Sunday, May 31, 2009

The Final - saigo (最後)

I'm finally home in America. I wanted to write one last post before I left but time did not permit me to do so. After six days in Tokyo, I had essentially two days to clean up and pack. I had a farewell party with S family and their host student C.

It was really fun. The food was amazing. (S Okaasan is amazing cook! C even made pizza with the S kids. )

After the party, I taught my okaasan how to play apples to apples. It was a gift that I had shipped from the US. The is a word card game full of English adjectives and nouns. It is a great way to learn English and other languages. Usually, when I play I have to explain the meanings of words in Japanese to other Japanese students. If I don't know the words we pull out the denki jisho and they teach me the Japanese equivalent of the word. As I mention before, my okaasan is an English teacher so this is a good way she can teach her students English. It can also help brush up her vocab too. It was really interesting because we were playing with four kids under 10. They were excited but didn't know English or the proper way to play the game.
(The oldest S kid M. She is really quiet but sweet. Right now she is learning English phonetics)
My ototo was surprisingly affectionate. He climb on top of me and played with my camera. It was really sweet. I felt bad because I didn't know how to interact with him throughout the semester. I mainly talked to him through his mother or watching NHK weekly children's programming. The night ended on a happy note.(S family and I family minus otousan cause he had to work. S okaasan was taking the picture.)

The next day, I spent time more packing and reorganizing. The last moment with my okaasan was going through the apples and apples and taking out all the nouns she did not know. Later, we had curry pizza for lunch. When it came time to leave to the airport. My ototo decided that he didn't want to go. Instead he was going to stay at a friend's house. It was cute watching him trying to run out of the door screaming "Abayo, Abayo" which is slang for goodbye. My okaasan explained to me that he doesn't like emotional goodbyes. He has done the same thing for all the other host students. After that my okaasan said that my otousan wished me luck. I wasn't able to sat goodbye to him because he had to work that day and we came home late the day earlier. It was really touching to hear that.

For the airport, my okaasan and my obaachan when with the s family (and C their host student) to the airport. It was an hour and half ride to the Kansai Airport (KIX.) (Obaachan with S kid Ma)
I really love the S kids they are so cute and quirky. We watched Manzai TV, chatted, and talked a lot. It was a good distraction. At the airport, they helped us bring our luggage to the counter. My friend C was over the weight limit so we were all rushing to help him to repack and get under the limit. In the end, he had to shell out $230 for an extra bag.
(We went through this process like 3 times. I think throwing away clothes would have been a good idea.)
Then it was the final good bye...before going through airport security. I took one last photo with my okaasan and obaachan. C did the same with S family. I was really about to cry. After the security check, we had to go down stairs to our terminal. The S kids ran after us through the window waving goodbye until we couldn't see them anymore. It was very touching. Sometime in between we gave up our Japanese Alien registration card and boarded the plane. There were a few Kansai Gaidai Students on the plane as well. But we were all spread apart on the plane. After the plane took up I saw Japan get smaller and smaller. Then I just started crying. I thought of my host family, s family, and all the other people I got to know. Over the last 6 months I developed an emotional attachment to Japan or more specifically to my host family. I have been very privileged to be able to see the dynamics of their household and to a short part of their lives. I really didn't want to go back home.
(Last picture with Obaachan and Okaasan)

14 hours of flight and 13 hours of jetlag induced sleep... I am back in America.

I plan on finishing up my post on my Tokyo Weekend and my second trip to Tokyo. I'll also write some comments on the Kansai Gaidai program and some advice for future study abroad students.

Tommorrow I'm officially unpacking and starting on my scrap book. I saved all my receipts, tickets, and brochures for this. I'll also planning to print all my posts in put in a book for memories. I'm also working on making video slides on Animoto. As for future posts...we'll see.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Tokyo Weekend - Toukyou no shuumatsu (東京の週末)

I just came back from a lovely weekend in Tokyo and after taking my writing and reading exam Kansai Gaidai decides to cancel classes and because of the Swine Influenza. Everyone in Japan is very panicky about this. School is canceled for a week in the Kansai region for middle and high school because a middle scholar in Kobe had the swine flu supposedly. Now I guess universities are also closing down for a week too.

This is really tough for the international students because this week is their last two weeks of the semester. Because of the cancellation we can't take our exams, go on the school grounds, have the graduation ceremony and some people are leaving earlier so there is no chance of saying goodbye. What a sad ending for my semester in Japan.

>>>Anyways, I decided to impulsively go to Tokyo the weekend before finals mainly because I wanted to see my boyfriend. I booked a ticket through an English speaking bus company called 123bus. I left from Umeda Station in Osaka to Tokyo on a night bus. It was bit awkward for me because I never took a night bus before and everything was in normal paced (too fast for me to understand) Japanese. So I felt really dumb. The ride there was 6-7 hours. I had problems sleeping because I had an aisle seat and the guy in front of me put his seat really far back.

So I arrived in Tokyo, at first I had no idea where they dropped me off. My only problem with the 123 bus company is that they fail to tell you this in the email confirmation they send you. So my boyfriend was not only late but didn't know how to find me because he was at a different station. Lots of mixed ups but three hours later everything was fine. What I learned is that Tokyo metro stations are huge and confusing because of multiple train lines and exits. Luckily, my boyfriend is really good at getting around Tokyo.

-Tsukiji Market

This place is the most famous fish market in the world. To see the real fish market you need to be here at like 5AM but my boyfriend and I did not have the energy for that. We came here for lunch because there are also so many sushi restaurants here. The fish market is still alive in the afternoon but mainly people were just cleaning up their shops. It was quite dangerous to walk to the market because there were so many people on bikes and cars driving by. You had to be very careful.

(You can imagine the smell)(Hotate? This is a fish lover paradise.)

Sushi around Tsukiji is expensive but well worth it. It is really unlike any sushi I have eaten before. Its so fresh and natural. After paying to eat really good sushi, I now know why people love it. We went to a restaurant were the guy made the sushi in front of us. I really have no idea what I ate. What matters is that I ate it and it was umai (amazingly good.) While waiting for my food, I made it a goal to learn the all the kanji for fish so I can read a sushi menu. My boyfriend informed me that there are fish in Japan that do not even have English names.

(It is one of the things in Japan that I'll remember the taste of)

Going to eat in Tsukiji was well worth the trip. We saw a lot of foreigners. The market was crazy crowded and small. But I'll definitely remember the sushi:)

Saturday, May 9, 2009


One of things I always wanted to buy in Japan is a Yukata. Online they say you can you can buy Yukata in Kyoto but they really don't tell you where. You can of course buy them a UNIQLO in Japan but they are plain. I want one with color. So I went to Kyoto with a friend in search of a Yukata.

Before Kyoto, I wanted to go to Uji, Kyoto. Which is famous for green tea and the setting of the Tale of Genji which I have read in English...all 1000+ pages. We really didn't spend a much time as I wanted in Uji but I got green tea as o miyage and something nice for my mom. Uji has beautiful scenery. I really wanted to visit a tea farm but I didn't have the time. I really love drinking tea by the way.


If you want to buy a yukata in Kyoto. Gion-shijo is a good place to go. Teramachi dori and the street next to it Kawaramachi dori are long shopping districts. They have touristy stuff as well. I manage to find a few kimono shops that also sell yukata as well. For new ones I saw that it ranged from $30 to $110. If you want to go cheaper then buying a used or old one is a better bet.

Some things I learned about buying a yukata is know your height in cm. If you are taller than 165 it is harder to find a yukata to properly fit you. I'm short (around 153cm or 5'0'') so I didn't have a problem but my friend did. Find a pattern you like and a color that fits your skin tone. I have medium brown skin so I was told that lighter colors look better on me because of the contrast. On the other hand if you are on the lighter side, darker colors look better because of again the contrast.

I looked around for awhile but I ended up buying a used yukata at an antique store called アンテイーク井和井(Antique Iwai.) It was the first one I liked. It might be old but I liked the color a lot which is a light purplish blue. The pattern has fireflies and pinkish flowers. The yukata was on sale so I bought is for 3,150 yen.

(Antique Iwai for $31.50)

Next important thing to buy was the Yukata Obi. I bought this too second hand at a store called Harajuku Chicago which also sells second hand kimono at very good prices starting from 3,000 yen. This is also in the Gion-Shijo district somewhere along Teramachidori. They also have amazing beautiful kimono obi starting at 20,000 yen. Just to let you know, a yukata obi is differnt then a kimono obi because it is thinner and less elaborate. A rule of thumb that the color of the obi should contrast to the color of your yukata. Anyways, I bought dark purple obi to match the color scheme. Rope thing is actually for a kimono...I bought for no reason. It was cheap though real silk for 500 yen.

(Harajuku Chicago. Obi for $20)

The last things I had to buy was koshi-himo and obi-ita. Koshi-homo is the robe you need to keep your yukata on your body. It is just a piece of cloth. The obi-ita is used to help keep the shape of the obi everytime you sit down in stuff. It is just a board with a pocket in it to keep your wallet. You can buy this anywhere.

(Ai-Kimono-kan. koshi-himo for $3. Obi-ita for $14)

I haven't tried on the Yukata yet with the obi. I simply, don't have enough time to with finals coming up.

Below are a map of the places I went to in Kyoto. I'll translate them later.


I'm updating a lot because I'm procrastinating. I have a research paper I have to write but...this is more fun.

During golden week, I spent four days working on a video skit for speaking Japanese. My partner and I came up with the concept and a rough script but during the weekend of Golden Week we had to tape it. The deal was I would handle all the technological stuff and he would do majority of the acting. It was a good compromise. We didn't have to do a video skit but I can't act. So with a video skit I could mess up as many times as I wanted and string all the parts that I liked.

In our skit we had to use a lot of grammar points we had learned over the semester. We decided to make a parody of some sorts of a move called..."In to the woods" where the main character decides to run away to Alaska and live by himself away from society. My partner would be the depressed main character who is studying abroad in Japan. He complains to his roommate (played by me.) I listen to his ridiculous complains (I can't do Japanese grammar, a typhoon came to my house, my cat died, I'm hungry.) Really, I'm just apathetic and offer bad advice (if you cry, it will make you feel better.)

Later he is wandering around saying that he wants to run away and find himself. Kamisama (god) comes and tells him to go on a journey (what he wanted to do in the first place.) But he does the Japanese style of saying no by giving a series of reasons of why he can't (My teacher gives to much homework and I don't have a map.) Kamisama gets angry and tells him to listen to him.

Main character is scared into it but later gets into it. He throws away all his stuff and decides to give some things to his roommate like I heart Osaka Shirt (in kanji.) He packs for his journey. The last scene is when I'm going into the dorm but he is leaving. I'm confused because he says Sayonara when I said Konbanwa. So I try to convince him out of leaving with reasons like you might die or get eaten by a bear. He is unfazed and goes on. THE END.

Dumb story I know but I used all the grammar points in the script. The video turned out nice. It had narration and Japanese subtitles and translation under it. It is not perfect because I got sick of working on if after awhile. After the Golden Week Wakayama trip, this is pretty much what I did until I went to the Maid Cafe on the last day of Golden Week.

What did I learn:
I learned how to edit video using Roxio VideoWave.

You can add Japanese subtitles to any video using freeware Dixv Media Subtitler (assuming you already installed IME.) If you don't have Shift JIS keyboard (basically a Japanese computer or keyboard) Just remember to do this if you have a PC running Windows. Linux users have it 10x easier. MAC users sorry can't help you.
control panel>regional language and option>advanced> (unicode drop menu) japanese
Then you should be able to add Japanese subtitles

Video editing is a long and painful process. Learning to add subtitles was useful but annoying because I'm cheap and depend on freeware.

Friday, May 8, 2009

Engrish part 4

The fourth installment...enjoy!

This word was on my ototo's pants. My okaasan is an English teacher so I thought she would read the clothes first before buying them but apparently not.

(But he is only 8...)

I could not pass this up. Bikes in Japan have really funny names. My friend has a bike called 'Waffle.' Mine is 'Nanhok' whatever that is. So like going through the bike parking lot at Kansai Gaidai and I found this one...

(There is no way I can make this joke clean...)

I took this picture of my friend KP. During our trip in Arashiyama, we passed by a shop with an interesting combination of two letters.

(...sounds like something I would say about skrink wrap products)

Children's Day-kodomo no hi (子供の日)

This day was the last day of Golden Week. TOO SHORT. I don't understand why Golden Week ends on a freaking Thursday. After the Wakayama trip and before my trip today I spent that time at the computer editing my Speaking Japanese Video Skit. Which turned out nice. I still cringe when I hear my voice as the narrator. Anyways, for a once in a lifetime friends (three girls, two guys, all Asian-looking study abroad students) decided to go to a Maid Cafe. It was one of the most awkward things I have done in Japan.

Maid Cafe...basically a Japanese thing were women dressed in maid outfits and serve you. The atmosphere is very cutesy with cheesy high-pitched music and kawaii decorations and food. Some places they do a dance every time you order something or get on their knees to give you something. You are not allowed to take picture inside of the maid cafe except of the food. Maid cafes are not limited to cafes. They are also hair salons, bars, and body massage places were the women dress up as maids...I'm not kidding.

The place we went to was in the infamous Den-Den Town or Nipponbashi area of Osaka. It is the electronics, otaku, and porn section of the city. It was my second time in Den-Den town. We went to what looked like a bunny/maid themed cafe called Hand Maid Cafe. It is funny pun I think. While we walked up the stairs someone was already at the door waiting to lead us in. It was a girl in a yellow bunny maid outfit. Before going up the stairs we were all scared. I was brave and went in first...I don't even know why I did that because in the group I was the second lowest Japanese class level in the group. Everyone else could read and speak Mandarin and Cantonese and were level 3-5. I didn't learn keigo yet so I did not comprehend a word the woman said. It was half mumble and keigo. A horrid combination. Eventually, we figured out that there is 5oo yen for a 2 hour duration fee for everyone and that we have to order something once we are inside.

One inside, we could see that the cafe was a forest theme. We each got a trading card of the maids as a souvenir I guess. At the time we had not idea what we had to do with the card. My girls friend and I were the only female customers in the entire cafe. Everyone else was a man sitting by themselves. The menu was this photo album looking thing full of cutesy designed food items (full of hearts and bunnies) with childish sounding names...all over priced. It took us awhile to decide what we wanted to order.

To order we had to shake a carrot with a bell on it. I ordered something called 'furu furu kakurenbo'...which was basically a strawberry sundae for 900 yen. Once inside was all spoke in English because we knew that no one would understand us. We all felt a bit confused and awkward inside. The men inside the cafe we more interesting than the maids. They were sad looking men sitting by themselves and would ring the bell in order to talk to the maids. One instance, we saw one man hand over cards to a maid and she would glance at them and look interested.

In the cafe we discussed what kind of place a maid cafe is. Interestingly enough, I learned about maid cafes through a class presentation which was extremely well done. The female Japanese student pretended to be a maid with the voice and actions. Unfortunately, the presentation seem to approve of the cafes and seem to even promote it. I can't help but have a gut feeling about how wrong the concept is. Someone in the class equivocated to Hooters in the US (another thing I don't necessary like.) The words repressed sexuality, desperation of human interaction, and female exploitation kept running through my head.

It is hard to believe that Japan is a sexually repressed country because of all the porn I can see through the windows of konbinis, and half naked women adds passing through den-den town. As for human interaction, people in Japanese always seem to be on their cellphone emailing people. Female exploitation seems to be a natural part of Japanese culture. Once you study about business culture in Japan you'll understand why. Women in Japan are expected to quit their jobs and devote 100% of their effort marriage, keeping a household, and having children. The majority of the burden is on the women...even to this day. Japan also has a sucky record for women's rights too.

So I was having a lot of conflicting feelings in the Maid Cafe. One guy friend was clearly uncomfortable in there. We tried to explain to him the concept of moe which is an integral part of maid cafes. I'm not sure if there is even a proper explanation available for this concept. Moe is cute...sickly cute. Kind of a overtly, stereotypical image of innocent, cute, and feminine girl. Digi Charat is Moe. see this concept all the time in anime and manga when the main character is a beautiful klutz who needs help all the time. Some kind of vulnerability that I think is underlying sexually appealing to men.

Not everyone like moe. Not every Japanese person knows about maid cafes and otaku culture too. This was a memborable experience and I'm happy to have done this in a group instead of by myself. I'm still trying to figure out maid cafes but I think its impossible.

Some things I was allowed to take. Left was the coast, middle-left is the receipt (I only spent 1400 yen,) middle-right is the bussiness card, and right is the trading card.

Greenery Day - midori no hi (緑の日)

My friends had a lot of cool plans for Golden Week. A lot went to Tokyo, some just stayed in the area and did day trips to Nara, Ise, Himeji, Kyoto, Osaka, and Hiroshima. People had so many plans but I decided to hang out with my host family. The original plan was to go to Mie ken which is close to Osaka and famous for ninjas. They even had a ninja training castle were you get to learn how to throw knifes, shurikens, shoot arrows, and climb walls. It sounded very awesome but at the last minute my ototo changed his mind. We went to Adventure Park in Shirahama, Wakayama Ken instead.

I saw commercials for this place all the time on TV. I thought it was just an amusement park. Anyways, since Adventure Park was a ways away from Osaka we had to wake up early and drive 4 hours. So it was my okaasan, otousan, ototo, obaachan and I. I passed out at sleep for the majority of the trip. I remember that there was a lot of traffic as we got close.

Honestly, my ototo is an eight year old and I don't know how to interact with him sometimes. There is also a slight language barrier since he speaks full kansai ben. But he is a funny and sweet kid so anyways on the ride he kept falling asleep for me. Later he was sprawled asleep all over the back seat with his feet over my legs. It was really cute. I was also doing my kanji review sheet so once in awhile he would do some kind of reflex and kick me or the paper.

So we finally got to Adventure Park and my word it was truly crowded. So many families...
We had to drive to the second parking lot in order to get in. So guessing from the ticket and statues I guess that it is famous for twin pandas.

This is the first thing you see after walking through the entrance. The buildings on the sides are insanely huge o miyage shops (souvenirs.)

The first thing my ototo wanted to do was do a safari tour.

We rode this train through a 30min path and saw a lot of animals like lions, elephants, giraffes and etc. It would be more awesome if it was more like Jurrasic Park.

After this, the trip when downhill, my ototo became really feverish and sick. Eventually, he had to go to the hospital. So I ended up wandering Adventure Park by myself. I was a bit lonely but I somehow managed to pass the time.

I ate lunch and watch a 15min dolphin show. Not so much fun when you are by yourself. I really enjoyed the view of the stage because in the picture on the left is the ocean and on the right is the airport.

Adventure park turned out to be a zoo/amusement park. Actually, I don't particularly like animals. I have only been in the zoo only once in my life. Here are some random photos took. I didn't ride anything but the safari zoo because every ride had a long wait and it is really boring to go by yourself.

My host family eventually picked me up and we stayed the night at a ryoushin/Japanese style inn. I thought it was quite nice. I forgot to take a picture of the room. My ototo was still very sick and slept the entire time. His parents were very worried and it was kind of sad to see him like that because he is really a super, energetic kid.

While he was asleep, I got to spent some nice time with okaasan and obachan. Obachan is hard of hearing but is a adorably sweet woman. I could talk to her pretty well with okaasan translating random words and concepts that I didn't know how to say in Japanese.

Later that evening, we went to a cape called senjojiki not to far from our inn. It was so funny. My okaasan asked for directions. Once we got outside she asked me if I was good with directions. I said no. My okaasan said she wasn't either. My obaachan said not at all. It seemed pretty hopeless but we saw a sign pointing towards the cape. I forgot my camera at the inn. I'm really mad at myself. It was a beautiful view. The cape was a descending bed rock. A natural wonder. The surface was smooth and beautiful to look at but the sad thing is that many people have written their names in the rock.

Afterwards, we had so-so dinner at the inn, ofuro, then sleep. We left early the next morning because my ototo was not getting any better. Again I passed out asleep in the car. My otousan was pretty much speeding the entire way because we were going a hospital first then he was going to drop me off at home.

That was my first two days of Golden Week. My ototo spent the entire Golden Week passed out sick and asleep. He is now better by the way.