Saturday, August 14, 2010

More Japan! :D

So... I don't want my blog to be over because I loved writing in it so much, and I miss Japan. I thought I'd make a list of some misconceptions about Japan, and the corrections that I learned while abroad.

1. You can't really see Mt. Fuji from Tokyo, unless you're at the top of a very high building on an exceptionally clear day. I tried from Tokyo Tower on my first day and from the tallest building in Shinjuku near the end of my trip, and it was too hazy both days.

2. Not all Japanese people look the same. That stereotype couldn't be more false: Japanese faces have just as much variation as American ones, except they are more likely to be 100% Asian (whereas in the US there is more of a mixing and sometimes blending of races). :) But not only do Japanese people look biologically distinct from one another, there were also many people who dyed their hair different colors. Light brown and red were the most common colors, but I saw a lot of blond, blue, pink, and purple, even among the elderly.

3. Japanese people do not eat sushi every day, or even every week. Maybe once a month or so, more or less. It sure tastes a whole lot better than in the US, and it's cheaper there too. But Japanese people are more likely to eat rice or noodles every day. And they put mayonnaise and raw eggs on many things!

4. Speaking of mayo, not all Japanese people are skinny (but most are). I saw a handful of fat people in Tokyo, and it was always surprising to me. Everyone walks to the train station each morning and evening, so there's a bunch of exercise right there, every day, often rushing! The food in Tokyo was generally very healthy and low-calorie, but the non-Japanese foods like burgers, pizza, and heavy pasta dishes, were full of calories. The mayo used by my host family was low-calorie and low-cholesterol.

5. Tokyo is not incredibly expensive like I thought it would be. Food was probably cheaper than it was in Europe, generally and depending on where I ate. The prices overall weren't actually inexpensive, but not as pricey as I thought they would be. Yet I still managed to spend hundreds of dollars more than I wanted to! This picture has some stats about funeral prices around the world. Japan is the highest, then America, Korea, and England.

6. Not all Japanese people are short. Women often are, and they wear tall high-heels. But men seemed to be around the same height as Americans, although not basketball player size.

7. Japanese people do eat cheese! But they often eat it as dessert, like cheesecake that tastes mostly like cheese. They also drink only whole milk, and they eat desserts all the time. It's actually a miracle that they don't get overweight!

8. Many people in Tokyo speak English at varying levels of fluency. I had hoped to get away from English for a bit, just to see how it would be, but that was impossible. The directions on the metro were given first in Japanese, then in English, but sometimes they were slightly different and I could tell, thanks to my Japanese. :D A number of people I met were fully fluent in English, and some others were partially, enough to get the meaning across. I think that is the most fun part: my Japanese and others' English, trying to figure each other out. :)

9. Part of the appeal of going to Japan is to see a "totally different" culture, but it wasn't completely different from America. Obviously there were many aspects that were unfamiliar to me, and I loved learning about those and getting to know the Japanese way of doing things. Some fun ones that come to mind are: ordering meals from a machine and then receiving them later, taking a Japanese onsen bath while naked with strangers, sleeping on the train, sitting on the floor to eat, pressing the buttons on the toilet, feeling plastic beads in my pillows at hotels, and not ever saying "bless you" after someone sneezes.

But there were so many Western styles of clothing, language, and customs that it sort of made me sad. Traditional Japanese culture values cleanliness, respect for the environment, and privacy very highly. But I saw some trash on the ground there sometimes, and some PDA that I know wouldn't have been okay in the previous generation. Japanese language itself adopts many words from English and other languages, so I asked my host mom if she thought Japanese might someday blend into English. She said she was more worried about Japanese young people speaking poor quality Japanese without correctness. I think that sounds like English: I'm more worried about Americans not having the ability to write a proper essay than I am worried about English turning into Spanish or something like that. Not that I'd mind.

Anyway, I think if travelers want a more traditional Japanese experience, it would probably be best to spend a lot of time in a rural area with an older family, or with a family that lives with their elders. Tokyo is an international  mega-city, so it makes sense that there would be influence from other cultures there, no matter how far away from America, culturally and geographically, Japan seems. It would be incorrect to say that Tokyo is "not Japanese enough" because it obviously is: it's in Japan! It's just both modern and traditional at once.

One fun thing to end this: I wanted a picture of Japanese PDA for this section, so I googled it. I had hoped to find a public display of affection, but instead found only PDA electronic devices. :) Now that's the Japan I know and love!

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Backtracking: Aug. 2nd and plane flight home

 Well, I’m in the Narita Airport now, on August 2nd, my last day. It’s about 4:45pm here, 3:45am on the US east coast, and my plane starts boarding at 5:15pm, leaving at 6pm.

Before going to the airport, I went to Ikebukuro for one last time to exchange a product I bought there for a larger size. When I got there, I found a huge statue of my favorite superhero, ULTRAMAN.

Parents were taking lots of pictures of their little kids with Ultraman…

…so I asked them if they could do it for me too. :D A perfectly Japanese way to end my trip.

Getting to the airport with my over-stuffed luggage was actually probably the worst part of this whole 2-month trip, haha. I left Yuwa’s apartment at 1:30pm, in the incredible heat. My bags were way too much for one person to be carrying, and although Yuwa accompanied me to Nippori (thank you!) there was still a really long train ride ahead. I can’t believe most of the ticket gates in train stations! Getting through them with my bags was a nightmare, so I can imagine how much worse it must be to try to get through them with a wheelchair or baby carrier. My hands and legs got all scratched up trying to wrestle with my top-heavy and in-horrible-condition-why-don’t-my-parents-buy-sturdy-luggage bags. :/

I’m having a difficult time working through my feelings about leaving Japan. Seeing the airport was weird, because I remember being here like it was just yesterday, but it was two months ago. I miss the fun times from the trip itself, with Robert and Sachi and Ethan and Laura and other people too. If I do get to see them again, we won’t get to hang out in Chiba or Tokyo anymore. As for my Japanese friends, I really hope they’ll come to visit me in the US someday, but I don’t know how realistic that is, especially since I live on the east coast instead of California, Hawaii, or somewhere closer. I wonder if American food will taste good in comparison to Japanese food, haha. I am dying for some Mexican food and cheesy Papa John’s pizza!! But I doubt I’ll ever get to eat such healthy and yet delicious food as I did here.

At first I laughed at the Study Abroad Office for having a link about “reverse culture shock” but now I am thinking about how I’ll adjust to life back home. To start off, I have to find something new to motivate me. For at least a year and a half, maybe two years, going to Japan has been my dream. Last summer, I spent all of my free time on Japanese, because it took away my worries about my job that I didn’t much care for, in a town that can be lonely in the summer. I wrote down all the application dates for this trip a year in advance, read and re-read the UNC Study Abroad websites, started a membership at, listened to tapes, and took a brief online course on Japanese etiquette and customs. I bought books and even studied my Japanese textbook before the class started last fall. I knew that no matter what my grade in the class was, my Japanese in Japan had to be great. 

Now it seems maybe my dream is over. I told some people that I would try to come back after I graduate, but I wonder if that is really possible. I will have to keep it in my options. As for diverting my passion, I expect I will focus on my major in college, which truly interests me immensely. But few things inspire me as much as languages and cultures, and finally understanding a conversation that previously had sounded like jibberish and looked like little drawings on paper. Fortunately, there are lots of ways to combine my love of Spanish/Japanese with environmental health.

It was a wonderful trip, much better than I could have imagined, and my Japanese improved a ton. I have a new understanding and appreciation of Japanese culture instead of the more romanticized one I had imagined before coming here.

My view of America has changed too. A number of Japanese people have asked me if I own a gun, or is my neighborhood dangerous, because they consider it a much more crime-filled society than Japan (and it is, but they get their view of America from shows like CSI). It makes me wonder if the rest of the world thinks we’re an exceptionally violent society, when previously I had thought we’re pretty safe (in comparison to Iraq, Nigeria, etc). I previously thought America wasn’t perfect but “the best/safest there could be.”

Tokyo definitely has problems too but I loved how safe it was there, much more than in the US but especially in a big city! I walked home alone late at night without any problems at all, although I was alert in case of danger.  

Before my plane left for the US, I went to use a Japanese bathroom for the last time. It was so clean and the signs were so Japanese that I had to take pictures of them. I used the genius toilet one last time, with more functions than I thought ever necessary on a toilet.

On the plane, I read John Michael’s awesome novel which took about 6-9 hours (I lost track of time, haha). It made the 12-hour-flight seem so much shorter! But I realized how slow I am at reading sometimes. I sat next to some really fashionable and excited Japanese college students who were going to NYC for the first time, for a month. We chatted in Japanese a bit. I got really sad that my trip was over.

Here are some pictures from right before landing.

Well, it sure was a great time. I'm glad I kept this blog because now it will be impossible for me to forget each individual day. :) I should really print out the whole thing! Much easier than creating a scrapbook, pasting photo-by-photo and writing tons of captions by hand. Hooray! 

Backtracking: Aug. 1st in Yokohama

On Sunday, August 1, Yuwa and I woke up early to go to Yokohama. I was very tired that day, but still glad that we went despite the ridiculous heat. First we went to the Chinatown, which is the biggest one in Japan.

We had a really delicious lunch there.

Here’s Yuwa. :)

 After lunch, we went to the train station so we could go to Minato Mirai, a beautiful district with huge buildings. On the way to the station, we saw a traditional Japanese summer festival celebration!

The funny thing I noticed about this festival was that people were not wearing pants! One old guy, I could really see his bum.

My main goal in Yokohama was to go to the top of the Yokohama Landmark Tower, the highest observatory in Japan. (Currently the Tokyo Sky Tree, which is still being built, is taller, but there is no observatory there yet. It’s set to finish in 2012, so I’ll have to come back!)  It was located in Minato Mirai, a few stops away from Chinatown.

The view was incredible, as I thought it would be!

Isn’t it hard to believe that this is Yokohama and not Tokyo? Then again, Yokohama is Japan’s second largest city.

I saw this pool and I had to take pictures of the people there.  

There were fish tanks on the top floor with exotic fish, so I took some pictures of those.

I even saw a cruise ship. 

People were setting up tarps and blankets for the fireworks show that would be later that night. Soon the whole area got really crowded with people dressed in yukata, the summer version of a kimono.

We went to a pretty and historic red brick building, not a common sight in Japan. It was a mall, but too crowded on the inside to be much fun.

Outside, it was unbearably hot for me and I was wearing much less fabric than they were, so I don’t know how they tolerated it. The heat was actually so rough for me that I asked Yuwa if we could go back home early, and she said yes. I felt bad about that but I really wasn’t in the mood to go exploring or having adventures in such awful weather.

After we finally made it to the station, we got on our trains and then parted at Meguro so I could go to Toyocho to have dinner with my host family.

I saw this ad in the station, loved it. :)

Saying goodbye to my host family that night was really hard. We ate our last dinner together, and we watched the Koto-ku fireworks from their apartment windows. They were really beautiful!

On the way to their apartment, I took a lot of pictures of the walk I took so many times from the station to their apartment. It was a really depressing walk for me that last day.

Namiko made me higashi chu-ka, one of my favorite new foods in Japan. I will try to make it when I get back to the US. I took a picture of it because I always do that when I want to remember how it looks and tastes. :)

After dinner and fireworks, we watched funny game shows, played with Pokémon toys, and played Wii. It reminded me of all the relaxing nights we spent together while I was procrastinating from my homework. :) The comedy shows had fat Japanese men dressed in schoolgirl uniforms, my favorite!

Takumi smoked me at most of the Wii games, but I did pretty well and won some of them. Then we played games with plastic food, which was really fun. Takumi likes to memorize the food and hide while we take one piece away, and then he has to guess which one is gone. He’s really good at that, but I took the tomatoes out of the sandwich and he couldn’t figure that one out!

Here is a picture of the Pokémon towel and tarp that Okano-san gave to Takumi. He loves it and started playing with it immediately. He lined up all of the Pokémon toys he has, which is a ton. Each one is around $1 so his family has a significant investment in plastic Pokémon toys. :)

Then my host family drove me to the Toyocho station even though it was 11pm. Namiko and I hugged and cried, and I was really, really sad. So sad, in fact, that on my way back to Yuwa’s house, I missed my correct train transfer station and had to re-route myself, almost missing the last train of the night back to Oji. That would have been disastrous.

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Backtracking: July 30th with the Okano family

On Friday, July 30, I went to Kasai station to meet Sachi’s host family and hang out. It was a ton of fun! We had some drinks (Sachi’s host mom loves the booze :D), watched some viral videos on Youtube, and ate a fabulous lunch.

The Okano family is so cute!

Sachi’s host cat, lol. It runs away a lot so they keep it on a leash.

Then we went to the fireworks show in Asakusa! It was extremely crowded, even on the train on the way there.

More crowds! People were wearing traditional yukata dress because the fireworks are a beloved Japanese tradition. I was dying of the heat so I don’t know how they managed in the hot yukata. I wanted to wear mine but I was worried about making it gross with sweat, and about not being able to run if there was a crowd stampede for some reason.

Sachi’s host sister by the bridge.

The best place to view the fireworks is from a tour boat in the middle of the river, because you can see the fireworks from both sources (one up-river, one down-river) and the reflections in the water, with no one in your way. But you have to make a reservation at least a year in advance and I think Okano-san said it was like ~$300.

More crowds! There were ~1 million people there but thankfully it was pretty safe.

I videotaped/stalked some college students who were singing and playing drinking games with a HUGE bottle of sake. Thought it was pretty funny. :)

Here are some videos I took of the fireworks show. Some of them are only about 10 or so seconds long, but definitely worth seeing. These are my favorites of the dozen or so videos I took that night. :)