Thursday, April 30, 2009

Things I Love

1. Food, drinks, snacks, chocolate, milk tea, and soft-serve ice cream! The food here is absolutely unbelievable! I have loved everything I have eaten...or rather everything but natto, lol! I have been eating an onigiri each day for breakfast. Lunch at the cafeteria is soo good! And very reasonable. Since fruit is pretty expensive here, I haven't been eating as much as I usually do. In order to control my junk food consumption, I only let myself eat snacks on the weekend. Delicious! Sembe, anpan, bread in general, snacky chips, and sweets. Omg. Love the chocolate here too! There is one kind that has an espresso/coffee flavor. Really yummy. Usually I am not into snacks and sweets, but it is a totally different story in Japan! Ice cream too! I have been calling it frozen yogurt because I always think ice cream is limited to the stuff that you scoop into balls. Apparently not. Lol, it made me feel more healthy tho..

2. SHOPPING! I love shopping here. Shibuya 109 (the all girls stuff mall) has to be my favorite. The stuff they sell here is so much more girly that you could ever find in the US. Really cute. There are just a ton ton of girls stores. You can pretty much buy whatever you want in any price range too. Harajuku is reasonable. Shibuya nicer, but more expensive. I still want to buy more dresses, jackets, and heels. It seems like I can justify any purchase here. I mean when would be my next chance to buy all these Japanese articles of clothing?! Lol, not a good mentality.

3. Tokyo weight-loss plan. I've heard a ton of stories of people who have lost weight and pant sizes while they were in Japan. I hoped it was true. I wish we had a scale in the dorm, but I am sure I have. My jeans are loose. Its perfect, no diet, no exercise, and you still get results. Pretty much the same line that every weight-loss infomercial uses! HAHA. Portion sizes are significantly smaller here. I know I probably eat half of what I would in the states. It doesn't even matter that I have karaage chicken sandwiches and all that ice cream! The walking probably also helps. I make myself take the stairs at school. I have class on the 6th floor in the morning and 5th after lunch. So I walk up at least 11 flights everyday.

4. No worries. Whenever I travel I am pretty much oblivious to everything in the news. It is bad in many respects, but at the same time it helps me enjoy what I am doing at that particular moment in time, in my life. While I have been here, I haven't worried about my future, what I'm going to do post graduation. I am not working. This is pretty much what vacations are like. I am relaxed, happy, and ready for what is coming next.

5. Nightlife. It is arguable that there are few other places in the world that are as happening as Tokyo. There are an infinate number of clubs, bars, izakayas, karaoke joints here. There are so many different places to go. Really. Shinjuku, Shibuya, Harajuku, Ebisu, Roppongi, on and on. All are easily accessible via train and each is has a different character. Nomihoudai is by far the best Japanese invention ever. There is nothing more to say!

6. Cleanliness. I love how clean the streets and every public areas are. There is not graffiti on the trains, nor is there leftover garbage. People make an effort to be garbage courteous and it shows. There really is not trash blowing around or on the sidewalks. Really nice.

7. Service. I suppose this is part of the reason I like shopping too. Everyone working at the stores makes an extra effort to cater to the customers. Girls have held my stuff while I tried on jackets! I love how they wrap up everything that you buy, especially if it is a present. No gift wrapping necessary when you hand off the omiyage. So convenient and cute.

8. So much to do! I haven't had a lot of time to "play tourist" yet, so there is a lot I am looking forward to. Tokyo is so huge! Really just a huge variety of cultural, entertainment, and various things happening here. My friends and I have starting making a list of everything that is a must-do before we leave. We especially want to go to a sumo match, kabuki performance, etc. Haha I really want to try to take a cooking class or ikebana lessons too!

9. Japanese people. Everyone I have met here is so open and kind. I have heard some of the exchange students complain about how they were treated poorly by people in clubs or when they were shopping, but I really have not experienced that much yet. I have pretty much completely positive interactions with the people here. I have been every pleased. I do feel bad for people having to listen to my poor Japanese. I am an embarrassment to the motherland. Lol.

That's probably my top list for now. I will probably add on more later.

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Things I Miss

1. Of course my friends and Reese are my number one. It is funny how much I miss the small things. Like not even going out or the parties, but watching movies together, "family dinners", complaining about our classes, and making plans together. There is so much I want to do once I get back I cannot even start to make a list.

2. Privacy. I forgot how different it is to live in a dorm. I don't mind being around people, but I prefer to do it on my own terms. Cooking in the shared kitchen is not my favorite thing in the world. I am used to quiet and calm while I am at home. Or that is what I have come to expect of my apartment or residence. There are just days I'd rather have the place to myself and not have to deal with the busyness and people at every corner that seem to characterize dorms.

3. Sharing meals. It is sad to cook for one. I used to look forward to dinners. I didn't even mind cooking. Now since it is just for myself it feels like such a waste. I miss the days I used to come home from class and there would be a note on the door and warm food on the stove. Megan is my favorite Hawaiian cook! It was the cutest thing to come home and find a freshly made meal. Miss her food, miss sharing mine.

4. Warm water and shower pressure. There are two shower rooms here. One for guys and the other for girls. They switch every month or so because only one has a sauna. There is an ofuro in the other one, but no one seems to use it and there is never water in it. We can't win with either of the shower rooms. The one with the ofuro sprays lukewarm water. The temperure can be turned to the hottest setting and it is hard to stand under it because the temperature is cold. In the one with the sauna, the showers have no water pressure. It feels like you are taking a rain bath. Really sad in all respects.

5. My down pillow! I am huge on having nice, big, fluffy pillows. I almost brought mine last minute, and now I am sad I didn't. The dorm provided a very hard Japanese pillow. But I bought myself a better one at Mujis (a home store). The store is not that cheap so I settled for a square pillow that was actually meant for decoration on a couch or something. It has not held up to say the least. It is totally flat and can't be more than two inches thick now. Should have figured, haha.

6. Using card. I am really shocked at the limited number of places you can actually use a credit/debit card as a form of payment. Japanese is very very cash oriented still. I knew they were, but not to this degree. The places that tend to accept plastic are the stores/restaurants that are either big chains or more expensive. The inconvenience factor is hard to get over. In Seattle I rarely carried much cash if any.

7. Casual dress code. Girls here go all out. Even going to class, practically everyone wears heels and skirts/dresses. I have not seen any girls wearing the typical sweatpants and hoodie that are frequent in the northwest. I feel like I am always underdressed. Always. I am the only one I've seen wearing slippers (flip-flops). They have some really nice fitted jackets and heels here though. Shoppers paradise :)

8. Personal space. I have gotten used to the packed trains, but not totally. I keep thinking how funny it would be to set up a train system in the US and try to convince Americans to pack into them as tightly as they do here. HAHAHA. It makes me laugh every time I think about it! People would only allow this type of crowding if they are in collectivist cultures. This would be a no go for sure in the America.

9. Late night transportation. Sure the busses in Seattle aren't as efficient or as fast as the trains in Tokyo. BUT they run till 2 or so in the morning. I know one of these days I am going to miss the train and it will be one of the nights I wasn't planning on staying out all night. I hate to think that I might have to kill upwards of 4 hours at an internet cafe or somewhere else. Walking is out of the question. I miss my car and the convenience that comes with having a backup plan.

10. American music. This may seem silly, but you would never realize the difference that it makes when you can actually understand the lyrics. Haha its been Japanese music only since I got here. I love Ketsumeishi, who I've primarily been listening to. More than anything I recently have been choosing music based on how it sounds rather than the words or actual meaning of the song. I finally gave in today and let myself listen to an hours worth of the American songs that are on Reese's iPod. Reese is right. My favorite songs are the repetitive ones. But they need a good bass and beat too. I think M-flow and a few others will hold me over till I get back.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Nagging Feeling

Its 1 in the morning and I am wide awake. Seriously I am dead tired. Just can't sleep. Its one of those nights when I am caught up in my thoughts and worries.

I think what is bothering me most is possibility I am not getting as much out of this experience as I could. I hate to admit it, but I haven't used a whole lot of Japanese since I got here. In situations when I need to, of course I try. But other than that, my classes are taught in English, most of my friends speak English to me, and I live in an international dorm where the primary language spoken is of course also English. I can speak Japanese better than I could when I initially got here. But that really isn't saying much. I am okay if I am speaking colloquially, but I always end up spitting out some really informal phrase at the wrong time. It is not easy to put together entire sentences. And they hardly come out as complete thoughts. Haha my Japanese is a fragment of words and ideas, not necessarily strung together properly or grammatically.

My second concern is that I have not made a lot of Japanese friends. Its not that I haven't made any, its just that I wouldn't say we have done a lot together. They are more of acquaintances at this point. A good number of the girls went to international schools in Japan too, so they have absolutely perfect English. Everyone is really nice though. I see a number of the girls on a weekly basis, just haven't really hung out that much yet. We need time and the chance to do things together. A big problem is that my phone won't let me text certain people. I don't know what the problem is. But communicating has been hard. Everyone here texts, so I have been out of the loop lately.

I have heard that two of the biggest regrets foreign exchange students have are 1. not making many friends from the country they are in and 2. not improving their language skills. I feel like if I don't make more of an effort, I will regret these aspects as well. It worries me that I have already been here for over a month and I don't really feel like I have been doing well in either area. I remind myself that this is only the 3rd week of school, but then again I turn it around and think "I have already wasted 3 weeks..." I need to make some changes. Time is going so fast. I have just a little over 3 months and my chances are fleeting. I don't want to regret what I can change.

"Cannibal Tours" and Self Reflection

Today in my "Culture and Identity" anthro class, we watched a movie entitled "Cannibal Tours." It was made in the 80's so it was somewhat dated, but nevertheless very interesting. It basically looked at the tourism industry in New Guinea and how much if it is based on the "primative" aspects of the culture. How the exotic is marketed and sold. How tourism is in a sense trapping the people into sterotypes that Westerners would have of the native culture and thus what is is like to live with nature, stuff like that.

The movie pretty much focused on the ignorance of the tourists. They go in wanting to see a "backward" culture, criticize it, take pictures, buy art, are in and then out. Some of the stuff they said was just ridiculous. Like, "They have really easy lives," "it must be nice to live without worries like they do." Just stupid stuff like that. Watching the movie it was easy to laugh at the tourists and their attempt to understand the natives.

As much as I hate to admit it though I can see myself in their ignorance and wrongfully placed concern. It was sad to hear one of the older villagers explain how unfair "second" or "third" (negotiated) prices were. The tourists would try to barter to bring the prices down, even though it was obvious they could afford the initial price. Another woman was explaining how the tourists don't buy much and don't really help out the local people. The inequalities between the natives and tourists were startling.

When I was in India, I bartered for a lot of the stuff I bought at bazaars. I really wasn't good at it, but sometimes I could get the price of whatever I wanted lowered. All of the Indian college students that we met warned us not to get "ripped off" by the people selling things. They automatically raise prices when they see foreigners because they know we don't know any better. Looking back now I feel really bad. Like seriously, "Laurel, just pay the guy the money so he can support his family!" If anything it really is chunk change for us. They need it so much more. Its really ridiculous how caught up we get with money. How cheap we can be. Its sad to think how it can blind us. So instead of showing compassion, empathy, and humanity, money rules us and our interactions with other human beings. It is surprising how much you resemble the people you don't want to be.

The Person Behind the Free Tissues

My original purpose of this blog was to document my observations and emotions through the 4 or so months that I am living in Tokyo. I honestly have not had a lot of time to write thoughtful posts that really address what I am trying to. From now on I am going to try to comment on all the small notes that I have left for myself. Hopefully I will move this from what has been my superficial day to day activities to something deeper. We'll see. This is one of the more serious topics I have wanted to note for a while.

If you have ever been to Japan, you know that there are a countless number of people who hand out free things. Their job is to exhaust their boxes of advertising tissues, flyers, or whatever the item of the day happens to be. Japanese people are pretty good at hawking things. I did realize that till I came to Tokyo. Whether it is at Harajuku's small shops, getting people into restaurants, or selling products at their stores, they are not shy at advertising whatever they have to offer. Paid to do it in fact.

On the busy streets, people try to get rid of the free stuff their employer gives them. They speak to you in keigo (polite Japanese) and almost beg of you to take the freebie. I always feel bad for them. Sure it is a job, but not a great one. I am really sensitive to rejection, so there is no way I would be able to do what they do and keep my self-confidence. I already know I would rather be a janitor or garbage person, rather than loosing myself in rejection as a telemarketer or person who hands out things that people don't actually want.

Usually the people with these jobs are young. Like twenties or whatever. They will move on, they'll have better opportunities later. I have recently noticed that there are a surprising number of middle aged men that have that job as well. Specifically, on the first day of school, there was a balding man who was standing at the corner of Sophia university. As college students would pass, he tried to hand off fliers. Of course, most of the students were not interested. I don't know if he got rid of any of them...

What is like to be you? Here you are standing outside a private school watching girls with designer brand bags and guys wearing $200 jeans pass you everyday. You are halfway through your life and this is the position you are put in? I really felt bad.

I always wondered if people envied us. Even at SU I wonder. There are a good number of students who are well off and whose daddies were paying for them to go to private school. At the same time, it seems like everywhere (Sophia, SU, train stations) there are older people, who should be in their golden years, but instead they are cleaning the bathrooms and sweeping the steps. Really, truly I have seen grandparent aged people providing the menial labor and services in both the US and Japan.

I mean, lol my grandpa collects cardboard for crying out loud. He doesn't need to, but for some reason he does. So I'm not ruling out the chance that they are in the same situation. Perhaps they just want to. But at the same time, maybe they have work to support themselves. If the second option is the case, I could see how they would rightfully have a chip on their shoulder.

I really don't know what I'm exactly trying to say here. Just some thoughts. I've been dying to get these down so I don't forget.

Slackin

Do you ever have the feeling that you are not all there? Like you are awake and conscious, but just going through the motions. Not really fully living. Haha I've had that feeling since yesterday.

Pretty much I was out of it all day Sunday. I slept 8am-1pm. Saturday as I said before was an all nighter. Not the best decision I have made. Right now my mentality is that I would rather miss out on sleep rather than some thing else. You only live once. And seriously, how many times will I get the chance to do whatever I want in Tokyo. Lol pretty soon it will not be socially acceptable for me to do this stuff. I will be forced to be responsible and finally "grow up." In the mean time, I'm gonna take full advantage of my college student classification.

If I missed out on sleep this weekend, I made up for it Monday. After hitting the snooze button countless times, I woke up to the sound of the church bells. Not a good sign. They ring every half hour and these were specifically marking 8:30 am. The latest I can leave my dorm and get to school in time is 8! Lol. I decided to make the most of it and of course sleep some more...My 3 hr Japanese class is broken into two 1.5 hr classes. I figured I'd get to school in time to catch the second half. I had already missed the quiz and my chance to turn in my homework, both of which I had prepared...arrr. So I went back to sleep. Lol woke up late for my second class. I finally made it to school for 3rd period. Lol got to campus at 1! My bad...

I have some catching up to do...

Pictures!

Yay! Lol my mom reminds me all the time how nice pictures would be on my blog. Well haha mom here some are. I tend to take awful pictures, so these are some the ones I was able to salvage...LOL.



Strangely enough I have been hanging out with a bunch of Hawaii people. Scott went to Punahou and graduated same year as Reese. Kim is good friends with one of Reese's friends at Santa Clara. Candice and Landon also from Honolulu. Small world. And of course Jocelyn the Aussie and only white girl in these pics. Lol.



The girls!







Sunday, April 26, 2009

Money Problems

For probably the first time in my life, I am legitimately strapped for cash. When we went out yesterday I was going to put our nomihoudai and food check (for all 23 of us!) on my credit card. Thank god Travis's friend was good at math and sober enough to figure it all out, get everyone their change, and I got the cash. The check came back though...my card was rejected...

It was probably one of the most sinking feelings I have ever felt. Especially when I only had $10 cash. I didn't even have enough to pay for my part of the bill...I started panicking. My limit is in the thousands. I know my card worked before. I literally am broke, in debt in fact. I tried taking money out of the atm earlier and all four of my debit/credit cards were rejected...I thought it was a glitch in the machine. What the f* am I going to do?!

Someone covered the check (with their visa that worked...arr) and my friend spotted me $6 so I could pay for my part. Lol. I have no yen bills, literally just pennies. Not good, not good at all.

Travis assured me that I probably just have to call the card company again to remind them I am in Japan so they don't block my transactions. I was so scared though. I don't have any money, no way of immediately getting money, and I'm so far from home...I don't even have my residence card yet, so I can't set up a bank account until next week. It is such a helpless feeling.

I wasn't going to go out to the club, but my friends assured me that they could lend me money. Jocelyn even said that she would take money out of the atm to hold me over for however long. Thank goodness for friends, seriously. You never realize how much they mean to you till times like this. And I just met her 2 weeks ago. There's really nothing more I can say. Just amazing how kind people are. There is no reason to loose faith in others after you meet people like this.

I borrowed some money from Kim's boyfriend, enough to pay for the club and allow me to eat for a few days. On my way home from the station I bought groceries. Haha and I thought I was cheap before! I got rice, eggs, bread, jam, bean sprouts, and tea. I figured I have at least 3 dinners for $5.61. Plus the two ramens I bought earlier. I have enough food for 5 dinners. Its really sad when you have to ration food. I really have to cut back on how much I eat and spend for the next few days. Lol today I ate one piece of bread, ramen, and half the bean sprouts. I waited as long as I could before I even ate the piece of bread for lunch. Desperate times call for desperate measures.

Really this is nothing though. As soon as my parents call the credit card company, I literally have a sky high limit or it would be no problem for them to wire me money once I open a bank account. Money is not the problem, accessing it is.

This has made me really appreciate what I have. I feel so lucky this is actually the first time I have had a "money problem." Honestly, I've never truly had to set strict budgets. I have never been broke. I have never worried about money. I cannot say that I support myself, but financially my parents have always paid for what I cannot afford. I've always had access to some form of saved money and spending money. For someone my age, I actually have a ton of financial freedom. I don't think I have ever really recognized that.

I know this is not the case for most college students or even middle aged people. People have car payments, mortgage, credit card bills, or whatever. Most people owe some money on something. I can't imagine the anxiety that people feel when they are on the verge, close to foreclosure, behind on their payments. I knew a good number of Americans are in debt, especially now, and with the economic crisis the job prospects look bleak in all areas. I mean, in many areas of the world it is even worse. Food shortages and high food prices have been raising malnutrition in the most desperate regions. Instead of moving toward the UN Millennium Development Goals, many of these problems have been raising hunger and poverty levels.

Its funny how I can be so desperate, so scared. Then when I put the situation in perspective I realize how stupid I am. I have friends I can borrow money from. I have parents who can work it out. I eat everyday. I am so lucky. Lol, I am so spoiled I titled this blog "money problem!" This is not a money problem, its a glitch, a fixable problem. We'll figure something out this week. Life will go on. This has been a valuable lesson for me. Here's to the countless people who live day to day, dollar by dollar, meal to meal. I have a very shallow understanding of your pain. Let there be a day when no one has to worry. Until then, if we all support each other, we will all be okay.

Saturday, April 25, 2009

Out All Night AND Saw the Sun Rise On My Way Home...

Yesterday was probably the craziest day I've had since getting here.

Travis and I went to another English service at Tsukiji Betsuin. Its really cool, they do services in English once a month. The ministers were so nice last time we went and the howa topic was how religion fits into your life, The only problem was the weather was TERRIBLE. It was pouring all day yesterday and I had to give myself a pep talk just to go outside. It was absolutely pouring...Probably the wettest day yet.

The actual temple was open this time, so we went to see the shrine. The hondo (main worship hall) was absolutely huge. It was so gorgeous. The shrine was equally impressive, there was a minister dusting it. He was standing on one of the main tables near the state of the Buddha and the flower arrangement was as big as he was...its hard to imagine, but really impressive. I'll post pictures when Travis loads his...



The service was good. Its weird because more so here than in the US, the gathas (songs) are sung with a very gospelish feeling. I've never really realized it at any other temples besides the one here in Japan. They sing the songs with more of a worshipping type of sound. Kind of hard to explain, but it reminded me of the Methodist services I've been to. Irrelevant, but anyways...

Its nice to have the religious aspect once in a while. I admit I don't go to service much in the US, but I think it is worth the time.

The ministers invited us to go out with them for dinner after. Lol unfortunately, we already had plans and reservations for nomihoudai with our friends. Haha.

We met Travis' dormmates and my friends to eat dinner and drink at Zest again. Travis called in a reservation for 20 people, but actually there turned out to be 23 of us. It was really crazy. We had a huge table. We were there from 8-10 and had a countless number of drinks and tequila hopper shots. By the time we were finished, everyone was doing really well.

After Travis and his friends went home. Lol we should have, but Kim had a friend who turned 21 last night, so all of us from Sophia went out to meet up with them. We met up with them and went to a Camelot, a club in Shibuya. Entrance fee is usually $25 for girls and $35 for guys, but AJ (b-day boy) had a coupon. So we all got in and got two drinks for $10! We probably got there at 11ish. At that point it wasn't too busy, but as the night wore on, it was packed. Interesting ppl there. LIke the Japanese were fine, but some of the foreigners were pretty weird. I'll talk about that in another post.

Since we missed the train, we were at the club from 11pm-4am...I don't know how people do it. So crazy, we were dead at the end. We caught the first train home at 4:45 am. It was so full. I was super surprised. I got home at 6 am. I saw the sun rise as I was riding the train back to my place...It was a very disgusting feeling...

Its so funny because walking home from the station people were already doing things in their garden or whatever. I hadn't even slept yet and they were already starting their day...

I talked to Reese then went down to take a shower. Haha I was already dressed and brought down my pajamas. Other girls were in their pajamas and changing into their clothes. It was ridiculous. I couldn't believe I was showering to sleep when for most of the world it was exactly the opposite.

I finally went to sleep at 8 am Sunday morning!!! I hadn't slept since Friday night...I set my alarm for 7 pm. Lol I won't be doing this again. Turns out I didn't even need my alarm. I woke up at 1 pm this afternoon...

Friday, April 24, 2009

Food and Such

I realize how cheap I've been with my meals. I don't eat breakfast here (or in the US), but it only costs me like $7 a day to eat lunch and dinner. Haha. I can get lunch at school for between $2.50-4.50. And pretty much every dinner I make costs $3 or under. Lol. Its pretty ridiculous. My goal is to stay under $8 a day for lunch, dinner, snacks, and drinks.

At school I can get udon/soba/ramen for under $3.50. They sell gyuu don (meat over rice) for $3.50 and big plate lunches for $4.50. Curry for the same and pastas and stuff. I've been getting quick food lately. Like sandwiches, yakisoba, sushi rice, karage chicken in a hotdog bun. Haha. All of those are priced under $2.50. They have really good onigiris too. They're only $1 a piece, but like someone said "it's like playing russian roulette," you really can't tell what you are going to get. I pick at random since I cannot read the kanji. Usually my decision is based on how many of each are left. I figure the most popular ones are worth a shot.

For dinner I have made a variety of dishes. Fried rice, tarako spaghetti, karage chicken, french toast, ramen, udon, gyuu don, gyoza, etc for a little over $2. There is microwavable rice at the 99 store, so it is a lifesaver! I usually have a salad or some type of vegetable. Lol, I used to buy a lot of bread and desserts before. Now I am limiting it to the weekends. There is no reason to eat an excessive amount of extra sweet stuff. I pretty much try something new everyday though.

I must admit that I love the milk with artificial coffee flavoring. It is soo sweetened and good. If any of my co-workers at Starbucks heard this, I would totally not get rehired. Haha. I don't really like coffee, but I really like the Asian version that's not actually coffee at all :)

I know I've lost weight since I got here. My portions are more controlled and I know I eat less. I noticed today that my jeans are loose too. I guess that's the benefit of walking so much and eating less. This is a good thing!

OMG!!! MY FAVORITE SONG EVER!

Omg, I just found the artist and title of my favorite Japanese song of all time!!!! I really didn't think that I would be able to ever figure it out! This is soo exciting for me. You have no idea!

Lol last time I was here (haha in 2004), someone burned me a mix cd of a bunch of Japanese bands. Stuff that was popular. I mean back then. There was one song on that cd that i LOVED! I lost the cd and I don't think I have it on any of my computers. I never thought I would be able to ever hear it again or figure out who it was.

Weird coincidence. So last night I went with some friends to a place you can rent cds and dvds. I wanted to sign up, but since I don't have my residence card yet, I couldn't. When I got back I was thinking how cool it would be if I could find the song. Like a long shot, but still. The rental place has like a ridiculous number of cds, different genres, classics. You can rent cds for like $3 and load the whole thing on your computer then return them. Such a genius concept. They discourage you from doing it, but I mean its better than downloading. This is at least legal.

Joel was suggesting different artists to me. I mainly like hip-hop and reggae stuff, so there are only a couple of artists that I actually remember him mentioning. One group is called ケツメイシ I remember them because their 5 or more albums were all bright colors.

I was just looking them up and playing random songs. Somehow I stumbled upon the one song from 2004. Pretty amazing. I am soo happy.

Here it is: ケツメイシ - 涙

GL-Net Lunches

Sophia has a really good group called Global Network. They sponsor a bunch of activities for exchange students. Like they threw us a welcome party when we first got here and help to get us aquatinted with the culture. I don't know if you could really consider it a club...hmmm.

Either way, the Japanese students are soo nice. I just starting going to the "lunchtime salon" this week. Basically they open up a classroom and whoever (exchange students and Japanese students) eat lunch there together. Its really a good way to meet people and talk. More than anything it gives us a chance to practice our Japanese. Really good practice. Plus there are so many Japanese kids there, it is really good for listening practice.

Lol everyone is really patient. They are really willing to answer any questions or anything too. Really really friendly students. Different people come on different days and I always meet someone new. I really appreciate this program. Such a good idea. And it is nice that there is such a warm reception of us. The room is usually packed. A lot of Japanese people come. Its really quite amazing.

Love-Hate: Japanese Class

I realized how much of a love-hate relationship I have with Japanese class. We took our first test yesterday. I studied all of the grammar in previous classes so shoulda got a hundred. F*ed a couple of words up ( forgot to add the っ's, really minor...) and instead get a B. OMG soo frustrating. This always happens to me...

Last year in my Japanese class in Seattle I would bomb our Monday tests all the time. Like would get c's every few times. Really really not encouraging. For me, it tends to fuel a cycle of frustration and disinterest. I get pretty good grades, so I think it kills my self esteem or whatever when I do poorly.

Lol its funny for me to look back and see how salty I get at times like this. I can already laugh about it already, but I get pretty butt hurt initially. Its one of those things. You know it, you can do it, but when the challenge comes you fall on your face. Its embarassing, frustrating, discouraging, and saddening all at the same time. Lol I lack motivation for Japanese more than any other subject ever. I need to work on this...

Thursday, April 23, 2009

*yawn*

I have been so tired since school started. I think the combination of the commute and waking up early have been killing me. I try to wake up at 7, but usually don't get out of bed till 7:30. Haha I have to leave the dorm by 8! It is a 15 minute walk to the train station, then a 45 minute train ride to campus. 3 trains, 2 transfers. I have first period classes everyday that start at 9:15. By the time I am finished at 3, I am soo dead. Lol I am so lazy :)

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Classmates

I have some of the most interesting people in my classes. Like interesting in a good way. It is very much a global type of event.

I am actually surprised with the number of Japanese students that are in my anthro classes. In both of them, I would say that nearly three fourths of the students are Japanese. Most of the classes taught in English are in building 11, but there are a ton of Japanese students that enroll in them too. Its really insightful to have their point of view, especially since we are learning about culture, identity, and Japanese society. We just had a reading yesterday that was focused on the fad of Japanese women marrying foreign men. The online discussion board was so personal and interesing. Japanese guys commenting on the criticism of Japanese male behavior and Japanese girls writing about the "fetish" or lack there of that is felt toward foreigners. Really, really good topic and thoughts from everyone.

The background of other foreign exchange students really impresses me. There is a guy from Taiwan in my Japanese class who is really good at speaking. He pauses at the right times, emphasizes the correct part of the sentences, and has a really good accent for someone who isn't Japanese. I complemented him today. He totally sounds like a Japanese person. He said that his grandmother and grandfather speak Japanese because they were educated at a time when Japan was occupying Taiwan. You never realize how much politics and international relations impact people till you hear stuff like this...

Jocelyn and I were talking yesterday about how hard it would be to take classes in your second language. Especially English. We both said that we were happy to be native speakers. What amazes me the most are the people who study here and whose native language is not English. Like I know most of them get around by speaking English (which is already their second language) in Japan who at certain times is English-friendly (but at other times is not). I have a hard enough time and I grew up speaking English. I cannot even imagine what they go through. Like reading in English, speaking in English on an everyday basis. Most have accents too, so it is even harder for them to communicate with Japanese people who sometimes can barely understand the American-style version.

A girl from Switzerland said very plainly, "I wish I could just get rid of my German accent." Some of the friends of a French guy in my dorm tease him because his English isn't that great. So crazy to think though that all these students are able to get by in class, living situations, and everything already using a second language because they don't know enough Japanese. I really don't know how they do it. But I give them props.

Japanese Music

I wouldn't say that I like j-pop, but there are a fair number of r&b and hip-hop type of artists here. Actually, to be honest, I've only been listening to two. I dropped my iPod in the toilet before I left, so Reese generously gave up his. Since his iPod was programed to PC (as far as I know) I can't change the music on it without totally changing it over to Mac mode. So I made a conscious decision when I left to listen solely to Japanese music while I'm here. In other words, I have been listening to 4 Seamo songs for the last month.

It actually surprised me, because instead of getting sick of them, I like the songs even more now. Seamo's lyrics are so good. I finally looked them up earlier this week. I used to just listen to them because of the music, but his lyrics totally sold me. I really cannot compare his lyrics to any song I like in the US. His are just so much better. You just have to look them up.

"Matta aimashou" is the nicest breakup song ever. So well thought out and put together. I also like "jikan yo tomare." My goal is to memorize both of these before I get back!

Since I don't have any Japanese music on my computer, I bought a cd when I got here. They are so expensive though. One cd set me back $34! It was a newly released one by Taro Soul. There are only four songs that are really worth listening to. But a couple of them ("soul dreamer" and "every time") make the whole cd worth it.

Guy: The Retired New Yorker

One person in my Japanese class has really made me reflect on what I want from my life. He sits in front of me and is always early for class. We all know him simply by his first name, Guy. Out of everyone taking Japanese, I believe that he is there with the best intentions. He truly is not there for the grade. His priority is simply to learn the language.

He is 60ish, balding, and white. Really not that many people fit that profile here. He says he just loves it in Japan though. He has traveled all over the country and described Okinawa to me as the "most gorgeous place ever." (I soo want to go!) Today he said he has a Japanese friend who owns a really small high-end French restaurant in Yotsuya. Reservations are required weeks in advance.

I wish I knew more about him. So far we the class only have fuzzy details about his life and thus a very shallow understanding of him. Guy introduced himself as a retired New Yorker. He has lived in Japan for 2 and a half years and enrolled in the class because he lives close to Sophia's campus. I am often paired up with him for conversation practice. One time he mentioned that he used to be interested/collect jewelry (Harry Winston and such). He is always well dressed and wears a Rolex. It is obvious he is well off. However, he is really humble about it and is really easy to talk to.

I once asked him what he does after our class finishes at lunch. He laughed and said "nothing, really." I always see people and wonder, "What is it like to be you?" Guy is one of the most interesting people I have considered yet.

This is what I want when I am older: to have the time and resources to travel and live abroad. Maybe it will have to wait till I retire too. I don't see how it could get any better than that. To not just be a tourist, but actually, truly be a resident. To know enough of the language to get by and learn along the way. Make friends and have connections in foreign countries. Pretty much live on a whim, move as you wish, stay as long as you like. Maybe move back to the states, maybe not. What an inspiration he has been.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

The 4 Week Mark

I have officially been in Japan for 4 weeks (about a month). Can I just say, wow time is going fast. I really can't believe I've been here that long.

I really like having a routine. And Tokyo really is surprisingly a very livable city. Livable as in short term. But still.

Wish I had more time to write. I'll follow up with this thought tomorrow...In the meantime, can't believe there is only 3 months and a week left...

Monday, April 20, 2009

Disillusioned with Americans

Its funny that my last post was a rant and here is another little one. I think I'm just going through the culture shock phase where you get upset with everything that is wrong with your home country. That's pretty much me right now. Little miss critical.

Its really amazing how many different countries are represented in my dorm alone. So far I know there are people from of course the US, Britain, France, Netherlands, Argentina, Germany, Australia, and Argentina. I really wasn't expecting the there to be such a wide range of people. I don't know why, but I guess I just figured that people in other parts of the world wouldn't necessarily choose to study Japanese. Really we have quite an international crowd though.

I have had a couple of really long conversations with Americans about the Americans studying here. Joel was saying how he realized that overall people from all of the world who are here are pretty cool. Its just the Americans who are really quite strange. Especially guys. He was saying how its not even that they are all into anime or anything, a lot of Americans in Japan just don't seem to have any social skills period. Lol a really interesting observation.

Compared to a lot of the other foreign exchange students, I feel like their education system is so much better than ours. Pretty much everyone who isn't from an English speaking country can speak English and know Japanese. The guys from France can speak French, English, and Japanese. One girl in the dorm knows Spanish, English, German, and Japanese. Its really pretty crazy. I really am starting to believe that other countries have superior education systems. It scares me that American students are getting left behind.

Some of the Americans here are quite ridiculous. A girl in my Japanese class was taking this morning about a club she went to this weekend. It was $40 to get in, but she happily chirped that she didn't have to buy any of her drinks. She is the type of girl who has never gone out in the states, but is happy to test it out for the first time when she is abroad. She was explaining how she went out with some friends, but didn't really see them the whole night. Random Japanese guys bought drinks for her and she would dance with them and then leave them. She admitted that she couldn't really understand what they were saying and that she had to watch her drink so the bartender or Japanese guys didn't spike it. She went home by herself at like 5 in the morning. Her whole safety was justified because "we're in Japan, Japanese guys won't do anything." She said she wants to go out and stay out all night at least twice a month.

Stupid, stupid girl...Like ya we are in Japan and the crime rate is really low. But as a single, young, female, gaijin tourist who cannot really speak the language, clubbing alone and having guys buy drinks for you is definitely not the way to go. I was invited to go when she goes out again. I had to refuse. I really don't know what she is thinking. In Roppongi, tourists drinks were getting spiked and their wallets and everything were stolen. Their debit cards would be swiped and the Japanese thieves withdrew as much money as they could from the atms. Some people don't think at all when they are traveling. I really hope nothing happens to her, but at this rate it is more than likely.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

A Bit of a Rant

Caution: This is kinda harsh. Ordinarily I probably wouldn't post this, but this blog is all I have to chart my feelings and frustrations over the semester I am here. I don't want to sound like a bitch, but this is one of the few rants I have. Please don't read this one if you think it may offend you or anything like that. I don't want this to anger anyone, it is more or less for me to read later. Please keep that in mind. This blog is mainly for me, for my reflections, and for my feelings. This just happens to be one of the more critical ones...

This rant has toned down quite a bit over the week or so since I bitched about it to Reese. I wasn't going to write about it, but now I think it will be an important piece to look back on. I may still agree, however I am pretty sure I will be far over it. Again, this is not directed at a specific person or group of people. It is just me expressing my innermost feelings so I won't forget it later.

When I first got here, it shocked me how many exchange students have either 1. never taken Japanese in their lives or 2. have studied Japanese for only a semester or a quarter. Like a lot, lot of people in my dorm know little to no Japanese. I mean, I'm not in the position to brag or anything. My Japanese is far from an acceptable level, but at the same time I feel like I have actually attempted to learn the language. I guess it just angers me because I wonder, how much can you actually get out of this experience if you cannot even communicate with people on the most basic level? I feel like that is why so many people hang out in the dorm, talk in English, and perpetuate the gaijin bubble that we are in.

I know people who decided to enroll at Sophia, are planning to graduate from here (4 years from now), and don't know any Japanese. It seems so counterintuitive. Sure this is a great place to learn. But why did you pick a college here? Is it too hard to learn a little bit of Japanese before you come? You will be here for 4 years after all! It totally makes no sense to me.

I think it just makes me angry because I wonder, is there no way for you to learn a little Japanese before you come here? Did you not even consider the communication problems? Like for a long period of time (a semester-4 years) do you think people should just cater to you because you are a foreigner? Being able to speak English is not enough everywhere.

I know someone who lived in Japan, went to an international school, and cannot speak any Japanese. How sad is that? With the opportunity to learn everyday, literally living in the country, and not making an effort at all to learn the language, that is such a quintessentially American thing to do. Times like these I am embarrassed to admit that I am American.

When I was complaining to Reese I went on and on about "Who would go to study in Japan without even learning the language?
Who would live in Japan and not even learn how to speak Japanese?, etc." He told me to change the sentances from "Who would..." to "I would never..." That's when I realized I really cannot change what anyone else is doing. Its all personal choices. I don't agree with what everyone else chooses to do, but really its up to them. It still frustrates me though. I wonder when I'll get over it...

Pro-Weed Demonstration

After we were finished we heard some organized cheering and a commotion. Travis ran up to see what was going on. On Omotesando Dr. near the Harajuku station, a group of 100 people or less were marching down the street and yelling in Japanese. It took me a while to figure out what they were protesting/advocating. With signs in English like "stop the war" I thought it was an anti-war demonstration.

Haha, I was totally wrong. They were demonstrating to legalize marijuana. They had cardboard weed cutouts and signs promoting its legalization.

I was definitely not expecting to see that on one of the streets with the nicest high-end designer brands. It was obvious that a lot of the Japanese people were surprised by it too. Pretty interesting. This is by far the first political demonstration I have seen here.

Urban Wear in Japan

Today went to Harajuku again with Travis. Only this time it was for guys clothes. Basically we hit up every big urban brand and a bunch of the shoe stores in between.

First we went to Supreme (a NY based designer), so Travis could pick up a pair of shoes that were just released today. The stuff at Supreme sells for twice the price that you would pay in the states. And people still buy it! Travis said the shoes he bought were selling for $200 online.

Next we went to Atmos again. Atmos is really cute because they make a lot of guys stuff with Hello Kitty. Really really cute stuff. Its still kind of exclusive, like Travis said, you don't really see people wearing it, even on Fairfax where guys are really into their brands. They sell girls stuff too, but I was determined not to get anything. Lol almost caved in, but today is all about the presents. Not a day to buy things for myself.

Went to a sneaker store called Kicks Factory or something like that. The whole place was guys shoes. There are a lot of these types of stores, but the shoes that this one were even more expensive than at other ones I've seen. There was a small selection of shoes that were even in a glass case. If you think it is crazy to pay hundreds for shoes, those behind the glass were $1,000+. So ridiculous.

Billionaire Boys Club (Pharell's brand) has a store there too. To get to the clothes you have to step up and walk along this platform that is lit by a neon light. The wall around the platform is rounded, so it feels like you are walking through a tunnel in a spaceship. On the left hand side, in a neon glass writing it said something like "wealth is of the heart and spirt not of the wallet." It was a pretty sick design. Wish I could have taken a picture. Although I don't know anything about these brands, Travis said that Billionaire Boys Club is not really popular at all.

Our last stop was Stussy Tokyo. Two floors, really busy. They have a lot of Hawaii inspired stuff right now. Aloha flowers, shirts with surfers. One shirt had a picture of Bob Marley wearing a Stussy shirt and said "one world, one love." A slogan on a lot of their shirts read "increase the peace." The shirts there started at $50, the cheapest of all the stores, but think that is still substantially more than you would pay in the US.

Its really crazy how much people are willing to drop for these clothes. Like when shirts are $60 and jackets start at $150 and there's still a demand for it. Definitely not as many people wear urban stuff as compared to SF and LA, but there is a reason these stores are here. First there's a lot of money in Japan and the people who are into it are very brand conscious and I would argue that they are also very loyal. Guys here definitely pay more for their shoes and clothes. They are both high maintenance and have expensive taste.

Saturday, April 18, 2009

99 Store

I just realized today why the 99 store is so cheap. Based on the brands they sell, it seems as though they get a lot of their products from convenient stores. The things I have bought all are close to expiring, so it looks like they get a bunch of overstock/almost expired stuff from various places and just sell it for really cheap. Although it is called the 99 store, everything is actually 104 with tax. Lol.

Things you can get for a little over a dollar:

8 pieces of shokupan (thick Japanese bread)
a head of lettuce
salad dressing
800 ml bottle of off-brand shoyu
1000 ml juice or tea
6 eggs (that are not refrigerated?)
a bag of candy
3 donuts or 3 anpan
3 sticks of dango
small pre-made somen salad
5 pieces of bacon
small package of chicken (precut)
250 g package of rice (heat in the microwave for 3 min)
small container of jam
various bags of snacks, chips, candies
2 apples
5 baby bananas
variety of icecream
an onigiri
and tons of other stuff!

Other Classes

I was so happy to get into the classes that I wanted. On the first day of each class, both rooms were full and people that were late had to stand in the back. I heard they don't cap off classes here. Its kind of strange and I don't know how it works exactly. But I got into both of the classes!

Its kind of embarrassing, but these will definitely be the largest classes I have ever been in. At SU the largest class I ever had probably had 35 students, 40 tops. My upper-level Japanese class in Seattle had 15 maybe. Here the Japanese class is at 20. But my other two classes have anywhere between 80-110 kids. I was quite surprised because the classrooms seem rather small.

The other two classes I'm taking are both anthropology ones. I really like anthro and they seemed like the most interesting and relevant ones.

The Ethnography of Japan is taught by a very engaging professor. I can already tell that he is probably going to rank on my list of top professors ever. He is white and American. Initially, I almost didn't enroll in the class because of his background. I was figuring, since I'm in Japan and want to learn about Japan, I might as well take it from a prof who is actually Japanese. However once I got to the class, I knew my reasoning was off. A British student who I sat next to the first class said that this prof is always "well received" and that his classes are always full. The prof explained explicitly that it will be a challenging course with a lot of readings, but it seems like everyone thinks that it is worth it.

The first lecture he joked a lot about different areas of Tokyo, the people, etc. I was actually pretty pleased with myself because with my limited knowledge of the area, I could actually understand why the Japanese students were laughing. He has lived here for 25 years, knows Japanese, and has amazing stories. He said when he first arrived in Japan, he was paid $100 an hour just to talk to people in English.

My other prof for Culture and Identity is almost the opposite. He is Japanese and rather soft spoken. It is the first class I have had a TA in. Its cute, the prof even uses a mic so everyone can hear him. Although the focus is less on Japanese society and culture, I think it will be just as interesting.

This is the first quarter/semester in a while that I am actually quite excited for my classes. I told Reese last quarter that I missed having reading assignments that I actually enjoy reading. The workload and readings for these classes should make up for that. What a perfect set of classes for a study abroad. Its kind of funny I am this excited for school!

Japanese Class

For some reason I was expecting some breakthrough method to be used here. I seriously thought that they would have some innovative teaching program that would make learning Japanese so much easier. Little did I know and to my disappointment, it is taught here exactly the same way it is taught in the states. Lol. I should have figured. Guess I was just trying to justify why I cannot remember the 6+ years of Japanese I have taken Japanese and still can't remember.

I swear that some of the people in my Japanese class are some of the strangest people I have met. This counts for high school thru college and here. The Japanese language just attracts some different kids, especially in America. Some of the comments I hear in my Japanese class are like the most ignorant ones I have heard from foreigners since I got here. I don't know what it is. I swear i get in some of the slow classes. One of the American girls cannot even speak proper English. And she's from Chicago, so she has no excuse.

Anyway, the class is pretty much taught like all of the classes I have had in the US. Probably because I have always had teachers from Japan. Here they speak primarily in Japanese during the class, very slow Japanese. Some of the kids can't pick it up, so they have to say it again in English.

Since it is an intensive class, it is 3-hrs, 5 days a week. Pretty killer. 9:15-12:30, Monday-Friday. Thank goodness the days are divided in two, a different prof teaching in the first 1.5 hr and a different in the second part. All together there are 5 teachers that teach during different parts of the week.

We're going over really basic stuff. Easy kanji, easy grammar, most of the vocab I've learned. But I think its better this way. There's no way I would be able to keep up if it was all new. Plus its 8 semester credits, meaning I don't have to take an extra class.

This week I realized two things. One, how much I am able to understand. And two, the extent to which I cannot respond and my inability to read fluently aloud. There has been so much repetition that I can understand grammar patters without having to go through the steps of thinking how to change verbs, adj. Its kinda cool to think that I don't have to talk myself through the grammatical rules. At the same time, it is really really hard for me to put complete sentences together. And when I read aloud, my fluency is terrible. I definitely know what I need to work on.

The chapter we're working on involves situations and vocab for when you are shopping. Needless to say, I have been paying extra close attention. :)

Friday, April 17, 2009

Coming Home

I love the feel of walking home utterly exhausted, feet hurting. Its not that I like the pain, more like I can appreciate the feeling of having a full day. A sense of accomplishment. Ready to sleep for tonight, so you're ready to take on tomorrow.

First Friday (Since School Started)

There's so much to talk about...I wish I had more time to write in the blog. For now I'll start with today, or rather yesterday now. I just got home and its nearly 1 am. Its like no matter where you are or how recently you started your job/school, Friday is the best day! Its only the first week of school, but I soo look forward to the weekend! Even though it is only the first week of school, it feels like we've been at it for a long time...Anywho, it was nice to be done for the week!

Me and two friends went out to Shibuya tonight. For some reason it took us forever to find a place to eat. Everywhere was nomihoudai eat/drink. Somehow we stumbled upon an Italian style restaurant of sorts. It was by far the cheapest place I have eaten off campus. Pastas and individual pizzas were only $4, four little garlic breadsticks $1.50. I have been craving pizza for nearly a week, so I was very, very excited! (I don't know what the deal is. I don't hardly eat pizza in the states.) The crust was thin and the pizza was small, but it was delicious!

Since our dinner was so cheap, we went to a frozen yogurt place after. I cracked up because they have a ローレル (Laurel) cone! Lol, like what are the chances?! Seriously...that's exactly how I spell my name in katakana too. Haha, we laughed about it for quite a while! All of the frozen yogurt we ordered was sooo good. Kim got a waffle Hokkaido cream and sakura soft serve with azuki and mochi. Jocelyn had the same flavor w/out the toppings. And I got matcha with mochi. What a find!

Lol it is so cute because it was so like a girls night. Dinner, dessert, gossip. Even in the US there aren't many occasions when me and my friends have a chance to go out like this.

After, we went out to find a nomihoudai. Travis texted me the address/directions for the Zest (Mexican cantina) location in Shibuya. To my surprise, we found it really easily. Shibuya is so confusing! But somehow I manage to not get lost there. However everytime I am in Shinjuku, I get totally mixed up!

It was located on one floor of a building. When we got there though, there was an event going on. We rode to the next floor and found a nomihoudai there. It was an Asian fusion restaurant called Monsoon. The inside of the restaurant had the walls painted like a rainforest. There were beads that hung down and separated tables. The floors were all hardwood. It was really well decorated.

It was really nice, very chill. We drank, ordered food. Lol we got these Chinese rolls that we thought were like humbows (sp?). When they brought them though, they were like flattened humbow bread with now filling. Haha. Really good though.

There weren't too many drink choices, so between the three of us, we tried practically all of them. Lol 5 drinks each. We got our money's worth. $15 for 5. And we finished all of them. My strong Tequila orange juice (absolutely impossible to drink) and Kim's flavorless (grapefruit? sour). Haha if we couldn't finish the drink ourselves, we traded off and shared the pain.

But since we were so set on not sandbagging, we got out of the restaurant late. We ran from the restaurant to the train station. A good way to get our buzz on. We even started planning what we were gonna do if we didn't make it back. We left Monsoon at 11:20, got to the station at 11:30 and Kim and I caught the Saikyo sen at 11:31.

It was so crazy. Like in the station there were various people trying to catch the train so they could get home tonight. The train was absolutely crowded. You could tell people were panicking. Like shoving to get on trains, running to catch trains, absolute chaos.

I got off at Akabane at 11:53. I was worried that I missed my last transfer. I still don't know when my last train is, but I knew there was one that left at 11:46. I ran like every other mad person, lol. A huge sense of relief came over me when I realized that people were waiting to get on my last line. It left at 11:56. I now know that there is one that runs at 12:04 as well. My second close call...What a relief it is to get home.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Meant to Be Here

I have one of those feelings like I'm supposed to be here. I guess I've not just accepted the fact that I'm here, but I think I truly believe that this is the right place and right time for me to be in Japan, right now. Is this what the beginning phase of assimilation feels like? Or have I just been in a roundabout way adopted by Sophia, like the way a step-sister is included? I wish I could describe it better...

I'm already calling my building "home." My entire freshman year I never referred to my dorm using the word "home." It was always, "I'm going back to my dorm" not "I'm going home." Lol I think I only started using "home" when I moved into my townhouse. But for some reason I'm already calling my room "home." I have caught myself doing it over the last week. It surprises me.

I'm not even homesick anymore. Sure I miss my friends and Reese (and my family too, but I only see them a few times a year), but overall I miss the people more than I miss Seattle.

It's weird to have such an overwhelming feeling of belonging here. Not like I feel like I fit in or anything like that. More like what a good point in my life it is for me to be here. I still can't get over the fact that I'm in Tokyo...for an entire semester! What a great opportunity this is for me. To grow. To explore. To have a good time. Lol, so much to do I and to accomplish within the next 3 and a half months, I don't even know what to do with myself :)

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Notes for Stuff to Talk About

Deep thoughts on busy train rides:


Technology sophistication? (dryers, cards, wireless?, classrooms lack...)
Professors (good, old, sweat, low voice)
Homelessness, low end jobs (feelings v. less developed nations)
Umbrellas (what % chance does it take?)
Young kids + trains
Commutes (physical v. psychological, closer than friends)
The nail that sticks up gets hammered down (where is the line?)
Hofman hall
Sticky

Registration

I have mixed feelings on this one. We were supposed to register on our first day of class?! None of us exchange students knew what was going on. Like the whole reason we register before classes start (in the states) is so we know what we are taking, can be prepared, etc. Here, or at Sophia at least, the system works the other way.

Students register between Monday and Wednesday the first week of classes. You find out what classes you get into on Thursday. We can change our classes during a course adjustment period that goes until early next week. Confusing right?

Pretty much we were all confused on what to do in the mean time. People are waiting to buy their books till Thursday to be sure they are in the class. Some people didn't go to class yet. I am totally confused if I should start doing the reads and the assignments. Plus two of my classes were absolutely filled. Like every seat was taken and there were people standing in the back of the classroom.

On the other hand, I can understand what they are trying to do. The whole point of this late registration/adjustment period is so that students can find classes that they are actually, truly interested in. Like you can basically sit in on any class, meet the prof, listen to a lecture and intro on the course and decide whether or not you want to take it. Its really a brilliant idea in that sense.

However, the uncertainty of our classes kills most of us who are used to getting our schedules early and being guaranteed in the classes we want. All we can do now is wait for the final confirmation.

Monday, April 13, 2009

Japanese Class

Babying

The Sheer Number of People

One thing that has continues to surprise me is how many people there are...EVERYWHERE. I have been to some busy places (Bombay/Mumbai, NY City), but there are just more people here than I can believe. The trains are packed and they run like every minute. Streets are crowded nearly everywhere. Public transport is busy nearly all hours. Its crazy and really hard for me to comprehend.

At Sophia, some brilliant person decided to schedule a "lunch period" FOR THE ENTIRE CAMPUS! There are 4+ cafeterias, but not nearly enough space to fit all of the university. Nobody brings their own lunch. Everyone has to be served and seated within the same hour break. You wait in line to buy your meal ticket, wait again to get your food, try to find a table, and if you're lucky maybe you can sit with one friend because at most you can find two chairs together. Crowded crowded everywhere.

A Cog in the Machine

I've never felt the feeling before, but the Monday morning commute did it to me. With swarms of people scurrying to the train station, we dressed the same, looked the same, were off in the same direction for the same purpose. To the city...to work for the man. It was an unbelievably depressing feeling. Just a cog in the machine.

The commute was ridiculous. People were packed into the train cars tighter than I had ever seen. Men dressed in suits, ladies with heels. Off to work. Another day, another dime.

Trains would be stuffed full of people and after every nook was filled it was off. One after another. It felt like we were getting shipped off the assembly line. Ready to function, to work our little hearts out.

When the train door would open, you could feel the heat and sweat escaping. You turn around, literally back in, and claim your foot area. That's the only thing that's yours. From your feet up, the rest of the space is free game.

At one point I was in a huge line. I was in the middle of it and was thinking I wouldn't make it on the next train. Our whole line shoved itself into the car. You just flow with the crowds. Thankfully my stops are the busy ones. You don't even have to move, everyone shuffles in one blob. You just pray that they are going where you want to go.

Its lucky I'm not claustrophobic, but I nearly had a panic attack on the train this morning anyway. Its one of those things. "Just let it be fast," you think to yourself.

This is my life. My hour commute. 8-9 am Monday through Friday for the next 4 months. I don't think it's something you get used to. I think it's something you just learn to put up with.

Spring Break is OVER :(

I just realized how long its been since I've sat in a class. I was on spring break for exactly 3 weeks. Sophia finally started classes today. It was sad going back, but it was time. I finally feel like I have a new purpose now. After sitting for two days, I was starting to wallow in my self-pity and homesickness.

Now I feel like there is so much to learn. I have so much to do, clubs to join, friends to make! This is a good change in attitude for me.

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Skype and Family Dinner

The highlight of my day was talking to everyone who was at our "family dinner." Every other Saturday, a bunch of my friends get together for a themed potluck and to hang out. Its always a good way to get everyone together and to eat really yummy food! This is the first one I've missed since leaving. Reese went for us though :)

It was so nice to see and talk to everyone. I wish I was there for the Italian food. And to bake chocolate chip cookies like I always do. I miss friends and Seattle!

The Neighborhood

I left the dorm really late today.

Not having anything specific to do I walked to the elementary school that is behind our building. There are always kids playing baseball or soccer there on the weekends. It is just a dirt field. Like no grass, just really hard. Today there was a soccer practice of sorts taking place. I have heard the kids yelling all afternoon. It was nearly 5 and they were still there. There were three scrimmages going on. A few moms were watching. The kids looked so young.

Since they were nearly playing on concrete the ball moves really fast. I was actually surprised they could keep up with it. It was almost like indoor soccer, except there was dirt swirling around and getting kicked up. Not the ideal field. But the boys took it really seriously.

When they were finished, I took the train to a park I've wanted to go to in Kawaguchi. It is right next to the train station, but there are a lot of cherry blossoms and a huge playground there. If you go out the station from the east exit there are a ton of pachinko parlors, shopping centers, and the metro type side. The west exit leads to this huge park. There is a large field where people were playing badminton, baseball. Another substantial area had equipment for kids to play on. There were pathways to walk through the trees and past streams. It was really pretty. And the side the park shared with the trains was lined with sakura trees. I'm always amazed to find these little gathering places, patches of green here.

Saturday, April 11, 2009

Change of Plans

This morning I wasn't feeling well and had really bad cramps. They woke me up right before my alarm went off. I am so bummed because I was planning on going to a Hanamatsuri service at Tsukiji Betsuin today. I decided it would probably be better to stay close to the dorm today, just in case the pain came back. How disappointing...

Hanamatsuri is curiously celebrated the same Sunday as Easter. For Buddhists the significance of the holiday is the birth of the historical Buddha. The event at Tsukiji started at 10 and goes until 4. There were supposed to be food booths, entertainment, a service in Japanese, kids dressed up, and everything. It makes me sad that I am missing it while I write this blog.

However, I feel like in Tokyo if you're not 100% you should stay home. There really aren't places to sit and rest. Everyone moves so quickly. Everything is fairly spread apart, so getting home quickly is not an option. I figure for me especially, the foreigner, its better just to save it for another day.

Not many people can experience Hanamatsuri in Japan. I am going to have to wait for another year as well...

Can't Sleep

Wow, this is weird. For the first time since we got here, I can't fall asleep. Most of the time I have been passing out from exhaustion. My futon is really comfy and I bought a pillow because I couldn't stand the Japanese one that they provided us with.

I'm still in my thinking mode. They are not necessarily concrete thoughts, or identifiable ones. Its more of an array of subjects I haven't had mental time to explore yet. Like, I'm excited for classes, miss home, what am I going to cook next, how good will my Japanese really get?, Jenna's coming!, how am I going to get my senior synthesis done?, what kind of homework will I have?, can I join the clubs I want to, i'm hungry, what to do during golden week, I better see Maylee here this summer :), I NEED TO WAKE UP TOMORROW MORNING!

It's nearly 2:30. I have to wake up early tomorrow...things to do.

Thinking...

I look back on today and I don't really know what I've done. There was a lot of alone time. A lot of sitting...thinking...reflecting. Its one of those things where I'm not ready to go to sleep, I don't think I've really accomplished enough for one day. Don't know where all those hours went. Its almost like meditation. Literally my room is dead silent, besides the ticking of my clock. The stillness is nice, the quiet is nice. Sometimes you just want to sit, do nothing in particular. That's how I feel. I don't know whether I should sleep or not, write, read, or just let thoughts swirl in my head. Its amazing how fast time goes when you are at peace. No worries, no stress.

Elderly and Handicap Accessible?

Today riding the train into school, I felt bad and gave my seat to a grandma. It was so cute because responded in a really Japanese way. She insisted in Japanese that really she was ok. After convincing, her she apologized to me and sat down. I have actually seen this happen a lot on the trains. The older people are very appreciative of it. I've seen some old ladies half bow to people and really really thank the people who gave them a seat. Before I got off, the grandma gave me two pieces of candy. She was like "Its only two, but..." It was really cute. So much different than I imagine it going in the US.

For a week or so now I have been wondering, how do older people and those with handicaps get around Tokyo? Trains are the main form of transportation and I have seen a number of grandparent-aged Japanese people taking them. However, there is a lot of walking required and (from my experience dragging my suitcases around) not every train station has elevators. I know my grandma probably wouldn't be able to do it. Or like what about people in wheelchairs? I have been realizing how handicap inaccessible Japan is.

Disconnected

I feel such a huge disconnect from the U.S. and what is actually happening in the world. Usually I buy the NY Times at least every other day and read the entire front section. I've only read two papers in the nearly 2 and a half weeks I've been here. Finding English ones here is hard. I realize I have become a facebook whore too. I just have no idea what is happening back in Seattle and with my friends.



Although I talk to Reese regularly, I've only spoken to one of my friends via skype. I am missing our weekly "family dinner" tomorrow. It makes me sad...



I ♥ these pics!



I also realize that this is the longest I have ever gone without talking to my mom. Even when I was in India, I called her from an international phone booth. Usually we talk a few times a week. Now email has to do.

Senior Synthesis

If everything works out, I will be graduate after fall quarter 2009. I only need 2 classes to transfer from Sophia and I will totally be finished with my International Studies major, Japanese minor, and Asian Studies minor. However to complete my Journalism major, I need a 15 hr/week internship fall quarter to count for my internship credit. And since the journalism senior synthesis is only offered spring quarter, I worked it out so I am taking it as an independent study right now.

It was somewhat disappointing. I have to take my senior synthesis while I am in Japan. I am basically doing what the rest of the class is, just from a distance. It was actually really lucky that the professor is allowing me to do this here. We agreed on an extra assignment that will count for the attendance and participation part of my grade.

In my free time, I have been doing readings, emailing assignments, and researching. Its not too bad now, but once I have homework from Sophia, it will be harder to keep up. The only really challenging part will be finishing the final assignment. It is worth 40% of my grade and my prof wants a hard copy to be turned in during SU's finals week...its quite involved and requires interviews and presenting the ethical issue in a professional format (broadcast, internet, print, etc). I will be happy when this class is over :)

Lazy Day

Today was one of those days where I could have stayed in my room all day and I would have been happy. I'm trying to relax before school starts because I know it is only going to get busier. I realized that I haven't had a single day so far where I haven't done anything. Some days are more packed than others, but overall its been pretty crazy.

I finally convinced myself to go to school. Its so nice walking around here. Its Saturday, so there were a lot of people out.

Sophia University 上智大学!


I changed my password at Sophia. Tried to get on get my laptop connected to the wireless network on campus, but couldn't. Really it was a fairly boring day. But that was fine with me.

I was surprised how many people are on campus already. School doesn't start till Monday, but there have been a consistent number of people around this whole week. I think in the states students stay away from school as long as they can :)

Friday, April 10, 2009

花見 & Sakura Blossoms



A couple of days ago I walked through the pathway of sakura trees in the middle of the street in front of my dorm. This is going to sound so cheesy, but it was so magical. The petals were snowing on me. Petals on the ground were swirling around my feet. I walked for blocks. It was the most peaceful feeling I have had since getting here. Old grandmas and grandpas were just sitting on benches, drinking beer. People walked their dogs through it. Moms and their kids were having picnics. It was nearly silent when I was walking. It was one of the most soul fulfilling feelings you can ever experience. I wish there is some way to bottle it.

Tired

It's funny. I wanted to post last night about how sleepy I get, but I fell asleep. For some reason I get so tired here. I guess I sleep all the time, even in the states. But it is even worse here. Its not even 9pm now, but I could probably fall asleep. Thank goodness I haven't had to do anything major this week. Lol I have been waking up at noon or so since Tuesday. Its kinda ridiculous, but I like it. 10+ hours of sleep a night. Its gonna be rough when I have to wake up, make the hour commute to school, AND get to class by 9:15. Thankfully I still have 2 more mornings to sleep in!

I wonder if the exhaustion is from the culture shock or if it is getting used to the hustle of the city. For one, I've been walking more lately than I ever have in my entire life. The people here are used to it and run all over the place. I can't believe how much energy they have, even the jichans and bachans (grandparents). But I also think being sleepy and lethargic is a symptom of getting used to a new culture.

I've been having some really sad or weird dreams lately too. They probably aren't helping my sleep cycle.

But this morning I woke up like 3 or more times. I kept telling myself to go back to sleep and not wake up till 12:30. Lol it felt like I was sleeping for an entire day. It was so great.

Wandering w/Travis and Cousin

Met up with Travis and his cousin today. We ate at Travis's school 青山学院. I swear his cafeteria food is even cheaper than mine! I got tonkatsu chicken over rice, plus miso shuru and tofu for $3.60. I love the food here! Although udon has always been my favorite food, I promised myself that I will not overindulge. Lol still want to be able to eat it when I get home. I already decided that I would try the specials at my school so I don't get sick of noodles! I want to try as much food/drink as possible here. So each day I decided I will eat something I've never had before. Today for breakfast I picked up an onigiri and a white fruit juice. I have no idea what kind it was. But it was sweet and really good.

I can't remember what we decided on doing, but we ended up walking to Harajuku. On the way we passed through Omotosando Hills. If you have never heard of it, it is a really upscale mall that is on a block with a bunch of designer brands (Fendi, Gucci, etc). The mall itself is absolutely gorgeous. I have no idea how they designed it, but the walkways slope. Outside the building there is a little stream that circles the mall. It is absolutely incredible. There are signs that say you can't take pictures, so I had to get this one off the internet. Really nice stores inside, like Jimmy Choo and everything.



You have to dress up to go shopping there. They would hardly take us seriously if we walked into a store. Alex said that he went into Lacoste wearing a t-shirt and jeans at one point in Japan. Apparently they looked at him really funny.

Walked around Harajuku some. Oh and went into a store called Kiddie Land. It is literally 5 floors of stuff from Japanese and American TV and movies. A floor of Naruto stuff, Hello Kitty, Disney, Miyazaki, and other kid stuff. It was so cute. I love the Japanese characters. Like these little monsters, and animals that are peas. Its hard to explain. But they are all very cute and very Asian.

Thursday, April 9, 2009

Reminders

These are just to remind me to post on these topics: Japanese dorm mates, time flies, things can't bring home, housemoms/shopping every day, homelessness, weather, kids (sports, commuting)...

Uneventful Day: Cell Phone and 99 Cent Meat!

Today I woke up to pounding on my door. I was supposed to meet my friend, so I thought I overslept...I got up, but it was a different girl outside. It was really weird. She said she smelt cigarette smoke, implying that I was smoking. Clearly I had just woken up and I told her I am not a smoker and have never smoked in my life. She went away. When I checked my clock it said 7:35! Are you F-ing joking me?!? Who would wake someone up just to see if they had been smoking? I was not happy...

I managed to go to sleep and wake up a few hours later. My goal for the day was to get a cell phone. There is a phone company right by our station. It is really funny because they have a foreign counter catering to foreigners. However the employees speak Mandarin, not English. Lucky for me one of my friends here (who goes to SU too) speaks Mandarin. Lol she has been interpreting for everyone in the dorm! Its really funny to think that it is easier for her to speak Mandarin in Japan. It still makes me laugh.

After we went grocery shopping. First we went to my favorite, the 99 yen food store! The happiest part of my day was realizing that they sold fresh meat in packages priced less than a dollar! The perfect size and price! I decided I am going to start cooking.

Later we went for a long walk to another all-inclusive store. The store complexes here are ridiculous. It was a grocery, clothing, book, cd, kimono, accessory, sports, food court, and everything else. There was even a cleaner, key cutter, and house wears section. It is hard to explain, but consider that it was multi-leveled...In my mind, the all inclusiveness tends to cheapen things. However the kimonos were selling for thousands. I am still not used to these types of set ups. I must admit, the convenience factor has not convinced me yet.

I probably spent over an hour looking at the groceries alone. They had a huge section of frozen/prepared foods. It was like Don Quiote times two. It was amazing. They even sold yakiniku and pieces for cooked fish, ect. I wish my fridge was bigger!

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Tokyo Giants v. Yokohama Baseball

So my other big story yesterday besides getting lost was actually going to the game. I was definitely surprised at the differences there are between American baseball games and Japanese ones. Even though we were at Yokohama's field, there was hardly home team advantage. Each team had huge cheering sections in the outfield stands. Yokohama's was in the right field and we were in Tokyo territory on the other side. Instead of following the official songs and cheers brought on by the stadium announcers, each team had a cheer leader (from now on will be refered to as cheermister, lol) and their own bands (trumpets, drums, etc). The fans had songs memorized and would routinely add in the batters name when appropriate. Grandmas, kids, and married couples were all into it. They would give strangers fist pounds when a run scored. Lol.



The funniest thing was when one of Travis's dorm mates would blow this plastic horn. It made a terrible honking sound. Lol, everyone would turn around and stare. It is okay to cheer here, but only when its in sync and the same as everyone else. Its a very Asian concept. Where in America you can make noise whenever, be your own person, here sticking out is not a good thing. Even cheering and clapping is calculated and regulated. People know when to do it and when to be quiet.

After a few more blows of the horn, a police officer came over and told Roy to stop blowing it. The officer said that it was bad and that it interfered with the rhythm of the cheering. Lol, that had to be the highlight of the game.



I was surprised because almost all of the people that were walking around and selling food and beer were young women. Like that's gotta be a hard job, especially if you are a little Japanese girl. It seems like in the states that job is dominated by guys. Probably because of the weight you have to carry and that women don't want to have to do it. I found that interesting.

Lastly I've found people to to very self-disciplined here. For instance the baseball stands were probably the cleanest I have ever been in. There wasn't popcorn and food all over the ground. This is partially because there was someone who would periodically come around to pick up trash (genius) and also because if people spilt something they would clean it up themselves. I believe that's why the trains, sidewalks, and everything is so clean.

A few of the Japanese students with us were explaining various players. I was surprised that there were some Latin American players who played for both teams. I think one was from Columbia and the other from Venezuela. I can't remember. But for some reason I was always under the impression that American baseball were the only ones that did international recruiting. I don't know why I always thought that, but I definitely had my eyes opened today. I wondered if those players learned to speak Japanese (probably) and how they had adjusted to the culture. They were far from home, just like me.

Finding My Way Home: The Trip From HELL

This is probably the most embarrassing things I have admitted to...I don't even know if I will be able to adequately explain how bad it was but here it goes.

After the baseball game, I got off the train at Yokohama and said bye to Travis and his dorm mates. I was in search of the Shonan Shinjuku Line. When I caught that it would pretty much be a straight shot to my transfer. I found the platform, but when I asked someone they said it stopped running. I tracked down a security official and he said that I could catch another train on the same side that would get me there. So I boarded the train and got off at Shinagawa at 9:10.

I recognized two of the lines at Shinagawa, the Yamanote Sen and Kenin Tohoku Sen. Since the Kenin is usually my last transfer and brings me to my small home station, I decided to take that one. I didn't know which side to board on. One side went toward Tokyo station and the other toward the country. I decided on the second. I got on at 9:15.

I realized a little while after I got on that it was going in the wrong direction. Or rather the long way around. But I was like, "Okay, I'm on the right train, I'll just wait it out and I'll get there eventually." At one point I considered getting off and transferring to the train on the other side. But I was thinking I made it this far already, it's bound to go in a circle.

It passed through Yokohama...Eventually I was worried because the train was getting emptier and emptier. An hour later it completely stopped in Igoya? and thanked us for riding. Everyone got off. I was like, you're kidding me this can't be the last stop. I am only like 10 away from being at my station. I had already waited through an hour train ride. There were security people going through the train to make sure it was empty and clean. The sign said it was out of service and it headed off in the direction we just came from.

I frantically asked one of the security guys what I should do to get to Nishikawaguchi. He motioned to the other side of the platform. OMG I have to ride the exact opposite way...It was 10:15.

I got on the train, but at this point I was worried. The trains in Japan stop running at 12ish. I had at least an hour ride to Shinagawa, plus however much longer it would take to get to Nishikawaguchi. I was panicking inside. What would I do if I couldn't get to my stop before the trains stopped? I have heard of people 1. staying out all night, 2. sleeping in the trains/train stations. I could take a cab. But it would probably cost $100+ depending upon how far I had to go. I could rent a room, but that's hardly worth it either. I don't have a change of clothes and it would probably be expensive. I finally settled down and decided that I would get as far as I could, then make a decision when I have to. I have an hour and 45 minutes and time was working against me...

It was the most frustrating feeling, to ride the exact way I just came from. What a waste of my time, stupid decisions. I was alone, totally alone. I don't have a cell phone, I didn't have anyone's numbers with me anyway. Over and over I kept trying to gage how much I was willing to spend. How far I could walk. Where I would stay tonight. How safe it would be.

I passed through Shinagawa for the second time. Then the third time through Yokohama. Am I just going around in a circle or what. I watched people get on the train and off. No one was on the train as long as i was. I took it as a good signal that the train was filling with people. Since I had been on for so long I didn't have to stand. I swear I went through most of the major stations just on the ride back. Shinagawa, Tokyo, Ueno, Akihabara, on and on.

My sole goal was to get as close to my station as possible. I could walk from one station to another if I got close. It may be a long night, but I was unwilling to waste any more money.

We finally got within range. The train was still pretty full so I figured I might be able to make it. I just kept on looking at the clock. Let me get close.

And we finally arrived. I got off the train at 11:45. 2 and a half hours after originally leaving Travis. I estimate that the train stopped at least 30 times from Igoya to Nishikawaguchi. I was riding the train back and forth. I could not even believe I made it in time. Thank goodness, I got so lucky!

Travis gave me $10 just in case I needed it to reload my train card. And I was really lucky he did. Besides that I was all out of cash bills and the machine doesn't take card. I wouldn't have been able to get out of the station otherwise. Wow, another close one.

I went to the $1 food store to pick up some groceries for tomorrow's breakfast. I knew I had enough to get 4 items. But when I got up to the counter I couldn't find the last dollar coin. I had to put back the coffee drink that the woman had already rung up...how embarrassing. I just wanted to get back to my room.

On the way back I realized that since I was stressing out so much, I forgot I had to go to the bathroom really bad. I nearly peed my pants on my walk back. I figured it would be really bad if I was caught popping a squat in Japan. But barely made it back without an accident.

This is probably too much information for one story already. So that was my night. Or a big section of it. And the showers were closed by the time I got back, so I haven't even been able to wash the day off yet. Guess that has to wait for tomorrow.