Nihon e Ikou!: My Days in Japan 
My experiences studying abroad in Japan, from the end of January to Memorial Day weekend. Updated regularly.


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Saturday, May 24, 2003

 

Well...it's been fun. Four months in one of the most unique countries in the world. And what a better way to end the four months by...

Getting a cold.

AARGH! It, of course, had to happen now, considering that I've basically gone through 4 months practically illness-free. If I had gotten sick earlier in the semester, I would know what to take, and where to buy it by now, but now, it's Saturday night, the shops are closed, and I would sell my firstborn for a DOSE of Robitussin.

Well, what shall I say? I think I deserved it; Wednesday, Thursday and Friday were spent madly rushing around, doing last minute souvenir (and goodie) buying sprees, traveling from Kyoto to Osaka and then back to Hirakata-shi. And now, just a little over a day left, and I'm going to be spending it packing and trying to recuperate enough to not be a total grouch on the plane. (And I guess I will have to buy one of those silly gauze masks after all--I'd feel guilty if I spread this cold to everyone else on the plane home.)

Today was our graduation ceremony, and what perfect weather. After waking up and watching my Saturday morning cartoon, I dressed in the yukata that I had bought in Kiyomizu-dera. Oka-san was complimenting me on it as she helped me put it on, then lent me one of her own obi to use. It was pink and silver (my yukata was dark blue with white and gold geisha decorations, and I had gotten a yellow sash for it) but even so, it looked really great. A lot of my classmates and dormmates had been lent really nice kimonos from their friends, and had their hair done up all Japanese style, and at first I felt a bit inadequate, but once Oka-san tied on my obi I felt better.

Emily and I walked to the ceremony (I sold my bike back to the pawn shop yesterday) together, and I told her, "Look around, and remember." It's the same route we've walked and ridden on to school for four months, and I'll always remember it--the traditional Japanese house with the beautiful garden, the adorable Shiba-inu dogs, the playground at the old shrine, and the house with the black cat. We arrived at the hall to see a sea of people dressed for the occasion. Many of the boys were also wearing kimonos--they were VERY stunning.

The ceremony began at 10 AM, and we were given our...folders. Our certificates were in our mailboxes (how ironic; luckily not a lot of the public knew this) and we got up to receive them one by one. Then the university president spoke; then one of the professors (who reminded me a bit of Fr. VanderWeel from St. Mike's) made a speech; followed by the American consul (the Australian consul was stuck in traffic) and then speeches (in flawless Japanese--and Osaka-ben!) by two of the students.

After the ceremony, it was luncheon time, so we went and viewed the spread. And oh boy, was it a spread. Forget your plates of cold cuts and cheese and the punch bowl with the ladle and little cups; they had marinated roast beef, sushi, yakisoba, little nikuman, and you could get Indian nan bread with chicken curry to dip it in. I wanted to get people to sign my memory book, but there were so many people and I was beginning to feel off, so I resorted to pictures of me with all my professors and a lot of my friends. (Hopefully, I'll be able to get contact info from friends-of-friends...)

Then, it was off to the art expo, where everyone was complimenting me on my Jyuunishi plate (and I had found out Thursday that instead of the dragon being "ryuu", it was supposed to be "tatsu." Nuts.) I eventually did have to pack up, however, but not until Nayumi and a bunch of her friends came by to see my work. They were very impressed, and I had one last picture before I decided to pack everything up.

I managed to get everything wrapped pretty well in newspaper and packing tape; and found a box that would hold everything with a little room to spare (for extra padding--I've got a sweater that will keep everything stable.) Then, there was the trouble of lugging everything HOME. After politely turning down Angela's (the girl who went to Osaka-jo with me) request for aid, I was helped by the mother of Lesya's friend...who refused to let anyone take over for her, not even when we were stopping to rest at the house with the Japanese garden. I felt so bad just thanking her, but really, I was feeling off, and I needed to rest--getting only 5 hours of sleep last night was no picnic.

So now, here I am, in my pajamas, and soon it will be time for me to go, as well. Hopefully a nice long rest will await me, and I'll be able to board my plane in relative comfort on Monday morning...

But I won't say "sayonara," I'll say "mata ne!"

Rebecca posted this at 5/24/2003 04:09:00 AM Japan time.


Thursday, May 22, 2003

 

Since a lot of my friends are going to be leaving this week, I might as well get a few shout-outs out of the way. Here we go:

Ameerah: Thanks for being there for me the first couple of days. It was great living in Sem House 3 with you; I only wish we could have been roommates. I'm glad you stuck it out for a homestay, I hope that even for a while it was worth it.
Agnes and Evelyn: You guys too! I won't forget you when you guys go back to Holland. I hope you had as much fun here as I did. (I'd say "thank you" in Dutch but I don't know any, so...)
Lesya: My classmate and teacher of lots of Japanese culture. You've always been so sweet and polite to me, it's like we're in a sempai-kohai but we're in the same program! Remember, the offer to come up to visit me if Mercedes Lackey is in town for a con STILL STANDS.
Aileen: Sorry for me being such a kid these past few months. SMAP is great, I only wish it came on earlier so I wasn't exhausted from class until 4 PM on Mondays. I'll think of you whenever I eat REALLY GOOD gyoza, which probably won't be for a very long time *sniff...chinese pot stickers are horrible...*
Rachel: Now that we've got all the open-fridge drama behind us, we can reminisce on the good times. I hope Ashita no Nadja gets licensed for American distribution, by then I could be working in the industry...Yah, right!
Dino: You're a really funny guy and I wish you all the best. Congratulations to your mother, as well.
Chaz: You still owe me 3 cookies from White Day, but I'll let it go. And I'll take your accent, too. Ha ha!
Leisha: Thanks so much for your advice for my pottery. I hope your ankle heals up soon.
David: You're so friendly! It was nice to know you in the short time you were living in Sem House 1.
Steve: Keep the beard, dammit! Anyways, pottery was fun, wasn't it?
Don and Becca: You guys are the cutest couple. I hope to see you again someday at an anime convention. And meeting Becca made me regret throwing out ALL my Uncle Scrooge comics *sniff!*


Rebecca posted this at 5/22/2003 06:18:00 AM Japan time.

 

Well, yesterday and today were my two major days off. Yesterday I spent the day going back to Kiyomizu-dera for one last souvenir run, and came back loaded with goodies. I went to Jishu Jinja, intent on getting a present for Emily and John, and on the way back, met a friendly white poodle, which I gave some love to. I realized that before I had left on the trip, I had petted a poodle, and just as it was about to end, I petted a poodle. The perfect bookends to a wonderful experience. I stared out towards the old pagoda rising from the sea of green and shed a few bittersweet tears.

Then, I whisked myself off to Nanba, on the Super Express, to make one last trip to my favorite anime goods stores (Mandarake and Animate) before I went home.

Today, I went to Nara. I had thought that as soon as I got off the train station, I'd be in a nice little town, with the deer walking up to me. Boy, was I wrong. It was, OF COURSE, your typical Japanese city, but with Nara Park and Toudaiji Temple not far off. The deer of Nara are just like the deer of Miyajima--tame, carefree, and gentle enough to be petted and eat from your hand. I ended up buying some deer senbei and had fun feeding them to various deer. (Another fun thing about the deer senbei was that they were round and flat, which was good for feeding them at a distance. Woosh!) After a bit of a walk, I found myself at the entrance to Toukondo, the Eastern Hall, where I bought an ema and wrote a wish for happiness on it (the package came with another ema with a picture as a souvenir.) After that, there were more deer, and then I walked down to Toudaiji's huge gate. Toudaiji is the largest wooden building in the world, built to house the Daibutsu, one of the largest bronze sculptures in the world. It was huge...and it wasn't the only Buddha in the hall, there was another, and two other statues of other deities.

The most fun part was the rather...small hole cut into the bottom of a pillar in the building. They say that if you manage to get through this hole, you will gain enlightenment. After watching a bunch of kids go through, and THEN seeing a bunch of gaijin manage to make it through, I decided, what the heck, I'll do it too. It took one of the people I met pushing from one end, and another pulling from the other, but I made it through. And I gained enlightenment. I had, indeed, inherited the Rudeen hips.

They also have omikuji at Toudaiji. For 100 yen, you pay to draw a numbered stick from a cylinder. Then you say the number and get a white piece of paper with your fortune on it. It was tri-lingual, which was fortunate, so I found that I had good luck, that the person waiting for me will be there, that I will find whatever I lost, that I will be happy, etc. I also bought myself an omamori for increasing knowledge--mostly because it was in really nice colors and had grapes woven in.

Finally, I headed home, content and happy. Tomorrow I staff the art exhibition, and meet Nayu and Yuki for karaoke, turn in my bike, and buy some packing material for my pottery (which I'm going to take home on the plane, after the advice of Leisha.)

Rebecca posted this at 5/22/2003 06:17:00 AM Japan time.


Friday, May 16, 2003

 

Well, next week is my last full week in Japan. Capped off with my two final exams and ending with karaoke with my language partners. And in between, one last trip to Kiyomizu-dera, Kinkajuji and the various Book-Off stores to say goodbye.

I need to go back to Kiyomizu-dera--their candies are the best, and I'm buying some to take home (and some for myself, of course!) Kinkakuji ought to have been done with their renovations by now, so I'll be able to go back and see it in all its glory.

I just have to write my last paper first...Eeep!

Rebecca posted this at 5/16/2003 06:12:00 PM Japan time.


Monday, May 05, 2003

 

The trip to Hiroshima:

SATURDAY

While we were originally supposed to leave early in the morning, Ping found out that the local train ride would take longer than previously thought, so she switched our schedule around and got us reserved Shinkansen tickets and tickets for an all-night bus from Osaka to Hiroshima. That left us with a day and some time to kill.

We started off with a trip down to Hirakata-shi, where we discovered the Hyaku-En Sushi-Go-Round restaurant (of course, NOT its real name.) Basically, it's a bunch of seats set around a revolving turntable laden with plates of sushi, prepared while you wait. There were all kinds, including some I hadn't seen before (some weird blue vegetable we didn't want to try, and corn and mayonnaise piled into a cup made from nori) and it was all 100 yen per plate of 2. I managed to gorge myself for only 600 yen. The tuna was all right, but the salmon sushi really melted in your mouth. Quite good stuff.

Since we had time to kill before we had to take the train to Umeda, we hung out at Mister Donuts and the Izumiya department store before we headed to the station. We got off at Umeda at about 9 PM, and found the exit where we were to catch the bus. With nothing much else to do, we wandered around. Most of the shops were closing early because of Golden Week, but we managed to duck into a few, and finally ended up sitting out in front of a convenience store eating ice cream and admiring the weird fashion of the loli-goth teenagers sitting across from us.

The bus arrived for us at about 11:15, so we boarded. We ended up being in seperate seats but Ping was sitting catty corner to me and everyone was going to be sleeping anyways. The ride was somewhat uneventful, so we slept, which was hard because the bus stopped every hour for breaks, and we'd wake up with our necks stiff and sore every 15 minutes. We arrived in Hiroshima at 5:30 the next morning, and were tired out of our minds.

SUNDAY

At the station, we waited for things to open, and had breakfast at a little cafe. Finally, it was 9 AM and we tried to get hotel reservations at the travel agency, but they didn't accept any until 10:30. No trouble--we decided to go off to Miyajima for the day. We boarded the streetcar and rode to the station at the end of the line, where we managed to find a small Japanese-style room for the 3 of us in a youth hostel.

You take a rather fast ferry to go to Miyajima. Miyajima is populated by rather tame deer, which roamed free on the island and made a mess all over things. They let you pet them, but still were very shy. We got on there, and decided to wander around for a while. We hiked up and down the mountains before we found the Otorii, which is the huge gate built in the water. It is the "gate" to the temple that "floats" during high tide. A lot of people were throwing coins at the Otorii. If you got your coin stuck on the support beams, you'd get a wish. And if that didn't work, you could ram the coin into the gate itself and work off some frustration.

We had lunch at an okonomiyaki-ya that served okonomiyaki Hiroshima style. While here (in Kansai) everything in an okonomiyaki is mixed together, Hiroshima style okonomiyaki cooks everything in seperate layers. After that, we hiked up the mountain (which was mad steep) towards the cable car station that would take us to the top, where there is a wildlife preserve with monkeys. After a long hike and 2 cable cars, we arrived to find that the monkeys had gone out for dinner, but the view was nice (albeit rather foggy.) We made our way back down the island and took the ferry back to the youth hostel.

MONDAY

We left the youth hostel, rode the streetcar to Hiroshima Station to drop our things off, and then rode to the Atomic Bomb Dome. I mentioned to my friends that 50 years ago, this was Ground Zero. And it was--the atomic bomb was dropped not far away. We wandered around the Peace Memorial Park for a while, until we entered the museum.

Going to the Peace Memorial Museum is a somewhat sobering experience. It is built to show people the horror of nuclear weapons, especially since the ones being made and developed today are many thousands of times more powerful than the ones dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. It presents both sides of the story, and many more--such as the fact that the Americans tried to suppress a peace festival held in 1950 in Hiroshima (during the occupation) while they were about to start a war against Korea. One part of the memorial has a model of the A-Bomb Dome, and the walls supporting it are covered with the text of telegrams sent by the mayor of Hiroshima to the ambassadors and heads of state of places where atomic bombs have been tested. Three walls are completely covered, and they're running out of space on the fourth.

After the obligatory before-and-after models, we went upstairs to see actual artifacts of the bombing. There was a lunch box with the charred remains of a lunch from a young boy's garden; Taro's tricycle that he loved so much that after he died, his father buried him with it; watches stopped at 8:15 AM (the time the bomb fell); roof tiles that had melted and boiled at the tops (you could actually touch some of these); warped metal shutters; the stairway with a dark shadow that had been the imprint of a man sitting there; walls and furniture peppered with shards of glass, and some of Sadako's origami cranes (she actually DID manage to fold more than 1,000.)

The very end of the exhibit had a photo of a patch of canna blooming in the rubble, in the autumn of that year. A true symbol of hope and rebirth.

After the museum, we went to the nearby Flower Festival, which was bustling and busy. There were street performers, stands selling food, and little games. There was the goldfish game (you scoop up goldfish with a paper spoon, harder than it looks) the water-balloon game (you use a hook connected by paper to scoop up the loop at the end of a rubber balloon filled with water) and many other games. We had fun as we made our way back to the bus station, and went to a sukiyaki and shabu-shabu restaurant for an early dinner.

After Wendy decided to splurge and get the scarce-grade meat, we decided, what the heck, we will too. So the three of us together rang up a 7,000 yen bill and had the best darn sukiyaki that I've ever eaten.

The waitress pulled out a gas burner and put a saucepan in it, then rubbed it with a bit of...lard! Then she put in the meat, tofu and vegetables and bathed it all in broth. You're supposed to dip the food in raw egg before you eat it, but I skipped that step. It was delicious.

Finally, we rode the Shinkansen back to Osaka and returned home, rested and refreshed.

Rebecca posted this at 5/05/2003 07:33:00 PM Japan time.


Sunday, April 27, 2003

 

Well, my last month in Japan is upon me, and I'm going to spend it in style. Today marks the start of Golden Week, the holiday that spans April 29th to May 3rd and May 5th, all of which are national holidays. (April 29th is Midori no Hi, or Green Day, and is the birthday of the previous emperor. May 3rd is Constitution Day, honoring the post-war Japanese constitution. May 5th is Kodomo no Hi, or Children's Day. And May 4th is the We're-Gonna-Make-This-A-National-Holiday-So-It-Isn't-In-A-Holiday-Sandwich Day...) Right now, it looks like we're going to spend the 3 day weekend in Hiroshima. I wanted to spend it in Kobe, but everyone said I should go to Hiroshima instead. And with good reason, too. So far I've joined up with a girl I know (Ping, she's Chinese-Dutch) and my friend Wendy and we're trying to find more people.

Yesterday was my day at the Takarazuka Revue, but before that, I decided to hang out and have fun in Umeda. A store that I've wanted to go to, Mandarake (a manga, anime and collectibles shop) was there so I tried to find it. Spent more time looking for it (and going to random arcades) than being in the store, so I had to run to catch the express to Takarazuka.

The weather was excellent for the walk from the station to Takarazuka. Unfortunately, Family Land (the amusement park) closed just last week, so we couldn't go there, and I wasn't in the mood to go to the Osamu Tezuka manga museum, so I went to the theater and had lunch. They had all sorts of souvenirs there, and I came away with a program (full color glossies of the stars) and a tissue case with violets on it (the Takarasiennes in training sell violets for charity.)

The show was--for lack of a better word--unique. The first performance was the Takarazuka Flower Diary, which was basically a bunch of people singing and dancing in traditional Japanese dress onstage. The best parts were when the 89th class of the Takarazuka Music School presented themselves to the audience, and the performance of "Sakura, Sakura" by two of the dancers.

The second performance was the musical Senor Don Juan. It was the story of an Italian fashion designer, Leo Visconti, who has no girlfriend, and whose idea of the one he loves is a ballerina who speaks French with a Belgian accent (but considering everyone here is talking in Japanese, how the heck should we know.) It was VERY hard to understand, but it was fun watching the actresses, and the music was rather catchy (not kechii, that means "stingy..." I'm not gonna make that mistake again.)

I don't know what got me, the random English lyrics ("We believe love") or the Cupid Rockettes during what we THOUGHT was the finale, but then we had the whole cast enter with peacock-style feathers on their backs for a curtain call. But it was unique, and rather fun.

Rebecca posted this at 4/27/2003 08:19:00 PM Japan time.


Tuesday, April 22, 2003

 

Oh, last Friday I exchanged my "kimono" for an actual yukata which is very nice looking.

I spent Easter Sunday at church in the morning, then having some sushi (bought at the Keihan store grocery shop) for lunch with sekihan (pink rice with azuki beans) since it was a special day. Saturday, I wasted time and money at the game centers in Namba.

Rebecca posted this at 4/22/2003 07:33:00 PM Japan time.

 

In my haste, I forgot to write about the trip to Kansai Terebi with my News in Japan class. Here we go...

We rode from Hirakata into Kyobashi, then changed trains to go to Tenma. The TV station was situated on a few floors of a very nice ultra-modern building. Tenma itself was a really unique covered shopping street--the very essence of Japan. We had time to kill, so I found a few game centers and wasted money there before we went into the building. We were greeted by Hachiemon, which is the mascot of Kansai Terebi. It's a big white blob with a beak.

We were given a tour of the studio, followed by question and answer periods with two of the employees, one was (I think) with P.R. and the other was an actual on-the-field reporter. Finally, we got in to the main news studio. I've been to news studios before (such as WCAX in Vermont, and the NBC studios in New York) so I kind of knew what to expect. Since it was a while before the news cast, the camera crew let us "play" with the green screen (for those not in the know, it is the green-painted wall where the weather person stands, and anything green is replaced by the computer generated weather maps.

Watching the news cast was somewhat interesting, but like I said, I had seen it all before. Although I thought that the sportscaster--who looked like he was just out of high school--was something. I asked, and he was 25. After the broadcast was done, we got our picture with the news team.

Rebecca posted this at 4/22/2003 07:31:00 PM Japan time.


Sunday, April 13, 2003

 

Comedy of Errors, part 69 1/2:

Walked down to bus stop to meet others for Kiyomizu Dera trip. They were Not There. I got on the bus anyways, and waited at the station for them to show up. They were Not There. I go home and complain and find out where exactly I do get off to go to Kiyomizu Dera.

Arrive at Kiyomizu Dera, and have a really good time. It rains cherry blossom petals occaisionally, and there are many little shrines and nooks and crannies to poke into. The bottom floor of the main temple houses a rotating stone with a Sanskrit character on it. To get there, you go down this winding passageway that is pitch dark, dark enough so you can't even see your hand in front of your face. Eventually, you reach the stone, and then you make your way back out.

You make a wish when you touch the stone. I wish I had known this when I went down there.

There are many different temples and shrines around Kiyomizu Dera. One of them is Jishu Shrine, which is the shrine in honor of Okuninushi no Mikoto, the goddess of love and matchmaking. So naturally, this shrine is PACKED with giggling schoolgirls hoping to make it safely from one Love Stone to the other, with their eyes closed. Some of the other features included paper dolls which you wrote your name and your troubles on, then had them thrown into a bucket of water. The dolls are made out of a special paper that dissolves when it hits the water, and when it does your troubles are supposed to melt away.

I walked around the shrine grounds for a while. The shrine grounds are HUGE--there's a winding path that takes you to a wonderful scenic overlook. (I should have tried to pick out Kyoto Station while I was at it, but the air was really hazy--it must've been above 70 degrees.) There are also hill faces with carved stone Buddhas, many of which are wearing little aprons and caps out of cloth (reminded me of the folktale Kasajizo, where an old man who makes hats gives his wares to a row of Jizo statues to keep them out of the snow.) The entire place is just fantastic--it's an oasis of calm and beauty. I loved seeing the rains of cherry blossom petals and walking along the quiet paths.

Then, there were the souvenir shops! They lined the hill leading up to Kiyomizu Dera, reminding me of my time at Mont Saint-Michel in France (but there, the street was much more narrower, and it wound around the island in a spiral.) There were many stores selling traditional Japanese confections, and they gave out free samples. My favorites were green tea mochi wrapped around little globs of red bean paste, and Kiyomizudera Yaki, which were little pancakes with sweet chestnut filling. The best thing about the candy stores was that some of them had the candy making machines right in the stores, so not only you could watch them being made but what you bought was nice and fresh too (especially the little pancakes...yummy!)

Since my grandmother had given me $50 for a present (deposited to my account) I decided to buy a yutaka, or summer kimono. Well...when I got home, I found out that it wasn't REALLY a kimono. Now I'm just looking at it and feeling really gypped.

Rebecca posted this at 4/13/2003 04:36:00 AM Japan time.