Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Pre-flight Blues

So, it's two am, 15 hours before my flight back to the N. America, and I am sitting in my room, listening to Boston and reflecting on more or less everything I have done since last year. This past month has been extremely hectic, but everything is more or less settled - tomorrow I get on a plane, spend the night in Toronto, and by Friday I am back home, beginning of my summer break. This is just like last summer (pre-Korea), the summer after my freshman year, or perhaps more accurately -- the summer before my freshman year, when I came back from my first trip to Japan. The same pattern is set for me again: relax, try to find a job, hang with my friends, maybe travel a bit. A tad mundane, but for the first time that normalcy is what appeals to me most. After a year of being the obvious outcast, I am returning to home, where I can blend in or stand out almost solely on my own whim. Curly hair, body hair, facial hair speaking-english natively all are common enough to not turn heads (well, maybe those first three still will). I won't have to bend over backwards to try to speak in a language I'm uncomfortable with, or to conform to customs I only have an academic appreciation for. I will get to see all of the people I have missed, eat the foods I took for granted, be able to read street signs, have a summer vacation, perhaps see my brother on his 18th birthday. Clearly there are a lot of things to look forward to, and I certainly am doing so.

However, as the date comes closer and closer, the more crap I've had to deal with these last few days, and the more my friends here have been there and made their presence known, the more I find myself having to remember why it is I wanted to go home so badly. I definitely still do, but the general comraderie exhibited this past week, all of the tiny details about my friends that I am seeing for, in many cases, probably the last time just serve to remind me over and over again who I am leaving behind, which is the entire "what" to me. Bang, Niko, and especially Jason have been putting way more effort to hang out and make my last few days in Tokyo as wonderul as possible than any reasonable people should. Tama-chan took the few minutes she had before class to go to a bakery with me, Aleks looked visibly distraught at the thought of not seeing me before I left, Damon and I joked about him being the last representative of American masculinity (and America in general) in Sodai Ryo, Rike has been even sweeter than one would think possible of her always-friendly attitude -- I'd keep going so as not to leave anyone out, but the list is practically endless. Really I just want to give a glimpse of all the grattitude I feel towards the Sodai Ryo family, without you guys I'm not sure I would have lasted a week here.

Anyway, from this point on there is very little I personally have to do in Japan. I cancelled my health insurance today, I returned my Student ID, tomorrow I'll cancel my phone service, and I need Nakamura-san to check over my room and take my keys, and I need to get to my plane. Besides that, I just need to see some of my friends in the dorm and say good-bye, and perhaps grab lunch with Bang and Jason before I catch my plane. I'll have a 17 hour or so stop-over in Toronto, to further relax and gain my compsure, than Friday (Jeremy's 18th birthday) I go home to my family, and possibly take a short road trip to see Jeremy at his school...we'll see how I'm feeling. Really, once I'm back in NY I just need to relax, find a job, and catch-up with everyone, everywhere. As for this blog, I think I will post once or twice for Toronto/my flight home, and then I will likely end it. If I feel really inclined I might make some posts I meant to make earlier, describing cultural aspects or just events I wanted to talk about and never did, but I'm not sure I really want to do that. However, I do want to thank my readers (and the people that suggested keeping this blog, even if they didn't all follow it at all). I am really happy I kept this blog, it's been a great sort of release, especially during some of these more stressful times. I actually have liked doing this so much I might keep a more general blog (besides the stuff I contribute to Procrast-Nation). I'll post something here if I follow up on that!

Thank you so much, everyone!

Saturday, April 24, 2010

Farewells and Farewell Party

A lot of things I can talk about, I don't feel like talking about anymore. Mainly I mean my medical state and tests, and I will explain bluntly: I feel I have spoken more about the medical system and my medical state than is interesting or syncs up with my current vision of this blog's purpose. I want to express things as they happen, partially in ways that allow family and friends to know what's up, but largely to allow potential and current residents or tourists to prepare for the sort of stuff they will deal with. This means everything from travel suggestions and warnings (this sort of place has these sorts of things going on) to support (this stuff is awful, but you are not alone in dealing with it) and honest experience that could be lost otherwise (this thing is terrible). In this line of thought, my family and friends tend to get health updates off the blog, so it seems unnecessary to repost every little detail. I'd rather talk about my experience in the withdrawal and leaving process, it is a rather unique process and aspects of it are applicable in a lot of different ways, ways that I hope can be helpful to other people, or at the least interesting. That said -- I will note that everything points to me being more or less alright, so if there are some people that have been out of my other loops you should not worry too much.

Moving on, I was iffy on how much I want to talk about the Stance Punks concert, but I think that night fits in well with the rest of this post -- both the venue and the night itself are individually worthy of mention, afterall. The venue, Shinjuku Loft, is a rather tiny basement, apparently used mainly for hardcore/punk shows (Guitar Wolf has played there!). It is kind of dirty, dark, cramped...basically the type of venue I have always wanted to go to! The show itself was kind of mediocre for my tastes, the music was good, but much more poppy than I was hoping for. It was really odd hearing loud feedback between songs, only for it to drop and the guitarist to go into down-tempo, smooth and melodious riffs. The fact that the singer shouted does not really make the rhythmic flow of his singing sound less like a pop song, nor does the fact that the crowd was going WILD change what the music was actually like. It was so weird seeing people (and joining in) mosh to ballads! Actually, the crowd was moshing but it was in a rather weird/dull kind of way...they were kind of crowd-surfing and pushing towards the stage. There was some pushing and jumping around, but it was basically a bunch of guys and gals in leather and plaid trying to get near the stage, or make asses of themselves. I feel it was only exhaustive at all because I went there sick and the venue was hot, if I would have had too much energy and just pissed people off (I kind of involved people vaguely outside of the pit, so I may have done this anyway...which is dumb as crap). Basically, what I wanted to say was the band and show itself was less than stellar, but the venue was fantastic. If I had the opportunity to see a band like Guitar Wolf there I would jump on it instantly (actually, I think the pillows were playing there when Jordan was in...I guess it's too bad we didn't go then!). Though, I am really happy that Viivi invited me to go and had as good a time as she apparently did (she was pretty into the band, from what she says).

The other point about that night I wanted to make is that is the same night I received word from my advisor that AU accepted my withdrawal from SILS, marking it the point after which I was willing to talk about leaving Tokyo. Telling people and dealing with the consequences is basically what I have been doing this past week, and what I really want to talk about. Really, I was terrified of talking to people about it because I was worried about how they would take it -- my expectation that, even if my friends can come to terms with it they would be pissed at least in the moment for me basically hiding it, as well as just generally sad to see me go. What I have found is that with the exception of maybe one person, everyone has been super cool and understanding beyond anything reasonable -- for which I am grateful beyond words. What's more, I find myself not having much trouble telling people I'm close to, I know they will understand, would feel worse not saying anything, and general experience shows it will likely go well each time (though I hope I have told most everyone by now). The people I find it hard to tell are those people that have given me good impressions, but I hardly know. Even people that I don't like that much, or have known for months but not really gotten to close with, are hard to tell. When I talk to these sorts of people I feel that there was a mutually, unspoken understanding that we either would or could in the future become closer (especially those I just met) and that I am sort of abandoning them, or dropping this unspoken contract. It is kind of irrational, and perhaps overly harsh on myself, but I have a pretty good eye for people I will become friendly it is hard to turn off this pang of guilt. Honestly, most of these people do not know, and I don't expect to be able to tell them...which is probably for the best as I really don't owe them any sort of explanation. It was just a feeling I didn't really expect to have, so it's hard to deal with.

As for actually telling people, again it has largely gone over well. I spoke to some professors this week, and they both basically were either able to guess the circumstances (Prof. Sidoli) or guess what was going on with no information (Prof. Pinnington). Sidoli and I had a pretty long conversation about his courses/how to improve them, came to the conclusion that SILS basically makes them impossible to do well, spoke briefly on me leaving, and then just kind of each ranted, shortly, about the problems with SILS. Prof Pinnington and I just kind of wished each other the best. Both situations were real easy and nice, I am pretty glad I ended up seeing both of them before I left. I hope I will remember how I felt talking to them next year and maybe pursue some sort of relationship with my various professors (this may be easy as I already have taken two of them before), but it has not really happened too well in the past. When I told Laur I was leaving, it was pretty straight forward and kind of sad, the emotions only really amplified by Ben being there (and knowing already). It happened as it happened, but I probably should have known better than to tell her infront of Ben, as it just made her feel like we were both in on a secret at her expense. She still took it better than I may have expected, though...Ben too. Of all the people I am leaving, it is really just these two I am really abandoning -- anyone else that I see again after this trip is kind of an unexpected awesome occurence, whereas the three of us entered this together with the expectation of leaving together too. I did not hesitate to withdraw without their approval, and have no regrets about that (nor about presenting Ben and not Laur the option of joining me), but I could see it being taken as a personal hit...whiich neither of them has really done. I guess Ji Won could have felt this way too, but oru situation was much more of a "It is cool that we are both going, maybe we will see each other around." rather than Ben, Laur, and my, "Oh man, you're going on this program too? We should keep in touch and hang out while we're there. It will be cool knowing we have friends there, too."

Finally I feel I need to mention what happened just this past night -- my farewell party! People totally talked about the possibility of one, but I basically spent this last few days thinking I was expected to set something up if anything were to happen (which I have not really have time to do, though I have been thinking about...) Well, I will describe what actually happened. Bathusi was going to take me to church with her tomorrow (Sunday), which from my understanding was legitimately undone by a church opening in Saitama (faaaar away). So, instead she suggested we go to the Saturday evening service (This sounded weird, but not totally unreasonable. Jewish services are typically Friday and Saturday evenings, afterall...) So I waited out near the Genkan, and kind of chatted with Mesa about the possibility of the party at some point (even this didn't really tip me off too much, as I thought the church thing was weird and honest, and had seen Niko and Jason leave...who I basically felt are too close of friends to not have any involvement in a potential party). Bathusi came down and was just like "Change of plans, we're going to 5th floor" which really killed any doubt (I could only respond "So I guess I don't need my jacket, huh?") All the lights were out, they turned them on when I entered the actual dining hall -- basically (almost) all of the girls of the dorm that I am friends with were standing around me in a half-circle and shouted "Surprise!" I mean, at that point I knew it was happening and was still just completely taken aback, it was just so nice and worked out so well. I have been a lucky guy in that a lot of my friends and family feel inclined to do sweet things for me, but the sheer number of people involved in this (and the stuff that actually went down) may put this at the top. Most of the girls there wore some amount of purple, Zsuzsanna even made a purple soup, due to my nickname from Halloween: Purple Tomodachi (It is because I wore that purple trenchcoat). I think nearly everyone either made or bought some food for the party (Toto made tapioca tea, as I have mentioned a number of times my love of it...I want to go through what everyone made but there was a LOT of things, all of which delicious!). They had me give a quick speech before we ate, and we generally just had a fun night chatting/musicing/eating/hanging around. Hakley (Cambodian guy I helped with some essays) surprised me with souveniers from Cambodia, Asta brought some amazing chocolates, and Bang somewhat teary-eyed offerred some Bul Gogi (I told he we can eat it together later). Eventually Jason and Niko joined the party for a bit (we played some darts). I feel bad my only real contribution was this picture for the dorm of myself, but it gave some conversation, and is now overlooking the dining hall (two more pictures were requested from me, too...). I could go on and on, really, but I just wanted to give an idea of how amazingly overwhelmed by this gesture I am. Not everyone was there, sure, but way more than I'd have expected were -- it kind of grounds me to just how amazing the people I'm leaving behind are, and how lucky I am I have met them.

Actually, I guess the real significance of this party is how perfectly it mirrors the beginning of my Japan trip -- an aspect that, very unfortunately, seems to have avoided a post as it took place in the US. Right before I left (literally days) I visited DC (stayed with James). While there, Blaine hosted a party for basically my favorite Tenley kids and Anderson Terrace kids, which inspired in me these same feelings, and unfortunately made it very hard to leave America (actually, these guys took me around to three different parties and I ended up having to leave without doing everything and seeing everything I wanted to, making it a tad different). In a way, this final party cements my thoughts of Waseda into a place I can consider home more than any of my other experiences or the general duration of my stay can, as it acts as the final sort of proof of the friends I have made here, and how close we have become. You simply can't have a home without people you care about, or at least some sentimental thoughts, and although I had them before this party, the party definitely brings all of these good feelings and memories to the surface. I guess, in this way, I'm both reminded of how sad it will be to leave everyone, but it also acts as the real last event necessary for me to leave, satisfied. Without this last piece, I fear I may have looked back and wondered if staying as long as I did, or coming at all was worthwhile -- perhaps regretted the whole experience. Now I know, with certainty, that I can never have those sorts of feelings. For this too, I am grateful beyond words. Thank you so much everyone!

Monday, April 19, 2010

End of the Road

Actually, I am not fond of that metaphor - it is less like this road is coming to an end, and more like I am crossing a border. A prime example from my past voyages comes to mind; Scavone, Cassidy, Zach, and I were driving through the redwood forests of Northern California. Eventually this road made it to the shoreline, curvining and winding up and down hecticly, the night descending on the already ark forest -- when suddenly we burst past the trees, the ground levelled in a plateau, and the uncovered twilight brightened the car significantly. Suddenly the road straightened significantly; we could see the sea, further inland, and the cloudly sky all very clearly and things levelled into a sort of comforting, beautiful and bland kind of barren landscape. This is allusion is much more fitting, despite some clouds and one or two obstructive buildings, I am heading into a more level and calm, much more familiar and endearing time. The previous setting, wild, nerve-wracking, but fun in an intense way will fade into the background...

...But, as those obstructions are so few, let me quickly mention the most prominent. Although I have a date set to return home, in my mind that I am happily telling everyone, I have just learned it is not completely certain. Basically I have been counting on Steve (my step-dad) starting his job with United this week, providing me cheap or free tickets, but they are somewhere between unorganized and messing around with him. I will probably still leave on Wednesday, but if he gets a call saying he needs to start a bit later...well, maybe I'll be here for another few days. It's not a huge deal, but it is discomforting for me to go from thinking I'll have my tickets today and that I can tell NASIC my check-out date tomorrow, to hoping I can give them a definitive date by Friday. Oh well, what can you do?

Now, the astute will notice a big difference from my last two posts -- I am not just openly talking about leaving, I am openly talking about leaving in a week. What happened here? Well,...since about last Thursday or Friday (depending on your location) I have been kind of disputing with AU over a tuition refund. The details are a tad hazy, so I am uncomfortable delving into too much detail. Basically I was getting fed some news that the AU Abroad policy was not to do refunds, which kind of goes against everything AU Abroad supposedly stands for. Added to this Waseda is totally willing to do refunds for students if they apply on time, I basically got annoyed and argued a lot. I also felt insulted by some parts of the exchange, and in turn may have hurt my advisor's feelings...inspiring him to prove my statements against him were unfounded, by (supposedly) taking up my case. Which kind of leaves me at a point where I don't know how far my argument got, and how far my advisor's support got (either way thank you!). In anycase, the result is a partial refund and confirmation from both schools that I have withdrawn from Waseda for this semester. Tuition was the main contingent holding me back since about Thursday, and was resolved as of Saturday or so -- after that I was only unwilling to talk about it as I had not received any sort of official confirmation until Saturday evening.

As for the other part, why I am leaving next week rather than a month from now as originally planned, there are two reasons. First...I just don't feel comfortable continuing in the care of the Japanese health care system. For those that did not read my last post, I will truncate most of my woes into this summation: Stubborness and Language Barrier. It is not important how much of this is actual, this is what my experience so far has told me exists (I am finding myself doubting how bad some of the doctors/nurses' English actually is, though there seems to be an obvious and surprising lack in English medical vocabular for most of them). I want to have an check-up/physical in both a language and context I am familiar and comfortable with. The second reason is that I want to work for three solid months (May, June, July) if I can, which requires returning home well...before May. Actually, let's add a third reason -- my little bro's b-day is on the 30th, I doubt I'll see him for it but it is a possibility.

I have more to talk about, primarily about this concert I went to (Stance Punks) and how my medical exams went today (special thank you Ben for helping a drugged-out me back to the dorms), but I feel this post has already become pretty long and cumbersome. Instead, I think I would just like to say hello and thank you to all of my dorm mates (and anyone else) who has recently started reading my blog! Hello! Although this blog is coming to an end time-wise, content-wise it should still have a bit to go. So, please stick around until the end! Who knows, when I return to the US I may choose to continue the blog with more general travels, or focus more strongly on that other blog I contribute to.

P.S. I'd also like to note that just about everyone has been pretty super cool about my leaving, even those that had to find out over facebook (or, in at least one case, twitter). I can't really express how grateful I am to everyone for that. My friends, my family, and even I kept telling myself I shouldn't have to worry about it too much, but it is kind of my nature. Anyway -- huge shout out to everyone who has been supportive, thank you so much!

Friday, April 16, 2010


Now, I am sorry to not conclude the situation from my last post, but the situation is still being resolved. Basically, I do not want to make the situation much messier than it already is. I still do not want to say for certain what I want to happen, as it greatly influences how I will describe this event afterwards - either as an interesting moment in my Waseda career, or else as the end of it. I cannot stop rumors from spreading, but I will state that, if I am to leave early, I would prefer to tell people myself, in person, so as to offend as little as possible. I certainly am not so idealistic as to think I can tell everyone, but I would like to try. It is less important to me to tell people myself if I end up staying, but it would be nicer if I could. I am at my readers' mercy.

So, instead I would like to talk about my various encounters with hospitals and health centers in Japan. I don't know how much everyone knows about this, but I have been in and out, and have plans to be in and out, of more Japanese health centers than any Gaijin ever should. In a sort of sick way (pun intended), it is already becoming one of the major focuses of my Japan experience, rather unique to me. So I would love to share, at least a little bit, of what that has been like.

Fortunately or unfortunately, I have not really been back to the hospital I went to in this post. Instead I have been going to both the Waseda Health Center and the "KokuritsuKokusaiIryou Senta-," or "National International Medical Care Center," both totally different ordeals. Let's start with some general hospital/health care information.

Like everything else in Japan there is a procedure to Hospital adventures. Like every other building or office in Japan, this means going from one counter, to another, to another, until, at the end, you are back at the beginning. Every hospital requires various information forms to be filled out before you can do anything else, but afterwards you receive a card specialized to that particular center. Once you have this card, entering the hospital is a matter of handing in this card and proceeding to your appointment, or answering questions about why you are there (often in the form of a survey -- having my dictionary was very useful so I knew what symptoms I was checking). For general sick appointments, my experience has been pretty consistent. They ask my symptoms, feel my chest, and check my mouth....and that's about it. Regardless of what my symptoms are, my first visit to each hospital has been identical. Afterwards they will either proscribe pills, set up a later meeting, or kind of just tell you to come back if you get worse. From here you go to a counter and pay, and from there either get your pills or go home (sometimes you can get them right there). The doctors seem pretty one-track on what they think you have, and once they decide this they are hard to budge -- to the point of more or less ignoring symptoms if it does not fit what they want of you. I am pretty positive this is why I am having the EKG this week instead of last week, it is rather nerve wracking. The other noteworthy aspect pertains only during the day -- all of the staff will constantly say in a sweet voice "Odaijini" (take care of yourself). It is like how shop owners say like "Irashaimase!!!!" only rather than obnoxious, comforting and sweet.

Moving on, I guess Emergency (night) hospitals should be next. It is an experience I have had twice, at two different locations. Both times were scary. I still feel I owe everyone for help the first time, and last time I feel I really need to thank Negishi-san -- he walked me down again, which took until 4 or 4:30am (the first time we were back by like, 2, which is bad but not quite as bad as birds chirping). This experience of being sick actually makes me long for a roommate, I never realized how hard it is to be sick and have nearly no interaction before -- it is much more disquieting than an a roommate is aggravating, I feel (this is a total 180 as to how I felt even 6 months ago, which I find really funny). Anyway, the only real difference between the emergency hospital and the first visit to a clinic is that the options in terms of tests and medication are much more limited -- not that tests seem very common for the first visit, anyway. This first time this was alright since the medicine worked, the second time it was not alright at all and I went to the health center the very next day. However, these centers are significant in that regular hospitals are closed so frequently - nights, weekends, holidays. Real hospitals also seem to have limited outpatient hours, at Kokuritsu just 8-11am. Pretty crazy.

Next I will talk about real hospitals during the day, to which I have had only one experience with Kokuritsu. Basically, the first floor was very open with different sections. You would check in, than go to the sector to service you -- in my case it was Internal Medicine or something. There are swarms of people just sitting around, waiting to get to different parts (most at the check-out/pay area, though). I guess the coolest part of the place is that there are these aluminum medical cases attached to some belt on the ceiling, that go everywhere in the hospital. I'm not sure what is in them, but they seemed pretty neat. The most disturbing aspect was that all of the rooms where doctors meet patients is really just one room, separated by curtains. It is really odd and awkward. Also, I think I would recommend going to a hospital that advertises speaking in your native tongue, if possible. Using a dictionary to point out symptoms is just not fun. Anyway, the health center is much more interesting so let us move on.

Much like at AU, the building is rather hidden away. Unlike AU, the building is BIG as in TALL! It has many floors, though each floor is kind of small in and of itself. The set-up is much more simple and straight forward than the hospitals -- each floor has a clerk, you start on the second floor to check-in, go the floor you're told to and wait. Do your stuff, go to the next floor you're told to, etc until you're back at the second. Normally it is just a visit to third then back down to second. The real interest here is my EKG story from yesterday, which may well be beat by the story of taking it off tomorrow.

Basically, I was told in advanced that the EKG technician spoke really good English, so I was looking forward to having a doctor I could talk to. Instead, I end up following my doctor whose only word of English is "excuse me." She had me sit down, and then immediately grabbed my shirt and said "Sumimasen" (also excuse me) and lifted it. Without saying anything else she just swabbed my chest, took a sticky EKG node and tried to shove it on. Now, for those unfamiliar, I have a rather hairy chest. Stickers do not stick well to hair. I had expected the clinic to need to shave it, or the woman to try to avoid the hair parts, but no -- she stuck to her guns. Essentially, I went in feeling fine, and found myself under going 30 minutes of a crazy doctor pressing hard against my chest, putting on and tearing off (along with my chest hair) the nodes, swabbing manically my chest with fluid to help the nodes stick, eventually taking a pair of scissors and trying to cut some areas clean (she cut very few hairs, and not all the way, in effect not helping at all), and eventually putting both the bigger back stickers on as well as some sort of medical tape to keep them in place. The scene was frantic, and right out of a medical comedy/horror movie. It was ridiculous. This was immediately followed by an explanation for how to use the device (ie: press the button when your chest hurts). I was afraid to ask if I should press it then, as all of her prodding indeed hurt my chest (I was in pain for at least an hour in a way I feel comfortable believing was from her prodding). After the explanation she went through this paper-diary thing with which I need to record how I am feeling throughout the day -- which resulted in a dictionary search for basically every character on the page. Another doctor even came in to help the search, and collectively they tried to act out different symptoms. Most notable was "Memai," which resulted in a sort of coughing and hammering action by the male doctor in a manner I can only describe as surreal (it means dizziness, if you could not tell).  "Ikigire," shortness of breath, resulted in similar antics from both doctors, and a rather long search on a computer's dictionary. I tried afterwards to ask what to do if the nodes, which I could feel tugging as soon as I stood up, and which also never consistently were connected well enough to give a reading before I put my shirt on, undoubtedly fell off. I could not ask in Japanese, so I tried in English and did my own acting (it looked a lot like pulling them off, unfortunately). This question was repeated three or four times, sometimes by request, before they got it. Basically they kept saying like "We'll take it off." then "We'll take it off tomorrow morning." and so on, before I finally got them to understand. The response? They handed me a roll of tape and I walked out, thanking them, as fast as I could. Needless to say, I dread going back later to have these removed, as from the short preview I was granted from the doctor removing and reapplying the nodes over and over again, the experience promises to be excruciating.

Well, there really is not much to say about hospitals. Like anywhere else, you should strive not to need them. At the very least, if you have a hairy chest and require an EKG do yourself a favor and shave beforehand. What I would not have given if she had me go home and do so rather than try her own way!

Sunday, April 11, 2010


First off, I feel I should maybe apologise for taking so long in posting -- a few interesting things have happened, but I have been sick basically for the last 3 weeks. Over the last week this has taken a serious toll on me to the point that I only managed to goto classes one day last week. This is a direct influence on this post and the current of my thoughts.

Basically, I find myself standing at a crossroads of my Waseda experience. Wednesday is the last day I can choose to end early and still get my tuition for the Spring back, which for me means that it is the last day I could reasonably turn around and go home. I do not really like that I am viewing this experience in terms of ending it, and was sincere in my optimism with my last post, but I cannot escape the simple reality of the situation. Every few weeks I find myself confronted with a disturbing thought: I should be home. Sometimes I took this as fact, sometimes I rejected it, typically I ignored it as impractical. I was not willing to leave mid-semester, and knew I could not pick up spring-classes at AU, so I could not find the utility in going home early. Yet, the thought still persists and if I do not confront it now I will have little choice but to suffer through the next 4 months, wondering if I should have left.

I hope my post on Waseda from the other week makes it a little more clear why the question keeps coming up, but I will sum up my major problems now; most of my time was spent in or preparing for Japanese courses, which I found awful and irrelevant to my academic interests, I had essentially no extra-curricular activities, the dormitory I live in is rather terrible, I have rather limited/non-existent money making prospects, causing my money to pretty consistently go directly into my food budget, and really all of my friends here are international students - mainly in this dorm or people I knew before I got here.

A lot of these issues look like they are being improved, either by my own actions or things beyond my control. The Japanese course system has been changed, replacing an hour and a half one day with another elective, which themselves now look more interesting. I also find myself on track for a Japanese minor if I choose to stay. I find myself involved with an extra-curricular organization, possbly two, even if the future of these prospects are not the most certain. My room has been converted into a single, and parts have been renovated, making it slightly more bearable (though it should be telling that turning a room into a single only manages to make it "slightly" more bearable). There is not much I can do about my food situation that I didn't try first semester, so I won't really consider this too much. As for friends, extracurriculars help this, so basically if I can keep my optimistic awareness and positive energy it should work out alright - though there's no guarantee of that happening.

Of course, the situation is a bit more complicated than all of this. I have had some guilt about leaving the country at the same time my little brother was heading out to school, I have wanted a break from school for a while, and it would make finding a place to live a tad easier. On the other hand, my little brother might be able to take a trip out here if I stay, going home now would really be going home in a month, giving me only a few weeks on a normal summer break, and I have started reaching out in ways that tie me a bit more to Waseda this semester than last. I mean, bigger than all of that, I've only seen two of my classes so far. I have no idea how this semester is tilted to go, just that last semester (which I entered in a bad mood) wasn't as good as I'd have liked.

Really, I don't know what I'll do with either decision, and I am torn basically 50-50. In terms of my experiences in Japan, as in more general adventures, I can guess this: if I stay adventures will be on hold much like first semester. I will likely go somewhere for Golden Week (last thursday or friday of april ~ end of first week of may), but it would have to be a cheap trip. A week after that my little brother would *possibly* come visit, for who knows how long. He would stay in my dorm too, so I'm not 100% how it would work out, but it would be cool to see him. After that it'll be more or less a straight shot of classes, with maybe a short trip before heading home the last week of July. On the other side, if I choose to go, I will probably stay in the dorm for the next month due to issues with rent (if I don't give a month warning I get charged, and I am basically paid through early may anyway). I would probably end up using my spending money, that is supposed to last 4 months, all in that one month, likely on day trips and gifts and potentially cut into my rent money (my rent money = money from loans, so I'd potentially just give it back). If I could time it right, I would try to stay long enough to host my brother for about a week and go home with him, but I'm not certain that would be possible. Afterwards, well, I would likely stay at home and try to work through the summer, or perhaps do something down at AU - it is hard to say. Either way, I will probably keep this blog going until I am legitimately back in the US (actually, if I go home early I will probably travel around NA a bit. If that's the case I might post throughout the summer - thank my love of the road trip and my step-dad's potential job with United!).

Anyway, it is a really tough decision, but I felt my readers should know it is happening. I have already spoke to my mom about it, later tonight I hope to speak to my dad. There is a deadline, though, so there really can only be a few days of suspense.

Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Sempai Project

Some stuff has happened since I returned to Tokyo, but really I just want to talk about "Sempai Project" as it is a circle (club) I may end up joining. Before that I feel I should mention this concert Ben invited me to, if only to make him cringe at the thought when he reads this.

Basic set-up: Thursday we disembark, I think both of us spent signficant amounts of the day asleep. Friday Ben is supposed to come grab some junk I made him leave in my room, and there is some other stuff we decided to exchange during the trip (including some of my mom's coffee!). Instead, he calls inviting me to a concert - I ask what type and he says probably pop music. On to the concert: I must premise this with the ticket was free, so I can't really complain too much. However, I will say this is basically the only time I can think of where I left a performance of anything early. It was some Siena Wind Orchestra, so I came somewhat underdressed (though I anticipated this with a button down over shirt thing), opening act a MIDDLE SCHOOL BAND. The actual orchestra was at least capable of playing their instruments, but it was a show comprised solely of American TV Show and movie theme songs. The highlight of the first half was the theme from Mission Impossible. It all just kind of felt like a joke, so I took intermission as a good chance to dash.

Less depresingly, the next day I was involved with the Sempai Project's English Shower. This is a pretty neat introduction for Study Plan 1 (national Japanese students) to English lectures, even if it did not work fully that way. The break-down was a short lecture, in English, followed by everyone breaking into kind of discussion groups led by sempai (older classmates), such as myself. Our discussion group ended up combining with another, where we basically just had everyone go around and introduce themselves, then say their favorite musician, and then their  favorite movie. I guess the goal was a mix of English practice and meeting new people, but I think it really only accomplished the latter. In anycase, there were a lot of interesting people both in the Sempai and in the freshmen - so I will help out with their picnic next Monday, which has a similar sort of goal (plus free food). Depending on how that goes I may join up officially, but I don't really know what they do after this. A lesser concern is that my Japanese is still kind of poor, which in theory should not matter, but in from the last event it feels like it could be. I'll have a better idea of it all after the picnic, I guess.

Monday, March 29, 2010

Thoughts on Waseda - 6 Months In

Pre-post: Sorry this took a while. This is a mix of descriptions of Waseda stuff for those curious, either for pure interest or because they're going to Waseda at some point (I hope it might be that useful, anyway). It is rather complaint ridden, as I had a lot of complaints this year, so I apologize in advance.

I am now about halfway through my 11 month stint as an international student in Tokyo. I've had so many experiences, a plethora of frustrations preceeding ecstatic triumphs, that is is hard to believe I still have more to go. The emotional toll has just been so heavy, it is like the cliche where my mind has been on a roller coaster, and I can only now be thankful that the second hill is always smaller,...and ignore for the moment that we always would prefer it were bigger. For now, I want to focus on the source of a lot of my day-to-day stress: Waseda University.

I really don't talk about Waseda as much as I can, and it perhaps does not come through how big a role it has. I really only talk about the school when I feel something important or confusing happens. Yet, I am always thinking about it. Even during my break I am thinking about school, it's really just my nature. One of the reasons I enjoyed going home so much was how hard it was to think of Waseda -- I could just forget about it for a while. Let's now look at what exactly it is I was forgetting.

Classes at Waseda are at once familiar to me, as they take place in rather similar formats to those at American University. The major difference is that classes are all an hour and a half, with fifteen minute breaks between them, instead of an hour and fifteen with ten minute breaks. On paper, no big deal, even my high school courses were longer than my AU courses. Unfortunately, in practise, this is much harder to deal with and I pretty consistently felt class was over at least 30minutes before it actually was, nearly every class, about every day until the very end of the semester. Once you feel class should be over, it is impossible to regain full composure - it's just a nuisance. Add to this my morning Japanese course was three hours and took place nearly everyday I had any class whatsover, I was already warn down by the start of the day. Basically I would wake up and dread going to class solely due to the length of each individual class, except for on Fridays where I only had two courses, with significant time between the blocks. I guess the main problem I have with course length was that my Japanese course was so very long and everpresent. Yet, course length is meaningless next to course content. If you enjoy the course content, it really does not matter at all how long the course actually is, though it is also reliant on the professors, who are hit or miss anywhere. So I will take a quick moment and examine each course. I will put the department the course is in in ()s.

Japanese Language: Level 2 Core (CJL) -- there is absolutely no reason for this course to be three hours. It really is set-up so you learn from the books doing homework, so going to class feels like a pointless exercise. I would much prefer this course broken up into meeting 5 days a week, for one block each (the course has been reduced to 5 blocks instead of 6 this coming semester, but still meets in 3 day blocks). It would make focusing so much easier and force us to get at least some practise everyday! Really, I learned some grammar points and kanji with the help of this course, and did somewhat improve my reading aloud abilities, but I think it fell flat in helping me express myself in Japanese. Mostly I just felt like my language abilities were unsubstantial, and took a huge drain to my self-esteem day after day. I am willing to admit this is in part my own fault for transfering up a level, but I feel it is also Waseda's for not placing all of the students in the proper level to begin with -- a signficant amount of the students in my class could have been a level higher, but were advised not to because their level 2 abilities were not 100%. This kind of led to a situation where half the class felt the course was too slow/easy, and sped it up, and half the course feeling it was too fast and could not keep up...who were basically ignored. There was literally a time where our teacher asked a student the answer to a problem from a tape we were working on, the student said she did not understand at all, so the teacher promptly moved on to the next student -- and the next, and finally the fourth asked knew the answer. Then she moved on to the next problem as if nothing happened. There were two professors teaching this...I don't know either of their names.

Kanji Level 2 (CJL) -- again, the actual class was rather unnecessary considering the material. Basically we came in, took an exam, and then drew kanji with brush pens for an hour or so. There was some reading practise, and more review than in my core class, but the amount of useful work done in class could have been reduced to about 20-30 minutes. Thankfully, it was only once a week and the professor was really enjoyable, so I feel the pluses outweigh the minuses. The only way this could have been better is if the teacher dismissed us early all the time, which probably would have lost her her job. I do not remember the professor's name.

History of Russian; From Lenin to Putin and Medvedev (SILS) -- this course was fantastic. For the most part we covered a lot of history, the readings were interesting, and the professors lectures were interesting. The professor tried a few activities, that were rather hit-or-miss, but the course was pretty consistently enjoyable. This was basically the only course I consistently looked forward to twice a week. Taught by Prof. David Holley.

Movements in Japanese Intellectual History (SILS) -- this course was very interesting, but dreadfully long. I felt a lot of the information covered in class was rather dry and biographical, highlighted with interesting tidbits and some actual analysis spread out somewhat thin. The professor was pretty charming and delightful to talk to, and really knew his stuff, but was using way too much dry and uninteresting filler in his lectures. I dreaded going to class, for the most part, but it was not uncommon for me to enjoy being there once I was there. Basically I felt class only served to sporadically offer me new reading material to look into, as there was no required reading for the course itself. I think a large part of my dread in going was due to one of my classmates, though, who I would rather not publically belittle and so I won't. Taught by Prof. Adrian Pinnington.

History of Mathematics (SILS) -- I felt I learned a lot in this course, and really enjoyed it. I kind of had a mixture of dread and joy in waiting to go to class, as it is out of my field, but very interesting. It was a little tough, but not too tough. Taught by Prof. Nathan Sidolli.

Here I should also address a common complaint - that the courses at Waseda are too easy. This, for the most part, is true. Although I typically put a lot into the work I do, I found an overwhelming lack of outlets to put this effort. In the cases where I held back on putting my full work ethic in, I was rewarded more or less as well as if I had given it my all. Granted this is avoidable with a luck and research in choosing classes, it seems rather guaranteed that some courses will feel like you were short-changed in expectactions. Dissappointing as it is, it gives us international students an easier time in getting the most out of Tokyo, so I would feel hypocritical if I complained too much.

Another large aspect of Waseda is how it connects back to your home university. Here was another mixed bag. Everything I take transfers back to AU, as is (exception: A+ becomes an A), credit for credit, with the virtue of an easier grading scale (a C at Waseda would be a D at AU, so the range for an A becomes 80+ which is amazingly sweet). The downside is that what courses are actually offerred are rather odd and not necessarily useful (referring to SILS). This is kind of worsened by the fact that SILS  is a majorless system, so there is not really any need to offer any particular courses at any particular time. For someone like me, who is trying to graduate a double-major, this should make things easier but often doesn't. Basically I find I need to take rather particular classes to count for my majors back home, giving me an extremely limited selection as opposed to studying back at AU, and leaves me forgoing a lot of really intersting courses. This is in part due to an incomplete planning on my part, but is also due to some incompatabilities between schools - they are just trying to do different things.

This leads to another aspect that is important - the Japanese school year starts in the spring, rather than the fall. This has caused a few things to be rather inconvenient or uncomfortable. Most signifiicantly, (most) clubs do not give a crap about recruiting new members. As a fresh student, you need to try and join clubs that are not in anyway advertising themselves, join the clubs that are catering to you (in my experience: they just run really expensive events and outings), or go without. I have basically chosen to go without, though I will look into it more next semester. The other issue this has presented is that they decided to change aspects of the system...which means that things will be done differently this second semester when compared to the first. This is a blessing and a curse. A curse because we are guinea pigs and the system still has some faults, a blessing because it means I will see the result of a lot of complaining my group and previous groups have lobbied at the school. Most prominently, course selection has switched from paper only to digital only. This is kind of nice, but the system still has some issues. An example is that when you register for courses, if too many apply for the same course you will be put in a lotto and either enter the course or be declined. This is normal. What is not, is that you get no notification if you are declined entrance -- this means there is no explanation for why you are not in that course. The way to find out whether or not you got entry is to search for the course on the syllabus, if it does not show up it is filled. This happened to me, and was magnified due to the results of registration coming in early -- on a day where a different registration result was supposed to come in. Likely this would not have been a big deal if it had been properly done by their own system, the problem is that we have to use a buggy new system.

As for the old system, I feel there is little reason to criticize it now that it's gone. It was a hassle to have a tiny window of registration, and to have to do it on campus. The system still provides a tiny window, but at least now there is improved freedom with add/drop. Really the only dissappointing aspect is that paper registration is completely gone, which is probably for the best anyway.

The next aspect of life at Waseda worth talking about is the campus itself. It is a really weird mix of design, parts of it are utterly gorgeous, other parts are exceptionally gross. most of the buildings are kind of not designed-well, functionally. I will explain. Most of the buildings are really plain, brick buildings set to a sort of grid -- it is like walking through some sort of factory or warehouse complex. The exceptions to this are without a doubt the clocktower and the library, both of which are gorgeos, and perhaps the cafeteria...which is kind of a hidden glass building. The library and clocktower are both gorgeous brick buildings, that kind of have the charm of older european towers and such. They also really well placed, they kind of glow when the sun rises or sets. They both are pretty inside, too, with library being enormous and modern, the clock tower being a big auditorium (ok, not too gorgeous but it is functional and nice). Other buildings do not have such pretty insides, such as building 11 - where I take my SILS courses. There is a large stair case going from the first to second floor, but half of it is blocked by a wall. Those two floors, and every other floor, is then only connected by really tiny escalators -- causing huge traffic jams between classes. The first floor is kind of pretty, but the rest is kind of plain. There are also elevators, but you can only use them if you are going to the professor's offices -- on the 9th floor and above. There is a sister building set up the same way, and then all the other buildings have similar eccentricies. Building 22, where I take my Japanese courses, is has a very pretty lobby, and at least has stairs and a few elevators between every floor, but is filled with really plain looking hallways and rooms (which is completely fine). The the other aspect effecting the campus's aesthetics are these kind of wooded areas and grassy areas, which greatly improve the look of the parts of campus where we do not have class buildings. They are gorgeous to walk through to and from campus, but you don't really see them going from building to building (at least not 11 and 22, which is where I am normally going). Kind of unfortunate. There are also less pretty set-ups, like this big dirt field, but it is kind of out of the way, surrounded by trees, and normally only used when it is set up for a festival -- in which case it is covered in tents/booths. The only part of campus I feel deserves particular criticism is the main quad, between buildings 11 and I think 12 or 14 -- it is a very small, steep hill with some dying grass on it. Maybe it will look better during the spring, but it is just kind of sad as the only real grass on campus. That does not make it any less fun to sit or lay on, but it is kind of a hassle to get to. It does look really pretty, in the right sun, and it is fun to look down from the top, or at some of the large towers, but when I see it from the bottom it is typically just sad.

The final juicy piece I want to talk about is campus life. I live in an International Student House, which I was not expecting when I was applying to the program. My major problem is actually that -- a lot of the information AU has and Waseda provides is out-dated or not meant for SP3 (study plan 3 -- one year/semester abroad) students like me. Basically the information we were fed was that we would be in buildings up to an hour - hour and a half from campus, no visitors allowed, curfew set, but that they would be guaranteed singles, a tad cheaper, and breakfast and dinner would be provided. Now, I think other schools had more up to date information, but this is only the case for full on Waseda Students -- Japanese or SP2 (international, not abroad). What we get are International Dorms, which are much more conveniently located, and tend to have nicer rules...though 2 of the 3 have rules against outsiders, at least now (I think they all used to have freer access). My main issue moving in was that I did not have free meals. Daily life in the dorms is alright, often I feel it barely tolerable. My dorm is rather dirty, it is often cleaned poorly or not at all. It is hard to complain too much about the old state of the building as it just now is undergoing rennovations, but first semester was pretty tough. I guess my biggest problems now are in regards to the water. Each room has a private bathroom (toilet and sink), but the sink is only cold water...which is apparently pretty common in Japanese households, but really uncomfortable. I would use the public toilet for its warm water sink, but it is always locked. The other issue is the showers -- our dorm and our dorm only has this kind of lever shower, that I have complained about before. Basically you push the lever down, and get about 5 to 10 seconds of water. If you keep it pressed you get a continuous stream, it is rather uncomfortable. On top of that, the water pressure on most is either extremely powerful or extremely weak. There are showers with a longer water flow time, but they all either have weak pressure or fluctuating pressure, and all have fluctuating temperatures (they are also underground so are way colder in the morning). I feel kind of spoiled complaining about all this, but it makes for rather uncomfortable day to day life, which messes with the nerves and adds stress. Kind of a problem, though I think most other people are better at dealing with it than me.

Other than this, there's not much to say. Tokyo life is city life, pretty isolated from other people -- you really don't need to speak a lot of Japanese, or any, to get by. I find Waseda life rather unpleasant a lot of the time, but I came into it in general upset about leaving AU and the US when I did, and just generally sad at the prospect of being in Japan for a year. Despite that, I still feel I have had a rather good and pleasant experience overall, I have met some really cool people, done some really cool things, and just generally been having a good time when I let myself. I think I am in a better state of mind for this second semester, and expect it to paint a better picture. I am interacting a bit more, likely to have some sort of tutoring job (that I may or may not want anymore), I may join a club, and, after all is said and done, I come back home for good pretty soon (not to mention I have finally had my break and trip back home, though I would have felt more refreshed if I did my trip before I went home -- still feeling pretty good). Basically my hopes for this coming semester is to be a little less neurotic and just enjoy it more than I have been. I'd say expect a lot less complaints in future posts, but it is kind of my nature to complain and poke fun at negative things that bug me. We'll see how it goes!

Actually, that is not a very satisfying description of the future. I have picked my courses for next semester -- for Japanese I am taking a core, which should prove the same as the previous one (though it is dependent on the professor), an expression of basic grammar course - which I hope will aid my expression and my grammar skills, and a novel reading course - which I hope will improve my reading. I feel kind of odd not taking a Kanji course, but they aren't that useful, really. As for clubs, my hope is to find and join the fencing club, but at the same time I don't want to find them as my lack of equipment here could keep me from being eligible. On the other hand, I have started interacting with some of my classmates more, and may end up joining this "Sempai-Project" organization, aimed at helping integrate younger classmates (Sempai are basically older students). All of my SILS courses should count for something back at AU, and I basically have my next semester there planned out, so I am much less concerned about all of that than I was last semester. Housing is still proving tricky, but I haven't pulled out all the stops to find a place. Finally...I can't do much to make my dorm more pleasant, but I am in a single, which is a significant start. I am buying more variety in groceries, and able to store most of it here in the room with me, which is pleasant, and I have been willing to replace various necessities that do not necessarily need to be replaced, but generally make life here easier and more pleasant (I got a new bowl, some more containers, a bigger cup, etc). I also may decorate the room a bit, maybe get a plant or hang up one of these "Noren" (the cloth you put in front of a room) I got as gifts for people. Basically, I am at a state where I recognize there are a lot of problems with Tokyo and Waseda, but I instead of just whining about it, I hope to turn it around and see those areas that can be improved upon, and counting the rest as less big a deal. And, again, worst case scenerio -- I can count the days 'till I'm home and full-time complaining about AU again!

Friday, March 26, 2010

Trip Round Up and Photos!

So, my trip is over and it is time to evaluate what I thought of it all. But, first, I would like to present my photo albums from this trip. I formed these albums from the pictures as I took them -- the most editting any of them has is a 90 degree rotation. They are raw, not all are pretty, but they are pretty solid representations of how I view these places. I hope you will enjoy them! Also, I added comments to lots of them, so if you read the blog posts from each place, or read them while scrolling that day's pictures, you will get a lot more out of them than taking either on their own. (Basically these gallerys are my "gift" for my 50th post! Although I would have put them up, anyway...)

Osaka -
Kyoto -
Hiroshima -
Kobe -
Nagoya -

As for the trip itself, I rather enjoyed myself. There was not a city I did not enjoy immensely, nor a place I regret visiting. There are things I would like to have done or seen in these cities, but I feel if I had tried to shove them in I would have pushed it too far and messed up that part of that trip. More importantly, however, I have come to appreciate Tokyo a bit more. All of these cities are gorgeous and different, but Tokyo clearly is as well. Now that I have seen some of the other big cities of Japan, I can see where it is that Tokyo stands - it is the largest, most varied and diverse of them all. Each of these cities feels like it has one or two really neat things about them, that make them unique and special, whereas Tokyo has everything, does everything, and is typically pretty good at it all. Osaka is kind of a quiet, yet large port city, Kyoto is all ritzy shopping and temples, Hiroshima is a small, stunningly beautiful city, Kobe is just kind of large and exciting for that reason, and's pretty, and has some variation to it, but mainly I feel like it wants to be a modern city, like Tokyo, but is a tad too small, and does not pack any sort of punch -- basically it is a nice, non-intimidating place. Tokyo has areas that incorporate each of these aspects, even if they are contradictory, because it is composed of a bunch of small cities and towns. It is basically like a patchwork quilt of things, the patches don't look like they belong together, but eventually you get used to looking at it and can appreciate it for what it is.

Anyway, although I did enjoy each of these cities, the first three are without a doubt the most worth visiting. In fact, if I had known how much I would enjoyed Osaka, I think I would have convinced Ben to stick with the original plan - going from Hiroshima to Kyushu and looping back up, we only didn't do this because it would have meant another day in Osaka, which is typically considered dull and boring. I can see why it is, as it is very much like a tamer Tokyo, it isn't very exciting or active. However, it still has stuff going on and the tame aspect is its real appeal.

This whole trip was still missing something, besides the southern island paradises, and that is Japan's quiet towns and villages. I hope to correct this by visitng some of the villages later on this year, though I can't guarantee I'll have the opportunity. I thought I had more to say, but I really covered everything pretty well in my individual posts. Later this week I'll put up my post on first semester, there's a few things that may or may not happen before class. Basically, I should be returning to my standard, somewhat infrequent, post schedule soon. So, that's all for now!

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Nagoya -- The Finale

Well, the trip is over and I am back in my dorm in Tokyo. I even took a nap. However, I will keep this post focused on just the last day in Nagoya up till now.

So, basically around 10ish Ben and I went out and hit the city, our first goal the Free Cafe. Unfortunately, it was closed, so we wandered around looking for food. Eventually I suggested Denny's as a joke and he started considering it, which lead to Japanese Denny's Brunch! It is uh...very different. There is a morning menu, defeating one of the purpose's of Denny's, and the menu was rather tiny...only really serving combos and dishes that were somewhat not terrible for you -- defeating a second purpose. At least they are open weird hours, though they are not 24-7. We both got some morning set that was a salad with thousand island dressing (no control over this?), sausage, bacon, eggs (they messed up mine =( ) and a choice of 3 breads -- in our case mini-pancakes. It was all actually pretty good, the pancakes not being much worse than normal Denny's pancakes and the sauage being amazing. Afterwards I got a blueberry cheesecake...which was ridiculously tiny and dissappointing. Oh well.

From there we kind of wandered around looking for the market Ben went to the day before, so I could buy shoes. We ended up seeing lots of crazy clothes, and I got brown and white animal striped shoes with really soft/furry interiors. They are kind of awkward to wear, and were expensive, but totally worth it. I also had some mexican food in the area -- a somewhat over priced taco. This tasted pretty alright, surprisingly. Not the best ever, but at least they did not use ketchup or something as the base for the salsa.

From there we went back to the Free Cafe, which was now open. Now, this is exactly what it sounds like - a cafe that is free. It is pretty snazzy. There is a line to get in and get a cup and small plate, then you can get either coffee, tea, orange juice, or water, and basically as many "Senbei" or rice crackers as you want, which they also sell. It is a really cool idea, and extremely convenient. I guess the main point is to raise awareness of environmental problems, which I do not believe it does, but it is a cool hang-out point and cheap snack. Worth noting: although there is room for a lot of tables and chairs, which there are around the perimeter, the middle is rather open with serving tables, and two tables to stand and eat at. It works pretty well, it inspires people to move and not get bogged down, which works well with their 30minute limit for being in the cafe.

After the Free Cafe we decided to wander back around towards the hotel area, and went to Karaoke for about an hour and a half. It was pretty cheap, and decently fun, especially since there were only two of us. We then did the standard cafe for a few hours, and then went to catch our bus, ending the fun part of the trip. The bus back was a bit nicer than the other buses, and I managed to sleep through a lot of it, but the parts I was up for were obnoxious. But it should be my last one, possibly forever!

Anyway, even if I do not have my thing ready for the 50th post I still feel I should mention that this is it! We have hit 50! So exciting, though it will likely be the only exciting number that this blog reaches...making it even more exciting!

Tuesday, March 23, 2010


Today was kind of uneventful. Basically I woke up, applied for classes and laid around for a few hours. Around noon I went out the the port, and just wandered. Now, I went to the port knowing that it was the biggest trading port in Japan, so I expected to do some shopping and finally get my shoes. However, everything was closed. Instead I just walkd around for an hour and a half or so, taking in the sites, and then heading back. While there I picked up a ramune-flavored ice pop, with little fizzy soda-flavored candies in the middle. For those not in the know, ramune is japanese soda that comes in really cool bottles -- there is a thin neck and two indents near the top, and then the top is sealed with a glass ball. You smash down on the ball to open the soda, and then drink it so the indents catch the ball -- I love them, but find they are easier to find in Japanese import stores in America than in Japan. Every now and then I luck into them at a restaurant, but then they only have this standard's kind of unfortunate. Conversely, there are lots of ramune flavored things (kind of funny since Ramune is derivative of the word Lemonade, though they don't taste similar) - such as this ice-pop. I had seen it around, but never purchased one before. It was interesting. I wandered some of the malls back in my area, but I just wasn't feeling it. I think I am at the beginning stages of illness, so I am just going to take the time to rest. In that vein, I am drawing a bath as I type this.

Tomorrow Ben and I should travel together, although we have not discussed it yet. My hope is to maybe go to the "Free Cafe" he mentioned in comments on my last post, but other than that I really don't know what I would like to do. There is a LOT of time to kill. I don't think I want to go to the Port or Castle again, and I doubt he wants to go back to the market he went to today. I don't expect to be up to Karaoke, and quite frankly think it would be awful with just two people anyway. A trip to the Onsen could be alright, but it is the sort of thing that would be better after a long bus ride -- you follow an Onsen with sleep in a warm bed, not a stressful bus ride. Oh well, I'm sure we'll come up with something -- at the very least there are a good amount of parks and museums in the area.

It seems kind of pointless to post this, as I have so little to say since my last post, but I do want to state some of my plans for the blog. Tomorrow is my last day in Nagoya, and that evening Ben and I catch the night bus. I'll probably pass out when I get back to Tokyo, but sometime that day I will write a post or two on tomorrow and my first day back in Tokyo. Sometime later in the week I will write a total-sum up of the full trip, and either attached to that or as a separate post, I will have a surprise gift post (if you follow my Buzz or remember my Hakodate trip you can guess what this gift is) -- though maybe I will post it early for the 50th post. After all of that is done, I'll post the sum-up of my first semester at Waseda (I am working on this). So, this should all be up by the end of the week -- once that's set I'll go back to normal posts. Though, they will likely still be somewhat frequent as the new semester is starting, and I'm supposed to start tutoring within the next week or so, if all goes well. Anyway, I kind of wanted to state where I stand on this trip and how long it will take to move on and away from it, and to sort of warn of a return to normalcy. I feel I should also mention that, although I am spending a tad more than I originally anticipated, I have not given up on taking a short trip during spring -- most likely during Golden Week. Well, we'll see what happens!

P.S. Haha, my bath is done! Perfect.

Monday, March 22, 2010

Nagoya, more like NAG, Oh Yeah!

First real day in Nagoya is really finished! Today was rather non-eventful, but I guess I saw somethings that kept me amused. Let me relate them to you all.

Well, off to a late start due at least in part to the separate room thing, Ben and I went around and grabbed some lunch -- bento (basically lunch boxes, stores that specialize in these are common everywhere in Japan). This is important because my bento was something called "Kuma-San" which roughly translates to Mr/Mrs/Ms/Miss Bear. It came in a container shaped like a bear head, and the top had a little face. It was adorable, delicious, and a surprisingly decent amount of food. Ben and I enjoyed our meals in a park, and then basically just walked around. There was a loose goal of finding me shoes (my somewhat recently purchases laces broke this morning, which somehow made me more urgent in this...even though they still tie and can be bought separately), which was not successful, but did lead us to an area near Central Park (hahaha) with dinosaur-shaped bushes, an NHK character store, a Pokemon Store (with union room) AND a Shonen Jump Store! Pretty impressive stuff, you know. I also almost bought shoes, but chose to wait and try to find better ones later.

From here we kind of wandered out again, somewhat aimlessly. At a certain point Ben decided to go one way and me another, which was roughly we got sick of dealing with each other and neither wanted to follow the other. This happened in Hiroshima, too, with the park...but this time had a lot more lead up and was much more smooth a separation. Anyway, afterwards I kind of wandered all over the place. I went down to Nagoya Station, which has some cool buildings (especially the spiral tower!) and some malls, then wandered out to Ennoji shopping street, which had lots of slippers but no shoes I could use, and finally ended up exploring Nagoya Castle area. This is important because not only is it the 400th year anniversary of the castle, but the castle was closed when I got there and left me with a ridiculously long walk back with nothing of real interest on the way. I found a shoe shop, but they stop stocking shoes at like...2 inches short of mine. Oh well. The areas I walked through were pretty, but the only really interesting thing was a somewhat ugly park with giant stones just sort of set up in it. I forget the parks name, but it was referred to as a forest, in Japanese, and a park, square, and garden as an English translation of forest...which was really funny to me.

The last really interesting thing that happened today occured when I went to the station to get back to my hotel. A random Japanese woman just kind of walked up to me when I was about to buy my ticket and, in Japanese, told me that she was giving me her day-pass because she could not use it. It is possibly the most confusing, spontaneous, and nicest thing that has happened to me in Japan. Needless to say I am in a good mood now.

As for the future, tomorrow Ben and I have outright planned to explore separately. I think he has taken to heart some of my suggestions, too, so I guess we are going to an Onsen tomorrow, and maybe Karaoke the next day before our bus. Other than that, I kind of want to go to Nagoya Port, at some point, possibly return to the castle, check out this ferris wheel near our hotel, check out a shoe store near our hotel, and possibly check out this british pub/live music venue...also near our hotel. We'll see how much I care to stick to.

Sunday, March 21, 2010


Hope everyone is having a good spring! Today was surprisingly hectic, though that does not mean a lot happened. Essentially, we woke up, left, and got screwed over by the train. We thought it would take about 38min to get to Osaka Station from where we were, and it may have on rapid...but we were on normal. For the first time ever in my experience with trains, that does not just mean it skips some stops and goes faster -- the rapid also goes on a divergent path to a different end location. Totally screwed us up. We went to transfer back around, and a quality of older Japanese people that bugs the crap out of me prevented us from catching the first train -- there is some weird sense of entitlement that because they are older they deserve to get on the train more than other people, or something. Typically this manifests in them jumping in front of people on lines, when they exist, for entering the trains. This time it manifested in an older woman pushing me away from the door (and giving a quick sort of comment that I didn't quite catch) when I was in front of her, and the train was mostly packed, so that she and her pack could get on instead of Ben and me. I feel we still would have missed our bus even had we gotten on the train, and there was a chance both of us would not have fit, but it was still extremely rude and obnoxious to the point that the rest of the day has been overshadowed by this.

We eventually made it to Osaka station, and ran over to Umeda to try and find our bus...which resulted in about a 25~30 minute search for the boarding area. Our bus was to leave in 10 minutes. Clearly it did not end as we wanted it to. So, instead, we bought some tickets for the Shinkansen and went for lunch at a Takoyaki place -- ordering Takoyaki and Negitamagoyaki. For those that are unaware, that is doughy octopus ball and doughy green onion and egg balls, respectively. They were really good, and served differently than I am used to. Normally there is a filling and the balls are topped with some sauce, some nori (seaweed) and a sauce, and sometimes mayonaise. This time they were without topping, but served with a sauce a tad thinner than normal, some chilli powder (the type used on noodle soups), and some form of vinegar. I actually like this a good deal more than the standard, though Ben did not. Afterwards we went and caught our Shinkansen -- an experience I was not sure I'd have this year. It was pretty nice, rather comfortable, and got us to Nagoya in under an hour (the bus would have been about 4). Though, honestly, watching the scenery move outside the train did not feel at all faster than a car or anything, even though I know it had to have been. So odd!

Anyway, as for Nagoya I can say very little. It looks rather pretty, a tad quieter and less full than Kobe, Tokyo or even Kyoto -- much more like Osaka and Hiroshima. At Nagoya station the people lined up for the train, but I am much less impressed by that now. The hotel is not quite so fancy as the others, but we have separate rooms and the keys are really cool! Now, it is normal to have keycards that need to be inserted to this slot near the door to get power in the room. Here, it is similar but they are standard keys with a big glass prism on a keychain. This prism needs to be inserted into a slot to get power -- it is so cool to do! It is like a power crystal (actually, I guess that is technically what it is?). Color me impressed. I feel I should also mention now that I took the cool kung-fu pajamas from the last hotel, though the pants I snagged are a tad small. It doesn't list them as a chargeable item on this list they gave us when we checked in, so I am hoping I will not be bothered about them. Though, if I get charged, I could offer to ship them back? I dunno, we'll see what happens.

As for today, I think we are just going to rest in our separate rooms. Tomorrow we will explore some, the day after we should be able to register for class, and maybe go for an onsen, and then on our last day, before our bus, maybe some celebratory Karaoke? We'll play it by ear, or something.

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Kobe is for BEEFCAKES

Well, today was explore Kobe day! It was also the warmest day of the trip, so far. Ridiculous! We took a short walk around the island, followed by a long walk to lunch -- which was a pretty lovely cafe. The design and food was kind of Euro-styled (with some Japanese highlights) and the dishes and service were clearly Japanese. What I mean by this is that the building was quaint with bright colors, it had a very rustic feel. The food was like croissant sandwhiches, waffles, etc. But the glasses had like, cute lions and bunnies on them. I got a waffle with a Kabochya (green squash, much like a less smooth textured pumpkin). It wasr pretty tasty.

As for exploring, basically we just found shopping street after shopping street, it was kind of crazy. We did stop around the center of the city and listened to some live performers, called Canvas, for a while, but nothing too exciting happened. The most noteworthy thing we saw was a cowboy shop. It was ridiculously flamboyant, much more so than we would expect from American shops -- though we later discovered they were all imported from America, making everything rather expensive and significantly more sad and frightening. I would have bought a pink cowboy hat and some new boots if it was a little cheaper, though...

Around the evening we stopped in China town for literally 10 minutes, then went to city hall and the park nearby to see the city at night -- as was suggested by Gen. It was rather gorgeous, and we got to hear some musicians practice, which was kind of cool. Afterwards we got some Yakinikku for dinner -- at a place called Ton Ton (I assume Pig Pig). It was really good, and the staff was so friendly! We had Ribeye, Spicy Rib, Miso-Beef Tongue, Assorted Vegetables, a side of Cucumber Kimchi (my favorite type, they did a decent job with it!), and Mango/Vanilla mixed ice cream for desert. I also got a Yuzu Soda (Yuzu is the Citron of Citron Honey Tea, or Yujuchya for those that have read my Korean adventures). It was really nice and fun, the atmosphere was just really friendly and active. I think I prefer Korean Barbeque more, but mainly because it is cheaper and it comes with more sides (we could have ordered those sorts of sides, but it would have added at least 600Y or so for just the lettuce and rice).

We didn't really do much else in Kobe, but it was still a pretty good day. Tomorrow morning we'll either go to a cafe for breakfast, or I might try the hotel's viking breakfast, and by midday we should be in Osaka - by the evening in Nagoya. It's all moving so quickly, it's hard for me to believe we've done so much in such a short time! Oh well, it is good and necessary fun before the next semester begins.

Friday, March 19, 2010

Hiroshima Castle

It turns out our bus was at 4, so we ended up spending most of the day in Hiroshima before coming into Kobe around 9, and our hotel around 10. The hotel, for the record, is excessively nice and right on this small island so it is near the water. It also is kind of in this shopping plaza. Most exciting, though, is that the pajamas they provide look like kung fu gear. Haha, so awesome! Moving on, before I talk about Kobe I would like to finish up with my thoughts on activities in Hiroshima, though (at least on the castle).

The castle area is really intense and I personally found it way more cool and interesting than the imperial grounds of Osaka, Kyoto, and Tokyo even if it was not as outright large and beautiful as any of those three. Basically the castle itself is gorgeous, and its moats are signficantly more like rivers than other castles. The grounds themselves are also somewhat unique, as a lot of pieces were blown away in 1945 -- instead the foundation is still there and the areas of each piece are surrounded in stones, and then the foundation is kind of overrun with grass. People just sit and relax there, which is really cool to see. As for the tower itself, it was kind of moved and then a replica was made, which is now home to a museum. Though, I found this castle museum to be way more exciting than the one in Osaka, as well, for some reason. Each floor is kind of dedicated to a different thing, rather small, and for some reason just way cooler? It starts on the second floor with pieces of the old castle and the history of the township, then it moves on to other things, like there is a floor of paintings, of letters, of weapons and samurai armor, and at the top an observatory -- which is extremely fantastic. Hiroshima is just so beautiful! The mountains are so vivid, and the rivers so lively, it's just an awesome place.

After the castle, we went back to Okonomi-Mura for a final Okonomiyaki before we left. This was a great decision, as the place was way tastier than the first. All the ingredients were freshier, and they did not screw up making mine this time (the first time they messed up an egg so they threw a second one in, which made it pretty weird tasting, although still delicious). I also got it with cheese on it, which was pretty good, and Ben's kimchi looked way better than at the first place. I feel I should give the names of both places incase anyone has the joy of visiting either -- Kazu-chan on the third floor (first one), Shin-chan on the second (second visit).

After that there was just some wandering. We made our way to the station, where Ben quickly came up with an excuse to go separate ways to kill time before the bus -- a pretty obvious ploy to purchase some illicit materials. He did not say particularly what those were, or admit to purchasing illicit materials, but he was a tad too eager to split up, and a tad too impatient when we met up again -- as if he had done his evils quickly and wanted to move on and away from the experience. Once reunited, there was some mishaps with the bus that really shouldn't have occurred, and we were off to where we are now -- much more comfortable ride, for the record. I got to watch two episodes of Freaks and Geeks during it.

Which brings us to Kobe. I cannot say much about the city, as we just got here, save that I am shocked by how different it is from my expectations. I have had very little to go on, save that I expected it to be somewhat of a small, more rural type of city. In actuality it is enormorous, with a large sprawl of buildings and bridges and streets. Absolutely ridiculous! Though, it does remind me how much I am learning about these cities during this trip - and about Japan. I've really only experienced Tokyo before this trip (Hakodate and Aomori was such a short excursion). Pretty much everything I have disliked about Tokyo I have been attributing to all of Japan, and I think I am finally moving away from that with this trip -- by getting a sort of catalogue of the personalities of Japan's other cities. I never realized how big and bold Osaka is -- I used to think of it as just sort of a city that was there, without much purpose. Now I see it as Tokyo's sweet younger sister -- Tokyo being the rebellious teen. When I thought Kyoto I thought of a giant mass of shrines on traditional things just shoved together, but it is more of a trendy, smaller city. It is filled with shrines and traditional kinds of things, but it also has contemporary style -- I have not seen so many upper-class western restaurants outside of Karasuma Oike. As for Hiroshima, I had absolutely no knowledge of the city save that it was bombed. Now I think of it as one of the most beautiful places I have ever been. All in all, I am really excited to continue, and more than a little curious to learn the personalities of Kobe and Nagoya. It is a real shame this trip will end so soon!


Thursday, March 18, 2010

Hiroshima! Part 2

Today ended up being pretty good. Both Ben and I slept in an hour or so later than normal (for me this means 7, for Ben this means I let him sleep until he naturally woke around 11). After that was all exploration -- I feel we covered significant amounts of the city, like the only thing we have not seen that may be worth seeing is the castle...which we could do tomorrow before our bus, maybe.

That said, there is not much to say about the rest of the city. It is pretty, but also kind of dull. The only place really worth mentioning is Hijiyama Park -- which has been my favorite place during this trip, so far. It is a big foresty mountain with a Contemporary Arts Museum and a Manga Library in it. Near the museum are open-air exhibits, free to view, surrounded by the forest. Not to mention the forest itself is absolutely gorgeous. I had the joy of exploring it all and hiking parts of the mountain alone, as Ben and I kind of got annoyed with each other and entered different ways (I am surprised it took this long to happen, we made it a good half of the trip!). We ended up meeting up, and then separating on more jovial terms. For Ben this meant he went back to the hotel to rest. For me this meant I explored the park a bit more, then the residential area near the park, and then got lost going back to the hotel. I ended up almost getting back to the hotel twice, using my own reasoning -- the first time I was at an intersection and chose following a street sign over my own intuition, the second time I was basically just walking down the wrong road. Eventually I called and checked the bus stop we were next to, only to find that I was one stop away so I just walked it in a matter of minutes. It was kind of ridiculous, a tad frightening, but mostly just depressing.

Right now we are doing our laundries, and not much else. Tomorrow we may or may not go to Hiroshima Castle, but probably won't. I think I might get up early and buy shoes, as there is a hole in one of mine that keeps letting water in, but I may put it off until I'm back in Tokyo. Later on we will leave Hiroshima for Kobe! It will be my first daybus in Japan, and mark the return to separate beds for me and Ben! We have been sharing since Kyoto. It is actually a bigger problem during the day, when we want to shove stuff on it or w/e, and I also feel awkward lying on the bed next to Ben if we're both awake. It just seems odd. At night we just kind of pass out on different sides, so it has not been an issue at all. Haha, whatever.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010


Basically there is very little to say on my last day in Kyoto -- we wandered through the Imperial Palace, which was largely blocked off, and sat in the manga museum and then a cafe. Pretty laid back, I wish there was more to say about the Imperial Gardens but there really isn't. I tried my first Rocomoco from a street vendor, which I guess is news. It was poor quality though, basically just hambaagu, an egg, and some rice. When it's done right there should be a special cream sauce and it is supposed to be amazing, so I will have to try again. Also worth mentioning: Kyoto subway did not line up for us this time, so maybe it is only a Kyoto Station phenomenon. Also the night bus was nicer than the last one, slightly wider seats and softer cushions, though I had issues sleeping due in large part to my seat partner (which is where I will leave this). I totally expected it to be much worse, though, so I was pleasantly surprised.

On to Hiroshima! Despite being in a bad mood when we got there, the city is gorgeous and I couldn't stop staring at it even from the bus. We wandered around and found a local peace shrine, then wandered away and eventual made it to the Peace Park...where we spent most of the morning. So much to see there! A lot of it was really pretty, the dome was pretty horrific and magnificent. The various colored cranes (they are on a few shrines) were really lovely to see. The Korean memorial even had paper turtles! We also checked out the Peace Museum. The most catching part of it was the architecture, a spiral downwards through stone, much like the Holocaust Museum in DC, and then a hallway leading up into like...reading rooms? It is sort of odd. As for the exhibits, they were pretty repetitive and straight-forward...really make the heart ache. You start by descending into a large circular room with a mosaic of the ruined Hiroshima as it was after the attack, made of 140,000 to represent the 140,000 dead. There is also a map or two of Hiroshima at its peak. Following...there were consoles where you could look up names of those that died due to the bombs, then a room where you can read testimonies from survivors. The last part was a library filled with more information about both the dead and the survivors. It was a rather small museum, but packs a punch.

We kind of did very little after this until the evening, when we went to get OKONOMIYAKI! For some reason I have been looking forward to this more than any other part of the trip, so it was a real joy to finally get down to it. We went to a place nearby, the most famous, called Okono-mura (Okonomiyaki Town). It is a building, kind of a mall, of restaurants specializing in Okonomiyaki! It is amazing. We went to a place on the third floor (it was the second furthest from the stairs on the right) that was amazing. I guess I don't really know how they all compare, I kind of want to go back and I kind of don't want to. Basically they are all huge and about 1000Yen ($10). In Tokyo they are typically smaller affairs, and about 500Yen...though not nearly as good. I ordered mine with Kimchi, so it was really interesting and tasty. I didn't think I would be able to finish at first, really, but I did. Afterwards I wanted a victory snack, so I got something called a Chocobou from a bakery -- it is basically a high end devil dog on a stick. Chocolate covered chocolate cake with a swirl of vanilla cream. I found it hilarious they put an ice pack in the box with it to keep it cool for me, but it was rather tasty.

Anyway, we kind of don't know what we are going to do tomorrow. I don't really know what there is to explore, besides a museum, and maybe some shopping districts. We wandered a LOT. Quite frankly, neither of us have much of a plan for Kobe and Nagoya either -- basically all I know is that we should eat a lot in both places, and try to see Kobe City Hall at night? We'll see what happens!

Monday, March 15, 2010

The Golden Temple and the Pure Water Temple

Today was a mixture of solo-adventuring and temple sprawl, pretty cool. I woke up early as my body does not give me the choice any more and ran around the hotel area, Karasuma Oike, just checking things out. I ended up going to a cafe nearby for breakfast called M's. It was really odd - half Asics store half cafe, playing weird jazzy covers of pop songs as done by an asian female singer. Most notably was "Don't Stop Me Now" by was pretty good, actually. My breakfast was too - texas toast with strawberry jam, a salad with a potato salad on top (I did not ask) and an only mildly gross coffee. Gave me the energy to walk around. My area is really cool as it is basically if Uptown and Grand Central Station areas of NYC were combined and designed by Japanese people. That is all I can really say about it.

The Golden Temple was pretty cool, it was in a forest like all temples are, with a pond all around it. It was rather pretty and serene, very nice, though little to say about it. Ben and I got some charm gifts at the souvenier shop and then wandered the area looking for food. The area around the temple was really quiet and quaint, much less city-like. I find this really interesting because Ritsumeikan University is in the area, so I would have expected more activity.

Afterwards we went back to the hotel, Ben rested and I tried to get down to Kyoto Station before we were to go to the Pure Water Temple, though there is little to say on this than I was unsuccessful - the walk was too far. I did pass one of the few pizza parlors that smelt like a pizza parlor in Japan, though, which is worth a mention. As for the Water Temple, it was magnificent - even more so than the Golden Temple, and quite frankly, any of the temples and palaces I have seen so far. This was largely due to us going at night, when the whole thing was lit up by lamps and paper laterns. Yet, the real interest is this temple is designed to be explored. There is a path you are expected to follow that loops around and up, and then inwards and downwards. It is very exciting and adds to the experience by making it a kind of adventure. Even before you get to the temple, you have to climb a large hill filled with paper laterns and shops with temple goods and general Japanese style wares. Once you get to the top there are the standard pagodas and lion statues, some buddha statues and the like, surrounded on one side by mountains and forest, and on the otherside a valley with paths lit up by latern, with Kyoto's city-scape and mountains off in the distance. The path leads up and out around some buildings and upwards along this forest, with the path below clearly visible the whole time. Then it curves inwards, and you are on the lower path, descending, surrounded by the woods and the lights. At the end of the path is a water fall, where you can drink the pure water. Slightly offsetting this ambiance is a UV cleaner for these cups on long poles you use to drink, but it was still rather nice.

There is not really a lot to be said of these temples and therefore my day, as they really have to be seen and experienced. I did take a lot of pictures, which I will eventually put online. I think I will make a special post where I organize all the pictures I took on these 2 week excursion when I get back to Tokyo.

Anyway, tomorrow we intend to go to the Imperial Palace and Garden and to Kyoto Station area...maybe. I feel I should mention here something that really striked me when we got to Kyoto, that is more obvious now in contrast to the buses we have been taking. This is the only city I have ever been too where all the passengers will line up, two-by-two, and calmly wait to access the train. This phenomena does not happen on the buses, but is still rather impressive and worth mentioning. Sorry, moving on, tomorrow we also need to register for classes, and I hope to eat at one of the hotel's two breakfast options. Then, that evening, we move on to Hiroshima! I am pretty excited, and shocked out how fast it all is going. Oh well, I am just as anxious to get back to school as I am to continue this trip, really. It is a very nice place to be.

As a kind of side-note, since I have all of my grades from first semester back I will probably start writing a basic summation of my thoughts from my first semester at Waseda. Since my posts are currently focusing on my experiences on this trip, I will likely wait a little while before posting anything about that. Just figured I should mention that I will be doing that post, it has only been postponed and not cancelled.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Cosmosquare and the International Manga Museum

I wrote this out last night, but did not have the chance to post it until just now. We are also going to some Water Temple after the Golden Temple, it seems?

Today was our last day in Osaka, and our first day in Kyoto -- it was kind of sad to go so soon! Despite what I was told, I found I really enjoyed Osaka.

Anyway, since I knew we were leaving later, I decided to wake up early and head to the port while Ben was asleep. I skipped clubbing/bar hopping with Ben the night before so that I could wake up and go, actually. Despite this I kind of just winged where I was going on the metro based on the name and how it looked out the window, settling on Cosmosquare as my destination...which is really big, pretty, and probably important. I got off the metro and went immediately to the water, which was so excellent and refreshing! I really love the sea, and the coastline was fantastic. I just kind of walked alone the boardwalk for about 15 minutes before exploring Cosmosquare, a place called "Port Town" my main goal. In doing so I managed to pass by all sorts of interesting things, including the World Trade Center in Osaka and the Osakan Congress, as well as a cool park. I feel I should mention there was also a kind of amusement park further down called Cosmos Seaside, and a Maritime Museum all in this same area. It was rather odd to see such things grouped together, but really cool. I ended up getting to Port Town area, but not the actual Port Town -- the only appealing thing I saw was something that looked like the Power Plant in the original Pokemon games. Apparently, if I had walked around the whole area the one entrance to the touristy Port Town would have been clear. Kind of aggravating to have this happen two days in a row, but I was there too early for shops to be open anyway. From here I just kind of rushed back to the hotel before check-out, then we were off to Kyoto!

The train ride was pretty crowded, but it was rather fast and the towns and mountains between Kyoto and Osaka were quaintly gorgeous (I would really like to stay in a small town like the ones I see from inter-city trains and buses for a few days, and may do so during Golden Week or a 4-day weekend). Kyoto, at least the two areas we have seen so far, is extremely up-scale and ritzy. All the buildings are kind of magnificent marvels, mainly museums and trendy cafes/restuarants with some very nice looking hotels thrown in for good measure. It is all rather intimidating at first, though intimidation is already melting into curiosity and excitement. Also, our hotel is a steep improvement over the last one, looking rather fancy and the room being rather nice, even if it is small and there is only one bed.

After some wandering around, we got a rather fantastic meal (really really tasty Gomajji Miso Tonkatsu, or Sesame-flavored Miso Breaded+Fried Pork, and pretty reasonably priced) and rested at the hotel. Afterwards we decided to go to the International Manga Museum -- which was pretty cool. The inside was half enormous manga library and half museum with information and some exhibits, such as a room dedicated not to Osamu Tezuka but to his work, Hi no Tori (Phoenix) explaining a giant sculpture of said bird in the main hall. There was also a cosplay event going on, so we got to see a lot of people in cool outfits roaming the museum. Basically the experience was wandering around in awe of the library and costumes, watching people just sitting everywhere and anywhere reading, and then reading ourselves. There is also a courtyard connected to the building, where you can go outside and read, or as the case was for us, where all the cosplayers were gathered and showing off for eager fans with cameras. The main exhibit, though, was a large room, as in tall, where the walls were just filled with manga that wrapped around the room separated by year, in chronological order of first publication. Around the room there is information about manga, figures and interesting facts, as well as cells and all sorts of cool things. The whole experience of the museum was just awesome. I would have found the museum to have been worthwhile just for the chance to read some of Phoenix, but it went way beyond my expectations. I feel I should also mention there were a lot of foreigners in the museum working as volunteers, which is pretty neat. Ben and I both kind of agree that if we were studying in Kyoto we would probably do the same.

Anyway, moving on -- tomorrow our plans are pretty sparse compared to normal, but should be nice. Basically we plan to go to the Golden Temple...and that's about it. I guess we are also looking around for places to do the day after around our hotel, in order to making things easier between check-out and our night bus, but that's about it. I guess if we see anything really cool we'll do that too, time will tell!