Friday, July 31, 2009

Sayonara Japan

Well, I leave for the airport in an hour. I don't think I need to say again how much fun I had and how much I've learned.

Don't worry Japan, I'll be back.


Thursday, July 30, 2009

Things I've missed and am looking forward to...

  • my family
  • my friends
  • Oxy
  • Dexter
  • the other pets
  • skim milk
  • pizza
  • Rose Bowl
  • understanding the language and not having to guess what people are saying to me
  • being able to predict the weather fairly accurately
  • not having to pay so much for transportation
  • being tan
  • not the heat though, I think I prefer humid, we'll see

Things I will miss...

I've lived here for five months, so of course I've taken a liking to some things and will miss them when I return to the Land of the Free. There are, of course, more things than I am able to list here and if I were to name them all you would probably die of dehydration before I could finish. Anyway, in no particular order:

  • My friends- I've made some great friends here and even though sometimes there are communication problems, they're really fun and my stay in Japan exponentially better.
  • My host family- they've become like actual family to me and I will miss them like family.
  • cheap karaoke
  • sitting on the train learning new kanji from the advertisements
  • neon lights
  • the conbini- for it's 24 hour service of delicious food, especially the inari, milk tea, lemon water, "turds", a large variety of bread products and candy. Thank you conbini for feeding me cheaply for the past 5 months.
  • cell phone charms- everyone from the youngest kids to the oldest men, if they have a cell phone, it most certainly will have a charm. A cute one at that.
  • The clear plastic brief cases carried by college students.
  • the size of novels, they're all small,thus easy to read on the train with one hand.
  • animated emiticons/other images used in cell phone mail
  • the unexplained joy I feel when the trains come to both sides of the platform at the same time
  • the music signaling closing doors on the Fukutoshin line, and the voice of the anouncer.
  • the train system in general.
  • old people smiling when they see me playing kendama
  • Japanese kids
  • sakura flavored food
  • vending machines everywhere
  • the signature sound of Kirin
  • Japanese tv (including commercials)
  • Foods: okonomiyaki, takoyaki, ohm rice, tendon, nikuman, curry (indian and japanese), yakisoba, my host mom's cooking, katsudon, spicy cucumbers
  • feeling safe all the time
  • Kichijoji and the bands that play there
  • Yamanote line
  • Kasumi and my favorite restaraunts there
  • TIU!
  • LOFT
  • UniQlo
  • Modern Design Tees
  • not understanding mostly everything around me, but trying to figure it out

Saturday, July 25, 2009

The Other Side of Tokyo... Living the Life of Luxury

I've been in this country for almost five months, but until this week there was a part of Tokyo hiding from me. If it weren't for my money-dropping, (apparently) sleep deprived, foot-aching aunt and uncle I would never have experienced it.

Day One
I spend the day souvenir shopping for my friends in Asakusa, which is more or less on the way to the airport so I decide to go meet Nur and Jeff. They weren't expecting me, so I was a pleasant surprise (I'm sure). The train ride to Shinjuku was a little long and uneventful but it was nice to be with them. From the station we took a taxi. We pull up to the hotel and the stewards greet us, calling Jeff by name. They escort us to the lobby and have our check-in paperwork elegantly displayed on a big desk. After 20 minutes of deciding what room we actually wanted (a bigger one that looks out both toward the east (Mt. Fuji) and south) we settled in.

Now this room is not like any hotel room I've ever been in. Huge windows, 43rd floor overlooking the city, a giant king sized bed (they put a "cot" in for me, granted it was the best bed I've slept on in months), large cabinet space for mini-fridge, tea and coffee sets, drawers and extensive alcohol collection. There was a huge flat screen tv, a desk-table and an arm chair, a dressing room with closet and a safe (for us to keep our products in...). Then there's the bathroom. The toilet seat was heated ( I loved it, Nur and Jeff weren't big fans, said it was too hot- then again they kept the room at 20 degrees Celsius), the shower shot water from three different places, all adjustable, and the bath tub was next to the window, looking out on the city. No big deal right?

Day Two
So if you were staying in a room like this you would want to spend a lot of time in it too, right? That's the idea we lived by for these few days. The first night I went back to my place and returned to the hotel in the morning. We had a buffet breakfast and went out to Harajuku and Shinjuku. We took the train to Harajuku, saw Meiji Shrine, walked down the shopping street and walked to Shibuya. We were minutes from the the famous intersection, but never made it there. We ate in a cheap restaurant and left unsatisfied, into the rain. Since I'm such a nice niece I gave Nur RoboSaru (my umbrella) and faced the rain uncovered. We found a taxi station and headed home. We got to the hotel around 4 and that was that for the day. Since both of them had become temporary crippled with a variety of foot ailments, I ventured to the conbini to buy a variety of Japanese snacks and for the second night in a row, that was dinner. High class enough for you? I kind of liked walking into, what has to be one of the classiest hotels in the country, with a bag of Coke and chips from 711. Jeff fell asleep around 5, Nur fell asleep a little earlier and I played on the fast wireless internet.

At some point in the day, as we walked back toward our room we spot Noel Gallagher from Oasis walking in the opposite direction down the hall. I see him and I'm 90% sure it's him, so I turn to Nur and she's in shock, barely able to keep walking. Definitely him.

Day Three:
After getting kicked out of bed really early (since they both went to bed at ridiculous times) we went down to breakfast. I had delicious french toast. We walked to the station to go to more department stores, because we had fun doing that the day before, but since it was still early nothing was open. We instead went to Shinjuku park and enjoyed a nice, random, rain and wind fiasco and a nice garden. After awhile Nur had gone into shopping withdrawal so we made it to the nearest Lush and bought some bath product. phew! After some poor experiments with another shopping center, we sat down for an Okononmiyaki lunch which turned out to be really fun. At this place we cooked it ourselves, so I pretended to know what I was doing and served up some tasty food (Jeff helped).

We took a hotel break for awhile, lounged, napped, watched more Mtv Japan, ate 6 fancy pastries and then headed to the New York Bar, then Grill for drinks and dinner. This time I wore flats. We had some ridiculously expensive drinks and Pig oil french fries and enjoyed the Tokyo night sky from 52 stories up. It was nice. Then they started playing some live jazz and we eventually sauntered over to our table in the restaurant. The food was delicious. According the Food Art rules I had to get an appetizer and a main entree and that I did. I had white asparagus tenpura with some kind of raw tuna followed by veal with herb butter (they both had much more elegant descriptions on the menu, mind you). Nur had tartar followed by a steak of some kinda and Jeff had some other fancy appetizer and a different steak. All the food was amazingly delicious, I was quite satisfied, thanks Food Art.

And then we just realized, bathed in bubbles and went to sleep.

Day Four:
Woke up early again and went down to breakfast. Today's breakfast was special, and no not only because I remembered to siv my tea every time I poured it. As we sat and ate, two men were seated at the table next to us. One had the same look as Noel Gallagher and a British accent and the other was a bigger guy. Nur and I joked that he was in the band and the big guy was the sound technician. Then a Japanese guy joined them and we said they were jamming together. Finally a woman came in and called her as the manager/ public relations. Sure enough, they talk about some cds and the van, blah blah and she pulls out a paper with "Oasis" written in big letters on the top. Talk about exciting. Nur and I are dying by this point and talking about it walking back to the room when we see Noel again, flirting with some Japanese girls in the lobby. If one time wasn't enough, Nur stops in her tracks, mouth gaping and hands flailing. Could you be anymore obvious? We look up the band online and find out that the guy we were sitting next to was Gem Archer, the guitarist/harmonica player of Oasis. Mr. Archer, we know what you had for breakfast "Three bowls of corn flakes," as he had announced. That was exiting.

We took a cab to Shibuya because Nur was set on seeing the intersection. So we saw that and wondered the streets for awhile until we came to Tokyu, which is the Park Hyatt equivalent of a department store. This is where the fancy, ridiculously expensive stuff was, so we had fun looking around and buying pillow cases. In the same building was a market where we saw $50 cherries, a $50 mini square watermelon and all kinds of other overly expensive foods. It was fun. In the same building was a museum with an exhibit of eye-teasing art. It was interesting but there were too many people inside and it was not comfortable so Nur and I viewed, made it out of there and waited for Jeff while sipping fancy beverages.

After some hotel room recuperation we headed out to a conveyor belt sushi restaurant that a random lady had recommended to us the day before (which was really weird by the way). The food was good, it was cheap and it was fast. So we were back in the hotel and going to bed by 8.

Now here I am, sitting in an armchair on top of Tokyo, looking out at city lights, waiting to see if I can view the fireworks and typing a blog, while Nur and Jeff are asleep... at 9 pm. Oh the life of luxury. It's fine though. We've had a lot of fun and milked this hotel room for all its worth (which is a lot). Tomorrow they head out and I'm back to the guest-house life for my last few days in Japan.

I'm sure there are things I've forgotten to write, so maybe I'll add them in later, maybe you'll hear it from them.

Saturday, July 18, 2009

Nikko Trip

Thursday and Friday I went to Nikko with my friends Tomoki and Taka. It was a lot of fun. Nikko it north a ways in the mountains. It took about 3 hours by bus on the way there. We went with a special program that included the bus ride, one night at an onsen and 2 all you can eat meals, all for really cheap.

On the first day we rode down a river on a big canoe. It was so pretty! The area was beautiful, pretty much undisturbed nature. The canoe driver was really funny too, even though I didn't understand most of what he said.

We also went up the mountain on a ropeway. At the top there were monkeys! It was cool that they were so close, but it was sad because they were caged in. Their living space was really big, but was all dirt and rocks, no trees or grass. They were really accustomed to getting fed too. When Taka bought food they all flocked to her and tried to grab. There were a few babies too, which were really cute.

There was a nice path to walk to a big Redwood tree, but it was supposed to take 30 minutes, and we only had 10 before the last gondola went down the mountain.

There were 3 different baths at the hotel. They were all pretty much empty when we went (at least the womens' were, Tomoki said the mens' were full). Two were open-air, which was so nice and refreshing!

The next day we went to Nikko Edo Wonderland, which is more or less the Japanese version of a Renassaince Fair. It was this big village set in the Edo Period (1603- 1868). It was awesome! So much fun! All the workers were dressed up in traditional clothing, the buildings were old looking, there were lots of shows and displays. By the end of the day most people had gone home, so we were some of the only people still there. The workers were getting bored (as I would imagine, since some people's jobs were just to walk around). We played kendama with everyone we could find. One guy was so good! I learned a few new tricks. Everyone was impressed with my kendama skills, especially for only playing for about one month.

Nikko is also famous for the having the tomb of Ieyasu Tokugawa and some shrines, but we didn't have time to go to those. That's okay by me, I'm kinda done with shrines and temples for awhile.


Only 2 weeks until I go back to America! Weird! I think my mind is starting to prepare. I saw a car today the same color as the Camry and I thought "oh only 2 weeks until I can see him!" but then I remembered he's gone....

Nur and Jeff come on Wednesday! I can't wait!!

Monday, July 13, 2009

The giant Gundam in Odaiba is awesome. It was huge. Pictures to come.

Odaiba was cool itself. It's an island in Tokyo Bay, with a nice waterfront walk. At night the Tokyo skyline was really nice. To get there, we took a monorail which was completely computer opperated... cool!

I'm going backwards in time, but before the monorail we were on the Yamanote line and the train was stuck at shibuya for about 10 minutes because there was someone walking along the tracks somewhere so we couldn't go. Then, as they tried to catch him he disappeared! Weird.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

And yet another reason so love Japan...

In my house there are a lot of kids that are students at a language school nearby. I was invited to go play futsol with them, so I did. That's cool by itself, playing futsol with a a bunch of people my age from all over the world, all communicating in only Japanese more or less. The best part is.... the futsol court was on the roof of a building. It was a really nice facility, outdoor, surrounded by netting so the ball doesn't go flying 9 stories down. It was so fun! Yeah I was by no means one of the better players, but I definitely held my own. I was also probably in the best shape and lasted the longest out of anyone. It was so fun!

Friday, July 10, 2009

Being an idol in Japan is no easy task. Other than having to be attractive and cool, you have to be able to sing (at least well enough to be part of a boy band- which inevitably means you need to be able to dance), act in dramas, movies and commercials and then there are the photo shoots. I swear these boys must have photo shoots everyday. Every month, every teenage girl magazine is filled with images (accompanied by articles, interviews, blood types, boy measurements, etc) of the popular boy bands and stars (but really, just boy bands). Oh the price you pay for being a cool, good-looking young man in Japan...

I went to the Sword Musuem yesterday. It was really interesting, I some nice written material about the different kinds to swords, differences between them, differences between the styles of different eras, etc. and also one about how to care for a sword, because apparently the lady you gave it me thought I would need this....

My friend Alex emailed me and invited me to a baseball game with him and his mom who was visiting. It was pretty fun. We bought tickets at the gate and the seats were still really close and pretty cheap. The game was at the Tokyo Dome, which was awesome. The seating capacity was pretty low, but we were inside, so it's understandable. It was also nice because it was nice and cool inside, it was miserably hot and humid out. The game itself wasn't all that exciting. It was the Tokyo Giants against Yokohama Bay Stars. Giants won.
Interesting things about the game:
-unlike American baseball games, there is ton of cheering during the pitch. It was cool. The team at bat would make as much noise as possible.
-there were cheerleaders.
-there were girls wearing small beer kegs on their backs walking up and down the stairs selling beer. There were girls for every major Japanese beer: Asahi, Suntory, Kirin, Ebisu. Then there were girls selling tiny, shot-sized bottles of hard liquor. It was so strange.
-When a relief pitcher came on for Yokohama, the entire stadium erupted in cheers, which was very ironic since it's the Giants stadium. We think the pitcher, who was old, either used to play for the Giants or is a national baseball hero of some kind. He got flowers after his inning.
-The last few innings, the Giants crowd was cheering for Yokohama, again... We couldn't really figure out why, maybe they just like a good game?
- Outside the stadium was a horse betting place. Outside of this stadium was the dirtiest place I'd ever seen in Japan. There were newspapers (with race results) and betting ticket stubs EVERYWHERE. It looked like New York (not that I've been there, but that's what I imagine New York to look like).

Monday, July 6, 2009

And so begin the solo adventures....

Friday night was my birthday party, maybe the only 21st birthday party that did not involve alcohol. Some of my good Japanese friends and I got gyoza and then went to karaoke for 3 hours. It was awesome. I got some gifts too. A big multi-picture picture frame and a card from my freshman friends. My other friend got a frog-head shaped clock and a kids book in japanese so i could practice.

The train ride home was something else. There was an accident on my line so I was waiting on the platform in Ikebukuro for about 40 minutes. While waiting I saw this guy across the tracks passed out laying on the ground. While I was watching I saw 2 people take pictures of him, 3 people laugh after looking at him and only one old guy ask him if he was okay. He still managed to jump up and get on his train, impressive.

Since it was around last train time there were TONS of people and they managed to get probably most of us on ( i don't know for sure because I was so squished i couldn't see anything. On the platform while we were waiting this young pregnant lady, from nepal ( I think that's what she said ) started talking to me. She said I didn't have the face of an American and I reminded her of a friend from home. Huh... Anyway, I felt really bad for her because she was pregnant and getting knocked around, but there really wasn't anything to do about it.

On the next car we heard some loud shouting after the first stop, later I saw puke all over the floor in the car... possibly related?

Saturday after swimming, doing laundry and studying some kanji, I headed to this area of Tokyo called Shimokitakawa. It's pretty close to where I am, which is great because I loved this place. I was reading a blog about music clubs and I came upon this club called Club251. I think in that blog it talked about this place having the highest percentage of guitar ownership in the country or something, he could've been making it up, but if it's not number one it's sure up there. Everywhere you look people are toting guitars or some other instrument.

There was a show at this club, so I thought I'd check it out, but I didn't end up going in because you needed to the ticket beforehand. I didn't really have a back up plan, but that's okay because I was really excited to wander the streets of this area. It's awesome. There are tons of clothing stores, vintage stores, cd stores. I wandered for about 3 hours, bought some really cheap used cds. I was amused by the 100 yen baskets at the cd stores that American cds like Hanson, Bush, Garbage; I guess 90's music isn' that popular here anymore...

There are also tons of street performers, especially by the station. One group was this guy on guitar and another guy sitting on some kind of box and he was hitting it. It was drum, duh.. but a kind I've never seen. It was really cool. They have a real show later this month, so I might check it out. There was another guy who had an array of manga set out and you could chose one and he would read it to you, doing different voices for the different characters and such. It was really cool. He was a funny guy (funny looking too, kinda reminded me of Charles Manson).

There was another guy playing acoustic guitar that I watched, it sounded like he had a lisp while he sang, it was amusing. He was good though. A guy came over holding a baby, the age right after learning to walk. He put the baby down and the baby started dancing to the music. It was so cute!!!!!!! I started laughing out loud because of how funny and cute it was.

All in all it was a very successful, fun night. I hope I find more places like it.

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Adventures in Babysitting- My Parents in Japan

The moment I met my parents at the airport our roles reversed. For the next week I served as:

-interpreter (which was really difficult since my Japanese is barely good enough to get by on my own in normal situations- and they may have thought I knew more than I do)

-tour guide (often of places I hadn't been to before)

-navigator (thank god for my sense of direction and ability to read maps, because apparently they left those skills in the US- despite thinking they knew where they were going half the time)

-food suggestor (so my dad wouldn't eat ramen for EVERY meal)

-money payer (granted it took me awhile to get used to using Yen too)

-and then there was the task of keeping them from hitting, teasing and quarreling and getting lost. At one point I considered buying those leashes for children so I wouldn't lose them in the train station.

Other than acting as their parent for most of the trip (or maybe because of that) we had a really good time. It started out kind of rocky, but once I started warming up to them again it was time for them to leave. Although it was a short trip we saw a lot, experienced a lot and for the most part avoided bad weather (by bad weather I mean rain, ask my mom and she'll say the only good days were the days it rained, not a fan of the hot humid).

The highlights:

  • Kawagoe: walked a lot, probably more than we should've, but we saw some cool things. They saw my school (which, low and behold is a college more than one buidling, because apparently those exist) and met some of my friends. *First instance of Japanese men telling my in Japanese that my mom is cute. We also went to karaoke, which they LOVED. Not only was it a lot of fun and cheap, but it we were in air conditioning for 2 hours.
  • Kyoto via Shinkansen. Walked the Philopshers Path from our hotel to Ginkakuji. It was really nice. * We were talking to a rickshaw driver and he told me in Japanese that my mom is cute.

  • Ate some good rame and introduced them to Okonomiyaki, which they loved.
  • Nara- rented bikes, almost rode in the completely wrong direction (until I took control of the situation), saw deer, had the potentional of seeing my friend Jeni who was also in Nara, but we missed each other, saw the Daibutsu (Big Buddah), bought a whole bunch of Omamori and went home.
  • Back in Kyoto we saw a rock garden that just wasn't that cool and discovered bus travel kind of sucks.
  • Finally back in Tokyo, we went to Akiba where my parents were so close to buying a new camera since their's is about 7 years old and the size of a small child. We ate at the Doner Kebab truck and my dad spoke to the guys in Turkish, which was cool.
  • MY BIRTHDAY! We went to Meiji Shrine, which was a fam favorite, went shopping in Harajuku and Shibuya (which I enjoyed...). We had plans to go to the Park Hyatt Hotel in Shinjuku because at the top is the New York Bar, featured in Lost in Translation. I mean, this just turned into a ridiculous fiasco. We got lost... twice (at least), ended up at the wrong hotel... twice and walked at least 4 miles. When we finally arrived at the bar we get turned away because there's a dress code.... you can't wear flipflops. gah. At this point we were all hot, sweaty, tired, hungry and thus... cranky. We decided to go down to another bar in the hotel, on a lower level, so not as classy right? Too bad one drink was an average price of $20 and it was a cloudy/hay day so the view sucked too. Needless to say we didn't go there and settled for some Chinese food and a a taxi ride to the station. We bought two pieces of cake and ate them at the hotel, then went out to Hub Pub for a drink. *A very drunk Japanese guy started waving at my mom, she's just too darn cute.
Today we checked me into my new room and then I took them to the airport. It was sad to see them go, but I'm really glad they came- they brought me cookies and candy. We had some fun too I guess...

End of JSP

So at some point I must've walked through a time portal and skipped a few weeks here and there because the past 4 months went way to fast to be normal time. On the bus ride to Narita Airport, (for most people it was to go home, but I was picking up my parents) we were remembering our bus ride FROM Narita the second day in Japan and it felt like it just happened.

I didn't realize how much I enjoyed my host family until the last week, especially the last few nights. We took some family photos which was fun in itself. They gave me a copy in a big frame, on which they all wrote me a message. I love it. They also got me a Japan National Team soccer jersey... score. I was so sad when I was walking back to the house with my parents. It was the first time I had to hold back tears. It was so sad thinking that I wouldn't be walking home there everyday. aw. I will see them a few times before I leave for America though.

I've made some amazing friends. I wish I had been better friends with some of them earlier on in the semester, but it's okay, we have the rest of our lives to be friends. And I feel like the JSP kids are friends I will have forever and I will want to keep in close contact with. It was such an amazing adventure we experienced together and we made countless good memories. It's sad most of them are so far away now...