Sunday, August 30, 2009

Last US blog!

So everyone, I think this is going to be my last blog while in the US. The next time you hear from me, I'll be writing to you from a computer in Japan. I think that my host family only has one computer with plug in internet, so how often I'll be able to update will depend on how quick I can figure out how to get my own wifi. Well, that's another hurdle to deal with later. It still isn't real to me, and I doubt it will be until I touch down at Narita. All the same, wish me luck and I'll talk to you all soon!

Thursday, August 27, 2009


So, 5 days! Just thought I'd pop in to add some info on trains. As far as I understand, a train ticket, (unless it is a commuter pass), only works from point A to point B, and thus are not round trip or day tickets. Also, of course you have to buy a different every time you switch lines, so I'm really hoping that this whole train thing doesn't cost me an arm and a leg. Also, there are things called Suica and Pasmo cards, which I think I'll end up getting. They are both like fast pass cards, used to cut down on the time wasted buying tickets. It does not give you a discount, but instead of having to always buy a ticket from A to B, then buy another at the next station, you just prepay for it, load it up for whatever amount you want, and then swipe it over the turnstyles. These cards do cost around 5 bucks, which you get back if you turn the card back in later, or you can keep and just lose the $5. Well anyway, that didn't seem very clear, cause I'm tired, but I'll post again later and it'll be more understandable. Until then! Oh, word of the day: Densha (電車), is a noun which means train. See ya later!!

Tuesday, August 25, 2009


One Week! Can you believe it?!

Friday, August 21, 2009

Today's Band: Ayabie and Word of the Day

Hello everyone! I come bringing a few different things for you to read. I'll start off with a word of the day. Since I just finished the drama, "The Flowershop Without Roses," I'm making today's word the word for flower. Hana (花)is the Japanese word for all flowers, and more specifically, Bara, is the name for a Rose, or Roses (as there aren't really plurals in Japanese). And continuing on in that thread, I'll share my thoughts on the drama. This is one of the better dramas I've seen in a long time. It has romance in it, but it delves far deeper than that. The makers of this one do an artful job taking something so seemingly simple on the outside (a father who raises his daughter alone after his wife dies in childbirth, and a new blind girl in town who is drawn to him), and making every single character deep and complicated. The makers do a great job of splitting each character to show their inner demons or conflicts while still holding onto the pure person they were when we first met them. Every episode serves to complicate the web weaving everyone together. It was well acted (especially the little girl playing Shizuku), it was real, it was great. A pleasant surprise for me was when Tetsuji Tamayama cropped up out of number (on my Top 5) list, and he looked gorgeous as ever. And, without giving anything away, I will tell you that no little children are crushed to death in the lumber/construction yard, despite how foreboding the episode titles sound. So rest assured there.

And lastly, I'm going to intro the band Ayabie. Ayabie came together in 2004, made up of Aoi (Vocals), Intetsu (Bassist), Takehito (Guitarist) and Ryohei (Guitarist), with a nameless support drummer for their concerts. The next year they had a debut album, and found their permanent drummer in the ever-talented Kenzo. However, the band hit a few bumps in the road when in 2006, member Ryouhei left the band over disagreements with the members and went on to form his own successful band, Megamasso. Despite this small snag, Ayabie pushed on and found current guitarist Yumehito, and the band's lineup has remained the same ever since. Ayabie has had the good fortune to tour Europe twice, first in 2006, then again in 2007, and came to America for a small tour in 2008 (Aoi also doing an MC part on a small DVD magazine release in California). Ayabie announced at the beginning of the year that they were going major, and their debut major release came out just recently in May of this year. This band is showing no signs of slowing down, and I look forward to seeing what more they have in them.

Friday, August 14, 2009

I'm Back Now

Hello again everyone! So I went to the doc today and was informed that I just need to be careful about the old leg, and that part of my problem is that I have moving, or as I believe she called them, floating something which meant kneecaps. So my kneecaps don't stay where they're supposed to. So that was fun to find out. But, so long as they don't go popping around again, I can't complain. I've managed to more or less get packed. I will be carrying a small dufflebag for carry on, a 25ish in. bag of clothes and a 21ish in. bag for shoes, etc. The only concern is that the bags each have to be under 50 lbs. I haven't weighed them yet, so we'll be holding our breath. On a different front, me and the family finally figured out our banking situation problem. Up until this point, our problem was how to get money from an American account into a Japanese account (which I will set up when I get there). First of all, personal checks are not used in Japan. A Japanese bank can accept them, but it takes a few months, as many of the banks send them back to the US to check them out, before accepting the money. There are also things called INTERNATIONAL POSTAL MONEY ORDERS (not like regular money orders). These cost $3.85 at the US post office and can run any amount up to $700. Then, when you recieve them in the mail in Japan, you simply take it to the Post Office and they cash it out, then I would take the cash and deposit it. The snag here is that they are relatively cheap to send snail mail, but can get stolen, and to ship them securely and quickly, it's $40-50. Before I go on, let me explain why just using my American account is an issue. My bank charges 3% every time I make a debit or a credit purchase, or withdraw money, whereas there is no fee for a Japanese card. Also, not all ATMs in Japan are international (usually the post office adn some 7/11s have international 24 hr ATMs), so that means I'll be limited, and many places do not take credit cards. In Japan, most people pay with cash, so it is not unusual to carry hundreds of dollars (yen) on your person (the low crime rates allow this to be possible). Also, because I got the JASSO scholarship, $800/month are being given to me by the govt. into a Japanese account, so I have to get one. Anyhoo, so here's what we settled on. I am going to go with some yen with me, with a IPMO, and then, I'm going to withdraw money from my American account until I get a Japanese bank account. At that point, my family can then wire money directly into my account. For wiring money, there is no limit to how much you can wire, but there is a $45 fee. Even so, if you do it sparingly, it comes out to be the cheapest way to do things.

I still haven't heard any more about my family, but I'll e-mail the coordinator soon to find out. One should note that Citibank in the US is not connected in accounts to the Citibank in Japan, so having a Citibank account here will still be a problem once you get over there, though I've heard that the Citibank's have international ATMs, for anyone who needs to know. My next project is figuring out the different rail passes, so we'll be checking onto that soon. MY ADVICE: check different banks rates well in advance of your leaving to find which ones charge no fees for overseas spending. I've heard that Commerce and First Bank have no fees, though I'm not positive about that. This will save you some cash if you'll be paying out of that account for any amount of time overseas (this goes for places outside of Japan as well).

Thursday, August 13, 2009

What the Frick?!

So, I dislocated my dang knee and now it's threatening to keep sliding out again. I don't know what to do. Just thought I'd post that. Also, ATMs in Japan are typically open between 9am and 7pm in Japan on weekdays, and until around 5pm on weekends. There are 24 hour ATMs, but they often charge you $1 for using them past regular hours. Wish me luck with the knee!

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Jdramas and Stuff

Hey there everyone! Sorry I've been slacking. So I started a new drama today called "Bara no Nai Hanaya" or "The Flowershop Without Roses." As soon as I watched the first half of the first ep, I knew that I'd stumbled on something great. It's more of a life drama than anything, about a guy who lost his wife in childbirth and is having trouble moving on, though there is, of course, plot twists within. I first heard about it because Matsuda Shota's in it, but the lead actor, a guy from the band SMAP, really steals the show. I also started a drama called "Koishite Akuma" about a teen vamp sent to earth to suck someone's blood, and though he doesn't want to admit it, he's drawn to his high school teacher, who's first love looked identical to him. So basically, the exact opposite of Bara no Nai Hanaya. It's okay, but I'm not expecting greatness from this one...just something to pass the time. I was horrified to find out that the boy in it, who looks well on 18, actually just turned 15 and I got creeped out. I think he's from one of the new boy bands (maybe Hey Say Jump). I also just watched the mv compilation/drama from SS501, and while riveting and successful in making the boys look good, it was, as all mv/mini drama efforts are, impossibly confusing (not helped by the fact that two of the members look exactly alike to me). I had to actually read through 50 posts by equally confused people to figure out the plot line. And there were only like 2 lines. Only the Koreans can make a tragic yet impossibly confusing storyline. Also, I just heard that Jasmine Yuu, the bassist from popular Visual Kei band Versailles, was found dead in his apartment two mornings ago. He'd evidentally taken time off due to illness and then he was found dead, though no one has said the cause yet. That's quite sad; he wasn't very old at all.

On the travel front...

I think it has finally started to REALLY hit me that I'm going to be stranded in a foreign, non-English speaking nation by my self, completely alone, without friend or family, for no less than 11 long months (ALMOST A YEAR!!) and I am, as some may say, completely wigging out. We'll see if I'm not hyperventillating on the plane. I still have concerns over the price of the trains in Tokyo. Though I'll be 5 min. away from one of the major train stations, because Japan has many, many different companies that run the different lines (certain lines go to only certain places), you have to buy one ticket for one, then another to proceed from there, and so on. So, one might see how that can add up. I've also been sort of looking into where I want to adventure to on my first month, when I'll be by myself. So far, I'm thinking Shibuya is the best bet, as it has all sorts of things and is close to the Meiji Shrine, Harajuku and Yoyogi Park. I'll have to be sure to go to Harajuku on Sunday, because that is when (on Jingu Bridge) all the people dressed up in Gothic Lolita, Visual Kei and cosplay come out, and that, for me, is a must see. It was funny too...I was searching today and found this site that was listing what areas of Tokyo are particular to certain things, or rather specialize in them. It said, "Nippori: Textiles, Jinbocho: Books, Kabukicho: Sleaze." It gave me a laugh anyway. Well, I'll catch you cats later!

Sunday, August 9, 2009

I'm Still Alive

Heyo! I haven't posted in a while, so I thought I'd do it tonight. I've been cramming in kanji flashcards all weekend and have processed about 100, logging them away in my brain, but I've got about a million left, so we'll see how that goes. The countdown is on. I've got about 3 weeks left and I'm really starting to freak out. The packing is still not going as ideally as one might hope, so we'll see how/if that turns out. The thing I wanted to post before was about takkyubin. These are services similar to FedEx or UPS in that they go all over town and deliver pretty much anything. The great thing is that, not only do they ship small packages, but they can ship bicycles and luggage (even from the airport to your hotel/personal residence and back). I've heard that the prices are relatively reasonable and the time for delivery is usually either same day or next day unless you're shipping it beyond the city you're in. (For instance, if you're in Tokyo and traveling on the bullet to Kyoto, you can ship your stuff a day or two ahead and it will be there waiting, thus ridding you of having to heave around bags on a train). The only snag is that I'm not sure if you have to call ahead and get the arrangements done, or if you can do them when you arrive at the airport, so we'll see. I'm hoping it's the latter so I don't have three bags to haul around on my own in a cramped, rush hour train to the busiest stop in Tokyo. Alright, enough of my whining. Alice Nine's new pv came out, "Sleepwalker." I'd heard great things about it, but I have to admit that I'm not wild about the song, though the video is beyond gorgeous and the guys all look consistently good. And lastly, I will try to upload a pic of a Takuhaibin application form and a typical train ticket to help show anyone who might go to Japan, what they'll need to look at/fill out. I'll try to do that soon. Until then, ttyl and wish much luck with Sensei tomorrow!

Thursday, August 6, 2009

Travel Stuff

Hey ho! So I'm guessing that right about now, everyone's getting tired of the Jrock overload, so I'm going to break from that for a little bit and start back in on the travel stuff. So, my first bit of advice for you is about vaccinations. When you first start the entire study abroad experience, you of course have to have a physical exam. For my particular college, they wanted a hearing test and a chest Xray , as well as the regular height/weight stuff, so be sure to give yourself time for any specialist stuff you have to go do. As far as vaccines, Japan does not require any special shots, but you might want to get Hepatitis and the Meninjacocle (spelled wrong) shot just in case. Be warned though, as I'm finding out right now, the Meninjacocle vaccine will make your arm majorly sore and make you feel like you have the flu for a few days. Also, you might note that Vicks vapo-rub and other similar products are illegal in Japan because they can be used to make drugs, so don't bring that with you. Also, Japan, I'm told only has deoderant, not anti-perspirant, so if you're an American, you're used to having both in one stick and might want to pack an ample supply. I'm also told that the toothbrushes and toothpaste are different and so, you might want to keep that in mind when packing.

And we're moving on to the subject of packing. I tried it today, and let me tell you, it isn't easy to pack for a full year with only two suitcases. Bear in mind that I have all my toilettries (more than I need probably) in one bag, with my various shoes too. And that was the easy bag. The other bag does have all my clothes, many pairs of jeans, underwear and shirts. When all was said and done with bag number two, I still didn't have room for my PJs, my socks or my sweaters. You're wondering what I did manage to pack then, but believe me, a years worth of clothes is a lot. So, we're gonna upgrade that bag to a larger model. The bags I'm working with now are carry on size, so one step up shouldn't be a big deal. What makes me wary about it is that everyone I talk to says to pack way light and I know I'm overdoing it, but oh well. I should mention here that if your are flying into Japan from an international area, which you will be probably, then you'll be flying into Narita airport. Unfortunately, Narita is not actually in Tokyo, but is a 40 min. train ride outside from the heart of the Tokyo Metropolitan area, so you'll be lugging all your bags around on a train, and I'm arriving at rush hour, which makes it that much worse. Oh well...can't be helped.

Another piece of info that might be useful for anyone with plans to travel out to Machida (the suburb where my school is): the train fare from Shibuya to Machida is 290 yen, which is about $3 one way. So that means that I'll be spending $6 a day, 5 days a week to get to school. I know there was something else I wanted to post here that might be helpful, but I can't remember it right now, so I'll just post that later. Well everyone, enjoy the rest of your day!

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Today's Alice Nine Member: Saga

Hello everyone! Well, the time has come to finish out the set, so it's on to Saga. As I said before, I know very little about Saga, so this post might be a bit short, but I'll give it my best! Saga is the bassist and backup vocalist for alice nine. Saga was born June 24, 1982, which means that he is currently 27 years old and the second youngest in the band. Saga's real name is Sakamoto Takashi and has said that his childhood hero was actually father (which doesn't seem to me to fit his character, but what do I know). He has one pet, a sixteen year old dog named Chiko that he loves dearly and with whom he recently did a photoshoot. Originally, when he began music, he learned guitar but later switched to bass which is his claim to fame. A few of Saga's hobbies include walking Chiko, playing baseball and, you guessed it, drinking. The latter hobby serves as a tie of friendship between him and Nao, as they often go out drinking together. In fact, Saga was the member who gave Nao the nickname Pooh because he says now looks like Pooh bear when he sleeps. What Saga brings to the band is, as the other members readily admit, the bands sex appeal (and he makes up for the lack of flashy displays from the other members with ample displays of his own). Saga also adds that Jrock feel of the almost otherworldly, too cool rockstar, and of course his look only furthers that feel. While Saga can often ham it up, and be taken as a bit...odd (at least that's my view), he is also prone to mood swings of inspiration and melancholic mystery, which is undoubtedly his draw for many fans. Despite his not being my favorite, I do have to give him some props for being the creator of quite a few of alice nine's songs, and certainly I will concede that the band would not be nearly so VK without him. Today's video somehow seems to fit Saga's off-in-space moments, so I'd like you to enjoy the beautiful "Ruri no Ame" (incidentally my fav outfits for them).

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Today's Alice Nine Member: Hiroto

Greetings everyone! So, I suppose I'll continue in order of my banner up there ^ and profile Hiroto today. I have to admit that I know the least about Saga and Hiroto (mostly Saga), but I'll tell you what I do know. Hiroto is the other guitarist in alice nine (along with Tora), and to my knowledge does not play any other instrument but guitar. He is in fact the youngest member of the band, and his ability to be a nonstop ball of energy is surely a testament to that. He was born May 4, 1985 (which would make him 24 now), as Ogata Hiroto, which means that he is the only member of alice nine to keep his real name. (He does have a nickname, Pon, and, like Tora has a cartoon that acts as his symbol which fans have named the Pondori, because it looks like a chicken). Over the years he has grown up under the guidance of his fellow members, and in that time, his talent and his personality has matured greatly. Where once he was the semi-shy, almost quiet talent, he now likes to steal the limelight when he can to show off just how amazing he is on guitar, rallying the audience with his encouraging yells. Despite his transformation into a bit of a ham, Hiroto could never be labeled anything but devoted to his friends and his fans, often times the most affectionate of all the members. As a sidebar it is fair to mention that Hiroto is desperately good friends with Aki, the bassist from Sid, whom he feels so close to, he calls him Aki nii-nii (which means big brother). Not only is Hiroto the youngest of the group, but he is also the shortest member. But following with the stereotype, the shorter the man, the more fiery his personality. Having seen how much Hiroto has changed over the years from a kid into a man, I can only look forward to what lays before him. Today's video is "Cross Game" because it shows off his skill and he does some awesome tapping in this song.

Monday, August 3, 2009

My Host Family Change and Today's Alice Nine Member: Shou

So, there's more breaking news on the host family issue. I was just alerted that my host family has been switched, but I have to say, I'm much more excited about this new family. They are a five person family, with a mother and father, a grandmother, and two older sons (whatever that means). They also have a small dog, live 5 min. from Shibuya (by train)!! and my room will have a toilet and a bathtub. What's even better is that the dad works at the shrine next door (how awesome is that, honestly), and the mother teaches traditional tea ceremony and calligraphy. I mean could I even ask for cooler people. So, we'll see how that turns out. Hopefully they don't pull a switcheroo on me again, because as it stands, I'll be in a house in downtown Tokyo with an awesome, artsy family.

And now on to our Alice Nine member of the day: Shou. Shou is the vocalist of the band, and just turned 28 last month (though you'd never guess it). His birthday was July 5, 1981 and he was born Kohara Kazumasa, which is an awesome name, if a little long. After Tora, Shou is the tallest member of alice nine, which becomes rapidly apparent everytime he stands centerstage. Shou is a very stylish type of fellow, throwing himself into the pursuit of trendy clothes and shoes, when he's not off somewhere playing his video games (the only truly nerdy crime he commits). In fact, I read somewhere that he even knows how to cut hair, which only furthers his image of a stylish trend-setter. Despite being the band's singer, Shou is also talented on guitar, though he has more or less always preffered the seat of vocalist in his past bands (Lost Age, and Givuss, which he was in with Tora). More than anything, Shou is unfailingly humble and gratefully for all that has been given to him, never failing to thank photographers, managers and the like on his blog at every turn. So concerned is he with the well being of his fans, that he has said he takes personal responsibility for any injury or discomfort felt by anyone going to their concerts (it's a ROCK concert girls, you might get pushed around). For the promotion of their latest single, Hana, Shou's blog featured a five story tall poster of him, and in the caption underneath, he apologized for being the only member featured. Most assuredly, all of the members admire and look up to Shou, though he's always more than happy to share the limelight with anyone that might want it. What Shou brings to the group is the artistic crafting of melody and poetic verses of song particular only to him. At heart, Shou is a very emotional, poetic soul who says he ventures into art galleries when in need of inspiration, and the use of color, light and infinitely difficult imagery bleeds through into their songs, though almost always tinged with feelings of hope (in contrast to some other bands like The Gazette). And so today, I would like to share a song that showcases Shou's artistic nature: the beautiful name.

Sunday, August 2, 2009

Today's Alice Nine Member: Tora, and Word of the Day!

Greetings readers! So, first of all I'll introduce today's word of the day: kakkoii (かっこいい ). Kakkoii is an adjective most often used to describe men or inanimate objects/situations, but never women. Kakkoii means attractive, cool or stylish, even 'hot,' if used to describe a stylish man. And today's word is the perfect way to describe today's Alice Nine member. Tora is one of the two guitarists in the band, as well as being the second oldest and the tallest member. Tora was born Sept. 17, 1980 as Amano Shinji, and early on learned, like Nao, how to play the bass guitar, before switching to the electric guitar. He is also rumored to play piano. Among other things, Tora loves spending time with his cat Chikin, who was the subject of a photoshoot for one of the major Jrock magazines last month. Tora is one of three members who smokes, the only member who has kept his facial piercing (the stud under his lip) and is the only member to have any visible tattoos (the heartagram thing on his index finger), though he is rumored to have another on his chest, which he never shows. Tora is a big fan of the band Korn, has a specific cat/tiger symbol that he goes by which is now on his amps, and his favorite colors are said to be black and white. My personal opinion of Tora is the strong, silent type that's just a little quirky, but hides it most of the time; he also seems like the most manly of the group, but that's just my own opinon.

Despite his cool, seemingly hard rock appearance (he has had the wildest hairstyles of all the members), Tora is unfailingly dedicated both to his work and to his fans. As I previously mentioned, in 2008, he suffered from a herniated disc in his back that kept him from being able to perform at many concerts, thus halting the progress of the band. Even so, there were times when he would perform without feeling in his arms, until finally, at the urging of the other members, he went into the hospital, where he had to sleep sitting up because laying down caused him too much pain. Even so, he worked hard at his physical therapy to be able to return to the stage and fulfill the bands promises to their fans. Shou mentioned, regarding that time, that it was quite scary to hear Tora actually voicing his discomfort, because Tora was the type who bore everything without complaint, who was hardworking and didn't let anything set him back, thus all the members were terribly worried when he finally admitted to the troubles he was having. Even so, Tora has made a recovery and is back being the amazing guitarist he is, working hard to show his love to his fans through music. Today's song is the strong, catchy "White Prayer." I don't love the two-tone mohawk that Tora's sporting in this vid, but all the same, I think the nice melody mixed with the great guitar parts fit Tora, so, enjoy!

Saturday, August 1, 2009

Today's Alice Nine Member: Nao

Okay, so, in honor of Nao-sama's 29th birthday (no way on earth he actually looks his age), he is our first featured alice nine member, and he gets an entry all to himself. Nao was the creator of the band, alice nine, and before being in a9, was actually part of a band called Fatima for two years. Not only is he the creator of the band, but he is also the leader and the oldest. Nao was born July 31, 1980 as Murai Naoyuki (Naoyuki being his first name). He led a band in high school before moving on to bigger and better things, and in fact played bass in a band called Rush before finally settling on his current instrument, which is drums. While certainly not acting as the most mature member of the group, Nao is undoubtedly an integral part to what keeps Alice Nine together, showing his love for his fellow bandmates and helping them smooth over any differences that might crop up. The love between them has won Nao such nicknames as Winnie the Pooh and Pooh san for his general, blundering optimism. Nao has come to be known by his favorite, and often used, Japanese emoticon: (´┏_┓`).

Despite being the oldest member, Nao just barely scrapes by being the shortest, beating Hiroto by a mere three inches which puts him at around 170 cm. At heart, Nao is nothing more than an anime nerd (an otaku) and freely admits to spending his days off in Akihabara, the electronic mecca of Tokyo, home to any anime or manga merchandise one could ever hope to find. Somewhat surprisingly, Nao has quite a taste for ardent spirits and has a treasured black goblet that he uses to enjoy his drinks in, tasting only of the finest and most expensive liquors. The only love he bears greater than that felt for his fans would assuredly be his unrelenting passion for Starbucks coffee, or any coffee drink in general, and the evidence of which is often to be seen on his blog. While being an outstanding drummer, what Nao really brings to the band is his never failing smile and his pure, unpretentious good naturedness.

Today's video is the alice nine video that most fits my perception of Nao's personality: Shunkashuutou.