Monday, October 31, 2011

Another Halloween Party

Tonight I went to another Halloween party, this time put on by HI-C at the college. Overall, it was a bit less organized than the EASCOM party but once it got started, things went pretty smoothly. There was pizza, which I was quite happy about, with one half seafood and one half with a bunch of things including corn and tomato. Then there were a few games: One where your team had a minute or two to rip a paper into as long of a single piece as possible, one where your team had to fold as many unique origami forms as possible, and a simple game of bingo. Our team always got pretty close to winning and at one point I ended up representing the team for a tie breaker rock-paper-scissors game again, which I won again, winning our team small, cheap, candles. A lot of people also dressed up simple costumes or just passed around masks or hats for pictures. And that was about it.

By the way, what do you think this origami looks like? I couldn't think of anything at the time so I just settled for a UFO.

Sunday, October 30, 2011

New web album!

I started yet another album, this time for pictures taken by other people that I got off of facebook or from them directly. I won't be moving previous pictures by other people, but from now on any pictures that I didn't take myself will be in this album. Check it out for some new pictures of past events and for pictures of my visit to Odori Park today with my host mom.

Saturday, October 29, 2011

EASCOM Party and Zombie Walk

On Friday night I went with Hanako, a Japanese student at Hokusei who lives nearby and my who host mother knows, to a party at the college put on by EASCOM, a club like HI-C that focuses specifically on holding events for Asian exchange students. According to a lot of different people in the know, EASCOM is supposed to have nicer and more trustworthy people in it that don't just invite people out to all-night drinking parties every week. And indeed, this party was pretty laid back. I was the only non-Asian there, but I did know a few of the Korean students. We divided up into groups and ate food and snacks while chatting. Then there was a game of "Who/What am I?" where clues were held up (in Japanese) describing something and the first team to guess what it was got points. The fewer clues used, the more points you got. Some people guessed the answers amazingly fast like "cell phone" for the clue "Everybody loves me" and "Totoro" for "I live in the forest", though admittedly I did consider guessing Totoro for that. Our team tied with two others for third place and I was nominated to represent out team in a game of rock paper scissors, which I won, winning our team a bag of snacks to divide up among ourselves.

On Saturday, I went with my host parents to a place that was selling furniture and other smaller items that were made by prisoners. I was surprised by how nice everything was and for most of the stuff it seemed like it couldn't have been entirely made by the prisoners but was maybe just assembled by them. I ended up getting a nice wooden shogi board and piece set for a reasonable price, although I have no idea how to play it yet.

In the evening I went with a bunch of people to a club in Susukino called "alife" that was holding a zombie walk. I was surprised by how normal everyone there seemed, even though everyone was dressed in mostly scary Halloween costumes. There weren't that many people and about half of them were from out own group. The walk was surprisingly well organized too, though it wasn't that big of a thing, especially since we could only go in groups of three or four so that we didn't cause too much of a disturbance. After we finished applying zombie makeup, we headed over to Odori park and had a volunteering challenge to see which team of three could clean up the most trash in the park. There were also a variety of missions like taking pictures with five strangers or handing out pieces of candy to people. After that, we headed back to alife and hung out for a bit for free soft drinks and snacks. Some people were planning to stay out drinking all night but I left before that started and was overall surprised at the lack of drinking and the fact that the event was done in a unobtrusive way and involved picking up trash in the park. It was a pretty nifty experience and now I can add another point to my being social score.

[More pictures added to Japan 2011 Album!]

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Museum Field Trip and Maggie's Party

I haven't been updating quite as much recently mostly because I have a ton of homework every day, the result of which is that I don't have the time or energy to do anything worth posting about. The other students go out and do things pretty often, but I usually turn them down on their offers to join them because I either have homework or am tired from doing homework (or just crushingly depressed for no real reason). But this week I was able to do a few things.

On Tuesday, I checked off quite a few things from my shopping list by going to Book-Off, which also had Hard-Off (used hardware), Off-House, and Hobby-Off. Mostly I got a few gaming related things for my collection: a Nintendo Famicom (only 350 yen!), a few famicom games, a few WonderSwan games, and two CDs. Now there's not really anything else I have to look for besides gifts and possibly more CDs.

On Wednesday, I had a field trip with my economics class to a museum. It was surprisingly small and was just a few floors of a small building and was someone's private collection. Though, while it was small, it was nicely laid out and was professional looking and had everything from fossils to old money to Ainu things. Almost none of it had any relation to economics, but we looked at everything and were done fairly quickly.

From there, Anna, Nick, and I hung around Odori for a few long hours until we met up with some others to go to Maggie's host family's house for a party. Her house was quite far away and from the college was about 25 minutes by subway and then a transfer to another subway for another 15 minute ride and then 10-15 minutes by bus to the stop near her house. The house was really nice though; you could tell because there was a ship's wheel in the floor, a model car collection displayed on shelves on the wall and a big screen TV. Maggie's host mom was also super friendly, perhaps due to having already consumed some alcohol before we came. We gathered up our food and waited for the father to return, who we surprised by making a human tunnel from the front door and yelling "okaeri" (welcome home) when he came in. Mostly we just ate, drank, and were merry, while we talked and enjoyed the 80s American music videos that they put on TV. They also had a super cute dog that was just a bit too big to carry, but which the mom carried around over her shoulder anyway. I didn't really do all that much at the party and was only there for a couple hours, but it was still quite fun.

And then Thursday was miserable as always.
~The End~ (for today)

[New video added from Mochitsuki!] [More pictures added to Japan 2011 album!]

Saturday, October 22, 2011


Today I went with my host mom, Nick, and Mackenzie to someone's house nearby to make mochi. They had several dogs and several kids, all of which were cute and fun to talk to in Japanese. The kids were quite into video games as well and had DS's with Pokemon, Zelda, and Dragon Quest.

Making mochi involved going just outside and using a big hammer to pound rice in a big bowl thing into a sticky paste. That was about all there was to it, just pound and grind it until it's mushed together. We all got to try it too and even the kids did it with the help of an adult. Me and the kids commented on how the giant hammer was like King Dedede's from Kirby games and found amusement in our common knowledge of video games.

For lunch we had the mochi we made, which was made into balls. We took one at a time and added various toppings to them including sesame seed powder, some other sweet powder, natto, mayonnaise, sugar, and soy sauce. The mochi itself was quite thick but tasted sweet and good. The sesame seed powder was probably my favorite topping.

After that, two of the kids played a big stringed instrument called a koto and were pretty good at it. The video I took wasn't so good, so hopefully I'll be able to get the one my host mom took and post that at some point.

Then my host mom left to go read a picture book to kids at the library, but we all stayed behind and played Wii games with the kids. We played New Super Mario Bros. Wii and Wii Party, and it was fun to see the different phrases and words that the kids used when playing and the different names for enemies and characters in Mario. For Wii Party, the kids tried to explain the instructions for each minigame in Japanese and we usually got the gist of it.

After a while, my host mom returned and we all went back to my host family's house for a dinner of sushi, which we rolled up ourselves.

Full album here!

Friday, October 21, 2011

Udon and Pocket Monsters

This week I've been pretty busy with homework and haven't done a whole lot of interest. But on Wednesday I went with my host mom to an udon restaurant which was pretty cool. You chose what you wanted from a menu then picked out other things you wanted as you went down the counter before paying at the end. The udon came in a big wooden bowl from which you transferred a bit at a time into a smaller bowl with tasty broth in it. In my case, I also had tempura and dipped that in the broth as well.

I didn't do a whole lot after that or on Thursday because I had ludicrous amounts of homework to do. We're doing about six chapters of kanji and ten or so new grammar patterns a week now. And of course, there are quizzes almost every day and always homework. But since today was Friday, I went with Dai and the British guys to the Pokemon Center which was about 35 minutes away by subway. It was fairly interesting and had a Japanese Poke-rap playing that named all or most of the Pokemon. Most of the stuff was pretty expensive though so I just looked and got a cheap folder, which are different from American ones because they are connected on the left and bottom sides so you can slide papers in from the right or top. Outside, as with everywhere, they had overpriced capsule dispensers. They're like the things we have in America with stickers or little toys in them, except they're everywhere in Japan and cost 200 yen for something that's small and could be one of several different things. The big shopping centers like the one that the Pokemon Center was in have a lot of stores but they all usually have somewhat overpriced stuff. New DVDs are especially expensive, often priced at 3,300 yen. Luckily for me, I don't have much interest in DVDs since they are region locked and would not play on American DVD players. Console games are the same way, though it's possible to play them with hacked consoles.

Anyway, besides that, not much of interest happened today. I just went home and worked on some homework for Monday. Tomorrow I'll be going with my host mom, Nick, and Mackenzie to make mochi!

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Gyoza party

Whew... today's Japanese class wore me out. We did a lot of new grammar, which was fine, but the kanji review in class made it impossible to hide how bad I am at kanji and it's always embarrassing and stressful to show off your stupidity in front of the class, even if my class only has two other people. And there's a lot of homework due too, so I don't have much time to actually study the kanji more either.

After that was over I ran over to yet another Book-Off with a few people and got a couple games that aren't available in America: Pokemon Green (for GameBoy, only 105 yen), a Wonderswan (a handheld system that most people haven't heard of, only 400ish yen), and "Tingle's Rose Colored Rupee Land" for DS (a Zelda spin-off that looks ridiculous and which I probably won't be able to understand, 910 yen).

After the movie class, there was a gyoza making party, which I arrived at late because of my class. It was a fairly normal thing; we just made gyoza, ate it, and talked. I met more people whose names I've forgotten and talked more with my gamer nerd friend Iwao about games and game music. And I watched people play Twister. Overall, it wasn't that eventful of a day, but there was enough to post about.

As always, I periodically add pictures to my albums (usually the main Japan 2011 one) that I don't post here, so if you're interested, keep checking the albums every now and then for new photos.

Monday, October 17, 2011

International Camp - Followup

The additional videos I mentioned last time are now up! I put all youtube videos related to this trip in a playlist which you can find here.

But for those who can't be troubled to click a link, I'll embed them here too:

Also, I couldn't really take pictures in the onsen for obvious reasons, but I did find the website of the place we stayed at and there are pictures there. Check it out here.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

International Camp - Ainu museum, Onsen, Edo Wonderland

International Camp was neither international nor a camp, though since foreign students from America, Korea, the UK, and China, along with a bunch of people from HI-C came and since we spent the night at a hotel, I guess it was close enough. We all got on a bus at the college around noon and headed out, first to the Ainu museum which was a small recreation of an Ainu village. Basically Ainu were/are the "native Japanese" as native Americans are in the United States. Their dances, music, and clothes bear similarities to some of that of native Americans too. The first thing written on the brochure/map as an introduction was "This large island of Hokkaido was once a land of freedom for our ancestors," so it sounded like there might be some lingering bitterness between Ainu and other Japanese even though Japan was settled by "outsiders" for-freaking-ever ago (I think). It seems to go both ways though as I've heard that discrimination against Ainu is fairly common. The first and most interesting things there were a giant statue of an Ainu chief and an enclosure with dogs and bears which the Ainu apparently kept... though I really wonder what they used the bears for. The buildings had a unique and old-fashioned style to them but the illusion of being in an Ainu village was broken by modern objects like rubber boots hanging up, a truck, tarps, and new doors on "old" buildings. Overall the place was kind of small and looked as if it had been an interesting attraction at one point but now was falling into slight disrepair. We also saw people perform Ainu dances and play Ainu instruments and afterward we were able to carve our own instruments. Though I should use the word "instrument" loosely as all they really did was make a "boing" sound. Seemingly they were the simplest instrument in the world to play but no one in our group could actually get theirs to make a sound.

From there we went to the hotel with the onsen (hot spring / public bath). We had Japanese style rooms with tatami floors and a low table. For beds we laid out futons on the floor; and since there were four other people in my room, actual beds definitely would not have fit. Most of us went down to the pool first and volleyed balls back and forth until supper. Supper was a buffet and had a variety of Japanese foods to choose from like noodles, curry, and rice. After that was the main event, the onsen. Everyone changed into yukata and slippers in their rooms (with just underwear underneath) and brought two provided towels down to the onsen, which was divided by gender. The first room had a bunch of baskets where you could deposit your clothes and bigger towel, along with some sinks and mirrors with hair dryers and combs for fixing up your hair afterward. From that room, we went naked (except for the strategically placed second towel) down to the main, large onsen room. I was surprised by how big it was; it was definitely bigger than the one I went to on my May trip in 2010 and felt like something the ancient Greeks would have. In the center was a large steaming pool of milky colored water which had various minerals and things added to it to apparently be good for your skin. Around the edge were showers with stools in front of them to sit on while you clean yourself. Optionally, you could fill a tub with water and dump it over yourself to rinse off. Once showered and clean, there were several things to choose from: the main pool for soaking in the center of the room, a small pool with jets of water that massage your neck, a small pool of cold water for soaking in, a sauna, and an outdoor pool much like the one inside. When entering any of the pools, you were not supposed to get your towel in the water and could either fold it and put it on your head or set it to the side. I tried everything multiple times and actually stayed for over an hour since more people kept coming in that I wanted to hang out with. The British guys and I amused ourselves by the challenge of completely submerging in the cold water after being in the sauna. When we were all finished, we showered off again and headed up to dry off and change. Interestingly, a female employee came into that first room to tidy up, whether there were naked men there or not.

Later in the evening, we had a room with low tables reserved and spent a couple hours drinking and hanging out. Once again I didn't drink very much at all and almost everyone else went a bit overboard, but I was still able to chat a bit and observe everyone else. I fear that our group might have made a bit of a mess there and in their rooms though, besides being pretty noisy late into the night. I managed to get to bed around midnight and only woke up when the rest of my roommates came back early in the morning.

In the morning, I took another quick dip in the onsen and then had breakfast, which was also a buffet. After we packed our things we got on the bus for Edo Wonderland, basically the Renaissance Fair of Japan where a town from the Edo period was recreated. It was much nicer and bigger than the Ainu town and had shops, various attractions, and events. We first went to the ninja maze which had rooms that seemed flat but were actually slanted, secret doors, sliding panels, and the fear of someone else in our group hiding around the corner to scare you. Then there was a cat shrine which on the surface just had a bunch of cats displayed but was actually a sort of haunted house that you walked through with giant cats that popped out from things and scared you. Next door was a building that had various old Japanese monsters from legends that you could push a button and watch them reveal themselves creepily. There were evil umbrellas, a woman with a long neck, a giant spider grabbing a woman with web, creepy one-eyed people, and a kappa that popped up and shot water at you from behind a window. For shows they had two different ninja performances which had a back story that we couldn't understand and then epic fight scenes which were very cool and sometimes funny. There was also a history theater which I didn't go to but which seemed to be a short and funny play that none of the English-speaking people could understand. There were also gift shops and food shops too which served food from the old days, though it wasn't all that exotic because people in Japan still eat food from the old days regularly (like ramen and dango). It was definitely a memorable trip overall and I was quite tired by the end of it.

Check out the full International Camp album here! And keep a lookout for more, longer videos on my YouTube channel. I'll link to them on the blog too when they're up.

Friday, October 14, 2011

Down with the Sickness

The cold I thought I was getting on Sunday never really got that bad, but I still randomly cough, sneeze, and have a runny nose out of nowhere and at the beginning of the week I was sore for no apparent reason. But it was mild enough that now I'm not sure whether it was a cold or just allergies. Most of the other students have gotten colds by now though, mostly thanks to their almost weekly all-nighters. But in general, it seems like a lot of the Japanese students have been sick too, but maybe that's just because it's more obvious when Japanese people are sick because of the masks they wear. Wearing a mask to help stop from spreading your cold seems like a good idea, but judging from how many people are sick, I wonder how much it actually helps. It's probably just hard to avoid catching something when you're hanging out with other sick people.

As for the cold medicine, when I told my host family I thought I was getting sick, they offered me some and I found out that cold medicine in Japan is Chinese style medicine, medicine in powder form that I assume you pour into your mouth and wash down with a drink or just mix it with something. My cold wasn't bad enough that I needed any, but now that I know what it is I might try to avoid taking it more. I still have bad memories of eating crushed up medicine mixed with apple sauce as a kid...

Lately not too much of interest has been going on. In class I had a conversation test which went fairly well. Then today we reviewed for the big grammar test on Monday. But over the weekend a bunch of blog-worthy things are planned. Everyone (BCA students, British students, Korean students, Chinese students, a bunch of people from HI-C) is going to "International Camp", though I'm not sure why it's called that. It's a trip to Noboribetsu, south of Sapporo, where we'll be going to an Ainu museum, an onsen (a hot spring), and Edo Wonderland (basically the Renaissance Fair of Japan). Last time I came to Japan I went to an onsen and a different Edo Wonderland, so I know pretty much what to expect, and it should be fun, but I'll post more about that once I've done it.

And here's a video from the elementary school that I didn't post before:

And here's a link to my other youtube videos:

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Children's Stories

Today I went with my host mom to a children's meeting hall, basically a preschool or daycare except that the children's mothers come along to play with them. It seems to just be a good place for young children to meet other young children and play and be read picture books. My host mom goes there once a month to read a picture book and today I read it with her. Before us, another woman read a picture book that was about a rabbit who wanted to go to the moon (because in Japan, instead of the Man in the Moon, there's rabbits on the moon that make mochi). After that, one of the employees (though it's hard to tell who actually gets paid and who's just volunteering since a lot of women seem to volunteer, especially my host mom) demonstrated her skills with a kendama, a wooden Japanese children's toy with a ball attached to it by string. The goal is swing the ball up and catch it in various places on the handle part. She was pretty good at it, and was also good at top spinning, which she popped up into the air with a string and caught, still spinning, on her hand.

The picture book we read was about the different sounds that animals make and was in both English and Japanese, depending on whether you started from the front or the back, and it met in the middle with a combination of both Japanese and English animal sounds. We read from the English side, taking turns, with me reading in English and my host mom replying in Japanese. At the end we had the children make the English animal noises. Some of the different noises in Japanese were: nyaa nyaa for cats, wan wan for dogs, mee mee (may may) for goats, and ko ke kokko for roosters. Saying "cock-a-doodle-doo" was definitely the hardest for everyone, including the adults.

For lunch we ate at a place that looked distinctly Japanese. At the door we were greeted by a woman wearing a kimono who took our shoes and put them in the cubby holes while a waiter showed us to our table. The tables and chairs (which were luckily actual chairs and not just cushions on the floor) were actually a small step down from the path to get to them. The menu was unusual too because it was really long (not tall) and had even the prices written in kanji, which isn't really that abnormal in particularly Japanese restaurants. As usual, we were given washcloths to wipe our hands with and a cup of tea. When we were ready to order, we just had to push a button to call the waitress back. I got some rice with crab on top which came in one container with a wooden lid from which you would scoop out the rice and crab into a separate bowl and put the lid back on to keep the rest warm until you needed more. There was also a bowl of soup and little plate of vegetables as usual too. At the end, my host mom let me have her mango pudding, which was extremely good.

In the afternoon, we went to a nearby elementary school to give copies of pictures to a couple kids I met at the Sports Day and to hang out with some of my host mom's friends who volunteer there. From the outside the school looked pretty much like an American school, though there was an enclosure in front where the school's pet rabbit lived. Inside though, was probably the biggest difference, which was an entry way for taking off your shoes and putting them in cubby holes for the day. There were also slippers to wear around the school too. We just went to the school library and hung out with my host mom's friends, who were painting and drawing pictures from a picture book. At one point, they made this "paper plane" that was cylinder shaped with a diagonal slice out of it which when thrown was supposed to drift back down at an angle, though we couldn't really get it to work most of the time. It seemed to be somehow related to the story of Princess Kaguya, who was found inside a stalk of bamboo (since the paper plane looked like a piece of cut bamboo). We also discussed what I would put on my inkan (a family seal/stamp that is often used instead of a signature) if I had one. Simply writing my name in katakana would probably suffice, but they also thought of ways to write my name in kanji. We only really talked about my first name though since my last name would be longish and especially un-Japanese sounding. We settled on either 来安 (Come + Peace of mind) or雷安 (Thunder + Peace of mind), both of which could be read as "Rai + an" (Ryan).

And that's about it. My sister requested I take more pictures of food, so there will probably be more of those popping up in the gallery. If there's anything you'd like to see more of, let me know in the comments.

Monday, October 10, 2011

College Festival

From Japan 2011

I went to the Hokusei's college festival yesterday. Basically, it was a bunch of tents set up and reserved by student clubs that were mostly selling various foods that they were grilling in the tents. Nick was hanging out at the HI-C tent where they were selling mochi wrapped with bacon. All of them called out to whoever was passing by, advertising what they were selling and the price. One place that was selling takoyaki had a basket of little papers which you could grab from and get a possible discount, and everyone I talked to did get a discount. There was also a bingo game and people handed out bingo cards to a whole bunch of people. First prize seemed to be a DVD player and there were several other prizes as well. Participating in bingo seemed to be free so I'm not sure how they paid for the prizes. It also seemed as though almost everything was student run and I didn't notice any teachers walking around or helping with things. After bingo, I took a video for Julia who was participating in the cheer leading club's performance. After that... it started pouring rain for most of the rest of the day.

For a while, nothing interesting happened but at 3:30, my host mom came and we went to see her youngest son, who I haven't met yet, perform with his school's yosakoi dance team. It was pretty cool and reminded me of going to my sister's band competition even though it was totally different. They danced and shouted to music that sounded both traditional and modern. You best ones seemed to be most synchronized and often pulled away some of their costume mid-performance to reveal a totally different color. One team even did this twice with the same costume: from green to white to orange. Anyway, the files were kinda big so I just uploaded the two videos of Yosakoi dancing to youtube (but there are a few pictures from the day in the Japan 2011 album. The first one is just the first team that performed, though they were one of the better ones too. The second is the one that my host brother was in.

Sunday, October 9, 2011

A little exercise does the body good

Today there was a local sports / exercise festival. It was going to be last weekend, but it got postponed due to rain. It was at a small park less than 10 minutes walk away. It seemed to be mostly for elementary school and middle school kids, but there were also events to participate in for older people too. When it started, everyone gathered and did simple exercises while someone counted to keep time and demonstrate what to do. From there, the kids gathered for the first event, an obstacle course with things to go under, over, and through. Almost all the of the events were simple challenges or obstacle courses that involved throwing balls into boxes and rolling tires around cones, even for the adults. And from the very beginning, there was rockin' inspirational music playing, most of which I didn't recognize but found to be satisfying to listen to, but some of which I did recognize, including instrumental versions of "Dragonstea din Tei (numa numa)", "We will rock you", and a selection of Kirby music which I was especially pleased and surprised to hear. For each challenge, the first three to finish in their group won special prizes labeled with 1, 2, or 3, depending on how they placed. Everyone else got a different prize, but all of the prizes were food items, tissue boxes, or other things you could use around the house.

Other challenges included a scavenger hunt game for the kids where they ran to turn over a board with something written on it that they would have to find. For example: socks, a man wearing glasses (I helped a kid on this one), or sometimes a really random thing like a guy in a monkey costume, who would appear unexpectedly and have to be caught and brought to the finish line. There was also a challenge with containers of flour that had hard candies buried in them which you had to blow the flower off of and then grab with your mouth before running to the finish line. The last challenge was the most serious, a relay race around the area, with each member of each team doing a lap and handing off a baton to the next person. I participated in all of the events except for the tug-o-war which they had too many people for and won a collection of handy items that I just gave to my host mom.

When all the events were over, people stayed around to see if they won anything with the lucky number ticket we received at entry. The prizes seemed to be more of the same things from the challenges and the number calling went on for probably a good half hour. Seriously they must've called close to 100 numbers. Of course mine never got called, but even at the end they had stuff left over and everyone could bring their number and get something anyway, like instant ramen or ziploc bags.

I started the day with a stiff neck and feeling like I was catching a cold, but after a bit of exercise and fresh air... I was able to add sunburns to the list. Guess you can't win 'em all.

Check out the full album with videos!

Saturday, October 8, 2011

Hiraoka Koen

I just got back from another pretty and surprisingly big park! On Friday I didn't do much of note besides finally going to a ramen shop and playing a bunch of video games at HI-C. So anyway, here's some pictures of the park: (Clicking them for full size doesn't seem to work, so here's a link to the whole album: Hiraoka Koen Album )

Full Album

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Good day - Odori revisited

For the first time, Thursday's class and newly assigned homework didn't completely stress me out. The conversational grammar was mostly stuff I already knew and I wasn't as tired as usual so it went pretty well. Also this weekend is the college festival which continues through Monday and Tuesday so I won't have class again until next Thursday. I also have very little homework to do over the long weekend and just need to study for a test or two. After class, I went immediately to the computer lab since I knew there wouldn't be a class there at that time and I did my listening homework. The teachers have now told all the classes directly that copying the CDs isn't allowed and is against Japanese law, not that anyone really doubted that. I hadn't managed to copy the CDs yet anyway though, so I didn't really have anything to worry about. Also for the probably the first time, there were no technical difficulties when doing my listening homework and I finished quickly.

In the afternoon and evening I decided that I wanted to go back to Odori and take my time finding the various books and games I was interested in. Unfortunately I wasn't completely confident in getting there myself so I spent quite a while waiting for the rest of a group of people who were going. When we finally got going and arrived, we spent a while looking in Don Quijote, a five or six story store with a wide variety of random stuff for cheap prices, all piled into narrow aisles. They had everything from food to clothes to electronics and if you decide you want to go down the same aisle that someone else is in, good luck maneuvering around them.

From there we went to help Chris, one of the British guys get a phone with prepaid minutes, since he isn't here through BCA and doesn't get one automatically. That took quite a while too but we eventually got him a shiny new phone. Then we wandered around for a bit looking for somewhere to eat before I decided to break off from the group and check out another Book Off and a game store I saw and get food on my own. At the Book Off I found an old Gamecube game for 250 yen which I'll be interested to try playing in my hacked Wii at home and in the mean time I may bring it to the HI-C club room. I also found the Kino's Journey light novels I had been looking for and got a few of those even though reading them might be beyond my capabilities. And I found a manga I had been looking for after I asked an employee about it. On the way back, I got a burger and stopped at a store called "Gamers" which turned out to not actually have very many games, so I left pretty quickly and went back to the station where I ran into the rest of my group by sheer coincidence and took the subway back to Oyachi station (near the school) and from there got a bus home. Overall, it was a pretty good day, especially for a Thursday.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Three Hour Special!!

Today I got my alien registration card which I have to admit looks pretty spiffy. It's got all this Japanese on it and holographic parts so based on my knowledge of Pokemon cards, I know it's got to be rare. Other than that I didn't do a whole lot today. Except! I watched an hour or so of this three hour special of some show that had a whole bunch of really random, but amazing things.

When I first started watching, I was on my way back to my room to deposit my shaving equipment when a line of a few hundred people all with a person on their shoulders caught my eye on the TV. I'm not very good at estimating, but they took up most of the length of a sports field and then proceeded to walk the width with people on their shoulders. It's a little hard to explain how exactly they were standing... there might have been two rows on the bottom and... well never mind, it was impressive, just take my word for it.

After that there was this guy who had like 200-300 cell phone charms, which are pretty popular in Japan and are just like little doodads or stuffed animals that you can dangle from your cell phone. This guy's were all stuffed animals and he had some sort of harness system in order for them all to stay attached when he lugged them around town.

After that was an interesting segment where they were looking at the name plates on front of people's houses and finding ones that had weird spellings (in kanji) and they tried to figure out how it was pronounced before eventually asking the person. Most of them were practically puns or just really obscure ways of saying things. One person's name had the kanji for "three" three times 〔三三三) because their birthday had a bunch of threes in it or something. Another person's name was just written with the kanji for "one" (一)and their name was "Nimae", meaning "before two". Someone else's was two numbers and it was named after the coordinates of a move in shogi. It was pretty amusing seeing Japanese people not know how to pronounce the names either and when I could understand it, the explanations for the pronunciations were interesting too.

From there, there was a girl who could repeat stuff that people said backwards very quickly. It's a bit easier to do in Japanese because of the syllabic letters. So if someone said "arigatou" (thank you; a ri ga to u), she would say "u to ga ri a". One kid tried to trick her by saying something that made a funny word (I assume) if said backwards, but she realized it and just stared at him with this unamused look on her face. After that was a 90 year old guy who had huge diaries that he has been keeping for 56 (or was it 65) years. They're also picture diaries with hand drawn pictures and comics of various things with comments by them.

Then it went to Korea where someone had made a statue of a kid poking another kid in the butt with the other kid howling in pain/surprise. After that was a segment on crane games with one that they found that had some sort of root in it. The machine was set so that the crane didn't just drop the prize in the hole, but put it on a slide which went down to a platform that moved in and out so that if enough things piled off it'd push something into the prize box. After 100 tries and 10,000 yen (more than $100) the guy finally was able to get a root. Next was a newspaper delivery guy who threw the newspapers over walls and up to three stories high, landing them right in front of the doors. Then there was a sort of amusement park ride in the middle of a city that was big and round with seats along the edge, but without seat belts or any sort of restraining devices. Once the people got on, it spun around and bounced up and down and everyone just had to try to hang on. After that was a guy punching bricks on the ground until they broke and finally a 91 year old man who maintains a fire (or at least the fire area) that's been there for 790 years, which I find hard to believe. There was more too, some less interesting things like big edible sea slugs, but I stopped watching after my host dad changed the channel.

So that's Wednesday. Hopefully tomorrow goes better than past Thursdays... I really hate conversation class.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Kimono Try-On

Between classes today, I went with most of the other students to a BCA organized, free kimono try-on activity. We went in two groups at different times (so my pictures will only have the people who were in my group) and even though I was in the first group we still ended up being 30 minutes late to my second class. We all took taxis to the kimono place which was across from Nakajima Park, wherever that is. The guys and girls went into separate rooms one or two at a time to be helped into their kimono which was a rather complicated process that involved several layers and several tightly wrapped clothes around the waist and stomach. The men's and women's kimono were pretty different. Men also got a foldable fan while the girls got their hair styled and decorated. Traditionally, you would wear socks with the big toe separated from the rest and spiffy sandals. We didn't have any socks like that so we just smooshed up our socks between the two toes. Also all the available sandals were a bit too small for us, but it worked out alright. Once we were all dressed, we took a bunch of pictures and returned the clothes for the next group. After that we just went back on the subway and went to that movie class where the rest of my class got to experience "Udon" and share in my confusion.

Monday, October 3, 2011

Aquarium and Japanese Business

On Sunday after lunch I went with my host mom to Shin-Sapporo. We drove there and parked at the top of a parking garage which connected to, I think, a train or subway station and a shopping mall. What was interesting was that it connected at the top of the parking garage and all the connecting pathways were several stories off the ground and sometimes on flat, outdoor, balcony like areas alongside buildings. While there, we went to an aquarium which had a variety of different fish and even penguins and otters (or were they seals?). After that, we went to an import foods store and got some cereal, although the only cereal options were three different kinds of a cereal I'd never heard of and three different kinds of oatmeal. Luckily the cereal they did have is pretty good. We got some snacks too, along with slices of cake from another shop on the way home. Also on the way home we stopped at another big Book-Off store, which had used books, movies, CDs, and video games. It was so big that I really didn't know where to look for anything I wanted and there was so much it was difficult to just browse. Next time I think I'll bring a list of my favorite Japanese bands so I know what CDs to look for and don't get overwhelmed by the hugeness of it.

Today, I woke up feeling pretty tired and dreading the day as usual, but classes ended up going pretty well. I finally have somewhat less homework this week and since Japanese class was focused on grammar today, it was a lot easier than sometimes. I had time between classes to do a bunch of homework and then in the afternoon I had my economics class which was long and boring, but at least it finished 40 minutes earlier than it says on the schedule (still over 2 hours though). I know almost nothing about economics and I'm not actually that interested so it was really difficult to pay attention. But since our grade is almost entirely attendance, it doesn't really matter if I pay attention.

Some of the stuff I learned or relearned, was that in Japanese colleges, your major doesn't really matter much and probably won't relate to your job. What matters is if your college was a big name college. Also, working for big corporations is typically a good thing, and most will keep you as an employee for life. You start at the bottom of the company, seemingly regardless of your actual experience, and gradually move up the longer you stay with the company. I can understand having some benefits for employees with seniority, but to me it sounds like the companies focus too much on how long you've been there and not enough on how well you actually do. Employees often work long hours and feel obligated to stay at the office at least until their boss goes home. Often they will go out to a bar after work with their coworkers or golfing on the weekends. It seems like more intrusion of work into private life than I'd like personally. Also, the difference between the wages of a company manager and their employees is not as big as it is in America, but I never really found out why. It almost seemed as though it was just because that's how it has always been. Also, we didn't talk about this today, but gender equality is still an issue in the workplace and many women are unable to get as high in the company as men. Also, there are certain jobs that are primarily women's jobs, like serving tea at meetings. Overall, even though Japanese companies seem to offer good benefits and job security, I don't think I'd want to work for one.

Saturday, October 1, 2011

Transportation Etiquette

I haven't done much besides class and homework during the past two days. My Japanese class has enough homework to make up for the lack of homework in my other two classes so I'm always busy. On Friday evening, most of the BCA students went out to eat and went to karaoke as a sort of going away party for Teresa, who is going home early on Monday. Nothing particularly interesting happened, but I was glad I went anyway. Today (Saturday) there was a lunch with all the host families and students at the college. Overall it was pretty normal and at the end we all went around and introduced ourselves yet again and said a little about how stuff was going with our host families while the host parents said how it was going with their students. Yosuke Nagashima helped translate back and forth so everyone could understand.

So for something unrelated to that, how about some information on Japanese transportation? Subways are pretty easy to navigate, you just find where you want to go on the map and put in the correct amount of money for how many stops it is from your starting point. If you mess up, you can adjust it later. On the subways, everyone is usually very quiet and there are signs requesting that you set your cell phone to "manner mode" (silent) and not talk on them on the subway. For that matter, people are pretty quiet when just walking from place to place too. And I think it might be against the law to smoke and walk, but I'm not sure about that. In the morning and evening the public transportation is often very crowded. Some subways also have women only cars, I believe because of instances of inappropriate touching and harassment. Such behavior isn't appropriate by Japanese standards either, but it is kind of odd that in such a polite society, groping incidents are common enough to note. Other BCA students were saying that Japanese guys often don't treat their girlfriends particularly well either, but I'm only getting that information second hand and haven't witnessed it myself. I never know if I should ignore the bad things or write about them too. I don't want to offend any Japanese readers, but I do want to give everyone else an accurate view. Japan is pretty cool but it's not perfect, as is every country (some more than others).

Anyway, enough of the negative stuff. For the most part, Japanese people are very polite in every circumstance. It's quite an interesting thing to see actually.