Thursday, June 17, 2010

Elementary School Field Trip

Today was so cute! We went to Ichikawa station to visit a Japanese elementary school. But I went two hours early in case I would get lost on the way there, and so I could have plenty of time to find a bank to change my traveler's cheques. That was a bit of an intimidating experience because I could barely understand the extra-formal Japanese that the bank employees always used with me. I managed to get $200 changed to yen, which was great because I had only $10 left from the original $300 I changed in the airport on the first day. Japan is expensive! But then again, the monthly train pass was about $100, so I'd say I've been budgeting pretty well. The upcoming trip to Mt. Fuji will be a pricey one for me, I think, at the very least $100 for four days of hostel lodging. It will be worth it, though. This will be me in a few weeks!

The first few days I was here, my long commute was exciting, but now it has become routine. It's not a hassle for me or anything, but the other people on the train are always so solemn and quiet that it can be a little discouraging. So today I put on my iPod Shuffle and it played Lady Gaga all the way to my destination. Needless to say, my trips today made me feel fabulous.

When we went to the elementary school, we had to take our shoes off and wear clean indoor slippers. We were introduced to the principal in Japanese and a few other people spoke to us. Then our classroom's children came to pick us up and bring us back to their class. Rachel and I were together to visit a 5th grade classroom, so we introduced ourselves and then answered a few questions from the kids in Japanese. It was a LOT harder than I would have thought; they phrased everything politely and often asked quickly and quietly. If we didn't understand, which happened frequently, there were 30 pairs of eyes focused on us. My favorite question was from a boy who said in Japanese, "I heard that in America, there are paper towels in every bathroom. Is this true?" :) In Japan, there generally are no paper towels because people use handkerchiefs. But what really gets me is when there is no soap, like in some train station bathrooms!

After that, the teacher asked us to draw a map of the US and talk about North Carolina in Japanese, so we did. I also drew Kansas, California, and Texas, and we labeled our hometowns in NC. One student asked if Chapel Hill had any famous foods and I said, "Burritos" and then described them. :) Another student asked about my favorite Japanese foods and I made a huge list. They asked if I hated any Japanese food and I said, "Natto." Everyone was shocked, haha. But natto is gross to me.

Rachel and I taught the class how to sing 'Old MacDonald Had a Farm' in English but we realized midway through that they had already heard/learned the song. Oh well, we tried. :) After that, we all practiced painting kanjis, like the shodo that we did last week. It was easier this time but I still messed up a bunch before I could get it somewhat right.

For lunch, the kids brought in carts full of food and various students served all of the others. I think they do that every day, and they just eat in their class. It was very cute and efficient! We had fried fish (a million times better than American school fried fish), veggies, miso soup, milk, and WATERMELON. Mmm, I ate Rachel's too because she doesn't like it. It seems like Japanese people only drink Vitamin D (whole) milk, which surprises me because it's so fattening. It's definitely the most delicious milk in my opinion, but most Japanese are so slim. Must be all the walking! I noticed in the shower today that my calves are getting super-muscular, definitely from walking all day. Not even counting the 80 minutes I walk roundtrip in my commute every day, I always spend hours walking on my adventures in malls, parks, and tourist districts. :)

The students had recess and showed us how they are learning to grow rice in their recess yard. It was really great! When we went inside, the kids all cleaned up everything. The girls asked me if we do this in the US, and I said that no, usually a janitor comes in after school and cleans. They were pretty surprised!

This girl is airborne here. :D

The girl on the far left in this picture is mute, so her friends always helped her say things. She could hear just fine, and her kanjis were beautiful. She was so cute!!

The school seemed sort of like a big house with a courtyard playground in the center, and rooms all along the inside that each opened up to the outside and the inside. It was so hot today but all the windows and doors were open at one point. Then they closed them and put the AC on.

The kids were pretty wild during class but maybe they were just lively (genki!). I was struck by how much cooler and cuter they seemed than the kids in my American 5th grade class.

An English teacher came in and practiced the English names of fruits and animals with them. Her pronunciation wasn't too terribly English. ;) But it was a really fun thing to see. I was finally like, "I know the answer to this!!" But right as we were about to play an English game, Rachel and I had to go. :(

After we left the school, it was so hot that three friends and I decided to go to a traditional-looking Japanese bar. We couldn't exactly find one, so we just found a place with the kanji for osake on it and went in. It was air-conditioned and quiet!! So we had a great time. We couldn't read the menu so I just asked the waiter what he liked and got that. :D It ended up being tea with whiskey in it, or vice versa. Whatever it was, it was so good to drink on a hot day.

Every day when I walk to and from the Toyocho station, I walk through the iris garden and the waterway park. Today I was so impressed with its beauty that I stopped to admire the turtles and fish, and a woman with an adorable child chatted with me in Japanese. :) That's pretty unusual because I don't think Japanese people like to talk to strangers unless they must.

For the first time I felt a little lonely tonight. I get the feeling that my host brother doesn't like me anymore, but I'm not sure why that would be the case. It seems like he only talks to me when he wants me to go away or to use my Nintendo DS. Maybe it's all in my head. I'm missing some people at home, and some people at school are also getting to me. I think I need to hang out with more Japanese friends next week and study harder, and then I'll forget my troubles. :)

It's a good thing that the Nikko trip is tomorrow. I'm not bored by any means, but I could use a change of scenery just for a few days and this will be perfect. :)

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Wheelbarrows, the beach, chocosake, and nature

Today I overslept big time! But I managed to make it to class almost on time. The real reason why I was a little late was because my Suica card (train pass) malfunctioned in the station a little bit, so I couldn't get through quickly. It was pouring rain today, but it cleared up during my long class. :)

There was a fun concert during lunch, much like yesterday! One band played Nickleback songs, haha. The second band played Rihanna's "Umbrella" and Gaga's "Poker Face," and the lead singer took his shirt off. First band:
Second band video! I think their mic wasn't on, or maybe my camera malfunctioned. 

If that wasn't entertaining enough, there were these hilarious college students pushing each other around in wheelbarrows and tipping each other out. Shortly after this picture was taken, the guy (who is in two wheelbarrows at once) was dumped on his face. ;) 

After lunch, some friends and I went to the Aeon and I found what I have looked for for quite awhile!!


Robaato-san and I went to the beach and I drank the chocosake. :D The water was so cool and my hair got full of salt just like at home. I was sad to see a lot of small trash in the water. It wasn't nearly as bad as the amount of trash you can see along the Snow's Cut Bridge in Wilmington but I expected better from Tokyo, I suppose. I was told that there is no trash on the ground in Tokyo but that's not true either. However, the streets are VERY clean for such a huge city. I frequently see solitary volunteers picking up little bits of paper from the sidewalk with sticks and bags. Occasionally I walk by a drain that smells like Mexico City's water, which makes me a little sad.
I also saw these and wanted to buy them. <3 Seal pillows!

On my walk home, I see a ton of wild animals. :) Here is a turtle in the pond and a heron, I think.
The fish are huge!

I actually see a ton of crabs by the water in the park! I forget sometimes that it is ocean/brackish water. But when I first saw a crab here, I thought it was Shelob, the world's scariest spider.


I didn't have too many adventures today other than going to the beach and seeing that concert. I was so tired when I got home, though. 

The view from my apartment tonight. I love Tokyo. <3

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Japanese belly-dancers!

Class today was maa-maa (so-so). I learned some nice new kanji but there is a lot to memorize. I'm not too fond of the format of our class because it's difficult to organize my thoughts about what we have to do each night and how best to practice it. Basically, I miss the Genki textbooks from the last two years, where everything was clearly stated and easily memorize with relevant examples. Our teacher realized that she has been letting us out early every day so now we have to stay until 12:30 instead of 12:10. Oh well.

Nikko is going to be a lot of fun, though! We will get to see Toshogu shrine, the most elaborately decorated shrine in all of Japan. It is a World Heritage site!

We will also get to take an onsen (hot spring) bath, and I know all the rules in Japan. The baths are sex-segregated and we will all be naked!! No towels, bathing suits, or underwear allowed. :) And you can only enter the baths after being clean already. I'm excited to try this.

Today we experienced a cool thing at lunch! There is apparently a belly-dancing club at my university and a ton of beautiful female students in beautiful outfits came into the courtyard and performed. They did some Arabic songs, some Indian songs, and some Colombian and Dominican songs, haha. It was great! I was so happy to see Japanese people doing these things because I did not expect to see it. But after all, Kanda University is for international studies.
(My e-pal Nami is on the far right! So cool!)

My friends and I weren't very good at concentrating on the dances because we were focused on how beautiful the outfits and students were. They were so good at shaking their hips, too! I made some videos:

This one sounded more Indian to me.

This one is the least traditional belly-dancing because it's to a Dominican song, which happens to be one of my favorites. :D (Whine Up by Kat Deluna)

After a long train ride in which my friends became very hungry and impatient, we went to Sunamachi Ginza (my second time) to get delicious food and look at the second-hand clothes store. There wasn't much time there because Robaato had to go home, but it was still fun. My feet were so tired after walking to and from the station four times today, and all through Sunamachi Ginza! I bought eel in a seafood store and the people looked at me like I was crazy when I said I didn't want a second plastic bag. I said I would eat the eel right away, and they laughed at me even more because they said it tastes much better warm. But they didn't have a microwave...and they said it wouldn't make me sick to eat it cold. But everyone in the immediate area was staring at me for my weird eel habits apparently.

DINNER WAS SO GOOD!! There is plain ramen under all of these amazing toppings, and a little bit of sauce/dressing and some kind of grain (?) on the top. My host mom is so talented!

Monday, June 14, 2010

Kabuki and other types of drama, octopus meals, and English cussing

Today we had class and it was once again interesting. My teacher makes a lot of kanji mistakes, though. On our quizzes, she sometimes writes the wrong kanji and asks us for the definition when we have not studied it. Also, she write kanji on the board in the wrong stroke order or forgetting some of the important details. I guess it's easier to notice for someone who has had to religiously study kanji details recently (me) than someone who is going by instinct and childhood knowledge, and is rushing through it quickly to write the next word.

 Here is a very interesting link with some information about Japanese PDA sentiment.

The best part of today was kabuki theatre!! We went after class to the train station and then into Tokyo, to a special theatre called the National Theatre of Japan. There was a short introduction to kabuki with very helpful information about this style of drama that I had never seen before. Fortunately, we all had English headphone sets that told us some of the background info and translated a lot of the dialogue and connotations. The show we saw was called Narukami. The plot was awesome, you should check out a brief summary here. I was really surprised at how sexual the seduction was! For a play written hundreds of years ago, this must have been very controversial and the commentary said as much. It was neat to see these male-female relations when all of the characters are played by male actors only. That picture is from Narukami but I didn't take it; I was pretty sure that we couldn't have cameras in there. The stylized voices, instruments, makeup, and movement patterns were so fascinating. Before seeing it, I had wondered if I might find it boring but I was riveted. :) Robaato-san agreed and maybe we will go see another kabuki show. The scene we saw was probably an hour or two long, and it was only part of the show, which can be hours and hours long.

Everyone should take a glance at the acting techniques, especially the ways in which the male actors portray women (onnagata). It's so interesting! I liked how the beautiful princess in Narukami was very clever and seductive, being portrayed as saving Japan from drought through her shrewdness and sexuality. Of course, beautiful women were viewed as tricky and dangerous. The actors and the background musicians had string instruments that I bet Steven would have loved. :)

After kabuki, I didn't really want to go straight home, so Ethan, Robaato-san, and I went to a conbini (convenience store) to buy a snack. I would have preferred a restaurant but this was a good idea because we found macha (green tea) Oreo bars! What an interesting flavor. I don't think I'll buy it again but it was neat to try once. It tasted like it was full of green tea powder, and I think it was.

Dinner tonight was wonderful! We had takoyaki, which means octopus balls (not octopus testicles, for those of you thinking that's what it means). It was delicious! Here are some pictures.



After dinner, I helped Namiko-san with her English (which is extremely good, although she does not agree). I corrected some of her emails that she printed out and she helped me with my Japanese. Then she and Tomoaki-san asked to learn about the various ways to use "fuck", so I taught them, hahaha. It was so funny for me to teach them how to recognize the difference between "fuck off" and "fuck up." They were so studious. :) They said they watched Pulp Fiction and heard "fuck" about a million times. I also taught them "shit just got real." It was a fun night! If only I didn't have a big test tomorrow...

The rainy season started today. It will now rain at least until July, I believe, every single day. Oh well!

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Earthquake, shopping, unagi, and studying day :)

Today I got to sleep in for the first time since coming to Japan. :) It was quite nice. My host family and I ate breakfast together: a delicious salad with boiled egg, cheese, rice flake cereal, tomatoes, and dressing. Mmm. :)

I went back to my room to respond to all of my blog comments and then chatted online with a friend and then with my parents via Skype. They met my host family and it was fun, although the internet connection kept cutting out and my sister's camera isn't too good. Then before I knew it, it was lunch time!

I remember that lunch was really good but I forgot what we ate because I was so excited to experience an earthquake!! Yes, there was a small earthquake during lunch! I kept thinking, "If my mom knew that right after I got off the phone with her, I was in an earthquake, she would freak out!!" The word for earthquake in Japanese is "jishin" (じしん). The floor swayed back and forth and it was really fun. The lamp above our heads also moved. It was probably a 2 or 3 on the Richter scale, my family said, and about the same intensity as the one I was in last week while I was sleeping. I can't wait to experience another one, as long as it is relatively small!

After lunch, we went to an "arcade", which I discovered during lunch is the Japanese word for a shopping district, haha. Not the same as an American arcade, which the Japanese call "game center." It was really cool, though! And there was an arcade there too, lol. There were so many shops, and everything was cheaper than what I saw in Shibuya and Harajuku.

The neatest thing was seeing all of the food. I hope next week after class one day I can bring my friends here to eat lunch after school. This would also be a great place to bring my new Japanese friends! I declare today's blog to be primarily about food:

This fish-shaped bread dessert is make from alcohol and whipped cream and some other things, my host family told me. :) It was delicious!

Mmm, yakitori!! They also interesting meats other than bird meat, such as eggs, chicken skin, pig bones which are apparently chewy and therefore unappetizing to me, and seafood.

This was my dinner tonight. YUMMMMMMM. We bought the food in the market and brought it home to eat for dinner. We got pineapple for dessert, along with orange and banana cakes. :) Have I mentioned that I eat a ton of food here? I rarely encounter something I don't really like.

There was Pokemon tofu too. :)

My favorite: unagi (eel). YUM YUM YUM. It was neat to see Taku-chan eating eel because my little brother would rather die before eating that, and my mom might not even eat it either. But Taku loves his interesting foods, like raw egg in his rice (a common thing in Japan that I haven't tried), eel, and tofu. :)

I ate a dried fish like one seen in this picture, except mine wasn't fried. It was a first for me!

After looking at all of the food and buying some for dinner, Namiko-san and Tomoaki-san and I went into a furugi shop that actually DID remind me of the Goodwill! And nearly everything was ~$1!! I got some really neat clothes there. :D

Time for bed again... I get tired so easily here.