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.