Wednesday, September 30, 2009


Hey everyone. I know I haven't posted in a while (at least I don't think I have), so I'm just going to write a really quick blurb right now, before I have to leave for school. Today is the opening ceremonies, tomorrow is seminars, and Monday is when I officially start classes. Here, a light, full load is 8 classes, because classes are only once a week and usually an hour to an hour and half long. I've pretty much got my classes figured out I think, and it looks like I'm in for a lot of independent studies, which is fine I guess. Also, I went out to the mall/movie theater at the station at the school (Grandberry Mall), and looked around with my fellow yankees, and we had a grand time. I got to use my first photo machine, and while it was a tad expensive, it was a blast. I think today or tomorrow, I'm going to try to get a bank account again, but I'll keep you updated on that. Also, we went to a pet store yesterday, and I forgot to mention that here, pets are crazy, CRAZY expensive. You'll be hard put to find a dog cheaper than 800 bucks, most of them being 1000. But they are, in fact, the cutest pets in the world. I don't know why, but they are, in every way, cuter than any American pet you'll see in the states (minus my own, of course). And I was surprised to see that most people do have them, in the city as well as in the 'burbs. Anywho...I suppose that's all I've got to say at the moment, since I'm on a time schedule, but I've uploaded a few more pics (of the Ikebana exhibit and stuff), so when you have time, check that out, and I'll talk to you guys later!

Tuesday, September 29, 2009


Today has been a good day. I went to see Tajomaru (the new Oguri Shun movie) with my mom at a theater in Shibuya. There are only two screens in the ‘theater’ because one is on the seventh/eighth floor of a building, and the other is on the ninth/tenth floor. Tickets were, as expected, quite expensive, though I learned that on Wednesdays, if you’re a lady, you get a special discount. When you exit the elevator, they take you ticket, and there is a concession stand, though it’s nowhere near as large as what we’re used to. There’s also a case with movie goods in it (a folder, a place mat, a cell phone charm, a bookmark, a seal/picture set) for the movie, as well as a pamphlet you can buy (and I’m kicking myself for not buying one, ‘cause now I really want one). There is also a wall of leaflets that advertise the upcoming movies, detailing the cast, crew, plotline and characters. When we went in, it was built more like a small playhouse than a movie theater, with only two sections of seats that descend a slope, and then in the front is an actual small stage. The screen itself is hidden behind two rows of curtains that are pulled back when the movie begins. I thought this was cool: when the lights went down for the movie to begin, the projector showed this pot on the stage, and then confetti started flying out of it, and then that went up onto the ceiling and over our heads (all digitally), and I thought that was a pretty cool effect. Before the movie, they showed a bunch of safety commercials about being sure to install smoke detectors in your house, and also about fire extinguishers; it was a mini-lesson in fire safety. Then of course, they had the part where they say, ‘Turn off you cell phones,’ and an ad for not pirating. Then, as with American movies, they showed previews for upcoming movies. Sadly and strangely enough, none of them were for actual Japanese movies. There was one for Airbender, which is based off the kids Avatar cartoon, there was 2012 (it really did look like how the end times will be), one for The Time Traveler’s Wife, and then another one, I’ve forgotten. Then the movie started.

It was really good and I kept up better than I'd expected. In a nutshell, it's about a young nobleman who's in love with this lady, they run off, he's betrayed by a friend who's life he'd saved years ago, the girl betrays him and he assumes the name Tajomaru, which I think is the name of a famous thief, and then it's about him going back home and sorting things out, everything getting explained and him getting revenge. I actually really liked it, even if it was prone to being a little melodramatic. It had a very Hamlet feel to it, if you ask me. Well, I'm going to go. I have to go up to the school tomorrow to get my ID and other stuff, so I'll catch you cats later!

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Cell Phone Search and Word of the Day

The entirety of today was spent in a quest to get me a cell phone. That is why, today's Word of the Day is Keitai (kay-tah-ee), which is the shortened word for cell phone (the full word is keitai denwa). In Japan, there are three major cell phone companies: AU, Softbank, and NTT Docomo. Thank the big man upstairs, that my host brother is a good guy, and so he and his girlfriend took me out to look at how much it would cost to buy a cell phone. We tried AU first, because he thought they might have a special discount for students, but unfortunately, that wasn't the case, so we moved on to Softbank next, which was just across the street. The store was really slick looking, snazzy, and their phones are also really nice (they had a disney set of phones that I loved). Another good thing about Softbank is that they do have a 'scholarship' thing where, if you're a student you can get a way reduced price. That's great news right? I mean, five bucks a month? That's a deal. What's not so great is that those 'advisors' at my school still haven't given us a Student ID, proving that we are in fact legally going to a Japanese institution for study. Yeah, after a month of waiting, they're going to do that (as well as sign me up for classes, the syllabus of which I've yet to see), the day before school starts. Great plan, huh? And it just so happens that the student plan at Softbank ends that very freaking same day. Oh yes, Becca's infamous luck strikes again.

So we went on from there to Docomo's store, which was not nearly so snazzy looking, but which did have an hour wait, and after that wait, we got to talk to a trainee clerk, who broke down the prices on her little doodle magnet-o-pad thing, and after hearing the entire spiel, my brother, his girlfriend and I went to Denny's to have coffee and for him to explain the different packages to me (btw, Denny's here is NOTHING like the Dennys back home, though it is the same company). Anyway, so here's what was explained to me: the premium choice would be Softbank, except that the scholarship deal is more or less impossible for me to get, so there's really no difference for me there, however, if you have a Softbank plan, you have unlimited calling to other Softbank subscribers. AU was both expensive and not all that special. Docomo was good because, while the other two companies offer only two year plans, Docomo offers either a one year or a two year plan. The catch is this: if you get a one year plan, you have to pay the full price of whatever phone you pick out, whereas if you get a two year plan, you get a phone for free, but when you cancel it after one year (since I'm only here one year), you have to pay a penalty fee of about $100. This penalty fee is the same across the board for the three companies, when you void your contract. So, naturally, I was leaning towards the one year plan. The problem is that all the phones offered (at any of the stores) cost at least $200, most of them more, which then means that paying the penalty fee at the end of one year, with a two year contract, is the best deal. So, after making that decision, we went back to Docomo and talked to the girl again, and she basically broke down the prices and everything. The cheapest deal you could get was a $10 a month bill, which buys you 25 min. calling and then texting. I opted for one more step up, at $20 for 55 min. and texting, though they went up to about $60 a month. No surprise, everything here is expensive (it boggles my mind that people can actually afford to live in this country). So, as it is, I got a two year contract, which made my phone free (only selected models), and it gets me 55 min. a month of national calling, and then internet and texting, though after a certain amount of internet usage, they tack on fees, so my brother advised me to just not do it much (I think I can handle that). And no, my free phone can't cook me dinner or play 3D movies or anything, like what you expect Japanese cell phones to do, but it can do basic stuff, like I need, and that's just fine. Another thing with Docomo, is that you can opt to pay a bill, or have it charge onto your credit card, which I did. One thing to note, however, is that the first payment (today), is more expensive because you have to pay for other crap too, like a memory card that goes in your phone, etc.

I would love to tell you how to do all this stuff on your own, but I have to give a standing ovation to any foreigner who managed to get a cell phone on their own. Not only is the jargon complicated, and the concepts difficult to understand, but no one speaks any English to you, and they use the most polite form of speaking, which is more than even I can keep up with. It took us three and a half hours to get all this accomplished, and I wish I could advise any cell phone buyers better than that, but all I can say to you is, good luck! The only advice I'll offer is that you should bring your Alien Card (a must), and your passport both with you, as well as a School ID from your Japanese institution, if you have one. Alrighty then, that's all for now

Thursday, September 24, 2009

IPMO and the Alien Card

So, I went to pick up my Alien Registration Card today, as well as cash in one of my International Postal Money Orders that I brought with me. Basically, to pick up your alien card, you go back to the exact place where you filed for it, hand them your passport and say, "Pick up." Simple as that. They give you the card and you're set. The International Postal Money Order was a bit different, and I'm glad I had my host dad with me, though I think I could have figured it out regardless. We went to a rather large post office, so going to a local one may be somewhat different, and may be more difficult to manage, but basically we went in and there's a lady standing by a machine that asks you what counter you need (they have insurance, money matters, and mail). I just held up the money order and after a few seconds, she figured out my intentions, pressed a button on the machine, which churns out a ticket with a number on it, and had us wait. The green counters are the money matters counters, and when our number was up, we went to the counter and I handed over my IPMO. There was a little confusion because I hadn't endorsed it on the back, so I had to put in my current address and then sign my name, then print tiny underneath it. The main confusion came when the guy asked me, in Japanese, if I have one of their signature stamps. In Japan, rather than using signatures, everyone has a particular stamp, or seal if you will, that is small and round and ornate and serves as a signature for professional documents. I, however, do not know the word for these things, and, thinking he wanted validation that I was who I was, I pulled out my alien card, which he took appreciatively, though I don't think he needed it. Then, after another short wait, he called me back up and gave me the money. (Here, you never actually hand people money, not even at the grocery. Everywhere has a plastic tray where you lay the money down, and then they take the tray and count it after that. Slightly different). And that was it. I didn't have any problems whatsoever, and on the way back I saw a great CD store, a major department store, and got a curry bun (a fried bun filled with curry). So, that was that. Talk to you cats later!

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

More Randomness

So, I forgot to mention that on my Shinjuku trip, I saw my first Buddhist temple. This week is what the Japanese call Ohigan, which is the week when everyone goes to visit the graves of their ancestors, and they burn incense and bring flowers and I suppose pray for the deade. Here in Japan, they practice three different religions, typically. For births, and such ceremonies, they have the Shinto religion, for weddings the current generation typically does Christian, church weddings (though there are more traditional Shinto weddings), and then for death, they have Buddhist funerals, which is why Buddhist temples have graveyards. Here in Japan, no one is buried, but rather, everyone is cremated, so the graves are just monuments with the deceased's name on it, and there are particular rituals that go along with the funeral (the passing of bones with chopsticks, the switching of the top flap on the kimono, etc). But anyways, there is a striking difference between the looks of a temple and the looks of a shrine. For instance, a Shinto shrine usually bears the colors red and gold, and besides the main shrine, there are usually smaller shrines, either guarded by a fox, a dragon, or a dog. Shrines have the 'gates' that you've seen in my pictures, which look like open doorways of sorts, and they also have a water basin where you scoop out water to wash you hands at the outset. On the other hand, Buddhist temples seem to tend toward the more earthly tones of green and stoney grey, and the areas are decorated with stones bearing carvings of Buddha everywhere. Also, they have the graveyards, and the one I went to was very lush with greenery. So, that was interesting.

Other things I've noticed here: there is little to no celebrity news what so ever. Not that I'm particularly sad about that point, only a little surprised. The only celeb news I've heard the entire three weeks that I've been here has been about the starlet and her husband that were arrested for using hard drugs. Another thing, the mosquitoes will eat you alive. No joke. I've got more mosquito bites on me now than I think I've had in my whole life. So, that's miserable. Also, honey is ridiculously expensive. And, everyone here under 35 is goregous. I mean, gorgeous, both the guys and the girls, and so stylish too. How they even decide who to make celebrities, I'll never know, because no one is better looking that the other. I don't know if that's just because of where I am, in the city, or not, but Americans don't hold a candle to the Japanese youth right now. So, that's all for now. I've uploaded more pictures, so if you've got time, check them out, and I'll ttyl!

Tuesday, September 22, 2009


So, I went to Shinjuku. I have to say, it was rather underwhelming. I didn't like it nearly so much as I like Shibuya, though it's probably at least four times the size. I'm probably not going to write much, because I didn't discover much that was particularly noteworthy except for knowing that there are some cool restaurants there somwhere. The highlight, however, was in fact going to Like An Edison, the mothership of Visual Kei CDs. It had the typical feel of a hidden indie shop, and the walls were covered with autographed pictures of bands. It was different than I'd imagined, but I loved it. Also, I discovered that Shinjuku station is freaking huge. We walked all the way around it, and it probably took a half an hour to do just that. Otherwise, there are a lot of retaurants and department stores, and other such nonsense. We did veer into Kabukicho for a second, but by daylight it was rather harmless, just a bunch of pachinko parlors and pedestrians, though I'm pretty certain I did see one host, though I didn't see any host clubs (or signs)...and believe me, I was looking. So, overall, I wasn't nearly so awed by Shinjuku as I have been by pretty much everywhere else I've been, so I doubt I'll be going there to idle away my days. Anywho, I'll post some pics soon, though I didn't take many. Catch you cats later.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Taiko drums and Tea

Not too much going on yesterday. I went down at two to help my host mom with the tea ceremony stuff, but I’m ashamed to report that my pitiful, nerve-damaged feet couldn’t do it this time, and I had to stand up, which prompted them to bring me a folding chair, with unintentionally made me feel like a douche. After going through Harumi’s ceremony, my host mom went into the main tea room to assist someone else, leaving me, Harumi and this other, beautiful older lady to help teach me a few of the basics. I won’t write everything down here because it would be both confusing, and very long and boring. Basically, I learned how to bring in and unload the tea set (what order, how many inches from what to what, etc.), as well at what to say, and the very intricate and impossibly complicated method for folding and unfolding the cleaning rag. You never thought it could be so hard. When I got back to my room I had to write it all down so I’d remember (four pages). After my lesson, they gave me some treats and sent me merrily on my way.

I didn’t realize it, but today is Shibuya’s main festival day, so when I went, all but one of the main roads were closed to traffic (how they managed that, I’ll never know), and I got to see them carrying their big shrines through, though instead of just having the one big Omikoshi like we did, they had about five or six big ones, and each one was carried by a specific team of people, rather than a mish-mash of teams. The place was flooded with people, and festival volunteers were everywhere, lining the streets, young and old. I count myself especially lucky, because as I was walking down the street, I happened upon the place where they were doing a Taiko drum performance. I took some pictures and some video, though neither do it justice. The big drums were so loud that you could hear the metal gates of the building shaking with every beat, and see the windows shaking. I must have stayed there at least an hour, just watching them. They did all sorts of different performances: some mostly with clackers, some with small drums, some with large drums, some with the huge drums, some with a flutist. Only when they took a break did I finally disperse back into the crowd, and on my way back, I was tempted to have a seat and wait to see if they’d do some more, since they were still milling around, but I was afraid my body wouldn’t walk me all the way back if I waited.

Friday, September 18, 2009

Odaiba and Sumo

So, I'm sorry for not posting in a few days, but I've been busy, as I'm sure you've guessed. I got to meet the one other exchange student that's going to my college, and the day before yesterday, we went to Odaiba, which is the man-made island out in the bay southeast of here. She was so much fun to be with and I'm glad I found a fellow adventurous soul to hang out with here in one of the most amazing cities in the world. For reference, how to get to Odaiba: Get on the JR Yamanote line bound for Tokyo station and get off at the Shimbashi Station. From there, exit like you're going to the Ginza line, and you'll see signs for the Yurikamome monorail, which will take you over the bay and out to Odaiba (the trains don't run out there). Then, get off at the Odaiba Kaihenkoen exit, and to your right are the malls, amusement parks and Fuji TV, and to the left is the Ferris Wheel (105 km) and the Toyota showroom, which has cars that drive themselves on a track. We went to the dock and saw a magnificent view of Rainbow Bridge, then we took some pictures of the Statue of Liberty that they have there (the same as ours only smaller, and the back of her hair is done like a Geisha's), and then, my favorite part of the trip, we went to the Fuji TV building. You can use the magical escalator (it is steps, then straightens itself out, then goes back to steps without you having to move) to the main entrance at the top. If you pay a small fee, you can go up into the ball thing, where I believe there is a store, though I'm chep, so we didn't. They do have a store on the main level though, too, with merchandise for their various anime, variety shows and dramas (though usually just the current dramas airing), which got me all excited 'cause I'm such a drama nerd. After a purchase there, we exited on different escalators to our right, which take you down to another level, and inside are like halls of information and memorabilia about their various shows, sets for taking fan photos, and even windows where you can overlook sound stages, when they're shooting. That place was really fun, and we spent a lot of time there, and afterwards we wandered over to the left side of the Island where there is the Ferris Wheel (Hello Kitty talks to you in English), the Toyota showroom (worth a breeze through, even if you don't like cars), the Zepp Tokyo concert hall (for all your Jrock concert needs), and a freaking awesome arcade that has absolutely everything. To get back, we took a ferry ($4.60), and got to see the city by night on the top deck of the ferry. It was absolutely breathtaking, but unfortunately, my camera battery had died earlier on, so I didn't get any pics of that. The boat drops you a ways from the station, but if you follow the masses of people, you'll be alright, and you get onto the JR line to get back.

Also, yesterday I went with my host parents to a sumo match, which was quite lucky, because every year they switch where the matches take place, and they only do it for a few months every year, so I was in the right place at the right time. Just a few interesting facts: most Sumo wrestlers nowadays are Mongolian, the stage is made entirely of sand and the Shinto god supposedly resides there, so women are not allowed on stage, also because of this, the sumo wrestlers throw salt out to purify the ring every time before they enter it. Before the matches between very famous wrestlers, boys with banners will come on stage and walk around with their banners, which are actually the names of sponsors who are putting up money (usually $100 I think) for whoever wins the match, and after the match is over, the wrestlers wait in their corners for the next wrestler, and give him water to drink that supposedly passes his power onto the new guy. Anyways, you probably know what sumo looks like, so I won't go into detail, but it was actually quite fun to watch. And afterwards, I got to witness what a real busy train is like. There were so many people that there were no more handles, and you were literally standing upright thanks to everyone around you, so when you lurched because the train starts moving, you can't fall because there are so many people, there's no where to go. I'm not looking forward to ever do that again. Anyways, so that's the news of the last two days, and I'll catch up with everyone again soon. More pics uploaded on my photobucket.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Calligraphy and Chicken Hearts

First of all, I will start off by saying that yesterday, for dinner we had a mini-party with a bunch of family and friends, and we had take out yakitori, which is basically like chicken shish kabobs, but there are different kinds that use different parts of the chicken, and in addition to eating some chicken breast and green onion shish kabobs, i was told to try the chicken hearts, and the chicken skin (kawa). The skin basically tasted like grilled chicken, but chewier, and the chicken hearts basically tasted like chicken breast peices, just a fraction of an inch different in texture, but they weren't bad at all. I was surprised. Anyways...

Today’s main event was going to the calligraphy class. It was pretty cool, I have to
admit, but I think that the tea ceremony stuff is cooler. The Sensei (teacher), has our stations already set up when we got there. There’s a tray with a little box carved with a slope, where you put water, and then there’s a thing that looks similar to a block of wax, that you dip in the water and then move around and around in a circle on the slope of the box until finally, your water has turned to ink. Also, there’s a felt mat you put down, then you put down your paper and then a long, skinny weight on the paper. She set the real students (i.e. my host mom and others) to work and then asked me what symbol I wanted to learn, so I said Hana (which means flower). So, the sensei got out her neon orange ink and showed me just how to slant each stroke, and overall how it should look, and then set me down to practice. It took quite a few tries, and I still don’t think I got it right, but finally she gave my calligraphy thing a big orange swirl (which means well done), and we moved on to another symbol: Yume (dream). While I was doing that one she came over and showed me how to position everything to do it right. You have to sit dead center, and place your right hand on the paper to steady it, then your index and middle finger go on the top of the brush, your ring and pinky finger go behind, you stick your elbow out and the brush should be straight up and down. I kept hunching over to the left, like you do when you’re writing, so my symbols kept veering left on the paper. Eventually she okay’d my second one and we moved off to the third and last: Kibou (hope). That one was more difficult because it is made of two symbols, rather than of just one like the others were. I finally sorta got it, but I can see why being a calligraphy person is a profession in and of itself, because I was no where near as good as the lady, and it seemed so effortless when she did it. Also, as a present she took out some fancy paper and wrote one of my words (Hope) in the second type of calligraphy (there’s the proper, easy to read stuff and the scrawly stuff that most people like to hang up), and signed it for me. It was pretty cool.

Monday, September 14, 2009

Japanese TV

Japanese TV is funny. Sometimes funny ha-ha, most times funny peculiar. Most of the shows aren't dramas (those usually run on the 9:00 PM time schedules and only once a week), but rather are like variety shows, most of which focus on quizzes and tests of intelligence (at least the ones in the evening are). The other variety shows are sort of like a mix between variety shows and daytime talk shows. They usually have a panel of six or so hosts, none of whom do anything but comment, and the bulk of the show is no-name reporters going to do random specials on random things (Japanese-inspired products you find abroad, Koi fish, an old couple that lives in the mountains, etc), and then the hosts watch it (with their pics in the upper right hand corner so you can see their reactions) and then they comment on the piece afterwards. It's my perception that they don't really showcase a lot of their own news (very little celebrity news here), and like to import clips from abroad (like scaretactics shows) that are premade for them to use. Also, most of the shows are run either by comedians or by what they call 'talents,' which really don't do a whole lot outside of these types of shows, but are famous because they are on a lot of them all the time. Like Daigo for example, he's the old Prime Minister's grandson, which got his foot in the door, and mostly he's just on these shows, though he is a singer now, and was in Love Shuffle. All the people that I count as real big stars are rarely ever on the TV programs, but are on practically every single one of the commercials. There's scarcely a cm where I don't know who the person is.

Also, a lot of their news features are either about food or clothes. At least one food item/segment pops up on every show. Besides that, the only two major news stories that they've been rehashing every day are about this one actress and her husband who have been caught for taking drugs and are going to do hard time for it. (They have a 10 yr. old son). And the other major story that you hear about non stop, is about the new Prime Minister that is due to take office here in two days. His name is Yukio Hatoyama, and every move he makes ends up on the TV. It reminds me of when Barack took office. Here's a pic (
Anyways, just thought I'd blurb about that. Anyway, talk to y'all later.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Matsuri Day 2!

Hey there everyone. So, yesterday was the second day of the festival here at our shrine, and it's the day when the BIG portable shrine comes out. Around ten, they had a ceremony in the main shrine, where a bunch of what seemed to be big wigs in suits, attended and took offerings from the assembled priests (about 8 of them), and placed the things on the altar, then everyone filed out and went inside for lunch, which I helped serve. Afterwards, everyone from the neighborhood came into the courtyard and assembled around the portable shrine, which had been brough out and placed on A frames in the very middle of the courtyard, and then the high priest, my host dad, and some other priests said prayers, put a wooden altar thing with a branch on it on the float, and then they put a wooden box inside the portable shrine. Just a few quick facts: turns out that they only bring out the big shrine once every two years, so I was lucky that I got here when I did. Also, as it was explained to me, the shrine acts as like, God's car (I think he was in the box), and so he gets in and goes for a ride around the neighborhood so the people who don't get to see the inside of the main shrine, can see him sorta, and pay tribute. There are a string of these Shinto festivals that pass in a line from one part of the city to the next, so next weekend, they'll be doing it again somewhere else in a different shrine one county over. Our particular shrine cost either 10 million dollars, or 10 million yen (I'm betting Yen, so $100,000), and is quite heavy, being made almost entirely out of gold, with a golden phoenix perched on top. Also, to be a lower level priest, you have to go through four years of learning (I know this because my older brother is a lower level priest here, and participated in the ceremonies). Also, your rank is indicated by the clothes that you wear for the ceremonies.

Anyway, after the prayers and what not, teams of people all dressed in their particular uniforms (always shorts and a jacket, with a symbol on the back), got together and with great chants and stirring yells of encouragement, they heaved it aloft, and watching the signals by their leaders (indicated by the waving of fans), and certain whistle combos, the bore it out of the shrine courtyard and onto the streets, parading it around the neighborhood, with the help of the cops, for four whole hours, never stopping. There were food stalls still, and I learned that what I had once assumed were prayers pegged up on that wall thing, are actually the names of people who have donated money. There were drummers and musicians until around 5, when they came parading back, excitement on their faces as they knew they were close to getting to put it down. A man with a mic said a few words, the carriers held it up as high as they could, and then after about fifteen minutes of maneuvering to get it just right, they finally got to put it down. I can't even describe what an experience this weekend has been, but watching them lift the shrine aloft left me with a feeling similar to that of national pride that you sometimes feel in America. It was beautiful and amazing, and here's a video so you can see part of what I saw:

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Shibuya and the Matsuri

Word of the day: matsuri (mah-tsu-ri)n. it means festival.

So, I went to Shibuya yesterday, but I won't spend much time talking about that, because all I did was get overwhelmed, pop in a department store (walls were closing in on me) called Don Kihote for some towels and wash clothes (a single washcloth cost $3), and then I went to the Tokyu department store at the Shibuya Station (the great white building sitting on top of some of the train lines), and to it's basement to look at all the lovely foods there (Jiffy peanut butter, marshmallows, and tons upon tons of artistic, designer looking cakes and whatnot).

Rather, I'm going to talk about the Matsuri we held at our shrine today. Evidentally, the god that supposedly resides in this particular shrine in Ikejiri, is who you pray to for good harvest and stuff, thus the timing of this festival. At the beginning of the festival, they bring out all the omikoshi (portable shrines), which this shrine here has four, and then the priests call out what I'm assuming are blessings on them, while the head priest, my host father, goes and says the same stuff over the big omikoshi that they didn't take out today, but which comes out tomorrow. Ours has a phoenix on it and has something to do with some lady (lady goddess?), and in front of this one are offerings of vegetables. After the priests are done, the workers present heave the portable shrines off to trucks and stick them in the back, taking them and dropping them at different edges of town. Slowly, with the help of police for traffic, and taiko drummers and chanters, people carrying the omikoshi go around the town all day, showing it off. In the main courtyard, food stalls and a toy stall for children is set up, and prayers or blessings (don't know which) start to get hammered onto this huge wooden billboard looking thing. The main shrine is open, but only certain people can go within, and they sit and drink and do calligraphy, while others come up the stairs to offer prayers. (They shake these colored fabric strips with bells inside, clap their hands twice and pray. On other stand, tea ceremony and flutists are on display.

About halfway through the day, my host mother took me and a friend upstairs and dressed me up in a Yukata (a simpler version of a kimono). It seems she has had special classes to teach her how to dress a kimono. She was so good at it, and she even gave me a butterfly bow tied in gauzy fabric for my back. After that, everyone we met on the street was very friendly and complimented us on our yukatas, saying that they were very pretty, and suited us. At the end of the day, I got to sit up in one of the buildings on a platform and participate in tea ceremony, which was, as always, awesome. It was the cool green tea, so we got chairs, thankfully. And now, I'm totally bushed. It's pouring buckets outside, and it's dark now, but there are still people down in the courtyard, listening to some live singer they have, and if I wasn't so tired, I'd go join them, but for now, I think I'll call it tonight. The big Omikoshi comes out tomorrow, and I think I'm helping with that, so later! (I added more pics to the 'First Few Days' file, as well as making a new file for the Matsuri).

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Forgot to Mention

Hey there! So I forgot the reason I made yesterday's post in the first place. You see, there was an exhibition here this past weekend showcasing interesting new items that will be on sale for the coming Christmas season, and one of them was the toilet flush sound machine. Now, let me explain. About a decade or so ago, women started getting embarrassed when people could hear them going to the bathroom in public restrooms, so they made a habit of flushing the toilet as they go, over and over and over, which is a big waste of water. Some bathrooms put in buttons that make the sound without actually flushing the toilet, and that cut down the problem a lot, but still, this past weekend at the exhibition, a new advance has been made for embarrassed pee-ers. It's about the size and shape of a camera, with a cutesy design on the front, and when you push a button on it, it makes a toilet flushing sound for you. Weird huh? Another thing to mention is that they do have peanut butter here, and marshmallows, and a whole canteloupe costs $22. Crazy huh? Iced coffee is also a very popular drink, and mostly comes in milk carton like containers, and you refrigerate it, pouring it over ice to serve. Also, they don't have normal washclothes like us, but tend to use these things that are halfway like a brillo pad. Not super comfortable. Well anyways, that's all for now, but I'd like to share my current favorite commercial that's airing on TV right now.

Japanese Nuances

Hey there everyone. Sorry I haven't posted in a day or two, but really, I've had some uneventful days, so there's nothing much to report. Yesterday, I went up to my school for the first time (it's 23 stops from where I am), and got to see the school, which is about a fifteen-twenty min. walk from the station, though Grandberry Mall is there. The school is quite small, just about three buildings, and one of them is just faculty offices. We didn't really get a tour or do anything productive whatsoever, like sign up for classes. Basically me and the other student who came from my school got introduced to the international faculty, and then sat in the library for an hour and that was it. My advisor, and old white guy from Kansas did buy me lunch (Korean Kimchi Fried Rice), but that was the extent of my day, and today all I did was clean and sleep, which was nice since I haven't had a day off yet.

Word of the day: Konbini (Con-bee-nee), n. means convenience store, home of everything you need.

I keep trying desperately to get a picture from my balcony that will do the view/city justice, but my little camera just can't do it, I don't think. So instead, today I'm just going to talk about a few little things I've noticed here and there. First of all, the Japanese don't drink much with meals, at most a small glass of usually green tea, and when there are napkins, they dab politely, not wipe. To show that the food is good, you slurp (soup and other things), and with noodles this is also in part to cool the noodles down as you eat them, rather than blowing on them before hand like Americans do (it really works!). Men who work in manual labor and construction often wear these baggy, almost Alladin looking pants, so they're easy to spot around lunch time. I don't know if this is universal, but as far as home-cooked meals go, they don't seem to need the food hot, so it's usually lukewarm when you eat, though when you go to a restaurant, it's always piping hot. Italian and French are the big non-Asian food places to eat, with little to no Mexican food to be found. Most carbonated drinks, if not in a bottle, are in those mini cans like Starbucks Double shots are in. They do have bats here, and wicked mosquitoes. At night, in construction zones, their orange cones are illuminated, rather than using separate signs/lights. In busy places where there are major highrise buildings, there are signs that go along the side that tell you which floor has which store, that way you know when you're coming in. Most people don't wear sunglasses, but instead carry around umbrellas to shield them from the sun (they don't like to sweat or tan/burn). My friend also tells me, though I haven't witnessed this myself, that just how we have ice cream trucks that drive around the neighborhoods in the States, they have trucks that drive around selling sweet potatoes out in the 'burbs. Pretty crazy huh? Well, anyways, that's all the stuff I can think of for now. That pic, btw, is of a Japanese toilet. You squat over it. Nowadays, most places in the city have regular western toilets, but my college is a little bit older, and that's what they had. I'll have to make sure I go to the potty before I leave for school. Ttyl!

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Tokyo Tower

I went to Tokyo Tower today. I can’t really tell you how to get there, because honestly, though I was paying attention, if I ever wanted to go back without doing our whole day’s circuit and ending at Midtown, I couldn’t do it. I got pretty turned around today, what with the buses, no JR lines and no train stations in sight. We got off at Shibuya and took exit number 9 I think, which plops us down the road from where I usually come out, so that you’re down the street from the main intersection, and on the other side of the one Yen shop, where a bunch of bus stops are waiting. Then we lined up for the bus bound for Shimbashi Eki Mae, which means ‘in front of Shimbashi station, but there wasn’t a station anywhere near where we got off. I think the stop was Azu-something, but it’s just after you turn down the street that Roppongi Hills is on (you can tell that easily because of the huge building and how everything suddenly has shops everywhere). From there we went straight down the street we were on, and you could see the tower up above everything else.

In the tower, there are two seeing platforms, one at 150 km($8) and one at 250km($14). We ended up going to the topmost tower and she remarked how I seem to like things that are up high, what with getting to go up on the roof the other day, Tokyo Tower, and wanting to go to the Odaiba Ferris Wheel. So we hung around up there for a while and then went back down to the first platform. There is a difference in what you can see, but I wouldn’t recommend paying for the more experience just for those extra 100 km. On the 150 km platform, there’s lots to see and do. They have a café and a souveneir shop and a café, and signs showing which direction is which and where stuff is, like the Emperor’s Palace and stuff (btw, evidently the Emperor’s grandson just turned 3, cause it was on the news). They also have these interactive map things that will either let you slide a bar back and forth and it shows you the Tokyo area as it changed from the Meiji Era, to the Edo era, to present day, and if you press another button, it will fast forward through the day so you get to see what it looks like at night. Very cool. Anyways, after looking around there for a while, we went down stairs (they have a wax museum, an aquarium and a Guiness World Records museum inside, and then one more floor down are some shops and a food court.

After that, we went to this place called Midtown, which I think is at the Roppongi stop on the line starting with an O. It's a really nice mall, really ritzy (in fact, it's either the Ritz Carlton or the Hyatt, owns a few floors of the building as a hotel), and also one of the tallest buildings in Tokyo, and pretty close to the Roppongi Hills complex. Most of the stores are clothing stores, though they do sell home goods and other things, but be warned that the cheapest shop specialized only in chopsticks, and just one pair of chopsticks will set you back about $13 at least. Still, it was a great place to see, and on B1 (the first basement), there is a food court of sorts, that's more like a long line of mini restaurants specializing in either Vietnamese food, or Korean, or Chinese, or Udon, or just Hayashi rice, or just tofu, or just soup, or just things made from green tea. There is also a pattissier (spelled?) that is famous, and their prices relfect it. I single piece of their artistic looking delicacies are about 7 bucks a slice. But man, I bet they're good. Anyways, that's all for now. Tomorrow I'm going to the school and will have more to report then. I've added a Tokyo Tower folder btw, and will do a blog about trash seperation and laundry machines at a later, more boring date.

Monday, September 7, 2009

Alien Registration

Hello everyone! I'm afraid I bring boring stuff today, nothing really flashy or exciting. Today was the day to meet with my study abroad coordinator, and we went to the kuyakusho (City Ward Office) here in Setagaya to register me as a temp. citizen. Again, I insist that you bring passport size photos with you, but I found out today that in fact, if you do forget them, there is a machine directly outside the building to oblige you. We went there by bus, but came back by foot, since I wanted to know the way for later, though to both of our surprises, what seemed like a seven minute busride turned out to be a forty-five minute walk, in the heat and sun. Even so, I got to see a lot more shops and things along the way. Btw, advice to the wise, while you're here, buy a water bottle from one of the millions of vending machines and keep it with you at all times. They drink surprisingly little here, so you could get dehydrated in the heat. The tap water is safe, though for some reason unbeknowst to me, most Japanese people drink bottled mineral water. I guess it's just what the cool kids are doing.

For the alien resgistration card, you find the building and the desk, where they give you a form to fill out asking your name, home address, occupation, birthdate, dates allowed in Japan (a sticker in your passport), and the address where you're staying, then have you sign some stuff, etc. The form is in English, so no worries there, though the lady behind the counter may try to ask you stuff in Japanese. I had my lady there to help, but I'm sure with enough hand gestures and miming, you can come to an understanding. They take your passport and make a copy, take your pictures, and also a certificate of eligibility form that you get at the airport (the man you turn the immigration form into puts it in your passport). After that, it takes three weeks for you to get your official card, which you have to go back to the office to get (thus the walk). They can issue you a temporary reg. card, which will work when you want to buy a cell phone, however, it does not work for opening bank accounts, so you'll have to wait the three weeks for that. Also, if you change where you live (as I'm moving into an apartment elsewhere in six months), you have to reregister at the city ward in your new living area. To my surprise, when I turned everything in, they gave me a booklet about libraries, rec areas and general knowledge stuff for the area, in English, as well as a map charting emergency evacuation routes (and a very interesting 1-10 earthquake scale), as well as a chart for how the trash is to be put out and when. Japan is quite strict about how the trash is done, but this pamphlet put all my questions to rest. The trash question will take an entire blog, which I'll do later.

Other than that, nothing much new to report. I went out to lunch with my brother's girlfriend (he was at work), to a Thai place. Naturally, their Thai food is different than ours (only one curry on the menu, and they don't have yellow curry). And after that, she came to a special, short ceremony to cleanse her soul, since her grandad just died, and it's been a week. It was at the shrine next door and she let me watch, which was cool. Cousin Nobu did the proceedings, all dressed up in that old-timey garb, waving a papery stick at her and saying a bunch of stuff in the same voice that Catholic priests use at mass. Then we got to go inside the shrine and she said a few things and it was over. Well anyways, so that was my day. I may be going to Tokyo Tower tomorrow, but I'm not sure, and then on Wed. I'm going to the school finally. Well, that's all the news to report for now. Talk to you soon!

Sunday, September 6, 2009

Harajuku and Ebisu

Well, I mustered up my courage today and braved the trains alone, and to my surprise, it was a piece of cake. I only got turned around once, and the worst that happened was that i went up some stairs, down some stairs and ended right back where I started. Today, after I dropped in on the neighbors, as they decorated the portable shrine for next weekends festival, I made my way to Harajuku and was stunned. As soon as you get off the train, there is a street stretching out in front of you that harbors tons upon tons of people, clothing stores and crepe shops. It was certainly an experience, and though I went to find the cosplayers at the bridge, I ended up going down that street and a few others before arriving at my destination. The place was full of people, mostly tourists, as the bridge where they hang out leads to the entrance to the Meiji Shrine, I was disappointed to see that I was too early for my cosplayers. There were only a handful there at noon, but more were on the way as I left. I also strolled down to the shrine, but didn't go all the way in, as I didn't want to battle the tourists. It was a beautiful walk though, and you're surrounded by forests (Pics can be seen in my new Harajuku Ebisu folder on Photobucket). Btw, to get to either the shrine or the bridge where they cosplay, make an immediate right when you exit the station and just keep following the road, never crossing the street.

It was a nice bit of exercise, but I finally gave up and got back on the train and went back to Ebisu, which I can imagine being my favorite place here in Japan. It is elegant and so beautiful and I love it. This time I managed to take some pictures, but it was busy with families with little kids, so I didn't get many good ones. I meandered around there for a while, noting that on the left of Ebisu Garden Place is a department store/mall that has VERY expensive stuff inside. Maybe for another day when I'm less sweaty. Word to the wise, when you get off at Ebisu, take the East Exit. If you take the west exit it'll drop you onto the street outside, whereas you need to get to the Skybridge which will take you to Ebisu Garden Place. Good peice of advice.

Also, another few bits of advice. If you've ever entertained the idea of driving here, perish the thought. If you don't get completely run over by speedy drivers, you'll get irrevocably lost (Tokyo's streets aren't numbered consistently and aren't on a grid system like us, thus they all have GPS in their cars). If you're European, you'll be used to driving on the left side of the road in the right side of the car, but many streets are just barely big enough for a car and are one way, and if you get lost, there are no parking spaces to park and go in to ask for directions. Another piece of advice is, if you go to Harajuku to see the cosplayers, remember to ask if you can have their picture, as some of them don't want their pictures taken. (How to ask is: "Shashin wo totte mo ii desu ka?")

I also went to an electronics store, which was amazing, but sells the same stuff that we have at home, at a slightly higher cost (Laptop is $1300). And I did battle with my microwave. It would appear that our microwaves in the US are stronger than here, as it took 3 min. to heat one pancake thing. It kept making a scary noise for a while after that, but it's stopped now, so that's good right? Well, anyway, if I can think of anything else, I'll post it, and until then, see you later!

Saturday, September 5, 2009

Word of the Day: Sado and Ogoru

Hello everyone! So the journey continues. Today I got to participate in my host mother's tea ceremony classes that she teaches, which was really cool, and thus the reason for one of today's words of the day. Sado (sah-do), refers to the Japanese tea ceremony, which I will talk about more in a minute. Also, today I went out to lunch with my big brother and his lovely girlfriend and he taught me how to say, 'My treat' as in, I'll pay. To say that, you say "Ogorimasu." So if you say this, be prepared to pay the bill. I also found out that in the Shinto religion, if a member of your family dies, or if you have really bad luck, you are not allowed in the shrine (the jinja) for one week, because the Shinto god likes to stay away from death and bad luck. I had a kind of ramen, btw, called I think it was Tatamen, which was noodles in a gravyish broth with ground beef and white sesame, as well as a few veggies. It is said to be a bit spicy, but I didn't really think so. It was good though.

In other news, I wento the tea ceremony, where my host mother was all dressed up in her kimono looking lovely. There were two different ceremonies I participated in, one with cold green tea, where I sat in a chair like contraption, and one with hot green tea where I had to kneel for forty five minutes until I thought my bones were going to break. I won't go into all the details because it would take too long for one blog, but suffice it to say that the meticulous nature of every aspect of the tea ceremony is amazing. Everything has to be precise, from the angles and places you set things, to the number of times you do something, or how much water you put in, or which foot you lead with when you leave, or how to hold this or that and when. It was an amazing experience, I have to say and I was overwhelmed by the timeless, deep nature of the Japanese tradition. Btw, when Americans think of a traditional Japanese tea ceremony, they usually think of powdered green tea that you put in the bowl thing and mix with a whisk until it is a deep green color, but that is ot the only type of tea ceremony. That is used with Macha, which is green tea powder, whereas what I witnessed today was all using Kyusu, which are the actual leaves, and it can be a ceremony for hot green tea or cold green tea. So, suffice it to say, I learned a lot about tea today.

I ventured out on my own for a little bit today, going to the local 7/11 for toilet paper and what not, found a 100 Yen vending machine (which is cheaper than most) where I bought the drinks in the picture, and then went to pick up some photos I'd gotten at a store by the station. Speaking of which, the dang passport photo saga continues. When you come to Japan, if you're staying, not just visiting, and are going to get an Alien Registration Card, bring two passport size photos with you, because as I learned the hard way, getting them here will set you back $15.00 (the first money I spent in Japan : / ) and might take a while to find a shop to do it, if you don't have a host family to ask.

Well, tonight we're having some guests from the neighborhood over for Okonomiyaki, which is a sort of omelette/pancake thing with meat and veggies in it. Oh, be forewarned that some places in Japan don't have napkins (like my family doesn't use them), so you might want to brink a packet of napkins with you, or take some that are being passed out with ads on the streets in busy places like Shibuya. But that's a story for another day. I'll talk to you all soon!

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Trains and People Everywhere!!

Today's word of the day: Eki (pronounced eh-ki) n. (駅) meaning station (as in train station).

Well, I managed the train system today with the caring guidance of my host parents. I did not have the experience of having to figure out my fare and what not, because we went ahead and just bought a Pasmo card. Pasmo is a rechargeable card that you buy at the ticket purchasing machines (also works on buses and in some stores as cash). I don't know about the other stations, but at the Ikejiri Ohashi, there is an English button you can press to proceed through purchasing it. There is a $5 fee when you buy the card, which I believe you can get back if you turn the card back in to some desk at a later date. The card has various amounts you can charge onto it, and it is in fact rechargeable. From what I saw today, about 95% of the people use these rather than the regular ticket, and often just keep them in their wallet or datebook and place that on the sensor. With a regular ticket, you stick it in the slot, but with the Pasmo (or the Suica, which is basically the same thing), there is a sensor on the turnstyles and you just slide your card over that. You slide your card both on the way in and on the way out of the station to allow the machines to calculate your fee from how far you went. The trains were a bit confusing, and where I am has express trains as well as the regular train, which is different, and to switch lines there's numerous escalators and walkways and millions of people, but I can see that, with time, I'll figure it out easily enough. If tourists can do it, so can I. When we got on the train to go to Shibuya station (one of the major stations), the lovely men with white gloves were waiting, lest they need to help pack people into the train cars. And they were dangerously close to needing to. In America, if a train was that packed, no one would attempt to get on, but we managed somehow. At Shibuya we switched to the JR line's Yamamote Line, which was somewhat less crowded, and had the added bonus of making all their announcements in both Japanese and English, as well as having digital screens with both telling you where you're going.

Today we went to Ebisu/Ebisu Garden Place. From the exit, all we had to do was cross the street to enter the area and immediately on the left was the famous statue from the Hana Yori Dango series. Being an absolute retard, I of course forgot to put the card back in my camera and don't have the cord, so the pictures I took today will remain a secret to you, and for that, I'm sorry. It was, in a word though, amazing. Ebisu is a very rich looking area with snazzy shops smacking with European influence and design. There was an Armani jeans store, a McCafe without the McDonalds, and a towering, three story Chateau looking structure in the distance that I'm told is a VERY expensive restaurant. I believe it. Once you go down the walkway to the middle circle (where at Xmas they have a large Xmas tree), to your right is the Ebisu Garden building, and to your right, through a walkway is the Yebisu beer museum. We went to both. The beer museum was interesting, especially if you're a beer fan, and though they have a brochure in English, all the writing and video is in Japanese. At the end of the journey, there is a vending machine where you choose a Yebisu/Sapporo beer type you'd like to try, pay for it and recieve a ticket which you give to the man over at a bar to your left. The tower is huge and I honestly have no clue what's inside it except for that there are restaurants on the 39th floor, as well as windows where you can overlook the entire city. Of course I took unviewable pictures of that too. These restaurants are fancy and expensive, but they weren't open when we went, so I didn't get a peek inside.

After that, we went back onto the train (less crowded this time), and got off at Shibuya, crossing that famously congested crosswalk and entering the 109 building, which is a famous fashion building packed with stores. It was like the mother of all malls. And on the bottom floor to the right is a store that sells some overseas goods like Pringles and American candybars and things, so if you're hankering for something from home, this is perfect for you. So, that concludes the festivities for now, and I'll bring you more of the story as it happens!

Wednesday, September 2, 2009


Hello everyone! So, I made it! After an excruciatingly long flight, I made it! I’m going to cut out the blow-by-blow for you and just touch on the important bits of my journey. First of all, when you’re on the plane over, you need to grab the two sheets that the stewardesses are handing out. One is a customs form and one is an immigration form. When you head to baggage claim, you’ll turn one into the man at immigration (where you’ll give your index fingers’ print and a picture), and then once you get you luggage, you’ll turn in the other one to the customs lady.

I would suggest taking the limousine bus from the airport, as we did, because you do in fact, get to see all of Tokyo on the drive. We took the one to Shibuya and I got to see Tokyo Disney, the great Ferris Wheel, Tokyo Tower, Rainbow Bridge, Roppongi Hills, everything. You buy a ticket for this as soon as you come out of baggage claim, where Car Rental places are in American airports. It dropped us off at the Cerulean Hotel, and from there I believe you can walk to the Shibuya station, though we took a cab to the apartment. My family has given me my own separate apartment/room with a kitchen, washer and bath, and separately feeds me and hangs out with my in their house, which is the entire second floor of this apartment building. I got to see my host father’s shrine, where he works, and it was the most beautiful thing I’ve seen so far. I’ll be sure to get a pic soon. Also, the view from my balcony is breathtaking. You can see Tokyo Tower from my apartment. I met all but one of my host family, the younger son who was still at work at 10 when I came up to go to bed. The elder son is an English teacher and bears a strange resemblance to Nino from Arashi. I’d like to give you all instructions on how to do a collect call from here, but unfortunately, it took me, the son and the mother to figure it out, and I really was the least helpful of the bunch, so on that account, I’m sorry.

Day Two: Well it is midday on day two of my adventure. I had my older brother here help me out with the internet, another long and involved process that had him breaking out the packet of instructions, poor thing. At this point, I owe him my life. Also, my host mother showed me to the Supermarket, which was bustling with all manner of people. You had to dodge them, there were so many. My host mother made yakisoba for me for lunch, which I thought was awfully nice seeing as they aren’t obliged to feed me. I also had breakfast, which consisted of squid, onigiri (rice balls), coffee, a pastry with fresh cream and red beans inside, and a sort of corn chowder. It was all quite good, though I passed on the squid. That’s when I met the other son. He was young and smartly dressed and out of the door by 7:30. Other than that, I did meet with my homestay advisor today, from JTB. She was a very nice lady and we talked for about an hour, in Japanese, about this and that. We had coffee at this tiny, tiny, tiny place were most of the chairs were bean bags, the entrance door was just over half my height, and you had to walk down a flight of steep stairs. Kind of like a cave. I have pics. Anyway, so after that I came back and figured out (sort of), how to use the shower. Of course, you don’t bathe in the tub, you shower first and then soak, but I’m too tired to sit and bathe, so I opted for a shower and a lie down. Tomorrow I suppose I’ll brave the supermarket again, on my own this time. I have a few cup ramen and some tea, but I’ll need a little more I think. It looks quite cloudy today, and I’m thankful I brought an umbrella. Also, good to know, on bigger sidewalks, there is a yellow line running down the middle and you always want to walk on the left side of it, or else get run over by a biker. Now, I’d talk more, but I don’t want to gnaw your ear off. All my pictures are at my photobucket account, under the file 'First Few Days' : .More tomorrow…