tongue after retrieval.
The fact that she already had a boyfriend and the subsequent self-sustained blows to the head made me forget to clean it.
Afterwards, we met Tom at the vending machine (again, by accident). Then I recognized a friend of mine, Nick, from the back in one of the rooms. I was really surprised to meet him because of the fact that I didn't know he was in Japan. We exchanged phone numbers, and left.
- Meeting Kanako, Akemi
I was bored later on, so decided to open an account at the local video rental store. It was relatively painless, filling out the address on the form being the nastiest thing in the store itself. The trip, however, is another matter.
In order to get to the video store, you have to go up a very big, fairly steep hill. However, the road is very windy, as well as narrow. This means that you have cars whizzing by you the whole way, passing a few feet from you, while you walk your bike up the road. The only comforting thing is the fact that you can cruise down the other side.
It was on the way back, that I met the two girls. We happen to reach the summit of the hill from opposite sides of the street at the same time. One of them, Akemi muttered that she was tired, and I replied that I was too. Thus the conversation began.
Turns out, both of them attend the same school as Hiromi and Tomoe. We talked to the bottom of the hill and then parted ways.
Day 20 (24/10/11) Sun
- Meeting Okasan, Tatsuro, Natsumi
While I was killing time down at the station, I noticed an MSUA bus pull up to it. Figuring I might see someone I knew, I watched it unload. No one I knew emerged, but I did strike up a conversation with a family of three (Mother, Son, Daughter). We talked for a little while, and then went to a small coffeehouse and talked for a long one. We exchanged phone numbers, and then I left to meet Hitomi.
- Going to Hitomi's house
Hitomi-chan has the nicest Japanese house I have ever seen in person. It's two stories tall, traditional Japanese things are present everywhere. Their Tatami room is beautiful, complete with shrine.
I went over to eat dinner, which as I found out was quite a production. Her mother made TONS of food, and I really felt badly because we could not possibly eat even half of what she had prepared for us, but she seemed fine with it. (By the way, I tried Natto… it's really not too bad. Not my favorite, but it wasn't wretched.) Hitomi, her older sister Kaworu, her mother, Kaworu's boyfriend, and Hitomi's father were there. Again, I had trouble understanding her father due to the fact that I yet can not very well understand adult male speech (most other people are fine, just men of age 25 and older, it seems). We talked about all kinds of things, and then took me home. Her mother, as well as Hitomi and her sister are very excited about learning English, and often tried to use English when speaking to me. As good intentioned as it was, It was somewhat annoying because they were re-explaining things in English to me that I already understood when they had said it in Japanese. Anyway, though, I enjoyed it greatly, and I hope to see them again.
Day 21 (25/10/11) Mon
- Sasami katsu (Sasami cutlet)
This will only be amusing to people who have seen the show Tenchi Muyo, but… Today I tried something in the school cafeteria called 'Sasami katsu'. Literally, it means 'White Meat Chicken Cutlet'.
Day 22 (26/10/11) Tue
- Girls, girls, girls
Okay, I've figured this much out: Japanese girls are really easy to talk to. In fact, Japanese people in general seem to be eager to speak to foreigner-that is, if the foreigner speaks first. My advice to anyone trying to learn Japanese in Japan: TALK TO PEOPLE. They like to learn about you, and are very generous towards you.
Girls seem to be much easier than guys to me, it seems. This may have something to do with the fact that I'm a guy that has no hang-ups about talking to girls, but it may be something else, too. This may be it: Japanese guys don't smile. Plain out, unless you can get them to laugh or otherwise entertain them, they plain out do not smile. Girls, on the other hand… especially in groups, are laughing and playing everywhere. It's just easier to approach, I think.
I do have one more advantage here, the fact that I'm a young not unattractive (though not particularly attractive, either) American guy with blonde hair (dyed from mouse brown). Although if people ask, I tell them it's not real. However, they still like talking to a blonde American, I think. If nothing else, my head is a good icebreaker. Pun intended.
Day 23 (27/10/11) Wed
- Another formal party… and me in my T-shirt
We had yet another formal party with some bigwigs who everyone fears to speak with at the table, and really fancy food that looks much better than it tastes. Actually, the food was not that bad, but it wasn't great, either. I was at the 'Sakura' table, next to Anna, Brea, and Matei. We ate, we listened to broken Japanese introductions, and we left. That's about it.
Day 24 (28/10/11) Thu
- Added Funny English #7
Day 25 (29/10/11) Fri
- "No Telephone and no English make Tyson something… something…"
Our phone is out, which is really annoying. A storm tonight had a few really big lightning strikes near here, and must have done it. Still, I want to call people. I hope it will be done soon.
Day 26 (30/10/11) Sat
- Added Funny English #8
Day 27 (31/10/11) Sun
- Stolen BGM, Sound Effects
I don't know what it is here, but EVERYONE uses everyone else's sound effects and background music. So far, I have heard BGM and/or sound effects from the following:
Star Wars, Back to the Future, Mononoke Hime, Tenchi Muyo, Final Fantasy 6, 7, and 8, Neon Genesis Evangelion, Slayers, Fushigi Yuugi, and the theme music to Card Captor Sakura. Every TV program uses them, it seems. Especially the variety shows.
- I've been adopted!
Sort of. I met a Japanese man in my favorite restaurant today. I had just seen a commercial for a dictionary I kind of liked, and I asked him where the best place to buy that would be. He said he'd take me there after he ate (In English). So, I accepted. (What's this? Tyson accepting rides from strangers? Well, this is Japan, and I felt safe enough, so…)
Anyway, he took me to three different stores to find it. We didn't find it, but he gave me his card, and said he plans to call me to have dinner with his family in the future.
He's a surgeon at the Akita University Hospital (don't be fooled, it is a real hospital). His daughter is 21, and attends Akita University, and his wife is Christian. That's about all I know right now.
We'll have to see if I just received a host family…
Day 28 (01/11/11) Mon
- Culture Shock - from Australia with love
Believe it or not, I've so far had more culture shock with respect to the Australian international students than I have with Japan. Brea and I had somewhat of a long-standing grudge occurring for the last two weeks caused by a few personality conflicts that neither of us really understood. Today we talked things out, and now understand what happened. We both feel much better now.
Day 29 (02/11/11) Tue
Day 30 (03/11/11) Wed
- Adopted, again!
Well, I made a big blunder today. Today is a vacation day from school, and on this day, Takashi (one of the MALE students from the summer of '99) asked me to meet him at the station… at least I thought. You see, I had just finished talking with Takashi a few nights previous when I received a call from whom I thought was Takashi calling me back… As it turns out, only the voices were similar.
It was really Tatsuro (24/10) who showed up. I was quite embarrassed about this, as I didn't very gracefully accept the switch. After that, we rode our bikes to his house.
The house was a small apartment, an open laundry room directly left of the entrance, with tiny toilet and shower rooms parallel the door. A small bedroom was straight ahead, flanked to the left by a semi-separated kitchen and living area, and another bedroom on the far end. The low beams were dangerous to my head.
The family of 3 (Okasan [mother], Tatsuro , Natsumi ) live alone there. I politely asked about the father, but didn't totally understand the response. Either he's away on business, separated from the family, or dead because from what she said, I got that they are currently supported by money from the father. The mother doesn't work.
We ate lunch, "Tori shabu" (a variant of "shabu-shabu", except with chicken instead of beef). It's cooked similarly to Sukiyaki, with a large electric pot in the middle of the table, where you pick out what you want. Lots of vegetables, tofu, mochi (more later), and of course, chicken. The food was very good.
We talked A LOT. During other times, we played video games, especially "Dance, Dance Revolution" on the Power Pad-like controller they had. Natsumi was excellent at it; I really suck. We played some other stuff, but far and away DDR took up the majority.
At about 5 o'clock, Natsumi had to go to her Ballet practice. We decided at that time to go up to Sari, a large Mall near their apartment. We went, we saw, we took Purikura (of course).
There was also something else there, a Purikura-like machine. First, you purchased a stamp (the rubber variety). Then, you inserted the stamp into the machine, after which you get asked the normal Purikura stuff, and it takes your picture. Then your picture is put onto the stamp - pretty slick for 100 Yen.
Afterwards we talked some more, back at the house. Subjects varied widely, everywhere from weather in Akita, advantages of being tall/small, Japanese food, English/Japanese language, Akita University, Japanese/English music, kanji, prices, funny English sayings, and even about sexual morality in Japan/America (Natsumi was absent, of course).
I got home about 11:30, which made a 12 ½ hour day of speaking almost exclusively Japanese. My brain hurts now. I'm going to sleep.
Day 31 (04/11/11) Thu
- What language was that again?
I've been noticing that I have been remembering every conversation that I've held with people in English - even if they didn't happen that way. It's really strange, though, because sometimes I start to talk to someone who I swear I talked to yesterday in English - who doesn't understand a word of it!
Actually, that's a partial lie… almost everyone here understands some English, to some degree or other. It actually annoys me some, because I want to speak Japanese.
- The phones are still out
It's been one week as of about 10 minutes from now. There were some people working on the problem inside today… but I know that's pretty pointless - the entire street is out of phones right now. As a result, I'm forced to go to the good old ISDN pay phone down the street to make phone calls still.
Day 32 (05/11/11) Fri
- Japanese Video Stores
I've been renting pretty frequently from a video store near here called Tsutaya. It's a fairly big place, with an integrated music, video game, and bookstore. Their video selection is nice, with lots of variety. I have noticed one thing… they seem to have three main sections… American Movies, Animation, and Porn… that is, I know the last one exists… I would never go in there, right? ^^
The only annoying thing about going there is figuring out if the movie I'm renting is English with Japanese subtitles or Japanese dubbed. I like both, but I like to know beforehand.
- Phone, give me my friggin' phone back!
Got a message posted downstairs today that said (in English) "You can't use phone until 9". Now, I was hoping this meant 9 o'clock, unfortunately, I now realize it means the 9th… next Tuesday… Grr!
Day 33 (06/11/11) Sat
Day 34 (07/11/11) Sun
Day 35 (08/11/11) Mon
- Milk, Orange Juice
It's really strange, but the milk and orange juice here tastes much different from what it does back home. It's a somewhat unpleasant taste, but not a bad enough one to keep me from getting enjoyment out of my two favorite drinks. Another thing is that, like most things here, Juice and Milk are expensive commodities. Milk is about 150 Yen for 1000 ml (about 1 quart); juice is about 170 for the same. All things said and done, it becomes expensive, so I will have to slowly wean myself off of them for now. Oh, well.
Day 36 (09/11/11) Tue
- My birthday
- Fruit, the fruit of the root of all that is expensive
Fruit is expensive here. Apples are $1 each, Bananas about $0.40, Oranges are impossible to buy, but mandarins are plentiful, about $0.30 each.
This puts me out a bit, as I absolutely adore fruit. My monthly fruit bill has been reaching about $40-50.
Day 37 (10/11/11) Wed
- My *True* birthday (Date in America)
Mochi is interesting. Uncooked, it's a hard, small, light, white block. After being cooked, it's something completely different. It's been described by someone as "Like trying to eat Stretch Armstrong." It's got about the consistency of extra-sticky bubble gum mixed with mayonnaise. The taste is pretty bland, nothing special.
Traditional New Year's food, 9 people die a year from Mochi consumption.
- Dance, Dance Revolution
This is an interesting one. In the Game Centers here, a very popular game is called "Dance, Dance Revolution". The idea of the game is that the computer plays a song, during which a series of notes are displayed in the form of arrows. The arrows on the screen correspond to four arrows on the floor on which the player steps at the appropriate time(s).
_ _ _
The game is hard, really hard, especially chords. Natsumi can play it really well. There is also a home version with power pad-style controllers.
Day 38 (11/11/11) Thu
Day 39 (12/11/11) Fri
- We're off to see the <something> the wonderful <something> of <something>
Well, we left Akita University at 9 am to go to… somewhere. As of yet, I really don't know where we're going, other than it's a sort of camp-like place where we have "advanced communication" classes. We went with a large group, 40 people, about half foreign students and half Japanese.
I get a little motion sick, and so took some of the medicine proffered for the ailment. It was my first (and last) time taking it. As it turns out, I got sicker from the cure than the disease ever offered. As a result, I really didn't enjoy this day.
Day 40 (13/11/11) Sat
- Classes, Ofuro, Toilet Humor
To put it short, the classes were boring. Mainly because I couldn't understand most of them. The Ofuro (public bath) was really interesting. Basically, you wash yourself from a stool you grab on your way in. Then, using a free-style shower nozzle, you wash yourself. Then, there is a large pool (in our case 2, hot and really hot. I'm not sure what the norm is) of hot water in which you bathe communally.
I must say, I hereby swear off any mind-altering drugs I ever considered using. All I need is an Ofuro and I'll be fine. After sitting in the bath for about 3 minutes I started to get a slight tingly feeling in my arms and legs. Then, after about 5, they were full-on pins and needles. At that time, a really pleasant feeling swept over the rest of me, and I began to feel as if I had been drinking for a few hours. Then, when I could no longer take it, I got out and attempted to walk. This was almost disaster as when I stood up I almost fainted from a really strong head rush. After I recovered from this, I felt pleasantly intoxicated for at least the next twenty minutes, after which there was absolutely no comedown. I went again the next night.
Day 41 (14/11/11) Sun
- Returning to the world of karaoke
Well, we returned to Akita, and decided to do what else but have a party. We had it in the main room of our dorm. We partied for a while and then went to karaoke. I realized once and for all, that I cannot sing.
Day 42 (15/11/11) Mon
- Dream world
Day 43 (16/11/11) Tue
- Sashimi, Sushi, Sukiyaki
Well, I ate it for the first time. Sushi is good, tastes nothing like you think it will, and is very filling. If you can get past the look and the fact that you're eating raw fish. That, plus sukiyaki makes for a good meal.
Day 44 (17/11/11) Wed
Day 45 (18/11/11) Thu
- Sumo rules
There's really no other way to describe it: I like Sumo. I enjoy watching those huge guys push each other around and all the other things that go with it. You can really watch it for hours.
Day 46 (19/11/11) Fri
Day 47 (20/11/11) Sat
Day 48 (21/11/11) Sun
- Cold Japanese
Well, I've had my first experience of what people call "The Cold Japanese." I had an accident on my bicycle (the chain fell off the tread while I was standing up peddling, and on a down stroke, causing my foot to hit the ground, thus sending me flying) and afterwards, no one helped. No one. It was about 8:30 PM here, on a fairly busy street. After I laid there for a while (about 45 seconds - 1 minute), stunned, someone who witnessed the accident from across the street decided to come over and take a look, I saw him before he crossed and shouted that I was okay from the ground.
Then, I rolled over, noting the schoolgirl on a bicycle that rode past me as I did. After assessing that I only had minor bruises, scrapes and a possible minor elbow sprain, I worked for the next 10 minutes at trying to get the chain back on the gears. And drove home.
Kaku-oneesan took care of me when I got back, after reluctantly opening the door (she explained later that she thought that I was drunk; I had minorly hit my head as well), she, exactly as a mother would, looked over my wounds and cracked my back (which was killing me).
Afterwards, I went back to my room and watched "Gusu" ("Goose", English Title for "Fly Away Home"). Pretty standard family movie. After that, I glanced at the possibility of doing homework, and wrote this instead.
Day 50 (22/11/11) Mon
Day 51 (23/11/11) Tue
- Day off
Well, not much today. Day off, relaxed, everyone but one who I was planning to do something with canceled (1 for 4). Another thing happened that I probably shouldn't write here, but…
In the morning, I was looking for a Ping-Pong ball so that Tomomi (Tomo-chan) and I could play (as all the ones in the dorm were broken). I was pretty sure Lim had one, but being unable to read the Kanji on the roster on the front, I couldn't pin down his room. So, I went to the second floor, to Shuu's room in order to ask her which room was Lim's. She was on the phone (I could hear) when I knocked on the door. She bid me to come in, over the conversation, thinking I was a girl. Unfortunately, as we know, I am not.
She wasn't naked, at least to me. Unfortunately, Shuu is Muslim, and at this particular time was not wearing anything over her hair; she might as well have been naked. As a result, we had one of those 'deer in the headlights' moments. After about 3-5 seconds I averted my eyes and closed the door. After about 10 minutes of apologizing to her, she told me the location of Lim's room.
Now, I will not describe what I saw here because to me that would seem to be the same as kiss and tell, however, I will say that it is a shame that the custom is in place.
I think she forgives me, it really wasn't my fault, after all.
Day 52 (24/11/11) Wed
Day 53 (25/11/11) Thu
- Kanji ga suki?!
I'm actually beginning to enjoy studying Kanji. As hard as this is to believe, it's the truth. It's really satisfying to be able to read things for once (though not very well…).
Day 54 (26/11/11) Fri
Day 55 (27/11/11) Sat
Well, I woke up this morning to find I could not open my right eye without a lot of pain. On top of that, I couldn't see very well. After it wouldn't go away, I checked in the mirror to find a very large black spot just below my pupil, in the colored part of the eye. So, after trying all the tricks I knew to get something of one's eye, and then some, I realized I would have to get it removed. Whatever it was, it moved with my eye, indicating it was embedded therein. On top of that, I really didn't think it would be wise to try and remove it with the instruments at hand (tweezers sound pretty risky).
So, I called Mr. Murakami, as I knew that most normal clinics were closed on weekends. I asked him where I could go, and he said he would take me there-it was too far to walk, and biking without depth perceptions was a little risky.
The clinics are first-come first-serve (emergencies get priority, I did not qualify), and so we had to wait about 10 minutes, not bad, actually. The doctor took a look with the big head/neck readjusting machine that eye doctors use, and used some sort of liquid that dyed my eye a little bit, and had me blink a lot, and eventually, it came out.
I received a prescription, and filled it at a small pharmacy near the clinic. Then we returned.
As for my eye, I have a small scar where the little thing entered, and it will be there for a while. It still hurts, but the doctor said it should be gone in a few days. I have antibiotic eye drops to take 4 times a day. All in all, I think I should be more careful while sleeping in the future.
Day 56 (28/11/11) Sun
Day 57 (29/11/11) Mon
- Hostess Bar - an inadvertent study in Japanese bar life
This actually happened to me several weeks ago, 1 day before my birthday, but I'm writing it down now.
Nick and I, one Monday night decided to go and find the street known as 'kawabutta', which is basically the night life district in Akita.
We went down the streets, and after a while, got waved in by a man standing in front of a pair of doors (I don't recommend this, although we were safe this time, it's kind of a risky thing to do, money wise). He took us back to a bar called 'Soho San Francisco', which seemed to be a foreigner's bar, unfortunately, there were no foreigners. In fact, there was only one guy in the bar. We were a little disappointed, but this was actually a sort of blessing in disguise.
The man turned out to be the owner of the bar, and, as it turns out, another bar in the same building; this one a hostess bar (we didn't figure this out until about 2 hours later, however). After a drink (I don't drink alcohol, but I drank something, don't remember what.), he invited us over to his other bar - free of charge (this was really lucky, the price is 4,500 yen to enter, and the same per hour).
Hostess bars are basically just that, Bars with Hostesses in them. Basically, you sit down just like in a normal bar, but there are very pretty girls hired by the bar to sit there, talk with you, pour drinks, and look pretty.
The long and short is that we stayed very long that night, I talked for a very long time with one of the hostesses, Yuuko, didn't get up for class the next day, and we were invited to come back any time we wanted - again, free of charge. Good deal, we took advantage of it once since the first time, but since then have been more reserved.
I have been told quite a few things about these bars, since going to one. Apparently, in places such as Tokyo, Osaka, and the like, Hostess bars are just a front for other types of… entertainment. I'm almost completely certain that this hostess bar was not this way, but the owner, in his drunken state on the first night (everyone got really wasted except me), basically told me that I was free to do whatever I wanted with Yuuko, as she was not important to his business, but that I should ask him before I, er, went after any of the other girls.
Needless to say, this came as a bit of a shock to me, especially in the way he chose to… metaphor his speech. The guy's kind of sleazy, growing more so when he's drunk. I don't know what to make of the encounter really, but I haven't been back for a long while, so I don't worry much.
Day 58 (30/11/11) Tue
Day 59 (01/12/11) Wed
Day 60 (02/12/11) Thu
Day 61 (03/12/11) Fri
- Sushi Train
Sushi kicks ass. At the restaurant we went to, it was all you can eat Sushi for $15. The sushi is on a little train, that goes around, the sushi are each on a little plate, and each person can pick off whatever they want as it goes past. Sashimi (raw fish) is my favorite, especially the salmon. Other various stuff was there, all really pretty on their little plates.
Day 62 (04/12/11) Sat
I left the dorm today, to be met out front by two middle-aged ladies, who immediately started talking to me. They each clenched a book in their hands, which should have been a tip-off to me, but hey, everything's different here, right?
Anyway, they showed me the book, to which I responded I could not read Kanji well enough to understand. She then paged through it, through several different languages, I noted, to an English translation. Sure enough, it was an excerpt from the Book of Mormon.
I immediately laughed and said that I was not interested. They smiled, laughed and bowed politely, and left. The easiest time I've ever had getting rid of Mormons. Oh, well, like everything else here, they're much politer.
Day 63 (05/12/11) Sun
Day 64 (06/12/11) Mon
Day 65 (07/12/11) Tue
Day 66 (08/12/11) Wed
Day 67 (09/12/11) Thu
Day 68 (10/12/11) Fri
Day 69 (11/12/11) Sat
It is 3:20 am, Sat. Morning, and I am now going on my 29th hour without sleep. After studying kanji for the last three weeks, I am able to remember very well almost 130 characters I did not know, or knew only basically. Most I remember completely, without difficulty. Unfortunately, I think in the last two days, I've had a burnout, and as a side effect, cannot sleep at the moment. Oh, well. This will allow me to catch up on writing (which you may have noticed has been sparse of late).
- Late night TV
Late night TV, like the rest of TV here, is out and out BORING. God, I'd rather be watching Beverly Hills 90210 (which is not really high on my list). The shows are almost completely talk shows, with a group of people talking all the time, and watching video of members of their group out doing something "interesting", or participating in some sort of wacky contest they thought up. I must give them credit for some of the ideas they come up with, though. Occasionally, one of their ideas is absurd enough for me to appreciate, but most of the time they bore me to death. Also, I might delve into this later, but Japanese television shows have this really constant thing with putting an excessive amount of text on the screen.
Anyway, the thing that makes Late Night TV, 'Late Night TV' is… you guessed it, the fact that it's on late at night. Above that, there is one more distinguishing feature: the material becomes slightly more adult in nature. By 'slightly more', I mean damn near pornographic.
Now, in Japan, all pornography is censored (with a beautiful mosaic-pink effect, I might add). As I'm told, the only way to get uncensored stuff is from the Yakuza… and it strikes me that dealing with people who call themselves 'The Violent Ones' is a little bit beyond the point of which men are willing to go for good porn. Besides, the Internet is always there, anyway.
Back to the issue one more time. At least from what I can tell, these late night shows are usually variety shows, visiting places like the Roppungi (famous part of Tokyo known in part for it's red light district), reviewing adult video games, videos, and interviewing 'adult' actresses, hostesses, etc.
The more disturbing thing is how hands-on the people doing the interviews are. They have this older man interviewing completely naked girls, and being very touchy-touchy. I've even seen a female interviewer squeeze a woman's breast to see if she could feel the breast implant.
I'm not sure if this says something about the society or not, but I know I've seen enough.
- Milk Tea!
Milk Tea has temporarily taken the place of my OJ and Milk obsessions that were proving so expensive, and comparatively unsatisfying (they taste strange!). It's basically sweetened black tea, mixed with milk, and served cold. I buy a 1.5 liter bottle at ILand (a local grocery store) for 258 Yen, and it lasts me about 3 days. It could also be what's responsible for keeping me up right now! Just kidding.
Day 70 (12/12/11) Sun
Day 71 (12/13/11) Mon
- Culture Shock's shock wave
Well, I've really been hit by it now. I now realize that the insomnia may have been a symptom. During and after 'Advanced Discussion' class, I was extremely, and without reason, completely irritable, frustrated, and apprehensive. I couldn't explain it, but I suddenly hated everything Japanese, especially the language.
There's really not much to do now except watch it. I think I need a break or something (which is lucky, because one is coming up). I want to get over this as soon as possible. It's eating away at me, and I don't want to be like this.
On another note, the office at Akita University turned down mine and Brea's proposal to switch rooms. I'm kind of disappointed, as I am still lonely here, and want to speak more Japanese on a daily basis (at least that was my basis, I'm not sure why right now).
Day 72 (12/14/11) Tue
Day 73 (12/15/11) Wed
- Foreign Students - advantages and disadvantages of particular native languages
Adv: Japanese has many English words. Japanese will understand you many English words if you say them.
Dis: Grammar is completely foreign, Kanji are unknown.
Adv: Writing system is similar. Kanji are writable from memory; meaning is known for Kanji even if reading is not. Most have studied English, and will recognize some English words.
Dis: Grammar is very similar to English Grammar, and thus foreign.
Adv: Grammar is identical (IDENTICAL!).
Dis: Kanji are unknown to some (but some have studied Chinese).
Adv: Understand English-Japanese words.
Dis: Kanji are unknown. Japanese textbooks are written in English, so learners must know English beforehand.
All in all, I think that Chinese or Korean has the best lot. From Chinese is the best, I feel, however, because learning from scratch 1900+ Kanji is not the easiest task in the world.
Day 75 (12/16/11) Thu
Day 76 (12/17/11) Fri
Day 77 (12/18/11) Sat
Day 78 (12/19/11) Sun
Day 79 (12/20/11) Mon
Day 80 (12/21/11) Tue
Day 81 (12/22/11) Wed
- Mochi Party
Well, I was rudely awakened today in a call for me to come downstairs. Unfortunately, it was neither for the books or the parts for the playstation controller I'm building. It was for a large mochi party they were holding in our main room.
There were various people, young to old, some mothers came with children, but the main goal was to make mochi for the new years.
Mochi is usually called 'sticky rice' or 'rice pulp' in English (but I prefer leaving it untranslated, much the same as 'sushi' or 'sukiyaki'). Basically, the way it is made is this: you take cooked Japanese rice (I think it has to be Japanese rice, because of the way it's prepared or something - I'm still not sure of the differences, but they definitely exist between Japanese and others), and pound the hell out of it.
Traditionally, two men perform it. One holds a large, unbalanced wooden mallet (long on the pounding end, and short on the other), and pounds the rice into what looks like a large section of tree trunk with a bowl-shaped indentation on the top where the rice rests. The second man has a small bucket of water, and wets and reforms the deforming rice between strikes by the other man (personally, this is the more dangerous job in my opinion).
Anyway, the party is traditional around new years, as mochi a New Year's food (though it tends to get eaten at other times, too). After the mochi is prepared, you take globs of it, work it with your hands, and put quarter inch diameter balls of Anko (Sweet Bean Jam) in the center, and then lightly flour the outside of the mochi (so it loses it's stickiness. What you end up with is a white, semi spherical ball of goo that has a surprise inside… and man is it good!
There are other things you can put inside, too, I've been told. Another alternate is to take mochi and cover the outside with differently spiced fine powders. These powders can be of any flavor you wish, from sweet to sour to bitter to hot (more on this later ^^).
There was a news crew here, too. They basically took camera footage of the foreigners making Mochi. At one point they had me pound Mochi twice, then look at the camera and say 'Kyou wa mochi wo tsuki ni kimashita!' (Today, I came to make Mochi!). Supposedly it's to be on the air, but I don't know.
I escaped before it was over to go play Tekken Tag.
Day 82 (12/23/11) Thu
- Christmas Eve
Well, not much to say. I slept late, woke up and 'partied' downstairs with Nick, Brea, May, and Tatsuya. They drank a lot, I didn't. We stayed up late and ate food, nothing special. It's not Christmas yet!
Apparently the footage was on the news yesterday and today. I missed it, oh well.
Day 83 (12/24/11) Fri
- Christmas Eve
Today was indistinguishable from yesterday. Exactly the same thing happened.
Day 84 (12/25/11) Sat
- Christmas!!! Books!
There is a Santa Claus! My books that I have been waiting for arrived today, and I was happy as warm little cinnamon bun in my bed reading them.
After a time, I booked over to the other dorm to meet everyone for the Christmas party, which actually wasn't any different than the weekly parties they have. After a time, I left to play Tekken Tag with the Saturday group I found.
UNFORTUNATELY, this group plays at an arcade that is about 30 minutes by bicycle.
FORTUNATELY, the weather today had been very nice (it rained in the morning, and then was cool, not cold, all day).
UNFORTUNATELY, the weather must be able to sense when I'm riding a bike because the weather decided to turn malicious about halfway there.
FORTUNATELY, I did well, and had fun.
On my way home, though, something more important happened. After stepping out of a 'Lawsons' convenience store, it started hailing. Yes, I know that doesn't sound like anything worth mentioning, but the essential part was my reaction to it. For some reason, I don't know why, but my depression left me that instant. I've been depressed for a long time since I've been here; from stress, from culture shock, from personal problems: whatever the cause, I don't know for sure. But whatever the reason for my 'genki ga nai kanji', it's been completely eradicated. I haven't felt this good in years.
Day 85 (12/26/11) Sun
- Mochi Roulette
I alluded to 'spicy mochi' earlier, and now I will explain why it is important. There is a game that is at least somewhat popular here that is a non-lethal takeoff of Russian roulette. I've heard it can be played with different foods, too, but mochi is the one to which it was illustrated.
Basically, you make up a batch of mochi, powder them differently, and put different kinds of filler in the middle. Then, in ONE of the mochi, you place a payload of wasabi and take turns eating them.
Day 86 (12/27/11) Mon
- Strange Schedule
Well, I've been going to sleep around 10 am each day, only to wake up between 6 - 9 PM. While this may seem strange to some, when you're on vacation, it really doesn't matter, does it? That's right, I've been on vacation now for one full week, and I have until the 17th of January until I must once more don the burden of responsibility known as school. Until then, I plan to hang around, read (English books, woohoo!), do some light studying, play Tekken, and generally be a Louse. Honestly, I needed a break.
Day 87 (12/28/11) Tue
- New Kanji book - Killer!
I got a new book on Kanji a while back, and before I proceed to impress upon my readers the virtues of this work, I feel that a long-neglected explanation is in order: that being the answer to the question on many of your minds for many previous references "What the hell is Kanji?!"
Kanji are simply the Japanese word for Chinese characters. Japan adopted Chinese characters around the 7th century - They are still paying for it. Up to that point, Japanese yet lacked a writing system. There are many reasons why Chinese was an ill-suited choice for writing Japanese, but to keep it simple I'll name the most obvious, and frustrating: in order to properly read / write Japanese, you must first learn, memorize the standardized 1,945 Kanji prescribed by the Japanese government as 'common use' (also called 'Jyouyo Kanji'). Not only must you learn the picture itself, but must also learn the (possibly multiple) meanings, readings (pronunciation), and stroke order for the kanji. This being the way it is, most Japanese I have spoken with are unable to read the newspaper without a dictionary.
This is the number one problem foreigners have in learning the language. In addition, it is the main key to learning vocabulary in Japanese. Once you know enough kanji, you can begin to guess at meanings and sometimes even form words you don't even know by use of kanji (the latter has proven to be quite interesting when it works, as sometimes I know the meaning of what I'm writing, but would have no idea how to say it or say a word to someone in a conversation that I have never heard before, but guess has the appropriate meaning).
Also, in order to facilitate writing in Japanese, two additional alphabets (technically they're "syllabets", but…) were created in order to facilitate pronunciation of the characters (among other reasons). These are analogous to the alphabet of English in the fact that each symbol has a single pronunciation (one exception), and no meaning in and of itself (another exception, but is analogous to English's use of the letter 'a', as is the previous exception).
The alphabet used more often is called Hiragana, which is used in most circumstances when writing, and for 'furigana' (writing an unknown or uncommon pronunciation next to a kanji so it is readable). Katakana is mainly used in two cases: 1. In writing words borrowed from other languages (there are a LOT from English) 2. For emphasis on a particular word, or to make something stick out in formatting, etc. (this is used so often in advertising, you can probably read the ads without knowing hiragana OR kanji).
Q: Combine these three writing systems, and what do you get?
A: A mess.
Anyway, on to the book. The book is organized by grade level at which each Kanji learned by Japanese as part of their schooling, and provides the following:
- Etymology (history of the character, and change of meaning or writing)
The book also has great inter-book references that help you find similar ideas that can be remembered together. I highly recommend it.
"A Guide to Remembering Japanese Characters" by Kenneth G.
Day 88 (12/29/11) Wed
- Electric Blanket: "Save me with your cheap embrace!"
Well, with my last gas bill being 6,800 Yen (think of 100 Yen ~ $1), and my electric being only 2,300, I feel it was time to purchase an electric blanket, and spend most time in my room in it's company. So far, this has worked, with the possible exception of the continuance of a recent trend concerning the tidiness of my room becoming quickly less than what my mother would consider acceptable (actually, come to think of it, this isn't so recent a trend). We'll see how it goes, winter's only a few more months, right? RIGHT?!?
Day 89 (12/30/11) Thu
- Television Dramas - Oneesan's addiction (and growing on me)
One thing that is infinitely more popular on TV in Japan is the numerous dramas that play on TV through most of the day. The dramas vary from interesting to boring in my opinion, with those on top including 'Onsen ni iko!' (And the aptly named English title that is always displayed: "Let's go Onsen!"), and especially G.T.O. ("Great Teacher Onizuka").
The latter is the one that truly turned me on to them at all. Kaku-oneesan is really into them, though.
As far as subject matter goes, it ranges anything from innocent love stories (very popular), to really complex relationships that are actually well done, if a bit cliched. Oh, well. They're good listening practice.
- Fair Treatment and Foreigners of Different Nationalities
This is something I've been meaning to talk about for a long time, but haven't had a chance to do as of yet. Foreigners are definitely treated differently here, depending on many factors. I will try to identify these in a collected fashion.
The race factor:
When Japanese think 'gaijin' (foreigner), the first thing they think of is 'American/European English speaking person'. This bodes well for me, as I fit the bill completely. Japanese love English, and love European-looking people. From the impression I get, Japanese as a whole seem to have a very low body image, and think that 'white skin' as has been often commented on, is much more desirable (this is also seen that fairer skinned women are also seen as pretty).
All of this said and done, Japanese have a great interest in me and in other Caucasian people as well. However, there is a catch, and that is when people of Asian descent are involved. Plainly speaking, Japanese have no desire in them. They tend to be discriminated against somewhat (usually not openly), and are generally ignored by the Japanese.
The gender factor:
It is plain to me, a blatant stereotype I have witnessed time and time again, and is truer than fiction: Japanese men are shy, women are not.
This leads to the fact that foreign men are talked to a great deal more than foreign woman, although the women attract as much (if not more) attention. This is especially seen when Japanese men have taken a few under the hood, and are more likely to commit indiscretions (it's socially acceptable).
Japanese men also seem to have a widely-accepted 'gaijin fetish.' They absolutely adore foreign women, especially if their hair is blonde.
While I have not heard of it yet this year, I have heard it happens quite frequently: that of foreign female students being asked to work as prostitutes in the near by 'kawabatta' (name of the red light district in Akita).
The language factor:
The Japanese all are required to learn English in school, and study it for many years (usually around 6). While this great deal of study is certainly no cakewalk, it does not leave 90% of the population with the ability to speak more than a single sentence (usually missing prepositions). This is purely because of the fact that Japanese schools emphasize English grammar, to the exclusion of other, less important things (like listening and speaking, for instance). Anyway, the point is that, Japanese LOVE to practice their English on foreigners, which is another reason Japanese love American-European people.
This doesn't leave much for the Asian students.
Day 90 (12/31/11) Fri
- Millions in pocket change
Japanese currency can be broken up as follows:
- 1 Yen (ichi-en)
- 1000 Yen (i-ssen-en)
(1 Yen ~= $0.01 so, 100 Yen is =~ $1)
The problem with this system is that, when you are used to the largest coin in your pocket being $0.25, it's a little strange to be spending ~$5 with pocket change. It's also expensive.
However, I must say it is convenient. Being able to use a 500 Yen coin in a change machine is nice, although I've heard lately that they are changing the design of the 500 Yen coin because people have found a cheap way to counterfeit it using the Korean Wan coin, worth almost nothing.
Day 91 (01/01/12) Sat
- New Year's Eve, day - Akemashite, omedetou gozaimasu! (Happy New Year!)
Well, I must say that new years is really, really boring here. Aside from the standard party, and visiting the shrines, it's pretty tame, especially for a millennial celebration (although, it's only 1 of 2 ways of measuring years here, so maybe that has SOME bearing on it), anyway, without further ado, I'll describe my night.
- New Year's Eve with the Chinese Gaijin
I arrived at the other dorm around 5pm, intending to gather info about what was to happen that night there. What I found was the makings of a party. The Chinese students had invited all the Chinese people they knew, and were in the beginning stages of preparation (food, streamers, Ping-Pong, everything). So, I asked if I could attend, and was accepted.
As the night went on, I met some interesting people, and had fun talking with them. In particular, I met one boy, 10, who had been living in Japan for a little over 4 months (1 month more than I), and in that time had surpassed me in every aspect of communication in Japanese (and speaks English better than most Japanese who study for 6+ years). It's a little embarrassing, but it just reinforces my opinion of why language should be taught at an early age.
I also witnessed my first 'face fault.' For those of you who have never heard of this, the best example that I can give that you may have heard of is the way people fell over before shooting in the movie 'Basketball.' Described, it's the way in which, after hearing something COMPLETELY unexpected (or stupid), people have the tendency to fall over or have their faces fall blank. Of course, in my experience, it was demonstrated by children.
Back to the party. As the night tore on, I became a little bored, because, as being the only one at the event without a working knowledge of Chinese, I was sort of excluded from most conversation. On top of that, I was tired, having been up since 12 the previous night. So, after asking Kaku-oneesan to wake me before leaving for the shrine, which brings about the next part of the night:
- The Shrine
We left for the shrine amidst the freezing drizzle that is so common in Akita. After about 20 minutes, we arrived at… the line. That's right, the line. The line was a good 300 - 400 people long, and cold. As it so happened, the millenium passed as we were standing in line. As such, the world came to its destructive conclusion and everyone and everything in the current time zone was destroyed. And that is how my experience in Japan came to an end. Sorry everyone!
… All right, so that's not how it happened.
What really happened is that when I heard the countdown, I looked at my pager's clock and after some discussion with my companions, realized that my pager had lost a good 15 minutes. So I ended up spending my last few moments in the 20th century troubleshooting a broken electronic device, much UNLIKE the rest of the world.
After we got through the line, we went up the steps of the temple where there were two large, thick ropes, ascending to the ceiling where they were attached to even larger bells. Behind these is a large wooden box.
The appropriate ritual is thus: approach the ropes and throw a 5 or 50 Yen piece (lucky for some reason; also the only Japanese coins that contain holes) into the box. Afterwards, you tug once on the rope, clasp your hands together Shinto style, and make a wish.
You can then, if you wish, proceed over to another stand where you can, if you wish, purchase for 100 Yen (or 500, I don't remember) a fortune for the coming year (comes with a small glass of sake!). I got average luck.
Afterwards, we walked home, whereupon the realization that we were all hungry hit us pretty hard. So, we went to a late night Ramen shop to eat, well, Ramen. I ate something I can't remember the name of, but for the life of me, was the best Ramen I've ever had.
Then I went home, and wrote this, which consequently is not the best-phrased entry ever written, but got the point across just the same, I think.
Day 92 (02/01/12) Sun
- Volleyball, Badminton, Ping Pong
I was invited New Year's eve to the junior college by the Chinese crowd. It seems that they gather once a week in order to play the above mentioned things. This week being a vacation for most everyone, as it was, today was the day in which they held tournaments. As it was, I didn't do great, but had a lot of fun, and was REALLY tired afterwards.
I arrived home about 8:30, and staying awake until 9 so I could record 'Speed' proved impossible (so I set my alarm, heh heh heh!). After that, I slept all night, and most of the rest day, and for the following 3 days was extremely sore. In fact, the first day of which, I found difficulty in even walking or climbing/descending stairs.
Day 93 (03/01/12) Mon
Day 94 (04/01/12) Tue
Day 95 (05/01/12) Wed
- Kaku of the non-skiers
Well, Kaku returned a few days ago from the ski trip that many of the foreign students went on (I didn't for reasons of my own choosing). This was rather shocking to me, for the simple reason that she wasn't supposed to return for another 3 days. As it turns out, she had seriously injured her left leg on the shinbone. While there was no fracture, a bone injury did occur. While couldn't tell how bad it looks because of the bandage, by the looks, it looks painful.
Day 96 (06/01/12) Thu
- Helping Kaku-oneesan - G.T.O.
Well, I helped Kaku out quite a bit today in general, to repay her for the help she gave me while I recovered from my volleyball experience. To this end, I rented the next part of G.T.O. She's getting better quickly; at least there's no pain anymore, so she says. Oh, well. Oneesan dakara! ("She's my 'older sister', so…")
Day 97 (07/01/12) Fri
Day 98 (08/01/12) Sat
Day 99 (09/01/12) Sun
Day 100 (10/01/12) Mon
- Woohoo! Day 100!
I've been here for 100 days.
Q: Is this an important milestone?
Q: Am I going to write any further about it?
Day 101 (11/01/12) Tue
Day 102 (12/01/12) Wed
- Making friends as a Gaijin
Well, it's sort of interesting. As a Gaijin in Japan, there are certain advantages to be gained (i.e. you catch people's attention). Unfortunately, there is also a downside (i.e. you catch people's attention). In this country, there is no way to escape the fact that you are irreversibly, irrevocably, immutably different.
This has a very interesting dual effect on the process of making friends. The advantage is that meeting people is very easy, as is starting a conversation. People are very interested in you, because of your relative rarity. You can usually hold a fairly decent conversation centered around where you come from, and questions people have. Unfortunately, often this is all the interest people have (or you have with them).
The disadvantage is twofold: commonality and communication. The problem lies in that if you don't have certain interests in common, a lasting friendship is hard to keep. I, for one, do not share the Japanese (or many other country's, including Australia) interest in drinking, the people here generally think you're not interesting.
Also, communication is another barrier. The prospect of having a close friend is more difficult in the shadow of less-than perfect communication.
Day 103 (13/01/12) Thu
- Being escorted by Middle School Students - the only way to walk somewhere!
Okay, I should have written this sooner, but it slipped my mind.
Since I've been here, I've on several occasions asked a question (i.e. "Which way is the station?" "Where can I buy some cheap gloves around here?" "Why are you standing there giggling at me?" etc.) to girls who wore the middle school uniform, and have every time received stellar results. Each time, I was either escorted to my destination, received a great deal of help otherwise, or have been bolted away from at top speed (just kidding).
I know the young girl/older guy syndrome as well as the Gaijin effect have had some influence, but still, if you want to go somewhere, are in Japan, and are a foreigner, just look to the middle school uniform for assistance.
- I'm 19, Dammit!
Okay, I should have written this earlier as well, but… hey! I shouldn't have to apologize to you! This is MY journal, so deal with it!
When I first arrived, there was a LOT of bad guesses when it came to my age. People thought I was over 22 or under 18. No one could nail my age. However, since I've turned 20, everyone nails my age exactly! I don't know if I look more 20 now that I'm 20 than I looked 19 at 19, or what, but the fact is: everyone gets my age now.
It's quite the opposite for me. Guessing Japanese people's ages is impossible. Japanese people, ESPECIALLY women look much younger than they are, often by a considerable amount. Even though I've gotten better, I still often overestimate, sometimes by an embarrassingly large amount.
- English Words in Japanese
Japanese love English and the Japanese language is overloaded with words borrowed from English. Unfortunately, because of the phonetic system in Japanese, they do not translate well. And, because I'm in a mood to write, I'll explain it to those who do not understand.
Japanese sounds are made up of one of three things: a single vowel sound, or a consonant + vowel, a consonant + ya, yu or yo (note: there is 1 exception, that being the consonant 'n', which can never occur at the beginning of a word in Japanese).
Consonant Vowel Consonant + ya,yu,yo
A I U E O YA YU YO
K ka ki ku ke ko kya kyu kyo
S sa shi su se so sha shu sho
T ta chi tsu te to cha chu cho
H ha hi fu he ho hya hyu hyo
N na ni nu ne no nya nyu nyo
M ma mi mu me mo mya myu myo
R* ra ri ru re ro rya ryu ryo
Y ya — yu — yo --- --- ---
W wa — n — wo** --- --- ---
G(k) ga gi gu ge go gya gyu gyo
Z(s) za ji zu ze zo jya jyu jyo
D(t) da ji*** du de do jya jyu jyo
P(h) pa pi pu pe po pya pyu pyo
B(h)**** ba bi bu be bo bya byu byo
* - The Japanese 'R' is actually a combination of the sounds of 'r' and 'l', and can actually be pronounced closely to 'd' in certain circumstances
** - Is pronounced 'o', but uses a different character and has a different use.
*** - Is infrequently used, has the same pronunciation as zi (written 'ji' above)
**** - Unlike other consonants in the secondary line, these characters are formed by adding a small circle (like the degree symbol) instead of the usual 'ten ten'.
Please note: 'yi', 'ye', 'wi', 'wu', and 'we' do not exist in modern Japanese (but they did once).
These are all of the sounds that Japanese usually pronounce, and there are two alphabets used to describe it (technically syllabets). The first is hiragana, which is used in combination with Kanji to describe Japanese words. The second is Katakana, which is used primarily for foreign words. There is one character in each alphabet for each of the sounds in the above chart. The consonant + 'ya', 'yu' 'yo' column are represented by using the I column character + a half-sized ya, yu, or yo character. For example, 'kya' is formed by using 'ki' + a small 'ya', and 'nyo' is formed by 'ni' and a small 'yo'. Note: ONLY the 'I' line and 'ya', 'yu', and 'yo' can be described in this way. (There are exceptions for describing the SOUNDS of foreign words, but not the words themselves; i.e. in English Class)
The G, Z, D, and P lines are essentially the same characters as the K, S, T, and H lines, but with a 'ten ten' added (looks exactly like a quotation mark). 'B' is similar, but uses a small round 'maru', which distinguishes it from the 'P' line.
These things are identical in Hiragana and Katakana, and there is a 1 to 1 correspondence between both alphabets, that is: in each alphabet, 1 character represents 1 sound, and for every hiragana character, there is 1 and only 1 katakana character to which it corresponds and which corresponds to it.
Because of this, you can see that some things would be difficult to pronounce. In particular to English: there is no 'V' or 'TH' sound. In addition, because of the all-encompassing 'R/L' sound, it becomes difficult often to distinguish what a word originally was in English. Examples: ('-' indicates a long vowel sound)
'Love' -> 'ra-bu'
'trouble' -> 'tora-buru'
'Word Processor' -> 'wa-puro'
'World' -> 'wa-rudo'
'Television' -> 'terebi'
'Beach' -> 'bi-chi'
'Ergonomic Design' -> 'erugodezain'
'Coffee' -> 'ko-hi-'
'Electric Outlet' -> 'consento' (Consent)
I'll write more when I think of them.
Usually, words are shortened in Japanese to make them bearable. English 'V' is usually represented by a 'B' sound, and the 'TH' by 'SU'.
Also, multiple consonant sounds are often butchered badly. Take for example my name.
'Tyson Roberts' Becomes: 'Taison Roba-tsu'
Granted, my first name came by with most of the correct pronunciation, but my last name bears very little resemblance. (Also, I took this translation to avoid being named 'Robato')
Day 104 (14/01/12) Fri
- Heavy Problems
It's very interesting here: weight. While I was in America, my weight stayed constant at 185, and occasionally fluctuated down as far as 178, but as of today, I am down to 175, which is something I haven't accomplished in probably 5 years.
I still don't understand, then, how some people are able to gain weight here. If you eat Japanese, you are going to lose weight, that's the way I see it. However, Kaku-oneesan told me yesterday that she gained 3 kilos since she arrived (about 7 pounds).
There are several things to attribute to my weight loss, they are, in no particular order: diet, exercise, stress, and culture.
Diet I've already mentioned. When you eat rice as something to fill you up rather than potato chips, it has an effect over time.
Exercise is another thing I've gotten more of here. In order to get anywhere here, you have to walk or ride a bike. In addition, I've been playing volleyball on Sundays with the Chinese.
Stress tends to burn calories, sad but true. The reason you gain weight during stress is that you eat as a stress relief. See 'Diet'.
Culture is another thing. When you look into the crowd and see tons upon tons of skinny people, more than half of which weigh half of you, it tends to nurture a desire to lose some of the extra weight.
I'm afraid that when I return to America, EVERYONE will be fat.
Day 105 (15/01/12) Sat
Day 106 (16/01/12) Sun
- Today, general stuff
Well, went to play Volleyball today like I usually do on Sundays. The following statistics should give you a good idea of how it went:
- Number of times persons were hit in the face with volleyball: 4
Afterwards, I ran into these two guys who seem to run into me everywhere I go. They're kind of annoying high school boys who repeat the phrases "You are very nice guy" quite often. I just wasn't in the mood to talk to them, though. Got the last parts to G.T.O., and am currently watching a horrid movie. ("Batman and Robin")
Day 107 (17/01/12) Mon
Day 108 (18/01/12) Tue
Day 109 (19/01/12) Wed
- Japanese and smoking
Okay. Simply put, the Japanese smoke. They smoke a lot, they smoke everywhere they please, and Japanese buildings have very little in the way of ventilation. All said and done, I tend to come home stinking of it, and feel like every day I spend here takes 3 off my life. Ah, nothing I can do about it.
Day 110 (20/01/12) Thu
Day 111 (21/01/12) Fri
Day 112 (22/01/12) Sat
Day 113 (23/01/12) Sun
- American Orange Juice, MITSUKETA!
I found American OJ! On my way home from my weekly Tekken Tag bout at the Taito arcade down past Kawabatta, I stopped at a Circle K. They had something called 'Sweet Orange,' it looked enough like Orange Juice, so I bought it (only 250 Yen for 1 liter, not a bad price… oh my god, I've been here too long). After getting home, I realized something about American Orange Juice: 100% Juice means 100% of the liquid is Orange Juice. There's still sugar added. This is why Japanese OJ tastes different.
Day 114 (24/01/12) Mon
Day 115 (25/01/12) Tue
- Language ability - the roller coaster of communication
Okay, a few things have been discovered on the subject of Language ability:
1) The longer you talk, the better your Japanese becomes
Day 116 (26/01/12) Wed
Day 117 (27/01/12) Thu
- The Japanese Cold (Not the 'Cold Japanese')
Well, this should actually be about the weather in Akita, but I needed a snappy title, so…
The weather in Akita is warmer than Minnesota's, by a good degree. It doesn't seem to get much below freezing here for the majority of the winter (at least so far). It does, however, have some aspects that more than make up for the cold. (And yes, I DO seem to be into making lists lately)
It sleets here like there's no tomorrow. I don't know about anyone else, but when I want precipitation, Rain or Snow will do; mixing the two just does NOT make my day.
- Slush 'n Slide
Closely related to the sleet is the slush that it leaves behind. This slush has been ankle deep or more for weeks at a time. What's even worse is than when night comes, the slush freezes solid, leaving the top REALLY slippery. This phenomenon becomes worse as the slush melts day by day, because it creates thin layers of glare ice that you can't see, and seems to have a friction constant of 0 (I know, I fell head over heels twice going to the next door Convenience Store).
Adding even MORE to this is that Japanese DO NOT clean their sidewalks. This is nothing short of amazing given the fact of how many people use them. People struggle to pass each other in the slush, or avoid slipping and falling into each other (something EXTREMELY embarrassing to the Japanese), all the while dodging bicycles (although the SMART bicycle riders i.e. "me" just use the shoulder of the road… if you can call it a shoulder. It's more or less like riding your bike in the middle of an un-mediated one lane highway.
Well, you might say that humidity in winter is a good thing, coming from Minnesota, but come here for a while and you will find you are dead wrong. While the humidity is definitely lower than in summer (from what I hear, not having experienced "the sauna" yet), it is still significantly higher than Minnesota.
This has the following effects:
1) It feels about 3x as cold at the same temperature
Okay, all those from Minnesota are familiar with wind chill. It's that thing that makes -40 F (-40 C, yes, it's the same) about 50 times more unbearable… not that I'd call -40 BEARABLE under ANY circumstances, which is why Minnesota shuts down at that temp.
Yes, the wind blows cold in Akita. Cold enough to steal the warmth from your bones and the hope from your soul… okay, okay, I'll stop the poetics. It's fairly constant, and strong.
Day 118 (28/01/12) Fri
Day 119 (29/01/12) Sat
Anna's sister, Mila arrived sometime about a week ago, and I met her today. She's really cute, and I like her very much (she's also the skinniest thing I've seen in a long, long time - which is amazing considering I've been in Japan for the last 4 months). Anna wants us to do some stuff together, so I think we will.
Day 120 (30/01/12) Sun
Day 121 (31/01/12) Mon
Day 122 (01/02/12) Tue
Day 123 (02/02/12) Wed
Day 124 (03/02/12) Thu
Day 125 (04/02/12) Fri
Day 126 (05/02/12) Sat
Day 127 (06/02/12) Sun
Day 128 (07/02/12) Mon
Day 129 (08/02/12) Tue
Day 130 (09/02/12) Wed
- Date with Mila
I haven't written in a while, so sue me.
Well, I had something of a date with Mila tonight. There was a miscommunication from the get go, and we ended up not going to eat. So, we rented a movie and watched it in my room. Afterward, we listened to what I had to offer in the way of music. She likes Offspring, which is cool. By the way, she has a boyfriend in Poland, and is only here for a short time, so nothing long-standing will come of this.
We're gonna meet again sometime soon.
Day 131 (10/02/12) Thu
Day 132 (11/02/12) Fri
Day 133 (12/02/12) Sat
Day 134 (13/02/12) Sun
- Foreign Study: displaying personal weaknesses since '99
I must say, I have discovered a lot about myself since I came here. I truly feel that I know a lot more about myself, particularly what I'm *NOT* good at. So, once again, I will list off what I believe I have discovered:
1) I have trouble dealing with people who I cannot argue with
This sounds odd, but it was really brought out a while back where Nick from Australia got into sort of an… 'altercation.' It was really caused by the fact that we weren't listening to each other because we were using different styles of argument. Since then, we have for the most part patched up what we did, and I have been extremely careful to watch this in all of our interactions so it won't happen again.
2) I tend to get overzealous in many kinds of relationships (i.e. "go to far too fast")
This is seen in my relationship with Hiromi, or lack thereof. I'm not going to explain this one, but it's true. This one I have to watch.
3) I feel more insecure at times than I even know myself
Especially in my relationship with Brea, I have found that I tend to have a tendency towards paranoia when I'm insecure. This particularly has been a problem, I think, as I am insecure quite often here. I do believe though, that I am in the process of conquering this one.
4) What to do when people do not react to stimuli the way you think they will
I realize that among Americans, I'm a pretty good judge of possible reactions in most situations. However, I have been taken off guard by some reactions of people here. It hasn't really been a problem, but it's good to think outside your culture.
Well, that's all for now. I think that I have become a much more stable person since coming to Japan and those problems I have now are improving a lot. I've still got 2/3 of my stay to go…
Day 135 (14/02/12) Mon
Day 136 (15/02/12) Tue
- Snow festival, Delay from hell
Well, we rode to Yokote today, the location of a snow festival. Basically, it's just a bunch of igloos that you go into and look at, and such. Pretty boring, actually. I went with Anna, Kasha and Mila.
On our way home,
Day 137 (16/02/12) Wed
Day 138 (17/02/12) Thu
Day 140 (18/02/12) Fri
Day 141 (19/02/12) Sat
Day 142 (20/02/12) Sun
- Onsen Trip, Part 1
Well, it's a two-hour trip and I'm here in the middle of it. We're taking two cars, and 9 people. I'm in the car with Tomoaki, Anna, Mila, and Kaku-oneesan. Anna just told me an interesting expression in Polish equivalent to "in the middle of nowhere":
"Where the evil say goodnight."
More later, I can't write well in the car because I soon become motion sick.
- Onsen Trip, Part 2
Now, we have just left the Onsen after about 1½ hours. It was fun; men and women went into the same pool, however I've been told that's fairly rare. I had a repeat of the ofuro incident, though, where I overheated. It's really, really odd, I lose sensation in my mouth, teeth, hands, and head. I can't think, and lose all strength.
- Onsen Trip, Part 3
Well, before going home, we had a trip. We stopped by at some place called Tatsuko. There, there is a large golden statue of The Princess of the Lake. Beautiful scenery, if I do say so myself.
Afterwards, we stopped off to eat at a small Ramen/Ton Katsu (pork cutlet) place. I tried Miso Ramen for the first time. It was good, but not as good as Shio Ramen. Afterwards, we rode home in the snowstorm.
I hit my head pretty hard on a doorframe while at the onsen, which I didn't mention before (maybe I forgot at the time? Hmmm….) this is number 11 since coming to Japan.
Also, the pink color I received from the Onsen lingered for almost half an hour afterwards, making me appear sunburned everywhere on my body. All in all, I liked it very much. But, I am now exhausted beyond reason.
Day 143 (21/02/12) Mon
Day 144 (22/02/12) Tue
- The Joy of Yaki Soba
Well, it's not quite as famous as Sushi, but far more commonly eaten. It also contains no traces of raw fish, or any animal of the ocean. It's rather, quite frankly, fried noodles. Utterly bad for you, and undeniably delicious. What's a foreigner to do?
- Converting Nick to the Simpsons
Well, I've been working on it for a while, but I've finally convinced Nick that the Simpsons is a watchable, funny show. He asked, that when I place this bit of information into this journal that I impress upon the reader the "omoshiroi-ness" ('omoshiroi' means interesting) of Japanese TV, which I will now do.
Imagine the delight in watching endless talk shows that talk about such things as powers of 11, or how delicious the local specialty food 24/7. Add that to really boring dramas, infomercials, news, and music shows that are constantly interrupted by people talking about the music.
Day 145 (23/02/12) Wed
Day 146 (24/02/12) Thu
Day 147 (25/02/12) Fri
Day 148 (26/02/12) Sat
Day 149 (27/02/12) Sun
- Meeting Nozomi, and losing my wheels
Well, I met Nozomi today. She was in town to see someone famous at ForUs - a shopping center in downtown Akita. She arrived with a friend, We met, went to eat ice cream, she gave me copies of a few 'rare' "Dragon Quest" anime tapes, and we parted. Hate to paint it as uninteresting, but it really was nothing special. One thing I should say about Nozomi is that she was the only girl involved in the Schoolgirl scandal with long hair. It falls down past her lower back, and she is really very, very pretty.
When I returned to retrieve my bike, I found that it had already been done for me, unfortunately. Yes, my friends. Like umbrellas, bikes in Japan seem to get up and walk away while you aren't looking.
I feel it is time for me to make a confession as well. Despite common sense, and everyone else's urges, I did not purchase a lock for my bike. I used the fact that my bike was old and decrepit, thus no one would want it as an excuse when anyone asked me, but I knew that excuse really didn't hold water. However, I should point out that it has been exactly 136 days since I received my bicycle (day 13), and it took this long for it to be stolen. On the flip side, it is gone.
I did have some luck to counter-balance things, however. The Korean couple who have been staying in 101, who have adopted me as a sort of son after I became friends with their teenage children during their short period stay, have agreed to give me their bike for 2000 yen after they leave for home, in about 2 weeks. Life seems to work for me too well sometimes.
Day 150 (28/02/12) Mon
Day 151 (29/02/12) Tue
Day 152 (01/03/12) Wed
- Don't drink the water
That's the advice they always give you when you go some places, but it seems to be true here as well. Nick told me a while back there was some sort of influenza virus in the water supply in Akita they had just discovered that seemed somewhat nasty, and said he was boiling his water from now on. As if on cue, he seemed to come down with it. He's been sleeping all day and all night now, and looks as if someone hooked him up to an eye-gouging machine.
I am definitely going to cease and desist.
Day 153 (02/03/12) Thu
Day 154 (03/03/12) Fri
Day 155 (04/03/12) Sat
Day 156 (05/03/12) Sun
- Nick is STILL sick
I've been taking to checking in on him about once every 10 hours, just to see if he's still breathing. Okay, so it's a bit of an exaggeration, but he sure as hell still looks like crap. He will probably pull out of it soon, anyway. I once again state that I have no intention of drinking the water.
- Tonight x 2
Okay, time to admit guilty pleasure. Nick and I often watch a late night show called Tonight x 2, because it often features exposes into Japan's… seedy under (and over) belly. They tend to show us things about Japan we'll… probably never see.
There is a guy on the show, which between Nick and I have decided, has the best job we've seen in a long, long, long time. He is the one who gets to, "expose", and "feel-out" what exactly is going on, and then he takes fringe benefits.
Day 157 (06/03/12) Mon
- Wow, a foreigner!
Okay, I think I've been in Japan too long. I am now surprised at seeing non-Japanese when walking down the street. What is even more interesting is the interactions we seem to get to each other.
I'd say they break down as follows:
35% - Make a small, bow of the head to each other, acknowledging the
Day 158 (07/03/12) Tue
Well, I received a definite surprise today. When I woke up this morning (or rather, was woken up) three people (and Shun) from my trip to Gashuku had arrived at my building (okay, so they're actually from Fukui, but it's beside the point). They were Erena, a foreign student from Russia, Toshi (hiko) a.k.a. Taishon by Kaori, and Takahashi.
We met up in the lounge, after they woke me up, and went out shopping for a little while. Afterwards, we lounged for a while, and then made dinner together. Kaori and Shun joined us for the day as well (though Takahashi slept through most of it). I made deviled eggs; the main dish was some sort of white soup-based chicken and potatoes combination. We also had onigri, with tuna and mayonnaise, tako-yaki (tako is not taco, but octopus… yes, they're octopus balls), and Kaku-oneechan brought the scariest thing of all: black eggs.
Now, don't ask me what they did to these poor eggs, but they were tainted beyond all recognition as eggs. Okay, okay, that's a bit overboard; the fact that you peel them and they have the shape is sort of a giveaway. Anyway, after some prodding, I tried one. It wasn't bad, tasted a bit like regular egg, but more slimy (oh, also, the yolk has the consistency of thick pudding), and the taste lingers longer. Honestly, it was better than it sounds.
Afterwards, we went to karaoke… for 8 hours. The place was one I had never been to before; it was better AND cleaner AND bigger than any of those. You get all-you-can-drink for 220 Yen, which was a plus. Their system also has a cool feature: that of measuring the pitch and tone of your voice compared to what it should be, and then giving you a score at the end from 1 to 1000, keeping the top 3 of all time (for just that room, I think) on a scoreboard in the machine and the song, singer, etc.
With this feature in place, we broke into the top 3 three times during our stay, but were never able to occupy the number 1 position. Basically, we found that any score above 700 is good, and anything above 800 is great. Surprisingly enough, no matter how bad you did, we never saw a sub 500 score, which makes me wonder.
We did the following:
Erena - 886 points: Squall - Matsumoto Eiko (I Love this song!)
Toshi, Kaori - 908 points: Kaze no tani no Naushika no Tema - Theme to Nausicaa of the valley of wind.
Toshi, ME - 905 points: Moment - Marmalade Boy
Someone else had gotten 916 before us on a song I didn't catch the name of.
Yes, even before Toshi put up the song, he said it was embarrassing, and indeed it was. I joined him when I saw the song, though, because I felt obligated to. Also, we spent almost 1/3 - ½ of the time on songs from Anime. I was really, really happy because both Kaori and Toshi love anime very much, and know the songs. This was the first time I've ever felt completely unembarrassed at karaoke.
As I mentioned, we were there for 8 hours, from 9pm until the place closed at 5 am. We were all exhausted, but continuing strong at the end. I can honestly say I did not feel bored at all in the entire interval we were there. This is a first for karaoke in general.
Also, if you want to know why that song was so embarrassing is because of the following:
1) The song has very girlish feelings in it concerning lips, and such.
Today has been the most fun I've had here since I arrived.
Day 159 (08/03/12) Wed
- Japanese Roads - Reprise
Okay, I feel it is time to once again remind the reader of the condition of Japanese streets, and as a measure of how well you've all been listening, I have created a test.
1. Japanese motorists turn off their headlights while waiting for red lights at night:
(a) As consideration for passing motorists.
2. Japanese motorists stop behind the white lines at intersections when:
(a) The light is red.
3. Japanese motorists slow down when pedestrians are near because:
(a) It is dangerous to the pedestrians.
Day 160 (09/03/12) Thu
Day 161 (09/04/12) Fri
Day 162 (09/05/12) Sat
Day 163 (09/06/12) Sat
Day 164 (09/07/12) Sat
Day 165 (09/08/12) Sat
Day 166,167,168,169,170,171,172 ( 09/09/12, 09/10/12, 09/11/12, 09/12/12,
09/13/12, 09/14/12, 09/15/12, 09/16/12,) Sat - Sat
- Trip to Kyoto (summary)
Wow! Kyoto - spiritual capital of Japan! The center of the Japanese heart, the place where everyone ends up in Rurouni Kenshin… okay, enough.
We went down by car with Tomoaki driving (as he would for the entire week we spent on the trip), and Kasha and Lim in the car. Lim was actually present to be dropped off at-or-around Tokyo to visit his friends.
At the end of the first day of driving, we arrived at our midway point: Tomoaki's house in Chiba-ken. There we stayed at his house for the night.
- Tomoaki's house, part 1
Tomoaki, before he enrolled as a student at Akita, lived with his mother and older brother. His mother and father had an arranged marriage, which Kasha and I (and later Anna) thought interesting. However, not wishing to be rude, the matter was not pressed.
Their house was very Japanese, and we entered the Ofuro that night, and used futons later. Early the next morning, we were on our way.
- Second Day
We spent the day driving. Wow. We did pass through Tokyo, and were able to see Tokyo Tower, so at least we saw something interesting, but in all honesty, it was mighty boring.
We arrived late in the day, after a great deal of confusion on WHICH small-out-of-the-way-street Anna meant over the phone.
- Anna's Hair / Basha
Anna met us with her friend, Basha in Kyoto. She had been staying with Basha in Basha's town, Totori for a while before hand. When I first saw them, I was pleased to say the least.
Anna (and Basha as well) had put her hair in Pigtails (for those of you who do not know, I absolutely ADORE pigtails), and covered the top with a red bandana. The look is that of an olden-time village girl. When I mentioned this, Anna reminded me that she did IN FACT come from a small village in Poland.
Basha is a nice girl, albeit a bit quiet. I can't say much more about her, because I feel it would be unfair, as during the course of the trip we bashed heads on some very personal issues that I prefer not to write here.
- 3,4,5th day
We went, we saw temples, we had fun (for the most part). The temples were varied, but got boring after a while. They are very pretty as a whole, and I can not for the life of me remember the names of any of them. Here, in a list, are things of possible interest that were observed:
- A giant Buddha (or 3)
We ate out every day, every night. I discovered that the traffic in Kyoto also has scooters and motorcycle gangs to contend with. I also discovered Namco Wonder Tower Game Center, which has 6 floors of video games, where I consequently spent my nights kicking ass at Tekken Tag.
I will write more about Kyoto as a city at a later date.
As we had on our trip to Kyoto, we stayed over a night at Tomoaki's home. Actually, we stayed 2. On the day we were there, Anna and Kasha tried on Tomoaki's mother's Kimono and took pictures. I arrived back in time to take pictures of Anna, but would have loved to see Kasha in it as well.
Afterwards, we went out drinking and Karaoke-ing with a bunch of Tomoaki's friends from high school. It was pretty boring, but was somewhat funny when the waitress ignored me and asked Tomoaki what I wanted to drink. I replied in Japanese that I could in fact speak, and told her what I wanted. Anna looked at me and gave me a big smile and a thumbs-up.
- Return, again!
We picked up Lim before going, thus adding him to an already cramped car. We had a long trip home, but finally made it.
That's all for now.
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