Friday, December 26, 2008

Heading Off to Tokyo In... an hour and 30 minutes.

As the title of this post says, I'm going to Tokyo for 5 days (or six nights or something like that), from tomorrow when I arrive in Shinjuku station (the 26th) until when I arrive the morning of New Year's Day in Kobe. From there, I'll head to Kyoto with my host family. It's been a trip I've been planning with my Brit friend Joe for quite awhile, so I'm really looking forward to it, I've heard so much about Tokyo and I want to map the city out for when Katie may visit in the summer. We'll hit up all the big districts: Shinjuku, Shibuya, Harajuku, Rippongi, Akihabara... and on the last day visit Yokohama and meet my good friend Wakiko and try to hit up Chinatown and Mirai Park. The days are going to cycle out as going into town and partying down at night before heading back home to spend time with Kohei's family (Kohei is Joe's friend whom he met in Sheffield and who is letting us surf couch) in a more traditional setting. This is going to be the fastest, wildest week so far, and I am totally ready for it. Just have to make it through the night bus first...

Anyway, Kohei's got internet so I'll be able to infrequently check for things online, and you can always email me at if you'd like to get a somewhat delayed and short email response (no, really, I'm more than happy to receive messages) back, but for the most part it sounds like we're going to be go go go go for this period of time. There will be lots of pictures and lots of stories to tell when I get back. I hope everyone had a lovely Christmas and I hope everyone celebrates New Years with the people they love, I'll probably be around on Skype New Years day when it finally makes it all the way back to America.


Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Hitting the... well, the 1/4 of the way mark.

Well, ひさしぶり、everyone. It's been a long time since my last entry... but I think that is going to change soon, for a few reasons:

1. My Japanese is most definitely improving. I'm guessing that about, oh, halfway through spring break I should be able to understand most of the basic things people say in speech in Japanese. I'm going to be frank here, I'm definitely not where I expected to be at this time. I'm learning quite fast by the standards of everyone who has studied abroad before- I think now it's just a matter of really keeping up with it and exposing myself to the language as much as humanly possible.

2. I'm not really struggling anymore as far as Japanese goes. I'm getting a system down. I was surprised, given how much everyone seems to whine about it, at how easily keigo came to me when we started going over the basics this week. It's really not that hard and actually helped me connect Japanese vocabulary a little better so that I had an easier time learning it.

3. I haven't really been homesick so much as had weird emotional waves since I got here. I'm really doing everything I'm suppose to- learning the language, making friends, exploring the country within the confines of the time limit I've been set, but when you have this much freedom for the first time in your life you can't help but get the feeling you're doing something WRONG. It was really hard to shake that feeling at first but now I really think that coming here was definitely useful for myself as a person.

AND to blatantly rip off a blog of a friend of mine's, if there is ever a day where I both want to write in my blog but nothing of any real importance happens (though thinking back, those days have been rare) I'm just going to write about whatever pops into my head. It's all going to be relevant.

Right, so... look forward to that. I need to fill this with content. And I will. There is so much here in this place...

A few little updates: My host family has contacted me again, and this time, to their surprise I could actually communicate mildly complex thought! The downside is, they weren't contacting me because someone in their family died. I am sure that they will explain how to apologize/ show sympathy or apologize/ grieve or apologize/ discuss the finer points of, death in japanese as it is spoken in japanese society.

Right, its off to Izumiya for the weekly buying of food and also edible things which have awesome packaging and don't actually taste very good at all (this is a common thing here) but certainly entertain me.

Saturday, November 29, 2008

Finding your place in so busy and so inclusive a country as Japan is hard sometimes. People group; not just in train stations or at restaurants, but people feel the need to group in Japan. This is not to say you can't get on by yourself as a foreigner; it's just not what is done. As a foreigner, you have one of two options if you are learning or have, to some degree, learned japanese: First, you can stay with your fellow gaijin in gaijin places that are catered to your tastes to make you feel comfortable (I've certainly done this many times and there is a good chance that I will do something like that again tonight. They just aren't real western places, just like chinese or japanese restaurants back home are not the same, and neither are karaoke places back home (though I hear Shokitini is pretty awesome). Recently a friend and I discovered a sports bar here with hamburgers that tasted like and resembled a hamburger from an American bar and grill, just much smaller. It actually had condiments out on the table, which was awesome. I think I appreciate these places a whole lot; I love Japan, I want to experience it in as many ways as possible, but I think that living in a foreign country for this long, you want things from home more than you want things from the country you are living in. It seems like it should be a waste of time but I don't think it is.

In a few other bits of news, I can't seem to get in touch with my host family via email... I wanted to see them a few times more before Christmas, but it seems that they are behaving in what seems is a typical temp-host family fashion; you meet them once, they decide they don't like you very much, and never contact you again. I suppose this is okay, because the only time I have time to catch up with classes/ socialize is the weekend, realistically.

In bad and then good news, the hostel I wanted to book for Tokyo to stay in is full up, but my friend Joe's friend may be able to accommodate us. We shall see how it turns out.

I'll be posting more tomorrow; I'm going to try to catch up and clean up tomorrow, and hopefully make some bean and cheese burritos on top of that.

Peace and love.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Wow, it's been a while since my last post. Things have been picking up very, very quickly... in fact, I don't have nearly as much free time as I initially wanted- either I need more downtime than most people or my classes really are just too much for me at the moment. I think I am getting used to the pace of these "intensive" classes. They amount to a chapter out of the book a day, which is around thirty to forty new words, their kanjis, and four to six pieces of grammar. It's fantastic for my Japanese, but destroys any and all free time since I am also trying to maintain an active social life while I am here.

I took another big trip to Osaka yesterday after a Friday night of Izakaya. I visited a few of the famous consumer districts of the city, bought the things that I wanted, and got out. This took around five hours, of course. Later on I ended up in a weird part of the city called "American Town" which was appropriate since I was with a bunch of Americans, but there wasn't really anything American about it. However, there was the first time I was openly accepted and received by Japanese youth on the street, which was pretty gratifying. At this point my Japanese is functional, and only that, so of course I couldn't exchange much with them. It's always a struggle, but I think I'm on my way here.

Anyway, I went home after the group I was roving around with decided it was club time, and barely made the last train back to Kobe after barely making the subway train from the south end of the city (Nanba) to get to that train. It was a pretty uncomfortable train, but it beats staying out all night. It's weird, how this party rhythm works here. In my college town, the bars close at 2:00... after this point, you wind down the night somewhere else and go home. Here, that doesn't exist. You either start drinking at 8:00 and continue until 5 in the morning, or you do the smart thing and take the last train INTO the city to go to these places. Like I said, I am trying to maintain a social life here as well as an academic one, and a happy medium hasn't really presented itself (living in Kobe, it may never do so, since I have to commute to Osaka) and right now that leads to not getting enough sleep, which hurts my schoolwork, and so on....

On the bright side, I found a Subway and what looks to be a fairly non-Japanized Mexican restaurant within easy walking distance of the main Nanba station in Osaka. Subways are all over Osaka, apparently, and of course the sandwiches arent quite the same and you can't get free refills BUT it actually tastes like a real sandwich and doesnt cost an arm and a leg. It was pretty awesome.

I would upload pictures from the past little while but when I tried to do that this morning my computer froze up. I've got a bit too much to do tonight to try to solve the problem, so I will see what I can do tomorrow night...

That's all for now. Hope everyone is doing fine.

Friday, October 31, 2008

Sannomiya pt 1 (of...)

Yesterday night was a confusing mess of social interaction. I always have fun in Japan at night, but I think after last night I have had my fill of karaoke...

Firstly, I had basically staked out the limits for tonight's dealie in advance: only certain people were going to be doing this with me, we were first going to go to some sort of residence-hosted party in Nada station (the first station east of Sannomiya on the JR line). Afterward, yesterday was my friend Matt's birthday, so I wanted to make sure I stuck with him most of all and buy him a few drinks for his birthday.

It started off without a hitch: Joe was with me, we went to the party, everything was good. I met quite a few people at the party, met up with a larger group of people who were going to a bar in Sannomiya. I haven't been there all that often to do anything at night, and what I did go to was a club I didn't like. Somehow (I am not sure how) people invited people invited people and six people turned into twenty-five or more. So this massive group went downtown and after ten minutes of standing around, I tried to split the group to go somewhere, but it inevitable reformed. Finally I took Matt and some friends (and whoever had decided at this point to hop on to our bandwagon as well) to a cheap izakaya so that this original bar-going group could do what they originally intended to.

Izakaya was good, and the people were nice, but the group was a big group of guys which is always weird... like, if a group of people has around six guys and four girls, its different. The group actually had one girl who largely sat. Her English was bad and my Japanese is pretty bad at this point, so there wasn't any hope for that at all. A Chinese friend ordered two strange things: Tako (Octopus) Wasabi and what he described as "chicken bones" but were actually chicken cartilage. That is probably the weirdest thing I have eaten since I came to Japan, and their texture was a relatively tenderized version of a rubber bouncing ball. Guh.

Perhaps the highlight of the night was drunkenly rushing through a store here called "Don Quixote" which I had heard much about but never entered. The place is four or five floors of discounted items, but arent placed in any particular order I could discern. I rushed around trying to find (surprise!) more alcohol for people outside but I got lost and actually couldnt find my way out of the store. Someone had to come find me in the labyrinth so that I could buy some melon chu-hai and try to make conversation in Japanese with the clerk. That was probably one of the most surreal experiences I have had since I came here. In fact, in that moment I achieved a state of mind which probably has been addressed somewhere in French literature with much more vigor and detail, but which I simply call "Raoul Duke on Ether." It was quite fantastic and I am looking forward to doing it again.

How was I able to get away with all this public foolishness you say? Read: using my gaijin powers for evil. See: Gaijin Smash.

That's just a good blog in general. Even after coming to Japan, I still maintain the guy at least appears a little too rude and apathetic for my tastes, but not that I am here, I completely understand what he is talking about around eighty percent of the time. It's actually kind of scary how accurate they usually are.

Well, speaking of parties, I'm supposed to go drinking with a load of French people tonight. I love French people; they usually have two social stages if they are the same age as you. Fake nice, and He's-not-an-unreasonable-American nice. I should add that if you start swinging a your American flag around without explaining yourself (for a Frenchman doesn't care if you are a patriot so long as you are not a warmongering jerk who always tries to talk politics with people as an icebreaker) you'll be stuck in a "pocket" nice stage wherein they will ignore you and try again to be nice once you've stopped bleeding hamburgers, apple pie, and pizza, screaming "MERICA" at the top of your lungs.

So these French guys and girls are fantastic. Alexi, the guy who took me to Osaka for the first time, will probably be there as well. Should be a good Saturday night, and also Monday is a holiday so I might head for Kyoto or Meriken Park here in Kobe. Who knows. It's a bit easier to just go with the flow here, but I have learned that you need to sort of group up at the start of something so as not to get lost in the ebb and flow of gaijin who will desperately cling to you in order to share tabs at an izakaya or karaoke place.

Once again,


Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Last Saturday I went to Himeji.

I went for Himeji Castle, specifically. I did it mostly because I haven't left Kobe very often since I have been here, and with the train system being what it was, I thought going to see one of the closest landmarks would be a good thing.

The day began somewhat early for a Saturday, and I saw a festival on the way to the train station:

It's a pretty good portrait of urban Japan, actually.

First, we went to a yoshoku (western-style) restaurant. It was good but like all yoshoku a little confusing. The food was part japanese, part american, and quite a bit of japanese-style italian mixed in. The walls were covered in pictures and old signs like a typical American bar-and-grill, but it was sort of... off. Our (Me, Yuka, and her boyfriend, Andrew) waiter was very friendly and engaging, though my Japanese was dodgy and broken as always so I did as best I could to entertain his fascination.

Himeji castle was fantastic, and my first real bit of old Japan outside of the shrines that I have found throughout Kobe city proper. The doorways were short for me, even for some of the Japanese, and after walking through it I am quite sure it would have been hard for someone to take the castle by force (though this was never tested). The trek to the Samurai's castle through the castle groups zigzagged back and forth uphill, so that attackers could easily be sniped at close range by archers.

This next picture was in the genkan slipper area. The genkan is the part of the japanese traditional household where one steps out of their shoes and puts on slippers so as to not track dust and dirt in the house and generally show respect and awareness.

Here are some pictures from inside the castle:

Woohoo! You know, the Jesuits inadvertently helped bring these to Japan. Typically Christian missionaries brought gun technology or it followed them through trade soon thereafter, their conversion intent be damned.

Typical samurai armor... but its real. I should be so used to images such as these, but they still amaze me because chances are these were really USED.

This was a little shrine, called Osakabe, at the top. I don't know why there was sake here, but I am sure there is a good reason. Anyone care to explain? Apparently a swordsman named Musashi Miyamoto haunts this place.

View from the shrine at the top. 6th floor, I think.

I don't know. I couldn't stay to read the plaque, since the place was starting to shut down for the day (we got there rather late).

This was the Hari-kiri place- harikiri is ritualized suicide to preserve honor in old japan- but Yuka told me it was never actually used. Still spooky that so large a place was dedicated to such things.

This was a well where a famous ghost story takes place, called "Banshu Sara-Yashiki." A servant named Okiku thwarted a conspiracy against the current samurai lord by a chief retainer. When the retainer found out that it was her fault, he stole one of the "ten treasure dishes" of the lord and she was tortured to death on the charge of missing the dish. The retainer threw her body into the well, and she is supposed to haunt it also.

Beautiful Japanese scenery. I have to say, Himeji has given me a taste of traditional Japan that I want to explore further, particularly what is there for me in the local area. I definitely want to go to Kyoto but from what I understand I may not have much longer before it just gets too cold.

I am signing up for a host family, so that should be good. I would visit them about 2-3 times a month and go places that only a resident would know about. It should be awesome.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Everyone Reading,
It's been a long time since my last post, forgive me. Time hasn't so much flown as been suddenly crowded with things that I need to do. Despite the fact that I am going to be here for a year, I am also aware that my stay here is limited. Everything I do is a wasted hour that I could spend studying, meeting loads of new people, and seeing Japan. I have waited until after this initial week of cramming for my first exam (which was over an entire book) in my intensive course.
The course (my language course) is every day from 8:50 AM to 12:30 PM. I have additional classes in the afternoon on certain days; they are a welcome distraction from my language course because that course is very fast, very hard, and very time consuming. This semester, until I really begin to develop a study rhythm, I donit think I will be doing much in the way of social events during the week. There are a few "circles" I will definitely go to (circles are like normal clubs in American schools- think high school art club, but a bit more dedicated, while the groups called "clubs" are actually like hardcore team sports) including Truss, which is intended to actually help other international students, as well as a karate circle and a hiking circle.
The most time consuming thing, however, has been getting used to Japan. Before I complain about that, let me say that I have no idea how anyone could expect to become fluent in a language without living in a country that speaks said language. It doesn't really matter how long, but you have to understand how life plays out on a daily basis to understand communication in any form, because that is what people primarily talk about.
Another thing to note about my particular frame of mind here is that everyone in my classes and in my dorm is older than me by three years or more with few exceptions. I have met alot of people but I think there is a big disconnect between people my age from 19-22 and people 23-27. I just haven't been living on my own quite that long. I don't really even have a solid reason for coming here beyond my own education and building myself as a potential employee or professional. Many people are on their last year in school and are looking for jobs here or they are research students. Then again... maybe that is just what turning twenty is. You start to notice this and the PARTYPARTYPARTY impulse is still there, but not constantly muttering in your ear like a lobbyist who needs to persuade you to do something but simultaneously needs to pee.
At any rate, this last weekend I went to Osaka for the first time. For those not in the know, Osaka is actually about 20-25 minutes away from downtown Kobe (Sannomiya) by JR express train. I went to Dotonbori, a shopping "way" in Nanba, which is sort of the south side of Osaka. While it is admittedly a little more run down than Umeda, the north part of Osaka, I didn't see much real urban decay aside from areas that alot of people use, which is normal for a city the size of Osaka.
Anyway, here are pictures of that:

We (me and my friend Alexi, a Parisian) actually didn't head down this street and went the other way. We had originally gone to Osaka just to go to Yodobashi Camera, where I bought my electronic dictionary. It was around $285 USD and was on sale, so I got a fairly good deal.

This is from inside the other side of Dotonbori. We went into here to, well, shop. However, unlike Athens, there are many, many other things to do in public during the day, so this is one of the few occasions where I intentionally went out to shop.

To anyone planning on going to Japan: Do not worry about ordering at restaurants. There are menus everywhere that you can just point to. Here is a typical storefront in Japan, especially at Western-style cafes and smaller restaurants not affiliated with chains like Fugetsu or Yoshinoya. Obviously you wouldnt get anywhere with NO Japanese, but you don't need to know much to order at a restaurant. Of course, I can't understand conversation a waitress is making 70% of the time, but I can get by with small talk and simple questions.

They've been advertising the hell out of Ugly Betty lately.

Nice mix of old, new, and the mass of ads that is commercial Japan.

Ah, Okonomiyaki. In Kobe, this is a staple. I know that it has been called "Japanese Pizza" before but I don't think that is really the case other than that, like with American pizza, you tend to eat it when you are hanging out with people.

Port Island, where I live at the moment. It sort of feels like its own borough, and is very quiet (except in the morning when advertising trucks drive past my window fgsfdsdsfargg!!!11)

Later that night I went to an izakaya for nomihodai. Both of these are very important terms, blog readers, and you will soon know them well: izakaya is where you rent out a room- I have had some like western style booths and like quasi-traditional Japanese rooms both, and order loads of food and drink and everyone foots part of the bill. Nomihodai is as much as you can drink for two hours. It costs around 15-20 USD. You have to be careful if it isnt a tabehodai (all you can eat) or nomihodai because while the food is cheaper than normal, that isnt very cheap by my cheap American college student standards. At any rate, that is what izakaya is in a nutshell.

This was an izakaya between exchange students from my home university and Japanese who had been on exchange there before. All three of the Japanese (Yuka, Akane, and Tetsuya) have helped me immensely both in the US and here, so I am extremely grateful for their help.

Tetsuya was my language exchange partner at my home university and I have learned alot from him, and he also picked me up at the airport and took me out for okonomiyaki, squid, and beer on my first night.

Yuka is amazing, I also knew her in the US and she sat through literally 2 hours to help me and my friend Shin (also on exchange to Kobe University) get cell phones and has run with me to the bank twice, couldn't be doing what I am doing without her.

Akane has dealt with all of the crap from the internet company because, as you know, I had to privately set up my internet. She also set up the izakaya ahead of time.

In typical Ryan fashion I apologized and praised them in spades during nomihodai. Praising people too much is actually sort of patronizing here, but all three of them think a bit differently from the normal Japanese, simply because they have been abroad and understand culture acquisition.

I had a great time but didnt really try to get into my cups until around the 1:35 minute mark, which was a mistake but probably for the best as I had class the next day (This was a Sunday night).

Yuka being awesome.

Umeshuu, otherwise known as "Nectar of the Kami." This is sort of a girly drink, but I am a foreigner so it just comes off as funny. If you get it mixed, that's okay, but I will make a note of it for the far future when I am hanging out with Japanese and actually speaking Japanese. Nevertheless, try some in America on the rocks as a sour, since in America the Umeshuu we have is particularly syrupy.

Tetsu and Chris. Chris is from my home university and is going to Kansai Gakuin in Osaka.

Akane, cute picture.

Yoshinoya. The Waffle House of Japan. Gyuudon (beef rice bowl) for only 3.50 USD. I have heard there is Unadon here (Unagi, or eel rice bowl) which would be fantastic but I have yet to find it on the menu.

A very familiar scene to anyone who goes clubbing or partying in Japan, I am sure. The trains close at around midnight everywhere and start again from 5-6 depending on how far out you live from a city. So, if you want to go clubbing late, you are going to be out all night or you need to live within 45 minutes walking distance of wherever you want to go. On the flip side, that usually means people stay to socialize in clubs longer.

So, that was last weekend. This week has just been class, class, and meeting some new Japanese friends at a circle in university (who I will probably go to karaoke with tomorrow after a school function (sort of) for exchange students tomorrow night.

Jaa, mata ne!

Monday, October 6, 2008

A Quick Post from "Media Cafe Popeye" an otaku media den whose walls are insulated with manga.

Hello hello hello everyone,
So... my first week was a pretty bumpy ride. My initial culture shock was sort of quadrupled by the fact that I had no way to contact my family immediately beyond pay phones. Admittedly, the office at my dormitory has done their best to accomodate everyone here- there is one (1) international payphone in the lobby that hates me and would accept my phone card but no numbers would work, not even local ones. There was no internet, which was sort of a surprise for me because I was banking on having video skype as soon as I arrived. I was pretty pissed off, actually, because no one warned me about this... this, and everyone who actually lives on Port Island apparently hates this dormitory because most of the students are idiots and blast music at 4 in the morning while drinking.

Money works weird here. I was forewarned, but I wasnt prepared. Its hard to keep track of money; It isnt that my spending is out of control, its that so much of it is lost to change, but then you NEED the change to get on trains and work vending machines, which are everywhere, but I am trying to avoid that habit or else only get juice or water from them.

A grab bag of observations before this hour runs out:

- all of the guys here dress very effeminately. Upon reflection, guys in the states nowadays who are somewhat wealthy and fashionable also do this, so whatever. I am not sure how to explain this, but I think it is an interesting, is somewhat frivolous, quality of life here.

- ordering food is the hardest part of being a foreigner, but here models of the food in a restaurant are displayed outside and you can just point and say *kore, onegaishimasu*

-I have so many freaking 10 yen pieces. I have at least 500 yen worth. Even if I get a drink with this every day, the amount would exponentially grow. I must be missing something here, so feel free to explain.

That`s all for now! I will probably update again tomorrow with pictures, and I will update much more frequently when I get internet on the 22nd of this month (sooo far away, I just have to deal.

~Peace and Love

Thursday, September 25, 2008

About 5 days left

Studying kanji with a fury and focus as yet unseen...

Also good news- Kobe said they weren't sending me an escort to the dorm, which would have ended in me frantically scribbling on my Nintendo DS kanji dictionary in a feeble attempt to navigate the train system of Osaka, but luckily for me, I know Japanese that live nearby.

My friend Tetsu will be bringing me to port island and also has agreed to help me find a cell phone when I get there, which would have been a major pain since I have only a basic understanding of financial/ technical Japanese vocabulary. I'm sure I'd make do but having a native speaker present will certainly help.

Also, apparently Port Island (the artificial island I'm to be living on), is actually residence and corporate buildings all mixed up.

Here's a big map of the train system, I'll have to go from my dorm to Rokkodai station my train every morning.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

12 Days Left

I've brought my car into the mechanic again in preparation for... doing nothing while I'm gone. I had my brakes replaced this summer, then the front brakes started to screech, then the back ones. After a bit of google research, it looks like this isn't uncommon in replacement breaks as they are made with shredded metal bits which like to make loud screaming noises when applied to spinning rubber wheels. Hopefully this will be the last time I have a problem with the car, as I certainly won't be able to bring it into the mechanic again before I leave... I'm hoping I won't have to replace the rotors.
Mechanic just called. Totally replacing the rotors. I don't even need this car for the immediate future, which is what irks me about getting repairs done for it. I'd rather not have one at all.
On that note, on to a place with actual developed group transportation... well, I guess my college town has a developed bus system that runs just about everywhere on time. But I suppose I'm talking about America in general.
So I found out that my university in Kobe will not be sending me an escort to the airport... so I will do my best to ask directions in broken Japanese... I can listen alright to Japanese, so receiving the directions won't be a problem. We'll see if I get lost or not. I guess this is the first in a series of adventures that would be made easier if I wasn't only a first-year student of Japanese.
I have a going away party on Saturday, which should be fantastic because Nihonjin + Amerikajin+ Osake= fantastic time. Balloons are also a well-needed ice breaker for the Japanese exchange students coming. I'll explain:
I've noticed Japanese (this probably applies to most foreigners, but Japanese are self-admittedly shy so as to be polite) get really nervous around rowdy westerners (like I can be while inebriated, or maybe it is just me in general) but any sort of non-verbal activity is pretty much the best way to bridge the gap. It can be simple and stupid, but I think in a party situation, alcohol isn't just quite enough. If you want to have fun with someone from another culture, you've got to have some common little pool of amusement from which to launch oneself.
In the first of a series of "drinking meets" or Nomikai when I started to hang out with the exchange students who had come to UGA (most if not all of whom we met through the enigmatic Wakkiko, who I had met here in Athens during the spring and my friend Nick had met in Yokohama, and who is on exchange from January to December rather than a traditional school year like most exchange students) we blew up a bunch of balloons and drank. It was a surprisingly good way to get comfortable. Obviously, this sort of thing could come of forced and trite, but it worked pretty well, I think.
Above everything, having Japanese around to laugh at my language BEFORE I am in their country is a welcome asset as this seems to be what disrupts the purpose of many an exchange. If I had done an exchange to Germany in high school when I was learning German, it would have been different; I took three years of it. With Japanese, I have a level of education at level with a kindergartner or first-grader in Japan, minus an early life of speaking it as my native language. If you think about that, it's not pretty. So I guess the idea is that I should move up to about fifth or even sixth- grade level of language skills in a year stay, and graduate college with a few shades under a high school education's worth of Japanese. I hope I do that well, because when I get back I'll probably be placed in fourth-year level Japanese classes, and after that there isn't much else I can take. Of course, by then I should be able to keep up my language skills by reading moderately simple fiction or internet sites.
But until then, it's ここはどこ?私はだれ?

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

20 Days Left until Kobe

It's coming down to the wire here, and my Japanese is, at the least, someone utilitarian. In the very least I can respond to "Amerikajin desu ka?"
"Hai, Atoranta kara kimashita," and all the typical foreigner questions which is the most I can hope for after only a year of Japanese. Even still, it HAS been a full year since I began, and while I definitely see how I'm above a first-two-months student, I've got such a long, long way to go. The problem with any language at this point is choosing the way in which you want to learn it- a pedantic, scholarly way, a polite, business-etiquette way, or just the normal way. It's pretty much impossible to learn the normal way to speak a language without actually living there, so, huzzah, my path is set.

That's all I really wanted to post about today.

As for whats just going on:

I'm still working at Choo Choo's Express, a restaurant that serves a schizophrenic blend of Korean and Japanese ethnic food. It's passable fare, but the people are nice and I've never had any problems with the place as far as work is concerned. I don't want to work a restaurant job again but the management at the place is my sort of atmosphere. Plus, I got to say, I like my bosses. They are stereotypical Asian bosses: they'll reward you and help with whatever you need if you're a hard, dedicated worker, and that's the kind of worker I am.

Katie says I've been studying too much- that I'm going to Japan for the whole purpose of learning a language, so why waste time on this? I agree to a certain extent, but I don't want to just stop and have a basis to be nervous in conversation. That itself would defeat the purpose of this trip.

So, I've decided to socialize and learn English in the Japanese fashion- drinking with Japanese and pretending to be drunk, so that they let down their, er- etiquette shields. This is a cultural fact of life over there- if a boss wants to know the progress of his employee's project, he takes him out drinking to get a straight answer. Alcohol is just a great excuse to be socially forward in a reserved culture such as that of Japan.

I guess I'm out of writing energy. That's all for today.

Wednesday, April 9, 2008

Ikea'd Port-Liner

So, one of the trains that I'll be taking to university every morning is called the Port-Liner.

Ah yes, I should mention that I'll be living on the artificial Port Island in Kobe- which is constructed on "reclaimed land," the first of two in Kobe before Rokko Island. It houses, among other things, the Kobe National Airport, the Ueshima Coffee Company Coffee Museum and, well, shipping stuff as indicated by its name.

The Port-Liner is an AGT, or Automated Guideway Transit system. It was the world's first AGT when it opened in 1981. It runs from Sannomiya Station (the main hub of Kobe) to the Kobe Airport.

At any rate, IKEA decided to deck the Port-Liner out to promote a new outlet being opened on Port-Island. Unfortunately, this craziness only lasts until May 6, far before I arrive...

I still have to dig around a bit, but I'm guessing that Ikea putting an outlet on this island means that Port Island is a bit more than just an industrial/ residential area as I initially suspected. And judging from a Google Map picture, it is much bigger than I expected.

I'll be snooping around for more Kobe news.

[source : pink tentacle]

About Me

Hi there!
I'll use this space to briefly introduce myself to readers (who I imagine will initially consist of family and friends). I'm hoping that this whole blog will serve such a purpose in the future, so this will be short.
I am an undergraduate college student at a fairly large American university. I have only studied the Japanese language for about a year, which I am told is about enough to carry on a shallow conversation about the weather with someone from Tokyo. I plan to go on exchange to Kobe University starting mid-autumn to study the language, culture, and particularly the media of Japan.
What do I want to do with this time spent over there? Well, above all, I want to reach some moderate degree of fluency. What do I want to do with that? I have a few ideas, none of which I can really access at this point in my education or professional career. Secondly, as someone who hopes to plug in to the worldwide information scramble of today, I want to seek a worldwide perspective on modern events. To me, Asian and Afican countries in general represent the radical "Other" to the West. They have mostly been ignored or squelched by America until this point in world history, when economies and world politics have accelerated toward interdependence and confused conflict.
Japan is an entry point into Asian culture and thought for myself. I wish to one day travel throughout the continent- Korea, China, Vietnam, Russia, and India are all on my list of places to discover and report on. For now, I await Japan.