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!

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