Samantha in Japan

An Improvement in Living Quarters

Posted on: February 17, 2009

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. 🙂

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4 Responses to "An Improvement in Living Quarters"

1. I’m beginning to doubt your dedication to the crazy scavenger hunt. Where’s my Loli pics?

2. I had friends who take out student loans to help pay of credit card debt and car payments. No idea how they do this, seems like it would be hard to do and a little … unethical…

Who do you have to fight with to get money? That seems so weird that your debit card isn’t working.

Samantha,

Your narratives and photos of Japan are so interesting. I think I am a little jealous that I’m stuck in DUDVILLE, USA, while reading about the wonderful events you are perusing. The city of Osaka is so vibrant and exciting. I would love to go shopping over there. One never has enough money for those type of sprees. I love the photos. You looked so happy and cute in the picture with the three other girls. Now, I have never heard of Lolita fashion, so I’ll have to go out to the web and look at it. Sounds kinda sexy (heh?).

It is cold and dreary over here today. We are expecting some snow this afternoon, then sleet and freezing rain overnight. Maybe, I’ll go into work tomorrow.

Did you know that Hillary was in Tokyo the other day? Japan was her first stop as the new Secretary of State. Now she over in Indonesia. I think it is nice that the US and Japan are such good allies.

I’m very happy to hear you have finally settled in and hope the remainder of your stay at the dorm provides nothing but pleasant experiences. Gosh, four moves in four weeks. Incredible!

I stopped over to your house on Sunday and saw the dogs for a few seconds. Since Kelly started to complain as soon as she heard them bark, your mother made your dad lock them in the bedroom. Poor little dogs. They are so cute. Kelly can be a pain in the neck. I should have bought her a greyhound for Valentine’s Day.

Did your father or mother tell you that I cancelled the contract on the house that I was building and bought another one in the same development that was already built? It is a single family home and was my first preference when I was looking at homes in FL over the holidays. Unfortunately, that house was out of my price range a few months ago but the price dropped pretty significantly on one of the models. I made an even lower offer and it was accepted. The closing is tentatively set for next Friday but I will not be moving down just yet. Now you have another place to visit within the USA.

I’ll continue to catch your updates. I bet you are developing a really great palate for the Japanese cuisine.

Nice post! Keep it real.I have looked over your blog a few times and I love it.

@Gwendulz: Lots of the crazy stuff on the Scavenger Hunt list will be tracked down when I go to Tokyo. People have been telling me that girls/guys dressed up there COMPETE for people to take pictures of them! Like taking candy from a baby! And as for the money situation, I finally got my account opened and money transferred (though the extra fees for the wire transfer alone totaled FIFTY-FIVE DOLLARS), but yeah, my debit card won’t work at all here. Visa’s pretty much the only American card that will SOMETIMES work here, and mine’s not a Visa.

@Aunt Sandy: Take a break from snowy old New York and come visit me in Japan! I could show you around, now that I’m getting more acquainted with the area, haha! Lolita fashion is… the antithesis of sexy. It’s all about elegance and modesty and such, contrary to the deceiving name. Just type lolita fashion in on a Google search, and you’ll get an idea about what it’s like.

I heard about the snow back home. My dad said he was up at 5 AM to go use the snow-blower out on the driveway! Crazy! Snow is practically unheard of down here. I did hear about Hillary’s visit. Unfortunately, I can’t say I spotted her anywhere down in Osaka! Too bad!

That’s so cute about Kelly. I think if you got her a greyhound for Valentine’s Day, she’d be a little bit more than unhappy with you, haha!

I was talking with Robin on Facebook a few weeks back, and she told me how you canceled the contract on the house you were getting built. Good luck with getting everything settled for the new one!

And I suppose I am developing a taste for Japanese food, haha. I’m more surprised at my skills of using chopsticks; I never really used them before… ever, and now I usually eat at least one meal a day with them. It’ll be so weird to go back home and use forks and spoons all the time!

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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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