Saturday, July 3, 2010

Tea ceremony and interview day (Fri)

Sorry for not updating for two days in a row! Sad, they were so busy too! Here's a little summary of both of them. I couldn't update because last night I chose to go to bed at 9pm and I slept for 13 hours. :D Maybe now I'll get over my cold!

On Friday we gave interviews to Japanese college students in our classroom, because we have been writing surveys and will soon do a report. Mine is about the train system and how long people commute, what they think is rude on the train, and if they have ever missed the last train and such. It was a lot of fun to ask questions! So far, it seems like most people think that annoying behaviors on trains are:
-speaking in loud voices
-talking on the phone
-sitting on the floor
-crying babies
-bad manners
-eating foods that smell strongly or drinking alcohol

After class, we ate lunch and then headed to a very beautiful tea house in Tokyo. There we learned the traditional art of Japanese tea ceremony. It was so fascinating to watch and participate. I felt like a spaz because I didn't know what to do or say, and we stumbled a lot while doing it. The tea room was very small but most were, and it was an exceptional ceremony. The room looked like the one in this picture except three times smaller. I was surprised that we could fit so many people into it!
This looks more like it, actually, except even smaller.
The reason why the door (not seen in this picture, but very low to the ground so you had to crawl into it)  is so small is because in the Edo period, samurai would come to tea houses. Their swords couldn't fit through the tiny door. They weren't allowed to bring their swords in, so they had to leave them outside because inside everyone had to be equals.

We ate small, extremely sweet cakes made of red bean paste and followed it up with bitter tea. The mixture was very good! The second dessert was a little candy that looked like fireworks but was solid sugar on the inside. It was too sweet for me but I ate the whole thing so I would be respectful. :) Then we had another cup of bitter tea. Before picking up the tea, you have to ask the person to your right if they have drunk enough already, because the person on the right is the most respected. Then you say to the person on your left that you will respectfully have tea first. When you receive tea, you have to rotate the cup clockwise so the design is facing your guests, then bow to the tea because it is an expensive and sacred herb. Then you take one sip and tell the tea master that it tastes very good. Then you can drink the rest. I really loved the ceremony, but it was so hard to remember the phrases! They were in highly respectful Japanese, which uses different verb patterns than common Japanese.

The flowers were picked from the mountains that morning and our teacher told us before the ceremony that the tiny cakes were each like $10, very pricey. Everything was so perfect. :D

Ethan always steals my pictures for his blog so I'm going to steal his paragraph about the tea ceremony: "The Japanese tea ceremony is really complex and has a lot of rules and movements according to the formality of the situation. In Japan, some women will spend their whole lives studying and performing them. The woman who served us today has been practicing it for around 50 years and it definitely showed. All her movements in making and serving the tea looked really precise and rehearsed. Not only that but the tea she made was really good ha. Unfortunately, they made it a bit sweeter than they normally do since they have the belief that foreigners don’t like it so bitter but I would have preferred that. Still good though. The room itself was small as it usually is and we had to enter through a small hole in the wall. This was based on tradition as back in the day, it was meant to prevent the entrance of katana swords. Also you are supposed to take off jewelry and such because in the tea ceremony everyone is supposed to be equals. So all of that was cool."

At home I had a little bit of a rough night and then talked to my mom on Skype. I was so sick but we talked for a long time on the phone even though I wanted to sleep. Then I went to bed!

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Edo Museum, fake food and real food, and awkward Akihabara times

Today my class went to the Edo Museum, about the Edo period in Tokyo's history. I loved it!! There are tons of pictures. :) Here is a very pretty thing near the entrance. 
We had a great tour guide who had delightful English skills and showed us all around. This is a taxi for a bride, who would be about 16 or 17 years old and generally 4ft 7in or so, so definitely could fit inside. It was heavy and carried by four people, two on the front and two on the back.
I fell in love with these room separators, although that's not their proper term. They were so beautiful and accurately told important info about the history of Edo, formerly Tokyo. I'm sure they are priceless, because not only are they historical and gorgeous, they are also made of gold. 
This is a painting/drawing of the Great Fire in Tokyo in the 1600s. It burned for three days and destroyed 60%  of Tokyo, killing 100,000 people. The houses were so close together and all made of wood. In an earthquake or a fight (Tokyo housed only samurai and merchants in the Edo period; lots of fights), it only took one candle falling over to set the whole city on fire. This incidence was probably arson, because three fires were set in three different parts of the city at suspicious times. 

The firefighters were so cool! They would wave banners on top of houses to get their friends to tear down the adjacent houses, to stop the fire from spreading. Water was precious and heavy, so not very useful. But this system was also not the most efficient...

These are the firefighters going to put out a fire. :)

The printing process was gorgeous and amazing. Click on this picture to see how intricate the steps were. Each layer was from a block of wood and had to be exact. My jaw dropped when I saw these prints and the wood blocks. 

Japanese books, made in a similar way but monochrome. Amazing!

After the Edo Museum, our teachers took us to lunch in Asakusa where we made monja (in the picture) and okonomiyaki on a grill right in front of us. YUMMMMMMMMM. This one was full of cheese, my favorite.

Then we went with Aratake-sensei to see the fake food stores in Asakusa. So cool yet so expensive. 

After that, my friends and I went to Akihabara for a short time. Akihabara, for those who don't know, is a district in Tokyo full of electronics, manga, and anime culture. After WWII, Akihabara became famous for all the smart Tokyo University guys who had to drop out because of the war; they would all go to Akihabara to buy spare parts to build their own radios (the latest technology). From there, it turned into the electronics district and somehow is now also the pervert district? Who knows. I have been there twice and it is like 80% men/20% women on the streets and 100% men in the arcades/porn stores/maid cafes. No wonder the birth rate here is so low!

The fourth floor of a store we went to was entirely card games, ahaha. There were all kinds of card games, from Magic: The Gathering to games I had never heard of that had only sexy manga women on the cards and who knows how that game is actually played. It was $90, hah. We saw some ultra-nerdy-looking guys playing Magic. Oh, speaking of ultra-nerds: they seem to be the only people in Tokyo who do not dress well or properly groom themselves. Seriously, all guys at the universities and elsewhere dress up every day in the most fashionable clothes and are always well-groomed (same with the women). But Japanese otaku nerds have holes in their plain, black, oversized t-shirts, don't brush or style their hair, and are often either really, really skinny or really, really fat. It's almost like there's not a mid-range! This is a generalization but in Akihabara, the stereotype fits. And there are big differences between Japanese casual anime watchers/manga readers, nerds, and ultra-nerds. Even my host dad reads manga, like dignified adventure/medical drama stories.

Akihabara was even weirder than the first time I went, so I don't think I'm going to go back. I don't think I like it there very much, too much freaky child porn in the form of manga. If you want to learn more about why that's legal here, look up "lolicon"

Not sure why the font is messing up... oh well. :D

Dinner tonight was amazing!! I love fish so much. 

After dinner, we watched game shows and played games, and I did some homework. This game show had a gay team vs. what appeared to be a straight team. It was really funny. :) Both teams had to do the same difficult or ridiculous stunts. These are all men here. :)

I'm really sad that I had to rush my blog tonight. :( I took so many more pictures and had a lot more to say. But I have been sick lately and I need to try to get to bed "early" at midnight, which here is actually very late, since I must wake up at 6:40am and then stay awake school all morning. I almost always have to buy coffee to survive, because when I don't, my quiz grades are poor.

Tomorrow afternoon, my class and I are going to learn about the Japanese tea ceremony, which I'm sure will be amazing. There is an art to pouring and serving tea that I have no idea about, and I look forward to learning. The tea house is extremely fancy and the woman who puts on this lesson always buys a new kimono and very expensive food for the UNC students who come every year. We have to dress up. :) I think it will be a great time, especially if I become not-sick. My host mom bought me cough drops today. :D のどあめです。ありがとう!!

Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Sumitomo adventures

Today I got my test back from Tuesday; the grade was not too bad. I thought I did really spectacularly poorly but actually I got a mid-high B. I hope it translates into an A for the grade that will affect my GPA, because that final exam is averaged with the attendance and homework grades.

My throat hurts today, and I left my water bottle at home! So I had to buy some drinks. I found a vending machine that makes drinks right in front of me, and I got a banana smoothie, mmm. But later I had to get a bottle of water because my throat still hurt and the banana drink was all gone.

The bird on our porch is dead. It looked pretty lifeless this morning. :( Its siblings are quite lively, though. Namiko-san went to bury the bird in the park after dinner.

Lunchtime brought another neat concert; the Kanda Step Team! I took some videos. This one is particularly hilarious.

Instead of going to Akihabara after lunch, I decided to climb the stairs of the Sumitomo building, as practice for Mt. Fuji. All of my other friends were working out too, so I just did my own special workout. :) There were 27 floors. I took a break at floor 15 to call Sachi and Ethan to tell them I could see them on the soccer field even all the way across the highway. But the stairwell was really hot if I wasn't moving, so I quickly picked up the pace.

I made it to the top in only about 15-20 minutes (minus the phone call) and saw the awesome view. But again, the longer I was motionless, the sweatier I got! So I quickly headed down the stairs, since I will have to climb down Mt. Fuji and I need those muscles too. :D

Here's the view looking down the railing; 26 flights can be seen. :)

Kanda University from above

The view of Chiba

Sachi and Ethan playing soccer on the Kanda fields

After climbing back down, I hung out in the air-conditioned IES Center on the 3rd floor of the Sumitomo building. It took an hour for me to cool down completely, haha. It was a good time to check email. Ethan and I worked on our plans for the Mt. Fuji trip.

The sky from the train.

When I finally got home, the sky was even more beautiful!

Namiko-san made my favorite meal tonight, hiyashichuka!

Tuesday, June 29, 2010


Yesterday was boring (just studying) so I didn't write a blog entry for it. I got soaked on my way home yesterday because I forgot an umbrella. :( The food was probably the most notable part of the day: Japanese-style spaghetti at lunch (their sauce tastes a lot different) and really amazing risotto for dinner. Namiko said it's actually really easy to make! I'll have to try it. :)

Today I woke up early so I wouldn't be late for my final exam....only to find all the Tozai line trains at Toyocho station were stopped. I thought it was because of a suicide farther up the line, but my host mom says she heard that a car was broken. I wonder if that's really what happened, but whatever the case, I had to take a bus. Some very nice Japanese people took pity on me and helped me find my way to Shin-Kiba station (never been there before) and then onto another train to Kaihim-makuhari. 

There was a moment in the Shin-Kiba station where I ALMOST cried, which would be the first time of the summer. I was definitely going to be late for my final exam (due what what I thought was suicide, very depressing), I had no idea where to go or where I was, and people were running all around me trying to get to their trains. I made eye contact with a man and said, "Excuse me" in Japanese just like I always do, except with a more scared look on my face probably. He frowned, ROLLED HIS EYES at me, shook his head with irritation, and pointed to the information center, which had a huge line, full of people trying to find new trains after the Tozai line was stopped. Then he hurried away. I know he was busy and I know I look foreign and stupid but I almost cried right there. No one has blown me off like that since I've gotten here. There couldn't have been a worse time for it to happen than when I was already so stressed out and contemplating the fragility of life and the horror of train station suicides. Did I mention it was pouring rain and my feet were soaked? Discomfort goes well with woe.

Eventually I just picked an escalator and a nice English-speaking man directed me to my correct train. I don't think he was American but he didn't look Japanese. Anyway, so that was the rough start to my day. I arrived in class late and immediately had to take a giant 2-hour final exam, which went okay but not great. The speaking part was the most stressful, because I could see my teacher grading me as I was speaking, and I wasn't getting 10s. The particle section was extremely upsetting because I had no idea what I was doing, and same with the reading section. Kanji and grammar were fine, I think. I wouldn't worry so much if this test didn't translate into a huge effect on my UNC GPA.

I talked to Yutaro at lunch and told him that my day was bad because there was a suicide on my train. He proceeded to tell me what it looks like when you see someone jump in front of a train. It basically made me sick. He said his friend saw it happen right in front of him one time.

Then I accidentally poured green tea all over myself and it was not a fun day for Caroline. At least it was cold. At this point I declared to Sachi that I really wanted to make heart-and-sparkle-covered purikura and write, "Shitty day!" on it. Because usually people write "happy day" and all sort of other things on theirs. :)

We had a guest lecture at IES after lunch, and I was so pleasantly surprised by how fascinating it was. The topic was the Edo period of Japanese history, and it was told by a really great British teacher who showed lots of great photos on her powerpoint and had many stories. The whole thing felt like story time, actually. :D Edo is the old name for Tokyo, and also the period in which Edo/Tokyo became the ruling center of Japan. I can't wait to go to the Edo Museum on Thursday after hearing this lecture. I was especially impressed by the massive fires (one wiped out 60% of Edo and killed 100,000), the Edo peasant volunteer firemen, and how the prostitutes of the Edo period had a lifespan of about 22 years.

After the lecture, Laura, Sachi, and I went to the Aeon to do purikura, because I had assumed that it would cure my woes on a bad day. But actually the lecture already took care of that, so we just had fun. Here's all of our purikura (click to see). Editing them was so much fun, and the timer got stopped so we just kept adding more and more stars and hearts. :D I tried to draw kanji but it got vetoed... We need to have some Japanese people with us so they can help us out! It's funny how the goal of purikura is to look really white; I always succeed at that. :) This one is my favorite.

After this, I commuted home and wrote a letter to my Grandma on the train. :D Then I walked to Sunamachi Ginza in search of a special skirt. I was unsuccessful but I did find a nice Japanese one-piece which I will soon wear. Mom, if you're reading this, don't worry; it was not expensive!

We had take-out food tonight because Namiko-san had such a difficult day at work. The take-out food was delicious though! I had rice with chicken and bamboo. I put a raw egg on my food for the first time, and it was tasty. I don't like the texture of raw egg, though.

Here is the baby bird on our porch. I just looked at it outside and I think it is dead. :( Either that, or it's a very rigid sleeper. 

Time to go take a shower; it's so hot in Tokyo all the time. :(

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Fun with Rika in Ueno and entering the Nerd Zone (Akihabara)

Today I met Rika, the Kanda University student who contacted me about my Language Exchange ad on the wall. :) We went to Ueno, to the Ameyoko street market! It was really fun, and there were so many stores that I got lost a little. We saw some stores selling cheap World Cup team-looking t-shirts and many things for foreigners. For instance, I have seen maybe two people in Japan wearing shirts with actual Japanese writing on them. Almost every shirt is in English, however many errors there may be. But shirts with Japanese on them are usually for foreigners, and there were some in the Ameyoko street market.

We saw a temple in the middle of Ueno and decided to visit it. We each said a prayer, tossed a coin in, and then came out. The man taking our picture gave me a souvenir Japanese fan. :)

Our lunch, omg so good. Mine was only 350-en!

I bought pineapple, mmmm, so delicious! Only 100 en. :D

After hanging around in Ueno, visiting the stores, and eating lunch, Rika and I walked the 15-ish minutes to Akihabara. Akihabara distinguishes itself not just by featuring tons of electronics and manga, but also by having SO MANY MEN. It's like women were rare there, almost. A lot of guys stared me down while I was there, maybe because of my dress. Rika said that when Japanese otaku (anime nerd) guys don't have girlfriends, they play videogames a lot (a LOT) and replace real women with looking at scantily-clad manga girls. Akihabara was very good evidence of that. Do you see any girls in this video, other than Rika and me?

We watched a grown man pay out a ton of money on one of those crane games just to try to win a box of candy that would be very cheap at any supermarket. He kept losing, and he kept paying more and money. Kind of sad. There were so many things you could win from these machines, and rarely were they worth the money people paid!

In the arcade, I saw a guy with a blue wig wearing an anime suit. Of course I wanted to get a picture with him and he was happy to oblige. :D

There were "maid cafes" where the waitresses all wear sexy maid outfits and pretend to be your grateful, subservient, and loving wife. This is another thing that otaku boys and men like. If you want to take a picture of the maids, you have to pay $5. You can pay $30 to have them accompany you for shopping times. Learning about that made me a little uncomfortable... Speaking of uncomfortable, Rika explained to me why the extremely young girls are featured in humiliating circumstances or erotic positions/clothing with their underwear showing in Japan, especially in Akihabara. Apparently that is what the men want to see, and it is legal to see that as long as they don't act on it with real children. (She said the drawings were often middle school and high school girls.) I personally wonder where the line is drawn between these things and child porn, which is strictly illegal in Japan.

The Americans in Akihabara were SO SO SOOOO nerdy, it was almost a little embarrassing. I'm actually nerdy too but I don't explode with it in public. Can't say the same for the white, English-speaking people I saw today! Here's a cool picture of the buildings and signs in Akihabara.

Really awkward bib...

...and a funny fake dollar. Click to see full-size. :)

I was delighted to hear the Po Pi Po song in a store in Akihabara. :) And see the pedo-bear, which is apparently a normal character here with no sexual connotation! But the store employee knew that it is also called "pedo-bear" so he probably knew about the connotation too. Then again, it was positioned right next to a wall of porn DVDs featuring very young-looking girls.

We heard "I Know You Want Me" and "Sexy Bitch" in a store today, haha.

Ah yes... I know someone who will like to see this.

Here is our "purikura" from Akihabara. Purikura is something only girls do in Japan, where they all get together and take pictures whenever they go out or do something fun. The purikura booth makes you look extra-white and then you can edit in makeup or whatever else you want. Good thing I'm already really white. (Rika and I had a conversation about skin color; she said she was jealous of my whiteness and she covered up her arms today even though it was REALLY hot. I told her about tanning in the US and she was surprised. She also said black people in Japan are considered somewhat scary, haha. I told her that black people in the US are usually very nice, although there are all kinds of people in the US.) But for the purikura, I was a spaz this time because apparently editing and photos are timed. I didn't realize we had to be fast. :) It was really fun and I look forward to doing it again.

I made tacos for the family tonight. Couldn't find corn tortillas, refried beans, or cilantro anywhere but I made homemade guacamole and spent an hour preparing and grilling the chicken! I thought they were really good but I'm not sure if my host family liked them as much as I did. :D I ate two!

Right now my host brother is brushing his teeth in my bed...anyway, I had a really great time with Rika today and I successfully made tacos! I was also able to study some of the kanji for my first final exam on Tuesday. That means that my trip is halfway over...

I wish I could gather up all of my friends from UNC, put Japanese into their heads via osmosis, and we could all live in Tokyo forever. We could have epic adventures every weekend and work hard during the week to pay our rents. But maybe we could get a big apartment and just cram 7 people in it or something. :) Yesterday I looked at job listings in Tokyo and there were so many positions for native English speakers. I do hope I can do something with my major, Environmental Health Science, here someday. But I think I would be willing to come here just to teach English or have some other kind of job for a year or two or five. Maybe I'll raise a herd of Shiba Inu dogs here. :D That's a funny sentence because "inu" means dog in Japanese, so I'll raise Shiba dog dogs.

Anyway, bed time, I'm going to bed slightly earlier than usual tonight (11:45pm, insanity). My friends all go to sleep at like 9 or 10.