Friday, June 28, 2013

Kids, Curry and Karaoke (pt. 2)

Whew! I can't believe I still have so much to talk about. Today was without question my busiest and best Friday ever since coming to Japan!
The damage.
After the curry party I had a couple hours to chill before heading out yet again for... 回転寿司 (kaiten-zushi) and karaoke! Kaiten-zushi is often referred to as "conveyor belt sushi". Sushi dishes go around a conveyor belt, and when you see one you like, you just take it. You pay once you've finished stacking up plates and eating your fill. At the place we went to, スシロー, there were dishes you could just take, but there was also a touch screen system for you to order specific items that would roll out on special plates marked for your table. To say that the 5 of us "ate a lot" is an understatement. I mean there were so many interesting and enticing things on the menu, how could we resist? One of the dishes I tried was natto (fermented soybeans) wrapped in seaweed. Everything I ate was delicious, except for that natto. Don't ever put natto in your mouth. Ever. Like seriously, never. If you don't like gagging or aftertastes reminiscent of passed gas, heed my advice.

We headed to a karaoke place called A-Zone after having stuffed ourselves silly. This was only my second time doing karaoke and my first time doing it in Japan.  I think the people you go with really make a karaoke experience enjoyable, and my group of buddies were beyond fantastic! I almost peed myself twice (laughing too hard), and I'm pretty sure I won't be able to talk tomorrow (screaming singing with too much passion). But it was all worth it. I had genuine fun with genuinely fantastic people. Who can ask for more than that on a Friday night?

Kids, Curry and Karaoke (pt. 1)

Morning: Psalm 93

Instead of having class today, all of us were put in pairs and sent to visit elementary schools! Over the years this has been arranged between JCMU and the Hikone Education Department to facilitate cultural exchange, maintain an amicable relationship, and so on. I was paired with a guy named John, and we went to 高宮小学校 (Takamiya Elementary School).

Usually I'll take pictures of any random thing or person with no qualms. But a school is supposed to be a safe place, and I don't feel comfortable taking pictures of kids in such close proximity without their parents' permission. It just doesn't feel right to me. If some random stranger or foreigner showed up at your kid's school, took pictures of them without you knowing and put them on the internet, even if it was just on some innocent blog, you wouldn't be happy about it would you? Didn't think so. So unfortunately for y'all, I can't personally show you what Takamiya or its students and staff look like. But below is a picture of the school from the City of Hikone's website.

John and I were at Takamiya for a little over 2 hours. The first hour we interacted with 3rd graders, the second hour with 4th graders. With the 3rd graders we did Q&A, sang songs, folded paper airplanes and had flying contests. We sang and played dodge ball with the 4th graders and they performed a couple songs for us, singing and playing recorders. Then we performed for them! We sang "L-O-V-E" by Nat King Cole.

While waiting for each session to start, we sat in the office of Nishikawa-sensei, who is pretty much the coolest principal ever. 30 years ago he was a jazz pianist and travelled to all kinds of places to perform. He even played some gigs in the US. When he became a teacher he started as a music teacher, worked as a teacher in Brazil for 3 years at some point, and eventually became principal of Takamiya Elementary School. He showed us books of jazz songs that he knows how to play, and he even played piano accompaniment when John and I sang "L-O-V-E".

To be honest I was nervous before going to Takamiya. Dealing with children can be hit or miss, and I didn't know what to expect. But they were just normal kids. Very curious, very energetic, a little wild. Kids. And I'm sure they got a kick out of having a tall skinny white dude and a black chick visit them. I got many wide-eyed stares and requests to touch my hair, haha. The students were great and I had a really fun time. The only thing I will say is that today's visit felt a little too rushed, a little to structured. I wish we would've been able to just sit and talk with the students more. But other than that, I have no complaints. Oh, and they sent us off with handmade gifts!

A couple hours after returning from Takamiya I participated in a curry party here at JCMU. The Shiga Daigaku student who was placed in my group is named Eri. You know how sometimes you meet a person and can just feel that they're good people? That's how I felt upon meeting Eri and talking to her for a while. She was just awesome. I hope I get to see her again. And of course, making and eating real curry for the first time was pretty nice too!

Check out Kids, Curry and Karaoke (pt. 2)!

70 Days in Kansai photos

Eri's in the deep blue

Happy Birthday, Madison!

This old lady turns 10 years old today! 10 years... wow. That means I've spent half of my life with this beautiful creature as my best friend. Madison came into my life when I was in a very dark place, and I thank God everyday that I have the privilege of calling her "my dog". I only wish that I was back home so I could rub her belly and say, "Thank you for being exactly what I needed."

Thursday, June 27, 2013

Hikone Port

I've been sick since Monday and I'm tired of it! I'm ready to be well! I'm getting there slowly but surely.

Morning: Psalm 92

"potato salad pan"
Because I have so much to do to prepare for class everyday, I'm usually a hermit on weekdays. Besides going to Beisia, I don't really go out. But we don't have class tomorrow, and there was no need to rush and do homework.... so I went outside. I was out for almost 3 whole hours, y'all!

I went for a walk with a fellow JCMU student named Loritta. Loritta is in the environmental science program here, so even though I see her around I don't know her very well. But I ran into her right after class and she said going for a walk would help me feel better, so I figured why not? We headed to Hikone Port, stopping at Vidal on the way. It was around 3pm when we got to the bakery so the lady didn't have much left. Most of what remained were savory breads. I bought two of them.

Once we got to Hikone Port we walked to the end of the pier and just sat and talked, our feet dangling over the water. Turns out Loritta has a very interesting story and we have a lot in common! With the beautiful weather and the waves rolling right beneath us, the whole experience was so wonderfully pleasant. It was Loritta's idea to go for a walk and she'd been wanting to sit on the pier, so I'm glad I decided to go along. And she was right; after we came back I felt a little better!

70 Days in Kansai photos

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Things People Give Me #6

Yesterday, somebody left this in my classroom for me during the lunch break. I had an idea who it was, but I didn't confirm it until today. I've never been sick in another country before, but I've also never eaten Japanese throat lozenges before. So to K-san, thanks for thinking of me and allowing me to experience another "first" even while I'm under the weather!

Saturday, June 22, 2013

Summer Fes!

Today was such a great day! The sun finally came out again, and I went to a college summer festival!

Morning: Psalm 87

I know I said I was going to a performance at Hikone Castle today, but when I found out that some of the girls were going to Shiga Kenritsu Daigaku/University of Shiga Prefecture's summer festival instead I changed my mind. I see the castle everyday; I can just go there some other time.

Once everyone was ready to go, we biked 40 minutes along the lake to USP's 16th Summer Fes! It was a pretty ordinary festival, to be honest. But the beautiful campus, bright colors, and good vibes made for a really enjoyable experience. Many female students were wearing 浴衣 (yukata/summer kimono) for this occasion. The festival was spread out over a large stretch of the campus, but the food stalls and performances were in the school's courtyard. There were two performance areas there: a stage for large acts and games, and an open area for smaller acts that
overlooked a river.

Speaking of performances... suprise! I've uploaded SEVEN videos for y'all today! The first 5 are performances from USP's big band club, and the 6th is from K'crew dance club. Just CLICK HERE to see the first one and access the others! I would've gotten more of K'crew's performance, but they took too long to prepare for their next number and we didn't feel like waiting, so we walked around the rest of the festival.

 Along the way we ran into familiar faces, including a couple fellow JCMU students and some Japanese students we'd met at Kumakuma and other local events. We even met a few other study abroad students from Michigan who we didn't even know were here! One of those study abroad students was a black guy, which officially makes 4 of us in Hikone according to my count.

After staying for a few hours and seeing all we wanted to see, we headed back to JCMU. I ended up coming back with James and Jiao, the fellow students we ran into at the festival. On the way back the three of us stopped to play around at the edge of Lake Biwa. The 7th video I've uploaded is of that excursion. I even stepped in and got my feet wet a little bit! You don't get to see that part though, haha.

All in all today was another Saturday well spent, if you ask me.

70 Days in Kansai photos

Friday, June 21, 2013

"Shrugs, I ain't gon' judge!" / Ridin' around in dat rain

Happy Summer Solstice! Today's the first official day of summer!

There's no need to recap this week. Except for a trip to the grocery store (Beisia), I've stayed in all week because 1) It's been raining nonstop since Tuesday, and 2) I had to prepare for my first test/midterm that was today. So I'm just going to write about my Friday.

Morning: Psalm 86. Evening: Namaste 183 "The Discipline of Grace"

After we took our respective tests, it seemed that everybody wanted to forget their sorrows, so a group of us went in search of food! First stop was Vidal, the tiniest bakery I've ever seen in my life! The lady who bakes everything runs the bakery from her house. Her business takes up the first floor, and then she lives on the second floor. The décor makes it feel very quaint and cozy, plus all the bread and pastries are really cheap. And delicious, of course!  Bread, cheese, and sweets are my favorite foods, so I was glad to knock two of those out in one spot.

From there we went to Shiga Daigaku's cafeteria. This was my second time there, and the main dish I had included chicken karaage, green onions, a hard-boiled egg, spicy sauce, and rice. In addition to that I ate a tofu salad and one of the breads that I bought from Vidal. Again, cheap and delicious! I was beyond satisfied.

We made it back to JCMU in time for this week's cultural activity: traditional tea ceremony (茶道/sadou)! I was the last one to arrive and as soon as I showed up, Melville-sensei popped up out of nowhere, yelled "Grace-san can translate!" to the three ladies who would be demonstrating sadou for us, and then disappeared. Never mind that another sensei was already there to help us understand what we would see and hear; Melville-sensei said so, so I was doing it!

We all entered the super-secret-hidden tatami room to watch how tea ceremony is done and learn how to receive and consume Japanese sweets (お菓子/okashi) and maccha properly. Obviously I don't know or remember all the rules, but I can tell you that attention to detail, appreciation of subtle beauty, and gestures of gratitude are very important. The whole thing was relatively short, but I really enjoyed it. And I actually did pretty well translating!

Once that ended, I went to Beisia again with a fellow student. When we left the store rain was pouring, and as I got drenched all I could do was look up at the sky and laugh. How beautiful life is! Getting caught in the rain can be so refreshing if you let it be. I'm not even trying to be metaphorical. Not fighting the circumstances and just going along with it, feeling the water on my skin... it was magical. Even though I haven't seen the sun since Tuesday, and I ended up biking around in the rain today, I feel so good right now! Try hanging out in the rain sometime and see what I mean.

The usual out-and-about crowd went to Kyoto this evening, so those of us remaining here watched 'Wreck-It Ralph' in the TV room together before calling it a night. Tomorrow's schedule involves going to a festival and dance performance at Hikone Castle!

70 Days in Kansai photos

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Wait, there are more of us?!

While sitting in the classroom this morning waiting for my first class to start, I heard this really loud singing in English coming from outside the building. Like anyone else would do, I got up to look out the window and see what was going on. There, walking along the river in a bright pink shirt and khakis, wearing headphones, singing at an unnecessarily high volume at 9am in the morning was... a black dude!

I was could not believe my eyes. And I'm slightly embarrassed to admit that I kept gawking at this dude until he bopped out of sight. Wait, what? Is this a joke? Seriously man, what are you doing here and where have you been hiding?! Forgive me for being ignorant, but I honestly thought that I and the one black dude here at JCMU were the only black folks in the entire city of Hikone. Until today. Apparently there are more of us here!

Sunday, June 16, 2013

What I've Learned So Far in Japan! (Vlog #1)

Morning: Psalm 81

As promised, I made a vlog today! It's way longer than I'd anticipated, probably too long. However, I'm  glad that I committed and got it done. I took a nice walk along Biwako (Lake Biwa) looking for a place to shoot this thing. The weather was absolutely perfect and I was surprised to see so many people out with their friends and family.

YouTube wouldn't give my video a thumbnail and I'm too low on the radar to come up in YouTube searches on Blogger, so I can't post my video the same way as I do others. Once you get a comfortable seat, just click the VLOG LINK HERE, and enjoy! The screen shot below is just for proof's sake.

*UPDATE 6/17* YouTube added a thumbnail and I was able to find my video through Blogger, so just click the play button below!

Sleeping on the Train

The train to Nagoya was crowded, so I and another girl named Emily were the only two in our group to get seats at first. Even though we'd all gotten up early to catch this train, I hadn't planned on napping because I'd had full night's sleep and eaten breakfast. But the seats were so comfortable and our seats were facing in the opposite of the direction that the train was moving and the sensation  was so soothing... we were both knocked out within minutes. Thanks to Tsubasa for snapping this picture, and to the rest of y'all who watched him do it. Y'all were so wrong for this, but I can't even be mad!

Saturday, June 15, 2013


I did it! I went through with it and took a day trip to Nagoya with 9 fellow JCMU students and Tsubasa! And it wasn't scary or confusing at all! We did so much today that I can't go through it all. I took over 130 pictures, and I'm sure they'll do more justice to my experience than what I write here, so please check them out (the link's on the bottom of this post, as usual). But here's a little recap for you anway!

Morning: Psalm 80. All day: Wearing out my feet, legs, and shoulders by biking and walking around in heavy humidity and consistent rain. Also, sweating buckets.

I'd like to take a moment to note how unusually fly I look in this picture
I ate onigiri for breakfast, then headed off to Hikone Station with the group. After 2 trains and 2 subway rides, we came above ground in Nagoya right across the street from Meijō Kōen.

First we walked through a food festival on the way to Nagoya Castle. Except for the foundation, the entire castle was destroyed by U.S. Air Force bombings in WW2, so most of what we saw has been reconstructed and remodeled. In fact, construction is still being done to that place. Still, it was a very beautiful place. We climbed all the way up to the top of
Sunshine Sakae
the castle, which has one of the highest staircases I've ever seen. I survived the climb, though! The good thing is that the castle's designed so that the first 4 or 5 floors have museum-like displays and showcases. This way, guests stop at each floor and get distracted so that getting to the top doesn't feel so much like the long, arduous struggle that it is.

After that, we ate at a kishimen shop that's located in the complex. Kishimen is a flat type of udon that is a specialty of Nagoya. I had tempura kishimen.

Then we took a loooong walk to the shopping district, where we stopped at Sunshine Sakae mall. Next, we took an even loooonger walk down the street to Osu shopping district, which is
off of Akamon street. This shopping area is too expansive for words, and I didn't buy anything but I walked through all of it. It's full of cheap stuff and street food, so it was right up our alley.
At one end of the district is Osu Kannon Temple which Tsubasa went to pray into.

As I walked around the shopping district I was reminded of how simple I am sometimes. While everyone else is buying souvenirs and gifts and street food/junk food, I'm just along for the ride. That's how I go on "adventures". I don't need to buy anything. I don't need to taste every food I see. Making myself go outside and try something new is an accomplishment in itself for me, so long as I enjoy the experience and can get some good pictures, I'm content. I might actually leave Japan without buying any mementos for myself or gifts from anybody. That's certainly not my goal, mind you. I'm just not in any rush to buy things to show myself and other people that I've been here. I'll know that I've been here, and sometimes knowing you've had an experience is enough.

Anyway, we made our way back to Nagoya Station and I ate omurice (オムライス/omuraisu) for the first time at a restaurant in a nearby underground mall. Then we boarded the train back to Hikone, and here I am writing about my awesome day!

70 Days in Kansai photos

Friday, June 14, 2013

Overdue Recap 3: 6/10-6/14

This was our first full week of classes, and it's been just as intense as they warned us it would be. 4 hours of class a day + at least 4 hours of studying a day = schoolisdevouringmylifeagain. So it looks like I'll only be able to write on the weekends. I'll try to post more often than that, but I apologize in advance if you only hear from me a couple times a week. Good thing is, I've been cooped up because of my studies, so I haven't done much this week. Which means, y'all haven't been missing much. But anyway, here goes.

Monday 6/10: Viva City Tour
Morning: Psalm 75

Today I woke up and my eyelids were SUPER swollen. I've had this problem before, but it's never been this bad. I looked like a bloated fish, or like I got in a fight and was punched multiple times in the face. I sent pictures of my eyes to Ma and was thinking of sharing them here, but I think I'll spare y'all. You'll just have to take my word for it. I looked absolutely crazy. But my eyelids were back to normal by the time I went to class, so no worries. I'm only telling this story because I thought it was funny.

After class a bunch of us went on a tour of a nearby mall called Viva City. Tsubasa was the guide for my group! We took the train to get there, which was my first time riding a train. Viva City was... a mall. Nothing mind-blowing about it. But it was very clean and also had a grocery store, huge game center, movie theater, bowling alley, and karaoke among other things. We went to the game center and did purikura (プリクラ). Purikura are photo booths you go into to take pictures with your friends. They're very popular with young people, especially girls, because the booths have special effects that can make your skin look brighter or your eyes look bigger, etc. They basically make you look prettier (or weirder, depending on your tastes). You can also draw on them or add messages to them before you print them out. I still don't get what all the hubbub is about, but it was fun doing purikura  once.

After we took the train back to Hikone station, I biked back to JCMU all by myself. I probably sound childish, being proud of something like that. First I'm able to sleep until 6am, then I'm going to the grocery store and cooking for myself, and now I'm riding the train and biking home from the station on my own. These things seem ordinary, but they're different when you're in a foreign country. You actually have to think about these things and plan them out. You have to become really aware of your surroundings. You have to learn how to communicate. You have to figure out how to live in this very new, yet very real place. So you almost are like a child again. At least, that's how I've felt.

Tuesday 6/11:
Morning: Psalm 76. Evening: Namaste Yoga 172 "Addicted to Busy"

I stayed inside all day today. Literally. My only respite was a half hour set aside for celebrating the students among us who had June birthdays. We ate ice cream, drank pop, sang, and joked. It was absolutely great! But unfortunately this was the highlight of my day.

Scratch that, I did have another highlight. I started outlining my first vlog! I plan on shooting it on Sunday, right on the edge of Lake Biwa. Look out for that soon!

Wednesday 6/12
Morning: Psalm 77

Today I actually went the grocery store! Also, the one other person who was in my class decided to move back down a level, so now I'm the only person in my class again.

Thursday 6/13: Skype Dates
Morning: Psalm 78

After class, the six of us planning to do homestay had an orientation meeting with the lady who organizes the homestay program. People start moving out on Saturday. In my case everything is all set, I just need to decide whether I'm actually going to do it or not. My homestay wouldn't start until July 9, so while everyone else has decided I still have two weeks to think about it. I know that this is a great opportunity, but I'm not sure if it's right for me.  So I'm going to take as much time as I'm given to carefully consider my options.

Today was Thursday, which meant Skype day! Even though I'm on the other side of the world, it's nice to know that my family is still thinking about me. I had my usual Skype date with Ma and once that ended I received a video call from my uncle and cousins! I didn't even know they were on Skype! What a pleasant surprise.

Friday 6/14 (TODAY!): Ramen
Morning: Psalm 79. Evening: Namaste Yoga 181

After class, the usual out-and-about crowd went to Osaka to shop and eat and party for two days. The rest of us went to a local ramen shop called Johnny's. I can't tell you what I ate because I couldn't read the menu, but I can tell you that it was fantastic!

Also, those of us remaining here at JCMU decided on a whim to go on a day trip to Nagoya tomorrow! I was hesitant at first when I was invited to go, but then I figured, Why not? I might be nervous about travelling around, but I'll be with other people and there's really no reason for me not to go. So I'm going!

Why not? I have a feeling I'll be saying and thinking this a lot while I'm here.

70 Days in Kansai photos

Sunday, June 9, 2013


There isn't much to report today. I didn't feel like doing much or going outside, so while almost everyone else went to a university festival I stayed in to do laundry, study, and occasionally get distracted by YouTube.

Morning routine: Psalm 75, no yoga today.

However, I did accomplish one thing: I cooked on my own for the first time since I've been here! I just fried up some udon with mushrooms, tofu, and spinach, nothing special. But it was really good!

Oh, and I just had another Skype date with Ma before she went to church. Eventually I'll get through these dates without crying, I know I will. We shared a really cute moment before signing off when she said, "Have a good night," and I said "Have a good day." I have to keep remembering that I'm on the other side of the world!

Yaki udon!
To be honest, I'm nervous about classes tomorrow. And I'm still not completely sure how I feel about this whole experience. But I'll try to do as Ma said and make the best of this opportunity.


70 Days in Kansai photos

Saturday, June 8, 2013

I am a unicorn.

Before I came here, I was connected with a black woman named Dana who had studied at JCMU years ago. One of the questions I asked about her experience was "What was it like being black in Japan?". She said, as I'd already heard, that I should expect some stares. "People will definitely be curious. You might as well be a unicorn."

She couldn't have been more correct. Take today, for instance.

First, on the bike ride back to Kumakuma. I came up behind a little boy and a little girl who were also on their bikes. I rang my bell to so I could pass them. The girl immediately moved to the side. The boy started to move to the side, but turned around to see who was coming. I kid you not, when he saw me he came to a complete halt, opened his eyes really wide and exclaimed "Sugee!"*. He continued to stare at me as I passed, repeating the phrase to his friend and chattering on about this marvel that was yours truly.

Second, coming out of Piago. I came out of the store and headed toward the bike parking area. I turned the corner to see an elderly lady who stared at me and said, "Heeee..."**. At least this lady was more polite than the kid. She greeted me with "Konnichiwa" as I passed by.

The elderly lady's reaction was like, Well, what do we have here? Hello. Whereas the little boy's reaction was more like "OHMYGOODNESS A UNICORN!" These weren't the first times that I've heard sugoi/sugei/hee/etc. said in my proximity since I've been here. To be honest, it doesn't bother me at all. It's actually funny to see how Japanese people react to me. Sometimes I forget, until a Japanese person comments on how well I speak their language with a little extra surprise in their tone of voice. Or until I notice someone eyeing me just a few seconds longer than they do other JCMU students I'm with. But I am foreign, and a particular kind of foreign at that. I'm black. And I can't expect locals to be used to seeing people who look like me. That's just how it is.

I might not belong here, but I'm here. And while I'm here, I'm sure that onlookers and I will continue to be amused by each other.

* "sugee" or "sugoi" are expressions used to address something impressive or unexpected. Their meanings differ depending on the context, but in this instance it meant "wow" or "incredible".
**"hee" is similar but much more subtle. It's more like "wow" or "I see" or "Is that so?"

Cultural Exchange

Today was great! I spent most of it sitting, eating, and talking. Oh, and meeting more Japanese college students. Sounds like a pretty good first Saturday in Japan, right?

Morning routine: Psalm 73, no yoga today

This afternoon, 10 of us went to a café called Kumakuma for a 交流会/kouryuukai (cultural 
exchange) with Shiga Daigaku and Shiga Kenritsu Daigaku students. I've been on edge all week and I'm still not confident interacting with Japanese people yet, so I was pretty nervous about it. But it actually turned out to be fun! I had a really nice conversation with one student in particular. His name was Tsubasa and he asked me a lot of questions about myself and America. What I've noticed about the local college students I've met here is that they're really nice, a surprising amount of them speak decent English, and they seem really eager to know us and learn whatever they can from us about America/American things. Also, the lady who owned the café was so generous! Not only did she host the event, but she served us free tea and cake (I drank iced coffee too by accident, haha). AND, after the event ended and the café closed, she let us stay to chat and eat more cake. She even offered to host us again before we leave in August!

Afterward the 10 of us all headed back to JCMU, stopping at Piago on the way. We arrived at the dorm to find out that one student was having some of his Japanese friends over to hang out and make たこ焼き/takoyaki (fried octopus dumplings or dough balls). They let us join, so their little get-together became a small party! Of  the little Japanese food that I know about, takoyaki is my favorite. It was so delicious, and I got to help fry a batch too!

I can't explain how much I really needed a day like today. All good people and good times, and few worries. Hopefully there will be many more days like these during my time here.

70 Days in Kansai photos

Friday, June 7, 2013

Too Much Hilarity!

I just hope that after I travel to more places for real, I won't become this lady.

Food and Exploring and More Food and People!

Bad news: I'm still pretty tired and speaking like a timid idiot. Good news: I slept until 6am today, I've eaten more today than I have any other day this week, AND I actually did a little exploring!

Morning routine: Psalm 72 and Namaste Yoga 162 "Happy Baby Pose".

Today's classes were much better because a fellow student decided to move up to Level 4 with me, so I'm no longer the only one! I'm still struggling but I just have to believe that I'll improve.

Classes end at noon on Fridays, and at 12:30pm we had a cooking lesson scheduled. We were put into groups, and each group had a Japanese housewife there to show us how to cook some simple Japanese dishes. Our teacher was a woman named Junko, who was extremely kind and spoke English really well. She showed us how to make 焼きそば/yakisoba, ほうれん草の胡麻和え/hourensou no goma ae (spinach and sesame seed salad), and miso soup. We had a lovely conversation over an even lovelier meal, and as she left Junko-san actually gave us some books to help us with our Japanese!

Following that, after 4 days here I finally ventured outside to go somewhere other than the grocery store! I tagged along with two fellow students, and even though we only went to a book store and another market (ピアゴ/Piago), I was glad just to be out there.

We came back to JCMU just in time for a welcome party with students from Shiga Daigaku! I'll be honest, I was too worn out to make a concerted effort and talk to many people there, much less have decent conversations in Japanese. I pretty much got myself some food, moved around very little, and spoke whenever someone else spoke to me. I know that it wasn't very conducive to meeting new people and improving my speaking skills, but hey. Fatigue is fatigue. Toward the end I was almost counting the minutes until I could come back up here, write about my day and go to bed.
As people left to sing karaoke or go clubbing in Kyoto, I walked my behind upstairs, sat down at my desk and called it a night.

And that was my day.

70 Days in Kansai photos

Thursday, June 6, 2013

Overdue Recap 2: 6/5-6/6

Wednesday 6/5: Placement Test
Me and my JCMU ID
Again, I woke up before 5am. My alarm is set for 6am everyday so I try to sleep until then, but obviously that's not happening yet. And it probably doesn't help that the sun rises around 4:40am everyday here. Anyway, I got up and did my morning routine (Psalm 70; Namaste Yoga 177 "Less Is More"). After some last-minute studying I went to take my placement test and... I placed into the 4th level! You see, here at JCMU four levels of Japanese are taught. Level 1 is beginner, Level 4 is advanced. I just finished 300-level Japanese at school and I certainly didn't come all the way over here to repeat those courses. So logically, my goal was Level 4. The test was really difficult, but fortunately I made it.

After that test and some more formalities I was too exhausted to think so I took a nap. This one ended up lasting 4 hours just like my nap on Tuesday did. I fell asleep around 4:30pm and woke up around 8:30pm. Then I did my homework and prepared for the next day's class and didn't go to bed until 1:15am.

Thursday 6/6 (TODAY!): First day of classes
This time I was able to stay asleep until just after 5am, close but still no cigar. This morning's routine: Psalm 71 and Namaste Yoga 176: "Winning Isn't Everything". Though 3 people placed into Level 4, I was the only one who decided to stay in it. As a result, I was the only student in that class the whole day, 9:10am-2pm. Class schedules at JCMU are organized so that each level of students stays in one classroom all day, and the instructors rotate every hour with intermittent 10-minute breaks and a lunch break. The instructors I had today were really nice and I understood most of what they said, but it was still pretty awkward. I felt like I was in an independent study or some special tutoring session, not a class. Plus, since I haven't been sleeping well or eating properly I wasn't 100% and I sounded like a timid idiot when I spoke. To be honest, I still don't feel completely like myself yet. I guess I just need more time to adjust to all these changes.

There was another important first today: my first weekly Skype date with Ma! Admittedly, I ended up becoming more emotional during our conversation than I'd planned. And even though I don't feel like I said what I wanted to say the way I wanted to say it, it was enough just to see her face and hear her voice.

Later this evening, word got around from a Shiga Daigaku student who's closely connected to the
center that there would be fireworks tonight. We all thought that this was part of some important local event, so we gathered in the dorm lobby anticipating great fun. It turns out, "There are going to be fireworks on Lake Biwa" meant "We're going to walk along the lake, find a pebbly space along the shore, and hang out there while we play with sparklers and firecrackers." I stood by and watched because, well, I don't do fire and loud noises (I'm wearing synthetic hair and I scare easily). But it was still great fun standing by, taking pictures, and trying not to get set on fire or eaten by bugs!

And now I'm here, having finally summed up my first few days in Japan. I'm definitely failing in the "take care of yourself" category, but I'm trying to do better. I didn't take a nap today and I finally went back to the grocery store since I'd run out of food, so I'm looking forward to being more energized and feeling more like myself tomorrow after a full night's sleep.

Also, I apologize for not taking more interesting pictures and not making any videos. Usually when I go to a new place I take pictures of everything right away. Random strangers, interesting-looking buildings, streets, clouds, greenery, you name it. But I wanted to take a less frantic approach to capturing this experience, since I'll be here in Hikone for a while. Plus, as you've probably gathered, I haven't been in the right frame of mind to do so adequately. Give me some time to gather my bearings. Maybe I'll actually get outside this dorm and do some exploring this weekend? Hm...

70 Days in Kansai photos

Overdue Recap 1: 6/2-6/4

Sorry for the delay, it's been a crazy few days. Since I have 4 days worth of adventures to cover in the next two posts, I'll try to be as detailed yet succinct as possible. Here goes!

Sunday 6/2: Detroit to Nagoya
After taking one last picture with Ma and saying goodbye, I boarded my first international flight ever! Takeoff was delayed an hour, but other than that all went smoothly. I passed the 13 hours away by watching four movies: The Thieves (Korean),  今日、恋をはじめます/Love for Beginners (Japanese), 映画 ホタルノヒカリ/Hotaru The Movie (Japanese), and Never Ending Story (Korean). I'd recommend all of them except for Hotaru. During the flight I took two naps, but neither were more than an hour each. They were enough to prevent me from feeling exhausted when we landed, though. Oh, and the food was actually really good!

Monday 6/3: Nagoya to Hikone
As I wrote before, when we arrived in Nagoya just before 7pm it was already dark so I couldn't see much on the hour and a half bus ride to Hikone. At first I was really glad as I looked out at the buildings, neon signs, and landscapes we passed. Wow, I made it. I'm finally here. But then I became a little sad. I'm in a new country, I'm all alone, and it's dark. Maybe I made a mistake? However, before giving myself enough time to think myself into a corner and cry, I took a nap. Since starting college, I've realized that one of the best things to do when I'm overwhelmed or can't think straight is to drop everything and go to sleep, even if only for a few minutes. After arriving at JCMU, I unpacked and went to bed around midnight.

Tuesday 6/4: First Full Day at JCMU
I woke up at around 4:40am and tried to go back to sleep, but it just wasn't happening. So I stayed in bed awake until 5:30, then read the Bible (Psalm 69) and did some yoga (Melissa West, Namaste Yoga 179 "You're Already Complete". I'm glad that I decided to do these things before I did anything else, because they really helped me approach my first full day at JCMU with a calm spirit and open mind.

Off to the welcome breakfast! After an orientation and some other formalities it was time for a bike
tour! I was in a group with three male classmates of mine and a Shiga Daigaku student named Chie was our volunteer guide. She was really small, stylish and kind, and to my surprise I could communicate with her pretty well! I found out that we're both 20 years old and juniors in college. She took us all around the city of Hikone and though I couldn't tell you how to get to all the places we stopped at, it was nice to get out and see my surroundings. I also didn't take any pictures during the tour because I was enjoying the experience too much, but I do have pictures of what I bought.

Can you spot the horrible etiquette in this photo?
After taking us past Lake Biwa and the Beisia supermarket, Chie led us to Shiga Daigaku and we ate at a cafeteria there. I got 冷やしうどん (hiyashi udon), a tofu side dish with spicy vegetable curry, and some cold tea (although, I think the tea was free). I paid ¥315 ($3.14) altogether, and all of it was delicious.

Afterward we did some more riding around and went back to Beisia, where we were supposed to buy groceries for ourselves. I didn't know that this was part of the schedule and I didn't know what to get, so I only bought a few things: a pack of 6 navel oranges from California, Lipton lemon tea, mixed nuts, microwave "bibimbap", and cream stew. It all came out to be ¥1,020 ($10.17). The oranges were ¥398 alone, which is a lot more expensive than at home, but it wasn't so bad. The tea isn't as sweet as its American counterpart and has a slight aftertaste akin to a lemon-scented Pine Sol, but overall it's pretty good. There wasn't anything different about the nuts. The imitation "bibimbap" was decent. Unfortunatley, I realized that what I thought was an instant cream stew is actually just a big ol' package of flavoring. So if I ever feel like bothering to actually make stew myself, I guess I'll use this so that buying it won't have been a waste.

We came back from the bike tour just in time for me to rush to make my home stay interview, which went pretty well. I went back to my room and passed out from about 5:30pm-9pm, got up to study a bit for my placement test the next day, and then went to bed at 12:30am.

Overall my first full day was tiring but eventful. Check out part 2 of this recap!

70 Days in Kansai photos

Monday, June 3, 2013

70 Days in Kansai: I made it!

Good morning, everyone! It's 8:04am (Tuesday 6/4) in Japan right now. Just wanted to let you know that I made it here safely. Thanks for all your well wishes. It was dark when I arrived in Nagoya last night, so I couldn't really see much on the ride to Hikone. But I woke up this morning and was pleasantly surprised to learn that I can see Hikone Castle from my room! All in all I'm still a little nervous about this whole experience, but I feel a lot more ready than I did yesterday. I'll do my best. 一生懸命がんばります!Pics soon to come (see link), more blog posts to follow later. Once again, thanks for your prayers and well wishes. God bless y'all!

彦根城 (Hikone-jō/Hikone Castle)

70 Days in Kansai photos

Saturday, June 1, 2013

Kinky Twist Hypocrisy

Confession: I tend to side-eye women who wear fake hair in their heads. This means hair that didn't naturally grow out of their scalps, be it human or synthetic. I did it once in 2000 and another time in 2004, and I hated the process and result both times. I've never understood why women did this to themselves or other women and girls. Can't you work with what you already have? Don't you think it's a little weird to have someone else's hair attached to your scalp? You sat in a chair for 10+ hours and paid $130+ for that? Doesn't it weigh your head and neck down? Doesn't your scalp itch? Who are you trying to impress? It's obvious that it's not real, so why would you want to look like a fraud? Why? What's the point?

So as I sit here in all my hypocrisy with all my phony hair, I have to admit that this looks really good on me. I still don't like the idea of wearing hair that isn't mine, but if this will save me from 10 weeks of hair-related distress, I'll take it. 10.5 hours and $150 well spent, if you ask me.

1 more day until 日本!