Monday, November 30, 2009

Not Much Going On

Heya there everyone! So, as the title suggests, there's not much going on over my way right now. After the fun-filled weekend last weekend, I finally got a chance to rest and catch up on homework, but naturally, I didn't catch up on homework, or really rest. I started a new drama you see, a Taiwanese one called Bump Off Lover, and it's a murder mystery and I'm hooked. I've been staying up 'til all hours of the night watching it, so I'm sleep deprived and behind, but oh well. The heck with it I say! I'm two eps from the end, and hopefully I'll finish it tonight. Oh, and as you can see, I sort of changed the blog's layout for the season. Just wanted to make it a little more festive. Hope you guys like.

In other news, in class yesterday we watched an entire 30 min. program about chopsticks and I learned that 40% of the world eats with their hands, 30% with spoons and forks, and the other 30% with chopsticks. I was astounded that chopsticks are equal with forks. So, I was supposed to go out to Disney Sea today, but that plan didn't work out, so I've got class and errands. I am going to a indie VK band's concert tomorrow with Katy (the band is The Kiddie), and I'm rather excited about that. It should be lots of fun. They were the openers for Alice Nine at that concert a few weekends ago. I also ordered my Xmas cake from the local bakery. It's square with chestnuts flavoring and has a santa and a choo-choo train on it amid other baubles. I'll take pictures when we get it. It appears that somehow I've got myself roped into making my host family's Christmas Cake. Great, no pressure there!

And lastly I just want to say to my dear friends who are reading and who I've been neglecting (you know who you are), that I'm sorry I fail to e-mail you and keep in touch. Yes, I fail. I'll understand if you hate me, but I hope you won't. Just know that I love you still and miss talking to you and I haven't forgotten about you even 1%.

Friday, November 27, 2009

My Thanksgiving

Happy belated Turkey day to all you Yankees out there. So, as the Japanese don't celebrate the landing of the pilgrims in America (can't understand why not), I was forced to create my own festive atmosphere here, having to fight off impending gloom over spending a very American holiday surrounded by not-American-people. As a result, and to right off the aforementioned gloom, I took a trip out to Grandberry Mall, bought some cups I've been eyeing since I got here, two magazines and then, to be actually somewhat festive, went to see Disney's "A Christmas Carol" in 3D. I would very eagerly recommend that everyone see it, preferrably in 3D, though I will admit it is too scary for small children or people with heart conditions. I really enjoyed it and for 97 min. I was almost able to believe in the possibility of an American Christmas (or at least to be reminded that there are people out there who know how to celebrate it right). Oh the wreaths, the carolers, the chestnuts on the open fire. Reminds me of home. As you can see, I'm wishing I got to spend the holiday back in the ole U S of A. But really, the movie was very good, very close to the original story and super awesome in 3D. The only damper on the experience was the fact that instead of getting to hear Jim Carrey, Cary Elwes, Colin Firth and Gary Oldman, I had to hear gruff-voiced Japanese men dubbing over it. Oh yes, it was all in Japanese. Luckily I know the story well enough that I could more or less tune them out (as I am wont to do when my brain gets tired). Well anyways, I hope you are all having a fantabulous holiday, eating all the turkey your heart desires and pumpkin pie too. Happy Thanksgiving!

Wednesday, November 25, 2009


So, this past weekend I did many exciting things: went to Kyoto, went to Kamakura, went to an Alice Nine concert. I figure, since I blurb so often on alice nine, I'll save that long-winded tale of awesomeness for my family, but instead I'll tell you about my trip to Kyoto, as it probably would draw more interest from most of you reading. Well, we went first to a temple in an area called Arashiyama, which is said to be beautiful because of it’s maple trees. You see, now is supposed to be the season for the leaves to turn, though unfortunately, when we went, they had yet to do so. Even so, the temple was quite impressive, and the street leading up to it quite fun. The street embodied my vision of Kyoto, with shops selling fans and traditional Japanese street vendor snacks, with kimono shops and other such things (unfortunately, because my host parents are Japanese, they don’t have any interest in looking at such goods, so the shopping aspect of our trip was kept at a minimum until the end). The temple was extremely large, its overhanging balcony being quite famous for some reason or other that I couldn’t quite pick out (unless that it was simply made of wood, without the use of iron nails or bolts). I think the temple was called something like Mizuko or something similar, which is a word for a type of Buddha or doll or something. You can see how much I know about Buddhism. It also harbors the 11 face Buddha, which has, I think, 11 heads rather than 11 faces, and real Buddhist monks in their black robes (I saw one meditating up in the woods on the side of the mountain). The leaves, for the most part, hadn’t turned yet, but there were a few pretty trees, and once one disentangled themselves from the crowd (field trips galore), it was actually quite magnificently beautiful, just like a post card.
When our time was nearly up, we popped in to a store where I got a cream puff filled with green tea soft serve ice cream (green tea soft serve is wildly popular here), and tried a type of sweet thing that is famous and particular to Kyoto. It looks the consistency of a thin, see-through crepe, though it is made of mochi (rice pounded to be sort of sticky and chewy), and the inside is usually Adzuki beans, though there is strawberry filling and others too, and it’s dusted with something like cinnamon. It was quite delicious. (Oh, also, Kyoto is famous for some kind of special blotting paper for your skin). Anywho, we piled back into the bus (I hit my head on the ceiling), and we took off on a 30 min. or so drive to the next temple, which was situated beside a row of large hills, next to a river. The temple itself, we didn’t go see, but rather crossed the river and looked at the scenery, watching as an unfortunate couple in a rowboat got stuck halfway out, waiting for someone to come rescue them. Dodging the young, handsome men urging you to let you drive them around in their rickshaw (all rickshaw drivers are skinny, tall, handsome young men never older than about 25), my host mother took be down to the river edge and told me of how she and my host dad had secreted away to this very spot before they were married for a romantic weekend, then asked me not to tell the kids, as it was a secret even from them. Of course, this prompted me to ask the question that you, mom, have wanted to know for some while: How did you and my host dad meet? Of course, considering their highly traditional family backgrounds, I’d automatically assumed that it had been arranged, but it seems that while she was in Tokyo for college, they first met by chance at a Disco, then bothered their friends into giving them a formal introduction later. (Motown and the Supremes are particular favorites of theirs, as the dad told me while he showed me his secret storehouse of old records; my host mom is going to some old singer’s concert next month [maybe Earth, Wind and Fire?]). After admiring the scenery a while, we popped into a large, bustling restaurant specializing for the bus tours (we got coupons), and I got to eat at my first short table on a tatami mat (had to take off my shoes too). I was told that Kyoto is so hot in the summer and so cold in the winter that it’s not a place people particularly want to live, and that the food is rather unremarkable save for their tofu, so of course, we had tofu for lunch. To be more descriptive, there were little petri dish sized plates of various pickled vegetables, then a bowl of soba noodles, sea weed and tofu in a cool, mildly flavored broth, and then another bowl with a plop of tofu and a spoon (you put a little salt on it and eat it plain). While it’s not my favorite thing I’ve eaten here, it’s most certainly not the worst. Then after lunch my host mother more or less forced me to go to the bathroom (even though I didn’t need to), as she’s taken it as her personal mission (after urgings from her sister, whom I met only once), to protect the health of my bladder (she is under the impression that I don’t go to the bathroom enough, though when you’re drinking from orange juice sized glasses, you’re not really dumping too much in the tank).
We strolled around that area for a little bit longer, not paying to get into the biggest temple, but skirting around the little walkways around it to see the pretty trees inside. Then we piled back in the bus and took off again for another 30 min. drive, and by that point I was so tired that I feared nodding off and honestly didn’t know if I was going to make it through the last two stops. We drove past some magnificent looking temples/shrines, and past a place called a Rock Garden, which was mostly a sea of statues and large, plain rocks like you’d see in a gorge. Our third stop was at The Golden Pavilion, which is a structure surrounded on all sides by a lake, where some bigwig samurai or other lived on the first and second floors (the first is wood and the top two are made entirely of gold, inside and out), and the top floor is supposedly Buddha’s room. It had the most beautiful trees, with leaves falling all around, and when the sun hit it just right it was quite an astonishing site. My host mom bought some green tea chocolates here and then we piled back into the bus for our final stop. The last place we went was a shrine, whereas all before had been temples. And it was pretty cool (my favorite place of the four). When you walk into the main entrance, you’re looking over a large open courtyard of gravel almost half a football field wide I’d say, just like you see in all those movies like Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon. Then, beyond is the building, a bright orange color, and inside, of course a shrine. Then, being part of a tour, we got to go through a side door to the pathways beyond, leading past a lovely pond to an even larger pond, perhaps one might even call it a lake, where there was a traditional two story building sitting on the water, and a covered, ornamental bridge that was just begging to have pictures taken of it. I also forgot to mention that all along the step-stone path, or rather, all above it, were cherry trees and cherry blossom trees, though all of course bare (though you could see the little stems hanging down from the branches on the cherry trees. And this more or less concluded the bus tour.

Monday, November 23, 2009


Hey everyone! I know it's been a while since I posted, and I promise to make a big post for you all either today or tomorrow. I've had one busy weekend, going to Kyoto, Kamakura and, most importantly of all ... an alice nine concert. Oh yes. Indeed I did. And it was ... amazing. No words can describe. But I'll post all about it soon. Sorry for the long period of silence!

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Maid Cafe

For some reason, my host mom got it into her head that I had my heart set on going to a maid café, though why I don’t have a clue, and she was determined that the three of us to go. When we got off at Ueno, my luck struck again and we were just in time for the last song in a special performance of those Urhu instruments (is that what they’re called? Those things like sitars/guitars with 3 strings). A teacher and his teenage students, all decked out in their old-timey outfits, played a quite long song, which was nice, and then we set out again. I found out that the Ueno station is monstrously large, quite intimidating, and that at the Akihabara station, it’s almost impossible to find your way out. It also became readily apparent that my host mom has never been to Akihabara, as she got us lost three times just in the station. Luckily for us, there were maid waiting on the street when we got outside (in the drizzly weather), handing out flyers for their various cafes (Japan lives on their flyers). We took the first one handed to us and tried to figure out directions from the tiny map on the back of the flyer, but failing that, we walked another block and found a different maid from a different store handing out flyers for her shop. Tired of walking around aimlessly, my host mom asked if it was okay for women to go into a maid café (they are typically for otaku [gaming and anime nerds, guys], but she assured us in her cutesy voice that women also go and that we will become princesses when we walk inside. So, with that reassurance and feeling a little silly, we asked her to lead the way, following behind her cat ears and the little costume cat tail that wagged behind her from underneath her maid skirt. Along the way we saw almost nothing but pachinko parlors and electronics stores. I counted more than one shop that exclusively sold cables/wires, with spools of them hanging from the ceiling. I suppose you could find anything you needed there, if you knew what you were looking for. Surprisingly, we saw few anime stores, though I’m sure that’s simply because we either weren’t looking, or weren’t in the right area of Akihabara. And, much to my surprise, the shoppers we passed weren’t as nerdy, ‘live-in-my-parents’-basement’ as I thought they would be.

Our maid took us up a few flights of stairs (every floor of that building had a different maid café in it), and while the shop itself wasn’t quite what I’d expected (having seen Akihabara@deep), it was still cutesy and seemed to fit. It was quite small really, the size of our kitchen perhaps. In the middle was a bar shaped like a thin U, with open space in the middle for the waitresses to move in and out to the kitchen, and around the U were red, sparkly stools; hanging above were pink, frilly curtains. Toward the window was a mock stage and a few raised, small tables, which is where we sat, with adds plastered on the walls and windows listing off the maids working their with their names and pictures (which you could buy for $3.00). Also hanging were ads for their various services and events (you can pay $5 to have them play a card game with you), and an ad for their CD (oh yes, everyone here has a CD). Unfortunately, you aren’t allowed to take pictures in the shop of anything except your food, but I suppose they don’t want a lot of creepos taking their pictures, and I can respect that. When we were seated, they set a time ($6 for 1 hr.), and our maid took us to our table and blew magic into the clear candleholder she was holding, and the candle instantly came alight, whereafter she assured us that we had just become princesses and that we no longer had to worry about the troubles of the outside world. We promptly ordered our drinks (I got a cutesy parfait while my host mom and her friend got iced coffee), and looked around at the few tenants within. There was a fairly otaku looking fellow in one corner, a very young, sleek businessman minding his own business and reading something on his cell phone at the bar, and then beside us, a group of four teenage boys. When the drinks came, we all had to sing a song with our maid, making a heart shape with our hands, chanting ‘moe’ (means cute/sexy/cool in nerd-speak), then shooting off an imaginary gun and blowing on the imaginary smoking barrel. Of course, this was all done amid laughter. The maid were very nice and quite inquisitive about me, asking questions and chatting in their cutest baby-voice. When asked why the menu was in ‘riimin’ instead of ‘yen’ for the currency, it was explained to stand for dreamin, as the shop was called MaiDreamin’. That also, gave us a good laugh. When we were done with our drinks (mine looked better than it tasted), my host mom encouraged me to foot over another $5 to take a photo with a maid and after getting a promise that we would all do it together, I agreed. As I mentioned, on the wall is a chart of all the maids with their pictures (two dressed as Ikemen boys [Takarazuka strikes again!]), and you can choose which you want to take a picture with. Not being a guy, I couldn’t care less which girl it was, and so when our maid/waitress asked who I wanted (she wasn’t quite so pretty as the other two), she was both surprised and elated when I designated her. We all got together in a group on the stage while the girl dressed as a young man got the camera ready, and we were told to pose making kitty paws and instead of saying cheese, to say ‘nya nya’ which is ‘meow meow’ in Japanese. More laughter ensued while she took the Polaroid and drew cutesy stuff around the edges and the four boys beside us got up, adorned Pooh hats and bunny ears and took a picture with their maid as well. After we got our photo, we felt it was time to leave, and so our maid took up the candle, told us that it was now time to leave our safe haven and go back out into the real world, and then magically blew the candle out. As we left the bubblegum pink room, we passed a guy going in who was dressed like a wannabe Yakuza, with a long leather jacket and hair done up like a guy from Grease. The maid didn’t bat an eyelash as she ushered him warmly inside. The impression I took away from the maid café was more or less of it being a cheaper, more innocent version of a hostess club. Here's the link for the one we went to:

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Johnny's Stores

Hey there everyone! It's getting kind of late here and I still have homework, so this post won't be very long, but I thought I should post a description of what I affectionately term the "Johnnys Stores" of Harajuku. If you come to Japan and no any idols, be they singers or actors or talents or whatever, I encourage you to at least go in one of these places, these 'Johnny Stores,' just for the experience. The only place I've found them is in the Takeshita Street of Harajuku (directly in front of the station). Typically these stores are either on the second floor or the basement of other shops, and they are so particular, you know you've found one the second you see the sign, simply because you look up and see Arashi's faces, or Yamapi's face, Tohoshinki, even X-Japan's Hide, staring down at you from mini posters, trying to coax you inside. I've been in two of these said shops, one actually strictly being a Johnnys shop, where in glass cases, are goods categorized by band, starting from the earlier Tokio, SMAP, and Kinki Kids, making their way around to KATTUN and Hey!Say!Jump, with all the Johnnys boys being represented in some capacity. That store actually had gift bags with the bands names on them, phone straps, DVDs and CDs of course, and pictures, as well as photo books and random other merchandise. The second I went into was far more enthralling and far more bizarre. You go down a flight of dangerously steep stairs to a basement, and as soon as you walk in, you are bombarded with faces of all kinds. From floor to ceiling, the shop (about the size of a large master bathroom), is completely covered with 4x6 candid photos of Japanese and Korean idols. I instantly found my way to the Jrock section where I found an alice nine fan I wanted, then made my way around the rest of the shop. The Johnnys bands were clustered together of course, the Jrockers together, the Korean corner (Ryu Siwon, Bae Yong Joon, DBSK, etc.), and then other idols and talents as well. From the ceiling are hanging fans with various boys' faces on them, and on the pillars at various places, hang laminated mini-posters the size of a large place mat that are hanging on a metal chain like keys on a keychain. What made the place even more interesting, is how you buy things. First of all, everything was REALLY cheap, with a fan being about $4, and the mini posters being about the same, whereas a regular picture might cost a dollar or so. Once you've found something you like, you take a pen and a blank slip of paper hanging in baskets around the edge of the room, and you find the code on whatever it is you're wanting to buy (usually written across the middle of it in permanent marker. You write all the codes down on the slip of paper, then proceed to the back of the store where there is a tiny hole cut out of the wall of pictures, about the size of a microwave, and easy to miss. You hand your slip of paper to the lady beyond (she can't see you, you can't see her), and she goes to look up your stuff. While she's bagging it, she calls out the total and you put your money in the tray in the window and take your stuff. All very anonymous. I, of course, got an armband, a fan and two posters of Alice Nine, and I know that I'll eventually be going back for more. Anyways, that's all for now. I'll post again as soon as I can!

Thursday, November 5, 2009

The School Fest and the Sea

Hello everyone! Sorry it's been a while since I put anything up on here, but you know how school can be sometimes, especially when they even book up your weekends (argh!). So this past weekend was our college's school festival, which was an experience, I guess. To be quite honest, it was a bit lacking compared to the festival I'd pictured in my imagination, but I'm at least glad I went. The festival itself consisted of about 8 or 10 food stalls, all manned by different clubs at the school, a stage where they had a clown, a dating game show sort of thing, and a dancing group from the college who call themselves The Shakeys (my friend Harumi is one of them). There was also a flea market (which consisted of one table of used shirts for sale), a nail salon (which consisted of one table where a lady had brought out all her personal nail polishes and would paint your nails for $5), a bubble area and a balloon game for kids, and a deceptive, darkened hallway that I expected to be a homemade haunted house, but was, in fact, nothing but a darkened hallway. Me and one of the other exchange girls, Katy, went and watched the clown, pretended to help at the flea market, watched the Shakeys and ate and talked up on the roof for a while and then finally left. One thing that was a bit unexpected was the number of guys at the festival, both as spectators and as helpers. It would appear that an all boys school was enlisted to help out, so they were doing all the grunt work while the girls made cotton candy. And of course, my school being the 'princess' school where all the pretty rich girls go, there were lots of guys who came buy to look around. As far as the food, which was more or less the main thing at the festival, they had hot dogs (which I tried, hoping for a taste from home and being sorely disappointed with a weiner with no flavor), yakitori (like chicken kabobs), pork kimchi, tako-something (octopus squashed between to wafers, takoyaki (fried octopus balls similar to hushpuppies), cotton candy and a very suspicious booth decorated with American newspapers and pictures of Obama that I wasn't sure what they served (I thing egg with something). So, that was that.

In other news, my host brother took me and his girlfriend and my host dog, Machi, to this Seaside park way the heck out by Odaiba in the bay and I got to see the sea. Thus, the word of the day is Umi (sea). At the park, despite it being a weekday, there were men fishing, lots of young families with their kids, a bunch of skateboarders (they had a special section of the park), and a few couples. More numerous than anything though, were people with their dogs. Because Machi loves me best (or so I'm told), I was brought along to try to keep him calm in the car, and the park has a special dog park within it where you sign a waiver and then you let your dog loose inside to run and frolic as he likes. However. Machi is a bit of a scaredy cat and would follow one step behind me wherever I went, so to get any exercise in him, I had to run around too. When he was feeling especially brave, he would crawl in between my legs and bark at other dogs. It was a lot of fun though, watching all the different kinds of dogs having a good old time. Once that was over and we were cold (it's cold here now, btw), we walked to the other end of the park and onto the beach to show Machi the sea for the first time. He didn't see what all the hoopla was about, I don't think. After that, we all piled back in the car and my host brother took us home a different way, I think to give me a good tour of the city, because we drove beside the Odaiba ferris wheel, right by the Fuji TV building, took the Rainbow Bridge directly to Tokyo Tower, then veered towards Roppongi Hills (which is right next to the TV Asahi studio), and then back to Shibuya from there. It was also my host mom's birthday and we had a nice cake and tea with her when we got home. So anyways, I suppose that's all the news to report for now. I'm still wanting to strangle my school people and am working hard to let all the piddly little crap they do to make my life heck, go. So, we'll see about that. Tomorrow I think I'm going to some island called Enoshima with a friend from school. So, I'll have to let you know how that turns out. I'll upload some pictures to my photobucket tonight so you'll have something new to peruse. Talk to you cats later!

(Oh, I also forgot to mention that I went to Futako-Tamagawa [a stop on my train line] on my birthday where I proceeded to fall into a mud puddle and make a fool of myself. Even so, it was an utterly beautiful place, on the Tamagawa river, and no doubt you've seen it in tons of Jdramas, usually when to people are riding a bike at sunset by the river. I've uploaded pictures of that too)