Thursday, September 29, 2011

Class and whales

I had class today. I think Thursdays are the worst day for me because Japanese class is focused on conversation and it's constant participation and quickly memorizing things and thinking on the spur of the moment. I also had a heck of a time doing my little bit of listening homework because the one computer lab had a class in it and the one computer that was open in the other room refused to accept my password even though nothing had changed since the last time I used the computers. I ended up having to go to the tech support people again and reset my password and then change it back again. For some reason it worked after that but I now had to wait for a computer to open up in the computer lab. In the future I think I'm just going to copy the audio tracks to a flash drive and do them on my own computer. I already got the files of one disk from Maggie. Unfortunately we're probably going to be switching to new CDs before too long and I'll have to copy those too.

For lunch today and on Tuesday I went to a nearby bunch of stores, like a small mall, and got cheap instant noodles to bring back to Kirari and make with the cup noodle vending machine's hot water (the vending machine is more expensive than going to the store and gives you less). Then I spent a good two hours watching Udon for the movie class with Maggie and coming up with discussion questions for Tuesday's class where we'll watch the first half of it again with the rest of the class. Unlike the last movie we watched, this one wasn't that great. The first half was particularly crappy, clichéd, and meandering, and though the second half brought it back to alright-ness, it was too little too late.

Unrelated to anything, the cell phones we have do some weird things with texts. Like.. texts aren't just texts. They are often animated and by default the words appear a letter at a time and people often add animated emoticons or other symbols that pop up in between (like an ok hand sign). There's also a lot of other emoticons that seem like they'd be very rarely used. For example, Alan sent Dai a text today with a whale emoticon at the end and we all pondered what emotion a whale could possibly convey. I suggested it was somehow related to obesity. Chris, one of the British guys, came up with the explanation that since we're in Japan, it probably meant "impending death" or "awareness of one's mortality" (because of Japan's whaling ships). As an example of when one would use such an emoticon, he suggested "I just found out I contracted cancer of the bowels. *whale*".

Natto

I forgot a crucial detail from yesterday! I finally got around to trying natto. It's fermented soybeans, often eaten with rice. Basically, if Satan gave you magical, suspiciously gooey beans, these would be it. They're really bitter and strong tasting and apparently an acquired taste. My Japanese teacher from home also likes them but I'm not sure if she actually likes them or is just showing off her ability to tolerate them.

That's it. xD

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Waterfall park

Since I didn't have class today, I went with my host mother to a big park, like a national or state park, which had trails, waterfalls, gardens, campgrounds, and some interesting looking playgrounds that we just saw in pictures on the map. We took a bunch of pictures, especially on the walk down a path to the waterfalls. There were tons of dragonflies and we also saw a Buddhist temple, salamanders, a bright yellow caterpillar, a frog, a couple butterflies, and a bright green grasshopper (or was it a cricket?). For lunch I had a really delicious vegetable "doria" (I'm not sure what that is exactly), which had rice on the bottom with cheese and vegetables on top.





When we got home, I took a nap and procrastinated working on homework until after supper. I did manage to get a good chunk of it done though and then visited more of my host mom's cram school students. They're usually all pretty shy about talking to me in English, but I don't blame them. Tonight though, there was one middle school kid who lives nearby who stayed for a minute after to ask me about what video games I liked. His English was surprisingly good and I found out it was because he played Call of Duty: Black Ops with Americans online. We're planning on hanging out and playing it together at some point, though I'm ashamed to say I've so far never played a Call of Duty game so we'll see how it goes.


I took enough pictures to deserve a whole new album, check it out.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Japanese Movie "Always" and Grocery Store Music

Today was class. Japanese and then Japanese society through contemporary Japanese movies. Japanese class was pretty normal, we have a quiz or two every day now and at least one piece of homework due every day too. So far I'm staying ahead with the homework, though I got my first draft of my composition about a famous American, for which I chose Abraham Lincoln, and it has a heck of a lot of corrections on it. I'm trying not to worry about stuff too much though since I just need to pass and the credits will transfer without the grades affecting my GPA. In the movie class, we finished watching Always. It was a really good movie about a bunch of Japanese people dealing with the time of change in 1958 and modernization, if you get the chance to see it, I recommend it. The next movie we're watching is called Udon and Maggie and I have to watch half or all of it ahead of time to present an introduction to the class and discussion questions for afterward.

And for some more random things I forgot to mention before... There aren't really any napkins at restaurants or anywhere. People just use tissues, like the type you'd just use in America for blowing your nose, except blowing your nose in public is considered somewhat rude. Also people drink a lot of tea, water, and sometimes coffee or alcoholic beverages depending on the time of day. There is soda and juice available but it makes up only around 15% of the beverage options. And finally, in grocery stores I've noticed that they often play instrumental grocery store-sounding versions of popular Japanese songs. I've only recently started paying attention but I've heard grocery store versions of Ready Steady Go and Koi no Dance Site so far, both of which do not normally sound like the sort of song you'd play in a grocery store. I couldn't find the grocery store version of either on Youtube. :/

Monday, September 26, 2011

Class takes it down a notch

I've been stressing pretty bad about classes, but at the moment I'm on top of my homework and have it relatively easy through Thursday at least. But the class that took things down a notch was Economics which I had for the first time today. So far it was mostly orientation and a little bit of lecture and discussion, though I'm not sure if there was supposed to be a discussion or if Anna just talks way too much out of turn. The teacher speaks mostly Japanese for the benefit of the half of the class that is Korean and knows more Japanese than English, and there is a translator who translates the Japanese to English for Nick, Anna, and I. Apparently your grade for the class is given based on attendance and a report and presentation. There is no other homework or tests and in fact the "report" is just a summary of a chapter that you give for the class and don't have to turn in. According to the translator, and I've heard this before too, in most Japanese colleges, the classes are quite easy because the students already had such a hard time passing the college entrance exam. It seems that often very little is required except to show up. She said that it's not uncommon to see students sleeping in class.

Another difference is that students in Japanese classes rarely ask the teacher questions as it is often seen as challenging the teacher. Instead they just ask each other after class. Most of the other American students don't know this or don't care and ask way too many questions and get stuck on unimportant details for far too long. It's rather embarrassing.

At home, I usually get tired by 10, but I've also been staying up to help my host mother with computer questions and making guest appearances for her cram school students. If I manage to stay up late enough, we also have a glass of wine and talk about stuff. On Sunday nights, my host mom likes to watch Korean dramas which are dubbed over in Japanese and look like soap operas, though I'm not sure whether they continue indefinitely or have an eventual ending.

And that's about it.

Sunday, September 25, 2011

We had a barbecue

On Saturday I didn't really do that much besides homework and going grocery shopping with my host mom for the barbeque that we had today (Sunday). So today for the barbeque, we went out into the strip of yard on one side of the house and set up charcoal grills and cooked up all manner of things, including chicken and onion shish kebabs, pork, fish, peppers, mushrooms, corn on the cob, and intestines from something I think. A bunch of people came too: Nick and Mackenzie with at least some of their host families, Daisuke, his coworker, and a Korean exchange student, and a couple other people that I'm not sure how we knew. We chatted and ate for quite a while, someone always piling more stuff onto the grill and everyone just grabbing what they wanted for the most part. By the end I was quite tired and ended up falling asleep on the couch afterward.

Since that wasn't really much news, here are a few things that I forgot in previous entries. Concerning TV, news channels often have physical copies of newspapers that they zoom in on and have particular articles underlined. They also have physical posters with what I assume are headlines on them with paper covering up certain items which they pull away and reveal as they get to them. Also, AKB48, a sort of Japanese band made up of several groups of dancing, singing, girls, is apparently all the rage right now and is mentioned on every other TV show and by every other person you meet. I hadn't heard of them before coming here but they're pretty much everywhere... though I think I've yet to hear them actually sing. I'm still trying to figure out exactly what they're all about or what they do. Also, totally unrelated to that, when bowling on Friday, Yosuke-san told us that when you get a spare or strike you do this hand thing and say "sweet", but it was hard to tell if people actually did it or if he was just joking as he often does. Either way, we had a lot of "sweet" turns even though Holland usually felt too awkward to actually do the hand signal.

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Pottery, Bowling, and Karaoke

I did quite a bit on Friday. Around 9:30, Nick came over and we drove over the place for the pottery lesson. On the way, we cut through a huge cemetery which a lot of people were visiting because it was a holiday that involved visiting graves. The grave stones were not as small as I thought they'd be, but they were mostly all the same with different names on them, except for grander, more expensive looking ones behind them. The cemetery was also big enough that each section was labeled. From there we went down a somewhat steep curvy road and were quickly in a more rural area. The pottery place was by a farm and it was very pretty. Mackenzie and Daisuke and his coworker also met us there.

Actually making the pottery was a bit rough because I had no experience and the teacher only spoke Japanese. We had enough clay to each make two things and for making a cup there was almost too much clay. The process went basically like this: knead the clay to get out air, center it on the turntable thing, make it into the basic shape of what you want, and let the teacher beautify/fix it with her magic tools and skills. It was pretty amazing to see our crap turn into something cool very quickly once the teacher got a hold of it. After that step, we slid a thin string underneath to get it off of the turn table and let it dry for a while. Later after we ate bento boxes for lunch (prepackaged lunches from the store, though people also make their own), we brought out creations back in to shave off the uneven bits and make the bottoms nice. I was also pretty bad at this and got some help. It took up a good chunk of the day and it was a fun, good experience.

When we got home, I soon got a call from Yosuke saying that he and a couple people, Dai and Holland, were going to go out bowling and for karaoke if I wanted to come. The place they were meeting was in Odori, a bit far away but Daisuke gave me a ride in his car. I felt kind of bad for taking him away from the family when we hadn't been home for very long. After meeting we stopped at McDonald's to get a teriyaki burger since Yosuke kept saying they were delicious. And it wasn't bad actually; I don't usually like McDonald's but the teriyaki burger was pretty good. From there we went to a several story building that had an arcade, bowling, karaoke, and I'm not sure what else. We just went to bowling and played a couple games (I won the first with 130 points!). From there we walked around trying to find a different, cheaper place for karaoke but ended up wandering around for a while before we found one. Still we did it for an hour when we found one and I tried to sing some Japanese songs though they were a bit harder this time since I was running out of easy songs to sing. It was a holiday so my last bus came at 10 to the station near the college which was 30 minutes by subway from Odori. We made it back with plenty of time to spare.

At home, my host mom talked to me about stuff because she knew I had been stressing a lot lately and she was very nice about everything. Soon after that, she got a call from Yusuke and found out that he had gotten engaged so we had a glass of wine to celebrate (well, actually I think she has a glass of wine every night anyway, but for me it was celebrating).

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Class takes it up a notch

Today I just had my usual three hours of Japanese, but today it was a different teacher for conversational Japanese. Basically, we did a lot of conversation and were assigned listening homework for next Thursday and a bunch of writing homework for Monday in addition to a vocab quiz. I managed to finish the listening homework in the computer lab after lunch, though I had to ask someone what my login information was since I left it at home, and I got the wrong CD twice before asking the same person which CD I actually needed.

From there I killed time in the HI-C club room playing Super Smash Bros. and Bomberman 5 for SNES (which came with a bomberman themed controller splitter for up to four or maybe five players). From there, I decided to go home somewhat early so that I could stop at a Book-Off store, a chain of stores which I recognized from my trip to Tokyo which has used books, CDs, movies, and games for good prices. I managed to do this and get on another bus home, though apparently I wasn't standing at a bus stop or the bus driver didn't notice me because I had to run after the bus and catch it at a light before I could get on.

A bunch of other people are going to a party with HI-C tonight but I decided not to since it's expensive and I don't really like events with big groups. This evening I've just been working on my page-long journal in Japanese and that's about it. Even though it probably doesn't sound like a lot, the homework and being stuck in a room and forced to make conversation for three hours really stressed me out. I'm really hoping my economics class on Monday doesn't have much homework. Everyday activities tired me out at home, but here even talking to people is a chore and there isn't really a place I can go to really relax; I still don't feel completely comfortable at my host family's house.

Anyway, tomorrow Nick and Mackenzie will be coming over to make pottery with me and my host mother, so that could be interesting.

Also note: the person I've been referring to as Allen in previous posts is actually Alan, which I figured out after he added me on Facebook.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Suiyoubi wa yasumi da! (Wednesday is my day off!)

Actually, I have a lot of days off my first week. Monday was Respect for the Aged Day and Friday is another holiday that seems to have something to do with visiting graves (seems like kind of inconsiderate timing, having it right after Respect for the Aged Day). And on Wednesdays I made sure not to schedule any classes.

So anyway, today I was able to sleep in, though I still woke up at 6 I didn't get up till 7. Breakfast was a lot like the other days, but since I didn't talk about it much before, I will now. I had some cereal, but my host mother also gave me a plate of scrambled eggs, bacon (which is thicker than American bacon), and fruit. Whoever said Japan had smaller portions was fibbing because every meal is big enough that I can't finish everything. I don't think it's just my host family giving me more either because my host dad seems to have just as much food but finishes it in no time at all.

After breakfast, I went with Nick and my host mom, who is free during the day on Wednesdays at least, to fill out and turn in our alien registration forms. This took longer than expected but wasn't difficult. Unfortunately for Nick, he had class to get to so he was worrying the whole time and we ended up driving him to the college and coming back to get my papers afterward. At the college, I signed up for some free events like trying on kimonos, a weekend trip to an onsen and other things, calligraphy, and flower arrangement.

On the way home, we stopped to get some ingredients for supper and I checked out a game and manga store which had aisles and aisles of manga and a wide variety of video games (though there were almost no 360 games). Random popular anime series also have video games, for example I saw a Wii game for The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya, though I can't think of what you'd possibly do in a game about that show. It could be a visual novel I suppose...

Anyway, from there we went to a rental shop which was pretty huge and reasonably priced and had tons of CDs, DVDs, games, and even manga books. There were around 4 aisles front and back of anime DVDs and there were plenty of American movies too. There was also a section of CDs for anime, game, and movie soundtracks. We ended up renting Karigurashi no Arrietty (The Borrower Arrietty in English), which is the latest Studio Ghibli movie and which has been out for almost a year in Japan but isn't due out till next year in America.

When we got home we watched the movie which thankfully had English subtitles. Pretty much everything about the movie was great and it's probably one of my favorite Studio Ghibli movies now. It's basically an anime version of The Borrowers and while it's family friendly like most of the other Studio Ghibli movies and the original Borrowers, it manages to not be cheesy. The story is good, the art is extremely detailed and pretty, and the soundtrack is fantastic. We might actually rent the soundtrack when we go back and perhaps I can copy it...

For supper, I helped make gyoza, a mix of meat, onions, and leeks (I think) folded up in a thin crust. It turned out pretty yummy, though as usual there was a bunch of other stuff to eat too and I was very full by the end. My host mother said that she thought Americans ate a lot but I don't eat very much and I told her that I thought Japanese people ate a little but everyone eats a lot.

edit: I forgot! We also went to my host mom's English teacher's restaurant. The English teacher is Brazilian and has a Brazilian restaurant too, but she seems to speak Japanese, English, and Portuguese fluently. I had some lasagna which was pretty good and we hung out for a little while afterwards just chatting.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

First day of class!

I got up and ate breakfast to catch the 8:00 bus. I forgot to turn my phone back on so I missed the text from Nick saying he was getting the 7:40 bus. Turns out I got on the wrong bus and ended up at some other station. I thought stuff looked unfamiliar so I asked the bus driver when I got there and found out which bus to take from there to get to the college. But when I let my host mother know, she said it'd take too long so she just came and picked me up in her car and drove me there. Even then I was at least 20 minutes late. I sent a message to Nagashima-san though and he let my teacher know. They didn't mind since it was just the first day and it was a mistake.

So first was my 3 hour Japanese class, which starts at 8:50 and I have Monday, Tuesday, Thursday, and Friday. I placed into the level 4 class, with level 5 being the highest. There are only two other students in my class, Mackenzie and a Korean girl. A good chunk of the class was going over the syllabus and books but we also learned some new grammar and went back to the basics on how to write kanji.

Lunch was normal and I killed time by hanging out with everyone in the HI-C club room. My afternoon class was the one about Japanese movies and how they relate to culture. The class is in English, even though there are three Korean students taking it too, and much of the class was spent doing things that seemed like a waste of time. Basically, in each class, we watch half a movie, discuss it, and write down a bunch of random things from the movie on label stickers and then arrange them in groups on a paper. I'm not sure what doing this really gains but I guess it's not very hard. We also have to email a 100 word summary each time, which is also pretty easy, and then there's something about doing presentations on anything about Japanese culture and one or two people writing 10-15 questions about the movie every time, though what sort of questions they were was a bit vague.

In any case, I don't have any homework yet in either class and I have no class on Wednesdays. I caught a 6:15 bus back home with Nick and even managed to get on the right one and off at the right stop, though we were questioning it the whole time.

That's about it... there's supposed to be yet another welcome party on Thursday night at a restaurant with the HI-C people, but it costs 2,500 yen for food and unlimited drinks, and I don't really want to pay that much for something I don't really want to go to. Unless it's karaoke or going to a book/music/game store, I'd rather keep my schedule as stress-less as possible.

Respect for the Aged Day

Yesterday, Monday the 20th, was Respect for the Aged Day, so we didn't have class. Instead, I hung out at home in the morning and later went to catch dragon flies in the park, get a bus pass, and go to a concert with my host mother.

I thought I might've heard wrong when my host family asked if I wanted to come to the park to catch dragon flies "because praying mantises eat them". I went along and sure enough we had a net (just like in Animal Crossing!) and checked out the park which was really pretty and had a playground, including a really big wooden jungle gym, a baseball field, and a couple paths going into some trees around it. There were also a ton of mushrooms, probably because it rained the other day, and my host mother seemed to know which mushrooms were edible and which weren't for the most part. At first we didn't find many dragon flies, but after I missed on my first attempt, I let my host mom go after the next one and she did so successfully. The paths around the park were laid out in such a way that they took up little space but still gave the impression that you were walking through a forest.

Getting the bus pass and then riding the subway to the concert was easy enough, though we got there a little earlier so we went to a museum about the history of the area. We also stopped at a coffee/hot drink shop and killed time until the concert started. It was an indoor concert hall and seemed to be packed out, mostly with middle aged women who knew this now older singer from their childhood. His music did sound like something my grandparents might like or maybe my mom, but it wasn't bad either. He played guitar and had people playing piano, cello, flute, and maybe one or two other things to accompany him. Unfortunately for me, he also talked for like 20-30 minutes every few songs and I couldn't really follow what he was saying, but everyone else seemed to find it funny. After it was over, I was super tired and we headed home (after getting some curry somewhere) and went to bed.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Church, grocery stores, and television

I've been at my host family's house for a day and a half now and it's going pretty well. I haven't been doing a whole lot besides playing with the cats, watching TV, and sometimes making conversation in Japanese, but it's not bad. I'm pretty tired though; I thought the late night of karaoke and sleeping in till 7 had fixed the jet lag but I'm lagging a bit. Two of their three sons, Daisuke and Yusuke (along with his girlfriend and six month old chihuahua) came home this weekend to visit. Tomorrow my host mother is taking me to a concert of some kind, so that could be interesting. Since not much of interest has happened in the past day and a half, check out a new batch of pictures and videos and some miscellaneous observations about things in Japan.

Oh! Already I thought of something that did happen today. I went with Nick to the green (colored, not eco-friendly necessarily) church at the end of the block. It was small, but they have an English translator... though I'm not sure who for as everyone there seemed Japanese. And actually, I should say they usually have an English translator, but today she was home sick. Still, the service was interesting and very similar to a non-contemporary American church service, though as usual, everyone removes their shoes at the door. I recognized some of the hymns and was able to sing along in Japanese. The syllabic nature of Japanese lends itself to hymns too; you could probably write any lyrics and be able to put them to any hymn's tune. There was also a responsive reading thing, but that went a little too fast to read along with. Everybody seemed to know each other, and even knew our host families who don't go to church. Almost everyone stayed after the service for a meal of udon noodle soup, which was very good.

While I'm writing this I'm watching this show that's as weird as ever, and they're modifying this old arm wrestling arcade game to do random stuff like hit a bell with a hammer, pull out peanut plants, and wash windows. Which brings me to Japanese television. There's surprisingly little of interest on TV. It's mostly talk shows and shows that seem to jump from one random thing to the next with overly silly-acting hosts. I saw a show earlier today that was about kids playing taiko drums one minute and about tasting food the next. On the talk shows, they often will cut to videos of other things, but they leave a small video of the hosts in a square in the corner so you can watch their reaction. They also have a habit of adding oversized and unnecessary subtitles for certain things and adding cheesy sound effects to everything in an apparent attempt to take any remnant of seriousness from the show. It's also common that at least one of the main hosts will talk in a particularly silly nasally voice, in fact, I think the guy that worked at the karaoke place also did this. On news shows, they usually have a clock in plain white font in the top left of the screen. And on commercials, if a song is playing they'll usually have the title of the song on the bottom when it starts. Also, while there are a few clever, funny, and unique commercials in Japan, most of them just throw in either cute girls or a cute animated character or both and consider it done.

We also went to the grocery store today and yesterday. For the most part it's just like an American grocery store only the whole thing is one big Asian food isle. There are lots of different vegetables, fish, seafood, seasoning, and sauces that you don't see very much in America. It's also common for employees to be standing around next to certain food displays and calling out into the crowd about what they're selling like someone selling popcorn at a sports game. Also, in grocery stores and other stores, there's usually a coin tray at checkout where you put your money, which is then counted and scooped up by the checkout clerk. I guess this makes the money easier to count and makes sure that you don't have to make direct contact. And finally, instead of bagging right next to the register, there are tables/counters a couple yards beyond them where you bag your own stuff (there are baskets to carry your things from the register to the bagging counter).

And there was the mall too, which was pretty big and had lots of clothes stores. I went with my host mother to an ice cream place that had really fancy and delicious looking ice cream, a long line, and had the employees sing and dance while making your ice cream. There were a variety of songs too and the the ice cream was extremely good. Check out the video.

Other things: everyone likes being fashionable, trash is divided into several categories and each is brought out on different days, and everyone eats really fast, I think it's a good thing to have "busy hands" and keep stuffing your face or at least appear to be constantly doing something while eating.

Host family

Yesterday I met my host family for the first time! (Also in the morning I had curry bread from a bakery and it actually had curry inside it!) My host family is a mom, a dad, and a son, though they have two other sons who are away from home. They're very nice and we've been able to communicate pretty well. The dad teaches politics in high school and the mom tutors at a cram school. They also have three cats and live near Nick's host family's house and a completely green church.

I probably shouldn't post too many personal details on a public blog about my host family's life, but I can share some interesting tidbits about Japanese life in general. Though if you already know a little about Japan, it might be nothing new.

First thing is, you take your shoes off at the door and there is a section of the floor that is different or lowered to accommodate this. Also, there are slippers to wear around the house, but socks or barefoot is ok too. Houses often have slippers to use in the bathroom too. Also, bathrooms are probably the most different thing between Japanese and American houses. The toilet and shower are in separate rooms, with the laundry room usually connected to the shower room, and the shower is outside the bath tub. Traditionally, you clean yourself completely outside the bath and then soak in the bath tub afterward. Since you're already clean, the family often takes turns and keeps the same bath water for each person. Optionally, you can bath the even more traditional way, by sitting on a stool and pouring buckets of water over yourself. After using the toilet, you are supposed to close the door behind you to keep the dirtiness in the bathroom. To see if someone is inside, just knock.

Also, sliding doors; there are a lot of them. There is also a small shinto (or maybe Buddhist) shrine in a section of the house that has tatami floor and a picture of, I believe, a deceased relative.

Anyway, that's about all I can think of at the moment. I'll update when I think I can without being too antisocial and rude. xP

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Friday 9/10 - School clubs and Karaoke!

Woke up at 5:30 again, but I guess that makes it easy to get to class on time. If you recall that Nagashima-san requested that we not be served processed fish-egg-cheese sticks/sausages with breakfast, you'll be interested to know that we were not; we had processed fish-only sausages instead. We had our Japanese placement test at 9:00 which lasted until around 11:00 and consisted of a listening section, a long grammar section that gradually increased in difficulty, and a 10 minute oral interview. I think it went pretty well; the questions were worded in such a way that it was always obvious what they were looking for. There were a few things that I should've known but forgot but overall I think it went well. The oral interview went well until the teacher asked me if I had seen any movies and I said that I saw Source Code on the plane and she asked me to explain the story, which was rather complicated and involved pseudo time travel and terrorist plots. During this time, Nagashima-san brought the few of our phones that didn't get minutes and added minutes.

After that, I had time to take a shower and eat before we had a meeting with the college president. However, when I got back from my shower, everyone was gone so I just went to eat by myself and was quickly invited to sit with a couple girls who were majoring in English. We ate and hung out until my meeting with the president, though I was a little more awkward than usual because I was tired from my test and was failing at eating my slippery udon noodles with chopsticks.

The meeting with the president was uneventful, but I got a couple more papers to add to my overwhelming bag-full. I also signed up for classes yesterday and added one more today since I think I need 18 credits this semester to stay on schedule for graduation. I'll be taking 12 credits worth of Japanese, a 3 credit class that seems to be mostly watching Japanese films (including Totoro and Death Note), and a 3 credit course on Japanese economics since I wanted something else but didn't want to take Japanese culture for a third time. Disappointingly, there were no religion classes as I was hoping.

From there we headed over to the club building to visit clubs that we were interested in. While the sports clubs seemed to do activities and had their uniforms and equipment hung up in the small rooms, almost all the other clubs seemed to be mostly people with common interests who hang out in the club room to talk, do homework, and play video games. I think that about half the club rooms or more had a Gamecube, Super Nintendo, and Nintendo 64 and even the art club was just playing Super Smash Bros. while other clubs opted for Mario Kart 64. I was considering visiting one of the two Bible clubs but chickened out at the last minute. I also hung out at the HI-C club room again for a little bit. I asked them what they did when they weren't playing video games and, confirming my suspicions, they said "We play cards and Uno." At some point, Maggie (the only other ETown student) came in, bitter as always, this time about the fact that the clubs only seemed to hang out and play video games instead of what their names suggested.

In the evening, we went out to eat a restaurant that had good Japanese food but otherwise looked a lot like a normal American sit-in restaurant except for a few areas that had low tables that you could kneel at. This was also the first time taking the subway, although it was only one stop away. Taking the subway in Japan is quite easy: you look at the map above the ticket machines, check the price of the stop you want, and put that much money into the machine. If you go too far, you can always add more to your ticket. Supper was very good, though it took a while for everyone to finish up and as usual everyone was very loud on the way there and at the restaurant. Nagashima-san seems to really want to make a good impression, perhaps at the of expense of not telling people to quiet down when in a public place and so annoying the rest of the pedestrians. He's also dipped into the BCA money a bit to pay for Rachel who is not here through BCA (which is understandable) and for an extended karaoke session later in the night (which went a little overboard).

So anyway, next was karaoke (that's pronounced using the rules I gave in the first post if you want to practice). We decided to walk back instead of taking the subway since karaoke was in between stops and it would save us 200 yen. The karaoke spot had an arcade on the first floor, with lots of crane games which had much nicer stuff (for the most part) than American ones, but they also cost 100 yen and I'm not sure how difficult they were. There were also a bunch of fighting games, racing games, and rhythm games. Our karaoke room was upstairs and was surprisingly large enough to accommodate our group. Nagashima-san also hooked us up with unlimited drinks (although he isn't supposed to buy us any alcohol; hopefully no one at BCA is reading this) and we continued for about two and half hours. It was very fun and started out doing less serious songs from Ke$ha or Brittney Spears, but eventually ended up with quite a variety, including Japanese, English, Romanian, and Spanish. I was thrilled to attempt singing Linda Linda by The Blue Hearts with Nagashima-san in Japanese and later, Dragonstea din Tei by O-Zone with a couple other guys. I also joined in from the sidelines on several other songs. By the end though, I was getting a bit worried about how much money his was going to cost Nagashima-san and kept not adding another song to the queue because I thought that we'd be leaving soon. He wouldn't accept any money afterwards either. Needless to say when we got back around 1 (likely after waking up neighbors with some of our louder members), I fell asleep quickly and slept in to almost 7:00!

Friday, September 16, 2011

Thursday 9/15 - Welcome party!

(Note that this is the second post today, catching up from a few days of no internet access)

I woke up around 5:30 again this morning so I didn't have any problem picking up breakfast before 9:00. Breakfast consisted of four or five halves of sandwiches of different varieties, all without crust. These sandwiches are pretty common and cheap at convenience stores and weren't bad... but not exactly good either. Maybe I just have a hard time trusting prepackaged sandwiches with egg salad, potato salad, tuna, and some meat I can't identify. There were also these tubes of a mixture of cheese, egg, and fish which had the consistency of a raw hotdog and while they weren't vomit inducing, I didn't go back for a second bite and Nagashima-san (the resident director) informed us that he'd request that they give us something else tomorrow.

In the morning we had an orientation lecture which was informative and to the point, unlike other orientations I've had in America. Somehow I doubt that most Japanese meetings are as time efficient. Unfortunately, while the lecture was over in good time, the rest of the students stood around talking about nothing instead of going to lunch. But eventually we did go and then went to another orientation meeting. Before the meeting started, we all played shiritori, a Japanese game where you take turns saying words which start with the last syllable of the previous word without repeating any words and without saying a word that ends in "n". It was pretty fun and I realized that I couldn't think of many Japanese words that start with "ru" or "zu". The actual orientation was given by an American guy who has been living in Sapporo for 30 years and he talked about how to be polite and get along with our host families, a good thing considering I doubt that half of the group would have the common sense for the manners he talked about. And in one of our information packets there were things that host families and students said in the past and there were some pretty embarrassing things that happened. It made me a bit more nervous about being with my host family, but still I think I'll be alright.

Then we walked over to get prepaid phone cards which took forever and I didn't even get one because I left my phone in the dorm thinking I could just activate the card later. Overall, the city seems quite a lot less crowded than Tokyo, but I also haven't been downtown yet. In the evening we had a welcome party which lasted for several hours during which I talked in Japanese and English with a bunch of different people. I also talked to Iwao again and some other people about video games and anime. At one point, some people were playing this kid's game that had a plastic pirate figure in a big barrel and you took turns inserting swords into slots on the side of the barrel until someone got unlucky and "stabbed" the pirate, making him launch into the air and causing everyone to scream in surprise. They also played Uno and later, BS. I met a lot of people, but I still forget most of the Japanese students' names. At last I came up to my room to write this summary in the guise of studying for the placement test tomorrow.

I'm hoping that in the future I'll be able to write more random interesting things about Japan instead of simple summaries of my day. I think once classes start I'll be able to focus my posts on more interesting things.

Wednesday 9/14 - First day at Hokusei Gakuen!

We woke up around 5:30 and went to breakfast when it opened at 6:30. There were options for both Japanese and Western style breakfasts, but I didn't notice this until after I had gotten Western style food. At 11 we left for Hokusei Gakuen on a small bus and took a toll road. The toll roads seemed pretty expensive but I'm not sure if there were any reasonable alternatives. Surprisingly, this drive looked very much like a drive down the highway on Pennsylvania does and there were plenty of trees, hills, and wide open spaces on the side.

We arrived at the university and moved into the Kirari retreat house, taking our shoes off at the door and putting them in cubby holes on the way. It's a really nice place, with rooms upstairs and a lounge and eating area downstairs. The rooms have bunk beds with Japanese style futon as mattresses, and as usual the bathrooms have slippers at the door and showers in a separate room from the toilets. Speaking of toilets, they seem to be the most technologically advanced thing in Japan; they have heated seats, adjust the water level when you sit down, have optional deodorizer, some have a fake flushing sound you can use to cover up your bodily noises, and all of them have a built in bidet. And while the toilets are top of the line, Japan seems to not place as high a priority on things like wifi and air conditioning. Luckily the weather is very nice and it only gets particularly hot in some of the buildings.

At noon we met members from HI-C, a club that helps with international students, and went to lunch at the cafeteria where you could choose from a selection of different things, ranging from ramen to curry and vegetable tempura. When ordering something that needs to be prepared, as with ramen, you put a plastic tile marker down next to what you want to order. Once at the table, we chatted with whoever was around, a couple girls from HI-C in my case. It seems that of the other BCA students, there are only one or two others who are at my level of Japanese and a two people have no Japanese experience at all.

After lunch, we split up into smaller groups and took a tour of the campus. I sort of forgot to pay attention and so was lost as soon as we left the door, but I went back out later in the day and figured out the layout a bit more. We went to a computer lab to set up our college email accounts first, then to the school library, peeked into the chapel, which had a cool wooden door that stood out from the other rooms, then to the gymnasium, which had basketball courts upstairs, a weight room, and martial arts in the basement. At the gym, I asked one of our guides, Kentaro, if the college had an ouendan (a sort of male cheerleading group). He wasn't sure but was surprised that I even knew what an ouendan was. I told him I knew it from a DS game and from seeing one at a university in Tokyo. From there we went to the club room building and checked out the HI-C club room on the fourth floor. It was hard to tell what they actually used the room for, but I assume it was for planning things. The club room was pretty small and also had video games (Super Famicon, PS2, N64, Gamecube) and manga for people who just wanted to hang out. We also ventured off campus a short bit to see where the convenience store, grocery store, and subway station was. At that point we had rejoined the rest of the group and I was having a conversation with a Japanese student named Iwao about various video games.

When we got back, I was going to go back to the club room with Iwao to play Super Smash Bros., but then remembered that we were going to go downtown with the resident director. I got his email, but unfortunately discovered that back at the dorm, you can't get online with your own laptop. Also, we met with the resident director and got our cell phones (without any minutes so far) and decided that we weren't going to go downtown after all, but instead would have supper at the Kirari house which we and some Japanese students would make. This gave me about an hour of free time, so I walked back over to the club building with Kaad to see if Iwao was there. He wasn't, but someone else nicknamed Basho was there so we played Smash Bros. (Melee) with him instead. We were pretty evenly matched too.

Back at Kirari, we picked numbers from a box to determine our seating for supper and Kaad, Julia (a Chinese-Canadian BCA student), and I ended up at the end of a table with four or so Japanese students, and one of four Korean students who was also studying abroad here. I was able to talk passably well in Japanese while we had our dinner of... some fried... thing. I believe they said it was a famous food from Osaka but I don't remember what it was. There was also yakisoba, fried noodles and bean sprouts, and a dessert of a cream puff. We all had name tags on but the people I was talking to had theirs either too low or too far to the side so that I couldn't actually read them except for a girl named Alisu who was sitting across and to the left from me. After supper all the students studying abroad introduced themselves in Japanese (the Koreans sounded way better than the rest of us) and then everybody pitched in to help clean up.

After that, a bunch of people were planning on finding a place to go out drinking, since that's what people do in Japan (and since most of the other BCA students are rowdy, obnoxious, and overly outgoing). I wavered between going and not going but eventually decided that I had too much time left in the evening to kill and I'd have to see what the fuss was all about eventually. We walked down to meet a few of the HI-C members from the campus tour at the subway station and made our way to a very Japanese-looking bar. Our group was quite large and we were brought into a back room with a low table and mats to kneel on. Unfortunately, most of us didn't realize that it cost a rather expensive price for all-you-can drink and if you just wanted one drink you had to get some sort of food with it. Since we had just eaten, I'm cheap, and didn't really care that much about going in the first place, I left with a few others after some frustrated discussion (others were frustrated, I was just feeling awkward about leaving without buying anything). In my smaller group was Anna, Dai (Vietnamese-American), Julia, and Allen (half-Japanese). I much preferred being in a smaller group and we opted to go to the convenience store for much more affordable cans of beer. Then we walked down toward the college and found a place to sit and talk. Dai let us know earlier that he's actually very allergic to alcohol and some other things, but is now on medicine so that he at least won't have reactions from being around it. Julia also didn't have any because it makes her sick as well. Anna and I had one can of Asahi beer, though I only managed to finish half of it before deciding once again that I'd rather just drink soda. Anyway, I was glad we split off from the group, since most of the other group was the annoying people and I became better friends with the four I was with. We got back to the dorm around 10 and met another American student named Rachel who was studying here but not through BCA, so we hung out with her for a while and laughed at Allen's tipsy antics.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Quick update

I have about two pages typed out detailing the events of yesterday (Wednesday), but we cant connect our computers to the internet at the dorm here and can only use these really slow laptops in the lobby which dont have an open USB port to transfer the file either. There is a computer lab though in another building so I may be able to update from there. Hopefully my host family will have better internet access.

But to summarize yesterday: we moved into the dorm, had lunch and dinner with some other students, went on a campus tour, and got settled in. Besides the crappy internet, the dorm is quite nice and we are sleeping on Japanese futon on bunk beds. Talking to people in Japanese was fun and I was able to play Super Smash Bros. with someone in HI-C (Hokusei International club). It was pretty busy so hopefully my two pages of details arent too long for a blog and dont pile up with another post from today.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Mostly boring stuff

So here's a quick rundown of the trip.
We left the house at 1 a.m. on Monday, drove about two hours to the airport in D.C.. We got to the airport FOUR hours early and had to sit around for a while. The plane left at 7 and I met Nick. After about 45 minutes of flying, we landed in Kennedy airport in NYC where we had to go to a different building to get to Korean Air and go through security again. After waiting around there for about 6 hours (with no free wifi!) and meeting two more BCA students, we left on the 14-15 hour flight to Seoul. That flight had a 50 minute delay before takeoff for refueling, as if they got in the plane and were like "oh yeah, we need to put gas in, lol."

It took forever. I spent most of the time trying and failing to sleep, occasionally listening to some of the many Korean and Japanese music options they had, including some I knew. And I watched movies: Source Code (I'd been wanting to see that and it was pretty awesome), X-Men: First Class (Danielle said she liked it, and it was pretty good too), and Kung Fu Panda 2 (I didn't want to think any more).

I got a little sleep in the middle, probably less than an hour, and closer to the end of the flight I slept a couple hours I think.

Anyway, that delay at take off caused us to be late for the next flight, but to our surprise they held the plane for us, sparing us from needing to spend the night in Seoul, and we ran to the plane, once again going through security. This final flight was about 2 1/2 hours long and also seemed to drag on, but filling out the customs forms killed some time, along with a good Chrono Trigger playing session.

When we arrived in Sapporo, our luggage did not make it on the flight as it was unable to run as quickly as its human counterparts. This only applied to the four BCA students who were on the flight from NYC to Seoul, but on the flight and at baggage claim there were airport employees there to meet us and take care of having our luggage delivered to the college the next day.

After that, we met the BCA Resident Director who is refreshingly hilarious. When we told him that we had them deliver our luggage to the college tomorrow, he promptly informed us that this was unacceptable. And then we realized he was joking. Now we're staying in a hotel that is attached to the airport, we didn't even have to go outside, and will be leaving tomorrow morning to stay at the college for a few nights before meeting our host families. The room is significantly nicer than the Olympics center where I stayed on the May trip in 2010, so I don't have the sense of utter despair that I had last time (though I did have some of that on the endless flight).

All the other BCA students are talking in a room down the hall, but it's pretty loud and hard to get a word in so I was perfectly happy to retreat to my room and check out the internet. And of course, the TV has lots of weird Japanese commercials and game show sort of things. And the toilet has a built in bidet which I have yet to try, but my roommate, one of the guys I met at the Kennedy airport, says it's the best thing ever.


Ok, that's everything.
Except for the picasa web album where I'll be putting pictures which is here: Japan 2011 Photos

Sunday, September 11, 2011

How to pronounce Japanese

If you're going to be reading this blog (or even just living in a world where Japan exists), it will be helpful to know how to pronounce Japanese words. Lucky for you, it's extremely easy. Just sound out everything you see.

Consonants all behave as you would expect in English and "y" always acts as a consonant. This means that "Tokyo" is two syllables and is pronounced "Toh-kyoh" not "Toh-ki-oh". There are similar consonant combinations with "y" and all of them act as combined consonants, "y" will never sound like a vowel.
"Tsu" as in "Tsunami" is pronounced as it looks, like the "ts" in "cats" (with an additional "u" sound of course), except it can come at the beginning, middle, or end of a word. Japanese "r"s and "l"s are all the same letter and sound like something that is the combination of "r" and "l". Pronouncing it as one or the other usually is not a problem.

Vowels are few in number and are always pronounced the same way:
a = ah (father)
e = eh (pet)
i = ee (ski)
o = oh (bone)
u = oo (flume)
When vowels come in succession, simply sound them out together and you'll end up with the correct pronunciation. ("Pai" sounds like "pie".) When two of the same vowel come in a row (sometimes written as a long vowel with a bar over it), hold the vowel sound for a little longer.

Sometimes, there will be double consonants, as in "Nippon". These are pronounced as a small pause before the consonant. It would be easier to understand if you heard an example on youtube, but if you're in a hurry, pronouncing both consonants tends to force you to break up the syllables and make a small pause anyway. So you can say "Neep-pohn".

That's it! Now you can go impress your friends with your ability to pronounce Japanese words. Nah, but seriously, don't be so proud of yourself, it's really easy and you should have learned this ages ago.

BONUS:
When speaking, some vowels end up being devoiced (because honestly, who has the time for vowels these days). This mostly happens in common places like "-masu" at the end of verbs, where the "u" is devoiced making it sound like "moss". Same thing in "desu". "-shite" and "-shita", more common endings of verbs, tend to have the "i" devoiced so they sound like "shte" and "shta". Also sometimes where "suki" or "suke" occur in words, the "u" is devoiced. There are probably other instances of this, but these are the most common.