Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Slow on the Uptake

So according to my sensei, the hotel across the street that I see everyday is actually a love hotel (a type of hotel that people go to for a short amount of time, usually for the specific purpose of having sex). All this time and I had no idea! The place is called "Hotel RIDE" though, so maybe I should've known...

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Kyoto Again

This past Saturday I made the other trip I'd been looking forward to even before I left the States: going to Kyoto to see my friend Jenny! Jenny and I have been friends since middle school and although we go to college in the same state, we haven't really spent time with each other in over a year. It was a wonderful coincidence that we both decided to study abroad in Japan this summer!

All I wanted to do in Kyoto was see Kinkaku-ji, visit Ritsumeikan (the school Jenny studies at), and go to Fushimi-Inari Taisha, and we did all of those in that order. To be honest, with the exception of Ritsumeikan these are typical tourist-y things to do, and in terms of the all that you can do in Kyoto, it wasn't that much. But eh well.

On Saturday morning Jenny met me at Kyoto station, and after I bought my one-day bus pass we hopped on a bus to Kinkaku-ji.


Side Note 1: Out of all the cities in Kansai that I've been to, Kyoto has the most well-organized and efficient bus system I've seen. And you ride city buses in the opposite manner of how you ride them in the States. I don't know if it's the same in the rest of Japan, but in Kyoto people board buses from the back, and once they arrive at their destination they pare fare as they exit from the front.

金閣寺 (Kinkaku-ji) is a Zen Buddhist temple whose top two floors are covered in gold leaf. It's been around since the late 14th century and is surrounded by a huge garden. The "Golden Pavilion" sits on a pond and you can't enter it, so all you can really do is admire its beauty from the outside and enjoy the scenery of its surroundings. But even that in itself is a pleasant and calming experience, I think.

After walking through the Kinkaku-ji grounds we walked to 立命館大学 (Ritsumeikan Daigaku/Ritsumeikan University), where Jenny takes Japanese classes. Ritsumeikan doesn't have dorms, so Jenny lives in a hotel-like apartment and commutes by bus to school everyday. Ritsumeikan is a small campus, but it's still nice to look at and has some open spaces.

 We had some time before the bus back to Kyoto Station was to arrive, so for a little while we looked around an art museum across the street from Ritsumeikan called Kyoto Prefectural Inshō Dōmoto Museum of Fine Arts. Lucky for us, admission was free that day! This museum  is named after a Japanese artist named Inshō Dōmoto, and was founded by him in 1966. Its two floors contain works of his including paintings, drawings, and handicrafts. The current special exhibit is called "The Possibility of the Monochromatic Drawings".

We returned to Kyoto Station then hopped on another bus to Fushimi Inari Taisha.

Side Note 2: We got off the bus and while waiting at an intersection, I noticed a 20- or 30-something Japanese guy biking in our direction. He was about to pass by until he saw us, stopped abruptly, got off of his bike and said to me in English, "Sorry, excuse me. You ride, I take picture." Say what now? "You ride, I take picture" he repeated, as he motioned toward his bike. Oh, ok. Maybe he's never seen a black person before and he just wants me to take a picture standing next to his bike. This is little weird, but what the hey. So I stood next to his bike. But that wasn't what he'd wanted me to do. "No, you RIDE, I take picture". Huh? This dude seriously wants me to get on his bike? What is this?  But I was surprised and confused and didn't know what to do, so I got on his bike. He took out his phone, had me adjust the handlebars so they were angled just right, told me to smile, then snapped a picture. I got off his bike, he hopped back on, yelled "Sorry. Thank you. Enjoy Kyoto!", and was gone. And there you have it, the most bizarre thing that I've ever experienced in Japan.

伏見稲荷大社 (Fushimi Inari Taisha) is a Shinto shrine that's been around since the early 8th century. It contains trails leading up Mount Inari, and many smaller shrines line these trails. Fushimi Inari honors Inari, who is known as the god of rice and patron of business, merchants, and manufacturers. So along the path you will also see thousands of orange Japanese gates (torii), that have been donated by businessman over the years. We also came across quite a few stray cats, so that's something to look forward to for some people. As far as climbing the mountain goes, we were too sweatily exhausted and crunched for time to make it to the top, but we went as far as we could.

Side Note 3: It costs about ¥500 to enter Buddhist temples in Japan, but it's almost always free to enter shrines. I don't know what the reason is for this, but Jenny brought it up and made me remember pondering this before when I was in Nara, so I thought I'd share.

On the way back to the bus stop I bought milk tea and a set of mixed mini-sandwiches at a bakery/cafe called Eiffel. After I ate we sat on the curb waiting on the bus and reflecting on how we think we've changed since high school. At one point Jenny told me, "You seem a lot calmer," and she has no idea how much it meant to me for her to say that. I've always been really high-strung, making simple things a big deal and needing to be perfect. I'm still working on this, but it made me feel so good to know that an old friend of mine noticed that I've changed.

We rode back to the station and parted ways there, since Jenny had an event to go to. Before catching another bus Jenny hugged me and said, "Let's not limit our meetings to foreign countries, ok?" Will do!

After that I wandered around the many levels of Kyoto Station for a couple hours, bought a book, went to the very top of the station to look out over the rest of the city, then came down and bought my ticket back to Hikone.
Looking down at the rest of the station

This was my last free weekend in Japan, and my last chance to spend a day in Kyoto, and there's so much to do there. I could've found my way to Gion and seen whatever final Gion Matsuri festivities were going on. I could've just walked around the city. But for some reason, I just wasn't feeling it. I accomplished what I'd come to Kyoto to do, I was tired, my head hurt, I didn't have any plans, I was alone, and I just wanted to go back. So I did.

I really don't know what this means. Maybe I'm just fresh-out on day trips. Maybe, despite what I've been telling myself and other people, I actually am ready to go back home. Who knows. Alas, my second attempt and I still wasn't motivated or interested enough to go exploring and experience what Kyoto is all about. Call it a missed opportunity if you will, but I can't say I'm all that disappointed about it. Maybe next time, Kyoto. Thanks for taking time to hang out with me, Jenny!

70 Days in Kansai photos (JULY/AUGUST) \
 70 Days in Kansai photos (JUNE)

Friday, July 26, 2013

ドラマ (Dorama) Time! 2

Concerning the last round, 'Daini Gakusho' got boring so I stopped watching. 'Kamo, Kyoto e Iku' was a fantastic show but the ending was rushed. 'Saikou no Rikon' was the best out of all three dramas, but the last two subbed episodes are still nowhere to be found on the internet. So the winner by default is... 'Kamo, Kyoto e Iku'.

My final week here in Japan is approaching, and before I leave I wanted to write about the dramas I've been able to watch during my free time this summer. Here they are, in the order that I started watching them in.

PRICELESS - Fuji TV/2012

This drama stars Kimura Takuya, a popular actor/singer who's been around for a long time. I started watching it because of the hype it received and because it also stars Karina (far right), who's one of my favorite Japanese actresses. Kimura plays an ambitious and well-liked employee at Miracle Thermos who gets framed for leaking secret information by his secret half-brother so that he can't inherit the company. He loses his job, his apartment, everything. He ends up living in a house with other homeless people, and for the first time in his life he learns the value of money and experiences how truly difficult it is to earn a living. With the help of his friends, he starts his own company and makes a comeback, leading to a showdown with his secret half-brother. This drama was so much more entertaining than I thought it would be. With so many economies in horrible condition lately and so many people struggling to get by, this show has a real story that I think can resonate with many people. The pace and nature of the main character's journey from riches to rags to riches is more akin to fantasy than I would've liked, but overall it's a very inspiring story.


獣医ドリトル (Juui Dolittle/Veterinarian Dolittle) - TBS/2010

I honestly can't remember how I heard about this drama. But I found it and once I realized it was about animals, I was hooked. It depicts the harsh realities of a veterinarian's duties and the fierce competition that goes on between vets. In the words of the title character: "Veterinary medicine isn't charity, It's a business." Juui Dolittle can't actually talk to animals, but he's such a skilled veterinarian that it's as if he knows exactly what his furry patients want. Each episode has the same structure: someone has a problem with an animal, for some reason Juui Dolittle is the only vet in all of Tokyo who can or is willing to solve the problem, he charges an exorbitant price to do a really difficult surgery, and no one is sure how it'll turn out (except we really are, because Juui Dolittle almost always succeeds). Watching that scenario over and over gets a little old. The show tries to create these really dire situations to pull at people's heartstrings, but you can only dramatize a ferret having gallstones and dogs suffering from airborne contagious diseases so much, and then it just becomes silly. Still, it's a pretty interesting show, and Oguri Shun (who plays Dolittle) and Inoue Mao (who plays his assistant) lead this drama's seasoned cast. This show is great for animal-lovers who want an easy drama to watch.


ガリレオ(Galileo) - Fuji TV/2007

Before this summer I'd had the same Japanese professor for 3 semesters in a row, and she always managed to mention actor/singer Fukuyama Masaharu in her lessons. He's her favorite celebrity and is immensely popular in Japan for his manly image and varied talents. 'Galileo' is one of his most famous works. Apparently it was a huge hit when it came out in 2007, so much so that a sequel started airing this year. After watching 'Juui Dolittle' I couldn't decide what to watch next, so I figured I'd see what the hype was all about and watch 'Galileo'. In it, Fukuyama plays a physicist who helps a rookie cop (played by Shibasaki Kou, another actor/singer) solve murder mysteries. Each episode features a gruesome and bizarre murder, and the solutions that the drama comes up with are so equally bizarre that I wonder what kind of person got paid to come up with such things. I can definitely understand why it was popular. Besides the fact that it features two pretty people, of course. But for some reason I couldn't get into it. Maybe it was because it's summer and I'm in the mood for something upbeat and not so dark, or maybe it's because 'Galileo' didn't end up being '"the best drama evarrr" like it was hyped up to be. Either way, while this drama did entertain me, I wasn't wowed enough to finish it.


スターマン~この星の恋 (Starman: This Star's Love) - Fuji TV/KTV/2013

I love this show. It has the most unrealistic premise ever, but I love it. I started watching this drama because of its lead actress, Hirosue Ryoko. She only appeared in one episode of 'Galileo', but something about her made me want to see more of her work. And then, coincidentally, I found out she was starring in a new drama this summer and I was all in! Hirosue plays Sawa, a single mom who lives in the same small town she was born and raised in. Her husband ran off on her, and she struggles to work everyday and raise their 3 sons with the help of her grandmother. At the same time, a man with a mysterious past arrives in town, tries to kill himself, and fails. One day a star falls from the sky, and soon after this the man appears in front of Sawa during her drive home. It's as if he's fallen from the sky. (Like a star. See where this motif is going?). Because he's lost his memory and doesn't have a clue who he is, she decides to make him her husband so that she won't be so lonely and her children will have a father. She names him Hoshio (lit. "star man"). And everyone around her just goes along with it. They soon realize that he has super powers, which makes them wonder if he's an alien from outer space. Wacky, right? In addition to that, the drama has an incredibly touching and relatable theme of getting a second chance and starting your life over, and who hasn't wished for these things at least once in their life? Even though the premise is way out there, it's executed so well and it's a story I've never heard of before. This show is so fresh and interesting that I can't help but love it. Additionally, I find singer YUKI's rockin' theme song contribution "STARMANN" to be quite a chill yet mesmerizing.

激流~私を憶えていますか?~ (Gekiryuu: Watashi wo Oboeteimasuka?/Rapids: Do You Remember Me?) - NHK/2013

I started watching this drama because of Kuninaka Ryoko (far left), an actress who appeared in an episode of 'Juui Dolittle'. 20 years ago, a group of middle school friends went with their class on a field trip to Kyoto. On the way back one of them, a girl named Fuyuha, disappeared. In the present, the remaining friends are all experiencing some troubles in their lives. One woman is an editor at a publishing company whose career and marriage fall apart. One man is a cop investigating a strange high-profile murder case. One woman is a novelist making her comeback as a singer, who becomes implicated in said murder case. One man lost his job and his family as a result of an affair, and is stalked by his mistress when he kicks her to the curb. One woman has turned to prostitution in order to maintain her family's high-class lifestyle, and her relationship with her pimp turns violent. One day, all 5 of them receive an email from the girl who went missing: "Do you remember me?". Then weird things start happening and all of their lives get still more complicated. Who is doing this to them? Is Fuyuha still alive? I can't wait to find out!

My go-to Asian drama/movie site shut down for good, but all of these dramas can still be found at here. Check them out if you're interested!

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Kabuki

To wrap up the weekend on Sunday, I went to Hikone Cultural Plaza to watch kabuki theater with Loritta. Kabuki is a traditional Japanese form of theater that combines drama and music/dance. Casts of these plays are usually all male. Tickets to see kabuki can be pretty expensive, but we only had to pay ¥2000 to see this performance.

I learned while I was there that kabuki can also get pretty long; the show lasted almost 3 hours. On Friday and Saturday I'd only gotten a combined 10 hours of sleep, so I nodded off every now and then. But I thoroughly enjoyed what I was able to see.



Loritta and I sat toward the back, and from the beginning men sitting behind us would frequently yell out random exclamations during the performance. I was surprised and confused, since Japanese people seem to be so reserved and very much concerned with respect, decorum, and order. However, I learned that this is also part of kabuki tradition. During performances, a few highly knowledgeable (and only male) members of the audience will sit near the back of the theater and yell something to 1) acknowledge renowned actors when they appear, or 2) mark poignant moments in the play. Interesting right? I'm glad those men were there because they not only made the experience more entertaining, but also woke me up a time or two.


70 Days in Kansai photos (JULY/AUGUST) \
 70 Days in Kansai photos (JUNE)

Monday, July 22, 2013

Nara: Buddha (part 2)

We walked through Nara Park and arrived at the main reason I went Nara: 東大寺 (Tōdai-ji). Literally, "Eastern Great Temple." Nearly 1300 years old, Tōdai-ji is a world heritage site and is also the world's largest wooden building. In fact, what stands today is supposedly only 1/3 the size of the original structure. This temple also houses the largest bronze 大仏 (daibutsu/statue of Buddha) in the world.

The view from the outside  of the temple is awe-inspiring enough, but there's nothing like the feeling you get when you walk in and see that
daibutsu for the first time. This thing is massive, y'all. My pictures of it definitely don't do it justice. Honestly, I don't believe I've seen anything more beautiful in my life. I almost cried. This place is ancient and is real.  Something as magnificent as this really exists. And I get to be here to see it.  God is good.

Inside the temple there's also a post with a hole at the bottom of it that's supposed to be the size of Buddha's nose. According to legend, if you can fit through it you will have good luck for the rest of your life. Ivy tried, wriggled through it and succeeded!

After wandering around, enjoying the scenery, and taking a break for some food, we went to our last stop, a shrine called 春日大社 (Kasuga-taisha). It's old like many things in Nara are. In my opinion there isn't anything all that unique about it, except for the thousands of stone lanterns that line the pathways leading to and from it. There are also many bronze statues inside the actual shrine, but you had to pay to enter and we weren't about to do that, so we didn't see them. From there we returned to Nara Station and headed back to Hikone.

It was scorching on Saturday, and instead of hopping on trains to get around like in other cities we've gone to together, the four of us walked the whole time. Naturally I was hot, sweaty, exhausted, and my feet hurt at the end of the day. But it was alright, because  I got to spend the day with amazing people in a serene place, seeing things that I had never imagined I'd see.


70 Days in Kansai photos (JULY/AUGUST) \
 70 Days in Kansai photos (JUNE)


Nara: Shika (part 1)

Whew! This past weekend was busy! Hikone Castle on Friday, Nara on Saturday, and kabuki theater on Sunday. I'll just talk about my trip to Nara today. I went with the usual suspects (Ivy and Bryen), plus another JCMU student named Anna.

Nara is one of the more historically significant cities in Japan. It was the capital of Japan for about 75 years back in the 8th century, preceding Kyoto and the current capital, Tokyo. It is also home to many Buddhist temples, which apparently wielded a lot of power at one time and remain considerably important and influential today.

Our first stop was 興福寺 (Kōfuku-ji) which we stumbled upon by accident. Bryen, Ivy, and Anna saw some stairs lined with red banners, raced up them, and surprise! 1300-year-old Buddhist temple at the top. We entered at one end and walked to the other, where a 5-story pagoda stood. And guess who were chilling right in front of it? Deer!

Nara is known for its shika (deer), because long ago they were believed to be messengers of certain Shinto gods, and were protected as sacred creatures. Today they are no longer considered sacred, but are still protected as national treasures. There are over 1,000 deer in Nara Park, which is accessible from many major Buddhist temples and tourist attractions in the city, so you'll see them roaming freely around those places too.

These deer aren't afraid of humans. They also aren't hostile, but they can be aggressive when it comes to food. Really, they just want to chill and get fed. They know that all of the humans around them are tourists. They know that these humans want to pet them. Most of all, they know that these humans have food. So they watch people buy deer senbei (rice crackers for deer) from the numerous senbei-selling stands that are around, then follow them until they give them up. I'm not kidding. Walk up to
the stand. Pay ¥150. Receive pack of senbei. Turn around. Deer right in your face.

When we reached Nara Park Bryen tried it first and was surrounded by 6 deer, one of which started chewing on his shirt. When I tried it only 2 deer followed me. I wasn't even afraid of them, but they rolled up on me so fast that I was overwhelmed and freaked out. Thankfully you can't tell as much in this picture.



Check out part 2!

70 Days in Kansai photos (JULY/AUGUST) \
 70 Days in Kansai photos (JUNE)

Friday, July 19, 2013

Hikone-jo and some other things

I FINALLY WENT TO HIKONE CASTLE TODAY!

Classes ended, I had no other plans, the weather was perfect, Ivy was willing to go with me, and it was on!

We made a few stops along the way. Today's Friday, so of course I had to stop at Vidal. Then we headed to an antique shop/café called Apple Jam that Ivy had wanted to visit. It was a small but incredibly well-organized place, and I found a souvenir for Ma there. All she wanted was something with Japanese writing on it, and I finally found something that was to my liking for her.

Speaking of souvenirs, when I asked people what they wanted me to buy them while I'm in Japan, most of them requested something "authentic-looking" "traditional Japanese style", etc. You'd be surprised to know how difficult that stuff is to find here. Many malls and stores try to be modern or have an international/Western appeal, so though their products might cater to Japanese tastes and sensibilities, they're not all that different from what you'd find in the States. And most of the merchandise I've seen with writing on it has English words and phrases. Sure, Japanese is written everywhere and some  shops are more traditional than others, but as far as gifts go, you have to go to really specific places to find the "authentic" and "traditional" things that foreigners want. Like souvenir shops or antique shops.

I've decided not to buy any souvenirs for people because I'm too cheap and lazy. First, I don't like spending money. Second, when I buy something for someone, I can't just go anywhere and buy anything. It has to be of decent quality, it has to be special, it has to mean something, and it can't be too expensive. My method of shopping for people takes thought, time, energy, and most importantly money that I'm not willing to spend. Sorry folks. But I can't say no to Ma; she gave me life so I made an exception for her.

Anyway, back to my day. After leaving Apple Jam we ate lunch at a café called Poemu. I ate loco moco, which consists of rice topped with a hamburger patty, fried egg, and gravy. It's a traditional Hawaiian dish, but oddly enough my first time eating it was here in Japan.

Onward to Hikone Castle! 彦根城 (Hikone-jō) was built in the early 17th century, and is considered to be Shiga Prefecture's most significant historical site. It's a Japanese national treasure and is even in the running to become a World Heritage site. In short, it's a very old and important place. We got there just in time to see ひこにゃん (Hikonyan), a samurai cat and Hikone Castle's mascot. Many castles in Japan have mascots, but Hikonyan is known as the most popular mascot in Japan.

We walked up many steps and turned a few corners to reach the castle. The castle itself is small. It only has 4 floors and there are few museum-like displays. It hasn't been prettied up. Inside is all wood and white walls. It's simple. In my opinion, however, that's exactly what's special about Hikone Castle. It's not particularly refined or luxurious. It hasn't been remodeled to suit modern tastes or impress tourists. It's quiet. It is as it was.

We went through the whole castle and enjoyed some spectacular views of Hikone from the top. Before heading back to JCMU I bought a Hikone-jō  pin for myself. There's a specific reason that I got a pin as opposed to some other trinket, but I'll explain that after I return to the States.

I should be shutting myself in this weekend to work on my final project that I have to present next Thursday, but I'm just fed up with class consuming all my time and I'm getting cabin fever. So I'm going to Nara with Ivy and Bryen and I refuse to feel bad about it. Of course, y'all will read all about it when I get back.


70 Days in Kansai photos (JULY/AUGUST) \
 70 Days in Kansai photos (JUNE)

Gold Coast Good

Yesterday was a rough day, and after classes ended I was frustrated and exhausted. So I was delighted to find when I got on my computer that I had an email from... my grandpa! My grandpa's 75 years old, y'all. He knows how to use a computer and send emails, but he's NEVER emailed me before, so this was a big deal. He was just checking up on me, and his message was very sweet. But as usual Grandpa had something snarky to say at the end, "You will probably come back speaking only Japanese." Knowing him, he did not mean this as a compliment, like Your Japanese will have improved so much that you'll speak it all the time even after you leave Japan. What he meant was, You'll have forgotten your language and we're the ones who are going to have to deal with you. Gotta love Grandpa.

Later Ivy and I visited Café Gold Coast, a local café here in Hikone, for late lunch/early dinner. Bryen joined us after he got off work. The owner of the café lived in Australia for 6 years working as a chef, then returned to Japan and opened his own restaurant, thus the name "Café Gold Coast". His English is pretty good, and all of his staff seem to speak some English as well. (I don't know if that was a requirement or just pure coincidence, but either way I think it's pretty cool.) I ate ham and avocado eggs benedict, which was delicious! How ironic though, my first time eating such an American dish was in Japan. Ivy and Bryen just ordered ice cream because they were having some sort of food gathering in Bryen's room later. We left the café and parted ways; I came back to JCMU and they went to Beisia to buy ingredients.

After I finished my Thursday Skype date with Ma I knew that I needed to do homework and study, but I didn't feel like it so I went down to Bryen's room to eat up whatever scraps they had left. We sat around talking and singing along to Japanese and Korean songs on Ivy's iTunes, and everything was cool. Then things got weird, thanks to me. Basically, I had a lot of pent-up energy and stress, something made me laugh too hard, and I lost it. Once I started cracking up I couldn't stop, and at some point I ended up on the floor.

While I was there I also tasted beer for the first time. No, that had nothing to do with me being on the floor. This happened afterward. I don't know if it actually counts as tasting, though. While I was snooping around Bryen's kitchen and eating his snacks I found this can of Kirin Beer. For some reason I decided to try it, but as soon as that putrid liquid touched my tongue I spit it out because it was so disgusting. I have no intention of touching alcohol. Ever. It's just not for me.

I hung around for a little while longer and then made myself get to work. I wasn't any more motivated to do it, but I was in a much better mood.

70 Days in Kansai photos (JULY/AUGUST) \
 70 Days in Kansai photos (JUNE)

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

"Authentic Materials"

In my Japanese class, we've transitioned from going through a textbook to using "authentic materials." I've basically been reading essays, articles, and short stories and watching videos for the past month. Each video carries a theme having to do with humans' relationship with the environment and concerns about maintaining or improving a way of life. The following are the first 3 videos, and the only cartoons, that I've watched. I wanted to tell y'all about them before the program ends and I forget what they're about, so here goes.
 
サザエさん (Sazae-san)
Episode: 波平もったいない論 (Namihei mottainai ron/ "Namihei's discussion about waste")
 
'Sazae-san' is the longest-airing anime series, having first aired in 1969. This episode focuses on the concept of "mottainai" (waste/wasteful actions). As the head of the household, Namihei challenges his family to be more mindful and actively reduce their wasteful habits and consumption. A couple amusing shenanigans ensue, and in the end the family agrees that the greatest waste is when people don't get along.
 
おーい出てこーい (Ooi, detekooi / Hey, come out of there!)
 
'Ooi' is based on a short story written by Hoshi Shin'ichi, one of Japan's most influential science fiction writers. This short animated piece makes a statement about waste and using space efficiently as well, but does so in a creepy way. After a storm, a shrine is blown over, revealing a large hole. Villagers gather around this hole, with one yelling "Ooi, detekooi" and throwing a rock into it to see how deep it is. Media, police, and scientists gather around to investigate the hole, which appears to be bottomless. At this discovery, a sleazy racketeer buys the rights to the hole and accepts money from individuals, groups, organizations, businesses and even government agencies to allow them to dump their trash into this whole. Garbage, human waste, nuclear waste, money, weapons, you name it. The village makes tons of money off of this operation and transforms into a bustling metropolis.
 
One day, the sound of "Ooi, detekooi" falls out of the sky, followed by a rock...
 
The lesson is that what we do will come back to us, and the effects of our actions on the environment last longer than we think.
 

生活維持省 (seikatsuijishou / lit. Department for the Preservation of Livelihood)
 
'Seikatsu' is also based on a short story written by Hoshi Shin'ichi. Unlike the previous two videos, this one focuses on overpopulation and population control.

In the future, two men working for the Department for the Preservation of Livelihood ride around in their hovercraft. They arrive at a woman's house and explain to her the consequences of overpopulation that arose in the past: overcrowding, shortage of resources, fight for survival, and eventually war on a global scale. In order to keep the population at a sustainable level, a system was created in which a computer randomly selects people to die. The woman's daughter has been selected. The two agents find the little girl, shoot her, then hit the road.

At the end of the short, one of the agents reveals that he's been chosen to die next.

Like 'Ooi', this story also pushes the idea that what you do comes back to you. In addition to that, 'Seikatsu' demonstrates that in order to create or maintain a certain lifestyle sacrifices have to be made, but sacrificing things or people cannot be taken lightly.

Sorry, I know that these stories got progressively dark and heavy, but I found them all to be thought-provoking and clever and wanted to tell y'all about them. These videos are pretty difficult to find on the internet, but if you have the chance to watch them please do. They'll give you a lot to think about!

3 Things

Thing that I don't do in Japan: Eat bread, sweets, or cheese.
These have been my favorite foods for the longest time. But since I've come to Japan I haven't really eaten them, and I can't say that I miss them. They're slightly expensive here and they take up space (my backpack and the basket on my bike can only hold so much). And in the interest of living on my own, trying to feed myself decently and cutting unnecessary expenses, I don't actually need any of my "favorites". I'll go to Vidal bakery once or twice a week to treat myself, but I definitely don't eat bread, sweets, and cheese everyday like I did back home.

Thing that I've started doing in Japan: Enjoying pop.
I stopped drinking pop about 3 years ago. Other than on special occasions or to see what I'm missing,  I try to avoid it. I think pop for me is like what alcohol is for "normal" people. Most of it is way too strong for me to handle, and I feel funny after drinking it. I haven't even tried that many different kinds of pop here, but I can already say that I like Japanese pop a lot better. It's lighter, softer, and so much more flavorful than the pop that's sold in the States. Melon soda, C.C. Lemon, Calpis Soda, GunGunGuruto, it's all great. I don't get bloated, nor do I feel like I've wronged my body as much after drinking pop here.

Thing that I refuse to do in Japan: Make the peace sign when posing for pictures.
I just don't get it. I don't know how that thing started or why it's become the standard pose in pictures. If that's what Japanese people do, that's fine. But to me, non-Asian people just look silly doing it. I've done a number of things to try to blend in here, but that is definitely not one of them.

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

大阪っぽい! Osaka-ish! (part 2)

Fourth stop: Osaka Station/Takoyaki

I didn't plan on leaving Osaka until 8pm, and when we left Osaka Castle we still had 4 hours to spare, so we took a train to Osaka Station. I still hadn't eaten takoyaki yet and I had to leave from there to return to Hikone anyway, so we decided to hang around there for a while.

We got decently priced takoyaki from a stand-and-eat place called Hana Dako. Takoyaki are fried dough balls stuffed with tako (octopus). They're another staple of Osaka and my favorite Japanese food. I generally don't enjoy eating meat, but I will gladly tear up some tako in a minute. Lord Jesus thank you for making a way for me to come to Japan so that I could realize that I love tako! Ma can look at me crazy and shake her head all she wants, but none of that will change the fact that tako is delicious! We split 6 balls and after I took a quick picture all of it was gone within two minutes.
















Fifth stop: HEP Five

We passed through Osaka Station and Hankyu Grand Building to get to HEP Five, a huge mall and entertainment complex that's extremely popular among young people. Today was the last day of HEP's huge 5-day bargain sale and... I don't think I've ever seen so many Japanese girls in one place. People everywhere. Employees screaming at shoppers trying to them into their store. Security standing guard at every floor. The loudest yet most orderly pandemonium you could imagine. We went all the way to the top, looked around a bit, then came back down.















Sixth stop: Karaoke

There were still 2 hours to kill, so I figured why not do some karaoke! Fumiko found a spot called Super Jankara, and they gave us a big ol' room with green leather seats. I sang mostly Japanese songs this time and though it didn't all sound too pretty, I was proud of myself for trying.We sang there for an hour and a half, then walked back to Osaka Station and parted ways there.


















On the way back to Hikone:

I had to change trains in Yasu, but I got confused and missed the next train that I was supposed to catch. I just waited for another train and everything was fine. Set myself back 15 minutes but I still made it to my room before 10 o'clock, so it was no big deal. Something amazing happened, though. While going toward the restroom in Yasu station, a Japanese gentleman thought I was lost and asked in English, "Can I help you?" I appreciated his kindness but that really startled me. A Japanese person that I didn't know talked to me? In public? After dark? Wow.

My trip to Osaka exceeded my expectations. I had a fantastic time, and it was all thanks to my friend Fumiko! I actually met her at my school back in the States, and then after I came here she suggested we meet up in Osaka. Fumiko is from Osaka, but she currently lives in Kyoto, so she traveled all the way from there just to hang out with me and show me a good time. She also took it upon her self to pay for a lot of things. Fortune-telling strips at Shitennō-ji, the taxi to Dōtonbori, most of the okonomiyaki, the green tea ice cream in Osaka Castle Park, she paid for all of it. On top of that, even though she had to go to a different station to return to Kyoto, she walked me back to Osaka Station and helped me figure out how to get back to Hikone. She's an awesome person and I am so grateful to have her as a friend. Hopefully I'll get to see her again before I leave Japan. Thanks for everything, Fumiko!


70 Days in Kansai photos (JULY/AUGUST) \
 70 Days in Kansai photos (JUNE)

大阪っぽい! Osaka-ish! (part 1)

Before I even came to Japan I knew that I would definitely make two trips: one to Osaka to spend time with my friend Fumiko, and one to Kyoto to spend time with my friend Jenny. Yesterday, I went to Osaka! All I'd wanted to do was have a good time, not think about class, and eat okonomiyaki and takoyaki before leaving. I did so much more and had so much more fun than I had anticipated!

On the way to Osaka

I was really nervous when I got up in the morning because I'd never traveled alone in this country before, and I was just praying that all would go smoothly. To my relief, when I got to Hikone Station I found a fellow JCMU student named C waiting for the same train as me! We rode together, and along the way an American woman also boarded the train and sat with us. She's lived in Japan for 17 years, and she currently teaches at Tenri University. She even gave birth to and raised here son here, so even though he doesn't have a drop of Japanese blood in him he speaks the language like a native! How cool is that? As an expat, this woman could understand our position as foreigners in Japan and had a lot to say about her experiences. "How's it been interacting with Japanese people? You say two words and they tell you how good your Japanese is, don't they? It's annoying, right?" The truest and most remarkable thing she said was, "Japan is uglier, it's prettier, it's different from what people think it'll be like."  The three of us had a wonderful conversation, and I was at ease as she and C got off in Kyoto and I had to travel the rest of the way alone.

First stop: 四天王寺 (Shitennō-ji)

Once I arrived in Osaka and Kumiko met me at Tennoji station, we set off for Shitennō-ji! Shitennō-ji is known as Japan's oldest Buddhist temple, having been first built over 1400 years ago. We entered the building on the left to watch monks doing rites and conducting prayer. It was crowded because many Japanese people were gathered there to pray and be blessed by the monks.  I'm embarrassed to admit that I started to tear up during this. Watching those monks carry out practices that have been passed down for over 1000 years, standing amongst all those Japanese people gathered together seeking blessings and guidance... I felt honored that I was allowed to witness such a sacred moment. Afterward we entered the tower on the right and climbed the stairs halfway to the top. Each floor houses 4 statues of Buddha and hundreds of tiny statues engraved with the names of monks who have served at Shitennō-ji and passed away.

















Second stop: 道頓堀 (Dōtonbori)/Okonomiyaki

We looked at the rest of Shitennō-ji's temple buildings and then took a taxi from there to Dōtonbori. Dōtonbori is a huge shopping area with many shops, huge signs, and bright lights. It's one of the busiest areas and most popular tourist attractions in Osaka. As y'all know I'm not a person who likes to buy things; I just wanted to go there to see what it was like. While there Fumiko and I did the tourist-y thing and took a picture in front of the Glico running man sign, a highly-recognizable symbol of Dōtonbori. Then, before leaving we stopped at a popular okonomiyaki restaurant called Botejyu. Okonomiyaki is hard to describe, but it's basically a savory fried pancake that's stuffed with deliciousness. It's one of several foods that Osaka's famous for. We ordered one with negi (green onion) and a "modern" one with shrimp and shared them.



Both were scrumptious!













Third stop: 大阪城 (Ōsaka-jō/Osaka Castle)

We took the subway and a train to get from Dōtonbori to Osaka Castle Park. This place is huge! It's not only a public park, but it also contains Osaka Castle, athletic fields and Osaka Castle Park Hall, where concerts are often held. In fact, while heading to the castle Fumiko and I passed droves of people waiting in line for a Mizuki Nana concert.


Japanese feudal lord Toyotomi Hideyoshi had Osaka Castle built in the late 16th century, and like Nagoya Castle it has been damaged and restored numerous times. Osaka Castle is much bigger and more refined-looking on the inside, but if I had to choose which one I liked more, it'd have to be Nagoya Castle. That was the first Japanese castle I ever went to, so maybe that's why I remember it so fondly. Also, instead of climbing all the stairs like I did at Nagoya Castle, Fumiko and I took the elevator up Osaka Castle then took the stairs down. There was no grueling character-building climb to add to the experience, so the whole thing went by really quickly. Also, though Osaka Castle has displays on each floor related to Hideyoshi and the history of the castle, Nagoya's floors are more like a real museum; its displays are more informative, more interactive, and more interesting in my opinion. However, I will say that the view from the top of Osaka Castle is way more impressive. It's abolutely stunning. I didn't realize until I got up there what an enormous and beautiful city Osaka is. After making our way down we took a break and ate green tea-flavored ice cream in the park before heading to our next stop...

Read part 2 to find out where we went!

View from the top
70 Days in Kansai photos (JULY/AUGUST) \
 70 Days in Kansai photos (JUNE)




Saturday, July 13, 2013

Trayvon

While I appreciate that people have so much to say about today's verdict, I must admit that I'm getting tired of this cycle. In just the last few years, there have been numerous cases of injustice involving the American "justice" system. A case receives national attention. People jump on the bandwagon and turn supporting that case into a trend. Such people are then greatly outraged and saddened when the result isn't what they believe it should be. But most of those same people go right back to their lives afterward, and that case is forgotten within a month. Changing your profile pictures and talking about something repeatedly on social media is nice, but that alone doesn't accomplish anything. Those are things that anyone can do, because it doesn't cost them much. All I'm trying to say is what happens "after"? If you are really so outraged and saddened, then continue to do something for the cause even after the case has "ended". Otherwise it's just on to the next one. We has a community and we as a people cannot afford to be so fickle.

Ridin' around in dat rain (again) / I'm not a team player.

It's funny, because just this morning I read a Bible verse that said, "...vain is the help of man" (Psalm 108:12). This verse doesn't mean that people are no good. It just means that you can't rely on them all the time. Too bad I didn't realize in time that this was a sign about today.

I'm not trying to be rude or ungrateful. Nobody is ever obligated to have you around, and I appreciate all the times this summer that my fellow JCMU have invited me to do something or allowed me to tag along. Maybe the grey, wet, and ugly weather has just got me moody. Whatever it is, I'm in a bit of a funk about how today went down.

Over a week ago, I'd chosen today to finally go to Hikone Castle. I'd planned on going by myself, but I was told that a group of folks wanted to eat at Kumakuma and then explore Hikone, which would include going to the castle. I honestly wasn't feeling the idea of going to Kumukuma again. But I figured okay, I'll go with it and do what the rest of the group wants to do, and then I'll get to do what I want to do.

If only things always worked out that way.

We arrived at Kumakuma and ate lunch. We talked about American foods that we miss (except for pink oranges, I have none; as far as I'm concerned all that over-processed fatty garbage can stay where I left it.). We played card games. Then it was time to go, and to my surprise I learned that the group had no intention of going to Hikone Castle at all today. None. Granted, the weather wasn't ideal for doing something like that, but the only reason I even went out with everybody was so that I could get to that castle at some point. If they had no plans to do so they could've just told me, and I could've stayed in my room getting homework out of the way and preparing for my trip to Osaka on Monday.  I know I should've gone back at that point. But I was already out and in the spirit of curtailing my hermit homebody tendencies, I stayed with the group against my better judgment. I need to stop doing this to myself.

From Kumakuma we rode all the way out to what seemed like the other side of the city just to go to some doggone grocery store, then road aaallll the way back to JCMU in the rain. Now I'm in my room dealing with my frustration and trying to remind myself that I'm too old for pouting.
Aforementioned "doggone" grocery store

As you can see, I am not a through-and-through team player. Though I am excellent at pretending to be one. It's not that I don't like people; I just don't like wasting my time and energy. If there's some group activity, I might go along for the sake of being "a good sport", not being antisocial, and not causing any tensions (or in today's case, not having to explore a new place on my own). But after a certain point I get tired of that façade. If I'm with a group and I'm not doing what I want to do, or if I've just been out way too long and am overstimulated, it's like a little timer goes off in my head. Ding! It's been 2.5 hours. You're done. Boredom level has reached 85%, irritation level approaching 65%. Fake enthusiasm depleting by the minute. Time to go home.

Today wasn't absolutely aweful. I had a nice meal for lunch, I got to see parts of Hikone like Castle Road that I hadn't seen before, and I got some good exercise biking around the city all afternoon. But that's not how I would've chosen to spend this Saturday given the options. Without thinking I asked to join this same group on their trip to Kyoto tomorrow, and if it's going to be the same as today it might not even be worth it. We'll see.

Sorry not sorry for ranting.

70 Days in Kansai photos (JULY/AUGUST) \
 70 Days in Kansai photos (JUNE)