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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!

Yoroshiku, onegaishimasu!

Tyson Roberts, 11/16/1999 (nall@iloveyou.net)


* 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.

- Layout

Door

| |

/-| | 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.

    • Meeting everyone else

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

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:
1. Beer (An excuse for acting out)
2. A wild friend (to start the acting out)
3. A really bad singing voice (for flavor)

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.

Examples:

- Potato
- Corn
- Mayonnaise
- Egg (whole)
- Squash
- Ramen
- Rice
- Shellfish
- More to come.

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

- Arcades

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

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

    • Japanese men and Urinating in the street

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

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 [16], Natsumi [12]) 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

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).

DDR Controller:

_ _ _

|_|^|_|

|<|+|>|

|_|v|_|

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

- Eye

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

- Mormons

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

- Insomnia

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

English:

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.

Chinese:

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.

Korean:

Adv: Grammar is identical (IDENTICAL!).

Dis: Kanji are unknown to some (but some have studied Chinese).

Polish:

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)
- Meaning (both dictative and connotative meanings, also explains HOW the meaning was formed)
- Picture (picture of the character in both brush and type)
- Examples (gives 3 combinations of each kanji with others)
- Mnemonic (gives a suggestion of how to remember it)

The book also has great inter-book references that help you find similar ideas that can be remembered together. I highly recommend it.

Info:

"A Guide to Remembering Japanese Characters" by Kenneth G. Henshall
Tuttle Language Library
ISBN 0-8048-2038-4
Published: 1988

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 beco