Monday, February 23, 2009

To travel - ryokou suru (旅行する)

This weekend I went skiing with my host family I and another family S. I woke up at 4:30am on Saturday and slept most of the 4 hour trip to Hyogo-ken. We went to a ski resort called Ojiro. First off, I have never skied or been to a ski resort before. The Gondola was fun but once we got to the mountain I was becoming worried. The problem started when I tried to use my skis for the first time. I didn't know how to move so I kept going backwards. For some reason, I ended up on the bunny hill. I fell a lot and I was worried about all the other skiers and snowboarders coming down the mountain really fast. I honestly thought I was going to get hurt on that day. Eventually, I manage to get down the hill. If I learned one thing really well that day I learned how to get up on skis after falling. Which requires a lot of arm strength by the way (which I have none.)
(Yeah...I went down this hill...)
That night we went to an onsen. It was also my first time going to one. I really nervous because I wasn't sure what the protocol and social rules were. I basicially did what my okaasan did. I feel more relaxed because I was also with two cute little girls (from the other family.) For an onsen, males and females are sepreated but small children under 5 can enter either. You have to get completely naked. Before you enter the bath, you have to basically clean yourself first. Shampoo and the like are provided but you can bring your own. In the onsen you are supposed to have a wash cloth to clean your body. The rules I learned so far is that the wash cloth is not supposed to touch the bath water. If you hair is long it should be in a bun, tied, or wrapped in the wash cloth. You can't swim in the onsen. Besides all these rules, the onsen was really nice. There was an outdoor onsen too. The cold air and hot felt so good.

After the onsen, we went to a ryokan to stay over night. It was a traditional style room and we had three of them to share. Each room had tatami mats, a kotatsu, and a TV. So Japanese.We had an amazing feast! It was crab nabe. It was delicious. I really ate my body weight's worth of food that night. (Pictures eventually..hopefully)

The next morning we packed and headed back to the slopes after a filling Japanese styled breakfast with furikake, rice, fruit, tsukemono (picked stuff,) and miso. By this time, I could technically ski but horribly. I was really nervous this time and started to shake a bit. I wanted to practice by myself because the day before all I did was fall and my okaasan and s-san had to help me for a long time. So I manage to get on the lift but when I got to the bunny hill it was closed off so I thought the only place I could go was up. At the time, I didn't realize that there was another bunny slope next to meet. I stupidly when on the highest point of the mountain. The view was absolutely beautiful (see pictures above) but I was really terrified. I crashed a lot and I tired to stay on the side to avoid inconveniencing people. At one point I just sat on the mountain for awhile trying to gather courage to keep going. Somehow I made it down alive. My host family was worried about me because they didn't know where I was. They were about to make an announcement for me but I came sliding down the mountain really fast without crashing. (I still need to learn how to turn.)

After that I was done for the day. I hung out in the lounge for the rest of the day and a good thing too because it also started to rain. We left at around 5pm and it was a long ride back. 4 hours later we were back in Nagao.

My okaasan remarked on how I did really well for a person who never skied before because in two days I learned the basics. Thanks okaasan. So I surviving skiing down the highest point of a mountain by myself...I feel accomplished somehow.

Friday, February 20, 2009

To sing - utau (歌う)

I've gone to karaoke twice in Japan and each time I really had fun. For the record, I'm sober when I do karaoke. Drunken karaoke does not sound like fun to me. Anyways, Japanese karaoke is unique. They have entire floors of buildings dedicated to it and it is very popular. is also like DDR because while you are singing they have these (usually) awful, old 70s videos playing in the background often times distracting you while trying to match the mood of the song. About 5% of the time they get it right. I'll try to take a picture of it next time I go. This is one of those things that you have to see in order to believe it.

Going back to karaoke music, the two times I've gone I only sang English songs. Right now I'm trying to learn Japanese songs to sing. I really wanted to find good artists. I'm trying to avoid stereotypical J-pop as much as possible. I really don't like music that sounds like Ayumi Hamasaki, Kumi Koda, and some Namie Amuro. But recently, I met a Gaidaisei (Kansai Gaidai Student) who gave me a list of his favorite artists and so far I like his taste in music. One song I particularly like is called "Flowers" by Tawada Emi (多和田えみ.) The song sounds nice and it makes me happy. I want to learn more Japanese songs similar to it.

Any recommendation for good Japanese karaoke songs please tell me.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Dialect - ben(弁) 

Through the people I meet and the classes I take I'm starting to realize how diverse Japan is. Diverse in not only ethnic minorities but in regions. While the US has states, Japan instead has Prefectures or ken (plus two fu and one dou.) Each ken has a different way of speaking Japanese which is metcha omoroi (very interesting in Kansai ben) to learn. The standard Japanese is considered Tokyo-ben because it is supposedly the center of Japan. Learning different accents and other ways of pronouncing Japanese is new to me. I knew about the Kanto-ben (Tokyo and Yokohama) versus Kansai-ben (Kyoto and Osaka) but apparently every prefecture has its own variations. So Japanese people from certain areas cannot understand other Japanese people from other prefectures. When you watch TV in Japan especially in Osaka, there are subtitles. Apparently, it is because the people speak too fast and not everyone understand the accents.

Today was an interesting day because we talked about this in my Issues in Contemporary Japan class. Japanese's perceptions of other prefectures depends on where they came from. What I learned is that Kansai's sterotype is that they are less rigid, funnier, and more carefree. Kanto from Kansai's point of view is seen as too cold, regimented, and serious. I haven't been to Tokyo yet but I like living in Osaka so far. I'm comforted by the fact that I can see Japanese people here 'break' the unspoken rules like eating while walking/riding a bike, talking on the trains/bus, and crossing the sidewalk when its red and when there are no cars around. Maybe it is just Kansai region...we'll see if my view changes the longer I stay in Japan.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Everyday - mainichi (毎日)

Okay, I think I am getting the hang of things so far in Japan. So this time I can actually write about what I do on a daily basis.

Mornings- I have classes in the morning which means that I have to get up early every morning. I realize that I need to get up by 7am in order to adequately prepare for my morning classes. My okaasan makes breakfast which consists of a bowl a rice, sausage, egg, some kind of fruit and vegetables. Breakfast is very filling for me which is good because I have to ride my bike to school every morning. My ototo has to go to school by 7:58am and my otousan leaves before 7am to go to work.

Getting to School- In the mornings I have two options to get to school. First is the bus. I actually live in Nagao which is near Hirakata (where Kansai Gaidai is.) What I love and sometimes hate about the Japanese bus system is how punctual it is. It if leaves at really leaves at that time. All the stops are announced but everything is in Kanji. There is no furigana or kana (phonetic alphabet) at all so you really have to know where you get off because the stops sound similar to each other. There are two things that deters me from taking the bus. One is the fact that it costs 220-250 yen a ride so around $2.50. That is expensive. Another thing is that I'm faster than the bus. The bus route goes in a roundabout way in order to serve the most people and it also stops a lot. If I need to get to get to school on time I just use my bike to avoid the hassle.

Getting to School (part 2) - I'm very lucky that my host family has a bike for me. Having a bike in Japan is quite useful. I see a lot of people riding the bike to school and work. Bikes are legally considered as vehicles. So you are subjected to the same traffic rules as cars. Like you can't ride a bike drunk and have to ride in the street with cars. I'm not sure about the former but everyone seems to disobeys the latter from what I see everyday. You are also not allowed to ride on the sidewalk (legally anyway) but people do that anyway. Well, it takes me 20mins to 30mins to bike to Kansai Gaidai. I ride on both the sidewalk and with cars. I'm quite paranoid about cars so I ride slowly. Cars go out of their way to avoid you but still... So far, I like the commute. I consider it punishment for not exercising during winter break. The scenery during my commute is nice because I live in a relatively rural area where there are still rice paddies around.

Morning Classes- I'm a ryuugakusei which is in Japanese, an international student. So I in the mornings I have Spoken Japanese and Reading & Writing Japanese. The times and rooms change on a daily basis which is very annoying. Right now I am level 2 for both classes. Spoken Japanese is required. The other class isn't but in order to do well you really need to take both classes. Both classes reinforce each other. In the beginning I thought being in level 2 Japanese was shameful because I started studying Japanese on my own in the 8th grade and took two semesters of it in college. But I realized...I never actually used what I learned. Level 2 is the right level for me to build my confidence in speaking Japanese. The problem with the class is that I'm not struggling at all and in fact I'm pushing myself more outside of class to learn more Japanese.

Lunch- In Kansai Gaidai there are a few places to eat. There is the on campus Konbini which is more expensive than the 7/11 across the street but you pay for convenience. In Japan konbini food is quite unhealthy but delicious. They have snacks, candy, drinks, and pan. Pan in Japanese means bread but there is so much variety here. They range from sandwiches to pastries. Then there is the McDonalds. I'll go there eventually. Everyone says that is is better than American's McDonalds. I can believe it but c'mon I'm in Japan. There is the 'expensive' cafeteria which is hidden next to the zen garden. You put money in a machine, pick a meal from the display case, and get a ticket. That's it. Then the one I go to most often is called the 'cheap' cafeteria. It serves all Japanese style food and you actually have to speak in Japanese to order. The portions are large for me but the food is usually pretty good.

Afternoon Classes- I think the school calls them elective courses. The minimum you can take is 2 and maximum is 3. I'm required to take 3. My classes are "Issues in Contemporary Japanese Society and Culture," "Labor, Culture & HRM in Japan," and "Political Economies of East Asia."Afternoon Classes begin at 1pm and end by 5:20pm. All classes meet twice a week and for 70 min increments. Honestly the classes are not that hard. What makes the classes more interesting (beside the fact that I've met people from all over the world) is that Japanese students who are going to study abroad take these classes to practice English. Befriending them is a good way for you to practice your Japanese and for them to practice their English.

MISC.- After classes, I usually lounge around the CIE lounge and hang out with friends until I have to go home. I don't have a curfew but I like to make it in time for dinner. I also prefer to leave before the sun sets so I don't have to ride my bike in dark.

Dinner- Dinner time varies everyday. My okaasan works at night teaching English classes so she prepares my dinner ahead of time during those days. Usually dinner is around 7-8pm. My chores so far is setting the table (a chore unheard of in my house at home) and clearing the table after dinner. I really like the structure of dinner time. The family sits together to eat at the kotatsu watching TV. My okaasan like to make meals with a little meat but a lot of vegetables. I feel fatter because I eat so much but feel healthier at the same time.

Bedtime Rituals- My newest chore is making the bath (ofuro in Japanese.) Bath time is important in Japanese culture. At home growing up I had to take a shower every morning. In Japan, I have to take a bath everyday. Usually, there is a bathing order but in my house there is none. It all depends on the day. My otousan like to jump in the bath first once he gets back from work. Then it would my ototo, then me, and finally my okaasan. Bathing in Japan means washing and rinsing your hair and body thoroughly before you step in to 44 degree Celsius water or 114 Fahrenheit water. Your skin burns red like a lobster at first but you get used to it. It is relaxing...especially for me because my body is sore from riding a bike and all the mental stress I endure for getting lost all the time.

Night- By 9pm my ototo and otousan go to bed. Before that we all sit at the kotatsu and watch TV for a while. I usually chat with my okaasan, do homework, or use my laptop. By 11 my okaasan goes to bed. I stay up until 12am to do whatever I'm doing which is being unproductive half of the time.

To make my homestay run as smoothly as possible I really try not to be a picky eater. I try to eat everything. So far the strangest thing I have eaten so far is fish ovaries in sushi. My okaasan really appreciates the fact that I'm easy to feed.

I also adapted myself to their schedule. I make sure to eat with the family everyday and spend the least amount of time in my room. I take a bath every night. So on and so forth.

That's my day.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

To learn - nakau (なかう)

I stumbled on something that a serious student of Japanese would love... which is grade school kanji books! And cheap too at $1.00 for each. My ototo has the first grade one but I decided to jump to the 2nd and 3rd grade ones. They are little workbooks that teach you a lot of words and kanji. I heart them already. I'm working my way up through the joyo kanji. I'm really lucky that my okaasan is an English teacher because she helps me a lot with my homework and random kanji questions. My comprehension of spoken Japan is definitely improving because I can pick out words now. I'm also noticing a lot of verbal patterns (it that makes any sense.) One thing that I am picking up is Kansai Ben. Someone pointed it out to me the word differences and now I can't help but notice it.

Here are some examples of Kansai Ben that my host family uses:
romanized Japanese/ Kansai ben/ English meaning
iu/yuta/to say

Today was Foundation Day which is a Japanese National Holiday which also means that I didn't have classes. I decided to spend the day inside with the the kotatsu and my homework. My okaasan said that Foundation Day is supposed to celebrate Japan's reconstruction. I found this ironic because the required reading for my class Political Economies of East Asia deals with the development of Japan as a superpower after World War II. It is some pretty interesting stuff. I don't want to bore you all with the details but one reason why is because of US
foreign aid and the goal to stop the spread communism. Ah...面白い。

The day before Foundation day, I spent some time wandering Hirakata City with a friend. One thing we noticed was the overabundance of toy vending machines. They are expensive too. Some are 100円 but I saw some for 200円. The coolest one I found was one for Japanese money. I think it was for keitai (cellphone) straps. I was really tempted to get one because my phone looks really bare without one. Now I'm really regretting it. They look like they make good souvieners. *coughs*

Saturday, February 7, 2009

Money - okane (お金)

I think one of the hardest things to get used when living in another country is learning how to use money. I had the same problem in Egypt in trying to find out how much things are worth or really worth. Japanese currency is different from American currency but I think its interesting. In many ways I think it is more convenient. I can pay for a meal using a coin and such a thing would be unheard of in America.

From left to right ichien ($0.01,) juuen ($0.10,) gojuuen ($0.50,) hyakuen ($1.00,) and gohyakuen ($5.00.) There is also a goen ($0.05) but I didn't have one at the time that I took this picture. It is a same size and shape as the gojuuen but the same color with the juuen. The values in US dollars are approximate. Right now the exchange rate for me is one yen is equal to $0.86-$0.90. It is okay but before it was $1.10 for every 1 yen. Anyways, these are the coins you need to use in every day life. The hyakuen and gohyakuen coins are the most important ones. I pay for stuff at the konbini and bus fare with these coins. Recently, I've been starting to use the gojuuen coin more because it finally hit me that it is worth two quarters. Instead of scrambling to look for five juuen coins for the bus I can just use one gojuuen coin.

Next are the bills....and that's it. So far, I have been using only three bills. I like that. From top to bottom is the ichimanen ($100.00,) ichisenen ($10.00,) and gosenen ($50.00.) The bills are the thing that threw me off the most when I came to Japan. In American we use bills a lot in incraments of $1, $5, $10, and $20 mainly. In Japan there are just three. I remember once I first came to Japan I wanted to buy something from a konbini it was 579円 but I was thinking that the gosenen was a $5.oo bill and gave the guy that and ichisenen (I thought it was a $1.00 bill at the time). He looked very surprised. Once I realized what I had done...I was so embarassed. I over paid by a good $50. He was nice and handed back my money.

I also learned that is common to buy small things with big bills to get change back. I'm getting smarter about my money as my time here progresses.

Friday, February 6, 2009

Engrish part 2

More Engrish found during my adventures.
I took all these pictures by the way

Slowly - yukkiri (ゆっきり)

I'm at the two week mark of my study abroad adventure and all I can say is that I have been very busy. I'm still trying to adjust to life here but overall I feel very comfortable in Japan. Living here would not be so bad if it wasn't for the bureaucracy. Its annoying but you can't fight it. For example, I have a stipend from my school but I am not going to get it until the end of February. It has to process and go through all these loops and holes. I'll get it eventually.

I finished my first week of classes and it was very tiring. The classes in English are no problem...actually I think I will enjoy them very much. But the Japanese classes Speaking and Reading and Writing are tougher. I wanted to skip a level because I was placed in level 2 which is very low to level 3. What is annoying is that level 2 is way to easy for me but level 3 is a bit hard. I took the test for level 3 and I think I failed. I don't mind taking level 2 but I would not be challenging myself very much. I'm probably one of the rare cases where my reading and writing is better than my spoken Japanese. It is very hard for me to create my own sentences but I'm working on that.

This week I also got my awesomely cool and cheap Japanese cellphone. Its called keitai here and it is essential in having a social life here in Japan. What is interesting here is that people usually don't call each other instead they extensively use mail. Like text messaging in America. They have very cute emoticons too. It takes me a long time to text in Japanese but I'm learning how to compose my thoughts better. Why my phone kicks butt? It has video, camera, currency converter, it animates text messages, voice recorder, and the menu animates. Take that verizon! The only thing it needs is an easier way to change the default email address and a kanji dictionary.
(I asked for the cheapest of the cheap and this is what they gave me. The phone is around $50 and the prepaid plan varied from $30-$50)

For those of you who didn't know, I'm living with a host family. So far, I really like. I live in Nagao, Osaka which is not to far from Kansai Gaidai. I'm hearing a lot of Kansai ben here. Haha...I'll be speaking Japanese with an accent. I noticed the my host family says "yusho!" a lot. I'm still not sure what it means but I guess it means "Yes! or Alright!" I also learned "nande ya nen" which means "What the heck?" Yuta (Kansai ben) means iu which in English means to say.

This week was also interesting but the first day I rode the bike to school and I got completely lost. I got to school after two hours of asking "Kansai Gaidai wa doko desu ka?" (Where is Kansai Gaidai?) I keep getting the answer "eh tooi desu ne. masugu zutto zutto." (Wow that is far. Keep going straight...and straight.) The next day I took the bus to school I got to school fine but I got lost on the way back. I must be really stupid. A new word I learned that day was Myoutta (I'm lost.)

Sunday, February 1, 2009

Engrish Section 1

As I start living in Japan, I'm starting to see more and more Engrish here so I decided to share this with of all you. It's funny but I understand how they can make mistakes because I probably make worse ones in Japanese.

Comfortable - kiraku (気楽)

I don't know why but I have been for Japan for only a week but I feel very comfortable here. Today I moved into my host family's home in Nagao. It is near Osaka but it is not that far from the school. My family consists of a okaasan, papa, obachan, and 7 year old brother (ototo which is a younger brother.) Everyone is really sweet and I seem to fit in very well. I have my own room and I have no curfew. Tomorrow I have to bike to school so...ganbare!

My time in Japan is going fast. I can already sense it. Since my last post, orientation is finally over. To enjoy my last few days of free time I went to Kyoto on Friday and Hirakata City on Saturday. For the Kyoto tour, groups were paired up with with a Kansai Gaidai student. My group ended up with eight people half Japanese students and half Americans (and one boy.) We went to a shrine (Kiyomizu) then eating takoyaki followed by purikura and eating at a cafe. The Japanese students showed us how to used the trains.Throughout the trip, I was proud of myself because I was able to force myself to speak Japanese. I was able to hold semi-decent conversations. It was a confidence booster.

The next day I went to Hirakata City to go shopping and afterwards went to a karaoke place. While shopping I had a good sense of where my Japanese skills lacked. I need to learn more vocab to express myself more. I also did my first splurge in Japan. Everyone in Japan seems to dress very well. I felt like I stood out in my sneakers, jeans, and t-shirts. While in Japan, I want to learn how to dress better and one of the first steps is shoes. So...I spent 3,500 yen on a nice pair of boots. After that, I finally tried Japanese styled Karaoke with one Japanese and American friend. The verdict: karaoke ga daisuki! (I love karaoke.) Even though I suck at singing. My Japanese friends was amazingly good at it...she put me and my American friend to shame. I tired to sing a few Japanese songs but in the end it was mainly English songs. That will change soon!

I just had nabe for dinner and a delicious dessert. Ah oishiikatta! I also tried the Japanese bath too. So far so good for the first time in a homestay.