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!

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Tennoji and Osaka Electric Town

Today was a pretty good, long, and eventful day. I woke up rather early and was surprisingly productive during those hours. When Ben did wake up we started our journey out to Tennoji, an area with a good amount of shrines and Buddhist temples. We started with some famous Osaka-style Takoyaki and some awesome Ikayaki, which are dough balls filled with octopus and covered in soy sauce and nori(seaweed) and a pancake with squid both cooked into the dough, and a pancake with squid fried into it wrapped around more squid and soy sauce. Both were really delicious. The area itself had a lot of small shops, a big park with a zoo, and, again, lots of temples. We visited two of them -- one whose name I don't remember and the Shitennoji Temple. The first one was smaller, but still rather large, and had both a rather modern style to it and a lot more Hindu influence than I am used to. It also had these weird sort of lounge/cafe things built kind of into one of the gates, just with seats and some vending machines in one side, and seats and incense on the other. It was just really odd. The second temple was enormous with lots of different things, including a sand-garden, a pond, pools with turtles in them, and even a cafeteria. Both were rather gorgeous, though Shitennoji had a lot of sand/mud just around, which was kind of less so.

Afterwards we went over to Nipponbashi where Denden Town, the Osakan Electric (Otaku) district is located. It is incredible! I was expected a kind of quiet area with a few fan-centered shops, but this was larger and busier than Akihabara! Not only was it huge on its own, but it kind of flows into Namba Market, which caters to a similar crowd, and possibly a third market, perhaps without a name. There was even some wares that impressed me - particularly we went into a doujinshi (fanmade comics) store in which there was a floor dedicated almost entirely to the Hetalia show, and a floor that had doujinshi for everything from anime and manga to pop music artists. I was tempted to buy a TM Revolution/Daisuke Asakura doujinshi, but they were kind of hard to recognize.

Our final venture was an attempt at reaching "Amerikamura" or America Town. Apparently it was where American imports were illegally imported around the war, and has evolved into a kind of fashion district with, as Ben puts it, "an otaku-ish feel." I am kind of dismissive of this as we did not reach our goal, though we did see some cool things. We basically tried to walk to Amerikamura from Denden Town, though we stopped at a rather cheap Noodle shop on the way, near Namba station. We passed a large amount of high-class (Armani, Swarvoski, etc) and foreign stores on the way, which was pretty cool and intimidating. Eventually we turned a road we thought would lead to Amerikamura, but ended up in a rather high-end indoor shopping street. It is hard to describe what these are, they are kind of like if you take a traffic tunnel and turn it into a mall. Koenji is kind of built this way in Tokyo. It was kind of cool, but not exactly what we were hoping for. I am kind of impressed that I have more or less gone through Osaka without buying anything but train tickets and food, oh well!

Tomorrow I hope to wake up early and head to the port, though based on my experiences with Japan so far, most shops and things will probably be closed. I will have to get there either really early, or really rush myself as hotel check-out is at 11 and Ben and I want to get over to Kyoto soon afterwards. It is close enough that we should be able to just take local trains, which should be kind of nice. Kyoto should be awesome!

Friday, March 12, 2010

Birthday and Osaka

First of all, obligatory: Woo! I'm 21! My birthday just came and passed so I am past the key ages in becoming a full-fledged adult citizen in the US. Kind of exciting, though it's rather toned down being in a society where that age is 20 mixed with my distaste for alcohol, the main privelage granted. However I am pretty excited that I can basically go anywhere and do most things, as age is no longer a restriction. Being able to join my friends at a nightclub, even if I choose not to drink, will be a welcome change from past experiences (though I am becoming tired of nightclubs and so whatever).

Anyway, for my birthday Ben, Rike, and I went under Ben's leadership to an Italian Restaurant in Shinagawa, where he paid for my lunch.  A few others were supposed to join us, but kind of wimped out at the last minute. It was pretty nice being in just a tiny group, and didn't tire Ben and me out too much for the bus we had to catch that evening. The food was pretty decent, the breads were surprisingly good, and the deserts were tasty. The pastas were a tad lacking, but way better than I would have expected from Japan. It was nice and fun.

That evening Ben and I caught our bus to Osaka, which was the worst of the nightbuses so far -- the seats were all narrow and there area infront of us was blocked at the bottom, giving us no leg room. Thankfully it was relatively short (8 or so hours, about an hour and a half of that spent off the bus at service areas) so the bus itself wasn't much of a problem. It got us to Osaka rather early, though, leaving us rather tired...but unable to check-in to the hotel (about 7AM for those wondering). Instead we wondered the city, eventually making our way out to Osaka Castle.

Eventually I'll put pictures of both up, but Osaka castle looked a lot like the Imperial Castle to me, only the architecture seemed slightly nicer and the gardens slightly less so, though I am inclined to believe my opinion on that would be opposite if I saw both when the sakura were in full bloom. We were able to enter the main tower itself, which was a kind of dull museum with a very few really cool pieces of art and samurai helms. The best part was undoubtedly the observation deck at the top of the tower, where you could see parts of the castle against the modern city. On our way out we ran across one of Ben's classmates from last year, who is studying abroad in Kyoto at Ritsumeikan. It was a pretty strange coincidence, but kind of cool.

After the palace we attempted to get to our hotel...but we had printed the wrong address. We ended up taking the subway to the wrong part of town and exploring, on foot, for something like 2.5 hours. It was kind of ridiculous, as we were both still really exhausted. However, the trains were rather nice and the area we explored was kind of cool to see - rather residential, a bit quieter than most similar Tokyo neighborhoods. I guess we wouldn't have seen it otherwise, and everything worked out so it is alright in the end. Though we crashed RIDICULOUSLY early (Ben was out by like, 4:30, I was out by 5:30). Haha, it was crazy.

My intial thoughts on Osaka: it basically feels like they took all the quieter machi (neighborhoods) from Tokyo and shoved them together, which is rather nice. Walks seem like they can drag on as there isn't as clear a line between an active city neighborhood and filler area as exists in Tokyo. If that doesn't make sense: Tokyo is basically a lot of small, active city neighborhoods connected with long roads. Between each neighborhood there is basically nothing interesting going on, often the streets widen up and all the area is filled with a lot more gray and such, and perhaps some small homes and businesses and such, spread out. The divide between the two is very distinct and obvious. It is much less so in Osaka, I am finding, which kind of makes it feel more unified. Also there are a few rivers in the middle of the city which is really cool and pretty.

As for today, I don't really remember everything Ben said he wanted to do, but I think we are supposed to go down and do...something, maybe go to the water front, head to the Otaku area, and later head to the gay club/bar area? It could be pretty cool, though I guess I am mainly looking forward to seeing the water and eating some Osakan food. Takoyaki, fried octopus balls, are supposed to be amazing/cheap here, so I guess I will be eating some of those. I kind of like them in Tokyo, but the octopus is always so chewy I don't really ever particularly want to eat more than one of them. We'll see how it goes!

P.S. I got my grades back! All of them A or A+ so I will have a 4.0 Fall 2009 Semester! I think I am supposed to be registering for classes this week or next week, either way I should have my next semester schedule ready by the end of the month.

Monday, March 8, 2010


Hahaha, it has been ridiculously long since I posted. In the time since my last post: The semester ended, I went home to America, and as of yesterday, have returned to Japan. However, there is honestly very little to say. I might have my grades available now, but I may not for another few days. Not sure if I'll share them or not. Anyway, I'll briefly go over everything of importance.

Classes: Not much to say. I got all my work in, and know how I did in all but two courses -- both of which I could have gotten anything in.

After classes: Just kind of read Kant and watched some South Park before going home. A bit after classes ended I went to Bang/Tama's joint-birthday party, and some of my Japanese classmates, coincidentally, showed up. I also took another walk to Rainbow Bridge -- this time with Viivi, we tried to get there before the sunrise. Started at about 4:30am and got to the water around 7, the bridge between 7:30 and 8. It was too cloudy to see anything so we didn't rush after we got to the water, it was pretty fun but we got there too early to I have to go again. We did take the train across though, so at least I technically went to Odaiba again?

Home: Did a lot here. I mainly rested and watched Freaks and Geeks, and later RuPaul's Drag Race. However I had mainly come home when I did to catch the Tibet House Concert -- Patti Smith and Iggy Pop!!!! Also a lot of experimental music acts. It was pretty awesome. I stayed with my brother and ate good food, so I cannot complain about the trip. My mom also threw me a sort of 21st birthday party with this cake:

It was pretty tasty - thank you Lisa Boehle! I feel I should now mention I also got an adorable Valentine's Day card from Zoe, my step-sister, as I don't know when else to put that in. Thank you!

Now: I am back in my room. It has been completely undone so they could change out the carpets, but on the plus side it seems I am neither getting a new roomie or a raise in rent? The sign telling me this was a tad confusing, but I am fairly confident it will stay constant. Which brings up the other thing -- a bunch of cool people, including Gen, have left the dorm. Hope you are all doing well!

Future: Ben and I have laid out our trip and made all of the reservations. We leave on the 11th, my Birthday!, and get back on the 25th (I think). The plan: Hit up Kyoto, Osaka, Hiroshima, Kobe, Nagoya, then head back to Tokyo. It should be pretty sweet.

Anyway, that basically is everything important (that I can think of). Maybe I will have a rush-edit later, though?