Samantha in Japan

Archive for February 2009

One of the English words that a lot of Japanese people seem to know and use often is enjoy.  The speaking partners I’ve met here– “Let’s enjoy tomorrow!” or “I really enjoyed today!” The actors who spot foreigners and decide to speak English (more on this later)– “I hope you enjoy such exciting show!”

Everywhere, everywhere, everywhere– enjoy. Luckily, I always do seem to be enjoying myself.

My week itself was fairly uneventful– just the usual monotony of classes. I’m a notorious night owl, so by the end of the week– after going out on the weekends and staying up during the week anyway, my body decided to revolt, and decided that I should sleep in late… two days in a row. Thanks a lot, boy. On Thursday, I woke up around 11:30. Seeing that time on my phone was not a pretty sight for my weary eyes; I only have two classes on Thursday, and the last one ends at 11:50. It takes 25-30 minutes to walk to school, so at that point, it wasn’t even worth rushing. Ah, well. I suppose I needed the extra sleep. But then it happened the next day, too. I set my alarm, somehow slept through it, and woke up about 50 minutes after my alarm was set to go off. I rushed around, throwing a quiet fit (trying my best not to wake up my roommate), got dressed, dashed out the door to put my shoes on, and what else do I see– but a bus sitting there, waiting!

‘Ah, that couldn’t be more perfect!’ I thought. I dashed on the bus, got out 220 yen (ALL bus rides cost 220 yen, no matter how far you’re going unless they’re really long ones you take big trips on; it’s so strange!), and the bus headed out. For the first time since I’ve been on a bus in Japan, we ran into traffic. By time I got to school, there was about 10 minutes of class left, so I made my way up the stairs in defeat, preparing to just turn in my homework late and explain the situation. My professor was massively, unexpectedly kind, and actually let me sit in on the next class (it was a language class, and the next class happened to be the same level I was taking)! Amazing. Sometimes I can’t believe my luck. I definitely don’t deserve it.

On Saturday, I had to drag myself out of bed again, because I was going up to the Kyoto Studio Park/Toei Movie Land. After a great deal of confusion in the train station (“Which way? Which way?” – “Umm… okay, up the escalator!” – “Okay, nevermind! Back down! OH! I SEE THE TRAIN!” – “WAIT, THAT’S NOT THE TRAIN, HANG ON!” <– this ensued for a good 15 minutes. The funny part: the people leading us around were Japanese! See– if even the Japanese can’t figure out this train station system… no one can!), we finally got to the Park.

Toei Movie Land focuses more around the filming of samurai-like dramas and movies, so there were a ton of actors dressed up in costumes like these all over the place. The guys pictured below were fighting just moments before I took the picture. Too bad I couldn’t catch them in action!

There were rows of different houses and sets all around.

This one was apparently used as a sake house–

Complete with barrels on the outside of the building.

Look! A lake … almost!

The miniature Nihonbashi was too cute.

Here’s one example of a set inside one of the houses–

This one was supposed to be a fire house.

One of the funniest attractions there was this little special effects corner. When we walked over in this direction, all we saw was this little setup of man-made rocks and trees, with a little gate in the far back.

I snapped a picture then. But there were people in the area shouting to stick around for another minute or so. Suddenly, the rocks and trees started moving back and forth, and water started rushing down them– to simulate some kind of earthquake, I think. I thought it was pretty cool, but then they suddenly started playing disco music, and the rock with the gate in the far back started rising up, only to reveal this–

While we were in Movie Land, we went to see two mini-shows. One was a performer, dressed up like a samurai, and demonstrating the use of a katana, with a little comedy on the side. Later on, we saw a short live drama, about 30 minutes long, featuring actors doing crazy acrobatics in the middle of an overdramatic script. No pictures were allowed though– sorry I couldn’t snap some! During the middle of the show, the lead actor came out for a little crowd interaction bit. He went around asking for peoples’ names in the front, and then… he spotted my group. It was just me, my friend (an American, who happens to be tall and blonde… an instant attention-grabber in Japan!), my speaking partner, and his friend, but he locked right on to me and the other American! As soon as he said, “Welcome, welcome!” my friend and I looked at each other like, “Oh god, we’ve been spotted!” He asked where we were from, so I shouted New York back to him, and then he repeated that we were from New York in Japanese, and the crowd applauded. He then said something along the lines of, “Welcome to Kyoto! I hope you enjoy such exciting show! We will make it… more exciting from now!” Awww. At the very end of the show, when all the actors took their bows and the curtain was dropping, the actor kept jumping around, waving at us, and shouting, “Thank youuu! Thank youuu!” in English.

I wasn’t quite sure where to fit this in, but here’s another photo from Movie Land. Pretty self-explanitory, and yes, for some reason, they gave my friend and I… the boys’ hats, too. Haha.

After playing around in Movie Land, we headed back to the Kyoto station, and decided to go up in the Kyoto Tower.

We got there just in time to catch the sunset!

The views were spectacular up there. The signs said that on a clear day, you could see all the way to Osaka from the tower.

I’m not so sure that Osaka was visible at that point, but I was able to spot a few temples and other popular attractions with the use of the telescopes up on the observation deck.

After the sun set, we headed back down into Kyoto, and we decided to go grab some yakiniku! That was quite the experience. Yakiniku is grilled meat, and the way that it’s served is rather unique. My speaking partner had found a good yakiniku place online, so we walked a bit to find it, and we ended up having to wait about a half hour to get a table, but it was well worth the wait. Interesting point number one: you take off your shoes before you go in! I know it’s commonplace in Japan in general, but it felt funny to do that at a restaurant. It was pretty cool, though– walking around this traditional-styled yakiniku restaurant with socks on.

So we got to our table, and my American friend and I both gawked at the grill in the middle of the table. At these places, the waiters bring out the meat, and then you grill it yourself. Just as we were settling in, the first huge plate of meat came in. The meat that they serve is cut up into thin pieces, so some of them almost looked like bacon strips. We played around with the heat settings, and then left the grilling up to the boys. I’m pretty sure I would’ve burned things way too much.

Over the span of the night, I’m fairly certain they served us every possible kind of meat under the sun. Since I’m a reformed picky eater, my philosophy concerning food here is, “Don’t ask, just eat.” So I didn’t ask for clarification on what anything was, but seriously, folks, we had everything. As soon as we thought we were done being served, another plate was dropped off at our table. Plus, we had rice, vegetables, ice cream… it was, just… NEVER-ENDING, in the purest sense of the word.

The above picture was just… a snapshot in time of the meal, very early on. If that looks like a lot of food to you, you ain’t seen nothing yet. In accordance with the sheer volume of food we ate, our bill was pretty expensive for the night. The boys paid for most of it– oh, those kind souls. As we headed out of the restaurant at the end of the night, the boys admitted that they literally had no money left! My friend and I were concerned about them being able to get home, but everything turned out all right.

My advice to anyone planning on visiting Japan– go to a yakiniku restaurant at least once. The whole thing was fairly expensive, but it really is an experience, and, I say this as a person who doesn’t even really like to eat meat all that often– the food was delicious.

Just make sure to keep an eye on that grill if you go. We burned a few things here and there, but one of the most hilarious parts of the night happened when some flames were reaching up too high and growing way too fast for comfort; there was a small lamp hanging above our table, and it was getting way too close to that for us to just wait for it to go down. So the boys started freaking out from the fire, and they looked around for the tray of ice cubes they gave us at the start of the meal. Unfortunately, none of the ice cubes were left. My friend and I were in hysterics, watching the boys freaking out, so we were totally useless. But suddenly, my speaking partner decided that he would try to douse the flame by pouring his beer on it. As he picked up his glass, my friend and I shot up, flailing our arms to try to get him to stop. He looked up in surprise, as we were screeching, “Nononono!” and put the glass back down. Alcohol and fire do NOT mix well, silly! Then, he reached over and grabbed my emptied drink, picked out a few ice cubes, and tossed them on. The flame sizzled a little and backed off just enough for us to have enough time to wait for the heat to go back down. Crisis averted– narrowly.

So after Saturday’s excitement, I didn’t get much time to rest, because on Sunday morning, I headed off to Osaka once again. This time, we visited the Osaka Castle. LOTS of walking was involved this time around, too. I tried to snap a few pictures that captured just how high up this place is. It’s quite separated from the rest of Osaka as it is, but just… seriously, guys, this place was massive.

Here we are in front of the castle– it’s still quite a walk up to get into the building itself, and at that point, we’d already walked up a ton of stairs.

Here’s a better shot of the castle itself, taken from a scenic spot in front of the entrance. There was a little wall right there where a bunch of people had climbed up these steep steps to take a better picture of the castle, so I grabbed the opportunity to snap a picture from that angle.

After a whole lot of climbing, we made it to the observation deck. Most of it was fenced in to keep things/people from falling, but I managed to take this photo at a small opening. The gold fixture at the bottom is a part of the front of the building.

2009 is the year of the Ox in Chinese astrology, so the entrance in front of the castle was decorated with this little ox-shaped flower display.

Another view of the entrance area–

Please excuse the silliness, but while we were there, we just couldn’t resist posing for a picture at one of these…

Some random old woman came up and snapped a picture of us posing there, too. Weird, but… okay!

We didn’t really go into the city very much. We grabbed lunch and dessert over at the train station (you could seriously LIVE at train stations here, by the way. They have EVERYTHING– food, shopping, heat, and… obviously, transportation), and for the first time since I’ve been here, I had some completely Western food. Well, that’s a lie. I have had McDonald’s here, but that’s just boring old fast food. We found a pizza place, and I ordered a pizza carbonara. The second I took a bite, I was in absolute heaven. Oh, Italian food, how I miss thee…

For dessert, I had the biggest slice of strawberry shortcake ever. I was so happy to eat something with strawberries in it, because for the past two days, I’ve had an overpowering craving for anything with strawberries in it. And it’s not like strawberry-flavored things are hard to find here; quite the opposite! If you love strawberries and strawberry-flavored things, you’re in luck if you come to Japan, because they’re everywhere. But anyway, I was just happy to eat something with strawberries in it. I was tired of walking past cake shops and staring in at all the strawberry goodies!

At the end of the day, we went to purikura again. I mentioned the sheer insanity and speed of these things before, but this time around, I managed to get them sent to my computer, so here’s one of the pictures we took–

This one’s a little tame, but you can really go crazy with the clipart and decorations if you know what you’re doing.

Agh, tomorrow it’s back to the grind, unfortunately. Spring break is approaching fast, at least. I’m planning on spending a few days in Tokyo (we’re going to stay at a Capsule Inn! I’m sure I’ll have a lot to write about from that!), and a trip to Hiroshima during that week is in the planning stage, too.

But that’s it for now!

Let me just note that I got word from home that people were having a hard time figuring out how to comment on my entries. If you look at the top of each entry, there’s a box with the date in it in the middle of the page. It’ll either say “Comment” or “# comments” below the date. Click on that, and you’ll be taken to the comment section, where you can read other comments an fill in your own. Just fill in the blanks down there– name, e-mail, and comment are the only fields required. You can leave the website field blank. Then hit “Submit Comment” and there you go, it should be posted right away. If your comment gets interpreted through the automatic filter as spam, don’t worry, I’ll go in and manually add it. But otherwise, there shouldn’t be any problems with commenting. So really, don’t be shy, I love comments! 😀

It’s been a busy past few days.

As I mentioned in my last post, I decided to move out of my host family’s house and return to the dorms. I did that on Friday morning, and while leaving my host family was difficult, I am much happier now because of it.

There are four dormitories at Kansai Gaidai, and they’re all called Seminar Houses. Seminar Houses 1, 2, and 4 are more traditional-style dorms, while Seminar House 3 is designed more like an apartment complex housing a bunch of people in one apartment. Anyway, just to highlight my constant relocating– I’ve now officially lived in four out of the five living options offered by Kansai Gaidai– three Seminar Houses (all but #3), and a dormitory. Four weeks… four rooms. Hopefully this one is permanent, now!

But anyway, now that I’m back in the dorms, I feel like I can actually relax at the end of the day. I don’t have to put on a special show for anyone, I don’t have to worry about offending anyone, I don’t have to feel guilty about everything. My roommate’s really quiet, but I prefer that over someone who won’t stop talking to me (or yelling at me…)

So, Friday was exhausting, but it was all worth it in the end.

Let’s see… Saturday was Valentine’s Day. Japan has interesting customs involving Valentine’s Day. While in America, Valentine’s Day is kind of the… “Oh, hey, I’ll celebrate it if I have a significant other/feel like being sweet to my friends,” day, where both men and women give gifts, if they decide to. In Japan, it’s a little different. In the weeks before Valentine’s Day, there’s advertistments EVERYWHERE for chocolate– in stores, on TV… just, everywhere. Chocolate sales generate so much profit during this holiday because in Japan, women buy chocolate for the men in their life. They buy giri choco, or obligation chocolate, for their male co-workers and acquantainces. This is the more inexpensive stuff. They also buy honmei choco, or sweetheart chocolate, for the men they have romantic feelings for. The day after Valentine’s Day, signs immediately pop up advertising White Day, which was invented by the Japanese. On White Day (March 14)  all the men who received chocolates (giri and honmei) are expected to return a gift to the women they received chocolate from (the gift can be anything from chocolate to jewelry, though it’s expected to be more expensive than the gift the woman gave to the man). I think the whole tradition is cute and, at the same time, genius in that… evil kind of way. It’s one giant marketing venture pushed by the confectionery companies who have a stock in all of this. I personally just think the concept of giri choco is amusing; that… obligation to buy a gift (however small it may be; I’m sure the expenses really add up) people you don’t even know really well, and then their obligation to return a gift in thanks. Ohh, Japan. 🙂

Well, anyway, my Valentine’s Day wasn’t spent splurging on chocolates to give to people, thankfully. Yuuki and I went out to a cute little cafe for lunch and spent the rest of the day outside enjoying the nice weather. It was gorgeous this weekend– the temperature was up in the 60’s! Since it’s the middle of February, that was just stunning to me. (It was freezing again today, though. It even snowed for a few minutes! That’s nearly unheard of, down here! I’m sure all my friends/family at home are like, “What a wuss! Is she really from New York?!”)

On Sunday, I went into Osaka for the first time. It was exhausting, but incredibly fun. A few of my friends and I wanted to do some shopping and just see Osaka, so my friends’ speaking partner (and her friend) brought us there. I took pictures, of course!

The minute we stepped out of the subway, our eyes were bombarded with a million things to look at. If I had to describe Osaka with one word, it would be busy. It is the second largest city in Japan, after all. There are lights and signs and sounds and people coming at you from every direction. Total sensory overload, but somehow, not unpleasantly so.

The streets in Osaka are very narrow. Hell, the streets in Japan in general are very narrow. But that aspect seems exaggerated when you cram around 2.5 million people into them.

While the picture above helps emphasize the cramped, sensory overload feeling that I was talking about, it was mainly taken to document the guy in the bottom left of the picture. Look at that hair! This was not a tall man, either. Maybe around 5’2 or so. His hair alone had to make him at least 5’5. We ended up walking behind him for a while, out of chance, and we affectionately nicknamed him, “Crazy hair.”

They weren’t all over the place– but there were a good deal of people dressed up in crazy fashions. Wild hair, wild clothes. I even saw a few girls dressed up in Lolita fashion! I adore Lolita fashion, so my inner Japan geek was impressed. (And for those of you who have NO IDEA what Lolita fashion is, Wikipedia explains it better than I can. It’s just really ornate and gorgeous.)

We walked along the famous bridge at Dotonbori, one of Osaka’s popular attractions.

And posed in front of this famous sign. For everyone that needed proof that I’m actually in Japan through a picture, there you go. 🙂

We did a ton of shopping, which was awesome, and awful… on my funds. See, I’m in the process of getting a bank account opened right now. I applied for one three weeks ago, and I’m waiting to get the word that it’s open soon. My debit card doesn’t work here, and Japan’s a country big on paying for almost everything with cash. I took out a loan a couple weeks back so I could actually pay for food and transportation, but now, my money’s running kind of low again. I’ve got enough to survive, but… man, I really wanted to shop more! I got a few tops (here, here, and here, for those interested in that kind of stuff– one of them has my initials on it, I HAD to get it!) and new earbuds for my iPod, since my last pair kicked the bucket on Thursday. These new ones were so much cheaper than they are in the states AND they have BLING. I’m not even kidding, I am now in possession of earbuds with pink and white rhinestones on them. I am very pleased.

I also went to purikura for the first time, which was quite an experience. The American equivalent would be… photo booths, I guess, but imagine them with more space, more stuff to do to customize your pictures, and a thousand times more intense. Everything’s on a really quick timer, so you seriously need to go in with a game plan. Pick your backgrounds within a very short period of time, pose for your pictures, and then rush out of the booth to decorate them (with text and clipart), again, in a very short period of time. It’s… I can’t even put it into words. One of the most hectic things I’ve ever seen here. Totally adorable, but absolutely insane.

We went to a little udon place to eat afterwards, and by time we were done, it was nighttime. As with most big cities, I think the scenery is a thousand times prettier at night.

The picture below is of a gigantic crosswalk we were waiting in front of. I took a pretty poor picture, but I was trying to get the expanse of the space, and the HUGE crowd gathered on the other side. The two sides of the street looked like idling stampedes waiting to happen.

We returned to the bridge at Dotonbori. There was a guy dressed up in lime green clothes, holding up a sign that read, ‘FREE HUGS!’ (in English), and shouting and dancing wildly to attract attention. He saw my friends and I laughing at his bizarre display (though it was cute to see they have those free hugs things in Japan, too!), so he yelled “FREE HUUUUGS!” out to us and kept waving us over. One of my friends ran up and actually gave him a hug. Too cute.

Down below the bridge there’s walkways alongside a long, narrow canal.

While my shoddy pictures hardly do the area justice, it actually was really picturesque. Even gave off a little romantic vibe.

At the end of the night, we grabbed another bite to eat at Mister Donut, Japan’s equivalent of Dunkin Donuts (although Wikipedia tells me it’s originally an American company… huh, you learn something new every day). I had this amazing little chocolate donut with strawberry filling. I don’t remember if I mentioned this before, but the sweets here are way better than in America. No contest. Even the chocolate tastes better here! I discovered that I love wagashi, particularly sakuramochi. Insanely delicious stuff. I’m definitely taking some home with me when I go back to America.

So that was Osaka. It doesn’t take long at all to get there by train, and I had a good time, so I’m definitely going to go back to Osaka sometime. I’m going back out to Kyoto this weekend, so I hope I’ll have good weather then! Maybe I should make a teru teru bouzu

Just to wrap up here, I wanted to mention that while I don’t always reply to comments left on my blog, I am getting them, and I’m always reading them. I really appreciate them. 🙂

              This entry was originally written a few days back, and I didn’t get the chance to post it until now due to my lack of internet access. But as I was reading this entry over, I decided to emit a big blob of emotional whininess. I was feeling like an absolute jerk and had been crying way too much because of the whole homestay situation. To sum the events of the last few days up, I talked to CIE, and I’ll be moving back into the dorms on Friday. Now that I’ve had to explain myself a million times over to CIE and other parties, I’m much more in control of my feelings. I can’t put it in any simpler terms—the homestay family just wasn’t the right choice for me. My host parents are very sweet, friendly people, and I’m sure that they’ve made (and hopefully will continue to make) very good host parents for other students. But just not for me. I was feeling stressed out by returning home, and that just isn’t the way I want to feel in my short stay here. I’ve felt incredibly relieved over the last two days, in particular, now that the decision has been made. I still feel like a huge jerk for putting my host family through this in the first place, but the decision has been made, and I know they’ll be fine. And I’ll be fine.

So there you go. No need to prolong my strife. That’s what happened in a nutshell.

So that’s enough dabbling in the emotional stuff. As I mentioned in my last post, my speaking partner took me to Kyoto, and took time to show me around, rather than rushing me through like the three clueless “tour guides” did a week and a half ago, haha. So here are the pictures from that—

             

              I met up with my speaking partner at the nearest train station, and we headed out to Kyoto. The main reason for the trip was to visit the Kiyomizu Temple. On the bus ride from the Kyoto station to the temple, I was approached by a tourist. I suddenly heard an, “Excuse me…” and looked up, because—well, that’s not Japanese! I saw this guy leaning over my seat, and he asked me if I was sightseeing. I told him that I was, but that I kind of had a guide, so I wasn’t with a group or anything. He then asked about what there was to see in Kyoto—that he just wanted to see something. I kind of laughed in my head at the bizarreness of the situation—this random guy is on a bus headed out into Kyoto, but he doesn’t know where he’s going or what he wants to see. I told him that I was going to the Kiyomizu Temple, and he asked for directions on how to get there. I just told him to listen to the announcements running on the bus and wait until he hears, “Kiyomizu.” Generally, that’s how I get around—I might not be able to read the kanji, but I can decipher spoken words! Anyway, my speaking partner and I got off the bus for Kiyomizu, and the random guy (and his girlfriend/wife/whatev) followed us off. It sounds sketchy when I write it down, but it was really funny when it happened. I was following my speaking partner, and the couple was following me—so when we had to take a sudden turn, there was an entire tail of a group following my speaking partner’s every move. Once the temple was in sight, they were able to find their own way, and my speaking partner and I took a little casual detour window-shopping on the way up. So, anyway—the picture is my attempt at emphasizing how HIGH UP this place was. We did a whooooole lot of walking to get up to the temple. And the picture above is actually at the base of the temple, looking up against this stone wall that the temple was positioned atop.

              Lots and lots of walking. But not back-breaking walking, fortunately. A nice, leisurely stroll. It wasn’t tiring at all.

              Oh, before I get too far from the story of the tourist guy, I just want to mention how amusing I find it that I get approached like that. Honestly. I’m not trying to be facetious. I love these little, awkward experiences, especially in Japan. Out of all the people on that cramped bus, I’m the one who gets approached by the random tourist, who speaks English (I’m pretty sure he was Australian), because I clearly am not Japanese. It’s different from when I was in Finland, because there, I have no clear physical signs indicating that I am not Finnish. So I’d get approached by random people even there, but they’d be speaking Finnish to me instead. Here, there’s no mistaking it—I don’t look like the majority of the people in this country, so I probably speak English. I don’t stand out as much as a person with blonde hair does, but I still look funny. So these things will happen. Oh, that, and little kids like to stare. Not all of them, of course, but sometimes I’ll be standing in line somewhere, and there will be a little kid that unashamedly keeps staring up at me. I think it’s kinda cute.

              Right, back to the Kiyomizu Temple.

             

              This view is looking down from the temple. It’s hard to emphasize the height through pictures, but this was a HUGE drop. If I dropped my camera right then, I’d definitely need a new camera. That poor thing would’ve been beyond repair.

             

              So after a lot of walking, we reached the entrance to the Kiyomizu Temple. Which, of course, featured some more stairs. Even more surprising was the girls dressed up like geisha—formal kimonos, HUGE shows—walking up and down these stairs, with the assistance of another person.

              Most of the buildings around the temple shared this really vivid orange color. I love how temples can make any color look rich and traditional—even this neon orange.

             

               

              The photos above and below are more views of the ornate, crazy orange buildings around the temple area.

             

             

              I absolutely love the little details on these buildings, too—

             

              This next photo is of the highest building in Japan. All that walking paid off!

             

              Since the temple sits so high up on a hill, you can see the city of Kyoto everywhere!

             

              Another view of said vista—including the Kyoto Tower this time. The thing looks positively puny from all the way up there.

             

              And where there isn’t a view of the city, there’s a view of a whoooole lot of nature. I thought this scene was pretty cool—another temple off in the middle of a woodland.

             

              A cute little pond and garden in the middle of all the buildings—

             

              It seems obvious, but just in case… for the record, you do a lot of wishing and praying at temples. Toss a couple yen into a basket, put your hands together (like the guy in the middle in this next picture), and make a wish/prayer.

             

              Or there’s places like this, where you touch a statue for good luck.

             

              I’m not exactly sure what you do at this next place, but the story beside it described Okage-myojin, a god who is considered a “guardian deity, especially for the ladies.” The sign also described how women would nail a straw doll onto cedar trees as a curse to their enemies, and how even now, nail marks can be found on the backs of cedar trees from when that was practiced.

             

              This next one was the cutest. If you can’t see what the English text above the rock is, it says, “Love Stone.” It says that if you manage to walk safely from the stone in the picture to a stone on the other side of the walkway (it’s a straight line, not pictured above) with your eyes closed, you’ll have a wish granted. Someone actually attempted it while my speaking partner and I were looking on. It was so cute. He had one hand out in front of him with his eyes closed, and just kept saying, “sumimasen” (“excuse me”) as he walked forward. Mostly everyone leapt out of his way and looked on with smiles.

             

              My speaking partner and I both weren’t sure about what this was, exactly, but it looks like a bunch of (stone) dolls!

             

              This next one was a popular attraction. We lined up to drink this water. The gist of it is that drinking the water while praying will grant you a wish. My speaking partner was telling me that each little water stream represented luck in a different aspect of life. I found a little plaque in English while I was standing in line—it said that there are many local variations on the story—that each stream represents something distinct, but that the Kiyomizu Temple’s “official position” on it was that they all fulfill wishes. I lol’ed. Official position. It’s a temple! Anyway, I drank from the middle one, for the record.

             

              On the way down from the temple, this is another shot looking back up at how high this place is—

             

              And this one is probably my favorite of the bunch. We were walking along, just outside the main temple buildings, and my speaking partner leapt up on a little ledge alongside a tall fence, and he invited me up. When I got up there, I recognized the view instantly. This same view (minus the tree branch in the middle) has DEFINITELY been on postcards or posters or … circulated SOMEWHERE. I have definitely seen it before.

             

              One last photo, for giggles. This was taken outside of the temple, while we were browsing the little shops along the looooong road down the hill. Hello Kitty. Is. EVERYWHERE.

             

 

              All right, this post is getting too long as it is, so to wrap it up, I’ll end with a snippet of a conversation I had with my speaking partner today. We were looking at my Japanese homework, and I had to translate a sentence from English into Japanese. I was just checking if I knew the correct nouns in Japanese.

              Me: “Ahh, what’s wine?”

              My speaking partner: “Oh! Alcohol… you know, whiskey, beer…”

              Me: “[dying of laughter] Not like that! In Japanese!”

This will be a really, really miniscule update. Probably not even worth posting, but I figured I should put something up here.

I moved in with my host family on Thursday, and things have not been going well. They’re lovely people, honestly. Very nice, very welcoming, and they’ve hosted a ton of exchange students before. But due to a culmination of many factors, this is just not the place for me. I can hardly put into words the feelings that I have that are making me say these things, but all I know is that I am not comfortable staying with a homestay family. This homestay family, anyway. I don’t know if it would be different if my homestay family was younger (they’re approaching their 80’s), had kids/pets, whatever– but it doesn’t really matter. I was feeling this way on Friday, too, and I went to CIE to talk about it. They looked at me like I had four heads and told me to wait it out, but that they could move me back into the dorms if I insisted on it.

I told them I’d give it the weekend to see if anything changed. It really didn’t.

The deciding factor here was the realization that the only time I feel relaxed is when I’m out of the house. I feel more comfortable wandering around Kyoto than I do in my homestay family’s living room. I feel happier in these few minutes before I have to run to class to take a test than I did sitting at my homestay family’s house studying for it.

I don’t want to give it a few more weeks. I’m only here for four months, and I don’t want to spend my time being unhappy because of my living situation.

For the record, my homestay family has no internet, thus explaining the lack of posts over the last few days. I’m in a public computer lounge at school updating this. A nice, warm computer lounge, at that. My homestay family has central heating (which is rare in Japan), but the catch is… they don’t use it. There’s essentially one space heater for the whole house, down in the parlor/kitchen. When I woke up this morning, I didn’t want to get out of bed because it was so cold, and when I did, I was visibly trembling.

I know I’m being selfish, I know I’m acting quickly, and I know I’m being a big pain in the ass for everyone. But I don’t want to waste anymore time feeling like I do now. Again, I’m only here for four months. Why in the world would I want to spend the rest of my time here seeking refuge at school and with friends? Why in the world would I make myself return to a home where I cannot relax?

I really do appreciate all that my host family has done for me, and I know that they’re very good host parents. Just not for me.

On the brighter side, I went to Kyoto with my speaking partner on Saturday and had loads of fun. Pictures coming soon, hopefully.

This weekend was hella busy.

Since when have I used the word hella?

While I’m getting onto the subject here, let me just say that for the record, my command of the English language is slowly deteriorating. Day by day, it gets a little worse. Through speaking Japanese so often and making my English sentences a little less complicated for any Japanese students who aren’t so confident about speaking English with me, I can feel my English skills just… slipping away. By May, I’ll be a linguistic wreck. Did that even make sense?

Well, anyway, back to the weekend. It was about 1 AM Saturday morning when my roommate asked me if I wanted to go to Kobe in the morning. I agreed to the plan, and… well, being me, I stayed up until 5 AM. I woke up around 9 AM, and ended up running around Japan for … at least 13 hours.

But it was fun, at least. I wasn’t being rushed around and whisked away all the time like I was when I went to Kyoto on Friday. Much the opposite, actually. Have you ever seen about 10 foreigners just doing nothing all over the place before? Wikipedia tells me that loitering is “an intransitive verb meaning to stand idly, to stop numerous times, or to delay and procrastinate.” Read: my trip to Kobe. We saw lots of things! LOTS of things! Went lots of places! But to fill up the rest of those 13 hours, we also loitered. A LOT. It was physically painful to stand around doing nothing for so long, but at least the company was good.

So, yes, anyway, pictures–

Pretty self-explanitory. A street in Kobe; lots of shops and restaurants.

Ladies and gentlemen, loitering at its finest:

One of the more bizarre things I came across that day. Apparently if you take a picture of it, it brings you good luck. I’ll let you guys know how that one goes.

There was a Chinese New Year parade… display type thing going on in the streets. The dragon was pretending to eat people, I think. There was a lot more going on past the dragon– drums, more guys in dragon suits. But I was too short. And for the record, yes, I’m still short in Japan.

Kobe is famous for its Chinatown. This is the entrance to it–

Welcome to Japan. The streets are narrow, and there’s a lot of people crammed into a small area.

There’s even Hello Kitty custards here.

There was a… tai chi show going on in the middle of Chinatown. Couldn’t see much because of my height again, but at least the setup of the place was nice.

Japan has this runing theme of mixing old with new. Perfect example– a traditional-style building in the middle of a huge, modernized city.

Marimekko bags! In Japan! My Finnish host family would be so proud if they saw this.

One of the stops the crazy trains make (like the bus system in Kyoto– absolutely no personal bubbles allowed on the trains in Kobe. Your body is getting SMASHED into places you don’t want it to be. Deal). Everyone here knows “YES WE CAN!”

And now for my favorite Engrish finds of the day– taken while loitering in a book and music store. It’s covering up the “Classical” sign. No, we didn’t mess with it. It was just setup that way. Hopefully the shopkeepers noticed all the English-speakers giggling, pointing, and taking pictures. We’re such little kids.

I’m telling you, someone broke out the thesaurus for this one. The text along the bottom reads: “For the sake of irreplaceable persons, we’ll dramatize a specially preserved extravagance.” This was for a shoe store. There’s nothing wrong with the sentence, grammatically, but… it’s like a schizophrenic person just word vomited something and they ran with it. I love it.

So that was Kobe. Random, busy, and fun.

Sunday was a mess. I had to move from my first temporary room into a second temporary room while I wait for my host family to come back to Japan. Even though Seminar Houses 1 and 2 are connected by a bridge, they left the bridge locked yesterday. So I had to take all my luggage down and up stairs and across to another street. At least I got help from a random good samaritan along the way. Thanks guy, whoever you were.

Then I had to check out of my old dorm, check in to my new one, move my stuff into my new room… ugh, just a silly, unnecessary mess. At least I have my own desk and place to put stuff in this room, even if it is for only four more days.

After all of that, I shopped at 99, the equivalent of a dollar store in America, because I’m running low on cash and need to eat, since CIE isn’t going to give me a stipend for these extra days of host family-less-ness (see? English. Down the drain) until I move in with my family. … uh, yeah, thanks guys. Ended up going out to eat at a cheap restaurant that served some DELICIOUS food. I wish I remembered the name of what the dish was. Damn.

On the topic of food– here’s a list of the things I’ve eaten while here. For those of you who know me, this is kind of a big accomplishment already: omuraisu, curry rice, chicken katsu, udon, ramen, mochi, miso,  some kind of daifuku, and… a few “I have NO IDEA” things. The sweets here are REALLY GOOD, too. Lots of strawberry-flavored things are everywhere, much to my delight.

Also, I do have to mention that the portions of food that I eat tends to shock people here. They just… don’t understand that I don’t eat much at all. Sumimasen (excuse me) and onaka ga ippai (I’m full) have to be the two phrases I’ve used the most here. Japanese meals come in BIG servings, or they’ll have smaller servings and LOTS AND LOTS of stuff to make up for it. I don’t think I’ve honestly FINISHED a meal yet. I’m not going hungry, I’m just full from what little food I do eat. At a restaurant in Kobe where I ordered omiraisu, it was me, and two other guys eating into this huge meal, and all three of us didn’t finish it (well, they’d already eaten their meals and were just taking their own helpings of mine, since they wanted to try it, but still… three of us couldn’t finish it!). It’s crazy. I think it’s going to be really difficult to emphasize this to my host family, too. And I don’t want to end up somehow insulting them. It’s not that I don’t like the food, it’s just that I’M FULL. I prooooomise.



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  • Isa: No, there can't be two ninja dogs in Kyoto. But in April it was in Arashiyama! http://westwards.typepad.com/westwards/2009/05/fashionable-pets.html
  • Paula: Hey: I'm so glad you are swine flu-free. A little over-kill, don't you think? Anyway, I'm so glad you are enjoying your last few days there. Live it u
  • Paula: There's no place like home, there's no place like home!!! Can't wait to see you...we are counting the days.

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