Thursday, April 30, 2009

Showa Day - Showa no hi (昭和の日)

Showa Day is part of Golden Week which is a series of holidays in Japan. They are secretly celebrating the birthdays of old emperors but the names of the days changed...that's it. In case you did not know the Japanese DO NOT take vacations. Their work ethic is very extreme. Foreigner workers in Japanese companies have to follow the same ethic if they expect to fit in. So Golden Week also is an excuse to force Japanese people to take a vacation. In turn is one of the most crowded and expensive times to travel in Japan.

At Kansai Gaidai, we had only a Weds. off that week and the next day was school. Pointless I thought but anyways after a late start on that day my friends and I went to Kyoto for more sightseeing. I wanted to go to Uji (famous for the setting of Tale of Genji and green tea) but we ended up at Nijou which is a traditional, Japanese castle. We couldn't take pictures in the castle because it would damage the screen doors and windows. Inside was really nice. We went at a nice time because it was late in the day and the sun was going to set so light was peering into the halls. There were many, many rooms in the castle. Some rooms had mannequins dressed in period clothing which was actually kind of creepy and some rooms had audio explanations only in Japanese. I was honestly a bit bored because every room felt the same to me but it was a nice experience to go to there. I was also hungry so my mood wasn't that good either.

This was the ticket. The outside infrastructure was beautiful and well-constructed I thought.

Bad Japanese friend who is disrespecting his heritage by climbing the walls of this castle. j/k

After walking through the interior of the castle. we were able to explore the extensive gardens. At one point we could climb to this outpost thing out looking the whole area of the castle. The view was beautiful because you can see the mountains in the background as well as the grounds. Nice tourist pictures.
It was a hot day when I went but there was a river next to the outpost. So you could fall asleep putting your head on the metal bars and feel the nice breeze from the air and coolness of the river.
Another bad friend writing her last name in the metal bar.

The next place I went to totally made my day. My friend read about this place in a tour book. At the time the place was going to close soon so we basically had to run to get there. It was another Buddhist temple. Sanjuusangen-do. We first explored the outside which was very typical of all the historical architecture I have seen in Japanese so far. What was inside was something I never expected. Again I could not take pictures in order to preserve the artifacts.

This is the first time that I bought a book for the inside of a place I could not take pictures in. This reminded me of the time I went to the Valley of the Kings. I wasn't allowed to take pictures inside the tombs but I remember what it felt like to be inside. I still remember the beauty of the imagery and colors but in this place I wanted to remember it all. Again we went at a great time because the sun was setting so the light shown beautifully through the screens. It was a Buddhist temple so we stepped into a hall. There was incense in the air and a sense of serenity. We faced what felt like an endless row of golden exquisitely carved statues. Before the states were 38 unique guardian statues and the center was a large statue of Buddha. The hall was long but I really wish I could absorb the atmosphere. I felt some sort of clean feeling and excitement in there. Below are some pictures from the book. They really don't do justice of what it felt like to be in the hall.

All the statues had some origin in India. They were all amazingly constructed. I was impressed by the detail and scary feeling they produced. They would all make kick-ass video game boss designs. Shin Megami Tensei III:Nocturneみたいに。

The row upon row of golden statues really created this serene and endless effect. I'm not sure how to explain the feeling.

So we only had time to visit two places because we all woke up late. We ended the day in a Japanese style restaurant and played Apples to Apples.

At the end of the day, I was tired and my legs hurt. I did zero homework for classes the next day.

Yukata (浴衣)

On April 25th, I signed up for a CIE event called "Yukata Fitting and Bon Odori Dance." I have always wanted a yukata. Yukata by the way is traditional Japanese summer clothing. It is more casual and easier to wear than a kimono. Once I came to Japan, I was sad to find out that I would not be able to attend matsuri festivals because they happen late summer. By then I will be in the states. So this event compensated for my prior disappointment. On this day I was raining pretty heavily, so I was expecting a low attendance. Actually, quite a few people showed up. Two guys actually came but it was mainly girls. When I came in the room there was a huge pile of yukatas I could pick from. I just picked the first one I liked.

And the result was...
I really liked the pattern of this yukata because it looks like it glowed. This color might have been too dark for my skin color. I should have gotten a lighter color but it looks nice anyways. After the fitting we had lunch, I paid my friend to make a bento for me and I brought snacks.

This is my friend's obi. I really, really liked the design of hers.

After lunch I saw a series of traditional dances. The dances were great but it was really funny because they performed it to enka.

The best part of the day was learning Bon Odori. We learned four different versions of Bon Odori from different parts of Japan. I can remember learning the Osaka and Tokyo one. We learned two other ones but I forgot what they were called. I was really fun. You just repeat the same movements over and over again while going in a circle until the song ends.

After this point my camera batteries died. And I'm really sad because we learned this cute song called Yakkyuken. You sing this song and do this cute dance and at the end you do Jan Ken Poi.
(Rock Paper Scissors) We had a tournament with all the ryugakusei and my friend and I won. I was not expecting to win. The prize was this little coin purse.

When I told my Japanese friends about the Yakkyuken they were surprised. The game is not as innocent as I thought. They told me that it is a stripping game. Every time you lose you have to take off some cloths. No~! Why did they have to tell me that?

Friend - tomodachi (友達)

In another one of my random adventures, on the 19th I went to Kyoto to visit the Karaoke place that my friend works at. The group was five people and we ranged from level 1 to level 5 Japanese. Together with our brain power combined we made up one half of a Japanese person. Getting to Kyoto and the section he worked at was easy but once we got there we were lost. Eventually, we went out to eat and asked our waitress where the place was. It was amazing...she drew us a map. I just remember the night being cold and windy.

We finally found the place and it was in the direction we were no expecting it to be in.

We texted this guy a million times because we could not find his place...

Actually, the place my friend works at happens to be one of the nicest karaoke places I have ever been too. The rooms were wide, the equipment was new, and they had some pretty cheap food too. We could only stay for three hours because we spent so much time being lost. Our friend M also gave us a discount. aa tanoshikatta.

Clam gathering - shiohigari (潮干狩り)

Back logging some posts. I was really busy last week so this is what I have been up to so far.

The day after Hanami I had to wake up at 7am to go Clam Gathering with S family. My host family could not some because my ototo didn't want to go. So I went with S family and another family. For shiohigari we went to a beach in Mie ken. Apparently, Mie ken is famous for ninjas which explains the picture below. Its a rest stop by the way.

The day we went was very windy but was still a nice day. First thing we did once we were at the beach was have a barbecue and eat. There were a lot of grilled vegetables, fish, and meat. It was delicious...I'm still thinking about the food.

I have never dug for clams in my life. So it was an interesting experience to be taught how to do this by an 8 and 10 year old in Japanese and later by a 6 year old. It was very cute. What I learned was that there are such thing as edible and non-edible clams and you can tell only by shell color. The only time to get them is during certain times of the year during the low tide and the most popular time of the year to go in Japan is during Golden Week. Surprisingly, there were a lot of people out.

I got a lot of clams but the kids were pros and caught so many. It was really hard work. While I was digging for clams I saw some scary things. There were a lot of little crabs and I was afraid that they would bite my feet. I saw little slug things eating a dead starfish in the water. Besides that, I really enjoyed the trip. Since I did Hanami and Shiohigari on the same weekend, I was too worn out to do homework and was screwed for the following week. Oh well...

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Flower Viewing in the Storm Mountain - arashiyama ni hanami shita (嵐山に花見した)

I don't know if people noticed it yet but I'm doing the literal translation of the places I've been to.

Anyways...for Flower viewing I went to one of the most famous places for it...Arashiyama, Kyoto. I bought a one day pass that was around 1,400 yen which meant that I could ride the keihan train line as many times as I wanted.

When we went it was surprisingly hot. Luckily, there was a river next to our spot.

We had a potluck for lunch. It was a lot of homemade food made with love:) I bought drinks for everyone...the non-alcoholic kind.

We had one of the best spots for flower viewing. Our group was next to the river and under a Sakura tree. Since we went near the end of the flower viewing season, every time the wind blew the petals flew in the air. It was such a surreal yet beautiful moment.

After eating lunch, we decided to play in the river. There were a lot of children in the river with us. The water was really cold and the floor of the river was rough and if you were not careful it could hurt. This was probably was the highlight of the day because we were splashing around on a really warm day. The view was amazing from the river.

There is a lot to see in Arashiyama like the traditional style train that you can ride on, monkeys...but we just went through the bamboo forest. I felt like I was in an anime or a Chinese fighting movie. Bamboo forests are a nice relief from the sun because its dark and cool.

So that was my day in Arashiyama.

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Prank Phone Call - itazura denwa (いたずら電話)

So two nights ago, I had my first bizarre moment in Japan. A lot of strange things have happened to my friends already since they been in Japan like being followed by Hosts, doing Karaoke with drunk old men, and being criticized by a random Japanese guy who spoke fluent English.

My moment happened while I was dead asleep at 2am in the morning. I received a random call from a Japanese number. I thought it was one of my friends so I answers. Stupidly, I said in English "Hello, who would you like to speak with?" Thinking about it later, its my cellphone and people calling it would obviously want to talk to me...anyways all I hear is a pause then a male voice saying in Japanese "daisuki yo" which means "I like you a lot." All I say is "sou ka" (really?) and I just hung up. The guy kept calling back. I put my phone on silent but the stupid flashing light on my cellphone woke me up.

While half asleep I remember reading somewhere that in the US some people blast crazy music to scare the prankster. I thought I was a good idea at the time. Thanks to my sister, I have a eclectic range of music on my computer from electronic to death metal. The scariest music I have would be Devil Doll (scary sounding vocals with beautiful, haunting orchestra music.) I decided to answer the phone again...the guy starts saying things like "um...I like you. I see you a lot. Are you Filipino?" I think I said "Urase. Nemutai yo" (Annoying. I want to sleep/sleepy.) then blasted music into the phone and hung up. The bastard was unfazed and called me again but I passed out asleep again.

The next morning I looked at my call log. It was 13 consecutive calls. That morning I told my okaasan about it and she said things like that are called 'itazura denwa.'

I figured out how to block numbers on my phone now. Emotionally, I'm fine but I always think of ways to handle the situation better like I should have put my phone on silent and thrown it under the bed. I also have his number...I could post it.

reality - genjitsu (現実)

Yesterday was such a surreal moment for me. I'm more than midway in to the study abroad program and I'm hitting the plateau of just becoming adjusted. Last night, I had to register for classes at my home university. It was sad for me realize that I have to go home soon. I also had to start looking for internships because I'm late in the game. Right now my school work is piling up. I have a panel discussion to lead and two research and presentation projects. Keeping up is hard because I don't do all nighters anymore.

Spring has official started and it is starting to feel nice outside. In Japanese culture, spring is the start of new beginnings especially the new school year. Outside of the CIE last week although it was very windy and cold I was able to see parts of opening ceremony of the freshman gaidaisei. Right now it is still orientation but the upperclassmen gaidaisei don't start classes until the 13th. I think today was the beginning of the school year for all public school kids because on my way to school I saw a flood of high school students on bikes.

Last weekend was Hanami or flower viewing. I was supposed to go to Osaka for hanami but bailed because it was raining hard. I'm planning to go somewhere this weekend to catch a glimpse of the last of hanami. But all around Hirakata you can see all the trees in bloom. Ah I really need to take pictures but I have to much homework.

But I do have more plans while I am in Japan.
I just joined the shodobu! (Japanese Calligraphy Club) My kanji handwriting sucks. It starts on Monday. So we'll see how it goes.
Sat...somewhere for Hanami maybe Osaka or Kyoto
This Sunday I am going to do shiohigari or clam gathering at the beach!
On the 25th this month I am going to a Yukata/Bon Odori party...
Golden week is coming so a lot of stuff will be happening.

More pictures later...

Saturday, April 4, 2009

Steadily - don don (どんどん)

Learning Japanese is probably the only hobby I have. From the 8th grade until my Junior year of college, I have been learning Japanese off and on. In the beginning, I really did not have the means to focus on my Japanese studies. There were no Japanese people or classes near where I lived. My parents did not support my interest so I had to make due of what I had access to like the Internet or anime. I did my best to keep myself motivated without a teacher. It was hard but I learned how to learn. It wasn't until college that I actually took a Japanese class.

Why Japanese? Don't ask me that yet. I'm still trying to figure that out. Japan is not the ideal country like many people think. Taking classes at Kansai Gaidai challenges my previous preconceptions of a more contemporary, realistic Japan. Some of my friends already can't wait to go home or don't want to come back to Japan ever. I on the other hand still feel that comfortable feeling. I'm not facing any major problems except what am I going to do with myself after Japan. Honestly, I'm having the time of life. At least five of my friends have moved out their homestay due to various reasons. My homestay family situation is probably one of the best experiences so far. My speaking partner is sweet and affable. The people I have met give me memorable moments and experiences to look back on. I really like the Kansai Gaidai program. I'm actually learning all the things I ever wanted to learn about Japan: the bad and good. This is the comparative experience I have been looking for.

The only complaints I have about my stay in Japan only centers on myself. I came here to learn Japanese and I always feel like I can never learn enough to express my feelings or thoughts naturally. Right now I'm in this train of thought that in Japan, I'm a kid. I know as much as my 7-year old host brother. I have to learn like him by asking okaasan lots of questions and making mistakes all the time. Our loving okaasan is there to teach us.

How I actually practice and learn Japanese:

1) The Kansai Gaidai program makes you take Spoken Japanese 5 times a week and you can also take Written Japanese 3 times a week. These classes are extremely useful but the problem is that they are just a class. Learning for the test doesn't encourage you to use vocab or grammar points after the test.

2) Texting in Japanese is probably the best way to practice writing in Japanese. I hate writing exercises in Written Japanese because I feel you are not learning something that will help you in daily life. When will I never need to write a personal ad in Japanese? Sending messages in Japanese to your friends is actually useful. You are also learning how to write more casually. I always tell people to correct my messages. My okaasan is very good at this. Once in awhile after dinner she takes out her cellphone and shows me what I should write.

3) My host family likes to sit at the kotatsu and watch TV together. I have gotten in the habit of doing my homework during this unless I have something really important to do. I'm starting to like Japanese TV. I'm remember the vocab from my spoken class more because I'm actually hearing it being used. Japanese commericals are my favorite to watch because sometimes they are strange but easy to understand especially the jingles. I'll never forget the word kumiawase or combination because one day I kept hearing this furniture commercial saying 'ichi, ni, san, shi! KU-MI-A-WA-SE!'

4) My DS Kanji dictionary is the best investment I bought. I already talked enough about this. I write down kanji I see on TV or on signs and look them up later. The word in the picture is a rare thrity stroke kanji that is easy to write. Its is tsuru or to cramp. 攣る. If you can see it the character has the character for 'thread' on both sides, the character for 'to say' is in the middle, and below is the character for 'hand.' Useless but fun to learn.  

5) Translating and reading manga is another thing I'm working on. Thanks to my DS I am now able to read books. Book-Off is one of my favorite stores. It is a second hand bookstore that sells cheap books, Dvds, Cds, and video games. Right now I'm reading this sappy, romance girl's manga. It chose it primarly because it is a one-shot or a one volume manga and it was written for middle schoolers. I'm mainly doing this for vocab comprehension.

This is the manga and I can't say much about it because I only read the first pages. The art is decent I think.
I had to translate a TV manual to figure out how to copy DVDs. That was useful. Burning a CD in Japanese is called "dabbingu" FYI.

5) I still suck at conversational Japanese. Half of the time I don't know how to organize my thoughts in to a comprehensible sentence. I just remembered that in the 5th grade I had to write a diary in English in order to learn English. My ototo has to so the same thing called a sakuban to learn Japanese. So I started to write sakubans to learn how to write and hopefully speak. I have written one so far and my okaasan corrected it. While she was correcting it I was cringing on the inside trying to suppress my embarrassment but I do need the help.

Conversing is the most obvious way of improving your Japanese but these ways are somethings that help me practice....