Sunday, September 28, 2008

Awesome weekend

I have officially been in Japan for a month. But it actually feels like a lot longer. I can’t believe that one month ago I didn’t simultaneously think in broken Japanese or use the word ‘o-mo-shi-ryoi’ to describe almost everything. (‘Omoshiroi’ means interesting or amusing, by the way.)
The weekend was particularly awesome since I managed to squeeze in a lot of anime type fun, despite my sore throat and slight cold. On Friday I ‘met’ some Japanese kids at the school organized meet and greet on the second campus. Unfortunately the ratio of Japanese people to JSP students was pretty skewed in favor of the JSP kids. My favorite moment came at the end when, after speaking to a Japanese boy for a particularly long time, my two friends (Emily and Jen) asked the boy for his number. American style. And as he was giving it out his three male friends start ‘asking’ him who Suwa-chan was. Suwa-chan is apparently the Japanese boy’s girlfriend. I was sort of standing away from the action and witnessed this moment in cultural differences and enjoyed it immensely. Girls and boys in Japan do not really become ‘friends’ per se. And exchanging numbers with American girls apparently warrants a reminder that you already have a girlfriend.
Anyway after the strange meet-and-greet we went out for gyoza and then on to karaoke (which isn’t a lot of fun when it hurts to sing and when you can’t really drink). I damaged my throat anyway. Because I’m in Japan, damn-it. And there was a bit of confusion regarding rooms and people and boys wanting Japanese girls. A regular good time.
Saturday was the true day of exploring and anime themed adventures. My friend Emily was in search of the ‘pokemon center’ because she loves Pokemon. There are (surprising, I know) a lot of JSP kids who love Pokemon and have played all the games. I wasn’t really one of them but I watched the show and I can get into the spirit of things. We actually managed to get on all the right trains and not get lost and even found the actual Pokemon center. Which turned out to basically be a giant Pokemon store overrun with children asking to buy things and parents trying to say no. I bought things. I now have a pokemon ball replica that doubles as a coin bank and came with a copper deer like Pokemon. But my favorite thing I bought was this truly bizarre licking Pokemon plushy. It’s so weird and adorable! On the way into the station I looked out the window and saw Tokyo Tower, which I had no idea was in the same place. And I insisted that we go because as silly as the Tokyo tower is, you can’t deny visiting it once. I also had to explain how the Tokyo tower is featured rather prominently in a lot of animes, CLAMP in particular. I enjoyed my 11-year-old Pokemon adventure, and then my 15-year-old Magic Knights Rayearth themed adventure (which was the anime I loved and starred three girls sucked into another world in the Tokyo Tower.)
Two things really stand out about the time around the tower. And those were the monkey standing on stilts and the two giant pink dildo-like mascots of the Tokyo Tower. Trained monkeys and strange mascots make anything worthwhile. All that took up most of the day and then we took the train home, got sushi at the ki-ten sushi place, and then tried to hang out in a Japanese park. My favorite line from my history text was the one about how Japan never really came up with parks on their own; they just sort of made them because other countries had them. Which really explains the strange rectangle creation we hung out in. Which had a nice fountain but barely any grass and no trees. We did go to a nice park near the Tower though.
Today I spent with my okasan and I watched my host sister sing in her play and it was awesome. In Japan high schools have these things called school festivals where different clubs make exhibits or put on shows and classrooms become bazaars or cafes. And all the parents and siblings come and eat food and look at the displays and watch the shows. So my host sister is part of the musical club at her school – which is apparently an all girls club. And she played a boy in what I think was an American musical based on William Shakespeare’s Taming of the Shrew. In Japanese. And the acting was pretty typical of Japan, which is a lot of dramatic posing. It was cute though and my host sister was the best in it. She played her part the most convincingly. So that was cool. And then we went to the school bazaar and I bought a scarf and my host mom bought some towels. And then we ate some lunch and checked out the anime club. It’s nice to know that anime ‘artists’ in high school suck in Japan just as much as in the US. Although the coloring is infinitely better. My host mom told me that my drawings were ‘ichiban.’ Which was sweet.
And finally we went to a random tea-room in the school where the school tea ceremony club girls were all wearing ornate kimonos and serving traditional whipped green tea and dai… something. The rice jelly surrounding sweet bean paste. Which sounds weird but is actually delicious and really sweet. I have secretly always wanted to go to a school festival and now that goal has been realized.
After that my host mom took me to jin-ja, which I think is the word for a Shinto shrine. Apparently it is very famous. I really like Shinto shrines. I made more wishes with coins and took pictures of some fighter planes. I had decidedly limited the amount of money in my wallet, so when my host mom asked me if I wanted to do more shopping and I had to say no. She took me to a department store in my station anyways, because she needed some stockings. And I found a skirt miraculously in my size and miraculously on sale. Sometimes you can’t help these things. She then took me out to dinner and I ate more tempura, soba, and yakitori chicken. It was really fun just chilling with my host mom. I think on Wednesday Chi, my host mom and I are maybe going to do something. We shall see. Sometimes she explains things about future plans all in a rush and I feel too embarrassed to ask her to repeat.
Regardless, a really fun weekend. And I’m still in freaking Japan (>.<)!!
Love y’all lots and lots and lots. ^^

as usual the link to new photo's is

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Lions and tigers and bears...

A note on drinking in Japan (I’m 21 now so it’s legal for me to discuss drinking online.) Even if I was only 20 I could still discuss drinking in Japan –that’s the legal limit here. Drinking actually plays a large role in Japanese society, the extent of which I haven’t really figured out. But in Japan there is this thing called a “No-mi-ho-di” which means that you pay a stock amount per person (which can range from 5 –20+ dollars) and then you order as many drinks as you can in the next two hours. There is a karaoke place near campus where the JSP kids all love to go because no-mi-ho-di there is only $5 but the mixed drinks are basically orange juice. Most people order beer since that can’t be watered down. And if you are good at drinking beer and go in a large group you could potentially drink a lot more than $5 worth. In smaller groups the service tends to be slow in order to save the business money. Or drinks.
There are also restaurants with “I-zi-ka-ya” rooms where you can sit large parties and order a more expensive no-mi-ho-di and I guess you usually have to order food in those places. I went to one of those last night and had my first (cheap) sake experience. I had it hot and cold, hot being more alcoholic, and cold being easier to drink. Also had a gin and tonic, which is a weirdly common drink here. There is also this mixed drink called “bridal pink” the contents of which are still unclear. So drinking in Japan in restaurants is actually a much more reasonable proposition than in America. I think this also might be a space thing, since there aren’t house parties in Japan because everyone lives in tiny houses with their parents. So group-drinking outings are really the only way to drink. It’s pretty interesting.
I have had a lot of days off this September from school. I always have Wednesdays off, but Tuesday was the autumn equinox holiday or something. So my friends and I went off to the zoo and then in search of strange porn in “The electronic city of Akihabara.” We got to the zoo pretty late in the day so we only had an hour till it closed (lunch and travel took up a lot of time). The Ueno zoo is famous for panda’s. But I think all of the panda’s died so now they only have small ‘red panda’s.’ You can still buy panda pancakes and plastic masks; you just can’t see live Giant panda’s. Which was a little disappointing. I did see lions and tigers and bears…(I’m resisting the urge to sing Wizard of Oz) and gorillas. My camera is pretty bulky but the zoom power it has is pretty awesome. I could zoom up on the monkey’s faces from maybe 60ft away.
After the zoo we ventured on in search of porn and ended up in some strange places in Akihabara. I have now seen way too many naked Asian girls. The interesting thing is the porn stores really aren’t hidden. And a lot of them are five stories tall. And at one’s selling maid and cosplay costumes there were even couples. Also, in Japan they can’t show genitalia on screen so everything is weird censored blocks. My friends were unsuccessful in finding truly bizarre porn and I got my fill of porn stores for a loooong time.
I am excited about Sunday because my host sister is performing in a musical and I get to go. I get to watch high school kids sing and dance and I couldn’t be happier. I wasn’t sure if I was going to be able to for a while and because of language barriers it felt weird to ask. But I did and my host mom told me we were definitely going, but that I might not understand the story. Which is fine by me. I do know that my host sister plays a boy proposing to a girl who is in love with someone else.
And soon I hope to find my way to my ultimate goal. The Studio Ghibli Museum. Where money will be spent. Apparently you need to reserve tickets for the museum, which I don’t really understand. But I told my host mom that I wanted to go there and she said something along the lines of ‘let me think on it.’ So, cross my fingers.
That’s pretty much my news from Japan for the week.
As usual, lots of love.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

More pictures on my photostream

And then I ate more grapes

Things that I miss about America –

Well naturally my family and friends – but that really is just a given.

1. Movies. I miss them more than sugar and more than American food. I miss television and movies. I am really a movie addict and that addiction is starting to grate. Hopefully my school can come up with an American movie night
2. For some reason, steak. I don’t know why that is since I don’t eat that much steak. Also mashed potatoes. I miss those a lot.
3. Being able to make food without worrying about offending someone.

That’s pretty much it. Japan is a really interesting place. And there are just enough American buffers to make my experience not completely terrifying. For instance, the other American students. Also, the exchanges we do with music. And the Internet in our classrooms. I can still download stuff from the Internet so I have some access to subtitled TV shows and movies. I found out though that my favorite manga (Tramps Like Us) has been turned into a Japanese live action drama. I just spent the last hour listening to the rain and watching the show on my computer. I was ridiculously content. Also, my bed is extremely comfortably and positioned right next to the window. And the blanket I used is a comforter covered in a sheet/duvet kind of thing and I don’t actually use any sheets. It’s an extremely comfortable set up.
Yesterday I went to Tokyo again- there was supposed to be a typhoon in the morning but instead the day was pretty much perfect. I went to the Meji shrine, which is in the middle of this huge park near Harajuku. The shrine is set up in a Japanese palace style and at the front they have a place to wash your hands and clean out your mouth to set your mind at ease. There was apparently a traditional wedding going on that day too and so there were women and men in traditional clothing. I took a lot of pictures of the shrine because I love Japanese architecture. I also put some money in and did the praying ritual. From there we wandered around the park and happened across two people from Denver (weird) and a huge archery competition that was free to watch. That was fricken sweet since I had heard a lot about traditional Japanese archery and seen it in movies but to see actual people was something else.
This really cliché line from The Last Samurai movie keeps running through my head, which goes something like “The Japanese try and do everything perfectly.” Or something along those lines, and more and more I see evidence of this being true. Even writing the language is very exact – my teacher keep correcting my hiragana script and my host mother noticed how my ‘su’ character was written incorrectly. Nobody would say that the way you write an ‘A’ in American is better or worse than a different a. Maybe, maybe someone would say your handwriting is sloppy. My host mom has been making this felt elephant out of pieces of wool that you stab with a bumpy needle and work into different shapes. Last night she held up this perfect elephant head and was like ‘this looks like a pig.’ It certainly didn’t and this was her first experience creating wool animals. I know my elephant would have looked a whole lot crappier and taken me more time. The archery contest felt like that – The way the movements were all structured and the slow and extremely deliberate nature in the archery. I thought it was fascinating, but my friends thought it was a tad tedious, which I can understand. Someone asked how on earth that kind of slow and silent activity could be fun – but I don’t think that Japanese archery is about ‘fun’ in the usual sports sense. More about a kind of deliberate mediation.
So that was cool to see. After that we joined the hordes in Harajuku and I bought hot pink tights and more leggings. I am so happy about these hot pink tights that miraculously fit. In some ways I think my style is definitely improving because of the style I see everyday – and in some ways I feel like I have the liberty to wear whatever I want since that kind of seems how the Japanese dress. The more crazy layers the better. And usually the layering turns out impressively artful. My goal is to master that kind of casual and awesome style. I did end up buying some sweats for dancing in – but I like to think they are the classic hip-hop sweats which artfully disheveled. We shall see.
After Harajuku we met up with out Japanese babysitter and went on to Akihabara to run various electronic errands. I needed headphones and Tomoki helped me pick out some of the cutest and best headphones I probably have ever owned. They had a whole section of headphones for girls that had rhinestones and were in pretty colors but the headphones I chose came in different colors with your choice of headphone tins with matching flowers in the lids – and three different sized silicone ear pieces. Normally, ear headphones hurt and after a while and end up being kind of painful to wear, but it turns out that my perfect headphone size is XS. So maybe all my other headphones were just too big. Apparently the company I bought is famous for headphones, and I have to admit the sound quality is pretty amazing. Also, they were only 20.00 bucks and I think that is a pretty awesome deal. So, Akihabara and then we found a Chinese restaurant in the electronics store (which was massive). We had such a big party (six people. Which is big in Japan) that one of the waiters actually had a smaller table move over in the middle of their meal to accommodate us. If you tipped in Japan I would have given a huge tip. After food we went back a few train stops and went into a fairly big bar chain called ‘Hub Pub’ which is a bar styled after English pubs. That pretty much finished off the night and I had a good time. It is so nice that my school is so close to Tokyo, and that the train system is fairly straightforward to use. I feel pretty lucky about everything that I get to do. I do miss people, but I am usually pretty distracted by everything that’s going on, and all the nice people I meet, that it doesn’t ever have time to sink in. Japan is a geek Mecca and I am really enjoying my month of being able to geek out all the time. (^_^)
Oh yeah, a while ago me and a few other JSP’s volunteered to have our pictures taken for a magazine and to share photographs that we had taken. I guess it was for a photography magazine. I was a little lazy about turning in my pictures so I might not end up in it – but this is a crazy aspect of Japan. By being a Gaijin you are almost treated as a bizarre celebrity. So I might be in a random Japanese magazine. That’s pretty much everything so far. Love you guys. Send me e-mails!!! <3 <3

Wednesday, September 17, 2008


I heard some troubling things about America from my other JSP’s, like how there is a hurricane tearing up the Midwest and Texas. And about the stock market crashing. And about United going bankrupt – which pretty much screws me over since I’m going home on a United flight. What is happening over there on the other side of the coast? I would love some news updates since they are hard to come by without Internet – which I don’t really have access to.

Japan and it's differences

There are a few things that all the Japanese people seem to believe in

3. Cash

First –Drinks

The Japanese are definitely aware of how important a variety of delicious iced tea, juice, and coke are and also the need to access them at any point during the day. At least, it seems that way since there are drink vending machines on every corner. And all these vending machines offer iced coffee, tea, juice, coke, and carbonated juice drinks. Coke is really the only dark soda that they serve in Japan- and the rumor is that the Japanese hate root beer and dr. pepper. On my ride into school there are at least four places where I can stop and buy something to drink. Because of this my craving for soda has been considerably reduced. Coke seems to pale in interest when I can have “grape juice and aloe” (I have actually had that. The ‘aloe’ comes in jelly like cubes and the drink is made by minute maid).
Also, I don’t know what they do to the drinks in Japan but all of them are more flavorful and taste exactly like the label claims. A Kirin brand of apple juice tastes like eating an apple. And grapefruit soda tastes like grapefruit. And melon soda is bright green and tastes like melons. It’s awesome. And I love iced milk tea. Water seems pretty uncommon though, at least drinking straight water. Tea is really the hydrating fluid in Japan. At first it weirded me out and I was thirst all the time, but now I find a cold glass of iced tea really refreshing.


They really do carry them everywhere, and not just the tiny collapsible ones – but mostly those old fashioned large ones. A huge range of stores sell them and in a huge variety of colors and materials. Also, outside of each building there is a place to stash your giant umbrellas. Which is a pretty trusting thing to do. Also, I see people biking with umbrellas all the time. Only in a really heavy downpour I see people wearing raincoats.


Japan is a cash society and almost no places take credit cards. Which means that I watch my money being burned through a lot more easily. Which is a good thing, but since I tend to send a lot of money in Japan it sort of freaks me out. If there weren’t such excellent sales and tons of cute clothes and things I fall in love with in a second…
I’m trying hard to stop myself from buying everything I see but it has been rough. At least none of the shoes or pants will ever fit me – which is kind of how I planned when I was packing. I left a lot of room for shirts and that was a brilliant move on my part. I am really thankful that I got the scholarship that I did because without it I would be in a panic about money. I still panic but the scholarship does a lot to ease my mind.

What I've done

This week from Japan- more adventures in Tokyo. And a long weekend.

This Monday was a holiday in Japan that roughly translates to ‘Respect for your elders day’ and so I didn’t have school. The holiday is basically a day you give presents to your grandparents. Which is kind of nice. I spent the day with my host mom and it was pretty fun. I went to a hobby store and bought two kits to make necklaces for my host mom and sister and we had Ki-ten sushi (sushi on a conveyer belt), which was strange and delicious.
My weekend has actually been pretty busy. I went to Tokyo on Saturday with two girls from the JSP program and our Japanese baby-sitter Tomoki. (Who, after we called him that, refused jokingly refused to read the signs or tell us where we were going.) We went to a huge art/ artifact museum called the Tokyo National Review. There are four buildings in that museum but we only made into two of them. The museum is located in Ueno province, prefecture, I’m not really sure what you call these districts in Tokyo I visit. Regardless, Ueno is also the name of the station near this neighborhood. Which is apparently the zoo and museum neighborhood. There is a huge park and there are about twelve or so museums in this park along with the most popular zoo. Surprisingly this was an area in Tokyo that is relatively calm and free of the city bustle.
The museum was awesome and once I figured out you could take pictures without flash I took a ton. Look to my flickr photos for the museum art. The first building was an ‘Asian review’ and there was artwork from Egypt, Afghanistan, Iran, China, and Korea starting from 700B.C. It was a cool collection. I especially liked the Indonesian shadow puppets. The second building was the review of Japanese art.
I love Japanese art. A lot. More than all the other Asian countries, even China (which Japan looked to for inspiration and culture.) I don’t really know why, except that Japanese aesthetics are flawless.
After the museum we went out to dinner in Shibuya because we were going to try and find a club and go dancing there. We ended up wandering into a random tiny Shibuya festival. Which meant that people were dressed in traditional garb and chanting and there was this giant samurai dragon paper float thing that glowed. Finding a restaurant in Shibuya is an on-going challenge. We all sort of fell into the idea of getting pizza and after circling the same few blocks we finally found the restaurant “Shakeys” (mostly with the help of our trustee P.A.) Ironically this restaurant was on the second floor of the convini we went to before we started our long and winding search. Also, turns out that the pizza chain was American although I had never heard of it. We also saw an Outback Steakhouse. Which was weird. There were a lot of Gaijin in this particular restaurant but the pizza was decent and it was a fairly cheap meal. I sometimes miss cheese. There is cheese here but it’s really expensive and nobody really eats it. Except on the rare pizza.
After dinner we wove back through the streets of Shibuya to the strange back alleys where the clubs were located, and where the love motels were. Clubbing is a tricky adventure since we all wanted to catch our last train, which left sometime around midnight. It’s sort of a Cinderella dilemma with the Tokyo train system. We found the club but it looked super sketchy so we opted for a bar instead. Going turned into one of the two experiences I have had so far of being called a ‘gaijin.’ The first being on a train back from Ponyo when a group of High school boys got onto the train and immediately started whispering and laughing. And then the bravest of the boys sat down in one of the seats next to me and the boys all looked at me and then laughed. And since the only relatively strange thing in this corner of the train was me, drawing, I figured I was their source of amusement. The brave kid motioned for his friend to sit even closer to me and the other kid did, reluctantly. And then the group all laughed. I just sat there, pretending to draw, feeling more and more awkward. More whispering, more giggling and then the brave kid said with a very Japanese accent “Hello” and I said hello back and then everyone laughed. And then brave kid whispered in English “Nice to meet you” to his friend and everyone giggled and then he looked at me and said it again. So I said “Nice to meet you back.” “Yatta!” the kid exclaimed and the group broke up into laughter. I looked at the girl across from me doing her make-up and she gave me a bland smile. It was a weird experience.
In Shibuya, at the bar, we wanted cheaper drinks so we opted for the bar in the basement. As we edged into this tiny room a group of Japanese people eating dinner looked at us in surprise and started a chorus of “Gaijin” and “Nice to meet you” and then to our Japanese baby-sister “Nihon-jin?” It quickly became evident that this bar was not a bar, or at least was a closed bar. Which was embarrassing. Also, Japanese people should put up closed signs and lock doors. The bar upstairs was really nice though. Completely non- sketchy and pretty. After a couple of drinks we ran for our train and made our way home.

Sunday was TIU’s dance club dance expo in – Shibuya. I really dislike this part of Tokyo but I keep coming back. It’s kind of frustrating. This trip, though, we were absent a P.A. and had to make our way to a different tiny club in a much more locals only location using only a vague map written in Kanji. It was a mess. But we did eventually find it. Which I chalk up to our asking for directions and a quick visual memorization of the street kanji.
The dance expo was split into three parts, each group doing a different dance each set and in between a D.J would come out and play and people would dance. And by people I mean only the Japanese boy and a random girl. Maybe. Which was confusing for my friends and I. We assume there was some kind of social rule that we didn’t get. We danced anyway. Good times. I have some blurry pictures from that event as well. We got to the club at 2pm and left around 6pm. The guy that came with us opted for home but the two other girls (Keisha and Jessica this time) and I went on to do a little Karaoke before heading back.

So today I just chilled with my o-ka-san and bought some bead kits to make her and my host sister a necklace. It was relaxing after the crazy Tokyo activities that are fun but tiring.

I think on Thursday I will update more on the difference between Japan and America. Although I will say this – there has not been any point in this adventure when I have wondered if I have even left the states. Japan is like no place I’ve ever been and it’s constantly thrilling.

Love to you all <3

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Hey hey - literature post

A middle of the week entry – because I am in three hour lecture classes and they are hard to sit through without multi-tasking.
A note about my family – I still have yet to see the father, but I hear him. And now I know that he works in Tokyo, which isn’t that far away. That situation is still confusing.
I’ve eaten more at the McDonald’s in Japan than I ever do at home, mostly because it is cheap and accessible and my host family likes it =P. I don’t mind. I get good meals mostly. Today I tried to boil some hot water but the gas stove freaked me out because I couldn’t figure out how to light it. My host mother left really early to go to her friend’s house so that is why breakfast was left up to me.
On Tuesday I had my second karaoke adventure and it was once again awesome. Pretty much the entire JSP group showed up (around 18 kids) and some of our Japanese babysitters. We had 23+ people in a relatively small karaoke room. The place the JSP kids frequent has a weird deal where you pay five dollars an hour for all you can drink. But the mixed drinks are extremely watered down. The beer is pretty good though, and they let you bring in other drinks. Or at least they let Gaijin bring in other drinks. I sang I guess a moderate number of songs because I like singing. And singing with words around drunken people is the best. Drinking and singing is a genius combination.

All right, everyone knows how I love Miyazaki right? (Or you should). Well, in the weird timing of things a new Studio Ghibli movie came out this month. A. Brand. New. Un-translated. Miyazaki movie. On the big screen. I’ve pretty much wanted to see it since I found out it existed. The only problem being that Japanese movies are heinously expensive. Even more so than in America. One ticket costs 18 dollars normally. However today there was a special ladies night and my friend’s host mom took both of us. In Japan you actually choose your seats when you buy your tickets and the screen in the theater I went to was giant. My friend’s host mom bought my ticket which was nice and also intimidating. I know there is some kind of response that is appropriate but I have no idea what it is. I speak a whole different cultural language.

The movie is called ‘Pon-yo’ and it is in the vein of ‘My neighbor Totoro.’ It’s a kid’s movie involving an underwater sorcerer and a water goddess’s offspring that resembles a human fish. The underwater scenes were awesome and without words – which made the movie pretty easy to understand. The art was a strange but awesome combination of children’s book illustrations and Miyazaki’s characteristic and highly rendered images. So this fish-girl thing floats away from the sorcerer and happens upon a toddle aged boy, but in the process she gets stuck in a glass jar. The little boy frees her and he then carries the fish around in a bucket until the sorcerer successfully retrieves his creature. The little fish then grows hands and legs resembling a bird’s and then raids the sorcerer’s magic supply and turns into a real little girl. She then runs off to jump all over her little boy love. The movie is cute, and pretty, and weirdly long. I cannot wait to go to the studio ghibli museum. I am stoked and going to buy lots of cute things.

Also I have a ‘ka-I-ta-I’ which is Japanese for cell phone!!! And I have figured out how to call people in America. But it is extreamly costly. So if anyone wants to get a phone card and call me instead here is my Japanese number : 080-3250-2852. There is the possibility that you might have to dial 1 before that number. The time difference is so extreme that it’s going to a challenge to get a hold of anyone. But I would like to try.

That is pretty much it for me. Although on a side note I have been buying manga. Lots of manga. And they have huge used manga stores!! Which is awesome. I found my two favorite manga artists and their different series that haven’t been released in the US. It was cool. I was stoked.

Sunday, September 7, 2008

About my host family and things that are different in Japan.

New Pictures

The first day I met my host family I had a ridiculously awkward lunch – where everyone ate in near silence broken up with fast and incomprehensible Japanese. My host sister played with her cell phone, and my host mother attempted conversation but at this point I was too nervous to understand. After spilling my orange Jell-O on myself I was totally freaked. Was there going to be three months worth of dinners in which I sat in silence and wished I had any conversational skill?
Thankfully things went up from there. I have only seen my host dad that first day of orientation. I don’t know where he goes, or what he does, but he could just spend all his time upstairs. Like I said – that is an area that I have never seen and probably won’t. I read online that that might be the case – and I can survive without a complete tour.
My host mother has two part-time jobs from what I understand. One is an afternoon cram school for elementary kids working on mathematics, and the other involves a maybe reality and her entire Sunday’s. So the parts of the house that I have seen are the entry room and the room that the children cram in. That leads to the kitchen and then my room and the living room – which is essentially Chi’s room. Chi is my host sister. Her full name is Chihiro (like in Spirited Away) and she likes to sing. I know this because she will randomly break into song at any given point. Much like my real host sister, actually. She is also otaku for this band ‘Kah-Tun’ pronounces ‘cartoon.’ Which is a Japanese boy band consisting of five attractive Japanese males. Her favorite is the lead singer and I had a strange moment watching TV with the family when her favorite singer came on and interviewed Jodie Foster in English. Jodie Foster is apparently in Japan right now promoting her movie Nim’s Island. Jodie foster is not very friendly.
My routine has during the week is basically that I get up in the morning and my host mother makes me a breakfast of milk tea and toast with either butter or a strange version of peanut butter that is very sweet and tastes exactly like the name (pieces of peanut mixed with butter). Then I scramble for my books, put my shoes on, and bike to my train station. My bike ride was a challenge the first five or six times I did it, and the first time I ventured out on the ride by myself my host mother drew me a map. She is all about giving me maps – which I could not be happier about. Also, Japan doesn’t really believe in sidewalks, and that makes my bike ride all the more terrifying.
After I bike to the station I leave my bike in an interesting parking garage exclusively for bikes. This turned out to be a little tricky – there are two levels to this parking garage and one level closes at 9pm and the other is open 24hrs. On the first night I stayed out later than 9pm I chose exactly the wrong story and had to walk home. The bike I ride is a version of a cruiser that my brother and sister long for – and it’s a pretty sweet bike. Old but very functional and it has baskets on the front and back. Actually I’m pretty sure every Japanese bike has baskets, and most of them are this version of a cruiser.
After the bike ride I take a train for five stops and then walk to school. My station is tiny and the local train conveniently stops one stop before the school so I have to change trains for one stop. But the trains really are always on time and they come every ten to fifteen minutes. I love this about Japan. I want to pack up the train system and take it home with me.
School consists of a three hour long Japanese class every mon, tues, thurs, fri. And on Mondays I have a three hour history class, and on Thursdays my three hour literature class. Three hours is an ungodly amount of time to spend in any class – expecially a lecture class in the afternoon. I’m going to have to make it through somehow but it might be difficult. Wednesdays there isn’t class – but there are JSP field trips. I am especially excited about the week long ‘kansai’ trip where we got to Kyoto, the Horoshima museum, and a really pretty temple. These are all the toursity things I really want to do outside of Tokyo.
Okay, after school I either go out with friends (rarely) mostly I go home and do some homework and then have dinner with my Host mom and Chi and then either sit and talk with my host mom or watch TV with chi. My host mom and I communicate a lot by drawing pictures and Chi and I communicate using her English-Japanese electronic dictionary. Chi also has a large collection of manga in Japanese which I have been attempting to read. The pictures help, but there are repeated phrases that I don’t understand and must clarify before I can really get what’s happening in them. Mostly I just look at the pictures and kind of make up the story using the few phrases I know.
Oh and at night I take a shower in the bathroom. And I mean in the bathroom. Japanese showers consist of a waterproof room and a sink and a bath. The toilet is kept in a totally separate room. But the showers here are amazing- I have yet to take a bath.
My host mother is much more western than a lot of my friend’s JSP family’s. She eats bread with me in the morning and doesn’t do the laundry as often and dinner often comes from instant or convienance store food. Regardless of her housekeeping skills I think she’s great. Both Chi and her mother laugh easily and they are always open to listening and trying to understand my bad Japanese.
Something interesting about these host families is that a lot of them host tons of students over the course of many years. My host mom has apparently had eight students here so far. Some good- some not so good. She told me about this one girl who would randomly burp and fart loudly during the meal and that totally freaked Chi out. Another guy staying with them would blow his nose and leave the tissues in my host sisters couch, and also eat grape seeds and leave those on the couch as well. You run quite a risk hosting an exchnge student – especially an American college student.


-Milk tea. Which is earl grey tea with really rich milk and sugar in it. My favorite form is Iced milk tea. It is delicious.
-Huge seedless grapes. Japan has two unique grapes one big and long, one round and big. I had some for dinner in Tokyo and they were the most flavorful and delicious grapes I have ever eaten. Also, the Japanese skin these grapes when they eat them. Which I guess makes sense given how large the grapes are and how thick the skins. It also explains the Manga I’ve read where people skin the grapes for each other. Which never really made sense till now. I also mentioned to my host mother that I loved these grapes and I have now eaten them at every meal since then. Which is nice and kind of intimidating.
-Convenience stores. Called ‘convini’s’ in Japanese. 7-11 is really strong chain in Japan and convenience stores are really convenient. You get money, pay bills, buy decent food, manga, underwear, snack items and apparently pre-paid cell phones there.
-I’ve already talked about how weird the toilets are.
-Tissues. The Japanese freaking’ love tissues. They use them as napkins and towels and for normal tissue like actions. When I was in Tokyo I saw a store clerk cleaning a front stoop with tissues. Also, people will hand you tissues everywhere with an advertisements for…something inside.
-Towels. The Japanese truly follow the hitch-hikers guide to the galaxy’s number 1 rule – always have a towel with you. Everyone carries either handkerchiefs or washcloth sized pretty towels with them everywhere. They are great for wiping the sweat off in the humidity, drying yours hands because there are never towels in the bathroom (presumably because everyone has a towel with them.)

Monday, September 1, 2008

Hey all, this is me writing from the computer lab in TIU so I`m going to keep this pretty short. I`ve got to catch a train and then ride my bike home. My host family was a little quiet at first and my host sister didn`t talk to me at all ~ but I later figured out that that was because she hates english and slept through english study hall and so she is terrible at it. My host mother speaks even less Japanese than I do and I really never see my host father. So I pretty much only communicate through my limited japanese. It`s actually kind of nice to meet non-americans who can`t speak english. It also explains why the english here is so very bad and hilarious. Girls do walk around with shirts that say things like [the world is made of happy fun time].

So on sunday my host sister took me to Tokyo and we went to shibuya and ikebukara and harajuku. There were SO MANY people!!! And since I went to touristy places, there were some foreigners. I cannot wait to get better at speaking the language because there are so many things that are just incomunicatable. I sit and stare in confusion a lot. Here are some photos from tokyo (in tokyo you can write on the picture machine things and add images. It`s neat).