Sunday, July 30, 2006

Japan: Fast Forward

Alright, well, I obviously don't have as much time as I would like, so I thought I'd give a quick update as to where I stand right now before I resume back to telling my tales of the past. I'm currently in 富山県高岡市 (Toyama Prefecture, Takaoka City) working at CDL (Color Designtec Laboratory). I've been here for roughly a month now. It's definitely been interesting as of yet. Some of you may know this, but I quite dislike the president of the company and his methods. Every day I have to stay late and he yells at me every day (typical Japanese Shachou). There will probably be a more detailed explanation of my work here, but if you'd like, I made a small video tour of my apartment (which is actually pretty nice) here in Takaoka. I live by myself three doors down from my coworker.

Download the Tour Here

Wednesday, July 12, 2006

Japan: Hoomusutei


Classes as normal today, but we had another relatively short day. After classes (Business and Technical Japanese) I met up with Mana-chan at the Kokusai Center. A few of us then went and met up with my host sister のりこ (Nori-ko). Unfortunately, the table they had gotten was too small for all of us, so Sara, Andy, Sandy, and Mana went upstairs while I stayed downstairs to eat with my のりこ (Nori-ko) and her friends. After lunch I went upstairs to meet up with the rest of the group. We all then got some help with our Japanese homework (still feels like cheating) from Mana-san, 大介さん (Daisuke-san). After lunch, we went to オアシス (Oasis) to get some アイス (ice cream). Mine was really good; it had almost a peanut-butter tasting outside and mochi inside.

After that we headed back to the Seminar House to pack, except I wasn't going to meet my host sister until 7pm at 六本松駅 (Ropponmatsu station) whereas everyone else was supposed to meet their hosts at 4pm. I had some time to kill and I was tired so I ended up taking a short nap, then packed and departed for the station. I met with のりこ (Nori-ko) and we proceeded to take two trains and a bus to meet her mother, who then drove us to their home (after stopping a few times with the lights off to see the 蛍 [fireflies], of which there were a lot since we were now in the ルラル [rural] area).

I felt like such a foreigner entering that house. I enter and I try to make my introduction at the entrance hall, but the father says not yet; wait until we get inside. I take off my shoes and try to make them clean like 増田先生 (Masuda-sensei) had shown us in class earlier that day and then they give me slippers to wear (only a bit too small). I walk to the living room and enter with the shoes on (idiot) and they ask me to take off the slippers before entering that area. The TV is on and のりこ (Nori-ko)'s family has already started eating. They point me to a couch and ask me to "relax." That's when I make my introduction (which I'm pretty sure I screwed up somewhere). I give them the present I brought from America (I think it was a good choice from their reaction) and then we proceed to go to the kitchen. The father pours me some お酒 (sake) at the suggestion of のりこ (Nori-ko). Dinner was delicious and interesting keeping up with the conversations. I had 刺身 (sashimi), rice, some muscles, an interesting potato dish, and salad.

After dinner they request me to relax again in the living room while のりこ (Nori-ko) helps her mother with the dishes. They show me the bath and how to use it and I take a quick shower. After that I have as best a conversation as I could with her father and brothers. Everyone keeps telling me my Japanese is good, so I'll take that as a good sign. I show them a few of my gadgets (including my laptop that I got out so I could write this entry down). After that it's time for bed and I come into the room I'm in right now and write this entry up.

The house itself is a traditional Japanese-style house. I'm lying on a futon on the tatami-covered floor (tatami floors are awesome). The family is apparently Buddhist and they have a small altar. They also have two pianos and a few game systems. They have both a urinal and a western-style toilet (yay!) in seperate rooms in the bathroom. There are traditional sliding doors everywhere. The bath consists of a tub with water already in it and moveable shower head with a drain in the floor.

Japan: That's totally Week dude!


This day after class, a bunch of us went to check out the shrine and park nearby the Seminar House, 護国神社 (Gokoku Jinja). We didn't go inside the shrine, but we took pictures of it. After the shrine we walked a little ways till we found a swamp and a turtle. We then proceeded to go through the park.

The park was huge! We kept following it and going up and up, but it kept going for a long ways. I tried to get a few pretty pictures (like the sun through the trees), but it didn't work very well. Along the way, we encountered a bunch of girls playing tennis. The most interesting thing was that they were yelling things the entire time. Stuff like ファイト!(Fight!) and がんばれ!(I'll try my best!). A video can be seen here (note the video requires the Xvid codec to see; if you can't get it to work, try for a player that should work; if you have Quicktime or something trying to open it in the browser, try right clicking it and clicking "Save Target As..." for Internet Explorer and "Save Link As..." for Firefox). In any case we finally reached the top and we took some pictures up until sunset. Very pretty. Pretty pretty pretty.


After class today, Nacky-sensei took us to Karaoke! Very interesting experience, in my opinion. Maybe 16 people crammed into a "Karaoke Box" singing our hearts out. I sang "Wonderwall" by Oasis with Mana-san and Sara and I tried to sing "空耳ケーキ(Sora Mimi Cake)" from Azumanga Daioh... Tried... Very fun. A video of Emiko-chan and Mana-chan singing along with a quick pan over the room can be seen by clicking here.


This was a short day of classes followed by a trip to... the Asahi Beer Company! The faculty apparently brings all of the students for a tour at the Asahi Beer Company. The tour was definitely interesting. Apparently they recycle everything (the tourguide's uniform was made of recycled PET bottles). Then after the tour, we had 飲み放題 (all you can drink) for 20 minutes followed by 食べ放題 (all you can eat) 焼肉 (yakiniku). What they didn't tell us was that the all-you-can-eat part also included all-you-can-drink so Sara attempted (and succeeded) to down 4 beers in those 20 minutes. At the yakiniku place, in the bathroom, a "special toilet" was found (see picture below). The sign above the toilet says "If you are feeling bad, please use this." Very amusing. Needless to say, everyone was pretty happy after that experience.


Went back to Canal City again (with Gretchen and Sara) and actually bought some stuff at the Ghibli store (see picture below for a $900 Totoro plush). Took some more Engrish pictures (Special Plice!!!) and when we were walking by the fountain, the little fountain show was going off so we watched that (to "Be Our Guest" from Beauty and the Beast). We ate at a yakisoba joint in the basement. Along the way we saw the most ridiculous dessert for 780 yen (maybe about $7.50). It was like 7 desserts in one. Fruit cocktail covered with some other desert with an ice cream cone stuck in it, a bunch of fruit on top, some whipped cream, and a cherry to top it all off. After dinner, Sara and I rushed back only to find ourselves back in Tenjin right next to where we just were to listen to 大輔 (Daisuke) at the International Bar. Daisuke has a great voice and sings English songs primarily (very well). A video of him singing can be found here. That about sums it up for this week. Next comes my home-stay experience.

Sunday, July 09, 2006

Japan: Otanjoubi omedetou!


Happy Birthday to me... Woke up early this day to leave Nagasaki after taking in some of the sights around it (What!? Only 2 days, 1 night in Nagasaki? Yep!) The first place we went on this rather gloomy, beautiful day was the Nagasaki Peace Park, built after a certain incident I'm sure we all know about. The statue, shone below in a group picture, is pointing up to represent the bomb and the other hand, if I recall correctly, represents peace. The park was really pretty (man, I use that adjective a lot describing Japan). Another picture shown below shows a structure with 1000 origami cranes in it. All around the park was several structures all representing peace. There was also a beautiful fountain that, if you stand at a designated spot, frames the statue in the background perfectly.

After the Peace Park, we went to the Atomic Bomb Museum. The effect of the museum on my was about the same as when I went to the Museum of American War Atrocities in Vietnam. You read about things in textbooks, but the impact never quite hits you as much as when you are confronted by the subsequent consequences.

We had lunch near the Chinese restaurant (many students complained about having to eat after going to the Atomic Bomb Museum). Most of the times they provide us with lunch, it's traditional Japanese food and tends to be hit or miss. This one was more of a miss. Most of us rushed through lunch and checked out the shopping around the area. I found another Ghibli store with a HUGE cat-bus that I had to take a picture with.

After that we headed to the Confucious shrine. There are tons of status all over the shrine, each with a unique pose and facial expression. This place is the only Confucious shrine built outside of China by the Chinese for the Chinese. The place was... well, it was pretty...

We then went to the Culture and History Museum, which was not terribly exciting, but was nice nonetheless. The picture below is an old school Japanese-style toilet (with a sign that asks to please not use the toilet.

We got back from Nagasaki and ate okonomiyaki again to celebrate my birthday! At our favorite Sakura restaurant. This time we brought another group of people and racked up the points on our frequent visit card to try and get a free okonomiyaki. Also had their yakisoba, which, while good, just didn't compare to the okonomiyaki.

Japan: NAGASAKI!!!!


So this weekend we went to 長崎 (Nagasaki). We woke up early as usual, met in the lobby of the Seminar House, then walked down to the coach bus, which took us to Nagasaki. The bus trip takes about 2 hours to get there, however, we stopped at a few places along the way. The first place we stopped at was in Saga and called 佐賀城本 (Sagajou Honmaru - Saga Castle).

Sagajou was very pretty. It was like this pristine example of traditional Japanese housing. Albeit, quite a lot bigger than normal. The first part if it was like a museum where they showed various places. Hmm... I guess there's not too much else to say about it. The pictures below are just random shots of the place.

The next place we went to was this awesome shrine that was shoved into the side of a mountain. The name of it is 神社 (Yutoku Jinja). This particular jinja had stairs going up for a good ways to see the shrines and such.

After a good bus ride, we finally arrived at the Dejima Historical Island. This place was apparantly an artificial island created by the Dutch maybe? All of the residences had an interesting mix of Japanese and Western culture. Dejima was right next to our hotel so it was only a quick bus ride to Tredia Hotel where I would get my own room to myself! With a private bathroom and shower!

After resting for a bit in the hotel, we went to a Chinese restaurant (the picture below was what I thought to be a very stereotypical Asian picture on the way to the restaurant). I guess the food was pretty good, but it was kind of odd and not typically Chinese food (for instance, there was no rice...) I started playing with the features of my camera this day, which is why some pictures have the kind of Sin City effect where one color is accentuated and everything else is black and white. After dinner, a few of us went wandering around Nagasaki with Nacky-sensei and Matsushima-sensei. In one of the stores we saw this Godzilla made out of meat that looked pretty cool so pretty much everyone took a picture of it.