Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Live Each Moment

Hypothetically if your day of death could be accurately predicted, I imagine that feeling is comparable to what I am going through right now. Its not that I'm depressed, I guess it is just looming. A confusion of emotions...happy, sad, excited, nervous...

I think it is like growing up. When you are young, you rush through life. Its not till you really realize how fast time goes, and accept that you won't be living forever, that you appreciate how special it really is.

Long trips are this way for me. At the beginning is is whatever; weeks, months sound like so long. But when there are only days left I freak out. Theres always so much that I wish I could have done.

This isn't very clear, but neither are my thoughts and feelings...

I fly home Sunday and each day that goes by makes it feel like the beginning of the end. It is only complicated by the international nature of this program and the people I have met. Friends, acquaintances, people I see on a daily basis are not only from the US and Japan, but from all over the world. Ya we may all come back to Japan at various times in our lives, but it will never be the same group of people at the same place at the point in our lives that we are now.

It takes extreme situations like this for me to realize the real value of seemingly ordianary days. I do hope we all meet up again, but it won't be the same as it is this time. We won't be the college students we are now. Maybe our favorite bars will have closed, or we maybe we'll be too old to go karoke. There are probably people here who I will never see again.

I wish I could freeze time for a day and take a snapshot of the last four months.

I guess this goes for all situations. It will never be the same next time. Live life in the moments.

Don't be sad its over, be happy it happened.

Sunday, July 26, 2009

More Notes...

"The Wakatake World"
new food court
"no it couldn't have gotten any worse than that..."
bro/sis 180 degrees of difference

Thursday, July 23, 2009

The End (almost)...

I cannot believe how fast my time has gone here. In less than 12 days I will be on a plane home...I really have mixed feelings about this one. As much as I want to go home, I wish I had more time.

One of my friends wrote on his Facebook status, "please don't make me go..." He's only here a semester too, but from what I've heard, even a year goes by fast. I felt like that comment really captured the connection and attachment that a lot of us have with Tokyo and I guess Japan in general.

I've been trying to quantify how much I've grown, how much better my Japanese is, how my perspective has changed, etc. But I think stuff like that is impossible to really measure...But at the same time I find it funny...

Right now my brother is here, staying at my dorm. Its his first time in Japan, much less Tokyo, and he hasn't taken Japanese since high school. It makes me laugh because I am the one doing the translating (or rather rough translating). I find it ironoic because the first couple of weeks I was here, the position that I have been delegated was filled by Travis. He taught me how to buy train tickets and navigate the crowds. He would find good restaurants, the shops we wanted to go to, and make suggestions for sights to see. Things I seem to take for granted are hurdles for my little brother. He always says, "I'm HAVING STRUGGLES!"

Today we went to Harajuku. I was able to find our way to the Atmos store (which is off a side street and located among a bajillion other small boutiques), ALL BY MYSELF. Haha, I've only been there twice. Then we purposely set off in the right direction to find a Lawsons, then Kiddy Land. At that point we were at Omotesando, so we went to an udon and tempura shop that Trav really likes and is really cheap. And back to the train station.

I must make a note that this is soo incredible because I am terrible at directions. I get lost in mall back home, BUT somehow I can get around surprisingly well here. It really shocks me! It is sad, but at times I feel like I know Tokyo better than I know Seattle...I had to text Travis my accomplishment! It was just that special, lol.

Idk what I'm trying to say...but basically I'm just wasting time so I don't have to study for my finals. Back to work now...

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Fuji: Reflection on Living

I was about to name this post the "Fuji Fiasco," but I realize today more than ever, attitude MORE THAN ANYTHING ELSE! shapes how people experience life. Let me explain...

A Japanese woman who lives in my dorm organized a Fuji hike with a tour group, so I automatically signed up (even though it was Monday-Tuesday, haha).

I went to ABC Mart in Shibuya, two days before the hike, to buy some shoes. I asked a sales person about hiking boot. It made me laugh because he automatically started giving me recommendations for Fuji. Haha, tourist alert. They didn't have my size in the cheap design...so I ended up getting a fairly expensive pair of ugly brown boots. I was speaking to him in Japanese and he said that there should be room for my toes to move. I couldn't figure out how to ask "how much room?", so I still don't know if they are the right size.

8 of us rode with a tour group on a chartered bus to the 5th base of Fuji. Monday afternoon we hiked up to the 8th station and slept a few hours in giant bunk beds. Woke up at 1 and hiked in the dark to the summit to watch the sunrise.

I was super impressed by the old Japanese people who were making the hike. I would say half of the people in our group were at least over 60. Fuji is made out to be a real easy tourist mountain from what I've read online, but I must admit it was not as easy as it is made out to be. It is not necessarily strenuous, but the terrain is rocky and it requires a lot of cardio endurance.

The view even from the 8th station is great at night. The lights from the cities below made us realize how high we already were. And looking up the mountain, all you could see was a path of people's headlights, the never-ending path up the mountain.

Along the hike, this was the first time I've ever heard Japanese people talking to total strangers. Where in the US, it is common to say hi to people you see on the street, it is not the case here. But Japanese strangers were greeting each other and saying "gambatte" (good luck/work hard). Almost all the hikers we saw were Japanese, which surprised me. However there were some foreigners, most who couldn't speak Japanese at all.

I think this would be a nice hike to take on your own, more so than in a group.

Surprisingly waiting for the sunrise was the hardest part of the whole hike. Walking up we weren't cold, because we were moving. But at the top the wind was blowing and the chill factor from the height was incredible. I had never been so cold in my life! At 4:20ish am(!) the sun lit up the valley. With the lakes, cities, and surrounding mountains, the view of the lush green was unbelievable. Lol, all I could think was that it reminded me of the "Land Before Time" movies :)

Hiking down the problems began. Taking pictures, fell behind a few people, but there were still four behind me. So I followed the crowd and apparently missed the fork in the road. It wasn't till I got down to the wrong 5th station that I realized what happened. Another girl from my down also was there. I wasn't too reassured though because the whole trip she was perpetually late and always complained. AND she couldn't speak any Japanese. So I ended up using a lot of Japanese today.

I asked around and apparently the two bases are really far (like around the mountain) from each other. It would cost about $100 to catch a cab there, but a souvenir shop owner suggested we catch a cab to the bus stop. So we caught a cab that was dropping off some ladies at the entry to the trail. We went to the bus stop the woman suggested and the cabbie got out to make sure we caught the right one. It was lucky he did because apparently the bus doesn't stop there during the week. He spoke to some construction workers nearby and they suggested another bus stop.

Not only was the girl I was with not paying attention (nor could she understand), but she bitched the whole time. When I told her we had to go to another bus stop all she said was something like, "Well why did we come to this one?!? And the taxi driver is just gonna charge us more to bring us to the other one!"

Not only was I paying for everything (because she only had $10!), but he didn't charge us for the extra drive! So $16 each for the taxi ride.

He confirmed with someone waiting at the bus stop that it was the right one. Then he looked up the time for the next bus and went on his way. At that point he said it was impossible to get to the base by the time our tour bus was going to leave. So I had no idea what we were going to do.

We caught the next bus, unsure if it was going the right way. I asked if it was going to the train station, but I forgot the name of the station that we had to transfer at...lucky we were saved again by a man and a younger guy who said that they went down the wrong way too. So we rode the bus together hoping to transfer to another one to take us to the place we needed to be.

The girl I was with was visibly pissed off. I honestly would rather have been lost by myself than with her. I had to translate everything for her and then she would just scoff at whatever was just said, it was terrible.

It was a nice bus ride, I must admit. We saw a lot of the area that I wouldn't have had to change to otherwise. The area around Fuji is gorgeous. Trees, lakes, rice paddies. Might as well enjoy it. Another $14.

When we got to the train station, I explained to the middle aged man who was helping us that we needed to get to the 5th station by 11. So he frantically started asking around for us. It was impossible. The earliest we could get there was 11:40 and there was no guarantee the bus would still be there.

I had the girl keep calling people in our group, but service is spotty at best up there. We didn't know the name of the tour group, nor did we have a contact number for them, since the woman in our dorm set everything up. So we couldn't reach anyone. It looked like we were going to have to find our own way home.

We figured we might as well wait, just in case anyone called us. So we waited.

The man who helped us out earlier had bought us water and wanted to make sure we were okay. He was really nice. The girl was in her pissy state, but I talked with the man for a bit and tried to get him to write down his name, etc. so I could send a thank you or something. He would only give me the name and number of his store. His friend picked him us and he wished us good luck.

Finally I bought tickets for the next available bus to Shinjuku. Only $17 each.

But while we were waiting for the bus, we got a call from someone in our group. They waited for 50 minutes for us, but were at an onsen in another town. The girl thought we should try to meet up with them, so I had to return the bus tickets. We bought train tickets and went off again. I really doubted we would be able to find them...

Got to the right city, didn't know the exact name of the onsen, but caught a taxi to one that we thought it was. Found out it was the wrong one. Walked to the hotel and got a lot of help from the people working there. I had to explain to the girl that it was the wrong location again. This time she let out a big sigh. Haha, I was fed up with it and finally told her to just be quiet. I was just like he's trying to HELP US! We got a name of a nearby onsen that it might be.

Walked to a nearby bus station and got directions to the place. They sold tickets to Shinjuku and at that point I was just ready to go home. I told her I was going to buy a ticket back to Tokyo. Had to loan her $30 more and finally I was alone! Today was the first time I had ever done anything with this girl, but I already know I would rather never see her again if that was at all possible!

I have always felt like life is what you make it. If you are pessimistic, no matter how good things are, they are never good enough. Whereas if make what you can out of every situation, it will never be as bad as it might be. Its the difference between appreciating what you have v. wanting what you can't/don't have.

The girl kept complaining on how much money we had to spend on transportation. But really did we have a choice? NO we didn't. If anything she should have been lucky there was anyone at all who could loan her money. There is no way she would have made it even to the train station with $10.

She would get angry when she found out we were at the wrong place for the umptenth time. If she was by herself, it was unlikely she would have been able to figure anything out. But at the same time she overlooked the help they were giving us. It was above and beyond what they were expected to do. It was time out of their busy days to help strangers. There is no point in directing your anger at them, of all people!

In no way am I trying to emphasize my role in this, but I feel like she doesn't even realize how much worse it could have been. I completely credit my return trip to the taxi driver and the man on the bus. I think it is soo important to demonstrate your appreciation, no matter how big or small. I hope the two men today realize how much their small acts of kindness meant to me.

Negativity breeds negativity and in the period from 9-2:30 I was fed up. Not with the situation, but how it was handled.

仕方がない (it can't be helped), so you just have to make the best of it. Today I practiced Japanese for most of the day, was understood, and was able to translate. Saw a lot of the city. Shared the experience with those who also went the wrong way (I was glad to know I wasn't the only one!) Realized the patience and kindness in people, even when faced with an angry foreigner and another who spoke broken Japanese :) And even at an extra $54 was the trip still worth it? Of course.

I learned more about myself and perhaps areas for my improvement too.

How do I want to live my life? I hope to always find the good in each day, no matter how bad it may seem. I want to be the person who can smile in the most dire of situations. I can only hope I am considered a grateful person. More than anything, I hope to keep my optimism and faith in others.

Today was a good day.

Thursday, July 9, 2009

The Other Side

As optomistic as the previous post sounds, I have absolutely reached my threshold for school. I cannot threaten myself, reward myself, or in any other manner get any self-motivation to keep on going to class. There have been rounds of good and bad for me, but I must admit that this is the worst it has ever been. I am stuck and can only pray for the next two weeks of school and then finals to be as painless as possible.

I've fallen asleep studying 2 times within the last 5 days, I missed class yesterday, and likely got a C (or worse) on a kanji test today. I don't know how to dig myself out of this one...

And no wonder the term has seemed long, not only am I in Japan, but my intensive class meets everday for 3 hours and I can admit that it has exstinguished my desire to ever take another Japanese class, EVER again! Sophia also runs on a semester that is 15 weeks, compared to the 9 week quarters that I am used to. Bleh.

I am excited and ready to go home, but not necessarily because of homesickness or issues with Japanese society. But rather, I cannot wait to be finished with these never-ending, unforgiving classes. I want to worry about things other than projects and papers, I want to wake up after 7:15, I WANT A SUMMER! I want to relax and I want to be finished.


I am working on an annotated bibliography assignment right now. It is a process of gathering 20+ sources, 1 page analysis of each, then an 8-10 page paper about all of them (how they are tied together, what they show, etc). It is due in 3 days and I can tell its gonna be a long weekend. However the sequence to events that have led me to this point have been surprising.

I initially chose to focus on the topic of returnees (Japanese nationals who moved back to Japan). The project is not a report, but rather a portrayal of how they are represented by different sources. I gathered 20 sources, not great ones, but I wrote the analysis for each. I wasn't that happy with what I came up with even though the analysis themselves took me about 10hrs (half an hour for each).

I went in to talk to my professor last week. I explained to him how the Japanese citizens who were abducted by North Korea in the 1970-1980's received a lot of media attention and they were accepted almost immediately, whereas regular returnees (who chose to go abroad) are usually discriminated against when they get back. At that moment I realized the potential in comparing the difference in how each group is portrayed. 11 days before this thing was due, I decided to totally switch the focus of the paper...

Over the last week, I found 10 new sources, analyzed each, and am now attempting to pull it all together in these last few days. For my own knowledge I was interested in this issue. Although it is kicking my butt now, at the time I couldn't believe my curiosity. It made more work for myself, but I felt like it was worth it, not only for the grade, but also for the sake of learning?! Haha, this is perhaps one of the few times I have felt compelled to not take the easiest way out.

The beauty of learning. This is one of the first times I have felt compelled to get as much as I can out of an assignment. Right now I just want it to be over, but I don't think I will regret this decision.

Sunday, July 5, 2009


A few friends and I took a weekend trip to the island. It was super quick, but such a nice getaway. When the plane was pulling into the Tokyo airport, it was funny for me to think how normal it seemed. Tokyo has become my norm. Still exciting, but normal. It makes me laugh. Who woulda thought? And my hometown had a population of 10,000.

I don't have time to do an Okinawa post justice now. The choices for time are getting harder and harder now. We hardly slept this weekend and got back Sunday late afternoon. Adventures, sleep, or homework? Balancing the three is becoming impossible.

I have exactly 4 weeks left.

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

I am Not Good at Budgeting!

Again, it seems as though I possess no money skills at all. I thought I was doing a great job reeling in my spending, but my bills and receipts tell otherwise. Epic fail.

When you travel though you really just hafta do as much as you can. And yes, it will cost money. But when you are halfway around the world, you might as well take advantage of it. If you can't afford it, don't travel. The expense is part of the experience and there's no reason to be cheap. Or that's what I've come to believe.

Every penny has been worth it. You can't buy memories like these. And I can't but to think that there is no better time in my life to be in Tokyo than now. Tokyo really is a city for young people. If anything I have gotten my money at the karaoke and bars. Where else in the world do they have all you can drink for $20 or less?

Can't believe I only have a month left. I'm gonna get the most out of it.


It is so interesting thinking about the conditions and choices that people made to get here. That sentence is a little confusing but consider these examples:

There is a man living in my dorm from Siri Lanka. He works at a computer company and has lived in Tokyo for over a year and will be around for a couple more. He is an engineer and was hired because the Japanese company had an international recruiting effort. He was explaining to me a project he is working on. It involves a portable hard drive, so that someone could carry something as small as a usb and then be able to run their programs/everything off any computer.

Another guy here is a bit of a nerd, but is from the states and started a job working for the Japanese government. He is white, but he passed the highest level on the national standardized Japanese proficiency test. He is now studying to take a national kanji test that is actually meant for Japanese people. I learned all about the alcohol taxes, etc from him, why you can get a bottle of skyy for less than $10 and the reason behind the different prices of beer.

Guy, from my Japanese class, lived his whole life in Manhattan. But five years ago, retired, sold most of the businesses he owned, and decided to move to Japan. He shipped his furniture and everything. I don't believe he knew any Japanese before coming. But he is totally happy here and loves Tokyo.

I met a few young (in their 20's) American guys that are working at Goldman Sachs in Tokyo. That just blows my mind.

But besides personal examples, I always wonder about the non-Japanese people that run their own restaurants, etc here...

It is always funny to me to be greeted into a restaurant or sold something by someone who is obviously not Japanese, but is speaking to me in Japanese. Idk why, it just seems curious to me.

There are a lot of kebab places here, actually a surprising number. Almost all of them are run by Middle-Easternish men, usually from Turkey (based on their flag decorations). Some Indian restaurants. And when I went to Thai Fest in Yoyogi park, there were a ton of Thai people that were selling food and produce from Thailand.

I can't help but think about the sacrifices and planning that it must have taken to get here. Not only to learn the language, but to establish a business, leave their family and everything they love about their country, and relocate and adapt to the ways of Japan.

That is a HUGE decision to make. It is so different than moving to the U.S., Britain, or Australia, where the whole country is largely multi-cultural and full of immigrants. Tokyo, as cosmopolitan and international as it is, still is hugely mono-cultural, etc. Overall people look the same and non-Japanese are so easy to spot. I always wondered what it would be to live as such a minority.

I give huge props to all the people who are able to take risks like this. Afterall, life is meant to be lived to its fullest.

The Future...

I've met a ton of people recently with MAJOR positions/internships in Tokyo. Friends of friends. But they are my age. A couple of guys working at huge financial corporations (aka Goldman Sachs, etc.) One guy from Hawaii graduated and works a 12 hr day here, salaryman at 22. HUGE first job though.

It makes me feel like I totally have no direction with my life. Haha, I hate the question, "What are you going to do after graduation?" Honestly I still don't know...and I graduate in December. It is scary and exciting at the same time.

Saturday, June 27, 2009

No More Excuses

The weather in Tokyo has gotten especially unbearable since last week. It is officially a sticky, hot, humid summer in Japan. Aka I easily get sweaty, grumpy, and sleepy...not a great combination.

But it is almost July, meaning I only have a month left. I can't believe it...

Time for some new goals:

1. No excuses: I need to back as much as possible into these last 37 days. No doubt I'll be tired and exhausted, but that's no reason to leave a party early. From now on I'm gonna be running on adrenaline and cheap (fake) coffee.

2. Go to class: For crying out loud, I need to show up to class. Being late is better than not making it at all. I can't afford to blow my grades.

3. Have as much fun as possible and make this experience memorable and worth it!

Wednesday, June 24, 2009


I feel like the biggest dumb ass right now. It's funny how something drastic needs to happen sometimes to snap you back to reality. And that's exactly what just happened to me.

I have been slacking in Japanese and my attendance has been terrible this week. Didn't go to class today or yesterday, and was late for like the 3 days before that. I figured, what the heck, I'M IN JAPAN. Class is everyday and I'm kinda fed up with it. I've already accepted the fact that I am loosing 10% of my grade between class participation and attendance, because between my weekend trips and other excuses, I won't be making it to 90% of the classes. So hafta forfeit that part of my grade. Alright, that's fine.

BUT I just RIGHT NOW realized that Sophia doesn't give +/-'s. SOOO A (100-90) is a 4.0, B (89-80) is a 3.0, and C (79-70) is a 2.0. Time to panic. That means I only can loose 10% of my remaining points in order to get a B, otherwise its a 2.0 on my transcripts! OMG. Crap. It wouldn't be too bad, but this class is 8 semester (12 quarter credits) and has the potential of seriously making a dent in the GPA I've worked 3 years for...

It's sad it takes this to make me care. There's no way this isn't gonna hurt. My 3.7 is history...

Time to put on the Bob Marley and start working.

Study Abroad - Classes = Perfect

As much as I am not ready to go back to the states, I just wish school was finished...

This is a testament to the fact that I always knew I would never be able to last a whole semester. Omg how do people do it? Seriously.

Leaving my place at 8am to go to Japanese class every morning, 3 hours a day, 5 days a week, for 3 and a half months = IMPOSSIBLE. I must look like the worst student ever. And there's a month and counting.

This is my last quarter of classes, so I'll let myself slack for now. I'm in Tokyo after all. I'd be happy with straight B's.

Short Phone Call

Today I woke up late for class, and instead of rushing to school, I decided to miss class so I could use the time to make a call.

I dialed my grandparent's house.

I admit I haven't really called home much. Actually I've only talked to my parent's once. And that's it. No one in my family is up late enough for the time difference that separates us. And I cannot even wake up in time for my morning classes, much less get up before then to talk before I leave. So this is actually only the second time I have actually called the states...as sad as that is for 3 months that have gone by already...

My grandpa answered and was quite shocked to hear it was me. After his characteristic quick words of greeting he passed the phone on to my grandma. "Hurry up Cora," I could hear him saying. "It's Laurel!" I could tell she was especially happy to talk to me. She eagerly asked me questions about Japan, my studies, and when I was coming back. We didn't speak for long, but it seemed to mean a lot to her that I called. I felt bad after for not phoning them earlier...

My relatives really made a big deal about this study abroad. I could never really understand until today.

I never realized what an impact one event would have on a culture. But from the second Pearl Harbor was attacked, a huge part of my culture died in my relatives. My grandparents were my age when they were interned. And because of that, almost no 3rd generation Japanese-Americans learned the Japanese language from their parents. Including my parents.

My parent's don't have Japanese middle names, but instead, Ann and Dale. My dad has not even traveled to Japan yet. And even my grandparent's have only made short trips here. We are not really in contact with any of my distant Japanese relatives and I truthfully don't even know what part of Japan my family's ancestors were originally from.

This study abroad is exactly the kind of opportunity that was not available to my grandparents or even my parents. Not only did they not have the money, but such a trip could pose a conflict of interests with their desire to be considered post WWII loyal Americans. With this realization, I know that I need to make the most of this experience. It took two generations for my family to not be ashamed of being Japanese.

I've met a lot of Nikkei jins (Japanese-Americans) here and it makes me happy that my generation is reviving aspects of Japanese culture. We are learning the language, traveling around the country, and filling in our understanding of ourselves. When I have kids, I hope Japan is not such a distant, foreign place to them.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Mornings Are Killer

Instead of catching up with sleep on the weekends, my philosophy now is that I can use the week to catch up from the crazy weekend. All I can say about that is...its not working out too well...as you can probably imagine...

Today I woke up late again for Japanese class. It was the third day in a row I got to class over 15 minutes late. I probably look like the worst student ever. But its gotten unusually hot and humid lately and there was no way I would have even been close to getting there on time unless I ran. And from yesterday, I decided getting sweaty and disgusting before packing myself into a train is not good for me or any of the people that are smashed against me.

Between getting late to class and missing it completely (for legitimate reasons, trips I have coming up) I am pretty sure I am going to miss out on my attendance and participation part of my Japanese grade. There goes 10%. But I really am trying, I swear.

I couldn't help but to think on my walk this morning, if attendance and participation is so important for the Japanese classes, Sophia should schedule the classes later in the day. Or at least not 1st Period!!! They placed us in housing, so the school must know that a bunch of exchange students live at least an hour away. It seems so counter-intuitive for them to schedule the Japanese classes (that are MANDATORY for exchange students) before lunch. Why first period? Lol, I'm proud of myself for making it to as many classes as I have so far!

Monday, June 22, 2009

To Do List:

There is so much to do, but for now I want to fit these in before I go home:

*Tsukiji Fish Market
*Miyazaki Museum
*Tokyo Tower
*Yasukuni Jinja
*Edo-Tokyo Museum
*Homeless Encampment
*Edo Castle

And eat monjayaki, whale, and blowfish...

Can't believe I still haven't done some of this stuff yet :( Am I missing anything?

Sleep Deprived (6/21)

For Sunday my friend bought tickets to see the Tokyo Giant's baseball game in their home stadium. But since Val was here, I ended up staying out all night Saturday. Since Thursday, my chances to sleep had been few and far between. Thursday, as I said before, I missed my train home, so only slept 7am-9am Friday morn. Friday slept 1:30am-9 and Saturday night was out all night again. So by the time I got home at 6:30am Sunday morn I was beat. By the time I took a shower, it was nearly 7am and I needed to catch a few hours of shut eye before meeting up with the girls for the game.

I set my alarms and passed out right away...

I woke up with a jerk. Next to my pillow was my alarm clock...not a good sign...Usually when I wake up to my alarm I turn it off and bring the clock to my bed to reset it for later. I don't remember waking up to it and I don't remember it going off and I don't know how it got to my bed...Maybe I woke up to turn it off and forgot to reset it! I freaked out.

The clock said 10:23. Was that AM or PM?!? And what day is it???? Is it Sunday still or did I sleep through the day!!!

My curtains were closed, so I couldn't tell if it was night or day. Or WHAT day it was for that matter. CRAP...maybe Kim has been calling me. What if they are waiting for me and missed the game? They had my ticket afterall...oh shit.

I checked the time on my phone, but again I only got the numbers, not the am or pm...I ran to my computer and realized it was 10:23 AM, SUNDAY. Wow that was a close one. Lol, no missed calls either. Haha I was only asleep a little over 3 hours.

I decided to stay up. So for Thursday-Saturday I only slept 12 hours.

Might as Well Be In a Soap Opera...

I feel like if someone taped all the relationship stuff that I've seen here, it could have the potential to be TV worthy. People would probably watch it just like another crappy reality show..."Gaijins in Japan: Trying to make their relationships work."

Just within the last two months. I've heard/seen so much drama go down. For instance:

An exchange student who proposed to his girlfriend, who is back in the states, when she was here for golden week. In that instant their relationship went from an "open" one to one with an actual long-term commitment. They weren't even officially together prior to the proposal.

A girl who just broke up with her long-distance Japanese boyfriend of 3 years. Strangely, happened when she actually moved to Japan and actually could spend time with him (I don't understand...). Then got with a German exchange student, who she raves about.

Another girl who broke up with her fiance, who is back home. But seems confused with which Japanese guy she should spend time with. Seems to be juggling a lot of them. Too many Japanese guys she met at the club. Hard decision.

And among others, an international couple, girl from Netherlands and American guy, who just got together. What do you do after you go home?

While I am surprised by this, perhaps it is to be expected. Its easy to feel lonely when you are totally away from your friends, family, and culture that you are use to. It's also nice to share an experience like this with someone you are emotionally close to.

Although the distance has been tough for me and Reese, I can't help but feel relieved that we won't have to make the kinds of decisions that these international couples will have to, when it is time for them to go home. For now, Reese and I don't have to debate what country to live in or what to do about us in the near future. We'll both be in Seattle till December at least.

Culture Shock: Self Hate

Whenever I travel I have huge reactions against my own "American culture." Just looked this up and apparently this culture shock coping method is entitled "utilizing the culture: totally adopting new culture and rejection own culture and identity." Idk if this is the right term. But basically I have consciously been trying to separate myself with all things that not only identify me as a gaijin, but also as an American.

I hate how bad this must sound, but most American's I've seen here are your typical otaku. Or at least at Sophia. Apparently Aoyama is different I have heard from Travis. I have seen the American stereotypes played out like no other here, lol in real people, in real situations. I can't help but think that many of the negative generalizations of Americans are not only possible, but seem to totally embody American tourists/exchange students.

I am usually really tolerant of people or at least not too judgmental, but here I have met a ton of people that I just cannot stand. The most obnoxious, spoiled, stupid, and just plain strange people I have ever met in my life I have talked to here. And sadly most came straight from the states.

Of course I know in my head this is just a mental exaggeration. And yes, there are normal people and actually really great people here too. I've met a number of them too. But that cannot hide the fact that I am despising the American part of my identity.

If I was here a few years ago, before Obama was elected, I might even be tempted to say I was from Canada or something, LOL.

This isn't to say that I love everything about Japan. But I am reacting in exactly the opposite way that I know a lot of the exchange students here are. Instead of resenting Japanese customs, practices, and expressing anger toward Japanese people and their subtleties (like I've seen a lot of people do), I look back to America and immediately see everything that is wrong with my home country.

What I hate about America (i guess these are the main ones)

*how much of an influence we have across the world (Americanization at its prime)
*how wasteful we are
*how ignorant Americans are
*how demanding, inflexible we are when we travel
*what a bad representation tourists are for the US

More notes:

Suuuper Japanese- matsuri, otera
Sophia-Nanzan Sports Fest
Antique fest
"Mental" documentary
Korea Town- Shin Okubo
Tokyo Dome- Giants
Ginza- street closed
Hayato NY

Class Participation- or lack there of...
Visitor Session-speed dating
bilingual fluency...jealous!

Grocery stores
commuting kids
department store-omiyage
undesirable jobs: how are they filled? girls (pre marriage) and old ppl?

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Reese's Extended Japanese Family

Yesterday I was invited out to dinner by Reese's family in Japan. Jenna just got here and is staying with them for nearly two and a half weeks.

I was anticipating this dinner for quite a while. My Japanese is still quite bad and I was mainly afraid of sounding impolite. I tend to speak casually on accident when I address my professors or pretty much anyone. It just slips out. And I feel like I am not well versed enough in Japanese etiquette in general. Val went with me before to pick up some omiyage. What should I buy? How much should I spend? How many people are going to be there? There were more questions than answers and more feelings of insecurity and nervousness than confidence.

How crazy is it that I'm meeting Reese's extended Japanese family?! His auntie, uncle, and cousins. Kind just blew my mind that I would be meeting them when Reese wasn't there to introduce me to them. Kinda makes me laugh. Its cute and surprising at the same time.

We met in Ginza and I got there half an hour to be sure I wasn't late. Really, really nice family. I felt at ease immediately. We walked around some stores there before going to the restaurant.

I met Reese's uncle, cousins, and cousin's wife (who's birthday we were celebrating that night) at the restaurant. It was really cute because they were deciding for a while where people should sit. Their cousin's wife was the guest of honor because it was her birthday, but they said that Jenna and I were also guests. Quite Japanese. Really interesting talking to all of them. The three cousins are all under 30, so it was interesting to hear about their jobs, hobbies, and lives. Especially since they are young and haven't been out of college for long. They are also quite Japanese, so I can't help but to think that their experiences are probably at least on some level fairly typical of the Japanese generation.

Ate some really interesting food too. It was yakiniku, but we had stomach (pork? i can't remember), liver (of some sort), beef sashimi (raw ground beef kinda, mixed with a raw egg) among other things. I tend to like "normal" types of food, lol not the rare, specialty kinds I guess. But it was good to try. I actually liked the beef sashimi a lot.

Valerie in Tokyo

One of Travis and my friends from Seattle has been studying in Sendai, Japan. Valerie has been here for a semester already and will be going home around the same time as us. We met up with her when we first got here. But she came down again this weekend.


We all went to eat Korean food in Shin Okubo. Its like a little Korea town there and there are some really great restaurants. Travis's friend recommended a Korean BBQ 食べ放題 (all you can eat) and it was unbelievable. Realized that is one of the first times I have eaten actual meat since I got here. Or at least hunks of meat as the main course.

Afterwards the three of us picked up snacks and alcohol and went to drink in Yoyogi Park. It seems as though a lot of people go to the parks to hang out on the weekends. There were people drinking, practicing dance, riding bikes, and skateboarding when we got there. By that time it was already dark, but was lit by street lamps. First time the three of us had a chance to talk for a while. It was really nice just to catch up.


Woke up early to go to Yokohama's Chinatown. Definitely the largest Chinatown I've ever been to. It was really weird because it didn't feel like we were even in Japan. And haha, at times we couldn't tell if people were speaking Chinese or Japanese. This was definitely the most Asian I've ever felt.

Ate at a kaiten dim sum restaurant. What a Japanese concept! Different dim sum dishes would come around on the belt, but you could also order what you wished. I couldn't help but to think that it is more efficient that way, rather than waiting for the food carts to be pushed from table to table, like dim sum is usually served. So nice to finally eat Chinese food.

Stumbled upon a parade with bands, lion dancers, dragon, flag girls, etc.

That night we went out to get drinks with Trav, Val, and some of their Japanese friends. Karaoked all night...i'm pooped...

The Series of Misfortunate Events (6/18)

Lol this was an experience...

Thursday I went to a concert with two friends. One of the guys was from Seattle and goes to SU, the other is in my Japanese class at Sophia. I was so excited because the concert was Shaggy, J. Holiday, T.O.K., Sean Kingston, Pitbull, Lil Jon, and Omarion. It seems odd to go to an American music concert, but the lineup was decent and with the student discount, we got tickets for half price.

It is hard to even explain the influence and prevelance of American artists and songs here. Pretty much any venue (retail, restaurant, entertainment) that caters to or tries to attract young Japanese customers will be playing mainstream English rap/r&b/pop songs. Its really quite weird. Its is very rare that they would be playing Japanese songs. Clubs I've been in so far have been dominated with the exact same songs, artists that you would expect to hear in the US. Anyway, so basically this phenomena is not as strange as you might expect.

The concert was crazy! We got tickets for the 1st floor and it was only standing. Basically wherever you wanted too. The first floor was packed. 2nd floor tickets were twice as much, but were seating. We got our tickets for $60, but standing was originally $120 and seats were $200. I couldn't imagine paying that much ever! We were just feet from the stage and could actually see the artists faces. Got our rasta on.

The concert started late and we lost track of the time. By the time we realized it, it was 11:20 pm! We needed to rush to catch our trains home. Didn't even get to stay for the whole concert.

We rushed to the train station and caught the train going back to Shinjuku. But just a few stops in it stopped. We waited on it wondering what happened. Turns out that was the last stop in our direction. Unfortunately we didn't realize it until a few minutes later and we started going back the way we came from!

So we had to get off at the next stop and transfer to ride in the right direction again, and then transfer again at the last stop. But the time we got to Shinjuku, my last train had already left. One guy was able to get home, but two of us were stranded.

I had already decided that it would be too expensive for me to go home by taxi or to stay overnight in a hotel. Kim had to stay overnight at a train station when she and her boyfriend missed their train coming back from Kyoto, so I figured worst case scenario, I might have to do the same. Japan is safe enough it isn't too sketch.

I know there are internet cafes that you can basically stay overnight in, but I really don't know Shinjuku well enough to even know what exit to go out. Frank and I decided to go to McDonalds or somewhere like that to crash.

We went out a random side exit where there were a lot of office and city buildings but not many restaurants/fast food joints. Somehow we were able to find a 24 hr McDonalds, get food there, and sit down. Frank fell asleep but I stayed up.

Our situation was made worse by the fact that it was a THURSDAY night and we had a Japanese TEST the next morning. There is no way we could skip class. At at that point, nearly 1:30 am neither of us had started studying for it...

Apparently at 2 am, they close the dining area. Lol, no doubt for people with the same idea as us. So we were politely kicked out. Where now? Lol still 3+ hours till the first trains run.

We decided to just walk back to the station.


There is a long corridor that leads to the station. It is totally covered and seemed to be a very popular place for homeless Japanese to sleep. It was dead silent as we walked down it. One of the saddest things I have ever seen. People, one after another, sleeping on either side for a ridiculously ridiculously long wide walkway. It probably took 20 minutes to walk through and there were no large empty spaces that didn't have people sleeping there. Some had cardboard built into little boxes to cover them as they sleep. Others were sleeping on top of a few pieces of it. Some had blankets, other didn't. Most had very very few possessions. Probably the direct opposite of the homeless bag people in the US.

We saw an old woman walking into the corridor carrying a single piece of cardboard. It was obvious she hadn't showered in a while, but the saddest thing was that she couldn't have been much older than my grandma. I nearly cried. Probably one of the hardest things I've ever had to see. I wondered how long she's had to sleep in the station. How old she was. What her life was like when she was younger. She was one of the few women I saw in the station that night.


Frank and I picked a place to stay and sat down against the back part of a staircase. We had some privacy, but in the distance I could see another group of homeless people. And another guy was sleeping a ways from us. Frank fell asleep, but I stayed up to study. I was fine with staying wherever, just as long as I had something to do. And lucky for me, I had my Japanese notes, homework and could borrow Franks Japanese books.

The police that was scanning the area and came over to ask in Japanese if we were okay. I surprisingly understood everything he said. Basically to watch out for our bags, what time we could enter the station, and to take care.

I studied until we went to catch our trains at 4:30 am. Lol on the train I drifted in and out between stops. From one stop to the next, I would fall sleep and wake up started as the music signaled the doors were closing. Probably 7 times in a row, I jerked awake thinking I was missing my stop. I finally got back to my dorm at 6:30, took a shower (that I was so happy for), and decided to sleep for a bit before going to class.

Of course that it was a bad idea from the beginning to sleep. I managed to turn off my alarm and fall back asleep. I somehow woke up at 9 am. CRAP! My class and test starts at 9:15! AND it takes me an hour to get to school! I threw on clothes and ran. Got to school at 10 and had the last 20 minutes to do the test. Lol usually you were given an hour and five minutes!!! I finished though and did get there in time to hear the listening questions.

That day I realized how much of a difference someone's attitude has on the whole situation. The guy that made it home that night was freaking out. Cussing, getting angry, not only making the situation harder for himself, but also for me and Frank. Your outlook can make all the difference. If you keep a cool head, think rationally, and make the best of it, it makes everything more bearable. I feel like I don't panic as much as I would have when I first get here. Just do what you can, there's nothing more you can do. Make the best of everything and look for the positive.

Like my dad always tells me, "Think, what can I learn for next time?" And after the night was over, Frank said, "At least we don't have to stay here every night." No matter how bad it may seem, it can always be worse.

OMG Its Going Way Way Too Fast

I cannot believe it is nearly the end of June. The four months are really flying by. Now that I only have a little over a month left, I am starting to panic. There is still so much I wanna do. I feel like I really haven't seen that much of Tokyo even though I've been to so many different areas/cities I cannot remember their names. My weekends from now till I go home are packed! One of my friends here is planning a Korea trip, but as much as I wanted to go, there was absolutely no way I could have fit it in.

I realized I have not kept up with my blog at all. I am nearly 3 weeks behind in my posts. Or at least in updating my weekend outings. Without my notes, there would be absolutely no way I would remember what I did even a few days ago. But for now I am going to start with the most recent first and then work backwards. We'll see how this goes...

Monday, June 15, 2009

Running in the Rain

Yesterday I experienced one of the largest downpours of my life. It is right up there with the monsoon rain I saw in India. The difference this time? I was the idiot running home...without an umbrella...in the hellish storm.

I was in Shibuya finishing off a day of shopping and getting my haircut when it started to rain. At that point pretty much everyone had their umbrella. If they forgot to bring it, they were waiting in line to buy one. I had to think to myself, if I bought an umbrella everytime it rained and I forgot mine, I would have at least 5 already AND I've only been here a little over 2 months. Cheap umbrellas cost $5, but why waste the money?

I'll get a little wet, I told myself, but it's not bad. And I chanced it.

When I got to my home station, it was raining harder. And it was pouring by the time I finished grocery shopping on the way home. So I ran.

It was a total rainstorm and I was soaked. It could have been absolutely awful, but I couldn't help but laugh. Hardly anyone was crazy enough to be out, but I could only imagine what the people driving by must have been thinking of me. I ran through puddles on the sidewalk. I literally soaked it all in...the rain and the experience.

I cannot remember the last time I stood in the rain without worrying about keeping my hair dry and appearance looking acceptable. Too often we get so caught up trying to act our age. And in the end all we end up missing out on are the simple pleasures of life. What else are we living for if its not for enjoying every minute of it?

By the time I got home, my jeans and shirt were sticking to my body. I wish I could have wrung my clothes out before going in, but instead I was forced the drip all the way to my room. Got some weird stares from my dorm-mates, but I just smiled back.

Everything is more fun when you can go with the flow and you're not afraid of laughing at yourself. Turn that frown upside down!

Saturday, June 13, 2009

Harajuku Kids

One of the must do's for tourists is to to check out the Harajuku shopping and the anime kids there. At Harajuku, there is a constant presence of overdressed, heavily made-up, young Japanese. They are gazed upon by foreigners and the Japanese with a combination of amusement, misunderstanding, and distance. Their shock value alone is surprising.

One of my friends at Harajuku:

I myself have been quite judgmental towards them. I have tried to understand what would motivate anyone do dress up in the morning, knowing they will be stared at, kinda ostracized by society, and photographed by gaijin. It just always seemed so demeaning to me.

However I never really appreicated what they were doing, until I heard a couple of white women talking to each other in English. They were mentioning that even though the outfits are so far from the norm, every piece of the clothing, make up, and accessories are carefully thought out beforehand. Even their hairstyles must have taken hours, they said.

After I heard that, I have tried to understand the subculture more, instead of just shaking it off and laughing at it.

I was in Harajuku by myself last weekend. Its kinda funny, I'm one of those people that don't like eating by myself at restaurants, so I stopped off at Lotteria (a fast food chain like McDonalds). Apparently that place is like Harajuku kid central. They were applying bright make up for one another, laughing, talking, etc. It was like a community of (I hate to say it...but maybe) outcasts? There isn't really a nice way to put it. But they don't fit perfectly into society.

That was the first time I saw the human side to their seemingly crazy lifestyle. I had to think, what would I do if my kid was like that? Obviously I would learn to accept him/her as he/she was. Its not necessarily a normal way to live, by Japanese standards, but who's to say it is wrong?

I think Lotteria for the Harajuku kids is like what everyone is looking for in their own lives; somewhere to belong. Its seems as though it is all about find a place to call your own, somewhere you are accepted just the way you are. I guess in some way we look down at them because in many ways we are jealous. They see no reason to hide who they really are AND they found people who love them just the way they are.

I imagine they have accomplished more than I might ever. They have accepted themselves and not ashamed to portray themselves to the world. "Take it or leave it," they seem to tell us, "but this is who I really am."

Things of Beauty

My friend keeps a collection of accounts he calls "Things of Beauty." I think is is just so appropriately entitled, I couldn't help to steal the name for this post. The beauty of life, things worth remembering, reminders of why we are living and how good we can make it. (Thanks for the inspiration Dylan, and sorry for copying...)

I was riding the train home one night last week and an Indian couple and their young daughter boarded at one stop. They wife was wearing a traditional sari and it was apparent that they were tourists and neither of them spoke Japanese. To my surprise, I have seen a lot of Indian tourists here. I can't help but to think how high up in Indian society they must be to be able to afford the high travel costs of Tokyo. Whenever I see foreigners here, especially from Asia, I am constantly worried for them because there is significant racism here in Japan.

One guy that lives in my dorm is British and has been applying to work various places here. He said when he was interviewing to be a bouncer, one of the questions they asked him was if he had any racism toward any specific groups. Apparently they were specifically looking for people who held some "undesirable" groups. They bluntly told him that they didn't want bouncers to let Indian men into the club, because they had a reputation for getting touchy when they drank. At that point he knew he wouldn't accept a job from them, even if they offered him one. This systematic stereotyping surprised me, but now I see it played out more frequently then you would expect.

I don't mean to say that foreigners are treated terribly. But there is a chance that you will be looked up on differently. Outsiders are easy to spot here.

The couple sat on one side of the train and their young daughter in a seat facing them. She had childhood innocence and looked out the widow with curiosity the whole way with no worries. Her parents looked more cautious though and had a guarded presence (that I totally wouldn't blame them for having).

Two old Japanese ladies sat nearby and were obviously taking notice of the young girl. But instead of being critical and judgemental, they were smiling when they pointed in the direction of the child. I couldn't hear what they were saying, but from their facial expressions it was easy to tell that it was positive and nothing threatening.

The parents seemed a little uneasy, but they relaxed when the older women smiled at them.

A few stops later, when the family exited the train, the older Japanese women told the Indian family "bye bye" in English, all the while smiling and waving to them.

I found it amazing. The two will probably never see each other again, but interaction their chance encounter enriched each of their commutes. Instances like this reaffirms my belief that there is a chance for world peace, as cheesy as it sounds. No matter how much fighting there is, there will always be the peacemakers. Racism is countered by love. Conflict fixed with mutual understanding. Our problems are solved one day at a time by small efforts of everyday people. If everyone just smiled instead of frowning, imagine how much prettier the world would seem.

Perhaps one of my favorite music videos ever. Please watch, it is definitely worth your time. (For some reason, it is cut off in the blog, but if you make it full screen it is ok.)

Friday, June 12, 2009


Lol, don't get me wrong on the post right before this. I am having a total blast! So much to update. I have really had a packed week, but I will try to get all caught up this weekend. But its 3:09 am and I am supposed to wake up in 4 hrs. FML

A Little Jaded

As good as it can be, its never as good as you want it to be.

The last few days I have been I have been thinking about my disappointment in my Japanese. I've been here two and a half months, and I am still so incapable of communicating in Japanese it is embarrassing. When I first got here, I had no inhibitions. I would say whatever, speak to Japanese students the best as I could. But that seemed to go away quickly. Almost all of my close friends here are exchange students...sadly not so much Japanese people. That's not to say I don't have any, it just seems like I tend to hang out with foreigners more.

I am kinda jaded with Japanese, or at least my lack thereof. Its really sad for me to come to grips with my struggles with the language. I probably set my sights too high, but I still find myself in everyday situations unable to communicate or basically survive. I am so disappointed in myself. This has been one of the few clouds raining on my parade. Everyday I am reminded of how bad my Japanese is.

I have found, and have heard from others as well, how unforgiving Tokyo is compared to other areas of Japan. No doubt it is just part of the lifestyle and fast-paced nature of the city, but Tokyo is not really that English-friendly, or at least not as much as you would think it is. There are some exceptions, but from my experiences even when Tokyo people know that you don't have much of a grasp of the language, they don't make too much of an effort to slow their pace down. I really have not been too tough on Japanese people, but I feel like this is a legitimate critique of Tokyo culture. I suppose it is comparable to New York City (I'm not particularly fond of NYC). The Kansai area has more a reputation of being laid-back (lol having many of the comedians coming from that side) and I can totally see the difference.

I guess I have just been hard on myself lately because Jenna is here next week. I am meeting Reese's relatives in Yokohama next week and this was kinda the deadline I set for myself. I figured by this point I should have my confidence up to a point where I could communicate with Reese and Jenna's relatives competently or at least on some kind of basic level.

Unfortunately I have found myself moving in the other direction. Everyday I fail in Japanese on some level. Some days more than others, but the combined effects of inadequacy day after day have taken a toll on me. I have come to feel like I can't win in this language game. If I speak English, I can get my point across, but they probably won't understand, I'll look like a total gaijin, and I'll feel silly for using English in Japan, when I can speak a little Japanese. But at times it seems worse to me to try to speak Japanese, because the chances for me actually being able to communicate are so slim it borderlines a 10% rate if it can even be considered that high...

Perhaps the worst thing about it for me is that fact that Japanese confirms my identity as a gaijin. As much as I try to distance myself from foreigners, especially all the strange ones that are here, I really am no better than them. I can pass as Japanese until I open my mouth. I can look it, be full Japanese, have a Japanese surname, etc. but in the end it really doesn't count for anything. The language barrier and identity associated with it confirms that I don't belong here, both to me and to Japanese people.

I also have a really bad tendency to compare myself with others. I know in my head that it is not logical, but it always seems to happen anyway. A couple of my friends here (Travis and Val especially) are soo unbelievably good at Japanese it puts me to shame. I know I need to judge myself against myself, but it is hard for me to see myself struggling so much when others are absolutely exceeding all expectations. I have a combination of jealousy and envy for all the exchange students that seem to be doing so well here. Or at least everyone doing better than me. I'm happy for them, but just wish I was on the same level they are.

This is probably all just part of the burn out. But I really have let myself down on this. Its a cumulative failure. I wish I tried harder at Japanese in high school, college, and here. So many regrets are eating me up. How much better would I be? I never even spoke to Reese in Japanese before getting here because I was too embarrassed.

I know I just have to start from the ground up. Its just so hard. My confidence is shot right now...

Tuesday, June 9, 2009


It really hasn't sunk in yet, it is already June. Actually it is June 10th...CRAZY!

I think I won't let myself believe it because I'm usually out of school about now. And I realize that I am barely halfway through the semester. It has gone so fast. If I didn't have this blog to reference, I really wouldn't know what I've done for the last two months. It's all been a blur.

The weather has been nice, but it's gonna get hot. So far the humidity has been bearable. I am sweating more than I would prefer though. Lol one of my friends was saying how Japanese people just don't sweat like we do. Haha, they always look put together while the foreigners seem to be melting.

I have a/c in my room and I ran it for the first time a couple of days ago. For some reason, all of the sudden it felt like summer to me...then I realized it was because my room was so cold with the a/c on full blast. The coldness factor I unconsciously associated with summers back in Ontario. When I lived at home, during the summertime my mom always ran the a/c so much that I would get cold. It seems as though I still link the two together. Pretty weird, lol but equally funny.

So in that sense, I got my first taste and realization that it is actually summer. Bring on the sun!

A Lesson in Dedication from a Boxing Studio

I need to catch up my blog. I'll just start where I left off and hopefully get back on track.

Friday night I was waiting to catch the train home after dinner. It was nearly 11 pm. The Saikyo Sen platform at Shibuya (where I often find myself) faces directly across from a row of buildings, with a variety of shops, offices, etc on each floor. By that hour, all the lights were off and everyone had retired home for the night. Except for one unit. On the first level, slightly below eye level, a boxing gym was still open.

From what I could see, it looked small, no larger than an average American living room. The gym looked seemed slightly cramped for space, but was filled with a lively group of boxers, punching bags, and other essentials. The guys seemed to be training alone, wrapping their hands, working out, taking breaks.

I found it amazing that late on a Friday night, a group of probably 15 guys would find their way there. Instead of going out, they chose to hit the gym. And at nearly 11 pm, they were still there, or maybe just got there.

I wondered if I would find anything that I would be that passionate about.

Monday, June 8, 2009


I literally just finished my finals and now I'm happy to take it easy until finals come around. For Japanese class, we had 3 days worth of testing, roughly amounting to a little over 5 hours of kanji, grammar, listening, reading, and speaking.

While I was in the middle of class today, I found it amazing how much the test meant to people. I myself got a late start studying and was up past 3 am and had to wake up at 8 today. Some of my friends back home have been cramming all weekend for their finals.

We have been taught that pieces of paper (aka tests) will determine our grades, thus our graduation (or not), leading to our potential careers, future, and ultimately happiness. I have always bought into this. But today I realized how a couple hours of our lives and a few pieces of paper can be so important to people.

Aside from the SAT and ACT, I haven't had to deal with much pressure around standardized testing, for which I am very thankful. While midterms, finals, etc seem so important, I couldn't help but to think about countries that have national college entrance exams, especially Asian ones.

In the fall, I watched a documentary on Chinese high school students that were taking the annual test. While waiting to take it, some students were hooked up to oxygen tanks, or reading over notes before they went in. Their parents (usually mothers) waited outside anxiously while they took it. Their futures were quite literally dependent on those precious hours.

One of my Japanese friends here works as a tutor at a cram school. Actually there are a lot of
Sophia students that I know doing stuff like that, teaching English, etc. Anyway, he said that most of the high school students he works at are trying to get into Sophia, Waseda, or a variety of other fairly high ranked colleges.

BUT he was quick to add that most of them probably won't get in. It is just too competitive and they just won't make the cut. Although I'm sure he has never told the students that, it was sad to hear it from him, their tutor, the one who is trying to help them get accepted. Yet he himself knows it is only an aspiration, not the reality.

Friday, June 5, 2009

If Tokyo Has Taught Me Anything...

I have already realized what a difference Japan has had on my outlook on life and also personality/behavior changes.

I can admit it...I am a homebody. I don't know if I've always been like this, but at least the last couple of years I am reluctant to do things spur of the moment or sometimes even to go out. Sure if I'm on vacation or have a good excuse. But most of the time I am inclined to pass up on bars, etc.

But based on tonight and all the other random experiences I have had, I have learned:

Do all the things you want to do.
If you have the time and money...DO IT
Travel as much as you can.

Here is my not so new philosophy on life...

Not having the time is really a poor excuse for missing out. If anything, life is fleeting, so you need to suck every minute out of everyday. If you're too caught up in your life to have fun, you're not really living.

Money is earned, saved, and spent. There are reasons we make money and good reasons to spend it. Now I feel like there is no excuse to be cheap and miss out. All the money in the world cannot buy experiences, memories, or happiness.

Really, live life one day at a time. It doesn't matter if it is a weekday, or if you have a test coming up. There really is no worse thing then having regrets for opportunities that you pass up and will never have again.

Haha, I was just listening to a Lil Rob's "Summer Nights" song the other day. Even though I used to listen to the song a lot it was the first time I heard these lyrics. I am going to start to live by them now.

"Try to have fun in life, otherwise it's just a waste."

Oh the People You Will Meet

You never know who you're gonna meet. This doesn't just apply to Japan either. Now I feel like if you are open and friendly, any stranger, any person on the street can end up becoming one of your good friends. Let my night illustrate this for you.

Met up with Travis and his friends at Fight Bar, where everything (drinks, food) is $3. I ate horse sashimi for the first time. It was good. I mean I'm not a food consiure and am not very good at explaining foods...but it didn't taste like beef for sure. Lol, it was really good. Had a drink but had to leave to meet some other friends.

I'm sad to admit that I almost didn't go out to meet my friends. It was one of those days. That's just a bad excuse. But I was debating whether or not to go out. In the end I kinda felt obligated, since I said I was going to...but again it was one of the better decisions I have made.

A guy from SU that is studying at Sophia has a friend, Ike, who is living and working in Tokyo at Goldsman Saks. I met him at a couple of things before and it was his birthday today. So he invited me to go out to dinner with a bunch of people and to a club after. I passed on the club, but dinner was totally worth it.

Everyone was friends with Ike, but no one really knew each other besides that. It was one of the most random, fun groups of people yet. Ike is really outgoing and will talk to anyone, so most of the people he just met on a whim.

One guy was a famous K-1 fighter from Nigeria (who speaks unbelievable Japanese), but the rest were Japanese. One of the girls there met him when she overheard Ike and Andy (the K-1 fighter) rating girls in a coffee shop. Lol she could understand English so I guess she kinda called them out, she is an announcer when there are events like at Softbank, etc. One of the guys there was a national beatbox champion, but during the day he is a train conductor. He always has a mic with him, in a pouch clipped onto his belt. The other girl is in a breakdancing group and met Ike when she was performing. She moves back and forth between San Diego. And the last guy works at the same place as Ike.

Almost the whole night was in Japanese. I was surprised. When its like that I tend not to talk, but my listening is getting really good. haha. Ike or Andy would speak in English to make sure I knew what was going on. Almost all the Japanese kids could understand and speak English as well.

We went to a really cute, traditional type of restaurant. It was a nicer one and everything was individual tatami mat styled with sliding rice paper doors and everything. Had a really good dinner: sashimi, two kinds of salads, karage chicken, special rice, horse sashimi (again, lol), and a bunch of other stuff. I was amazed because Andy knows not only where to go, but also what to order and pretty much took care of the food decisions for us.

Nights like this make me realize the possibilities. I almost stayed home and missed out. You'll never know who you'll meet or how much fun you have, just hafta do it. Put yourself out there. One of the guys is throwing a party at his place next weekend, so who knows I'll probably see these guys soon. It amazing the people you can meet. Not just in Tokyo either, really anywhere. Never pass up the opportunity to make new friends.

Thursday, June 4, 2009

Eating Local: JA Okazuya in Hawaii

Went to another lecture today. It was entitled "Eating Local: Nostalgia, Identities, and Japanese American Delicatessens in Hawaii" given by Christine R. Yano from the University of Hawaii Mano.

Lol, she thought I was from Hawaii. Actually a lot of people have said I look like I'm from Hawaii. Haha, I definitely take it as a compliment.

I found it very interesting, especially since I was in Hawaii last December. She drew some main conclusions from her anthropological study in okazuya establishments on Oahu and the Big Island in 2002:

1. Cater to urban, blue collared workers- they want to have a home-cooked meal for lunch, the ordinariness of the businesses
2. No ethnic boundaries placed around the food- cooked what would sell
3. Service and relationships built into what you get
4. Okazuya as sites of sociality- "flavor of the family"
5. Small and unfranchised- association with a sense of "home," trust

As she said during her talk, the food and knowledge of the sites sets locals apart. Their whole idea seems to contradict modern business logic. Most have a low-key presence, do not advertise, some do not even have signs. But as Yano argued, it is an emphasis on human relationships, not branding.

Yano explained that a lot of the stores are closing because there are not people to carry on the family business. In many instances they would rather have their children pursue other occupations. And when faced with selling the restaurant, they would rather just close it, as they see the business as a family matter. The hole-in-the-wall establishments are seen as a passing of a generation. They represent the plantation era of Hawaii, shared hardship, sense of interdependence, a representation of the poverty.

These types of businesses are anti-fast food fast food, contrasted with high end cuisine, and are anti-fusion, anti-gourmet.

Instead a relationship with the owner/worker/cook can be formed. It is a culinary relationship through consumption. They are associated with a sense of "home" and as she pointed out, some people go to their favorite spot straight from the airport.

The close relationship between the customers and owner/workers creates a "flex plate" where preferential treatment or extra portions are exchanged. Yano said that there is a emotional resonance that is part of their reality. These shops are interpreted as homestyle cooking, "grandma's food." They have associated memories. The ionic timelessness of the kitchen.

Yano made a distinction between "programed cheeriness" and actual relationships. I found this particularly interesting since I have worked at both franchised places (Starbucks, Jamba Juice) and a very small restaurant (lol where I was the only waitress and the owner was the only cook). She said that at these okazuyas there is not a manual that instructs people how to act (as there is at Starbucks and Jamba), that people legitimately have relationships with their customers.

I found that interesting, because although I can agree with the fact that they probably see the customers on more of a personal level, I can imagine that happening franchises as well. Or at least companies hope will happen within their stores. Starbucks for instance. I worked in the headquarter building, so as you can imagine, the regulars worked upstairs and were fiercely loyal. I knew names, everyone knew the regular's drinks. We would make small talk. Is that that much different than what the okazuya workers share with their customers?

It made me really think, because when I get back to Seattle I have worked it out so I am getting rehired at Starbucks. And if it is the case that I cannot really make those personal connections, I feel like I have been failing at my job all along.

I am so dying to go to Hawaii now...


Burdened with midterms and school I almost didn't to go last weekend. Thank goodness I did though, because it turned out to be one of the best decisions I have made yet.

Each year the Watakate Circle (volunteer group) goes on a trip to Chiba, or more precisely a little beach town called Iwai. Iwai is an hour and a half from Chiba, 2 and a half hours from Sophia, and nearly 3 and a half from my station. The overnight trip is a welcome party of sorts for the freshman and new members to the club.

Last Saturday before we left, we all met in front of Sophia's north gate and at 10 o'clock in the morning had a toast. Its amazing how you can drink on the sidewalks like it is nothing. They brought suitcases of beer, flavored-alcohol (kinda like mike's), sake, sochu, and a variety of soft drinks, tea, etc. They offered everyone alcohol, but there was no pressure to drink it for the people who opted not to. I was just wondering if the police would say anything if they happened to see the freshman drinking.

The train ride was pretty long, but basically everyone was talking the whole way over. I kept thinking how different it was then it would have been in the US. I always imagine group roadtrips where everyone has their own iPod, book, or whatever, talking briefly every once in a while. It was completely opposite here. Whether it was one-on-one or in larger groups, the WHOLE trip everyone was interacting. No one pulled out homework, their music, or anything.

When we transfered at Chiba, we boarded one of the crappiest, oldest trains I have seen here yet. I guess they save all the nice, new trains for central Tokyo :) We just kept riding further and further out to the country.

I absolutely love the countryside in Japan. Normally I am a city girl, but I love the country here more. I like Tokyo, but the further out you get, the more you feel like you are actually in Japan. It is just gorgeous. The tiled roofs, rice patties, open spaces. The lifestyle even a few hours from Tokyo shifts considerably. It is always nice to get away.

Its been so long since the trip...but I'll try to recap the highlights.

Ryokan/Minshuku- I don't know exactly what the place we stayed at would be considered. I guess a minshuku, because we did like rent out all their facilities, two guest houses with a main dinning hall, and an ofuro. It was really old-fashioned. There was a genkan, tatami mats, futons, low tables and everything. Meals were also provided for us. They were very elaborate and soo good. Like five different plates of small portions of food for each person. I love Japanese styled breakfasts!

I found it interesting that when we first arrived, one of student coordinators officially introduced the woman who owned/ran the houses. She said a few words of thanks and together we said "yoroshiku onegaishimasu" (please take care of us). And when we left again the student leader had an official sayonara thank you for her with all of us there to show our apreciation. Apparently the group stays at this place every year, because the woman said "rai nen ni" (see you next year).

I was surprised how human aspect and relationship was brought in. I think that most college kids in the US don't put a face on the people behind the scenes, at hotels for example. We tend to not feel that bad, even if we leave the place trashed. However, here there is great respect shown for those people who would otherwise be overlooked back home. Even that night when we were drinking, if something spilled, the students would go to great lengths to clean it up as much as they could. Before we totally left, we swept up the main all and vacuumed.

BEACH- The area was absolutely gorgeous! There were a lot of hills around the beach and it was just totally green. It kinda seemed to have vegetation like Hawaii. Lol, with the hills, water, and greenery for some reason it always makes me think of the footage from Jurassic Park :)

The beach was only a 5 minute from the place we were staying. The weather was really crappy until the day we left. It was really overcast and cold. Not a good day to go swimming in the ocean. But everyone walked out and the guys were all swimming. I found it interesting how at different times all the girls were hanging out together and all the guys were doing something different. We were both on the same beach, it was just like the sexes were totally separated doing different things. Idk why that was. Interesting.

Later we were split into teams through jenken and played a version of dodgeball. I can't remember what it was called, but there was only one ball. We drew out a square in the sand. The catch was that there are people from the opposite team that are right outside the square on your side that can get you out. Someone brought a rope too. Lol so afterwards we did tug of war on the beach. Oh and buried two of the guys in the sand.

Freshman initiation- I am considered a freshman. With the hiearchy here, being at the bottom is not necessarily the best thing. Apparently every year the freshman perform a skit for the senpai. One of the guys wrote out a pretty involved script and we met and practiced 3 or 4 lunch periods before we left. I had one line in Japanese. I'm not even exactly sure what it was that I said...lol. Basically it was kinda a funny skit that was based off Cinderella, but had Pokemon in it?! Idk, I can't remember.

Before that though, while we were on the beach, we were each dragged out to the ocean carried in and dropped into the water. Haha. They were really nice about it, but it kinda seemed mandatory...I can now see how some hazing and initiation strengthens relationships. All of us freshman girls were drenched and freezing after.

Ofuro- I have heard a variety of reactions to the idea of essentially taking a bath with friends, or perhaps people you don't even know. Westerners tend to think that it is taboo. Most people, men and women, from the US especially, cannot imagine stripping down showering in front of people, then entering a communal bath. I think this is especially the case for foreign girls/young women.

I was hesitant at first too. It really wasn't a question of whether or not I would do it though. I felt like I had to. Plus after getting dunked in the ocean, all the girls were saying how good it feels to get in the ofuro after swimming. Like one of my friends always told me, nothing is awkward unless you make it awkward. Might as well.

It is crazy how differently people are socialized. For the Japanese girls, this sort of thing was totally normal. They had no inhibitions, talked the whole time they were cleaning, and even threw water on each other as a joke.

I am so glad I did do it though. Haha its like one of those things, you'll never get that much out of anything unless you're up for some risks. Willing to put yourself out there to be embarrassed, shocked, perhaps even humiliated. But you'll never know if you can fly unless you jump off the cliff. I can't help but thinking I want to go to an onsen now. I would love to have an ofuro in the comfort of my own home. Western modesty meets Japanese comforts, lol.

BBQ- The second day, before returning to Tokyo, the upperclassmen cooked a barbeque for us. It was one of the most delicious meals I have eaten yet. They had salad, yakisoba, and various grilled meats with vegetables. Absolutely unbelievable. Since it was supposed to be for the freshman, they wouldn't even let us help set up or clean up after.

Drinking- Of course, one of the main parts of the trip was drinking that night. It started off with the results of a survey within the circle that some of the underclassmen had done earlier. It's kinda like the "most likely to..." that you would find in high school year books. Instead it was like who is the best embodiment of ______. Categories ranged from most otaku, best father/mother, person who seems like they are a child, person who seems older than their age, most like a cat, person who can drink the most/who can drink the least, silly categories like that. Everyone was laughing the whole time and the person who got the most votes had to go in front of everyone and drink a cup. Usually it was alcohol, but they could drink tea or something else if they preferred.

The fridge in the room was totally packed with all the alcohol. I found it funny how drinking customs applied to the college students too. Before filling their own glasses, they would always ask people around them what they wanted to drink. It wasn't till after that they would refill their own glass. Everyone was talking, sitting around, and drinking for most of the night.

I went to sleep at 2:30 am, but I heard people were up all night. Some people fell asleep after we ate breakfast. One of the girls said that the older people got, the longer they were kinda expected to stay up. Her freshman year she went to sleep at 1 am, last year was up till 4 and this year stayed up all night. People were sleeping everywhere and some were even passed out the whole day and missed the bbq. Haha, one upperclassman got up and his face and feet were totally drawn on. Somehow, before we left, he got most all of the ink off, except from his neck. It was the most I have ever seen anyone marked up!

Japanese- Only four exchange students (including myself) went on the trip. All together there are only 6 of us in the circle. So pretty much everything is always in Japanese. There are a few members who can speak English fluently and others who can speak a little bit. But nearly the whole weekend was Japanese exclusive.

It really is the best practice. My Japanese isn't that great still. But after the weekend, I could see substantial improvements. It is crazy how when you are exposed to it for a long period of time, like 2 days straight, you will get used to it. I couldn't understand everything, or even most of what was said. But you can catch onto popular phrases, pronunciation, even start thinking to yourself "how do I say this in Japanese." It comes more naturally when you need to use it, when you are practicing, even when you are messing up.

I am so lucky they were so patient. It seems like that is the kind of people they are. But I did feel bad for the people who had to hear me stumble along. One girl specifically (nicknamed Sam) talked with me the whole way to Iwai. Just me and her. It was painful for me imagine her listening to my bad Japanese. But she would help me out with grammar when it needed to be fixed, feed me words i didn't know. It was the best practice I've had yet.

Meeting People- The nicest part of the whole experience was getting the chance to meet the students who I don't otherwise know outside from our Saturday activities. While we are working with the kids at Meguro, it is hard to really get to know each person individually. These have to seriously be some of the nicest people I have met in my life. I really do not know many people who willingly dedicate every Saturday throughout the school year to a cause like this. There are a good number of seniors and they have been doing this for years. It really amazes me.

All the club members are so nice. Even through the language barrier, they always made a conscious effort to include me and the other exchange students. On the train rides, I never sat alone. There was always someone to talk to. They were always so happy, so encouraging. Lol their efforts make me want to be a better person. It is amazing how a group like this will just totally change your whole outlook. There is no way you can loose faith in people or humanity when you meet people like this.

Senpai-Kohai- Before the trip, I never really understood or accepted the senpai-kohai relationship. It seemed so unfair. I always thought the upperclassmen resented me, or at least didn't like me, because I always forgot to speak keego to them. But this weekend changed my whole perspective on it.

Senpai always seemed like the people who delegate tasks because they don't want to do it themselves. This not totally the case. They are more or less like leaders, guiders. They have the experience and have earned the respect of the kohai through all the years of their work and dedication. The kohai recognize that they can learn from the senpai. In some ways it becomes somewhat of an apprenticeship. They try to learn as much as they can from their superior, someone that's assumed to have more knowledge of the subject.

The kohai do what is asked of them. And in turn the senpai take the kohai under their wings. In some ways they are watched after by the senpai. It is almost like a big brother role. While we were waiting for our train back home, Sam bought an ice cream for me. Her excuse? I am your senpai. I saw other upperclassmen buying for other freshman too. In a way we are taken care of by the people above us. And thus they earn our respect.

I have noticed that senpai tend to associate more closely with other senpai. And kohai stick with kohai. I don't know exactly why this occurs, but I imagine it has something to do with people they can most closely relate to. Shared experiences. Something like that.

Loquat- Its funny, I didn't know what this was called in English until this very moment when I looked it up. Here it is know as "biwa." Apparently it is grown in Iwai and I bought a bag of them at a fruit stand near the Iwai train station. A really yummy fruit. Hard to explain though, very tender inside, it doesn't have a strong flavor, but it is sweet. Well, kinda. In some ways it has somewhat of an apple flavor, but then again not.

I bought them so I could bring back a piece of my weekend for my friends in Tokyo. What a great way to spend a couple of days.

(I apologize, these are not my pictures! I still have yet to buy a cord to connect my camera to my computer and my phone died so I could not take pictures with it. For now these images will have to do. I'll work on getting more pictures up later!)

Wednesday, June 3, 2009


I was in Iwai last weekend and haven't had a chance to post about it yet. But right now Sophia is in the midst of midterms. Japanese has been brutal. The Japanese midterm starts tomorrow and there are 3 days worth of testing, all together about 5 hours worth of speaking, listening, reading, grammar, and kanji. I've never had a final or midterm stretched out over such a long period of time.

Pretty much everyone is getting burnt out in my intensive Japanese class. Since we have the midterm tomorrow, only half the students even bothered to show up today. Yesterday we did some pointless review games. Two girls even cried in class. The prof we had yesterday isn't necessarily mean, but she isn't sensitive either. We were giving directions and doing it individually. If we messed up the prof would call us out, "no that's wrong," but didn't follow up with an explanation. It was very embarrassing and kinda kills your self esteem.

Haha, I was telling one of my friends yesterday that I swear my Japanese gets worse when I'm in Japanese class. Two people that sit directly behind me are from Chicago. So with their nasally accents, their a's are always stretched out and emphasized. It makes for strange pronunciations when they speak Japanese. Two guys that sit near me cannot distinguish Japanese r sounds either. So everything ends up coming out "raw, row." You'll know what I'm talking about if you've taken Japanese. But just imagine it is the difference between the pronunciations of l's and r's.

There is just an utter lack of creativity in the way the class is taught and tested. Everything we do is verbatim, word for word, right out of our textbooks. No doubt, this is going to be one of the hardest classes ever to stay motivated in. And here we are only at midterms...

I am so jealous though, because all my Japanese friends at Sophia don't have midterms at all. And other exchange student friends at Aoyama haven't really had major testing at all either. Lol, I am going to the wrong school and am enrolled in the wrong classes!

Friday, May 29, 2009

Exactly Midway Point (Yesterday)

I can't believe it is halfway over already. Exactly 9 weeks and 3 days left. It is going sooo fast!

I feel like there is so much I still want to do...I can't even start to make a list, but speaking more Japanese is definitely on it. I feel like that is what I am doing the worst in right now. After I get finished with the bulk of my midterms next Thursday, I promised myself I would go shopping and start dressing more Tokyoish. Lol, I only have 2 months left after all!

Japan's Internet Suicide Groups

There was a lecture at Sophia that I attended tonight. "In the Eyes of Others: Self, Society, and Suicide in Japan" given by Chikako Ozawa-de Silva of Emory Univeristy. I probably don't have to point it out, but it was a pretty dark, depressing talk...

Through her research and ethnography of Japan's internet suicide groups she came to three main conclusions:
1. Ordinariness
2. Wish to die in comfort
3. Wish to die with others

Japan has one of the highest suicide rates in the developed world. But Silva argued that group suicides are different because of the three reasons mentioned above. Annually there are about 32,000 suicides nationwide, but only 100 or so of them are group suicides, so they only constitute a fraction of the overall picture. But it was a place to start researching.

We saw clips from two contemporary movies on this. In "Suicide Club" (I forgot the Japanese name), it documents different group suicides. In the small clip that we saw, Shinjuku train station footage was showed, A huge group of girls were waiting for a train, among other people. I was trying to identify who was going to try to kill themself. It was so haunting though, because the group of girls, who you would otherwise suspect were just coming home from school or something, were actually a suicidal group. They looked happy and were chatting among themselves. But as the train approached, they became silent, held hand (like 20+ of them!), and jumped off the platform. All girls, probably no older than high school aged. The creepiest video footage I have ever seen...seriously....

The other was from an animated series that was entitled "Paranoia Agent." Apparently it aired 8 episodes from February-Marc 2004. It is disturbing in the sense that it is a really light movie, it isn't dark at all. In fact it makes suicide look normal. The series follows an old man, a middle aged man, and sadly a really young girl as they search for a way to end their lives together. It was sad how young the girl seemed and the fact that she seemed normal and happy, but didn't want to live anymore. It took the idea of suicide and their search of different methods so lightly it was creepy.

Probably the saddest point of this all is the fact that these people meet up because of the importance that cultural factors play in the desire of people to kill themselves together. Since Japanese society is very collective, an importance is placed on the self in realation to others. The self that people believe they have is living through the eyes of others. There is a need to share their world with a group of people and others. Their "mother of all fears" is social rejection, to be left out.

So in conforming to the norm, even in their last attempt to end their lives, some Japanese people feel the need of others. A need to be needed by others, in order to give their lives a sense of meaning. Collective suicide is essentially a shared experiance.

It was an equally insightful and depressing event. Definitely a downer on my Friday night. I can't help but to think how sad this is. Silvia read posts that she found on suicide sites. It is troubling because most of the participants are young and they aren't desperate like suicidal people are usually portrayed. They just seem lost or confused. Like one of the people posted, "I don't want to die, I just don't want to live."

After the event I was walking to the train station alone, I am so paranoid of witnessing a train suicide now...

I was just reading the plot of the Suicide Club movie and it creeps the hell out of me. That is exactly the kind of stuff that gives me nightmares...