Sunday, July 19, 2009

日本, さよなら

This is not going to be a full blog post. While I could describe my last few days here in Japan and post some pictures, that will have to wait until I'm back in America.

I am just here to say goodbye. Goodbye to this wonderful, confusing, busy, cultured, ancient, kind nation that has been my home for over ten months now. Tokyo has become home to me just as much as Los Alamos or Galesburg. And my host family has become real family to me.

I have cried and will cry again before leaving, but as my program's resident director Watt-sensei said "I hope you too shed a tear or two before you leave. That's one kind of evidence that real contact was made".

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Blogging as a form of procrastination.

It is finally that time. That horrible time when schools decide that they actually have to make sure we learned something. That's right: finals. It may be mid-July, but I'm in the midst of finals. Monday I had my final sociolinguistics paper due, today was my final group presentation in Japanese, tomorrow is my media studies exam, and Thursday is Ainu. Basically, yuck.

What does this mean for you? I'm blogging because I'm tired of looking at old powerpoints from the media studies lectures.

I will go back to Wednesday of last week. Despite a very bad morning, I decided to go to class and go through with plans I had previously made. It was a good means of distraction. Besides I didn't want to hurt the feelings of Mami's parents. They had reserved a really nice restaurant for dinner. This place had these little private parlors with a traditional set up (tatami, table with a pit under it so you sat at floor level) and a view of the garden. You can sort of see our view in the above picture. This dinner was meant as a farewell for myself and Jeremy (he leaves Japan at the end of the month).

The only way to get Su-chan to be quiet and to sit still at this fancy restaurant was to bring the PSP loaded with Anpanman episodes with us. Looks pretty cool in those headphones doesn't he?

Here is my main dish (there were several other courses, but this was the only one I remembered to get a picture of). This is the BEST STEAK I have EVER had. Seriously. Interestingly, they gave us forks and steak knives (even though the steak was already cut). I actually didn't notice until after I'd finished eating. I've gotten too used to eating everything with chopsticks I guess :P

Here is a picture of Jeremy and Mami's father (Jeremy is Mami's parents' host student if you don't remember). I was going to get a photo of the whole group, but my camera's batteries crapped out on me.

The best part of the evening came after dinner when the restaurant turned off all the lights so we could see the fireflies. It was so wonderful just to sit in the dark and watch them. Very peaceful. Except for the loud laughter of some rather inebriated men in a room nearby. Sadly, that was probably the last time I'll see Mami's parents before I leave. They are wonderful people.

So this picture gets lots of explanation. Last Saturday I went to Hakone, a place about an hour outside of Tokyo that is well known for it's onsen (hot springs). I went to what I like to call a hot spring amusement park with some friends (many of the same people that were are the Fourth of July beach party).

No pictures from inside as I didn't bring my camera and even if I had, would not have much to show for it since water + camera = dame desu (if you don't know what that means, I'm sure you can guess). There were a LOT of weird baths (chocolate, coffee, wine, sake, green tea, etc.). The weirdest of all was this bath with fish in it that would eat the dead skin off your feet. It tickled SO BAD! But it worked rather well. There were also water slides and some more normal baths.

Now the picture is of a plushie I bought of the place's mascot. It's called a spakoneko (spa kitten) and I thought it was adorable so I bought one for myself.

Other than that, life has been rather boring and more than a little stressful. I've started to feel that I have too much to do and too little time. Seriously. On top of finals, I have to cancel my health insurance, cancel my cell phone, close my bank account, pack, go to little farewell get togethers so I can say goodbye to friends and family (host family that is).

Just as a warning: this may or may not be my last blog post from Japan. I can't guarantee I'll have time in the next six days to update again. However, I will be doing at least one wrap up post when I get home so it's not like I'm just going to end it here. Thought I'd warn you though.

Friday, July 10, 2009

Just a few pictures.

So I decided that I'd stick a few of the Fourth of July photos that Cat took on here just for those of you who aren't on Facebook. I'll post about my recent exploits (which include a wonderful dinner with Mami and her parents) sometime later when I'm feeling less down. As a few of you know, I recently had a tragedy occur in my life so my heart just isn't in the blogging at the moment.

First picture is me, Paula, Peter, and Rachel (Tackett--not the Rachel I usually talk about here, that Rachel is Rachel Leppert--strangely enough I know FOUR different Rachels here in Japan). Not sure what we were going for in this picture, but Peter decided we looked like a band of super heroes. I think Cat's going to be drawing a comic about us now...

Me looking perhaps a little too eager with the sparklers. I believe these are the ones we put on the USA birthday cake we made out of sand.

And nighttime. Here I am lighting some fireworks. The wind was crazy so lightinng stuff with a lighter was super difficult. What we'd do was light a sparkler and then use that (because it wouldn't blow out in the wind) to light the bigger fireworks. I feel some of our pyrotechnics were a bit abunai (a Japanese word meaning something like "dangerous") but we all came away safely.

Hope you enjoyed this small selection of photos...

Monday, July 6, 2009

Two weeks and counting.

I've been putting off blogging for two reasons this time:
1. I've actually been busy so I haven't had the time.
2. I've been lazy with my camera so don't have much in the way of photos to show you so I was waiting for other people to post some up on Facebook I could steal, but they are being too slow.

So here goes.

A week and a half ago on Friday, my host family left to go on vacation in Hawaii. I found it ironic that they went to America while I stayed in Japan especially with my homecoming so close. Because of their absence, I tried to fill up my time with stuff that got me out of the apartment which meant I was super social.

The day after they left, I went to Kate's house for a birthday party. We ate really yummy food, played with kittens, cats, and one dog, then lit a bunch of sparklers out in the street. Super fun.

Here's the group gathered for cake. Me, Kerry, Megan, Rachel, and Kate. Kerry and Megan left before we broke out the sparklers sadly.

This is the birthday cake! It says "otanjoubi omedetou Kate" That first part just means Happy Birthday. Japanese people seem to favor strawberry cakes for birthdays. Interesting.

This is one of the kittens investigating a bag of dried mango I'd bought earlier that day. I would have more kitten pictures, but once again I have two reasons that I don't: 1. kittens don't stop moving when you're playing with them so they're hard to get good pictures of and 2. I was far more interested in actually playing with them than snapping photos. This particular kitten is my favorite. They're rescue kittens and are all up for adoption so they don't actually have names. Kate calls him Marumaru and I called him puff ball though. It's sort of the same thing in the end ("marumaru" gives sort of a round image).

No more pictures from here on. Sorry. If I get my hands (digitally speaking) on some, I will do a picture post later on.

The day after Kate's party, my program had a farewell lunch gathering that included host families. Tomo and Hiro came (with Ryo-chan, of course) since my family was in Hawaii. If you don't remember, Tomo is Mami's younger sister, Hiro is Tomo's husband, and Ryo-chan is their baby (he's six months old now! He wasn't even born when I first got here!). That was nice though not terribly exciting. It's our last official gathering as a group, however. In reality, that was probably the last time I will have every seen some of them. I'm not exactly best buddies with everyone in the group.

Then the week of classes started. It could have been worse, but I'm really tired of class already. Thursday was cool though because my Japanese class went on a field trip. This time we went to a disaster training place (not sure what else to call it). We were taught how to correctly use a fire extinguisher, what to do in an earthquake, and how to escape a smoke filled building. All of these came with us actually doing these things (seriously they have an earth quake room that they make shake while you hide under the table). It was pretty cool.

After the field trip, Rachel and I had plans to go to Harajuku, but it was raining that day and so neither of us were actually terribly enthused. Rain sucks.

Friday I was incredibly productive in a boring way. I got a lot of pre-leaving Japan stuff done (my winter clothes have been safely shipped to Knox on a slow boat). Not much to tell really though I was excited to get all that stuff done. That evening I babysat and then the family I work for fed me dinner since they knew I was alone for the week. It was okonomiyaki which is a favorite of mine.

Saturday was the 4th of July. I missed Thanksgiving, Christmas was pretty lame, I was NOT going to miss out on having some fun on the 4th. A bunch of us went to Enoshima for a day at the beach. We were super lucky as the weather was warm and surprisingly clear. I swam, ate hamburgers, then when it got dark we lit sparklers and set off some fireworks! It was so much fun! I hope I can get some pictures from that day at least to show you.

Yesterday (Sunday) I went shopping in Shibuya with Cat and....Connie! Los Alamos Connie! Connie that I hadn't seen since graduation! She's in Japan for an internship so we met up to hang in Shibuya. Cat knew a little shop with really cute (and really cheap) dresses that were nice enough for us to wear to the SILS closing ceremony. We ate at Mos Burger and just had a good time hanging out.

And that's about it. My host family got home around 7PM last night so I'm no longer home alone. Only two more weeks here in Japan.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

There's always something missing...

So my friend Rachel posted something similar in her blog, and I thought it would be kind of interesting for me to do the same since I have very little news of my doings to put up here (I do have a little news, that will come later).

Things in America I miss the most (in no particular order):
1. my cat actually pets in general but especially Quillo
2. anything involving green chile
3. being able to read signs, magazines, newspapers, books, etc. Believe me, there is something very frustrating about being pretty much illiterate
4. being able to invite people over. While it happens sometimes, it is a much bigger deal here. I could never invite a friend over without permission from the host family and advance warning.
5. my books, oh how I miss them
6. dry air (currently this is at the top of my list--I miss people yes, but sorry, right now you rate after dry weather, this damn humidity is making me melt)
7. not feeling like an idiot every time I open my mouth. No matter how much my Japanese improves, I still manage to feel stupid most of the time when I converse.
8. real classes. I never thought I would miss all the homework and papers and tests but seriously SILS classes are such a joke that showing up is painful (especially when it's so hot and humid! What is with class in the summer?)
9. The ability to hang with friends and have fun without spending lots and lots of money.
10. Hugs. Su-chan will hug me but he squirms.
11. Being inconspicuous. Being an obvious racial minority is very interesting but it gets old fast when people stare at you all day long.
12. Small school. I definitely know that I made the right choice in choosing a small school.
13. Not having to go to a doctor every time I have a cold.
14. Understanding what garbage goes where. Obviously I've gotten the usual moeru/moenai/pet bottles/cans set-up down, but you should see the garbage room at my apartment building. They separate out EVERYTHING and all the signs are in kanji. Mostly I make an educated guess and hope for the best.
15. The ability to call people. Not just people that I'm away from, but people in the same area as me. I miss being able to call and hash out plans because that take two minutes whereas by text it takes half an hour.
16. A room I can spend time in. My room here is tiny. There is a bed and now a desk and the world's smallest closet. All crammed together. I can't spend much time in there comfortably.
17. Big sky. There's too much in the way here.
18. Stars.
19. Quiet. There's an izakaya across the street so even late at night we get to here drunken business men.
20. Sleeping in. Having a 2-year-old in the house means that if I sleep past 8, it's a miracle.
21. No curfew. I'm not much a one for staying out all night but it's very annoying to be out having fun with your friends and realize that it's 11:30 so you have to go so you don't miss you last train. It's either be home by midnight or be out all night. Not very flexible.
22. American washers and dryers. My host family's washer is puny as in five days of clothes is a good sized load. Yet it takes five hours to do one load of wash.
23. A five minute commute. Sure my commute is comparatively short (about 30min where as many people have times that are an hour or more), but still, that's much longer than five minutes.
24. People. Obviously I miss my parents and friends and everyone back home. You guys are sort of a given.

Things I will miss about Japan (in no particular order):
1. My host family (this one is rightfully at the top). Mami is wonderful, Su-chan has stolen my heart, and even Goro has grown on me (especially after we had a conversation about Gyakuten Saiban which is the Japanese name for Phoenix Wright).
2. vending machines. Yes, they exist in America, but unless you've been to Japan, you just don't understand.
3. Sasodango. Mmmmmmm...delicious. The first thing I ever ate at my host family's and an eternal favorite of mine.
4. Public transportation. Ah Tokyo and its wonderful subways and trains. I have become so spoiled.
5. Interesting places to go. Harajuku, Shinjuku, Shibuya, Baba, Ueno, etc. Los Alamos and Galesburg just can't compare.
6. Potato stick thingies. Addictive. They're like a hybrid between french fries and potato chips.
7. Steam cakes. Amazing. Seriously yummy.
8. Onigiri. Oh no, I'm on a food kick... I guess I could make my own onigiri but they won't be the same.
9. Japanese curry. I am going on a curry quest when I get back to find Japanese curry tablet thingies.
10. Tea. Okay, let me explain since it's not like I never drink tea in the States. The varieties of tea you can buy from a bottle here are staggering. Jasmine is my favorite.
11. Weird fashion. I love that people actually go out in public dressed like total goths or lolitas. I always get a kick out of it.
12. Male fashion. The guys back in America are going to look soooo slobby to me! Seriously, what's wrong with wearing clothes that fit and look attractive. Nothing. Japanese guys, in general, understand this.
13. Hyakuen shops. You know how in American dollar stores, very few things are actually a dollar and most of the stuff is total crap? Well, hyakuen stores are not like that at all. I have gotten some very useful things at them including stationary, decals for my phone, a mirror, and a cute fan that I can use when I'm in one of the crappily air-conditioned classrooms at Waseda.
14. Politeness. People here are so polite. They will apologize to complete strangers for accidently stepping on their toes. They will ask if you need help if you wind up staring confusedly at a train route map that is entirely in kanji. Very nice.
15. Crepes. This country has an obsession with that particular french food. Also, kebabs. I put them in the same place because every time I go to Harajuku I think "crepe or kebab?" and wind up getting one of each. I'm such a pig.
16. Purikura! Must do it again before I leave...
17. Engrish. To quote Rachel's panda shirt "Laughing got tired" There's more but I don't remember...
18. Learning a language. It's been awesome to see my progress especially because Japanese is kind of ridiculously hard.
19. My keitai. Despite the fact that I can't understand how to use about 95% of my phone's features, I still love it. And I love texting in Japanese even though it takes me forever. And texting in general. I am an addict.
20. Being able to throw Japanese words into my sentences and be understood. There are few people to whom I can say things like "You are super genki today."
21. Onsen. So relaxing. And the one Mami and I go to near her parents is only about 700 yen. Try finding a hot spring that cheap in the US.

There is more, much more, for both lists, but those are the ones that were jumping in my brain today.
---
News! It's been a while. Not much to report though. Last Saturday was nice weather so my host mom rented a car and drove us all (herself, Su, Goro, and me) to a beach where we played and I swam (YES!). Below we have Su-chan and Goro intent upon their sand tunneling project.

Sunday I was babysitting Su-chan because Mami had a wedding to go to. Not much to report there. We watched Cars twice. That kid loves that movie even though it's in English so I'm not sure he cares about the story he just likes the akai bubu (red car in kid's speak).

Yesterday was pretty awesome. Rachel and I had a lady date. We did dinner and a movie. Dinner was Saizeriya (cheap and they had a drink bar so I had like three glasses of melon soda. Melon soda should be on that list of things I'll miss about Japan...) the movie was Star Trek. Which was AWESOME! Completely worth the exorbitant amount of money we had to pay to see it (1500 yen--about $15--and that's with a 300 yen discount because we're university students). Yeah, American movie ticket prices don't seem quite so bad anymore do they?

Tomorrow my host family leave for their Hawaii vacation which is a bit sad. I plan to use their time away to do some serious preparation for going home. Maybe get the non-necessaries packed up, etc. That way I won't be making a mess while they're around.

That's about all there is to report at the current moment though...

Thursday, June 18, 2009

The blogging gets harder as time goes on...

I have become a terrible blogger. I totally apologize. In my defense, very little of interest is going on, however, that doesn't excuse me from taking so long to blog about the retreat. There's not a lot to tell, but it's something.

Anyway, last weekend was the ACM/GLCA retreat which took place at the same place where we had our last one back in November. There were less people this time though since a few people left after the first semester and several people just didn't come on the retreat. It was a lot of fun though. The weather was better this time so I actually ventured outside and went to the lake with a bunch of people.

While at the lake, we saw a swan that swam really close to shore where we were wandering about. Lydia chased some minnows and a bunch of us went wading. Cory, who is a photography junkie, brought his camera and kept taking photos of us. At one point we decided to take advantage of this and did a picture of us all jumping. We forgot that we were backlit by the lake though but it was really okay since the silhouettes look pretty cool too.

Eventually some other people from our program made it to the lake. Ian and Yuchen decided to take a dip so they stripped down to their boxers and got in leaving their clothes on shore. This was too tempting for us. Rachel, Lydia, Briana, Kate, and myself stole their shirts and Yuchen's hat. Really that was way nice of us since we could have taken their pants and shoes. That would have been awkward for them. Yeah, we're pretty tame pranksters.

In order to show off our spoils, we draped Rachel in the shirts and stuck Yuchen's hat on her. We decided that she looks like Ashton Kutcher in that hat. It's the hair...

The evening was time for a group meeting. We had five Japanese students that will be going to American colleges in the fall with us so some of us did some skits illustrating the challenges of small liberal arts colleges to them. We covered stuff like room mates and drunk frat boys. Many Waseda students live in rooms to themselves and partying here is much different than in the States. Plus, classes will be hugely different. Waseda is a big university and they're all going to small colleges.

After the group meeting we had a party during which we taught the Japanese students an American drinking game called king's cup. After that was done we played a Japanese drinking game and another whose origin I don't remember... That's all I'm saying about that.

The next day started way too early. I don't think any of us got more than a few hours of sleep (except for maybe Laura and Sarah who didn't drink and went to bed around 10 or 11). We had to get up in time for breakfast at 8am (in my case, I had to be ready 15 min earlier since I was helping with breakfast set up).

After breakfast we just hung out really. Played some cards, etc. until lunch and then after lunch we headed back to Tokyo. And that's it.

In other news, there isn't much. Classes continue which is beyond annoying. I don't like this class in summer thing especially since Tokyo is incredibly humid. Sometimes I wonder whether I really homesick or if I just want dry air.

I also had a really bad cold last week so I went to a doctor for the second time. I'm so glad Mami knew of one that speaks English. Being sick really impairs my Japanese. I couldn't even remember the word in Japanese for fever when I was trying to explain to my Tuesday Japanese sensei why I missed class.

Yesterday was kind of cool. I went to a cake buffet with some friends. The idea is that you pay 1500yen for 90 minutes of cake free for all. They had ice cream, jello, chocolate mousse cake, cakes with fruit, cakes with nuts, mochi with fudge on top, cream puffs, and more. So awesome.

And that's about all I have to say about recent times.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Normal Stuff

There's nothing super interesting to report at the moment, but I will report nonetheless!

A few days ago, a package came in the mail with the pottery that my host family made oer Golden Week while we were in Atami. If you recall, I also made a piece of pottery while I was in Minakami. I got that one sort of recently too so I thought to put up pictures of the finished products.

The one one the left is the one I made in Minakami, and the one on the right is the one I made in Atami.

Event-wise, things have been pretty quiet. This is partly because of some trouble with my cell phone over the weekend. Seeing as my friends live scattered about Tokyo, a cell phone is an absolute necessity if you want to have a social life. But mine wasn't working (I got it all worked out yesterday though so yay to that). Unfortunately, my weekend was rather boring because of that.

Yesterday was the one kind of cool thing. My Japanese class had another field trip (you may remember that last semester we went to a traditional Japanese sweet shop). This time we went to Shibuya to visit NHK Studio Park. NHK is the big public owned broadcasting company here in Japan (when I say public, think more like BBC and less like PBS). It was pretty fun though not super amazing. However, the tickets were paid for by our tuition so we didn't have to worry about money (except for transportation as I actually have to pay to go to Shibuya since it isn't on my commuter pass).

This is Bobby from my Japanese class pretending to be a newscaster on NHK's Ohayoo Nippon (morning news program, the title tranlates as "Good Morning Japan").

And just for fun, last night Mami and I were teaching Su-chan how to do the peace sign for photos.

He is one cool kid isn't he?

Monday, May 18, 2009

I can't seem to catch up with this blogging thing anymore...

Okay, sumo.

My program emailed us a couple weeks before the tournament saying they would buy us tickets to see sumo if we wanted to pitch in 1000yen. Since the tickets were 4900yen this was a super good deal. I decided to go since, hey, I'm in Japan and sumo is a very Japanese sort of experience.

It's a rather interesting sport though like baseball you get a few moments of motion and excitement followed by waiting for something to happen for a while. This is because they do their sumo stomp thing, look at each other, walk to the side of the ring so they can throw salt on it, look at each other, throw more salt, stomp, throw salt, stare at each other, then finally they actually wrestle. It's a very slow process. So I actually left a bit early since I got bored... I have some pictures for you though.

These are the top-ranking wrestlers I think. Sorry it's a bad picture. I was at the top of the stadium...

Here's an actual match. If you step outside that ring you can kind of see, you lose. You also lose if you fall down.

Following sumo was a week of school, normal hanging out, and babysitting. Nothing to report there. Then the weekend happened and it was pretty busy. Saturday I hung out with my friend Caitlin in the Baba area (the are near Takadanobaba station for those who don't know my Tokyo slang). And guess what? We got haircuts! Not a great picture I know, but I'm not very good at taking pictures of myself. Caitlin and I tried to get one of us together but it was so windy that day that you couldn't actually see what our hair looked like.

Sunday is the really exciting bit though. We went to DISNEYLAND! By "we" I mean Lydia, Rachel, Sacchan (he did karaoke with me, see the Golden Week post if you don't remember), and Hide (don't worry, I haven't mentioned him before since I didn't know him).

Sadly, the weather was not ideal, but it managed to not rain (probably because we all brought our umbrellas) so that was good. We went on the Star Wars ride, drove little cars and little space shuttles, went on Thunder Mountain, Splash Mountain, Pirates of the Caribbean, the Snow White ride, the Buzz Lightyear ride (where I totally sucked at shooting stuff), and probably a couple other things that aren't surfacing at the moment. We wanted to do Space Mountain, but it was closed! For renovations or something like that. Sad.

Here we have a photo of our group in front of the Mickey statue. From left to right is Sacchan (his actual name is Satoru), Hide, Rachel, and Lydia. Look like we're having fun, don't we?

Here we have Belle and her prince on one of the parade floats. Now let me tell you how Japan and America are way different. This picture was taken from a sitting position. Seriously. About three meters deep was apparently the "sitting section" to watch the parade. People just sat on the ground (or more commonly on sheets of newspaper so they could take their shoes off...go with it). Then behind this "sitting section" was the "standing section". Lydia, Rachel, and I discussed how in America everyone would be standing and trying to get the best vantage point, but everyone at this parade was super polite. I love that about this country.

Also, Belle appears to be a foreigner. I wonder if it's a fun job? Because I would do it. That or drive one of the giraffes that were in the Lion King section of the parade.

And here we have Sully waving at us. I like it when I get good pictures like this. A lot of my photos from the parade are a tad blurry due to the whole moving thing. I took several videos too since that was easier, but they take forever to upload so they aren't all going in here. Sorry, I'm an impatient person.

And finally we have a lovely picture taken at night. It actually came out a lot better than I thought it would. I was worried the castle wouldn't show up. As it is, it looks rather pretty and fairytale-esque I think.

Sadly the wind was super crazy and it got rather cold. We were going to watch the light parade, but with the wind like it was, we figured it would be canceled (they almost canceled the other one earlier and things had only gotten worse). Instead we left a bit earlier than we had planned. However, lot of fun was still had.

My favorite ride was Splash Mountain. I really like the steep drops so even though it was a bit cold to be splashed, it was still super fun. I actually didn't get very wet though Hide, who was sitting next to me got splashed pretty good.

So, there. I am now caught up with my blogging! No more! Until something else interesting happens I guess.

I am going to give you one video that I took during the parade. The floats and stuff were so cool!

video

Ja ne!

Thursday, May 7, 2009

Golden Week

First I'll apologize that this took me so long to write since Golden Week was May 2-6 (though for me it was April 30-May 6). I've found that when I have a lot to blog about, I don't want to actually sit down and blog because it takes too long.

Golden Week is a series of national holidays in Japan resulting in almost a week of vacation. For me it was an entire week since I got the Thursday and Friday previous off as well (yay for Waseda).

My vacation began Wednesday night (April 29) with all night karaoke. Karaoke places are generally open 24hours and from 11pm-5am you can get really cheap prices (less than 1000yen per person for the whole six hours and that was including the mandatory drink). There were six of us: Lydia, Cory, Chinami, Erika, Sacchan, and myself. We had a really good time though by the end we were all pretty wiped (especially Cory who actually spent the last couple of hours sleeping). This threw my sleep schedule temporarily out of whack but I managed to get back to normal pretty quickly since I had no class Thursday or Friday. Here we have a video of Chinami and Cory singing some High School Musical. They were good, especially Chinami.

video

Friday, I was up and out of the house early since I was meeting some friends in Yokohama before heading out to Enoshima for some beach time. Sadly I could not spend long at the beach since I had to be back by four in order to babysit. I did get a good couple of hours in the sun wading in the water and flying a kite. It was lots of fun.

Saturday was all about relaxing for me. The only real thing I did was pack for my trip with my host family to Atami.

We left on Sunday morning and met up with Tomo and Ryo-chan at Omote-Sando station where we boarded the Romance Car (name of the train, I am not kidding). Jeremy joined us on the Romance Car at Machida. After another transfer, we got to Atami Station where Hiromi's (Mami and Tomo's older sister) husband picked us up. This visit we stayed with some friends of Hiromi's because her house is not quite big enough for that many guests though Tomo and Ryo-chan stayed with her. Hiromi's friend Izumi and her husband Kei have a wonderful house and an adorable daughter named Lilia (four years old). We had a great time.

That first day, we had a barbecue for lunch and tempura for dinner. After the children went to bed, the adults stayed up and did some home karaoke in the basement. It was a bit hard because the only English songs were older ones that I didn't really know.

The rest of the time we spent going to parks and other cool place and generally playing a lot. Since we had four small children, there were a lot of parks and other fun stuff like that. We also made pottery, visited a castle (Odawara-jo), and ate at a kaiten sushi place (conveyor belt sushi). When at Kei-san and Izumi-san's house, we amused ourselves by playing with their dog, and jamming with the various instruments available (my favorite was the drum set, I kinda want to learn to play drums now...) then after the children were in bed, the adults would stay up until way too late playing cards so that even though I was on vacation, I didn't get enough sleep (because no matter how much you want to sleep in, two-year-olds will wake you up at 8 if not before).

Here we all are getting ready to make some pottery (Back row: Kei-san, Izumi-san, Hiromi-san holding Ko-chan, my host dad, Bottom row: Mi-kun, me, Lilia-chan, Jeremy, Su-chan). Mami must have been taking this photo.

One of the parks we went to. Here we have Mi-kun and Su-chan on a bridge. Su-chan really loves his cousin and Mi-kun was very good about playing with Su-chan.

This was during our little jam session. Mami was singing, Kei-san on the guitar, and my host dad (or I guess I should call him Goro, which I believe is his nickname) with the rain stick.

So there is a bit of a story behind this photo. Jeremy has tattooed lines on his fingers that when he puts them to his face looks like a mustache. Mami, Hiromi-san, and Izumi-san all thought this was hilarious so they took a sharpie and drew on their own fingers. Here is the result (you can tell Mami and Hiromi-san are sisters can't you?)

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Updates and Reflections

So where was I last time I blogged? I talked about Ueno, yes? Well, I hate to ruin everyone's image of my glamorous and busy life here, but really there are times where I just do normal stuff. However, there have been a couple of interesting happenings.

Sunday was a busy day with the Inagaki family (my host family). Mami, Su-chan, and I made pumpkin pie (thanks Dad!) finally. We had some trouble locating pie crust and neither Mami nor I wanted to go through the trouble of trying to make it ourselves in the cramped little kitchen. It was my host family's first experience with pumpkin pie and it wasn't a bad one though not nearly as good as grandmom's of course.

After pie, Mami, Su-chan, and I went over to Sam-chan's house (Sam being a half-Japanese boy that goes to the same daycare as Su-chan). Why did we go? Because Sam's mother wanted to offer me a job as a babysitter for her two children Sam (2) and Elena (4). I agreed since a. I need money and b. I like kids. Plus, it's just three times per week for just an hour or two each time. Not that bad really. I had my first day on Monday (which actually included Su-chan) and had a lot of fun though it was quite exhausting keeping all three of them entertained.

But back to Sunday! An amusing thing happened around 10:30 when I was about to head to bed (I know, kind of early, but I had Japanese the next morning!) My host dad suddenly wished Mami a happy birthday! I turned to her and said, "Eh?". And she told me she had forgotten it was her birthday! How could she? Her younger sister Tomo was even over that day (to partake of pumpkin pie) and didn't say anything! So anyway, Mami is now 31 years old. And now I know the birthdays of everyone in my host family ^_^

In things to look forward to: As soon as my media studies class is over tomorrow, I am done with class until after Golden Week (Japanese holiday period). Tomorrow night, I am spending the night doing karaoke (and I mean spending the night--fun starts at 11pm and ends when the trains start running again at 5am). Then, this weekend, I'm going on a trip with my host family. We're visiting Mami's older sister again. This time, there's a big group of us going including Jeremy (Mami's parents' host student). This time I promise to remember my camera so I can get pictures.

---

Now for some thoughts on culture inspired by the torturous three hour lesson on keigo we had in Japanese class yesterday (Monday).

Those of you who have studied some Japanese probably recognize the term keigo even if you can neither use nor understand it. Keigo is Japanese honorary/humble speech. Unlike English, they have almost an entirely different vocabulary for use in situations where extra politeness is needed. Mostly keigo changes up the verbs you use in a sentence. For example, if you want to say "My teacher went to the airport." you would need to use the keigo verb for "went" which is "irashaimashita" instead of the normal form "ikimashita". Annoying yes? But wait! There's more! The above example relates only to talking about superiors like a teacher or boss. But what do you use when you talk about yourself to a superior? Why, different verbs once again! Not only that, but when you want to be polite there are often nouns and other parts of speech you change as well. The word "ie" which means house becomes "otaku", the word "doko" which means where becomes "dochira" (which also means "which" ugh).

As of now, I have had several lessons try to drill keigo into my brain very unsuccessfully. Partially this is because I never use it. I don't have a formal job where I need to speak to a boss, my Japanese professors require nothing more polite from us than "masu/desu" for except those times when we actually study keigo, and I talk to my other professors in English. However, I have come to believe this is not the only reason I find keigo difficult. I think there is a deeper social wall that makes it hard for me to actually see the merit of such a linguistic structure.

The idea behind keigo is that you are either raising another person above yourself or lowering yourself below them. This sort of offends my sense of self in a way. Just because someone is my boss, doesn't mean they are better than me. As human beings, we are equals. That doesn't mean politeness has no place, but such elaborate forms of politeness seem unnecessary and a bit degrading to me.

Interestingly enough, that same day in my sociolinguistics class, we briefly discussed the fact that in most languages, women are more polite than men. Rachel and I decided that this was not really sexist. It's more that women are more passive aggressive so we can be mean and polite simultaneously.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Lions and Tigers and Bears, Oh My!

Saturday was Rachel's birthday. To celebrate, a group of us got together and went to Ueno Zoo. Rachel loves animals thus why she picked the zoo. Many of you probably know that Ueno Zoo is famous for being one of the few zoos to house a giant panda. Sadly this is no longer true as the panda died sometime last year before my arrival in Japan. So no panda pictures. Sorry. I would have been more disappointed, but I've already seen a panda since I went to the zoo in DC.

This was in the park outside of the zoo. We were passing by and saw this comic performance. They weren't saying anything so we could actually sort of understand what was going on. We had to meet another friend of Rachel's though so we couldn't stay to watch for long.

First animals we went to see at the zoo! Elephants! In Japanese, elephant is zou (pronounced with a long "o" sound).

This is a kapibara (I think it has a different spelling in English...) Like a giant guinea pig really ^_^

And here's the polar bear. There were a lot of people at his enclosure so it was hard to get good pictures.

This is an Asian wild dog. Cute right? There were three of them all napping.

This is a crane.

This is a reall cool looking bird. I've forgotten what type it is though. My memory is not perfect. Sorry.

I hope I don't need to tell anyone what this is a picture of...

In Japanese, tiger is "tora" (remember that the "r" sounds kind of like and "l" if you try to pronounce that out loud).

A peacock in a tree. I believe there were also monkeys in this cage.

I love gorillas. I think they're cool.

Here is an emu. He was very friendly.

Lydia and Rachel. Rachel has a very entertaining face there :-P

Little baby chick! Sitting in an incubator. This was in the children's area. The also just had chickens that were allowed to wander around. I stayed away from them because I don't get along with roosters.

Kangaroos! Little ones actually.

This guy is probably my favorite animal from the zoo. Doesn't he just look cool? Lydia said he looked like a dinosaur which is totally true.

Another one where I really hope I don't have to actually tell you what this is...

Cory and Rachel. This picture was generated when I said, "Cory, quick, do something creepy to Rachel!" and voila!

It was a pretty fun day all around.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

花見

I have been a busy bee the past week and a half. Finally I have some time to relax a little bit.

Spring has finally come and with it some wonderfully gorgeous weather. The Japanese love spring since that's the time one can see the cherry blossoms. They have what are called "hanami". That's actually the title of this post. Separately, the two kanji mean flower (hana) and look/view/see (mi); translated, hanami is usually called a blossom viewing party. People flock outside to picnic under the cherry blossoms. I myself did this several times with my host family.This photo is from my first hanami. Mami, Su-chan, my host dad (I still feel weird calling him Yosuke...) went to an area near Yasukuni shrine which is famous for its blossoms on a Friday evening. This meant there were a bunch of people there picnicing and wandering around. Because of that, my host dad eventually took Su-chan home so that Mami and I could walk around unencumbered by a two-year-old. Taking pictures was hard since it was night, but I got a few good ones like the one above.

The next morning was more blossom viewing. This time we all went to a park in Shinjuku which was more open so that Su-chan could run around. Now you can see some blossoms in daylight!

And here we have Su-chan in a tree. See? This park was great for him. Lots of opportunities for him to do silly things. I was impressed that he actually looked at me when I took this picture. Usually he does something weird when you try to get a photo of him so that most of the time you get a blur...

...Or a photo like this. This was taken that night at Mami's parents house. We stayed that night in order to help welcome Jeremy, Mami's parents' new host student. We I told Su-chan I was taking a picture, he started running at me like the crazy child he is so this is the result.

This photo is of me at a park near where Mami's parents live. I went there with Mami's dad and Jeremy. We had been intending to go to another Hanami that a friend of Mami's was hosting, but Su-chan was not his usually genki self (genki being a Japanese word that means healthy and energetic) so we didn't go. The park was really pretty though and you can see a whole regiment of turtles on that thing in the water behind me.

After that weekend, I had to start classes which was not really any fun. No one wants to go from two months of break to three hours of Japanese in the morning. Luckily, however, my classes this semester seem like a lot of fun. Besides Japanese, I'm taking sociolinguistics, Ainu in a typological perspective, and media studies (this is maybe my favorite but that might just be because the professor is a Doctor Who fan).

Last week was also exciting because I got a visit from KENDRA! Her Semester at Sea ship came to Japan so I got to hang with her for a few days (when I wasn't in class anyway...I'm a good girl!) which was super awesome! Though a bit sad since that's the last visit from anyone back in the States that I'm getting while I'm here.

That pretty much brings us up to date. By the way, as a bit of trivia, today is my seven month anniversary here in Japan.

Hope everyone had a wonderful Easter!