Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Sorry Again

Sorry for the lack of pictures too! I hate things with all text, no visuals. But I forgot the cord to connect my camera to my computers. Looking back on it I shoulda picked one up at Akibahara, but I was soo caught up with how crazy it was I didn'st even think about it. In the mean time I will keep stealing pictures from Travis' blog www.travissuzaka.blogspot.com. Thanks Travy!

ひとりで電車を乗り換える(Transferring Trains Alone)

This may seem like a repeat, but my alone trek was so much harder this time because I transfered trains at 3 stations all by myself. I helped Travis move today and had to find my way home after. He drew me a really good map, but it was basically up to me to transfer to the right trains at the correct stations.

Really riding the trains here is not too bad, afterall they are running constantly and come nearly every 3 or 4 minutes. The hard part is navigating the crowd, distinguishing and finding different lines, and reading the kanji on the maps. There were so many people everywhere since I was traveling during prime time. There are lines owned by different groups as well. The JR line v. local lines, I believe some are owned by the government and others are private. And on certain train maps, where neither hiragana nor katakana are written, I am completely helpless when it comes to reading the kanji. Since we both live in relatively small outlying cities, traveling between them requires train knowledge and time. I had all evening.

From Aobudai I started on the right train and managed to get off at Shibuya. However once I got off, I couldn't figure out how to get to the line I needed to transfer to. I kept pulling out Travis' handmade map trying to figure out what city I needed to go to next. I must have looked really pathetic because a young Japanese guy who got off at the same stop asked me in Japanese where I wanted to go. I told him the line and he led me through a maze of shops, staircases, and through the masses of people. He spoke only in Japanese and I can tell already that the 6+ years of Japanese I have taken were not noticable. He got me to the correct train line, asked if I was okay, and was off. People are amazing here.

From Shibuya I rode to Ikebukuro. I got off, walked down some staircases up others, figured out I was at the wrong place, and found what I believed was the right spot. I really honestly don't know if I actually transfered trains or just got back on the one I got off...haha. Either way I made it to Akabane, transfered trains again, and within 2 stops I was back to my home train station.

I must say I feel pretty proud of myself. All together it took nearly 2 hrs. Although my confidence in traveling is slightly up, my self confidence in my Japanese is substantially down. Between my conversation with the man in the train station and when I try to talk to Travis in Japanese, I realize I have a long way to go. I can say basic things, but really I have not put a complex sentence together since I got here. Its a sad realization. I hope my Japanese gets better, it really can't get any worse...I have a lot of work ahead of me.

回転ずし(Kaitenzushi) (3/30)

Travis and I went to a kaitenzushi for dinner to "try all the weird ones." LOL. Unfortunately the kaitenzushi we found was a small one and they didn't serve anything extra strange there. I love the places here because they are soo cheap and good. We went to one earlier that was $1 a plate. This one was a little more expensive $1.46 each, but I loved it because their sushi chef was making the sushi in the center of the circle and you could ask him in person for whatever you wanted (as opposed to the electronic order that you place at larger kaitezushi restaurants). It was amazing to watch him make the plates. I timed him and it took only 3 seconds to make each piece. It was a smooth, repetitious thing to watch. Such a cute hole-in-the-wall place!

Anyways, I am all about the sushi and sashimi. It never bothered me that the fish isn't cooked or whatever. However, I am not a big seafood person. With food I know what I like and I tend to order the same things over and over again. But with our decision, I did eat two different types of sushi I would have not otherwise tried. The first one was probably the only really strange looking one they had. Tako (octopus) with all its tentacles hanging off the rice. Lol. I chose the one with the least legs/tentacles (or whatever you would call them) and chomped it down. It took a while though the octopus was really chewy. The texture reminded me of chewy rubber. Not my favorite thing to eat. The other was ikura (salmon eggs). I'm not crazy about fish eggs and these looked especially large and intimidating. I've been trying to eat sushi like it was meant to be eaten, in one bite/mouthful. Reese would get mad at me for cutting my sushi in half, so I've been trying to follow his advice. In this case, it didn't work so well. I couldn't fit the whole thing in my mouth and one of the eggs fell off and onto the table. Haha. I'm surprised people still are actually willing to eat out in public with me! :)

Killer Fashion (3/30)

Everyone in the Tokyo area dresses very well. Japanese men look sharp in their suits, have their hair done, and are all on the metro side. I've seen a couple of guys wearing Uggs and almost all carry man bags, and designer ones that that (I've spotted Prada and Coach). Women here look especially dressed up. Tights are in, as are peacoats, trenches, dresses, and skirts. I see almost every woman wearing heels or boots everywhere.

I feel unbelievably underdressed. Although I love dresses, I hardly brought any nice coats, would rather wear flip flops than heels, and am use to the sweats and North Face jacket college norm of Seattle.

I made a decision when I got here that I would try to look and act as "non-foreigner" as possible. So I bought a SUPER Japanese dress in Harajuku and a variety of other clothes, jackets, heels, even tights. I tried wearing heels for the day. Besides dressing up to going out or wearing interviews, etc, I don't think I've even gone a whole day in heels. It definitely wasn't bravery though, it was stupidity.

I should have taken into account the amount of traveling we were going to do...I took the same route from my dorm to Kawaguchi to meet Travis. Together we went to Ueno, explored the park, found a street festival, and continued on. Next to Asakusa, ran into another festival, went shopping, and ate some really good dango (is that what is on the stick?) and deep fried mochi.

THEN Akihabara the electronic hub. Lol I would prefer to call it Geek Central. I could not believe the number of electronic stores in that area. I don't want to sound sexist, but it was amazing how the guys completely outnumbered the girls. Plus I've heard there's a lot of maid bars there too. But I just wonder, how many electronic things do you need to buy? I mean how often do you replace your camera or TV? Tons of tourists there tho.

In addition we went to check out our schools. We went to mine first 上智大学 Sophia University then to Travis' 青山学院 (I don't know if this is exactly the right kanji) Aoyama Gakuin. They are both private schools, so the experience may be somewhat different than a typical Japanese college. But idk. I still can't believe we are here till August!

We went to some shopping area too. I can't remember where tho. I remember it distinctly because I was walking so slow by the end. My feet were killing me. I stopped in one store by the Crocs and my feet screamed at me to buy a pair. But I already have some and talked myself out of it. Even at $40, I was considering getting them though, that's how bad it was. My fashion conscious is killing my feet. Stupid stupid me for forgetting my Uggs...

Monday, March 30, 2009

ひとりで (Alone) (3/29)

Last night I went on my first excursion alone. Travis had to get out of my dorm by 6pm and he left to bring stuff to his hotel, one train-stop over in Kawaguchi. We wanted to meet up for dinner, but since neither of us have cell phones yet, meeting at my dorm was out of the question. The only option left was for me to go to Travis' hotel and have the front desk call his room once I got there. So that was our plan.

I must mention that as Reese, my mom, or actually any of my friends would tell you, I am directionally challenged. At home I get lost in malls all the time. And at one point in the trip Travis said that he was scared for me to ride alone, since I can never remember where we are getting off/transfering. So with that, I couldn't believe I was going to have to make the trek alone: to a hotel I've never seen, at a stop we had not gotten off at...

Travis sent me VERY specific directions, but I was not comforted. With my history and the problems we had finding my dorm, the chances of me getting there looked bleak. By the time I left, it was already dark outside and that much harder to remember where to go. Bad idea to leave after the sun already went down...

I made the first turn and after walking three blocks I did not see the traffic light that I was supposed to take a right at. In fact, I did not see any lights...I turned all the way around and realized that i started walking the wrong way from the beginning. How was I ever supposed to make it?

I surprised myself though and somehow managed to get to the train station without any major detours. I bought my train ticket all by myself rode the train to Kawaguchi (the next stop) and thankfully I found his hotel.


Lol, I want to apologize for all the grammatical errors and spelling. As a journalism major this is not acceptable...but I am trying to post everyday and I would never get it done if I was a perfectionist. Travis also pointed out to me today that I even spelt some cities and Japanese names wrong. This should be an indication of my Japanese ability, or lack there of. I can already tell I am going to be in for an interesting semester.

Sunday, March 29, 2009

Dorm Situation

I moved in today and I can already tell that the dorm is stricter that I would prefer. After living on my own for the last 3 years, it is hard for me to live with a high degree of supervision. I think once you live independently it is impossible to go back. But for now I am going to just have to try.

I was thinking that my friend Travis would be able to stay with me for the 2 nights until he can move into his dorm. OR at least I was going to try to sneak him in. But after reading my contract and the rules, I learned the dorm can terminate my lease if they find out that someone was staying over. At that point, we decided that it would be better if Travis found a hotel room. I felt pretty bad though, since he wasn't planning on spending any money for the next couple nights.

There are rules against moving the furniture in the room, hours for using washing machines and even taking showers. Guests can only be in our apartments during office hours so 9am-6pm. I am not a fan...

I just realized today I have a feeling of self-righteousness. It is a pretty strong American stereotype, but in my case at least, it is true. I never recognized it before, but especially in the dorm situation, I feel like I should have the right to do what I want. Its not like I am disrespectful I just feel like some of the actions are overreactions. I think "Well I am paying to stay here, so...". Its kinda funny. I'm gonna just hafta try to behave myself for now :)

Baggage...Lots of Baggage

There's a reason everyone has their suitcases sent to and from the airport. Tokyo trains were built for quick, efficient transportation, not for slow tourists with overweight bags. So began our daily adventure. Moving day...

Travis, Val, Curtis, and I left our hotel: 6 suitcases, 4 people. From Shinagawa station, we navigated through the crowds and ticket machines. Escalators at some points were few and far between, so we ended up carrying our suitcases up and down stairs, which by the why were crowded with people who where dodging our slow caravan. Val and Curtis dropped us at the Shinjuku station and our helping hands were gone. The two of us, each with 4+ months of clothes packed into 4 suitcases.

The most ridiculous part of the day was transferring at Akihabara. We were crowding to get off the train with all our luggage. I got the two smallest suitcases off, and Travis came off with one of the larger ones. I thought he was right behind me, with the other two but there was still one in the train. He reached in to grab our last bag, but the door started closing on his arm! He tried to open the doors up with his free hand, but the suitcase fell over in the train and he lost his grip on it. The door attempted to close again with Travis' arm still in the door trying to grab the last suitcase. I was just looking on, in horror and uncertainty. I had no idea what to do or what would happen to the suitcase. Lucky for us, someone who got off the train with us was quicker and more savvy than me. He quickly stepped in, and held the door open, which allowed Travis to grab the bag and get it safely off. And on it's third attempt, the door finally closed and the train was off.

I didn't realize the gravity of the situation until just after the train left. If in fact the train had left with the bag, it would have been nearly impossible to recover it. Neither Travis nor I have contact info here in Japan. Trains run constantly (every 4 or so minutes) so we would have never been able to locate the exact one. And I'm sure the bag would have been confiscated for security purposes at the next stop. It was a close one to say the least. Thank goodness for our good samaritan.

Our touristy appearance didn't stop there. By the time we got to our stop, it was definitely outside Tokyo and away from locations popular with foreigners. It is like a suburb in that most of the area is filled with houses and small shops. English translations are far less common. And I would say its safe to bet that there are hardly any foreigners touring this city. I'm sure we looked ridiculous dragging the huge suitcases for blocks and blocks in the quiet residential area. We definitely stuck out to say the least. People riding their bikes and driving would momentarily stare at us. At points Travis would go ahead to look for the dorm. Haha I would be left at the corner with the four huge suitcases. I'm sure people were wondering what the heck I was doing. It was pretty funny. We asked a policeman for directions and after helping us he asked us if we were ok and we all kinda laughed!

We passed a street festival for sakura matsuri (cherry blossom festival) and finally asked a woman for directions. It was funny because right at the corner we asked her, she motioned to a sign right behind her that said "DK House Warabi" in English. We were like "oh, this is it" lol. We made it.

Saturday, March 28, 2009

Traveling Tourist

Today we traveled all over. My bravery came in crossing the famous busy crosswalk in Shibuya. Before today, Tokyo feels busy, but not Tokyo-worthy busy. This is the first time I feel like I am in the fastest, busiest, most crowded place in Japan. It was overwhelming to see the crowd of people at each of the corners waiting to cross. Traffic flows regularly, then it is totally stopped and all crosswalks cross at the same time. People go diagonally across the largest part of intersection. There is no order and everyone is for themselves to stick together and get across before the light changes. It was so amazing to feel the energy and crowd! The billboards and lights reminded me of New York, but at 10:30pm it felt busier than I remember NY being.

We’ve been traveling all over. We went to Kamakura Daibutsu and Jinja, Tsukigi, and Ginza, just today. However it has been taking a toll on my wallet. The train fares for today totaled over $25! I did not budget for so much money to go toward travel alone…

I feel like I have been playing tourist since I got here…and I have. We have been in a hotel thus far and our days are filled with sightseeing and shopping. Harajuku yesterday was a perfect example. We walked around for hours there. The shops are almost entirely women’s botiques. A lot of them are really girly and almost all sell inexpensive and cute clothes of all sorts. Although some stores are cramped and others have poor quality items, I was able to find a variety of shops that I loved!

I still can’t believe I’ll be here for 4-5 months. It feels like I am just visiting. I am finally moving out of the hotel and into my dorm tomorrow. Curtis goes home tomorrow and Val back to Sendai. Travis and I are finally gonna get outta the hotel and move into our places! I need to start budgeting so I don’t spend more than I need to. I have to make sure I work it out so I don’t run out of money next month! Tokyo it turns out is a lot more expensive I was even expecting.

Only today do I realize how much we have been doing each day. We wake up early, run around all day, end up going out at night and get to sleep late. I feel like when you travel you learn about yourself. So far I have found out, I like down time, some alone time, and botiques more than shopping centers and department stores. Also I now know I would rather spend money on souviners, clothes, and gifts than food. I would miss meals any day if it meant I could bring something home. I surprise myself on how cheap I am when it comes to food. Lucky for me I can get decent meals at any 7-11 for cheap!

Lost in Shinagawa Eki (3/27)

Today my brave act came as an accident. We were together trying to catch a train and I got lost/left behind. I was behind a group of kids who didn’t know how to put the ticket in the machine. So everyone else was way ahead by the time I got through. I looked around and didn’t see any of the five friends I was with. I looked around. Everyone was moving fast, wearing dark colors, and for the most part, no one stuck out, including the people I was with! I saw Travis’s backpack and started running after him. But the guy entered a shop in the station and that’s when I realized it wasn’t Travis at all. I went back to right inside the entrance to try to find them again. I thought, I don’t know where we were going, I don’t know the name of the city we were going to end up it, I don’t know the station number, AND I don’t have Val’s number. I couldn’t get worse then this…I finally decided to stay were I was left and look for them when they come back. Of course I thought they might not realize it till later. That was what I was most worried about. Before too long I saw Travis and Curtis. I couln’t have been that long, but it felt like forever. In the end, seeing them was one of the best feelings.

That night we went to Zest (a Mexican style cantina) for nomihodai. At a nomihodai you pay a set amount for all you can drink alcohol for a certain period of time. For example at Zest it was 15,000 yen (about $15) for two hours. We got there riding the last train at 11:30pm. Needless to say we got our money’s worth with the Tequilla Toppers and cocktails. I think we figured out later that we each drank at least 9 drinks each and ate a ton of chicken wings and other Mexican bar food.

My second brave thing for the day was taking my first double shot. It may seem trivial, but I’ve never been able to until tonight. Apparently the trick is to breath out before taking it. And it worked. I had plenty of practice with nomihodai as well.

First Day! (3/26)

Although I just arrived in Japan yesterday, I feel like I have been here for a long time. It definitely helps that this is not my first trip to Japan and since I grew up with traces of the culture the transition has been easy so far.

I am just exhausted. I wasn’t able to sleep much on the plane, and since we landed there has been little to no down time. I hope to stay back and just sleep in one day, but I feel like I might as well see as much as I can and do as much as possible before Val, Trav, and I have to start school.

Today we went to Tokyo Disney Sea. I decided (while waiting in line for Tower of Terror) I decided that each day I am here in Japan, I’ll do at least one gutsy thing. Needless to say, actually riding the Tower of Terror was mine for the day. It was the most nervous I’ve been for a long time. When we got off it, both of my hands were half asleep from holding onto Travis. They were soo red too. Lol.

Tokyo Disney Sea was by far the cleanest amusment park I have ever been to. There were like twice as many people working here than there is at any Disneyland or Six Flags. People were sweeping leaves! Even near food vendors, the tables were immediately cleaned. The service you get in Japan is unbeatable.

The park has to make a ridiculous amount of money. At nearly $60 a person to get in I was surprised to see that it was so busy. There were two hour waits for each ride. Plus with the Disney craze, almost everyone was wearing a pair of ears or a hat. I have to think with the recession as bad as it is, some people are still doing alright.

It made me happy though, because a lot of kids were there with their parents. It was just a good thing to see. It just reminded me that some things are the same everywhere. My prof was saying that before kids with disabilities and handicaps were kept at home, because of the cultural face-saving ideals. However I was glad to see that there were kids in wheel-chairs, with learning disabilities, etc. with their parents regardless of their handicaps. It's a good sign for everyone.