Sunday, August 27, 2006

Japan: Another Day, Another Week


Not altogether too much today. Classes as normal. After class, Sara, Andy, Nori-ko, her friend, and I went to Karaoke! They say many Anime songs such as the theme from となりのトトロ (My Neighbor Totoro) and 天使のテーゼ (the theme to Neon Genesis Evangelion). Sara and I actually knew that song, so we took it upon ourselves to try and learn it. After about an hour, Nori-ko and her friend had to go to class/work, but Mana-san came to join in the fun! She had a specific request to hear the American song Take Me Out by Franz Ferdinand. We also started the fun game of translating American songs to Japanese on the fun. Karaoke really is a good way to practice Japanese...

Japan fact of the day: Karaoke prices vary widely based on the day, time, and location. In Fukuoka, we always went to a place with a special deal of 2 hours and a drink for 400円 (about $3.75). Later we would experience such prices as 1000円 for 1 hour with a required drink purchase.

After Karaoke, Mana-san joined us for some good times at our favorite お好み焼き (Okonomiyaki) restaurant. Yum! Random picture-taking ensues. At the restaurant, we spend some time trying to translate American jokes ("Who's on first?") and pick-up lines ("Your legs must be tired because you've been running through my mind all day") for Mana-san. After dinner, we grab some ice cream at the local コンビニ (convenience store) and sit and chat for a while in the lobby of the Seminar House. We had fun talking of pirates and ninjas.


Classes as usual. After class, I assisted Sara in interviewing some Fukuoka University students for our class assignment (she was surveying Japanese movie-watching patterns). I find it fun to randomly approach strangers and try to talk to them in Japanese. Sara... not so much so. She needed moral support. I saw a guy wearing an "East Side Story" shirt that I thought was amusing, but he was too far away so the picture I took is kinda shaky...


Today we got to end classes a little early for some more field trips. The first was to a 着物 (Kimono) factory. We got to see the room where they make the Kimonos (very noisy process). It reminded me of my dad's taylor shop. After the small tour, they led us up to the "gift shop" where we could buy discounted merchandise. I got a really nice tie for pretty cheap there. We also got as souvenirs some nice business card holders.

Japan fact of the day: Business cards are very important to the Japanese. There is a whole procedure and protocol to follow when giving/receiving business cards. We went through it in class, but there's something to be said about having to do it on your own in an actual business setting.

After the Kimono factory, we went to the Nissan factory. The first room we were in had a a bunch of nice cars on display. They also had some nice PR-type stuff that was interesting. The actual tour was interesting. We got to see the different steps on the assembly line. I think the work would be pretty tedious for the workers (they do the exact same thing everytime for every single car). In addition, we saw the testers of the cars after they were complete. It was interesting to see cars with the steering wheel on the left side after being in Japan for a month. I wonder if they find it weird to drive like that (to test them).

After the tours, we came back and while working on homework, Andy came in and said there was a nice picture moment with the sunset outside. So I got some pictures of the sunset.

Saturday, August 26, 2006



Woke up decently early, packed up everything to get ready to leave and talked to my host father a bit (got the family's contact information so I can keep in touch). Had another delicious breakfast (I could get used to that) and then we were off to the train station. We took the train to the city where the Kendo exhibition was and walked to the high school. The gym was kinda stuffy and there were tons of people there.

After the "opening ceremony," the teams split up and there were about 8 matches going on at once. I didn't quite get the rules for it, but it was interesting to watch. After watching it for a while though, it did get a little... less interesting. You can check out a video of my host brother in action Here. Apparently we got to a point where my host brother lost though, so we decided to leave and grab some lunch.

Earlier they'd asked me what my favorite Japanese food was, so I'd told them お好み焼き (okonomiyaki). So that's what we had for lunch. We had the two different styles of okonomiyaki and it was very good. This was my last meal with my host family, so I said all the phrases I was taught to say (basically translating to thank you for taking care of me these three days, even though you were busy). They really were quite good to me and I really enjoyed my homestay experience. I also felt afterwards that my Japanese had improved immensely, haven't spoken mainly Japanese the entire weekend.

After lunch, I bid my homestay family adieu (well, I guess sayonara), except then のりこ (Nori-ko) and I went to see ダヴィンチコード (The Da Vinci Code). We'll pause for a moment to bring you the Japan Fact-of-the-Day-I-Post-a-Blog-Entry! Movie theatres in Japan are extremely expensive! In Fukuoka I paid 1500円 (roughly $13 or so) per ticket for a student discounted ticket. A normal ticket would've cost me 1800円 (maybe $15-$16). Even here in 高岡 (Takaoka), I pay 1200円 (probably about $10.50) for a discounted ticket.

In any case, the movie was alright, but I'd read the book and found faults with it too, so of course the movie would have the same faults. It was interesting to watch a movie in English with Japanese subtitles. Nori-ko said she thought the movie was interesting, but a little hard to follow. After the movie, she escorted me to my train stop and I walked back to the Seminar House.

Seems like I was the first back of the group, but when people started coming in, everyone was abuzz with their experiences. We all swapped experiences, then some of us went to KFC to have a nice "American" dinner. The KFC was a welcome change from all Japanese food, but it was kinda expensive.

Japan: Back on track with my Home Stay experience


I woke up early today (about 6am) to the sounds of voices in the kitchen. I guess the walls are literally paper-thin. なつのりさん (Natsunori-san, Nori-ko's brother) had to get up early to head to Tenjin for 剣道 (kendo) practice. I fall asleep again a few times until のりこ (Nori-ko) wakes me up for breakfast. Breakfast is quite a feast, with an egg (sunny-side up), my choice of パン (bread), rice, and 味噌 (miso) soup. After breakfast, we head out by van to 秋月 (Akizuki).

On the way to 秋月 (Akizuki), we stop by 眼鏡橋 (Megane-bashi), which is one of two of these types of bridges in Japan (one here and one in Nagasaki). The bridge type was taught to the Japanese by Dutchmen, according to my host family, and many movie stars come by to see the bridge. A picture of my host family and me on the bridge is shown below. When we reach 秋月 (Akizuki), we walk down this beautiful path with 桜 (cherry blossom) lining the path. Apparently during the Fall and Spring many people from all over come to this place for the cherry blossom festival. We walk down the path to a museum where のりこ (Nori-ko) apparently knows the person working there so we get 4 people in for the price of 2. The museum is very beautiful and has a lot of interesting historical items.

The path down 秋月 (Akizuki) essentially follows that of the moat of an ancient castle that no longer remains. Part of the castle has been replaced by a middle school, which is where たかちゃん (Taka-chan, Nori-ko's youngest brother) goes to school. We wandered around for a bit and I took some good pictures, then we took off in the car to grab some lunch. For lunch, I had a very good カレーうどん (curry udon) that was quite spicy.

After lunch, we visited a huge dam that was very pretty. Then we took off on a scenic car ride up a mountain to check out a famous district where they sell lots of different types of pottery. The merchandise I saw was all really quite nice, but very expensive. A picture of one of the stores is shown below. Apparently, my host father had some business at one of the stores too, so we went there and they discussed business while the rest of us had some good tea and snacks (picture shown below). My host family then proceeded to buy me two very nice 酒 (sake) cups as a souvenir. I hope I can get them home without them breaking.

After that, we were riding in the car on the way back to the house and they asked me what type of things I wanted to do in Japan. There were a few things that I'd heard of so I told them and they found it interesting. Some items on my list: eat 鯛焼 (taiyaki - a fish-shaped pastry filled with bean jam), go to a 祭 (matsuri - a Japanese festival), go to an 温泉 (onsen - a Japanese spa/hot spring). I also mentioned that I'd never played パチンコ (Pachinko) before, because we kept passing all these parlors.

We got to their house and my host mother and のりこ (Nori-ko) took a rest. My host father turns to me and says he's going to take me to a Pachinko parlor... I figured it'd be an interesting experience, so I went. We get to the parlor and the whole place is excruciatingly noisy. All the aisles of Pachinko machines are filled with tons of people smoking and it hurt my head. We spend some time scounting some good machines (the machines have statistics above them that my host father was looking at), then eventually picked two Indiana Jones Pachinko machines sitting next to each other. My host father tries to explain to me how to play, but I can't hear him at all over the ruckus, so I kind of feel my way around. He then proceeds to put in 10,000円 (about $100) for the two of us (way too much money) and we play for about a half an hour losing it all. Then he proceeds to put in another 10,000円 against my wishes, and we play for about another half an hour. The game itself is like a harder version of slots... Needless to say, it was an interesting experience, but I don't think I'll ever go to another Pachinko parlor.

We then go straight to a Sushi restaurant where the rest of the family is waiting for a table and I proceed to have tons of delicious sushi (and some french fries...). The restaurant is one of the "round sushi" styles where the sushi chefs are in the middle of a conveyer belt system and they make sushi, put it on a plate and on the conveyer belt. You grab whatever sushi you want and dig in. You can also make requests (pictures below). This sushi restaurant had some of the most delicious sushi I've ever had, and it was so cheap. Each plate is 100円 (about $1), so even that huge stack of plates we had for the entire family was not terribly expensive (for sushi).

After dinner, we made plans to go to an onsen, but everyone was too tired so we settled for 蛍 (firefly) viewing. Close to the house is a small creek that is famous for firefly watching. We went there and the whole place was lit up with fireflies. It was very beautiful. The whole neighborhood seemed to be there too, everyone just walking around, being social and watching fireflies. Very peaceful.

Thus ended a very good day. The next day would be my last day with my host family and back to studying abroad.

Tuesday, August 01, 2006

Japan: Amusing Japanese TV

The first thing I see is a group of cheerleaders practicing (elementary-middle school age). Then they show the sport that they actually are cheerleading for.

Everyone starts in a line. There's a defense and an offense. The offense primarily has a bunch of nets and the defense has a bunch of huge Japanese traditional fans. A whistle blows and the offense runs to the other side while the defense takes strategic positions, one in front of a main offense player, we'll call the launcher, fanning his heart out. The launcher gets ready and throws his/her paper airplane over the defensive fanner; the launcher's teammate make a desperate effort to catch the airplane in their nets. If it falls, it's an Out (three outs and the round is over). If they succeed they get... a first down!

After the first down the positions are changed and the launcher has to throw a shorter distance (seems harder). Naturally, after the second and third downs, there's a Touchdown!

Very amusing to watch. They showed a coach talking to his team:

Coach: "Kami kami wa?" (Paper God is?)
Boy: "Omoshiroi!" (Interesting!)
Everyone laughs
Coach: "Iie, chigaimasu" (No... no... that's not right)
Coach: "Kami kami wa?" (Paper God is?!")
Everyone: "On our side!"

I actually got a video of it with my digital camera! Click Here to grab a video of this amazing sport!